The Rhône Valley: an instinctive approach to sustainability


As consumer demand for low-impact wines increases, producers are working harder than ever to ensure they’re as sustainable as possible. But there are some regions where sustainability comes naturally. Following a recent trip to the Rhône Valley, our Wine Director Mark Pardoe MW shares his thoughts. 


On the first day of our trip to the Rhône Valley, we spent a morning rounding up two of our further-flung producers. Namely, Remi Pouizin near Dieu-Le-Fit and Domaine La Cabotte near Mondragon, both towards the northern edge of the region.  

Driving through the limestone hills, the Mediterranean scrub and woodland, I was struck by how accustomed I had become to the monoculture of vineyards. With unbroken rows of vines, the vineyards of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo and Châteauneuf-du-Pape exist as entities unto themselves. But out here on the margins, vineyards exist alongside and as part of nature. 


Vines are, to all intents and purposes, a monocrop. However, there are producers in the world’s most desirable vineyard areas who make efforts to reduce the environmental impact of their viticulture.  

For example, they use ground cover between the vines, and encourage insect and animal populations. We’re also seeing a drive to plant trees in and around the vineyards. But these are solutions inserted into an existing environment.  

In contrast, the relationship between vine and soil in the Rhône Valley feels more natural, more flexible. The commercial reality is that there is less pressure here to plant more vineyards – the land is sparsely populated and wild.  


At Domaine La Cabotte, Marie-Pierre and Eric Plumet have been biodynamic since 2007. Now joined by their son Etienne, the mood is verging on evangelistic. The harmony with nature through biodynamics is enhanced by their proximity to the forest – itself owned by the domaine

The next day in Gigondas, we learned that the forest on the slopes of the Dentelles is owned and managed by the local vignerons. At Domaine Les Pallières, the Bruniers have 110 hectares of woodland (through which their herd of goats roam freely), and Domaine du Cayron have 30 hectares of woodland in the high Col du Cayron. Moreover, no new Gigondas vineyards can be planted on land currently forested. So, regardless of future demand, biodiversity will be protected in this up-and-coming region. 

The world’s greatest wines will always be in high demand, and producers’ momentum towards greater sustainability is evident in their new initiatives. But it seems that a simpler solution might also exist; one that is less manufactured and imposed. A solution that is instinctive and not reliant on certification, in these wilder, more remote vineyards of the Southern Rhône. 

Browse our complete Rhône 2020 En Primeur offer here.