The quality and variety of the soils found on the estate are a key asset, particularly as they have been well looked after in the past.
They were, and still are, cultivated in the traditional way (ploughing and addition of organic matter). This means that they still contain a great deal of life (plenty of micro-organisms and worms), which leads to good root growth, improved nutrient supply for the vine and therefore a superb expression of "terroir".
The soils on the estate can be divided into four major groups:
These very ancient soils come from clay sediments that were once compressed on the sea bed (300 to 600 million years ago). Placed under huge pressure at high temperatures, they eventually became schist and reached the earth's surface at the end of the Primary era (125 million years ago). Schist is a soft, foliated rock that breaks up easily, allowing the vines to spread their roots and providing excellent drainage. These soils help the grapes to achieve a good level of ripeness. On the estate they are currently planted with Grenache and Syrah.
Limestone comes from the sea or lakes. The Languedoc was covered by sea for over 100 million years during the Secondary era, leaving thick layers of limestone formed from shells and coral. From these layers came the various types of clayey-limestone soils.
There are three main types on the estate, which vary according to geographical location:
- Limestone plateau and scree
There is some phonolitic limestone on the estate, which is formed by splinters of limestone deposited on the soil surface. These light-coloured "lauses" accumulate the heat, reflecting it upwards and creating a microclimate around the grapes, bringing them to an excellent level of ripeness.
On the estate these soils are planted with Carignan.
- Glacis and outwash slopes
The "gresette" soils are formed by small, angular splinters of limestone that have been carried by glaciers and rivers and accumulated at the edge of the limestone plateau.
These deep soils are very poor and porous, giving the vines a regular supply of water. The roots penetrate easily and the vines produce high-quality grapes that reach peak ripeness, even in very dry conditions.
On the estate they are planted with Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Carignan.
These soils are formed from a high proportion of red clay combined with limestone and sandstone pebbles. They hold water superbly, but also drain well. They are high in quality and rare.
On the estate they are planted with Syrah, Mourvdre and Carignan.
Along with the diversity of soils and microclimates, the many different grape varieties planted at La Madura mean that the wines produced for blending have a very wide range of aromas and flavours.
Environment and Climate
Saint-Chinian has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and fairly mild winters. However, it is close to the mountains (Montagne Noire and Monts de l'Espinouse), which bring a certain coolness to these "terroirs".
The wind plays a key role in the area. It can occasionally be a nuisance, breaking young shoots and thereby reducing the harvest, but it has the advantage of reducing the level of moisture in the plants (limiting the spread of Mildew) and around the grapes (reducing problems of rot). This means that the vines need to be sprayed less and the grapes can be left to ripen in peace.
Certain plant and animal species are linked to the various different types of countryside around Saint-Chinian, creating biodiversity in the environment.
The plant species are very varied. As well as being pleasing to the eye, they create a very evident scented atmosphere that is specific to each type of soil.
Certain species are very representative of the “Saint-Chinianais”. Cistus ladanifer (gum rockrose) is a particularly interesting example. This endemic variety is found within a very limited area and produces a very strong-smelling gum (used in the perfume industry). We sometimes find this scent in our wines during fermentation. All these “garrigue” scents help to form the bouquet of our wines and are often revealed as the wines mature.
This diversity of plant life also provides a home for a wide variety of animals. Some species may act as auxiliary fauna for the vines, i.e. they prey on species that are damaging to the vines. As long as we maintain it, this natural balance means that the vines are at less risk of disease.
Training and Growing
Goblet pruning is still used on the old vines and varieties with an upright bearing, such as Carignan, Mourvèdre and even Grenache. The method is traditional to the region and produces a good area of leaf cover exposed to the light for those varieties that are suited to it.
The other plots are trellised to keep the plant growth upright and give it good exposure to the sun and the air.
The trellises are either new or rebuilt to give them sufficient height and provide the vine with ideal leaf cover.
Video by Dominique Boudet: click here
The vines are pruned in either the bilateral cordon style or, for the more recently planted vines, in a personal pruning (between fan-shaped and goblet style). It allows a better aeration than the gobelet and a better ageing than the cordon (we think).
Video by Dominique Boudet: click here
The soils are maintained in the traditional way. The vines are ploughed to restrict weed growth, mainly in the spring to limit competition. This also aerates the soil to maintain good organic activity and keep the soil full of life. A bit of grass and weed is allowed to grow after the harvest and during the winter to help with this activity and improve drainage.
The soils are analysed regularly and maintained by adding organic matter where necessary.
The fight against diseases and insect pests is dictated purely by observation and weather information, which means that we can keep spraying to the strict minimum (usually 2 or 3 sessions). It also means that we use less fuel, thereby reducing our ‘carbon footprint’, and that the soil is less compacted.
Our choice of spraying products is also determined by our concern to maintain biological balance in the vineyards, their soil and their environment. We are therefore fighting disease in an environmentally-friendly way, without rigidity but with an intellectual rigour and honesty.
La Madura prefers to use a preventive approach, doing a lot of thinning work in spring and summer to improve the flow of air around the vine and the grapes: removing suckers from the centre of the trunk, and thinning out the leaves. This sort of work is time-consuming and labour-intensive, but it keeps the vines and grapes healthier and improves ripening.
In addition, we choose our products out of a concern to maintain the biological balance of the vines, the soil and their environment. We’re involved in an environmentally-friendly approach that doesn’t follow any particular dogma but aims to be rigorous and intellectually honest. As a result of this approach we were awarded HAUTE VALEUR ENVIRONNEMENTALE (HVE = High Environmental Value) certification in 2015.
HVE is a national scheme set up by the “Grenelle 2” Environment Act, the first official texts of which were published in the Official Journal in June 2011. It covers four environmental aspects: biodiversity, pest management strategy, fertilization management and water resource management. See the bottom of the page for further information.
Video by Dominique Boudet: click here
NOTE ON RESPECT FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
(in response to those who ask us why we don't have the "organic" label)
The way in which we work is determined by ecology: concern for the environment and its balances (the life of the soil, supportive animal life, plants and other animals) and limited inputs and CO2 production.
Sadly, little consideration is given to these aspects in the “organic” charter. You can kill your soils with copper (a heavy metal), spray excessively for no reason (not a “responsible” approach), use huge amounts of diesel fuel, compact your soils, not care for your ecosystem, machine-harvest, etc. and abide by the charter (1). Organic certification is certainly better than over-using ecologically toxic products, but it’s not really a cure-all.
What we are concerned about first and foremost is to have living soils. We allow the vineyards to grass over naturally after the harvest until springtime (we plough during the warm weather only, and then as little as possible); this encourages soil life, limits gullying and cuts down fuel consumption. Chemical fertilisers are banned: we add only organic matter, using natural products of plant origin (organic label !). We do a great deal of thinning work in the vines (using a lot of labour for meticulous shoot removal, trellising, leaf-thinning, etc.) to limit production, encourage the grapes to ripen, improve their expression of terroir and ensure that they are in good health. This preventive work means that we can keep spraying to a minimum as it allows for good air circulation around the vines and bunches. In a normal year we only spray twice (to fight against oidium, no anti-mildew spraying). We believe that very few wine estates go this far in their approach as it is very expensive in terms of labour costs. We hope that, one day, a label will be created that objectively and scientifically incorporates all the variables linked to environmental protection. This point was raised during the French government’s Grenelle de l’environnement (environmental consultation exercise). We are waiting, in the hope that an ecologically coherent label will emerge.
Please do not hesitate to contact us for any further information you may require. You are also very welcome to come and see what we do in our vineyards: words are one thing, action is another.
(1) - We need to understand that a so-called “natural” product (because, let’s face it, there’s chemistry behind a bag of Bordeaux mixture or sulphur) is not necessarily less toxic than a synthetic product, which in many cases reproduces a molecule that exists in nature. It may be targeted and harmless to supportive animal life, soils, etc., and used in low doses (of a few grams per hectare) while sulphur and copper are applied in doses of several kg per hectare. When it is effective, it requires less use of the tractor. These synthetic products obviously need to be chosen with care, but it cannot be said that, because they are synthetic, they are more toxic. Copper is a highly toxic product that stays in the soil for a long time (decades). Its prolonged use as part of a so-called “organic” prevention campaign can slowly kill the soil.
HAUTE VALEUR ENVIRONNEMENTALE (HVE):
“Environmental Certification of Agricultural Operations” is a national scheme set up by the “Grenelle 2” Environment Act, the first official texts of which were published in the Official Journal in June 2011.
The official scheme was set up and recognized by the Government and is applied on 3 levels to enable the farmer or wine-grower to move forward in stages. “High Environmental Value” is the 3rd and final level of commitment representing the scheme’s level of excellence. It alone gives access to the regulated “High Environmental Value” label. It covers four environmental aspects: biodiversity, pest management strategy, fertilization management and water resource management.
Niveau 1 : This level covers the key regulatory obligations relating to good agro-ecological conditions, plant health and environmental protection.
From a technical point of view, the agricultural operation must:
- Have an assessment carried out by an SCA-approved organization (SCA = Système de Conseil Agricole = Agricultural Advisory System), in accordance with a set of specifications very similar to the cross-compliance rules covering CAP grants (CAP = Common Agricultural Policy).
- Have an assessment of the operation carried out in relation to the Level 2 reference document or in relation to the Level 3 environmental performance thresholds.
Niveau 2 : This level covers the good practices required to construct a basis for progress.
From a technical point of view, these are mainly good environmental protection practices that should be introduced on the operation. The farmer or wine-grower should:
- Embark on a progress strategy based on 16 environmental improvement commitments.
- Have an audit carried out by an independent body to confirm his level.
The farmer or wine-grower may work towards this Level 2 commitment by following a strategy recognized as being Level 2 equivalent. In France, various forms of certification such as “Agriculture raisonnée”, “Terra Vitis”, “Qualenvi”, “Bio”, etc., are accepted as being equivalent to Level 2.
Niveau 3 : This is the scheme’s most stringent level.
From a technical point of view, the farmer or wine-grower must achieve levels of environmental performance measured by indicators in several areas:
1- Biodiversity: This refers to improvements introduced by the farmer or wine-grower to encourage and protect auxiliary fauna, pollinating insects, vineyard landscapes, game refuges, etc. (we talk of “AEI” (Agro-Ecological Infrastructures) and “Landscape Features”). These semi-natural environments, essential to the implementation of a sustainable development policy, form habitats, transition zones and connectivity environments that favour the diversity of plant and animal species; for example: grass strips, hedges, copses, low dry stone walls, mountain pasture, grassland forbidden to grazing animals, etc.
2- Crop protection: Even if it is technically necessary to use pest control products, excessive use has negative impacts on the environment. We are interested here in alternatives to chemical control, such as sexual confusion or tillage.
3- Crop maintenance: This is concerned with grassing, nitrate fertilization and irrigation practices, if these are used on the operation.
4- The influence of inputs on the financial balance:Inputs(pest control products, electricity, fuel, boxes, bottles, etc. in terms of their financial value) are compared to the operation’s earnings.
An audit has to be carried out by an accreditedcertification body to certify the operation’s environmental performance.
The certification award gives the farmer or wine-grower the right to use the reserved, regulated statements: “High Environmental Value Operation” and “Wine from a High Environmental Value estate”.
For further information: