'Raw earth' winery grows in Médoc

Agronomist Tristan Le Lous hopes the family’s new production facility will serve as a model for sustainable design and enable winemaker José Sanfins to craft “high-precision blends”…


Château Cantenac Brown’s owner Tristan Le Lous and winemaker José Sanfins

Raw earth winery grows in Médoc
  • Chris Boiling
  • 2020-11-17
What do the great arch of Ctesiphon in Iraq and the experimental township of Auroville in India have in common with a chateau in Bordeaux?
Answer: They have provided the building inspiration for a sustainable winery in the heart of the Margaux appellation.
Third-growth estate Château Cantenac Brown has unveiled plans for a new winery built out of raw earth and untreated wood, with the cellar walls and low-vaulted roof built by compressing clay and sand directly onto the château.
The construction permit was submitted this month. “If everything goes according to plan, construction will commence early 2021, and the winery will be completed in time for the 2023 harvest,” agronomist Tristan Le Lous told Canopy.
When he and his family acquired the château in December 2019, they developed an ambitious plan to design a winery as sustainable and close to nature as possible. Tristan, who runs the estate jointly with winemaker José Sanfins, brought in architect Philippe Madec for the job. Philippe has been given the rank of Officer of the Legion of Honor for his work in sustainability.

CCB sketch
“Our daily actions always take the environment and nature into consideration, so we wanted a winery that also followed this philosophy," José explained. “The buildings currently onsite are already perfectly integrated into the natural surroundings, so we are maintaining the harmonious link with nature while creating an ecologically responsible, modern and innovative cellar.
“In order for the new winery to blend into the natural landscape, it will be designed around the existing buildings on the 89ha estate, and built entirely from raw earth and untreated wood from the surrounding Aquitaine region – resulting in a zero-carbon footprint! The cellar walls will be built using an ancient construction method, compressing clay and sand directly onto the château. Built using the same technique, the low-vaulted roof of the winery will be the only one in Europe of this scale and the only loadbearing one in the world.
“Beyond the aesthetic aspect, the construction of this new cellar will be a technical and innovative feat. This type of building has been constructed in Ctésiphon in 260 (for a Persian king) and in India in Auroville – areas where it doesn’t rain. The challenge for Cantenac Brown, in Bordeaux, is that the vault of the new cellar will be loadbearing, so it offers protection from the rain.”

CCB vineyard
Without the need for air-conditioning or energy consumption, the thermal inertia of the raw earth winery will provide the ideal atmosphere to ensure the stabilisation and ageing of the wines.
The winery will also be entirely gravity-fed, and the vat room will be made up of a large number of small vats to allow for “high-precision blending”.
Tristan commented: “The new facilities will be better suited to our 63 hectares than the current buildings, thereby allowing us to craft more precise blends.”
José agrees: “For over a decade, vintage after vintage, we’ve continued to improve our winemaking methods. We wanted to go even further. As our ambitions grow, it’s necessary to adapt our production tools to our technical expectations. The new cellar will be composed of smaller tanks, allowing for high-precision blends, and it will be entirely gravity-fed, so the grapes will be handled gently.”

With Sheep
Château Cantenac Brown was founded by John Lewis Brown, a Scottish merchant, in 1806. The Tudor-style castle overlooks the Gironde estuary and features a wooded parkland roamed by Scottish sheep.
The Le Lous family hopes Médoc’s new winery will serve as a model for sustainable design.

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