Owner Tristan Le Lous and winemaker José Sanfins at Chateau Cantenac Brown are constructing a new cellar entirely from local, natural materials. (photo by Cristina Dogliani)

By 2030, all Bordeaux winegrowers are expected to comply with certain environmental criteria to meet AOC standards. Some owners are already going above and beyond—and third-growth Chateau Cantenac Brown, owned since 2019 by agronomist Tristan Le Lous and his family, is leading the way. General manager and lead winemaker José Sanfins initiated sustainability practices in 2006, and now is seeing the property introduce an environmentally responsible, 5,000 square meter cellar.  Here’s Sanfin’s take on going green.

Can you explain a few of the key concepts deployed in the new building, and how they reduce environmental impact and enhance the production process?

One of the main things is that our project will not use any cement, a material alone responsible for around 8% of greenhouse gas emissions; air transport, for example, accounts for only 2%. We are going to build with raw earth and raw wood—that’s all. All materials, natural and untreated, will come from the Aquitaine region, and aim to follow our zero-carbon objective. The walls of the cellar will be made using the adobe technique, an ancestral construction method that offers an exceptional ecological balance. The raw earth, made up of clay and sand, will be compressed directly on site in order to erect the walls of this unique enclosure. The low vault of the cellar, also built of compressed earth, will be, in itself, an architectural feat. It’ll be the only one in Europe of this scale and the only one in the world to have a wooden frame.

What about keeping the wine cool?

From a technical point of view, the thermal inertia of the cellar, induced by the use of raw earth, will provide the perfect atmosphere for the stability and aging of the wines without air conditioning. The cellar will also be entirely gravity-fed, ensuring controlled and respectful handling of the grapes, and the vat room will feature a large number of small vats to allow for high-precision assembly.

The property has existed for decades so there must have been an issue of material waste as older buildings were repurposed or eliminated.  How did the plan minimize the destructive aspects of the project?

The new cellar will be fully integrated into the current buildings, in order to maximize the harmony with the landscape and avoid artificializing the soil. Since we did not destroy any of the existing buildings, we minimized waste because there wasn’t any rubble. The integration of new surfaces next to old surfaces generated new architectural constraints, but this is something we were able to control. The current cellar and vat room will also be repurposed as an area for welcoming visitors.

Finally, would love to know how this new element will allow you, as winemaker, to do your work in a more responsible, and perhaps more innovative way.

This new project will allow us to adapt the vat room to our different plots, in order to go even further in the precision and expression of each of them, and thereby know the possibilities and limits of each plot of land. Everything will be designed to preserve the integrity of the fruit. Using gravity and plot vinification will allow us to adjust our vinifications to the fabulous terroir of Cantenac Brown. In addition to its eco-responsible nature, our project is also at the cutting edge of technical expertise in terms of winemaking, which falls right in line with the quality of our terroir.