T he relationship between health and the environment is central to the operations of Hospices de Beaune - and the 2024 vintage will embody the successful conversion of its 60-hectare vineyard to organic farming.
François Poher, the institution’s director, and Ludivine Griveau, manager of the Hospices de Beaune wine estate, tell us about the ethics common to healthcare - and wine growing!
A Life Less Ordinary: On Organic Wine with François Poher & Ludivine Griveau
In 2024, the Hospices de Beaune wines being auctioned will have France’s 'AB (organic agriculture) certification. Why did you make this change?
Ludivine Griveau. The conversion began in 2021, as a logical extension of the environment-oriented philosophy already deeply rooted in our practices. But we wanted to make sure we were truly ready to take that step, to face any potential climate challenges. Our 60-hectare estate is quite extensive, with 120 plots of Chablis to Le Mâconnais, and we had to test our capabilities for several years before starting the three-year conversion. That’s why, starting in 2017, we chose to eliminate synthetic chemical inputs on the vineyard, reduce use of sulphites in the cellars, and perform in-depth diagnoses of our plots to fully understand our soils and the agronomic work that was needed. For us, receiving organic certification is less important than the process itself. And that’s because we’re moving forward together in the history of the Hospices de Beaune – let’s remember that it’s a healthcare facility, and our desire to respect the environment is born of a shared conviction and driven by parallel objectives.”
What kind of support have you had in this process?
Ludivine Griveau For the past few years, I’ve been part of a working group made up of estates undergoing organic conversion or interested doing so. It’s one of several, called the 'Viti BIO' groups, overseen by the Côte d’Or Chamber of Agriculture and the BIO Bourgogne non-profit organisation. They bring together agricultural supervisors and winegrowers in Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits. I never could have gotten started so easily without them. We can freely talk about all kinds of technical subjects relating to organic farming, no holds barred. We share our fears and doubts, but also our successes! Agnès Boisson (BIO Bourgogne), Pierre Petitot and Benoît Bazerolles (Côte d’Or Chamber of Agriculture) gave me great technical support and even encouragement. They took the challenges of our institution into account in all their guidance.
Why is going organic important for a winegrowing hospital?
François Poher The Hospices Civils de Beaune dates back to 1443 and we’re first and foremost a healthcare establishment, which now encompasses the Centre Hospitalier de Beaune, the hospitals of Arnay-le-Duc, Seurre and Nuits-Saint-Georges and a paramedical training centre. This means we have a responsibility to the health of the people who work on the estate and live around our lands, and those who buy and drink our wines. The health-environment relationship must be central to everything we do. And transitioning our vineyards to organic winegrowing is in keeping with our professional ethics as carers, dovetailing with our unshakeable intention to remain a professional hospital-winery.”
What sustainable initiatives in your twofold mission are reducing your unwanted impact on health and the environment?
Ludivine Griveau First, we stopped using synthetic chemical inputs and switched to organic farming standards. We’re now using prophylactic strategies to limit grapevine diseases and have carefully assessed our 120 plots to ensure we exercise the necessary vigilance. The 23 winegrowers who care for our 50 hectares of Pinot Noir and ten hectares of Chardonnay implement a wide variety of carefully thought-out maintenance measures and we pool our observations week after week on how the vineyard is doing.
François Poher: The year we started our organic conversion – 2021 – coincided with the start of our broader five-year operations roadmap. Environmental considerations are essential at every level of what we do – we’re now implementing a CSR policy for our hospital activity to reduce our carbon footprint in things like energy consumption and transportation. But we’re also the hub for a number of prevention workshops designed for future parents, held at our Level 2A maternity ward, to recognise endocrine disruptors and eliminate them from our lives, so families can live in a healthier environment.
Every third Sunday of November, when we hold our annual wine auction, we also sell our Charity Barrel to raise money for one or more charities that address public-health issues.
'Eliminating the use of pesticides or weedkillers on our lands makes all the more sense, given we’re a health-centred facility'
.Generally speaking, out of respect for our donors, the Hospices de Beaune wine estate continues this charitable momentum in its own way, producing wines from a vineyard that is managed according to exacting standards. Lastly, it’s important to remember that the Hospices de Beaune is also responsible for a public forest. France’s National Forestry Office (ONF) does selective cutting there to help the forest regenerate more quickly.
How can you drive these initiatives even further?
Ludivine Griveau and François Poher: What’s important for us is to be consistent in our choices - there’s a common thread between the history and work of the Hospices de Beaune and the winery’s conversion to organic [techniques]. Bear in mind, we received these vineyards as a gift: the Hospices de Beaune wine estate was born of generosity. In wanting to nurture this gift, we’re certainly not trumpeting our wares, we have no marketing plans – we simply want to do everything in our power to use the vineyards wisely. We can generate numerous synergies with this shared foundation. But we’ll also need to find adaptive solutions to reduce how much fuel our agricultural machinery consumes. Using horses, such as for ploughing, is one way to do that. We also want to recover our food waste to make compost to use on the vineyard. If it turns out we’re the trailblazers in these common winegrowing realms, we’ll embrace that role.
Is preserving this heritage you were given also a way of providing a quality response to the global demand for Burgundy wines?
Ludivine Griveau and François Poher: It’s true that 85 percent of our vineyard’s 60 hectares is devoted to producing cuvées designated as Premier Cru and Grand Cru, categories that represent only 5 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively, of production in Burgundy. Our wines’ exceptional character further legitimises our efforts to sustainably care for our winegrowing land and facilities. What’s more, the world’s love of Burgundy wines remains undiminished and demand for our great wines continues to surpass supply. So we’re doing everything we can to maintain peak performance, such that each wine sale translates to proceeds to support the hospital’s patients and staff. This is the dynamic that guides each of our projects and made it possible for us to reach €12.7 million in sales in 2021.