By Jade Chen

17 mins reading time

In eighteenth century France, cartographers under the commission of Louis XIV made a mark along the coast of Southern France. Today, that 200-year-old mark is known as Le Galoupet, a sweeping 69 hectares of vineyard and 77 hectares of woodland. A sanctuary for the diverse biota that call it home, Château Galoupet is tucked between mountain and sea, standing its ground in the oldest wine region of Provence. Nestled in the terroir amidst stretches of vines and breaths of the sea, a centuries-old narrative perseveres, journeying from the bicentennial before to the bicentennial to come.

Château Galoupet’s breathtaking landscape

Penning the yet-to-be-filled pages of this narrative is a team of visionaries reimagining what Château Galoupet can be. Through the restoration of an ever-growing community of flora and fauna, the team is breathing new life into the terroir, all the while continuing a time-honoured mission to make the most beautiful wine in Provence.

In a magazine clipping from 1894, Château Galoupet’s wines were said to “make one feel nature is beautiful and life is good”. At present, Jessica Julmy, re-founder of Château Galoupet, has taken up the baton, restoring Château Galoupet’s wines to, once again, be an echo of the terroir.

Today, over 5000 miles away from the estate, I speak to Emilie Steckenborn (Wine Development Manager for North Asia at Moët Hennessy) about sustainability and how it underlines the journey from the soils of Château Galoupet to bottles in Hong Kong.

A bold new ethos

Following three years of revitalization and renewal on the estate, Château Galoupet— a Cru Classé de Provence since 1955— is emerging, reinvented, in 2022. Since its re-founding in 2019, the estate has been buzzing, quite literally (it is home to 200+ beehives), with life. Drastic changes in the way the estate is managed have placed it on a new journey; one that is guided by nature and has transformed not just its soils and vines, but Château Galoupet’s brand itself.

Over the past 200 years, Château Galoupet has switched hands 15 times. Not all of the estate’s previous owners shared Jessica’s foresight, and Emilie tells me that Jessica’s predecessors, who neglected the vineyards and put the terroir under threat. Hence, the team’s mission since Château Galoupet’s handover in 2019 has been to rebuild the estate from the ground up. As Emilie notes, this was in a way a blessing. “Having to start from scratch gave us the opportunity to really reflect on who we are, and also who we’ll be in 20 years. One thing led to another, and we were rediscovering the estate, reviving the soils and, most importantly, reintroducing biodiversity. Because that was in a critical state— the more you use fertilisers, the less you find earthworms, bees and bats on the estate. So we really had to start from scratch”.

Jessica Julmy, Managing Director of Rosés de Provence at LVMH Estates & Wines

Redoing the groundwork

As avid wine lovers, the team’s first action back in 2019 was to look at the soil. As Emilie says, good wine starts from the vineyard, and the team was diligent in observing the vines, roots and vineyard as a whole. What they found, however, wasn’t ideal. The estate’s previous owners had neglected the vineyard, and vines weren’t producing good quality fruit. Some of the rootstocks were already dead, and continuing to mistreat the vineyard would mean pushing an already-fragile system over the edge.

Hence, the team at Château Galoupet adopted an unforeseen approach. For three years after the estate’s handover, no wine was produced. Instead, the team’s efforts were focused on regenerating the soils. This entailed testing the soils, rootstocks and vines, looking at the quality of the fruit and reconsidering the estate’s biodiversity. Some of the vines were even removed, and replanting them meant not being able to produce wine for a minimum of three years. Yet resetting the vineyard’s foundations was essential to the company’s 20-year vision, which aims to prepare the estate for success in the long run.

Busy as bees

Research into the preservation of Château Galoupet’s ecosystems yielded an unlikely hero: bees. As an integral part of the estate’s agriculture and viticulture, bees play an important role at Château Galoupet, which has now installed over 200 beehives on its properties. Emilie tells me that bees are key to the health of the vineyard, improving not just biodiversity but grape quality as well. All of this ties back into the company’s original mission: to make complex, beautiful and good-quality wine.

Beehives at Château Galoupet

As for reworking the vineyards, the team’s first step was to do extensive soil sampling, looking at the estate’s pre-existing soils to see what foundations they were building off of. From there on, they had to find the correct rootstocks to pair with the soil: a task that, again, required foresight. “We chose a rootstock that is more water-resistant, as this gives us a simple, natural way to reduce water intake and make the rootstock more adaptable to future climate change”. For the wine industry (and many other industries in the world), changing climates and weather conditions are a major concern. Emilie tells me that 2022 has been one of the hottest years in Provence, with little rainfall and record droughts. For vineyards in Provence, this poses a considerable challenge as irrigation is forbidden in the region. It is hence up to the team to protect the vineyard: “remastering our vineyard, choosing the right rootstocks and selecting the best cover crops are all things we needed to think about to bring our vineyard back to life”.

Initiatives bearing fruit

In a span of three years, the team’s efforts have already begun to take shape. “Before, if you picked up the estate’s soils, there was no life and it just felt dead. And what we’ve tried to do is re-energise our soils. We want to see earthworms and bugs— that’s what we want because that’s what a healthy vineyard looks like. Earthworms, for example, aerate the soil and reduce water logging by digging holes”. Having a healthy soil and happy community means that energy is flowing through the vineyard, and Emilie tells me you can feel the change that has taken place.

Château Galoupet’s vineyards

Château Galoupet employs organic farming practices, and aims to be certified by 2023. Moreover, the vineyard has been trialling biodynamics, a holistic approach to farming that dates back to 1924. “Biodynamics is almost like a magic potion — there’s energy just vibrating through the soil. Water tides vibrate as a result of the moon, and the vine is also made up of water. So it takes in all of the energy, and really becomes at one with the environment”. Emilie notes that vibrational harmony is key to healthy vines, which in turn leads to healthy wines and great-quality products. “You need to consider everything as a whole, because if you unbalance one thing then everything falls apart”.

The balancing act

To maintain the vineyard’s delicate equilibrium, the team at Château Galoupet have set measures for both short and long term adaptation. “We’re not looking at today, we’re looking at the future,” remarks Emilie. The team’s decade-long vision means that a plethora of factors must be considered, and these considerations are often guided by the overarching principle of sustainability. For example, Château Galoupet worked with regional research committees to seek out more innovative rootstock and vine varieties. This meant bringing in vine varietals from drier climates such as Portugal and Spain. Ensuring that vines are drought-resistant is crucial to their preservation, and will allow them to last and thrive in the decades to come. Yet it doesn’t end there: once the vines are chosen, the task of planting them is handled with equal care. Even the distance between vines, which affects the amount of shading the plants get, is an important consideration.

Emilie tells me that Château Galoupet’s commitment to sustainability has been a huge investment. “Our vision is 20 years, and every decision we make is guided by that”. Some of the team’s efforts have begun to take shape, and gradual changes in the vineyard can be observed in every nook and cranny. Whether it’s the return of birds and insects or a little more aeration in the soil, Château Galoupet has successfully made its first few steps in the right direction. And again, a balance must be found. Vines that are taken off fertilisers often receive a shock when they lose the nutrients and protection they have grown to be dependent on. For organic farming to take place, vines need time to adapt, and must be “retrained to find their own harmony and balance”. Emilie admits “it’s not easy”, emphasising once again that change is a process.

Travelling light

A beautiful wine deserves to be served in an equally-beautiful vessel, but Château Galoupet’s bespoke bottles far surpass this requirement. Carrying the fruits of Château Galoupet from terroir to glass are amber coloured, barely-translucent bottles that are fittingly crafted with sustainability at the forefront. Just like everything else at Château Galoupet, this bottle has a story, a story tucked amidst the peaks and troughs of its tinted surface.

Château Galoupet’s rosés are bottled in an amber-coloured, 70% recycled glass bottle

Made of 70% recycled glass, the bottle is flushed with hues of brown: an unconventional but strategic choice. As Emilie explains to me, alcohol oxidises easily in the sun, and this can taint the especially-fragile rosé quite quickly. Under these circumstances, using brown bottles serves a dual purpose, simultaneously providing natural UV protection and being more sustainable. Moreover, Château Galoupet’s bottles are around 271g lighter than the average (770g per bottle), making the transportation of wine a much less carbon-intensive process.

Before transforming into what it is today, each component of Château Galoupet’s bottles was mulled over by the team. Emilie reveals that just the cork of the bottle was chosen from numerous options. The team, she tells me, originally wanted to use recycled cork, yet even that would have to be chopped into pieces, disinfected and then put back together. In the end, the team realised that using cork— which in Portugal is harvested without cutting down the tree— was actually the most sustainable option. “Little changes like that took a hundred decisions to make,” says Emilie.

The bottle’s final touch is a carnation-pink wax seal: again (as opposed to the traditionally-used aluminium) a more sustainable option. Also, everything on the bottle — from the name itself to illustrations of the terroir — is either inked on or engraved, reducing paper use and further bringing down its carbon footprint.

Breaking new ground

The bottle’s voyage into the estate and back out into the world is carefully traced to ensure that its environmental impact is minimised as much as possible. QR codes (crafted with the help of Product DNA) indicate the whereabouts of each step in production, offering customers the chance to follow along. “Everything takes place within a very small radius of France; we are truly bringing it as close as we can to the winery”.

Barrels at Château Galoupet

The next stretch of the journey brings the wine from bottle to glass, and in this case we’re referring to glasses in Hong Kong. Just the day before my chat with Emilie, Château Galoupet marked down one of many milestones to come: its initial launch in Hong Kong. The process has just started, and from here on the team will be working on raising awareness; not just about Château Galoupet’s efforts in sustainability but also the brand itself. “We’re ambassadors of our land,” says Emilie.

Taste it to believe it

Communicating the lifestyle and ambiance of Southern France here in Hong Kong is no easy feat. In the urban jungle that we live in today, I imagine it would be hard for customers to connect to Château Galoupet’s roots in France. Indeed, Emilie tells me this is one of the challenges the team is trying to overcome. “If you see the bottle itself, it’s engraved with seashells and little bits of the vineyard: the water, the air, the tides… Something that’s important to us is the air that cools down the vineyards and brings an almost sea salt taste to our wine. You can see it all on the bottle”.

For Emilie, wine can be an almost transcendental experience. “You could say that I have a lot of energy, but for me drinking wine is the one time I can meditate. With wine, I can focus on the aroma and the taste… Oftentimes we’re drinking coffee on the road or eating in front of a screen, but with a glass of wine you’ll notice people actually stop and pay attention. I think that’s the beauty of wine: if you enjoy it correctly, it’s a mix of sensory aromas and taste that allows you to take a moment to enjoy a beautiful product made from the soil”.

The new energy pulsing through Château Galoupet can also be felt in distant Hong Kong. Jessica, whom Emilie describes as “the spearhead visionary” is what the team likes to call the refounder of Château Galoupet. “I think when founders have a positive energy or outlook, something about the product just feels different. If someone’s energy is low, they could be saying the right things but it doesn’t feel authentic and you don’t feel as connected with the product. Whereas for us, you can really feel the new blood, the new life, the new vision…”. Despite being a lieu-dit (a French term denoting an area that bears a traditional name and is recognized by its history), Emilie tells me that Château Galoupet doesn’t feel dated at all. In fact, it feels refreshing.

Château Galoupet’s stunning landscapes overlooking the French Riviera

The big picture

To shape the future of the wine industry, Château Galoupet has put itself at the forefront of the sustainability movement. In doing this, it hopes to act as a role model for generations to come, proving through experience that great wine and sustainability can and should come hand-in-hand. By challenging age-old norms, Emilie tells me that Château Galoupet is showing the region that wine-makers as a collective can be doing better. “We’re showing the wine world that you don’t have to have a clear glass or use traditional winemaking methods to produce great wine”. From Emilie’s perspective, making great wine should be the focus, but how you approach that goal is what makes the difference. “To [produce great wine], why don’t you use more sustainable measures instead?” questions Emilie. “I think this will take time, and if we can be the lighthouse for this movement in our region first, I think it’ll slowly have a ripple effect on the rest of France, the rest of Europe and then eventually, hopefully, the rest of the world”.

As always, everything is considered from a wider scope. “Rosé is such a beautiful product, but it’s more than that. For us, it’s a commitment from everybody: we’re working together and enjoying life at the same time. Because how horrible would it be if you tried to be sustainable and didn’t end up with a great product, or if you tried to be sustainable and didn’t enjoy life in the process?” As Emilie professes, “life is about living well and doing well. It’s all interconnected”

The big picture

Sustainability is an evolution that, like any shift or change in history, requires education for it to take place. Thanks to the vision of Château Galoupet and big wine groups including Moët Hennessy, the wine industry is moving in the right direction. Yet a further push is needed on all fronts: “we can only educate as much as we can. But I think once consumer demand starts flowing in, then wineries will want to change”. Change is already happening on a small and large scale. Some organisations have introduced requirements for all vineyards to be sustainable, and individual wineries such as Château Galoupet are also taking a stance. “I think that’s what makes Château Galoupet beautiful: it all comes from the winery because it has to be authentic”.

One of over 200 beehives on Château Galoupet’s estate

Led by Jessica, the team at Château Galoupet envisions sustainability as part of a lifestyle. “There will be big leaps and small leaps: small leaps will originate from external pressure, but the biggest leaps will stem from the winery itself, because that’s where the passion starts”.

Shifts towards sustainability in the wine industry will come concurrently with those in the food industry. In restaurants around the world, there’s been a huge move towards vegan and vegetarian Michelin Stars. As Emilie rightfully observes, “do you think they’ll want a normal wine on their menu or something that resonates with their cuisine?”. Ultimately, industries and individuals will have to align to form “the millions of pieces bringing this together”.

The future is bright

After redoing everything from ground up in the very short span of three years, Château Galoupet has continued working with the Observatoire Français d’Apidologie (OFA) and a multitude of associations, organisations, and research centres. Emilie explains that growing the brand entails going to each market, talking about the brand and communicating why it’s important to go sustainable. “We go to sommeliers who have hundreds and thousands of wines on their list, and we tell them how we’re different. We tell them that this is how they can be sustainable and reach an achievement with us”. On top of that, the team at Château Galoupet continues to learn each day. An initiative such as installing 200 beehives isn’t as straightforward as it sounds, and factors like where the beehives are placed, how they’re taken care of and how they’re managed must all be taken heed of.

Also making moves in the wine industry is Moët Hennessy itself, which established the “University of Living Soils”. Through inviting leading figures in the industry to talk about the future of soil, the program facilitates the sharing of knowledge and ideas, and hopes to be a launchpad for upcoming projects and programs in sustainability. For Château Galoupet, the team will continue to spread the word one day at a time. “It’s liquid to lips. When we talk about it, we want people to taste it and enjoy the moment. It’s about retraining our team as well, turning everyone into ambassadors of sustainability so we can carry the flight forward”.

Cheers!

The journey has only just begun for Château Galoupet. Currently, the estate is working with several groups to examine different species of trees and flowers on the property. “We need to analyse everything, then rebuild what we lost”. As the estate reopens, the team hopes to bring back the community, turning Château Galoupet into a cherished retreat not just for its animal inhabitants but also for wine critics and families alike. “We’re currently building trails so that people can come over on the weekends and go hiking on our vineyard plots or in the surrounding forest. When people think of wineries they think of a place to drink wine, but we want families to come as well and enjoy. We want Château Galoupet to be a lifestyle change for everybody”. Château Galoupet, Emilie hopes, can become a safe haven for people to explore nature. “We want to educate kids about bees and show everyone how wine is made at Château Galoupet”.

Until then, nature will continue to blossom at Château Galoupet.

To learn more about Château Galoupet head to their website here.

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