Our Journey of Regenerative Agriculture

With the harvest behind us, our consultant viticulturalist Clément and his team have been been focusing on continuing our journey to regenerate the soil on the Domaine. We’d love to share with you all a little about what we’ve learnt, and what we plan to implement at the domaine over the coming years.

Traditionally, vineyards are monocultures which are sprayed and ploughed providing neatly manicured rows of vines and eliminating all ‘competition’. However, this process oxidises the soil leaving it devoid of essential nutrients and the practice of bare soil is desertifiying vineyards (i.e. there are no plants or flowers growing in-between the vines and so very little insect life). This leads to erosion and compacting as well as causing a lack of biodiversity above and below the soil. And when you consider that the total surface area the vine has with the soil is typically less than 1%, this has caused us to rethink how we farm the Domaine.

If the soil is not ploughed as much, nature can be carefully reintroduced and the organic matter in the soil can rebuild itself over time (a practice know as ‘Regenerative Agriculture’).  Soil can regenerate itself and in doing so increasing important microbial activity and we believe that with a healthy living soil we can steward the land in a far more responsible way and produce higher quality grapes whilst rebalancing the ecosystem. Amazingly, healthy soil with good plant life can also play a huge role in drawing down greenhouse gasses and stabilise and  eventually reverse climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil via photosynthesis and long-term storage. 

This month the team sat down to watch a fascinating Netflix documentary called Kiss the Ground that explains how regenerative farming can reverse climate change whilst improving nutritional value in food. 

We’re at the very beginning of this journey here at Domaine Mirabeau, having only stopped conventional farming when Stephen and Jeany bought the domaine back in September 2019, and we’re now on our four-year conversion to Organic. We’ve got so much to learn, and a very long journey ahead of us, but we are ever so lucky to be connecting with RA and permaculture experts from around the World to support us on this journey; including from the UK, USA, Australia and France.

Stephen and Jeany had a great day this month with Julian Castell, who has a vineyard about an hour’s drive from the domaine, near Toulon. Julian took over his family’s wine estate and is creating a fascinating living ecosystem, with minimal human intervention using biodynamic farming practices. Julian came to the Domaine to meet with our viticulturalist Clément, to discuss the Regenerative Viticulture approach and we’re in the process of building a long-term master plan.

Over the coming months, we’re planning to do a full ecological baseline study that will look at the soil quality, flora and fauna, so we can see how the ecosystem changes over the years. The first step this month, was our farmer Anthony sewing cover crops in between the vines. He spent several days sowing the seeds and managed to get it all done before the rain came, so hopefully come Spring we’ll see some lovely cover crops growing in between the vines.

The next step will be planting fruit trees on the domaine. The team will be planting 110 trees, including plum trees, fig trees and almond trees, as well as lots of other plants and shrubs. These trees will play a very important role in increasing biodiversity, attracting insects and bees, as well as beginning to move the domaine away from being a single crop monoculture. We also plan to spread 150 tonnes of compost across the domaine to help rebuild the organic material in the soil. It took them over a week to deliver, bit by bit, and Bea and Ben’s Domaine dog Alfie loved every minute of playing in the mounds of steaming compost!

In other Domaine news, the team have been busy in the ‘potager’ allotment, preparing the soil using the manure from the pigs and alpacas. Next month it’ll be ready to plant onions, spinach, peas and broad beans. We’ve also had two new arrivals to the farm; two Indian Runner ducks, bringing our total to 14 animals plus Ben and Bea’s dog Alfie.