Written by Taylor Cameron for Farrell Distributing
In today’s fine wine landscape we are seeing a move away from high-yield, mechanized, monoculture farming. While there certainly are valid economic reasons to farm in an industrial manner, quality, “sense of place” and ecological impact are not part of that conversation. On the other end of the wine-growing spectrum we have organic viticulture; and even further to the left, biodynamic farming. Most wine drinkers have a general understanding of organics, but biodynamics may still be seen as a mystery. Let’s take a closer look at biodynamics …
Biodynamics is built on a partnership between the physical and the metaphysical, and looks to holistic-style farming and the lunar cycle to create healthy ecosystems within a vineyard or farm. In the 1920s a group of Austrian and German farmers were experiencing declines in overall farm health and production. The soils were devoid of microbial life after years of chemical management. These farmers wanted to bring back biodiversity without the use of chemicals in hopes of creating a healthy ecosystem that will coexist with crops. This movement was led by Rudolf Steiner (who also founded the Waldorf School), who believed that farming in accordance to the lunar cycle and treating a farm as cohesive ecological unit was the best path toward healthy and balanced agriculture. Read more about Rudolf and his full Bio here http://www.waldorfanswers.com/RudolfSteiner.htm
How it “Works”
Biodynamics has a few pillars on which the philosophy is built. The first is that no chemical fertilizers, fungicides or herbicides are to be used anywhere on the farm. This is basically the organic philosophy. But here’s where biodynamics begin to differ from standard organic practices: a holistic approach must be implemented, which means that a significant portion of the land must be set aside for a “Biodiversity Reserve,” annual crops must be rotated from year to year and ground cover must be retained. The idea is that if a balanced ecosystem is in place the farm with be almost self sustaining and will not need chemical invention to be productive.
The next pillar of biodynamics is the relationship with the lunar cycle. Steiner recognized the effects that the moon had on tides and began applying this concept to all water. His thought process was that crops are made up predominantly of water so the lunar cycle must also be affecting water inside the crops. After much study and experimentation, the biodynamic lunar calendar was created to dictate planting, pruning, preparation and harvest time. The calendar is also referenced for wine consumption. In theory, biodynamic wines will taste best on “fruit” and “flower” days and will not be as open, nor complex, on “root” and “leaf” days. This concept may sounds crazy but its origins date all the way back to Pliny the Elder in first century and the Farmer’s Almanac is also based heavily on similar philosophies.
The last component of biodynamics is the most controversial and the most “mystical.” This may get a little crazy, so take this with a grain of salt…There are 9 different preparations that Steiner created. Two of which are for field application and will foster organic growth and material in the soil and promote a healthy crop. These field preparations are made by ageing manure and crushed quartz in a bulls horn which is then buried in the field for one year. The last seven preparations are used in the production of different composts. These are produced by stuffing wild herbs and flowers into various animal organs. I know this sounds nutty, but Steiner thought these processes showed results in the field and also connected the physical with the metaphysical.
In the end, we all just want wine that tastes as good as possible and is made respectfully. Many producers subscribe to all of Steiner’s teachings, some wine producers employ parts of his philosophy and many don’t believe in any of it, and that is completely fine. There is often a qualitative difference when tasting comparable wines farmed conventionally and those farmed using biodynamics, but the quantitative evidence is still yet to catch up. However, is it a coincidence that famed estates such as Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and Chateau Pontet-Canet, among countless others, have fully converted to biodynamics? Whether we, as trade professionals, or as consumers buy into biodynamics is not the point. The practice is here to stay so why not be open minded and start doing some liquid research.
Here are a few must try biodynamic producers from the Farrell portfolio:
Montesecondo Toscano Rosso- This blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo comes from a 15 year vineyard in the hills of Chianti Classico. Fermented with native yeast and aged in stainless steel for 12 months.
Catherine et Pierre Breton Vouvray Sec “La Dellitante”- 100% Chenin Blanc from a 40 year old vineyard planted on flinty soil. This wine does not see oak, additional yeasts or filtration.
Hirsch Vineyards “San Andreas Fault” Pinot Noir- This is true American grand cru. Hirsch is pioneer of the Sonoma Coast and produces some of the best pinot noir in the new world.
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