In today’s age of organic farming, good food (and fruit) comes from good soil. For this reason, organic vineyards prohibit the use of pesticides, fungicides or herbicides.
Take that natural-farming philosophy one step further — to incorporate cosmic forces — and you have a controversial movement called “biodynamic farming.”
Based on a theory developed by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s, biodynamic proponents believe that everything in nature is in a state of mutual interaction. So, growers work to bring the grapevine and the living earth into balance by focusing on energies that maintain life.
A spiritual science of sorts, timing is everything in biodynamic farming, which is based on cosmic rhythms of the sun, moon, stars and planets.
Lunar cycles determine root days, fruit days and water days based on the four states of matter: earth relates to roots, air to flowers, fire to fruit and water to leaves. They rotate among being dominant, usually for two-day periods, and farming tasks are planned accordingly. For example, biodynamic growers never pick fruit on a water day since water is pulled into the grape (like an ocean’s tide) making it too diluted.
Some practicing growers also add herbal preparations to the soil. Sometimes the preparations are pretty bizarre, causing quite a stir.
Take preparation No. 503, for example. Growers stuff chamomile flowers into cow intestine and bury it for a period of time. Once unearthed, the mixture is diluted and made “dynamic” by stirring it in a bowl first clockwise, then counterclockwise to create a vortex that energizes the preparation. Applied to compost, it is said to increase microbial life in the soil and promotes vine growth. Odd as it may sound, growers around the globe have tested the theory and many swear that the fruit is of higher quality.
Vineyards certified in the U.S. by the Demeter Association, a biodynamics standards and awareness group, include Robert Sinskey, Benziger and Grgich Hills. In France, Josmeyer, Zind Humbrecht, Domaine Leflaive, Domaine LeRoy and Coulée de Serrant lead the way.
There is no doubt that respect for the soil and earth is a good thing. How far growers are willing to go is another. Regardless of your view, biodynamic believers definitely spend more time in the vineyards, and lucky for us the extra time with vine often shows up in the glass.
Marianne Frantz, CWE and founder of the Cleveland Wine School, was joined by the Cleveland NEOenophiles in selecting and sampling wines for this month’s Cellar Notes.
2004 Chapoutier La Bernardine Châteauneuf du Pape, Rhone Valley, France ($40): Medium-bodied with peppery black fruits, baking spices, dark cherry and licorice. Crisp acidity and firm tannins finish with a meaty aroma typical of the region.
2001 Josmeyer Riesling, Alsace, France ($30):
Dry, medium-bodied with crisp, refreshing acidity. Aromatic notes of orange zest, mineral, spice and herbs are concentrated, making it a perfect partner for starter courses.
2000 Josmeyer Gewürztraminer,
Alsace, France ($33): Full-bodied and creamy. Aromatic flowers-of-the-field, lychee nut and honeysuckle aromas. Medium acidity and medium-plus alcohol support a long slightly bitter finish.
2004 Benziger Chardonnay, Carneros, California ($14): Medium-plus body with ripe pear and peach aromas with a hint of toasted oak. Crisp acidity and medium-plus alcohol give a long finish. A good value-wine for the table.
2002 Benziger Merlot, Sonoma County, California ($18): Full-bodied with rich mouthfeel and ripe, soft tannins. Dark fruit aromas of plum, cherry and pepper are kissed with a hint of toasted oak. Try with roasted meats or chicken.
2004 Grgich Hills Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California ($50): Full-bodied with crisp acidity and aromas of green apple, white flowers, mineral and pears, and a slightly nutty finish. Starting with the 2005 vintage all vineyards will be biodynamic.