Thursday, 12 November 2009

Organic Viticulture and Biodynamic Viticulture

Organic Viticulture

The terms "organic" or "ecological viticulture" can briefly be explained as a method which does not use any mineral fertilizer, chemical-synthetic and systemic pesticides (herbicides, fungicides, insecticides). As a result, it may be assumed that these substances, most of which are carcinogenic or suspected of being so, will not be present in wines from organic or ecological cultivation and will also not be in the ground water.

It would however be naive to believe that this means that all the organic wines on the market are of a superior quality. This can only be made possible with the help of further quality-oriented steps in the vineyards and the wine cellars.

Biodynamic Viticulture

Those restrictions in respect to the use of chemicals which apply to organic wine apply to biodynamic viticulture as well. From an anthroposophical viewpoint, agriculture, and hence a vineyard as well, can be seen as an individual entity which has its very own biotope with as large a diversity of animals, birds, insects and plants as possible. This means that many different plants should be cultivated and that hedges and trees should be planted at the sides of the roads. The effective treatment and the fertility of the soil is facilitated by the farm animals which are kept, consisting mainly of ruminants (cattle, but sheep and horses as well) proportional to the area being farmed. The manure from the farm animals is composted, along with any other organic substances which have accumulated, and used as fertilizer. In exceptional cases, it is permissible to buy and use manure from other farmers who also use ecological methods.

Whereas the changeover from conventional viticulture (using chemicals) to organic viticulture takes two and a half to three years, the period stipulated for biodynamic viticulture is six to seven years. It is not until this time that the chemicals used in the soil have decomposed and the soil has obtained the desired vitality with sufficient microorganisms. The reason for this long changeover period can be attributed to a theory developed by Rudolf Steiner, an anthroposophist and the founder of biodynamic agriculture, which maintains that fungal diseases of plants (which cause the most damage in viticulture) are the result of an imbalance between the soil and its environment. In order to restore the balance and to obtain a healthy soil fertility, the farmers use 8 biodynamic compounds, most of which they produce themselves. They are numbered from 500 to 507 and consist of the following components:

500 Horn Manure - Cow manure is put into a cow horn and buried in the ground during the winter, in the spring it is mixed with water and stirred making a vortex movement (this process, known in homeopathy, is called dynamization) and sprayed onto the vineyard in small homeopathic doses in order to improve the soil.

501 Horn Quartz - Finely ground quartz is put into the horn of a cow and buried in the ground during the summer. During the next stage of vegetation it is dynamized with water and sprayed onto the vines to improve the photosynthesis.

Compounds 502 -507 are based on compost, to which the blossoms of yarrow, camomile, dandelion as well as oak bark or the juice of valerian blossoms are added in order to increase the activity of the microbes in the compost.

Furthermore, in biodynamic viticulture all the work done in the vineyards or in the wine cellars is carried out according to the pattern of cosmic rhythms and the position of the stars. Maria Thun's lunar calendar, with its days for sowing and planting, is also taken into account.

What organic viticulture and biodynamic viticulture have in common is that in both systems it is permissible to use small amounts of copper and sulfur to combat fungal diseases.

It has been our experience that many winegrowers change from conventional viticulture to organic viticulture to begin with and then switch to biodynamic viticulture. However very few of them have become as intensely involved with Rudolf Steiner's theories, anthroposophy and biodynamic viticulture as Nicolas Joly has. When such well-known names as Madame Bize-Leroy from the Domaine Leroy, Romanée-Conti, Domaine Leflaive, Château Beaucastel, Domaine Marcoux, Peter Sissek, Perez Palacios, Bertrand Sourdais embrace the concept of biodynamic viticulture and proclaim openly that this method has continuously raised the quality of their wine, it would be very foolish to allege that their reasons for this are of an ideological nature. It is for the same pragmatic reasons that our winegrowers practice biodynamic viticulture. The wineries to which I am referring are Fuchs-Jacobus, Sander and Stutz in Germany, the Domaine Eugen Meyer, Domaine Zusslin, Domaine de l'Ecu, Clos de la Coulée de Serrant, Domaine Jean-Claude Rateau, Domaine de Marcoux, Château Romanin, Cazes, Château Falfas, Château Vieux Pourret in France, the Fattoria Cerreto Libri in Italy and the Nikolaihof in Austria. They are members of the Demeter Assocation or of "Biodyn", the Association for Biodynamic Viticulture.

For anyone wanting to learn more about biodynamic viticulture, I recommend Nicolas Joly's books entitled "Wine From Sky to Earth", "Biodynamic Wine Demystified" and "What is Biodynamic wine ?"

Erich Hartl


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