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Biodynamics: grapes, cows and new shoes

book coverBiodynamics is the new buzz-word in wine making and French wine producer Nicolas Joly of Coulée de Serrant vineyard is one of the strongest advocates of this super-organic growing system. In his book What Is Biodynamic Wine?: The Quality, the Taste, the Terroir Joly explains that only by putting back into the soil everything nature produces, and I mean everything, can vines can grow and wine be made in harmony with the earth’s rhythms.

The first thing you'll notice on opening the book is how few words you've bought for the cover price of £9.99. Translated from Joly's original French, the book's large font size and double-line spacing make it a suitable candidate for the Large Print section in the local library. Combine this with amateurish looking photographs and grainy black and white sketches and Joly's case, promoting biodynamic vine management as the only sensible way of making making a wine that matches its terroir, gets rather lost.

I do agree with Joly's sentiment that:

 "the requirement nowadays for obtaining the AOC [Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée – French wine quality control system] designation is no longer the full expression of the AOC, but rather a 'correct' and perfectly nice wine – although one that has no location related to quality.”

Having Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée on a wine label should tell the consumer that they're about to drink wine that reflects local French soil conditions and micro-climate. To qualify for AOC status a wine must be produced within a defined area – ranging in size from a plot the size of the average back garden to a whole region – and it must obey local regulations on grape varieties and methods of wine-making.

grapesThe French consumer watchdog UFC-Que Choisir concluded, in a 2007 study, that the local authenticity offered by the AOC system had become meaningless. In many cases the rules have become so loosely applied that some wines bear no relation to local growing conditions. Growing vines biodynamically puts back the local link.

dandelionsFollowers of biodynamic theory spray infusions made with dandelion, valerian and chamomile flowers; water and cow dung on their vines. These ‘teas’ are a crude supplier of essential plant nutrients and are supplemented with the composting remains of cow horn and stag’s bladder stuffed with manure. Their great advantage to any grower is that they’re free. All the vineyard owner needs do is walk to an untended corner and pull up a few weeds and tidy up anything dropped from the cattle wandering about their vineyard.

cowsThis my kind of gardening. Why spend hard earned cash on petrol driving to the local agri-merchant and on fertilisers supplied in uncompostable plastic containers? Biodynamicists do have to spend some money on getting in crushed quartz stone to make preparation '501' - quartz dynamised with water (that's stirred vigorously to you and me). Sprayed on grapes it helps to concentrate their flavour.

Quartz rock contains silica. Silica absorbs water – just think of those small silica-gel sachets found in new shoes that help remove moisture – and it's very useful in taking excess moisture from over-rained on grapes that have become swollen and diluted.

Biodynamic grape-growing practice contains some sound gardening chemistry and common sense. If it didn't surround itself with mumbo-jumbo words like 'dynamising' and 'life forces' it might have a lot more followers.

You can buy What Is Biodynamic Wine?: The Quality, the Taste, the Terroir direct from the publishers Clairview for £9.99.