In an earlier post titled Green Wines, we briefly talked about biodynamic wines. Let’s now have a closer look and pierce through the mysteries of biodynamic farming: vineyards grown without chemicals and grapes harvested at nights displaying a full moon. In spite of all the preconceived notions, this serious practice is far from being an act of spirits and witchcraft.
More than just a trend or temporary foolishness, it is a fundamental crusade that radically changes the way wine is being produced. Hundreds of winemakers are choosing biodynamic methods over the more traditional way; no invasive technology, no recourse to chemicals, but a deep and strong attention to nature’s rhythms.
In order to understand biodynamic practices, one must start by looking at the moon. It affects the eternal rising and falling of water levels and some people believe it also affects the land. For Alain Moueix (Château Fonroque), winemaker and owner of a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru estate, the harvest had to be postponed by a few days for a more favorable time: “Ideally, when I can, I try to harvest my grapes during fruit days; in other words, days when the moon travels in front of a constellation of fire from the zodiac calendar. For example, Lion, Aries or Sagittarius. These are more propitious days for a more expressive wine.” Trained as both an agricultural engineer and an oenologist, Alain Moueix is far from being a druid. Thoughtful, measured and armed with experience of working in vineyards in New Zealand and South Africa, Mr. Moueix is a strong believer in the importance of terroir: “People who are serious about wine should talk about the soil.”
Basing wine production on lunar bearings, constellations and astrological wonders may seem a little out there, unscientific and disturbingly irrational for some people. The practice can trigger indifference, laughter or even concerns; but make no mistake, this is a serious business that ravels the attention of many avid wine consumers. No artificial fertilizers or pesticides are being used, as they are replaced with homemade concoctions: Russian comfrey and wild fern with insecticidal virtues – “plants heal plants.” In the biodynamic world, the winemaker and his associates are limited to what they can use, which makes the winemaking process a little “simpler” than traditional methods. Only a tiny amount of sulfite can be added during the vinification to help protect the wine against not only oxidation, but also bacteria.
“Do people think I’m crazy? Yes, I think some do. Then there’s proof. I have been growing healthy vines and harvesting flavorful grapes for the past 10 years. The wine I produce is consistently getting better which triggers curiosity.” Before being biodynamic certified, Alain Moueix converted his wine production to organic. This was his first step towards authenticity but that wasn’t enough: “There are wines that feel more alive and refined, with more layers. My future in winemaking is focusing on producing a wine that is different from the rest. Making the same wine, using the same technological resources is another profession and it isn’t mine.”
According to an article in Fortune Magazine, many of the top estates in France – including Domaine Leroy in Burgundy, Château de la Roche-aux-Moines in the Loire, Maison Chapoutier in the Rhône Valley, and Domaine Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace – follow biodynamic viticulture. Opus One, one of the top wineries in Napa Valley, has started biodynamic practices back in 2006. There are currently more than 550 (vs. 450 in 2010) biodynamic wine producers worldwide, 400 of them are from France. So, is the biodynamic interest just a temporary trend or is there a real difference with traditional wines? Bruno Quenioux, Sommelier and Caviste at Philivino, thinks there is a difference: “When we talk about well-known winemakers who believe in the land, there’s no doubt in my mind. There’s this undeniable lightness in biodynamic wines that you cannot find in other wines.” Biodynamic practices is making a “natural” progression and it is starting to trigger the undeniable interest of consumers. Myth, moonshine, marketing scheme… whether you believe in biodynamic farming or remain to be convinced, you must remember one thing: whichever the method, there’s still a genuine love for winemaking.
Consumers are going back to the basics. Learn about the other three types of green wines by visiting this popular Wine Ponder article.