Biodynamics – Its origins and practices
After more vineyard visits than I care to remember, the first time I saw Domaine des Trinités, our estate up in the hills of Faugères, I realised that after more than 4 years of searching we had finally found a property for sale that ticked most of our boxes and certainly all the important ones. Lovely, steep vineyards with beautiful schiste soils, the right blend of grape varieties, a well equipped winery and a modern house with a wonderful view to boot. However the thing that also grabbed my imagination was the isolation of the vineyards which meant I was able to follow whatever approach I wanted to in the vines’ without the risk of contamination – I was going to grow vines biodynamically.
At this point it’s probably worth going back to school or more accurately to my University days in Brighton or Plumpton to be more precise whilst studying for my degree in viticulture and oenology (vine growing and wine making). One of the modules of the course enabled us to chose a subject and spend a year studying it before presenting a paper to the faculty on our findings. There was a fair bit of talk about biodynamics but being a very scientific environment, on the whole it wasn’t given much credence, with myself being a fairly staunch cynic on the subject. However, when I learnt that the philosophy had been largely promulgated by the Austrian Rudolph Steiner, I began to take notice. Steiner is perhaps best known for his work in the field of education, the Waldorf system of education had for a long time interested my wife and I and had we stayed in the UK our daughter would no doubt have attended such a place. In 1924 Rudolph Steiner delivered a series of lectures on his principle of “anthroposophy”, a link between the material world and our singular or collective spirituality. Maybe that sounds a bit flaky but from the educational sense, it’s effectively about tailoring a child’s education according to his or hers innate qualities by concentrating as much on the development of creativity and self awareness as analytical capability. In other words raising a child who understands the balance between his or hers own needs and those of the world around them.
So to take this “anthroposophical” approach in to agriculture, i.e. biodynamics, is to produce, in my case a vineyard that is a complete, sustainable ecosystem but that is in tune with the world and cosmos in which it survives. So practically this means adding nothing artificial to the soil as the soil should be treated as a living organism, so the use of composts and ploughing to enrich the soil is standard practice but this is also the case in organic farming, so where’s the difference? Well, for a start there are a number of preparations that are used, too copious to list but suffice it to say they involve the fermenting of manure in buried cow horns as well as the burying of various animal parts (including Stag bladders) stuffed with plants, barks etc in order to mix with water and spray on the vines. Consider these as homeopathic treatments designed to get the vine, the soil and its surrounding envirement working as a single entity. The other big difference to organic methods is that most of what is done in biodynamics is done according to a calendar that is directed by lunar and astral positioning giving rise to such things as fruit days, root days, leaf days flower days, ascending/descending moon phases etc. ensuring that a rhythm is kept with the other systems that effect its existence.
So to put it a nutshell, always a very dangerous thing to try and do about and subject, particularly of a more controversial nature, biodynamics is an “Über” form of organic agriculture, but also a philosophical approach that is holistic in its nature, considering the farm as an entity in a far wider system.
I think most if not all practitioner of biodynamic principles treats it as a smorgasbord of ideas and takes those concepts that make sense to them and their farm. In my case there are parts of it that do seem flakey and others that seem to make complete sense. I like the idea of a sustainable eco-system, for example to improve the health of the whole vineyard and thus its natural defenses against maladies rather than treat the malady itself; just think how weakened our own immune systems have become from the use of anti-biotics. It seems perfectly logical that the moon will have a profound effect on a plants, it can push and pull oceans around so pruning with the aid of its gravitational pull to minimise sap flow and subsequent wood decease seems sensible. However, I haven’t to date interred any stag bladders or sheep skulls for that matter, although I will be stuffing my cow horns with manure and burying them next week.
The fact of the matter is that various studies have been conducted by such organizations as the Soil Association that seem to prove, although not conclusively that biodynamically worked farms have a very healthy soil structure, in many cases healthier than organic farms but no real scientific explanations have been given. From my point of view the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The fruit in the vineyard , although low yielding is of incredible depth and concentration and the resulting wine, our Cuvée 42 which is made with practically no intervention, merely a wild yeast fermentation of Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache Noir, aged in old oak and bottled without filtration does the grapes every justice. The wine sings of pure fruit and is beautifully balanced being big and luscious but without being overly concentrated or extracted.
Pleased call us on 04 67 90 23 25 before visiting to ensure we’re there.
Simon and Monica look forward to welcoming you at: Domaine des Trinités, 6 Chemin de l’Aire, 34320 Roquessels, where you will be welcome to taste all our wines that are all naturally made by hand but not all are as labour intensive or expensive as the Cuvée 42 which I think is only right as finding a natural balance is the key, a philosophy I’m sure Rudolph Steiner would agree with.