A dynamic approach

A recent news article that appeared in the BBC News Magazine has rekindled a debate over the efficacies of Biodynamic viticulture vis-à-vis the conventional ways of growing vines. Although the original news article only dealt with a part of Rudolf Steiner’s epic concept, the matter has since snowballed into a major talking point involving the entire subject. The wine media including Jancis Robinson’s forum has also chimed in.

The idea of this post is not to argue for or against the ‘effect of lunar cycles on the taste of wine‘ but to share some limited but valuable experience about biodynamics and its implications on the health of the vine. Of course, the jury is still out on the effects of this practice on the quality of wines and even the die hard biodynamic practitioner would agree that there are very few scientific pointers available to prove that a particular wine is superior simply because the grapes were grown following Steiner’s principles. But isn’t it fair to assume that a wine is more likely to be better because the fruits came from a healthy vine? Probably too simplistic for a purist’s liking but certainly not an argument that defies logic. Here’s how Jancis Robinson puts it in one of her older articles in Financial Times – “In general, barring some biodynamic practitioners who just don’t seem very competent winemakers, wines made from biodynamically grown grapes do taste more intense, more energetic and more interesting than similar wines grown conventionally.

I was formally introduced to biodynamics as a student of winemaking and viticulture by the charismatic James  Millton, a pioneer and a staunch preacher of this form of grape growing. Being an immensely inspirational individual, James was always willing to share his vast knowledge and passion for the subject. His welcoming nature meant that we (students of the wine course) found easy access to his estate in pristine Gisborne on New Zealand’s east coast. Apart from the chic cellardoor and a lovely picnic spot, what attracts many wine lovers to the Millton Vineyards each year (and presumably other commited biodynamic vineyards) is the natural surroundings, especially the neat rows of vines that James and team has reared for twenty five years. Brilliant shiny leaves, unblemished cordons and trunks, colourful cover crops between vine rows, the occasional rose bushes, variety of fauna co-existing together, the distinctly earthy smell of  compost, fascinating references of unconventional farming practices……..all that contributes to a  wine tourist’s delight. Compare this with a run-of-the-mill conventional vineyard which ‘feeds and treats’ its inhabitants with chemicals. No rewards for guessing which environment the vines prefer!

A striking feature of these winegrowers is their affinity to the land which also partly explains their passion for biodynamics. For them, wine is made in the vineyard. The soil is what they worship and the results often transcend to the bottle.

Devout followers of biodynamics include names like Château Pontet-Canet, Jean Grivot, Zind Humbrecht, Pingus, Araujo Estate and Michel Chapoutier among many others. As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. Why would such revered names follow a so called irrational and unscientific approach if it was not for the overall quality of the final product?

Here is an YouTube video of James Millton talking about Biodynamic wine-growing: