Whatever your politics are, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that there are some pretty huge problems inherent in the current business of agriculture. Way back in the 1920s, before anyone was yammering on about corn subsidies or crop rotation, an Austrian scientist named Rudolf Steiner developed a revolutionary treatise concerning the growing of grapes for wine. Though he didn’t coin the term “biodynamic” himself, his ideas are the basis of this school of thought. His philosophy centered on the idea of natural balance—specifically, the symbiotic balance of the soil with not just the air here on Earth, but the entire cosmos. He thought that if man, nature, soil and the cosmos were in balance, the Earth would be healthier, and, in turn, the grapes that grew from that soil.
These ideas penetrate every part of the grape growing cycle, starting with the farmers timing every activity in accordance with the position of the moon and stars. The fertilization of the field, pruning and harvesting are all mapped out, not only to the day, but down to the hour that is the most favorable in the eyes of the universe. The farmers who practice biodynamism claim there is a marked difference in the plants come harvest time: The leaves are healthier, the grapes ripen earlier and the grape skins are thicker.
As in organic wine making, chemicals of any kind are out of the question. In biodynamics, however, the type of fertilizer used for the vines is so specific that they must use a different type for each part of the plant. Regular old cow dung compost is used for the soil. For the roots, however, horn dung is used. Finally, for better photosynthesis, horn silica is used. This is a mixture of pulverized silicum that is mixed with water in the horn of a cow (a mixture that must be stirred in a specific pattern to adhere to—you guessed it—the cosmos) then buried for several months to cure.
At this point, you are no doubt thinking, “These people sound crazy!”
If the wines made by these moon-dancing lunatics were no better than wine made by anyone using typical modern wine making techniques, I would completely agree. But many of them aren’t just better. They’re the best.
M. Chapoutier, arguably the most well known producer in all of the Rhone Valley, uses biodynamic techniques in most of their wines. Many of Chapoutier’s Rhone wines are prohibitively expensive, but they have a handful of less expensive offerings that are just as good, including Chapoutier Bila-Haut 2008 Côtes de Roussillon ($13.99 at Morrell & Co., 1 Rockefeller Plaza at Fifth Avenue btwn. 49th and 50th, 212-688-9370). Grown south of the Rhone, this robust red still uses the typical Southern Rhone grape varietals Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. It is spicy up top with baked strawberry fruit through the middle and a cedary, cinnamon-laden finish.
Nicolas Joly is the last word in Savennières, the complex white wine that hails from the central Loire Valley in France’s northwest. Producing full bodied whites that can go toe to toe with most high-end white Burgundies, Joly also implements fully biodynamic practices. Nicolas Joly “Les Clos Sacrés,” 2006 Savennières ($48.99 at Beacon Wine and Spirits, 2120 Broadway at 74th Street, 212-877-0028) may be a bit more pricey, but it is worth every penny. Right out of the bottle it gives tons of green apple, pear and honeysuckle, but once it has opened for a half hour or so, it begins changing. Scents of wildflowers and notes of burnt sugar, tropical fruit and a nutty finish on the palate make this one of the most interesting white wines I have ever tasted.
Whether you are a convert of the ideas (and ideals) behind biodynamics, it is difficult to argue quackery when faced with amazing wines such as these.
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