When people ask questions about biodynamic winemaking for the first time and are told about some of the more esoteric principles of this form of growing grapes most probably think ‘Cosmic rays, lunar cycles, cow horns filled with cow dung and buried in the ground, what the heck is this all about?’
However, leave what many consider the slightly weird parts of biodynamics aside and the principles not only make sense they are actually quite easy to follow. In its absolute simplest form biodynamics is taking organic production to the next step, focusing on improving soil and therefore plant health by encouraging and enhancing the development of naturally occurring bio-organisms in the soil structure.
I knew a little about this form of winemaking but wanted to know more so last week I spent a couple of hours walking around the only fully certified biodynamic vineyard in the region with David Holmes the former owner who is now back in the vineyard helping current owner Lars Jensen and Jon Harrey from Te Mania Wines move their vineyards to the next level. In Te Mania’s case this means full BioGro Organic certification and for the Richmond Plains label it means full Bio-dynamic certification.
At the heart of the vineyard is the compost heap. Any gardener will tell you good compost is great for the garden so a good compost heap in the vineyard makes sense. Obviously it would take a huge amount of compost to spread around a vineyard like you do in your garden at home and this is where the biodynamic wizardry takes place. Compost is developed in a number of forms, from cow dung in horns buried in the ground to fermenting compost in water with some biodynamic ‘super’ additives. These super additives are naturally occurring fungi and micro-organisms in concentrated form and the various composts we had a looked at were literally teeming with worms and other bugs doing their work creating a highly concentrated biodynamic compound.
To spread this around the vineyard about 100kg of compost is soaked in about 400 litres of water for 24 hours and then spread around the vineyard via the drip irrigation system in the vineyard. As to the cow horns, well it turns out they are a great vessel to develop super intense forms of biodynamic compounds to use as additives in the final compost mix – nothing spooky about this even if it does sound a little strange.
So what difference does it make to the wine? Firstly because of the reliance on natural growing conditions the wines truly reflect the growing environment where the weather conditions have the final say therefore each vintage will be a reflection of the weather conditions during the year. Secondly the lack of manipulation means there are no chemical, pesticide or herbicide residues in the finished product, something the Japanese have jumped on with them buying almost all of Richmond Plains biodynamic certified 2010 sauvignon blanc.
I still haven’t got my head around some of the more esoteric aspects of biodynamic winemaking but if they make as much sense as encouraging a healthy soil structure then maybe they aren’t as weird as some people think.
I have been drinking
Ti Point Chardonnay 2010 - RRP$21
Made from fruit grown in Hawke’s Bay this wine has layers of flavour that very gently encourage you to want just one more taste. Toasted nut aromas, a creamy texture up front with fresh lime crispness in the finish that round out softly spiced stonefruit flavours. A summer delight.
Ellero 2008 Central Otago Pinot Noir - RRP$36
With plenty of mouthwatering ripe acidity this wine has classic spiced red cherry flavours with a fine tannin backbone. If you want to try this and other wines from Ellero before you buy then pop into Casa del Vino of Saturday 26th where Roberta from Ellero wines will have them open for tasting