Chemistry, Alchemy or Both? Biodynamic Wizardry in the Languedoc
Biodynamics continues to be a buzz word in grape growing and wine making circles. The temptation when considering biodynamics is to either succumb to the intrigue or to run for the hills the minute lunar cycles are mentioned and refuse to return until scientific backup can be proffered.
The biodynamic approach to farming was adopted after a series of lectures by Rudolf Steiner in 1924. Indeed, Steiner himself had sought the fusion between science and spirituality in his early work and later outlined biodynamic farming principles as a later practical expression of his views. A interconnected wheel of earth, air, water and light -at its simplest, biodynamic farming is a turbo-charged form of organic farming.
It’s focused on the farm as a holistic entity including the people and animals. The soil is regarded as the living breathing support to this entity, fertilised by natural manures, the soil and plants are sustained by the use of homeopathic tisanes or teas. Certain agricultural practices are also conducted during specific lunar and solar cycles which is when biodynamics can be accused of wizardry.
Whilst maybe not as popular as Harry Potter, Demeter, the certifying body, was established in 1928 and currently has over 5,000 farmer members in more than fifty countries worldwide. There are also countless of uncertified gardeners and grape-growers who adhere to the strict biodynamic practices but for reasons of cost or climate or indeed philosophically have chosen not to be certified.
At the heart of biodynamic practises in the vineyard are the use of the homeopathic plants, applied as very diluted tisanes, known as preparations. Individually each plant has a specific purpose and it’s used during certain plant growth cycles.
Is Seeing Believing?
The reliance on these tisanes is perhaps one of the areas most often criticised by the cynics and skeptics of biodynamic farming so I headed along to a Biodynamic Breakfast Workshop with Gerard Bertrand in the Languedoc to get the low-down of the science versus the spiritual.
Gérard Bertrand owns fourteen premium wine estates in the South of France. A committed organic grape farmer, he has now achieved Demeter certification for seven of these estates with a target to be 100% certified by 2020. His biodynamic journey began at his home estate Domaine de Cigalus in 1995.
Since then his energy and commitment to sustainable farming and agricultural biodiversity has continued to flourish. A healthy living soil remains at the core of Gérard’s philosophy, driving his belief and passion in biodynamics, and central to this is his use of herbal tisanes in the vineyard.
According to the science, yarrow is important for supporting the grape vines structure as it helps the soil process potassium and sulphur, camomile is connected to calcium, keeps plant nutrients stable and invigorates vine growth and dandelion is connected to healthy soil and strong plant growth.
Our workshop coach, on the other hand, explained that dandelions live in the sun, “the seeds call for wind” and they digest excess water. He mentioned that camomile reintroduces rhythm to exhausted organisms and that yarrow supports vine structure and enhances the effect of sulphur, allowing the winemaker to reduce the use of sulphur in the winery.
Our biodynamic coach then passed around dried yarrow, camomile and dandelion – they were intense and pungent. Next, a few flowers were infused with water and stirred, essentially like making a cup of herbal tea.
Each tisane was allowed to infuse for several minutes before we were offered the opportunity to smell and taste each one.
Each tisane was individually powerful and aromatic. The dilution of 100 grams per litre for use on the vines is sometimes questioned in biodynamics, but could be considered as similar to the necessary dilution of essential oils which otherwise would be too strong.
The dynamising or stirring of the preparations is also questioned but it could be compared to stirring tea in a pot – bringing it to life and making it more powerful.
Whilst maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, a glance at the pages and pages of certified grape growers on Demeter’s website, suggest that the science and spirituality is working and we can expect to see more bio-dynamic wines hitting our shelves in the future.
Cigalus White 2016
€38.00 (on offer from €29.95 this September) – Available at O’Briens Wine
A classy blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.
The nose is intense with hints of dried fruits, the palate is a potent mix of citrus, honey and peachy fruits with hints of roasted nuts and toast on the finish.
Cigalus Red 2015
€38.95 (on offer from €29.95 this September) – Available at O’Briens Wine
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache and Caladoc.
The aromas and flavours are dominated by luxuriant red fruit notes of bramble, cassis and spice, the tannins are ripe and silky.
Lynne Coyle MW is one of less than 355 Masters of Wine worldwide who have undertaken and passed the gruelling Master of Wine examinations.
Starting her career in the hotel and restaurant industry, she is still a passionate foodie as well as being a member of the Champagne Academy and is Wine Director for O’Briens Wine.
Lynne has consulted for wineries in Chile, Spain and Italy, judges at international wine competitions and regularly hosts tastings and talks on wine.