has always been food. When I am asked ‘what did you have for
dinner’ I say “some solid food, and some liquid food meaning some
vineyard in Bordeaux in 1984, aged 17. I could not understand why so
many wine-growers put so many unecessary chemicals on their land.
They said “Bordeaux is the best place in the world to make red
wine.” My conclusion was either Bordeaux was a really shit place to
grow grapes, or the wine-growers were very bad at their job. They
were spraying chemicals which damaged their soil, which made the
grapes harder to ferment, and which made the wines lose their
individuality. They were degrading their USP, the “Bordeauxness’
of their wines.
wine-growers even had organic vegetable gardens–just like my
grandfather and my father did (I used to work in my father’s
vegetable garden). These wine-growers did not used chemicals on their
vegetables. So why did they use so many chemicals on the vines? It
made no sense.
Bordeaux to learn how to make wine and discoverved biodynamics there
in 1993 by accident. I tasted a wine with a unique texture, asked how
it had been grown, and discovered it was “biodynamic”. I had
never heard this word before so I started doing some research.
wine, did some TV and radio for BBC, wrote some books and went to
work on organic and biodynamic estates in France, Germany and
California to learn more. I then did a few more books on biodynamic
wine, a book on biodynamic gardening, a TV series called Chateau Monty about me making biodynamic wine in Roussillon in France,
and I started consulting too (Germany, Argentina, Chile, England
consulting is changing people’s mind-set. The wine-grower is paying
you because they want to change. Your job as consultant is to allow
them to see the work in the vineyard as something which will help
them grow and develop as people, as farmers, as creatives (which is
what wine-making is, you create each year something new) – and not
as something which will be a hassle, which will be difficult, which
will make them lose money or their pride in their work.
convert a vineyard containing lots of weedkiller and other residues
by spraying just two biodynamic sprays each year, or by “working by
the moon”. Wine-growers who take this really lazy track often get
poor results: poor grapes, poor wine and they give biodynamics a bad
growers to make lots of compost from high quality manure. This is
complicated, time-consuming, costly, and logistically challenging and
requires a high degree of expertise and commitment to get it right.
should ask a biodynamic wine-grower is “what is your composting
regime”?, and not “do you prune by the moon?”. Anyone can prune
by the moon, but not everyone has the will or the sensitivity to make
“biodynamic” red wine from somewhere on the mediterranean coast which is very high
in alcohol and lacks acidity, has over-ripe tannins and has a pH
which is out of balance (too high) I am tasting wine from a soil
which is too hot, which lacks humus, in which vines are stressing
because like the soil they grow in they are out of balance: too many
grapes, not enough leaves, weak roots. The sun is too strong, and the
soil is too weak. The soil needs boosting with humus, humus being
“the soil within the soil.” And humus formation is stimulated by
worm-rich compost. And in the case of Biodynamics the compost also
brings formative forces or processes to the soil which allows the
vines to tune back in to lunar and seasonal cycles.
“biodynamic” white wine from a wetter climate further north on
the Mediterranean coast which is dilute in flavour and aroma and has
high green acidity I am again tasting a wine where the soil is also
weak. The soil should be like a sponge which can process (soak up,
drink) rainfall whilst also allowing mineralisation (the soil to
digest food and give it to vines) and preventing the erosion of the
soil and its minerals and worms.
become like a swimming pool.
many grapes, too many leaves, unripe flavours, unripe acids.
you would treat your vegetable garden. Have a biodiverse mix of
plants, top the soil up with high quality biodynamic compost every so
often, allow plants the right balance of heat and light and water and
earth. Then you will enjoy the food that you grow and eat for dinner:
wine as food, and food as wine.
way of creating food and wine which stimulates both body and spirit
by creating as far as possible a farm or vineyard which is a
self-sustaining living organism whereby the farmer must try to put
more tangible substances (minerals, humus, organic matter,
worms) and intangible formative forces or processes into
the land and crops than s/he takes out.
regarding certification, either for wine producers or for wine
complain about the costs of certification–fees and extra
paperwork–are happy to pay fees and complete extra paperwork when
declaring their wines as DOC or DOCG. Even to label wines as IGT or
Vino da Tavola requires paperwork and cost.
bothered to get certified organic/biodynamic, don’t bother making
wine. When I get in an aeroplane I want the pilot to say “I have a
licence to fly the plane and every so often I am checked to make sure
my eyesight is OK, that I am a good pilot, and I know the rules of
aviation,”. I do not want to get in a plane flown by a pilot who
says “look, I don’t have a pilot’s licence but you have to
trust me when I say I know how to fly this plane…”.
government monopolies (Canada, Scandinavia) want certification,
documentation. Do some wine producers cheat with organics/biodynamics
by spraying banned products?
get caught via soil or wine analysis.
certification means you have to record everything. It can be a good
way of helping wine producers really see what products they are
spraying, how much of it they are spraying, when–and whether or not
it worked. It’s like doing a business plan: where can I save money
(by spraying less) and improve quality (by spraying better)?
calculation of changing from “chemical” wine-growing to bio
wine-growing will be this: “I need to accept organics/Biodynamics
will give me lower yields of grapes/wine. I will also have to pay for
certification. But, I will save some money on sprays. However, any
savings I make I will have to spend on employing more human labour in
the vines because with organics there is no second chance if
something goes wrong with the health of the vines or grapes. The idea
is always therefore ‘prevention rather than cure’. So I will
spend more money but my wines will be easier to ferment because their
pH/acid/sugar/alcohol levels will become more balanced. And my wines
will age better. And people and bees who live near to or who work in
my vineyards will be happier that I am not spraying products like
fertilizers and pesticides which were developed as a direct result of
bomb-making and nerve gas technologies developed during the First
natural optimist. In terms of the average quality of biodynamic wine
in Italy I have to be honest. There are some very, very good
producers–I am not going to name names–but there are too many
wines which taste of dirty winemaking, dirty barrels, lacking fruit,
interest, typicity and ripeness. If you don’t believe me go to
Austria and meet the biodynamic producers there, ask them how they
work in the vineyard and in the cellar and taste their wines. Then go
to New Zealand, to regions like Marlborough, Martinborough, Gisborne,
and Otago and do the same thing. Then go to Alsace in France which is
like a mini-Austria: lots of young winemakers who are very connected
with their wines and who work in wineries which are clean but not
sterile and who use wood, steel, stone tanks, and amphora. Then go to
the Loire, Roussillon, southern Burgundy (Maconnais), Jurançon in
south west France. In all these places I find wines with inner
vitality, ripeness and crystalline clairity. In Italy my impression
sometimes is like being in Germany in the mid-1990s, where
biodynamics was about “the process”, how biodynamic you were and
not about making a high quality food product. The “guru”
consultants in France held biodynamics back, and this is sometimes
the case in Italy. France had a new generation of consultants who
emerged in the early 1990s. In Germany and Austria it took until the
late 1990s/early 2000s. In Italy a new wave of consultants has only
developing “natural” wine counter-culture (as does France). But
Italy is behind France in terms of biodynamics in wine at the highest
level. How many Italian estates are 100% biodynamic in Barolo,
Barbaresco, Bolgheri, Brunello? How many are biodynamic like Bonterra
in California or Cullen in Australia or Château Pontet-Canet in
Bordeaux? OK, these estates are famous, they have lots of money, they
can afford to pay for horses to work the wines you will say. They are
rich, we are not….etc etc.
price level or two. Which Italian biodynamic estates are making red
or dry white wines at the level of say Matassa in Roussillon or dry
white wines like Bret Brothers in southern Burgundy or Ganevat in the
Jura or from aromatic and semi-aromatic grapes like dozens and dozens
of growers in Alsace or from horse ploughed vines like Bellahsen in
the Midi or from heritage grape varieties like Comte Abbatucci in
Corsica or Sauvignon Blanc like Alexandre Bain in Pouilly Fumé? The
key to these wines is their saltiness. They taste ripe, clear, clean
and saline. They come from hot climates but are light like
ballerinas. They shine, they are brilliant, they make you want to
take another sip. That is what you should be aiming for. You have
some producers doing this, but you could have so many more. It will
be exciting to see how things develop over the next few years.