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DON’T MISS this Melbourne Food and Wine Festival event in 2011 - tickets are limited, book early!

Return to Terroir comes to Melbourne, 14 March 2011
Discover why the world’s top winemakers believe biodynamics is the best way to coax the most thrilling, authentic and profound flavours from their precious terroir. More info and bookings

 
   

WHY A BIODYNAMIC WINE WEB SITE?

Biodynamics is one of the hottest topics of conversation in the Australian wine community right now. This web site, written by me, Australian wine journalist Max Allen, aims:

to explain why a spiritual system of organic wine developed by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s has become so popular with Australian winemakers in the early 21st century;

to describe in language that wine-drinkers can understand - the philosophy and techniques of biodynamic viticulture and winemaking;

to provide independent, critical information about wines made using biodynamic methods.

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INTRODUCTION: WHY ME?

It’s all Deborah Kingsbury’s fault. I was in South Australia’s Barossa Valley in July 2006, co-hosting some workshops on biodynamics with winemaker Vanya Cullen. The workshops were packed: heaps of grape growers, grape-treaders, marketing types and journos all crowded into Charlie Melton’s tiny cellar door to come and find out what all the fuss is about biodynamics - or ‘BD’ to its friends.

Questions were flying round the room - as they always do when people get together to drink and talk about BD wines - but one particular question lodged in my mind. And no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t tug it out.

‘Where can I go to find out more about biodynamic wines in Australia?’ asked Deborah, an Adelaide wine distributor. ‘Is there a web site, for example, that can give me information about what we’re talking about here, in language I can understand?’

The answer then, of course, was no. The answer now is yes. You’re reading it.

I have been writing about wine in Australia for 15 years. I have been buying and cooking and eating organic food for longer than that because farming without chemicals not only seems like common sense, but also because organic fruit and veg often taste better.

Like many other consumers of organic produce, I used to be quite sceptical about many aspects of biodynamics - stirring fermented cow poo in water and spraying it on your vineyard under a descending moon, or picking grapes on ‘fruit days’ when the moon was in a ‘fire’ constellation all sounded like wacky nonsense.

But then I noticed that, more often than not, well-made biodynamic wines were sending a chill down my spine with their intensity and complexity of flavour. They not only tasted better than most ‘conventional’ - even organic - wines. They tasted different.

These were wines with an extra vitality and liveliness on the tongue, wines that were incredibly satisfying to drink, wines that made the flavour descriptions tumble out of my brain when I came to writing tasting notes.

Because of what was happening in my nose and on my tongue when I tasted these great BD wines, I went back to the biodynamic winemakers with an open mind and asked them to explain their thinking and their methods. I even went back to the source and read (and re-read) the series of lectures that Rudolf Steiner gave to a group of farmers in Germany in 1924 on how to improve their soils - the manifesto that started the whole biodynamic movement. And the more I heard and the more I read and the more I tasted, the less wacky it all sounded.

Which is why I ended up attending the first International Biodynamic Wine Forum in beechworth in 2004; why I found myself co-hosting a BD workshop in the Barossa; why I’ve started stirring and spraying the cow poo on my own garden; and why I set up this web site.

Drinking great BD wines is like listening to live music: the best conventional wines are like a standout performance on CD, played on the smartest audio equipment. Listening to the CD can be deeply enjoyable, even moving - but not as profound, memorable or rewarding as being in the audience at a concert, experiencing the moment with all your senses.

In other words, I think the environmental aspects and the spiritual side of the biodynamic movement are fascinating and important - but it’s also the sheer unadulterated pleasure of drinking good BD wines that I want to share with as many people as I can through this web site.

 

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WHY ARE SO MANY AUSTRALIAN VINEYARDS ADOPTING BIODYNAMICS NOW?

Biodynamics (not only offers) effective, creative and sustainable solutions to common problems experienced by contemporary vineyards, (but also makes) better wine-growers, better wine, and even more appreciative wine drinkers, too...- Monty Waldin, Biodynamic Wines, 2004

Why? A number of different reasons:

1. It makes better wine  Just look at the fast-growing list of the world’s top winemakers publicly embracing biodynamics - Leflaive, Leroy and Domaine de la Romanee Conti in Burgundy; Chapoutier in the Rhone; Selosse in Champagne; Didier Dagueneau in the Loire; Zind-Humbrecht and Weinbach in Alsace; Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon in the US; Millton, Rippon and Seresin in New Zealand ... All top producers already making good wine, who have moved to BD because they want to make better wine. As UK wine writer Robert Joseph observest: ‘It looks a lot like a club that, if I were a winemaker, I would very much want to be a member of.’ No wonder so many Australian vineyards are joining the club.

2. It makes a difference to the health of the vineyard  Many Australian vineyard owners have adopted BD methods because they believe it is the best way of either improving the health of their soil and their vines, or they want to keep old vineyards productive. Phillip Jones of the famous Bass Phillip vineyard in Gippsland, for example, is finding that BD methods have brought some balance back to his over-vigorous vines. Adam Marks has been using BD on his Bress vineyard at Harcourt since he bought it in an effort to improve the structure of the ‘crappy, Harcourt concrete’, granite sand and clay soils.

3. It is a perfect fit with a move towards single-vineyard wines in Australia Biodynamic farmers view their farm as an independent, unique individual unit, with external inputs kept to a minimum. This has parallels with the old French idea belief that the unique whole environment (terroir) of a vineyard, including the yeasts that grow on the grapes and the influence of the people who tend the vines, all contribute to the quality and sense-of-place experienced when a wine from that vineyard is drunk.

An increasing number of Australian winemakers are adopting this ‘terroirist’ approach, using wild or indigenous yeast fermentations, bottling wines from single patches of vines rather than blending wines from vineyards or regions, in an effort to express their unique site.

And when influential French vigneron Nicolas Joly describes biodynamics as a way of ‘helping vines catch the climate and soil in the wine’, it strikes a chord with this new wave of old-fashioned Australian winemakers.

4. And it’s cool to be green As you are no doubt all-too-well aware, environmental issues have gone mainstream in the last few years. Worrying about climate change, organic farming, food miles and ethical eating are no longer the preserve of what winemaker Charlie Melton calles the mung-bean munching hippie crowd. Which means that biodynamics is suddenly a legitimate option for many winemakers - winemakers who may once perhaps have dismissed it all as hocus-pocus.

 
We’re using biodynamics for three reasons. For the environment, for better wine quality, and for the wellbeing of the people who who work here...- Gilles Lapalus, Sutton Grange Wines, Central Victoria
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BIODYNAMIC STORIES

I have written about biodynamic wines in Australia in various international magazines over the last few years. You can download copies of those articles here:

Force of nature: there’s more to this mystical, holistic subject than buried cows’ horns and phases of the moon - such as top-quality wines with purity, clarity and real energy.
read article here Wine International Magazine, September 2005

Bio dynamos: As more world-class wineries go biodynamic, even the sceptics are starting to go au naturel.
read article here Gourmet Traveller, October 2006

A quiet revolution: Australian wine goes biodynamic.
read article here Selector Magazine, Autumn 2007

Reversal of Fortune: not so long ago it was the preserve of the wacky brigade, now biodynamics has become the talk of the industry.
read article here Harpers Wine and Spirit Weekly, March 2007

For other wine articles, information about wine courses and wine podcasts, visit my web site: www.redwhiteandgreen.com.au

For more information or feedback on this web site, contact me at max@redwhiteandgreen.com.au