Biodynamic and Organic Luncheon Event
June 24, 2009
Vignaioli Selection in collaboration with Barone Pizzini hosted a biodynamic and organic luncheon at Marea Restaurant with a significant number of wine director and experts of the New York scene.
The presentation carefully explained the concept of organic and biodynamic versus conventional wines.
Besides the presentation of Barone Pizzini’s organic and Pivalta’s biodynamic wines and their perfect pairing with Michael White’s cuisine, the discussion aimed at highlighting the major characteristic of Biodynamic and organic farming and its actual importance in reference to the presentation The Living Soil, a British publication that clearly answers most of the questions that many people ask about biodynamic and organic farming. Below are the main points.
- What do we mean, ‘organic wine?’ The organic vineyard – a bug’s eye view
- The importance of biodiversity. They sow flowering pants like clovers, mustards and vetches between the vine rows to attract beneficial insects like hoverflies and ladybirds which naturally control pests like aphids and leafhoppers.
In fact, biodynamic wine growers often talk about ‘living soil’ because they sustain the soil by spreading worm-rich compost made from natural manures and the grape skins left over from winemaking
- For organic and biodynamic farming it is important to work with nature and not against it. So to reduce vine stress they favour home-made teas made by soaking medicinal plants in freshly boiled rainwater. Examples include chamomile tea to prevent heat-stress, or valerian tea as a ‘winter warmer’ after frost. Teas made from oak bark or weeping willow prevent damaging mildews and grape rots from spreading. Soaking stinging nettle, comfrey leaves and even seaweed in an old barrel for a few days produces a smelly but highly effective liquid, used as an all-round pick-me-up to help keep vines stress-free.
- The soil of biodynamic farming appears untidy. In fact, allowing weeds to grow prevents top soils from cracking and then eroding to produce the atmospheric dust, which contributes to haze and global warming. Organic vineyards try to reduce the risk of compacting the soil or damaging the vines by favouring manual labour over tractors and other machinery. Reducing time spent on tractors not only burns less fossil fuels but reduces noise pollution too. For as organic winegrowers say, the best noise a vine can hear is the sound of winegrower’s feet.
- Healthier drinking: Organically grown grapes contain lower levels of sulfur dioxide. Too much sulfur dioxide preservatives make for worse hangovers and even some allergic reactions. In the USA and Australia organic vineyards bottling wines without any sulfur preservatives can label them as ‘organic wines’.
- More Taste: with organic and biodynamic farming, instead of using vacuum-packed factory yeasts, winemakers can let yeasts naturally on the grapes at picking ferment the juice into wine. This allows the wine to reflect the taste typical of its terroir getting off the chemical treadmill.
- The grapes: used to make organically and biodynamic wines are the same grapes as ‘normal’ wines. The difference is that they are produced without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. This keeps them free from all those man-made toxins that find their way into the food chain-and eventually into you.
- Inspections: organic vineyards must be inspected regularly, often without warning, in order to be officially described as ‘certified organic’. Vineyards new to organics must go through a three-year period called ‘conversion’. Despite the strict rules there are more organic vineyards worldwide than ever before, and their numbers are growing rapidly. Both winemaker and wine drinker clearly see organics as the future.
- Biodynamic preparations: Biodynamic winegrowers must use nine biodynamic preparations. These are made from manure, minerals or medicinal herbs. Six go in the compost pile, and three are used as vineyards sprays.
- ‘Dynamic’ cycles: Also biodynamic growers respect the ‘dynamic’ cycles of the moon, sun, planets and stars. Timing vineyard ploughing, pruning and even when to picking the grapes to cosmic cycles vitalizes vines, strengthening them from within. This produces healthier vines- and more flavored wines.
Biodynamic farming utilizes three Sprays:
- Horn manure or ‘500’: Biodynamic growers make cow manure extra potent by burying it from autumn to spring in cow horns. The manure turns dark and earthy smelling. It is removed from the horns and crumbled into the warm water before being sprayed on the soil, usually in autumn and early spring. Horn manure helps the vines dig town into the earth where the most complex tasting wine flavours lie.
- Horn silica or ‘501’: Biodynamic growers make sand extra potent by grinding stones made of quartz (like clear sand) into a fine powder. This is packed into cow horns and buried from spring to autumn. Once dug up, the powder is crumbled into warm water, stirred, then sprayed above the vines on a sunny morning, usually is spring and late summer. Horn silica helps vines reach up to the sun, magnifying the solar heat and light needed for ripe, healthy grapes.
- Horsetail tea or ‘508’: The common horsetail herb is easy to spot along shady riverbanks – its spiky tendrils give rise to its nickname ‘bottle brush’. Soaking horsetail in hot water produces a green tea rich in silica. Biodynamic growers say spraying the tea around full moon when the weather tends to be wet and humid sends a ‘don’t come here’ message to moisture-loving fungal diseases.
The six compost preparations
- Biodynamic growers add preparations made from six medicinal plants to their compost piles: yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion and valerian. Only, a few grams are needed for several grams are needed for several tones of compost. These six preparations help compost ferment better (it’s less smelly) and retain more minerals and nutrients. Biodynamic compost makes soils and crops more receptive to astronomical rhythms.
- Ten years ago the wine world was skeptical about the benefits of biodynamics, but now there isn’t a major wine producing region in the world without at least one biodynamic vineyard. Some of the world’s leading wine producers like Chapoutier (Rhone valley), Bonterra (California), The Millton Vineyards (New Zealand) and Alvaro Espinoza (Chile) use biodynamics, and say their wines taste more unique and individual as a result. The Greek ‘Demeter’ (Earth goddess) symbol is used by wineries whose vines are officially certified biodynamic.
How do we know it’s organic and/or biodynamic?
- At Vintage Roots our policy is only to stock goods from producers who have paid for and achieved certification, giving them the right to describe themselves as organic or biodynamic. Certification gives us and you a guarantee that no chemical fertilizers, synthetic pesticides or herbicides have been used on the vines.