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Wine

Biodynamic – going beyond organic

If someone told you that filling a cow’s horn with dung and planting it at a certain phase of the moon would help your vines to grow, you’d probably think they were bonkers. Far out it may indeed sound, but this is one of the central steps in biodynamics, a form of organic viticulture that’s being embraced by an increasing number of Australian wineries. While it might sound like a theory cooked up by modern hippies, biodynamics actually has its origins in Europe over 90 years ago.

Let’s set the scene.

It’s 1924 in Silesia, Germany (now part of Poland) and a group of farmers has gathered to hear a series of lectures by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. The farmers are looking for an alternative to chemical fertilisers, which they believe have caused extensive damage to their soil and brought poor health to their livestock and crops.

Steiner proves sympathetic as he reveals a system of agriculture that shuns chemicals and treats the farm as an individual, self-contained entity. Rather than focus on the health of individual plants, Steiner’s system teaches that good health requires that the entire eco-system in which the plant exists be thriving. This includes the other plants, the soil, the animals and even the humans who are working the land.

The system he describes he calls biodynamics. By taking away all artificial fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, Steiner presented one of the earliest models of organic farming. However, it’s the next steps that really separate biodynamics from organics (and it’s at this point that I imagine some of the listening farmers’ eyebrows began to rise).

Steiner claims that for this environment to truly blossom, a series of field and compost preparations needs to be added. These preparations, nine in total, are man-made solutions, derived from nature, that are labelled 500 through to 508. To the conventional farmer, these preparations may appear somewhat far-fetched. For example, ‘500’ is made by filling cow horns with cow manure, which are then buried over winter to be recovered in spring. A teaspoon of the manure is then mixed with up to 60 litres of water, which is stirred for an hour, whirled in different directions every second minute. ‘501’ also requires a cow horn, this time filled with crushed quartz. It is buried over summer and dug up late in autumn, then mixed the same way as 500.

Stretching his credibility even further in the eyes of the pragmatic farmer, Steiner brings a spirituality to his teachings by suggesting the growth cycles of the farm are influenced by astrological forces.

Decisions such as when to spray the preparations, when to weed and when to pick should all be made according to a calendar that details the phases of the moon and stars.

“Hocus-pocus!” you may very well cry.

Not so, according to the ever-increasing number of wine producers in Australia and internationally who have embraced biodynamics. Choosing an environmentally sustainable approach to viticulture is obviously to be applauded in these times of climate crisis. However, talk to biodynamic producers and you’ll find that superior wine quality is the number one motivation for being biodynamic.

At South Australia’s Cape Jaffa, the Hooper family has been using biodynamic principles for many years and their conviction in its effectiveness is complete. “We believe that cultivating the vines in this way is what allows them to achieve balance within their environment. Achieve balance, and the vines are able to fully express themselves – leading to a wine that bares a true and remarkable resemblance to its environment,” says Derek Hooper.

The Buttery family of Gemtree in McLaren Vale are also converts. Since their biodynamic beginnings in 2007 they say they can now “see a noticeable difference in the health of our vineyard and quality of our fruit.”

A fellow McLaren Vale winemaker, David Paxton of Paxton wines says, “Biodynamics is the most advanced form of organic farming. It uses natural preparations and composts to bring the soil and the vine into balance, resulting in exceptionally pure and expressive fruit.”

The proof is in the tasting, however, so next time you’re looking for a new wine to try, why not put biodynamics to the test and see if you can taste the natural difference?

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Wine
Green with envy: Organic wine
Words by Daniel Honan on 11 Jul 2016
This issue’s State of Play reveals that despite the challenges, Australia’s organic wine producers are a committed bunch and the proof of their dedication is in the tasting. Maurice O’Shea was Australia’s first great organic winemaker. He didn’t use synthetic chemical fertilisers to help his vines grow, he didn’t use herbicides like Round-Up to keep the weeds away, nor did he spray his Hunter Valley vines with synthetic pesticides that kill any and all bugs that dare to step a tiny foot near his verdant green vines. O’Shea was organic way before any trendy sommeliers, or some wine writers for that matter, thought it was cool. The thing is, though, O’Shea was organic because, at the time, there was no other way. He was an organic winegrower by default. There were plenty of pesticides available for him to use, but these were derived from naturally occurring (though still potentially harmful) minerals and plant products, like copper, lead, manganese, zinc, and nicotine sulphate extracted from the relatives of tobacco. All that changed after the Second World War when the scientific boffins who had developed particular products to use in explosives and chemical warfare, by manipulating molecules and rearranging atoms, also discovered that some of these new synthetic chemicals were sometimes less lethal to humans, yet still just as lethal to insects. And so, the agrochemical industry was born. What is organic wine? Nowadays, many winegrowers can choose whether to use these synthetic agrochemicals, or not. Those that do choose to use such chemicals are said to farm ‘conventionally’ – which is a little odd considering it’s a less than 100-year-old tradition – and those that choose not to use such synthetic chemicals are said to farm ‘organically’. Thus, organic wines are wines made from grapes that have been grown without the use of any synthetic chemicals. “Growing and making organic wines means no artificial herbicides, pesticides, chemicals or fertilisers are used in either the vineyard or the winery,” says Richard Angove from Angove wines in McLaren Vale. Richard is a fifth generation Angove winegrower. His family has been growing and making wine in McLaren Vale since 1886. “As a multi-generational, family-owned business, looking after our environment has always been an important philosophy. Organic farming is just a natural extension of that thinking,” says Richard. “We think that if we look after our soil, our vines will produce grapes of the highest quality every season. So, it’s important we nurture our soils to keep them healthy for many more seasons and many generations to come.” It must be said that not all regions are made the same. Some are better suited to organics than others. Climate plays a huge part in the production of any wine, but even more so with organic wines. As demonstrated by our Top 20, McLaren Vale has, perhaps, the most favourable conditions for chemical-free winegrowing in Australia. “McLaren Vale is well suited to organic viticulture,” says Battle of Bosworth winegrower, Joch Bosworth. “The climate is pretty similar to the Mediterranean, with good rainfall in winter and a generally dry growing season with low disease pressures.” By contrast, the Hunter is one of hardest regions anywhere in the world to grow wine. But, as Maurice O’Shea proved incredibly well, it can be done. These days, there are four certified producers making wine without a synthetic safety net in the Hunter Valley, and two of them feature in our Top 20. “We have long, hot, and sometimes very wet summers,” says Peter Windrim from Krinklewood. “During the growing season our vineyards are ripe for disease, but agriculture is never easy, so we just see it as another one of life’s little challenges. We’ve been certified for ten years now, so there’s no way we’ll change how we do things.” Converting to organics It’s much easier to convert your wine drinking habits over to organics than it is to convert your wine growing habits. A vineyard needs to have been farmed without the use of any synthetic chemicals for a period of three years before it can be legally recognised as being organic. For a wine producer to make any organic claims in the marketplace, including labelling their wines ‘organic’, ‘biological’, ‘ecological’, or any other word to that effect, they must be certified by one of Australia’s many organic certifying organisations, such as Australian Certified Organic (ACO). Those winegrowers who complete the conversion process must stop using artificial chemicals on their vineyard(s) if they wish to keep their certification ongoing. “We get audited at least once a year to make sure we’re complying with the standards of organic certification,” explains Jason O’Dea from Windowrie wines, in Cowra. “An inspector will arrive on the property and conduct soil tests and ask to see our paperwork, including spray diaries and receipts for various purchases related to the vineyard.” Not all wine producers who practice organic grape growing are certified, for one reason or another. For instance, Australian wine icon Henschke are known to practice organic viticulture in many of their vineyards, including the renowned Hill of Grace vineyard, but have decided not to get certified. Jasper Hill, from Heathcote, Victoria, is another of Australia’s renowned winegrowers who also don’t wish to be certified. “I’m not certified, and I don’t wish to be,” explains Ron Laughton from Jasper Hill. “I think the dirty bastards that are using chemicals on their vineyard should be licensed. Why should I be certified to be clean and do nothing harmful in my vineyard? It’s the wrong way around,” argues Ron. Tasting is believing Some say that the way organic wines are grown is better for the environment, some say they’re more sustainable, and some even say that organic wines taste better. That last one is still up for debate. In order to help you decide for yourself, have a read of our list of Top 20 organic wines from Australia, each tasted and selected by our expert panel, then grab a few bottles, taste them and decide for yourself. Top 20 Organic Wines Giant Steps Known Pleasures Shiraz 2014 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 Battle of Bosworth Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Angove Wild Olive Organic Shiraz 2014 Paxton MV Shiraz 2014 Em’s Table Riesling 2014 Kalleske Wines Rosina Rosé 2016 Pure Vision Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 Gemtree Vineyards Luna Temprana Joven style Tempranillo 2015 Cape Jaffa La Lune Field Blend 2014 Yalumba Organics Shiraz 2015 Krinklewood Biodynamic Vineyard Semillon 2015 919 Tempranillo 2013 Spring Seed Wine Scarlet Runner Shiraz 2014 Tamburlaine Block 14 Single Vineyard Malbec 2015 The Natural Wine Co. Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Rosnay Shiraz 2009 J & J Wines Rivers Lane Shiraz 2013 Ascella Wines Reserve Chardonnay 2014 Red Deer Station Shiraz 2014
Wine
10 strange but true wine descriptors
What do cat’s pee, sea spray and horse hair have in common? They might sound like ingredients in a witchy potion, but they’re actually all aromas you could find wafting from your wine glass. Sounds strange, but it’s true and there’s more. Check out the top ten: Cat’s pee: Sauvignon Blanc lovers might be familiar with this one. It’s particularly apparent in cool climate examples and it’s not a negative description, so don’t let it put you off your next glass of Savvy. Kerosene: This can be found in aged Rieslings and comes from the compound 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihyronaphthalene (TDN). Whether it’s a desirable trait or not comes down to personal taste. Wet stone: Take a whiff of Semillon, Riesling or Chardonnay and you might pick up this character. It describes minerality and is a savoury term, so it means you’re sniffing a great food matching wine. Sea spray: If your Chardonnay is transporting your senses to the beach, you’ve scored yourself a complex, well-made expression of the variety. Baked bread: There’s nothing quite like the smell of freshly baked bread, even if it is coming from your glass of Sparkling wine. It’s a sign of secondary fermentation so it’s desirable in Sparkling and Chardonnay, but watch out if you smell it in other wines because it could be a fault. Struck match: While sulphur dioxide is a common wine additive, if you can smell struck match, the sulphur dioxide has been poorly handled. This fault can also be described as burnt rubber or mothballs. Sweaty saddle: Brettanomyces, or Brett, is a type of yeast that can, when used at low levels, can add positive attributes to a wine. However, the perception of excessive levels is a fault. Horse hair: Continuing the horsy theme, this is another description of Brett. Tractor shed: More precisely, the oil on the dirt that’s leaked from a tractor – another Brett descriptor. Mousy: Another term to describe a fault, this time from bacteria, mousy is interesting because it’s an aroma that only certain people can pick up. So if you can pick up a scent of rodent, you’re one of the chosen few!
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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