Those of you who are into Fleetwood Mac (I shall give you a hint: A popular rock band which got together in the late 60’s), are probably intrigued by the familiar lyrics yet again, and those of you who are into biodynamics, probably enchanted by it.
It is a science although not regarded as one. It has many truths, although not acknowledged by too many. Some facts though, that I can put on the table, remain in my view, significant:
1. I grew up spending time with Cousin Riaan in Chenin blanc and Shiraz vineyards, almost 20 years ago, dusting vines with sulfur no more than 3 or 4 times during season. All dry land vineyards. 30 tons per hectare. Today we might not survive if we do not put down a few systemic sprays and a couple of contact sprays. What happened? Are we not treating symptoms instead of zooming in on the reason for these symptoms? Our focus is simply on “pumping the soil” full of required elements to sustain next year’s bottom line. We spray the vine with all sorts of funny things when it shows symptoms of illnesses, disease, pests or deficiencies, instead of zooming in on the variables that cause the distress We have forgotten how to treat and respect the well being of a living entity in our quest to “push the yield”…no wonder we have such chaos in our crops.
2. I have stuck my hand into soil managed biodynamically, but almost broke my fingers trying to get into the first few millimeters of the neighbor’s.
3. Many studies confirmed significantly higher concentrations humus in biodynamically farmed soils, hence more diverse populations of soil microbes and higher concentrations of more diverse populations of microbes on the grapes.
4. I could not find mealy bug on the biodynamically farmed vines, nor those of the neighbor’s. The difference though was that the mealy bugs moved back to where it prefers to live – underground on the roots of a diverse population of plants (even though some are regarded as weeds). Luckily of course Chlorpyrifos (or by the household name Dursban) got rid of the mealy bug via ant control. Unfortunately bees are not to keen on Dursban either.
5. Lower costs of farming biodynamically have been researched and verified by many studies, despite a slightly lower yield.
6. The slightly lower yield justifies itself in better quality grapes and wine. Higher phenolic concentrations, smaller berries and slightly lighter clusters.
7. “Better” wines? I have my personal convictions when it comes to this “sensitive”, abstract term.
My personal conviction on Biodynamics is that scientists and critics do not need to ask whether BD can be regarded as a scientific category or even point out that part of the scientific community looks at it with skepticism and marks it as dogmatic. There are over 4200 farms around the world that are certified as BD, the numbers are increasing, so it is clearly worthy of more respect and attention that it currently enjoys.
Biodynamics make sense to me because I simply believe in things I experience with my God-given senses.
I suppose I will be outlawed as a “winemaker with a scientific approach”, just the way I was (still am I suppose), outlawed as a traditional winemaker, because I produced a “non-typical” Coffee Pinotage style. Whatever typical or traditional may mean…
“Large egg-shaped vessels have been appearing in increasing numbers at high end wineries on the West Coast, stirring a mixture of bafflement, warm, return-to-the-womb associations and fears of an alien invasion…” Field Maloney, Wine & Spirits, February 2009
Very funny intro. Alien invasion is exactly what describes the image that went through my head when I saw these egg shaped tanks for the first time. I immediately thought of the 1993 movie: Coneheads, hence the image. From the moment I saw a picture of these tanks – and I must embarrassingly admit it was only last year – I have wanted to investigate this amusing (to me) new movement in winemaking. It looks rather funny in a cellar. It looks like a giant hatchery where large prehistoric flying reptiles are about to emerge from any second.
The tanks are made from concrete and they are in an egg shape. Why the concrete? Well apparently concrete allows for a micro oxygenation effect on the wine like barrels do, except without adding wood flavors. Why the egg shape? It apparently creates a vortex in the wine and allows for lees to stay in suspension so stirring is not necessary. Lees in suspension has various advantages, hence the practice of batonnage.
The mastermind behind these tanks is Marc Nomblot who on request of biodynamics winemaker, Michel Chapoutier, built the first one in 2001. This caught on quickly and to use the the description of Jeffrey Iverson, these egg shaped tanks are now “hatching in wineries all over the world.”
I recently visited the hatchery of Boekenhoutskloof winery in Franschhoek, South Africa (yes the eggs have reached the southern tip of Africa). They ferment Grenache blanc in their eggs. They start fermentation in stainless steel tanks on skins, so no settling, and press anywhere from 25 – 50% into the fermentation. The must is then pumped with all its lees into the eggs. Fermentation is conducted at 16 – 18°C; they use a coil for cooling (Franschhoek is a tad warmer than the Rhône). The coil only goes into the egg for about an hour at a time. These concrete eggs are great insulators, compared to stainless steel that is conductive. Fermentation is about seven to ten days with Lalvin ICV-GRE yeast (Lallemand). After fermentation the wine stays in the eggs for 10 months. To the winemaker the biggest attribute from using the eggs is the incredible mouthfeel one can obtain this way. This Grenache blanc forms part of of a white blend called Wolftrap white. Even though Boekenhoutskloof is not a biodynamic winery they do embrace some of the principles, such as these egg tanks, and plan to expand their hatchery on an ongoing basis. They have also started to expand the usage to other grape varieties.
So certainly with “biodynamic”, “natural” and “non-interventionist” winemaking being the buzz words at the moment, I reckon these eggs are here to stay for a while. Personally I believe in interventionist winemaking, but here is a concept that even makes sense to me. I’m just not so sure about racking during certain moon cycles though. ..
Boekenhoutskloof winemaker Jean Smit and some of their eggs.
Karien O’Kennedy is the Online Communications Manager for Oenobrands and knows the odd thing or two about fermentation and winemaking.