The equilibrium of biodynamic viticulture

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  • Old fashioned way: Robert Sinskey in Napa Valley and Château Palmer in Margaux use sheep to control grass and weeds

    Old fashioned way: Robert Sinskey in Napa Valley and Château Palmer in Margaux use sheep to control grass and weeds

  • All natural: manures and natural composts are used to heal and restore the land with biodynamic farming, an important aspect when one considers that some vineyards have been in use for many centuries

    All natural: manures and natural composts are used to heal and restore the land with biodynamic farming, an important aspect when one considers that some vineyards have been in use for many centuries


Michael Robinson

April 22 was Earth Day, an annual event that was established in 1970 to support protection of our environment.

It is worth considering how vineyard owners respect our planet, and many of our wines can be classified as biodynamic, organic or sustainable. Today, I will discuss the first mentioned.

Biodynamic starts by being organic and uses no artificial chemicals, but it then gets into the esoteric concepts developed by Rudolf Steiner almost 100 years ago. Manures and natural composts are used to heal and restore the land — an important aspect when one considers that some vineyards have been in use for many centuries.

They have lost their unique “terroir” or sense of place, as demands have been made on their land for aeons.

Homeopathic solutions are sprayed on the vines; a strict astrological calendar is used to schedule planting, grafting, pruning, picking and all the chores that take place.

Those who have obeyed all the rules can be certified by the worldwide Demeter International Biodynamic Farm Standard.

Here are a few: Joseph Drouhin, in Burgundy and their Oregon winery; Michael Chapoutier in the Rhone Valley; Gerard Bertrand in the Languedoc now claims to have the most acreage certified.

These three producers buy grapes for some of their wines; these will not have the certification on the bottle. A good biodynamic example for Drouhin is that all their chablis comes from their own land where they farm biodynamically and use horses rather than tractors.

Seresin (wonderful sauvignon blanc) in New Zealand also uses no machinery on his land; all is literally horse or human power.

Kai Schubert in North Island is biodynamic with his wonderful pinot noir.

Robert Sinskey in Napa Valley uses sheep to control grass and weeds and burns used cooking oil in his tractor.

Pascal Jolivet, our main Sancerre supplier, and Michel Laroche of Chablis have adopted these methods, but have not yet been certified — it takes a few years.

Château Pontet Canet in Pauillac was classified a Fifth Growth in 1855. It has made remarkable strides in quality over the past few years and its reputation is stellar. In 2004 they commenced with biodynamic trials and in 2010 they obtained organic certification. Finally, in 2014, they were certified biodynamic by Demeter.

We cannot claim that our present stocks are biodynamic, but let me quote Robert Parker on the one that we now have.

He wrote it a few years ago: “95+/100. The 2006 Pontet Canet is a wine to stockpile, especially for those in their 30s and 40s as it needs another decade to reach maturity, after which it should keep for 30-plus years.

“This vineyard, just south of Mouton Rothschild, has produced an opaque bluish/purple-coloured 2006 with an extraordinarily pure nose of graphite, charcoal, sweet creme de cassis and a hint of scorched earth. Incredible concentration, stunning richness and a 60-second finish result in a wine that transcends the vintage as well as this estate’s 1855 classification.

“This enormously endowed, modern-day classic is a legend in the making. Anticipated maturity: 2018-2050+. Those of you looking for a stunning bordeaux to add to your collection, at quality that matches (and in many cases beats that of First and Second Growth bordeaux), this is your wine.” $193.95.

If you wonder how biodynamics is working at Pontet Canet, the 2014 and 2015 rated 98/100. The 2016 gets 98-99/100 from James Suckling.

Although rated a Fifth Growth in 1855, it now equals, and sometimes surpasses, the five First Growths.

Now at Château Palmer in Margaux, certified in 2017, sheep graze, flowers and plants with healing properties bloom and agrochemicals have disappeared.

With biodynamics, complexity becomes a source of shared enrichment, where the fruits of human labour benefit people, plants and all that surrounds.

An exquisite equilibrium. In the five tiers of the 1855 classification, Château Palmer rated Third Growth and it is said that “Palmer is the most expensive Third Growth, but the least expensive First Growth”.

In other words, over the past 163 years it has evolved very positively as it reaches for the pinnacle. We have the Château Palmer 2008 (pre bio certification) and here is what Parker has to say: “A stunning success for the vintage, and possibly the margaux of the year, this wine, which achieved 13.5 per cent natural alcohol, is a blend of 51 per cent merlot, 41 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 8 per cent petit verdot.

“Loads of barbecue smoke, liquorice, incense, blackberry, new saddle leather and forest floor notes jump from the glass of this dense, purple-coloured wine.

“Extraordinarily intense and full-bodied, this is going to be one of the longest-lived wines of 2008.

“It is full, rich, layered and should be reasonably approachable with three to four years of bottle age, and will also keep for 30-plus years.” $397.25.

For $134.80 you can experience their second wine, Alter Ego de Palmer 2014, that rates 93/100 from James Suckling.

Our son, who is finishing his PhD studies, wonders if I am rather a kook for believing in biodynamics, but I have seen it work. I confess to having the same reverential respect for the String Theory of Michio Kaku and the Morphic Fields of Rupert Sheldrake.

Who are we to decide what mysterious forces govern this universe?

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George’s (York Street, 297-0409). Visit www.wineonline.bm<;/i>

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Published Apr 27, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Apr 26, 2018 at 10:58 pm)

The equilibrium of biodynamic viticulture

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