MWWC#4: My Brush with the Biodynamic*

Biodynamic wine.  Apparently, this is a touchy issue in the wine world, and I’m not going to poke that bear.  I don’t have a beef with biodynamic winemaking, I just don’t get it. Which is a little annoying, because I’ve tasted biodynamic wines that are exceptional.  Are they exceptional because they’re biodynamic?  Dunno.  I can’t wrap my brain around it. Biodynamic wine reminds me of an eccentric uncle — a little left of weird, but probably harmless.

sunmoon

So what’s the difference between organic and biodynamic wine?  Biodynamic wine isn’t organic, it’s über-organic.  Organic wine is made with certified organically grown grapes and no added sulfites, chemicals, or additives.   Biodynamic wine does all that and throws in astrology and lunar cycles.

Seriously.  Nancy Reagan would LOVE this stuff.

I come from a long line of farmers, so I get the farming part.  But you lose me when you start talking about harnessing the energy of the sun and moon (with what? a lasso?).  Recently, I read a description on a biodynamic wine label that said this:

Biodynamic farming is a practice that encourages agriculture based on the cycles of the planets and moon . . . which provide an avenue for the vine to recover its natural state of equilibrium and harmony. 

Right.  I have no idea what that means.

My first brush with biodynamic winemaking came a few years ago, on a tour of the vineyards at Sea Smoke Cellars in the Santa Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County, CA.  I just didn’t know I was brushing with biodynamic winemaking.

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If you know anything about Sea Smoke Cellars, you know they make exceptional wines.  They don’t have a tasting room and they don’t offer tours.  So how did I get a tour of the vineyards?  I know people.  Well, that’s not true . . . I know people who know people.

Sea Smoke is a rock star, and I admit to being a little star struck as we walked through the vineyards.  The vineyard manager (I can’t remember his name, so I’ll call him Carl – Carl Spackler) had a bottle of Sea Smoke Chardonnay tucked under his arm that was pulling my focus.  That’s not just a prop — that’s for opening and sharing, right??

As Carl walked us through the vineyards, he told us all about the grapes and the terroir.  If you’ve ever had a bottle of Sea Smoke, you know they have some good terroir.

The tour went something like this . . .

One of the most important things we do here at Sea Smoke to nurture our terroir is fertilize.  We collect the dung of female cows . . . female cow dung offers a more favorable energy to the vines and encourages their growth and sustainability.

Wait.  Did he just say they collect female cow shit?

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The female dung is segregated into piles for composting.  Once the compost process is complete, we dilute it with water and spray the vineyards with it, thereby harnessing the full power of nature.

What the?  You can harness nature with female cow shit??

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And then Carl turned his attention to the Dark Lord of the vineyard:  Gophers.

Gophers cause extensive damage in a vineyard.  So we trap the gophers in our vineyard.  The gophers are killed, planked and burned.  These are now enhanced gophers.  We spread the enhanced gopher ashes over the vineyard during the winter solstice, and this scares off other gophers.

I’m pretty sure I saw Professor Snape enhance some gophers in Defense Against the Dark Arts class at Hogwarts.

So there you have it . . . in the immortal words of Jean Paul Sartre, Au revoir, gophers.

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So now I’m singing the song from Caddyshack in my head while picturing Severus Snape flying through the vineyard flinging enhanced gopher ashes out of his wand.

And then it happened . . . I laughed.  Out loud.

And Carl shot me some highly-annoyed school-teacher side-eye.

OMG he’s serious!!

Oops!

I just insulted Sea Smoke.  There goes my allocation.

Carl was a good sport (in that he ignored me), and we got to taste that bottle of Chardonnay he had tucked under his arm.  It tasted like sunshine . . . with a hint of toasted gopher on the back end.

sea smoke

Carl, you guys make some superb wine.  If you need to spray your vineyards with energized cow poo, and offer midnight gopher sacrifices to appease the wine gods . . . knock yourselves out.

But I still don’t get it.

Salud!

*This is my entry in the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #4.

27 comments

  1. So interesting, I totally do not get that biodynamic stuff, it’s interesting but sorry to say it is way out there. All for organic but have to say the female cow shit lunar cycle stuff makes me laugh. Gotta love your Chardonnay review, toasted gopher, LOL!!

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  2. Thank you for the Friday morning “belly laugh”…I’m running to my Spec’s to see if they have a bottle of this magical wine 🙂

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  3. Love this! Totally forgot about the challenge and now have to get me ass in gear…

    As for biodynamics, a lot of it makes sense. Cows probably produce different hormones and other chemicals that may make a difference in the quality of their…shit. The other one I heard about was harvesting on a full moon. Sounds hokey, but the thought is that since the moon affects the tides, it also draws more juice into the grapes. I’m sure there are scientific reasons behind a lot of what they do. But instead of science, they just call it the power of nature or Zeus.

    Now, the gopher burning is new to me. Maybe it’s a Sopranos/Goodfella’s touch?

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  4. I was a little leery of biodynamic, also, until I visited Benziger. They describe it as creating a vineyard that provides an interactive biosphere that mutually benefits the plants and animals; cows fertalize the vineyards, plants attract natural predators of vine pests, water run-off from winery provides pond for ducks. They use sustainable, IPM, and organic as well. But taken all together it creates a vineyard was more alive than any I’ve visited. It really was bio-dynamic.

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  5. Brilliant – I just laughed out loud at this as well. As you say, it’s impossible to know whether the wines are better because they are organic or biodynamic – however, to take a French saying “the best fertiliser is the tread of the wine-maker” or something like that anyway. In essence, these systems mean that people get a lot closer to what is happening naturally to their vineyard, the soil, the vines, the fruit – rather than a control room, spreadsheets and chemical allocations – which has to be a good thing. Glad you got to taste the wine – I would have been very distracted by the bottle under his arm – and now I will never be able to think of the word biodynamic without my brain conjuring up a picture of Severus Snape!

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  6. Wow – now I want to try biodynamic wines that are amazing. The only one I have had was Presidio Winery in Solvang, CA and I was not impressed. At all. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that there wines are all unfiltered as well (do you have to not filter if you are biodynamic?).

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    1. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is biodynamic . . . though I don’t think I will ever have the privilege of tasting one of their wines — unless someone else is buying. 😉 I don’t think there’s an unfiltered requirement for biodynamic wines . . . most of the ones I’ve tasted have been crystal clear. Though I did once taste a wine from an Ohio winery that was unfiltered . . . by accident. Salud!!

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  7. “Check me if I’m wrong Sandy, but if I kill all the golfers, they’re gonna lock me up and throw away the key… ”

    Excellent post! great Carl Spackler reference!

    Biodynamics is some crazy-a** sh**–just ask Wes Hagen at Clos Pepe. And if you do a little research on the “founder” of BD, Rudolf Steiner, you will begin to understand.

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    1. Caddyshack is a bottomless pit of material, is it not? 😉 I’m with you on the crazy-a** sh** . . . I just can’t wrap my brain around the whole “and then magic happens” part. And Rudolf Steiner? Wow. Just, wow. Salud!!

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  8. I really appreciate you taking on the subject of biodynamic winemaking. Like you, I still struggle with some aspects of it. No… not struggle… I just don’t get it (or at least some of the fringes of it).. Thanks for posting!

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