Last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded a $3.9 million grant to develop a mechanical sprayer. The chemicals used in vineyards have become so toxic that they are considered a health hazard for humans. In other words, the government is trying to find a way to make spraying highly toxic chemicals on grapes more convenient. And we haven't even reached the end of this expensive and ultimately deathly spiral yet - eventually the pests and weeds will become resistant to what we already consider to be highly toxic chemicals. How much poisonous substance can we survive?
This week the annual “Return to Terroir” tasting of biodynamic wines took place in New York City. Return to Terroir is a group of over 150 biodynamic winegrowers from around the world, led by the charismatic Nicolas Joly from Chateau de la Coulee de Serrant in the Loire Valley (Joly is also the author of several books on biodynamic farming). There are some well-known estates amongst the members of Return to Terroir (which in France is called La Renaissance des Appellations): Marcel Deiss, Kreydenweiss, Zind-Humbrecht, Leflaive, Pierre Morey, Nikolaihof, Frogs Leap, Benziger, Robert Sinskey - to name just a few. The full member list can be found at the group's website.
The number of organic producers is growing and so is the number of consumers who appreciate natural wines. The entry level of responsible farming is sustainable viticulture, where farmers try to reduce chemical means in the vineyard as much as possible. Organic viticulture as the next step categorically bans all chemical pesticides and herbicides. Biodynamic wine growers then take it even a step further and take into account the influence the solar system has on all life on our plane. This holistic approach makes biodynamism the target of people who compare it to witchcraft, usually citing the notorious cow horns filled with manure, which biodynamic farmers bury in the. This sounds like a silly thing to do, but if one is willing to listen to the reason behind it, it actually makes a lot of sense. Plants need micro-organisms in order to take up nutrients from the soil. Without these micro-organisms a plant would simply starve to death. The cow dung that was filled into a cow horn in winter contains 70 times more bacteriological activity than the same amount of dung filled into a terracotta pot when unearthed in the following spring. No witchcraft, just biological facts.
Nicolas Joly makes some of the most intense wines from Chenin Blanc. The intentional oxidative character (the wine often has a Sherry aroma) may not be for wine drinkers with a faint palate, but there are few wines which are as complex as Joly's Coulee de Serrant. He insists that the wine needs at least 24 hours of decanting in order to fully develop its majesty.
“We desire to understand how an equilibrium sometimes so delicate is achieved; how these bright and dark moods, these sorrows and joys of the vine can ultimately become tastes, scents or harmonies of an almost musical nature.”(Nicolas Joly, “Biodynamic Wine Demystified”)
Appellation Wine & Spirits in New York City, a wine store that is dedicated to natural wines. Taste for yourself. Have a glass of that witched wine.
Uwe Kristen is a citizen of the greatest empire in the world, reigned by The Queen of Grapes, about which he writes on his website Der Kellermeister — Riesling + I.