Do you know what bio-dynamic wine farming is? I came across that term recently while I was traveling in France. I'm from California and tend to think myself rather savvy about wineries and winemaking, but I'd never heard of bio dynamic wine production. I bet you haven't either.
What is bio-dynamic wine production?
Bio-dynamic wine production takes organic farming one step further (or maybe a couple of steps.) "Food and Wine" magazine calls it the next big trend in wine-making. In addition to growing grapes without pesticides or other chemicals, bio-dynamic farming seeks to respect and follow the natural symmetry between the land and the plants. The theory is that the plants and the soil are one intertwined eco-system. This is similar to the French concept of "terroir," which maintains that wine grapes take on different tastes and qualities depending on the soil conditions and climate in which they are grown.
Bio-dynamic agricultural techniques encompass both the growing and the harvesting of the wine grapes. This agricultural theory follows methods and techniques laid out by Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, the creator of bio-dynamic farming, in 1924.
These methods include:
1. Using natural methods to improve the grape vine's resistance to pests and plant diseases. Bio-dynamic farming makes use of nine natural substances to enrich the plants and the soil. These include cow manure sheathed in cow horns, ground quartz buried in cow horns, yarrow flowers, chamomile, stinging nettles, oak bark and dandelion flowers.
2. Farming following the lunar cycle. The stages of the moon have long been used to schedule planting and harvests. Native American often followed such patterns. Bio-dynamic farming pays close attention to these energy ebbs and flows.
3. Plowing the soil. The third tenet of bio-dynamic farming is the regular turning of the earth to incorporate all of the natural additives.
Benefits of bio-dynamic wine farming
Some of the benefits reported by wine farmers using bio-dynamic techniques include the increased health of their plants and vineyards, a boost in their plants' resistance to pests and disease and an increase in the overall health and fertility of their soil. According to the movement's modern leader, Nicholas Joly of Chateau de la Roche-aux-Mains in the Loire Valley, "Vine diseases come from not respecting life forces. In bio-dynamics, we are using the energetical world and reconnecting that to the vine."
The health of the bio-dynamic vineyards also seems to carry over in the flavor of the wines these farms produce. "Fortune" reports that in blind tastings, wines from bio-dynamic wineries were judged to be superior to similar wines produced by grapes grown using conventional methods.
Putting bio dynamic wine production to work at CAZES
CAZES vineyard in Rivesaltes in the southern French region of Rousillon, is a leader in bio-dynamic wine production. The vineyard, in business since 1895, has been practicing bio-dynamic farming for the past 15 years and has the largest organic and bio-dynamic wine estate in France.
Burying cow manure and quartz in cow horns and only allowing wines to be tasted on "flower" days on the bio-dynamic calendar may sound slightly crazy, but the results are impressive. During our trip to France, we tasted a variety of the wines at CAZES and found them surprisingly complex and delicious. Whether that's the bio-dynamics at work or not, I can't say, but we were pleasantly surprised and intrigued about this theory of give and take between the grower and the landscape.
Bio-dynamic wine production is not limited to France. According to "Fortune" magazine, there are currently 450 bio-dynamic vineyards in the world, including some in Italy, Australia, Germany and the United States. The list includes some of the most revered wine estates in the business, including Burgundy's Domaine Leroy, the Rhone Valley's Maison Chapoutier and Domaine Zind Humbrecht in Alsace. U.S. practitioners include the Benzinger Family Winery in Sonoma, California.
Visiting France's vineyards on a barge cruise
A barge cruise is an excellent way to visit some of France's wineries and vineyards as well as sample the country's many diverse wines. Such cruises take a leisurely pace across some of the most pristine countryside in France. On a barge cruise, you're never very far for shore, so you can relax and enjoy the changing scenery without having to even venture off of the vessel. One price includes your accommodations, meals, wine with dinner and sightseeing.
This blog was brought to you by The Barge Connection, specializing in barge vacations since 1998. We offer a diverse selection of barge cruises throughout the rivers and canals of France and other parts of Europe.