By The Glass
Biodynamic grapes utilize moon, Earth
NICOLAS Joly of Domaine Clos de la Coulee de Serrant in the Loire Valley is a passionate force behind the movement to help the world rediscover "terrior."
A certified biodynamic farmer since 1980, Joly brought a biodynamic seminar to Los Angeles this week under the umbrella of the organization he helped found, Renaissance des Appellations -- Return to Terrior.
I attended this event in 2005, and it was crowded even then. It is amazing to see how interest in the topic has grown.
After World War II, overuse of pesticides and fertilizers began to stunt and retard vineyard soils. The chemical buildup killed beneficial bugs, insects, bacteria, microbes, etc. The lifeless soils, without energy and nutrients, became homogenous and tasteless, lacking in what the French call "terrior" -- that certain something that gives a wine an identity or a sense of place.
It's similar to how Hawaiian mangoes have a distinctive taste and flavor. South American or Mexican varieties just don't taste like mangoes to me.
BIODYNAMICS to the rescue! The term is seldom fully understood. Biodynamic agriculture was founded by Austrian Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) and his students. Considered the oldest organic approach to farming, biodynamics relies on a holistic and spiritual understanding of nature. Steiner believed that life forces and energies created by lunar cycles and planetary forces can be tapped into.
For example, surfers know of the impact the moon's gravitational energy has on the tides and when they can expect better surf. Likewise, biodynamic wine producers know that during certain lunar phases a grape vine's pulmonary system can draw more water and nutrients from the soil.
In addition to the planetary aspect is the microbial. Steiner's practice of stuffing cow horns with sheep dung, then burying them in moist soil over the winter, created the perfect medium for bacteria, fungi, yeasts, protozoa, insects, earthworms and a host of little guys that churn out a super-fertilizer that rejuvenates soil and fosters the growth of anything in it.
Combine these principles and you've got better-tasting grapes and great wine. Thank you, Mr. Steiner!
IT CAN BE a challenge for consumers to identify biodynamic wines. While there are policies defining organic products, no USDA regulations cover biodynamics. For a wine to be labeled "biodynamic," it must meet stringent standards set by the internationally recognized Demeter Association.
Scores of outstanding producers attended the seminar this year: the incredibly knowledgeable Olivier from Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Andre the philosopher poet from Domaine Ostertag, Spain's Telmo Rodrigues and Bart from Araujo Vineyards -- to name a few.
With all the buzz at the seminar, I wouldn't be surprised if your neighborhood restaurant's wine list began featuring "organic" or "biodynamic" sections. Give them a try. After all, "In Vinos Verite" ... "In Wine We Trust."
Kevin Toyama is a sommelier at the Halekulani and an advanced certificate holder from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org