Sunday 26 May 2019

Message in a bottle

Work in the vineyards and the cellars is driven by a calendar based on the moon and sun
Work in the vineyards and the cellars is driven by a calendar based on the moon and sun

While we Leos don't believe in that sort of thing, quite a few people may have looked at their horoscopes during August. With a lunar eclipse at the beginning of the month followed by a total solar eclipse on August 21, it was, in celestial terms, an auspicious time. But for winemakers making biodynamic wine, this attention to the moon is just part of the routine.

Work in the vineyards and the cellars is driven by a calendar based on the moon and sun.

To make it just a little more complicated, each lunar month has four different types of day: fruit, flower, root and leaf, which dictates what happens on the farm. In the case of the 21st, there were a few options as it was a leaf, root and fruit day. So a good day for pruning, planting and harvesting, but also for a glass of vino as fruit days are also the best for tasting wine.

Now, you may consider this to be the biggest load of plonk, but when I heard Gérard Bertrand - a former rugby player who looks more rock star than Mystic Mick - explain how this ensures a balance between the vines and the soil, my mind was opened to the possibility that quite a bit of this just might make sense. I had the opportunity to visit a number of the vineyards in his 750-hectare estate in the Languedoc, and finished up in Clos d'Ora, an enchanting nine-hectare estate. The sun was setting, the crickets were chirping and a farmer was quietly guiding a mule to till the soil between the vines with an old-fashioned plough.

Gérard changed to biodynamic farming 20 years ago after trialling it on his Cigalus estate in Corbières. The improvement in the quality of the grapes and the wine was so significant, he immediately saw the benefit, and is steadily converting all the vineyards in his growing estate to biodynamic practices. To be certified, vineyards must first be organic, but the biodynamic element adds another layer of requirements. Specific sprays must be applied to the soil at specific times and these preparations are made using a 'dynamiser', a 200-litre wooden tub of water, which is stirred to create a vortex and introduce energy. The infusions are made by mixing tiny amounts of yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion, valerian, or horsetail with water, and, of course, the famous cow-horn spray.

And this is where the spiritual belief system needs to kick in. Gérard explained that while the molecule is not evident in these highly-diluted preparations, it imparts information to the water. It has a memory, a spiritual message. Wine, he believes, is a multidimensional drink and when you drink it, you can feel that message. A message in a bottle? I don't think so. But does it really matter? Some of Gérard's award winning wines now cost as much as €170, and the quality shows through whether you believe in the spiritual philosophy or not. In any event, I've got three bargain Gérard Bertrand wines here for you to try, reduced for the month of September.


Wine events at the Taste of West Cork Festival include a five course dinner cooked by Bob Cairns on 8th September at The Good Things Café in Skibereen, where Enrico Fantasia of Grape Circus Wines will be presenting the wines, €55 per person. On the 9th, Fionnuala Harkin of Wines Direct will be holding a cheese and wine tasting featuring West Cork cheeses at Red Strand Design Studio in Clonakilty, €35 per person; and on the 13th, Colm McCan and Pascal Rossignol from Le Caveau wines and head chef Ronald Klotzer will be hosting a wine pairing and cookery demonstration in the marquee at Blairscove House at Dunmanus Bay, €45 per person.

3 wines to try

Gérard Bertrand Chateau de L’Hospitalet Sauvignon Blanc 2016, €8.95 reduced from €14.95

12pc, from O’Briens

Good news for Sauvignon Blanc lovers, with €6 off, this is worth stocking up on. A fresh, clean, French-style Sauvignon Blanc, this is beautifully aromatic with a fruity character and refreshing acidity.

Gérard Bertrand Solensis 2015, €11.95 reduced from €17.95

13pc, from O’Briens

A deliciously fruit-forward wine which is unoaked and made from organically grown Syrah and Grenache grapes, this tribute to the solar system is fresh and juicy with ripe bramble fruit flavours. A great buy at a well-reduced price.

Gérard Bertrand Chateau de Hospitalet 2015, La Clape €16.95 reduced from €19.45

13.5pc, from O’Briens

Dark and full of ripe fruit, this blend of Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre has flavours of plums, cherries and blackcurrants with earthy notes of black olives and black pepper echoing the Mediterranean terroir. Well-structured with nice acidity.

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