Here's something to ponder. At a recent tasting of New Zealand wines, Andy Crozier of Burn Cottage suggested I reconsider poo-pooing the more controversial elements of biodynamic farming. There is scientific evidence to support the efficacy of cow horn manure. He is, I should mention, their sales guy, but he also has a scientific background, and the wines from Burn Cottage are amazing. So my mind is firmly open. The more I taste biodynamic wines, the more I realise that what typifies them is their vibrancy. Pierre de Benoist, of Domaine La Villaine, in Burgundy, explains it as a reflection of the terroir where the grapes are grown.
It makes sense. Biodynamic farming is all about harmony in the vineyard and the integration of animals and plants, making it a self-sufficient, closed loop system. It takes no leap of faith to realise that this is going to be a far superior growing environment to one that has undergone rigorous applications of herbicides, pesticides and synthetic fertilisers.
I saw this for myself when I visited Gérard Bertrand's vineyards last summer and tasted his wines, including the wonderful Domaine de Cigalus, which is definitely worth seeking out in O'Brien's for a special occasion. And also when I visited Tablas Creek, a winery in Paso Robles, California, which is a partnership between the Haas family in southern California and the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel in the Rhone. Sustainability is a big thing in California, and here sheep roam the vineyards, with alpacas, 'guard donkeys', beehives and owl boxes all contributing to this self-sufficient idyll. The thinking is, the less input there is from outside the vineyard, the truer the sense of place in the finished wine.
The harvest was in full flow, there was a huge blackboard in the winery detailing the dates, and I expected to see notes relating to the biodynamic calendar, which categorises each day as either 'fruit', 'flower', 'leaf' or 'root', according to the movements of the moon. A quick lesson here: a root day is good for a harvest (but not for tasting wine). Jason Hass, who runs the winery with his father, says they don't bother with that bit and they pick what makes sense for them. The fact that they had just got biodynamic accreditation was a surprise to all of them, so it seems it is not a complete dogma.
If you're looking to learn more about biodynamic wine, I've got good news for you. Jerome Torque, the sommelier at Sheen Falls Lodge, has started a series of Wine Academy dinners, and the dinner on Saturday, March 24 should be of interest. "Organic and biodynamic wines are the future, people are really looking for authenticity," he says. "A lot of people ask for organic or natural wine, because they want products that don't have chemicals in them. There's a real return to normal agriculture. But I've found that most people don't know that much about biodynamic wine, so I think it will be really interesting to have a dinner where we're introducing something new."
He has invited Pascal Playon of Tindal Wine Merchants to host the wine evening, and among the biodynamic wines featured with the five-course dinner, will be an Alsace Riesling Grand Cru from the famous Domaine Schlumberger, a Fleurie Réserve from Villa Ponciago in Beaujolais, and an exceptional Meursault from the family-owned Domaine des Comtes Lafon.
At €499 based on two people sharing, the package includes a pre-dinner drinks reception, dinner with matching biodynamic wine pairings, and breakfast. Spaces are limited so check sheenfallslodge.ie for more information.
The highly popular wine-tasting events at Kelly's Resort return this March, and will feature the wines of Eric Forest, of Pouilly-Fuissé. The vineyards have been passed on from father to son for eight generations and Eric produces five exclusive vintages of Pouilly-Fuissé, Saint-Véran and Macon-Vergisson on plots of vines planted between 1930 and 1979. His approach to wine-making is influenced by biodynamic principals and he makes tiny quantities of Macon Vergisson and Pouilly-Fuissé, which are characterised by great precision of flavour. Tastings are March 5 and 6, with five-day midweek rates from €610 per person full board, or €115 per person, per night half-board. Visit kellys.ie.