The wine buff: Another kingdom
The more I visit winemakers who practice biodynamic farming, the more I am convinced that the wines made in these wineries are very special. But what exactly is biodynamic farming? The first thing to remember is that it is always organic and then there are the bits that are added on. These bring in the influence of the cosmos, and work within a holistic system of closed loop farming.
Ideally, nothing from outside the farm is used, instead the farm creates everything that is needed. So cover crops are used to feed the soil, bees are kept to pollenate the vines, and chickens and other animals generate manure that contributes to the fabric of the land.
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In New Zealand, there is a huge interest in organic and biodynamic wine, and among the pioneers in this area are James and Annie Millton of Millton Vineyards, who have been farming biodynamically since 1980, when it was relatively unknown.
"Why did we do it? I have no idea," says James. "It's like intuitive responses, something goes off in your head. Everybody asks how difficult it was, and nobody asks how much fun or pleasure. Wines are made out of grapes that are fermented, and grapes contain juice and skins and seeds, and why on earth would you ever want to put something onto a grapevine that is going to go onto the fruit? With biodynamics, what it works on is your intentions. So if you have a good intention you get double the reward."
The vineyard that they bought had been previously farmed using pesticides and chemicals, but James says that, over the years, they saw the soil, the vines, and the grapes improve. He believes that Mother Nature is watching over like a grandmother. After seven years, it looks like your intentions are good, after 14, the soil gets more springy, the leaves are soft, and the vines speak to you. It takes 21 years for Mother Nature to forgive you for damaging the soil, and by 28 years, you have earned your place, you are welcomed in.
"Biodynamics is about a spiritual science. And the sceptics will say it's dogma, which means blind belief," says James. "It's a 28-day cycle. And our work is based on looking at that rhythm. So we go from new moon to full moon, to new moon to full moon. And in the new moon, we want to make the vine come up, levitate, and from the full moon to the next new moon we want the sap to go down into the roots."
Different teas made from willow, horsetail, quartz and manure, are used to protect the vines and add energy to the soil. Some of these have first been packed into a cow horn and buried in the soil. Not everyone thinks this makes sense, but it seems to work. It is all about respecting the land. As James succinctly puts it: "We're not standing on dirt, but the rooftop of another kingdom."
James Nicholson Wine will be holding an exceptional evening of fine food and wine in the Jameson Room, Chapter One on September 17. Sarah Chassin from Thienpont family wines and Antoine Gimbert from Domaines Delon will be flying over from Bordeaux to present the family's wines, including the now extremely rare Chateau Leoville Las Cases 1989. Cooking is by Michelin-star chef Ross Lewis. €175, Chapter One, (01) 873 2266.
Millton Chenin Blanc 1998, Te Arai Vineyard, Gisborne
€20, 14pc, from O'Connors Salthill, McGuires, Galway
A stunning example of how Chenin Blanc can be a complex and rich wine. This is biodynamically produced and barrel fermented bringing savoury, smoky fruit, flavours of apple and a touch of spice.
Burn Cottage Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016
€66.99, 13.5pc, from The Corkscrew, Dublin, and wineonline.ie
From the cooler climate of Central Otago in New Zealand, world renowned Ted Lemon is the winemaker behind this outstanding biodynamic wine, which has concentrated layers of blackberry and cherry with deliciously fresh acidity.
Gérard Bertrand Solar 6 Syrah
€11.95 reduced from €16.95, 13pc, from O'Briens and obrienswine.ie
Certified organic, labelled "AB" (Agriculture Biologique, i.e. organic farmed) and "Bee Friendly", the vines are farmed in a way that aims to protect bees and pollinators. Easy drinking, this is packed with ripe, juicy fruit with a touch of spice.