Following on from a big newsletter sent out to my customers and subscribers on Friday, which included news about my new wines from Mas Foulaquier and Domaine de La Marfée, one of my customers emailed me to ask if I could reference any serious evidence for the beneficial practices of biodynamism, especially at harvest time. It took me a while to compose a reply, not least because it was such a tough question to answer, but it did make me think rather deeply about whether there is any real evidence to support what this customer quite rightly referred to as a philosophy. My reply ended up being rather rambling, but I thought it might be interesting to post my thoughts about it here on my blog, if only to see if anyone out there has anything to add.
I'm not a religious man, so I guess I have to "believe" in something(!) Nobody has ever produced a single shred of evidence to prove that "God" exists, but billions of people still choose to believe. Given that I am in the minority, does that make me wrong? Conjecture aside, I do believe that at least some biodynamic principles are plausible, though (since I'm not a scientist or an expert on the philosophy) I couldn't really say which bits. All I can do is offer random thoughts;
The world is a living, breathing thing, and every single living thing on it owes its existence to a big ball of gas 93 million miles away. The tides are governed by a big piece of rock a quarter of a million miles away. The rest of the solar system and the stars beyond may or may not have an influence on our lives (that said, I'm not big on astrology, either). So I guess the universe does, to a greater or lesser extent, have an influence on what happens. What I do know is that we all feel different from one day to the next, for some inexplicable reason. And on some days, it seems like everbody we encounter is having a bad day (or a good one). For instance, on one day, a car journey might be completely uneventful, whilst the next day it seems like everybody who gets behind the wheel is a demon and you just thank your lucky stars(!) that you reach your destination unscathed. So if our own daily lives and our moods are affected by some or other mysterious force, then why not the plants too?
In terms of wine, have you ever noticed how two bottles of the exact same wine, consumed at different times, seem to smell and taste different. One may give us great joy, whilst the other may be merely good. Always assuming that neither of the bottles are corked, oxidised or in any way faulty, how do we explain that? I hear that Tesco always schedule their trade tastings on "fruit" days. If the greatest force in retailing (we won't go into whether that force is good or bad here) plan their tastings based on the biodynamic calendar, then who am I to argue? ;-)
As for the vineyard preparations, I'm not sure I can believe that the burying of cow horns filled with cosmic potions has any great effect, but the biodynamic potions sprayed on the vines is another matter. Until recently, the so-called health experts poured scorn on homeopathy, and yet homeopathic medicine is now freely and openly used in the NHS. So if it works on us, why not on plants and vines?
As for what happens at harvest time, I think every winemaker worth his (or her) salt will harvest at the "optimum" time (i.e. sugar, ph, or whatever other method they go for). Whether or not that happens to be on the appropriate day of the bio calendar, I don't know. I do know that many winemakers choose to rack and/or bottle their wines at certain times of the lunar calendar, so there's nature dictating again.
But as I've said on numerous occasions here on my blog, whatever one thinks about biodynamicism (extreme organics or just plain whacky) it is a philosophy which does tend to go hand-in-hand with a healthy respect for the land and a fastidious approach to winemaking. Even if it is merely extreme organics, then it must be even better (and better for the land, the flora, the fauna and us) than mere organics.
I did say my reply was a bit rambling, and I guess it proves nothing. In fact, there is little evidence (beyond the mere anecdotal) to prove that biodynamism has any scientific basis. But the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. Granted, not all biodynamic growers make great wine (especially some who also indulge in extreme "natural" winemaking) but a far bigger percentage of them do make great wine than those at the other end of the spectrum who take the "easier" route.
As always, I'd be interested to read what others think.