I WAS surprised, when I was in Sri Lanka earlier this year, at how much everyone relied on the family astrologer before deciding when, and to whom, for example, they should get married. I suppose that even in the Church of England, as the controversy over a fixed date for Easter shows, we rely on the moon. It is no different in the world of wine.
In my mail, the other day, came a copy of the 2016 Simplified Lunar Calendar. This was sent to me by the Domaine de la Vougeraie, a vineyard that makes its wines bio-dynamically. From the calendar, I learn that today is a “fruit day”: a good day for pruning and carrying out work on the vine.
The theory of bio-dynamics, with regard to agriculture, was first set out by the Austrian Rudolf Steiner in 1924, but it can be applied to many other fields.
All would agree that good wine is made in the vineyard, and this depends on healthy soil. How important this can be was illustrated to me by a young grower from the Baden region of Germany, who showed me the difference between the soil in her vineyard, which was bio-dynamic, and a neighbouring one, which was not.
To achieve this, first, you eliminate herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides. To encourage life, and to give the vine what it needs to thrive, specific composts are used that involve natural products such as cow-horn, nettles, oak bark, and camomile. Each of these has specific properties to bring to the resultant mulch. Horses are often used rather than tractors, as they compress the ground less, and cover crops are ploughed into the soil.
What happens in the cellar is less controlled, although many producers will carry out processes such as bottling only during certain phases of the moon.
On a recent visit to Burgundy, I found that many growers now accept the theory of bio-dynamic agriculture, and practise it in part, but they resent the rigidity of the controls, and, rather than accept them, they prefer to not describe their wines as bio-dynamic. As Beverley Blanning wrote in her monograph on the subject: “Accepting Steiner’s views requires believing . . . in unseen forces emanating from the cosmos and radiating back from the Earth. The practical application of bio-dynamics frequently involves processes that smack more of superstition than of reason.” This is all true, but my tasting experience leads me to believe that bio-dynamic wines taste better.
Sadly, they are not widely found on the high street, although Waitrose stocks some in its larger branches. These include two Sancerres: a white, Domaine Vacheron 2015 (£19.99); and a red, Vacheron Belle Dame 2011 (£32.99). From Burgundy, it offers a Joseph Drouhin Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Folatières 2013 (£57.50).
From Tanners of Shrewsbury, I would suggest the Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2012 (£33.50) from Central Otago, in New Zealand; or, from closer to home, Ancre Hill Blanc de Noirs 2010 Sparkling (£25.95), produced above the River Monnow, in Monmouth.