Pref­er­ence a mat­ter of faith for bio­dy­namic con­verts

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

OWdo you make head or tail of the mys­ti­cal na­ture of bio­dy­nam­ics? The re­al­ity is that many more in­ter­na­tional wine­mak­ers of re­pute than the hand­ful I men­tioned last week are ar­dent prac­ti­tion­ers and that in The Wine Com­pan­ion data­base, 117 Aus­tralian winer­ies claim to be bio­dy­namic. A few may be du­bi­ous, mak­ing poor wine, but the ma­jor­ity are good wine­mak­ers.

If there is to be a sat­is­fac­tory an­swer, it must lie in the or­ganic viti­cul­ture spring­board that al­lows you to make the leap to bio­dy­namic. Jan­cis Robin­son (The Ox­ford Com­pan­ion to Wine) uses the 1990 US Farm Bill def­i­ni­tion of or­ganic viti­cul­ture as a sys­tem of grape grow­ing that does not em­ploy in­dus­tri­ally syn­the­sised com­pounds as ad­di­tions to the soil or vines to main­tain or in­crease fer­til­ity, or to com­bat pest prob­lems.

In broad terms, it al­lows the use of rock sul­phur (not sul­phur ex­tracted from oil, even though the com­pound is the same) and of cop­per, two cen­turies-old sprays (along with lime) used to com­bat downy and pow­dery mildew, and which have never suf­fered re­sis­tance prob­lems, al­though cop­per tox­i­c­ity is an is­sue in Bor­deaux.

Not per­mit­ted are ni­tro­gen or sim­i­lar fer­tilis­ers, sys­temic mildew sprays, her­bi­cides and pes­ti­cides. Nor is the ap­proach of mod­ern in­te­grated pest man­age­ment al­lowed, even though (prop­erly run) it should have less long-term ad­verse im­pact.

This aside, or­ganic viti­cul­ture re­quires a much closer mon­i­tor­ing of vine health than con­ven­tional chem­i­cal man­age­ment and, while ini­tially more ex­pen­sive (for ex­am­ple, $900 a hectare each year for hand or me­chan­i­cal weed­ing v $350 for her­bi­cides), it is cheaper in the long term. It builds soil struc­ture and bac­te­rial con­tent and makes the vines more dis­ease-re­sis­tant sim­ply be­cause they are health­ier.

It is gen­er­ally ac­cepted that the step from chem­i­cal to or­ganic is more dif­fi­cult to achieve sat­is­fac­to­rily than the fol­low­ing move to bio­dy­namic. But what does the lat­ter achieve in terms that can be sci­en­tif­i­cally val­i­dated, rather than in terms of the pas­sion­ate be­liefs of the bio prac­ti­tion­ers?

I at­tended a con­fer­ence at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia’s Davis cam­pus sev­eral years ago and one of the ses­sions was di­rected to this ques­tion. One pa­per ex­am­ined all the sen­sory eval­u­a­tion com­par­isons that had been recorded over the pre­vi­ous decade.

It found only one with ap­pro­pri­ate method­ol­ogy, in­clud­ing placebo or dummy wines, among nu­mer­ous tast­ings con­ducted by true be­liev­ers who knew what wines were in the tast­ing, and it did not give a clear in­di­ca­tion of su­pe­ri­or­ity. THE Kalleske fam­ily has been grow­ing grapes in South Aus­tralia’s Barossa Val­ley for more than 100 years. The fifth gen­er­a­tion, John and Lor­raine, stopped us­ing chem­i­cal fer­tilis­ers and pes­ti­cides many years ago and some blocks (in­clud­ing Greenock) are cer­ti­fied or­ganic and man­aged bio­dy­nam­i­cally. The 2006 Greenock Shi­raz (94 points; $40) is dark ma­genta , with abun­dant red and black fruits. Hints of spice to the core of in­tense, bright flavours lead to a long, full and har­mo­nious fin­ish. An ex­cel­lent wine. And we will never know how much is due to bio­dy­namic in­puts. James Hal­l­i­day

A lengthy ar­ti­cle ap­peared in the spring 2008 edi­tion of WineS­elec­tor mag­a­zine in­volv­ing a num­ber of key bio play­ers in Aus­tralia and jour­nal­ist Max Allen (a true be­liever), who tasted a se­lec­tion of bio wines.

Some of the reg­u­lar pan­el­lists were able to de­tect the ex­tra en­ergy in cer­tain bio­dy­namic wines. Oth­ers were sim­ply happy to find the wines were equal in qual­ity to their con­ven­tion­ally made peers. Allen is quoted as say­ing, ‘‘ Drink­ing great BD wines is like lis­ten­ing to live mu­sic: the best con­ven­tional wines are like a stan­dard per­for­mance on CD.’’

What wor­ries me is the ab­sence of blind tast­ings with a mix of bio and non-bio wines from the same va­ri­eties, re­gions and vin­tage that pro­vide a clear pat­tern, or any pat­tern at all.

On the viti­cul­tural front, a six-year study com­par­ing bio­dy­namic and or­ganic vine­yards from the Wash­ing­ton State lab was pub­lished in a peer-re­viewed jour­nal, which con­cluded that no con­sis­tent sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences were found for any of the phys­i­cal, chem­i­cal or bi­o­log­i­cal pa­ram­e­ters (of the tested soils).

Looking at the vines, the study states: ‘‘ Anal­y­sis of leaves showed no dif­fer­ence be­tween treat­ments. There were no dif­fer­ences in yield, bunch count, bunch weight and berry weight.’’

What do I make of all of this? The step from or­ganic to bio­dy­namic is a mat­ter of re­li­gious faith and just be­cause it em­bod­ies tenets that can­not be ex­plained by sci­ence, or are sci­en­tif­i­cally wrong, does not mean it should be at­tacked or vil­i­fied.

www.winecom­pan­ion.com.au

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