Moe Momtazi and the heart and soul of biodynamics People must learn once more to “think” the spiritual “together with” the course of nature. It is not admissible today for a person merely to indulge in esoteric speculations; it is necessary today to be able once again to do the esoteric. But people will be able to do this only when they can conceive their thoughts so concretely, so livingly that they don’t withdraw from everything that is going on around them when they think, but rather that they think with the course of events: “think together with” the fading of the leaves, with the ripening of the fruits, in a Michaelic way, just as at Easter one knows how to think with the sprouting, springing, blossoming plants and flowers. —Rudolf Steiner
Biodynamics is an ultra-organic way of farming. It derives from two words; biological & dynamic. The biological aspect is practiced throughout organic farming and includes composting, cover cropping, green manuring, cultivation, companion planting and integration of animals throughout the farm. The dynamic effects are extremely important, maybe more than the biological. They include planning and planting by the lunar calendar, biodynamic composting, peppering and radionics, along with homeopathy. In biodynamics the farm is considered a living organism — having its own individuality and soul. As such the farm is believed to be sick if it imports any fertilizer from the outside; therefore being self-sufficient is an important part of biodynamic farming. Soil is considered to be the foundation in agriculture, therefore “nobilising the soil” is a fundamental task. The farmer is like the conductor of an orchestra — bringing all the individual forces and energising into harmony and playing the right notes at the right time.
At Maysara they distribute their own compost, inoculated with the biodynamic preparations made on the farm, underneath the vines as needed. They have also eliminated the use of minerals which need to be mined from the earth, instead they grow and harvest a variety of herbs and flowers that have been used medicinally for thousands of years (i.e. chamomile, dandelion, yarrow, valerian, horsetail, stinging nettle, etc.), making teas with them to be sprayed either on the foliage (on leaf days) or injected through the irrigation line to the root system (on root days). These teas are applied in homeopathic quantities in order to maintain the vitality and healthy immune system of the plants. Plants, as Moe says, do not need to be shocked with penicillin like medication if they are “brought up” with healthy immunities to pests and diseases. In the winery they allow the native yeast found on the grape skins to naturally initiate primary fermentation. No commercial yeast or enzyme use is allowed and the wine is never adjusted with acidity or sugar. The secondary or malolactic fermentation also occurs on its own without any additives.
There have been plenty of changes at Momtazi Vineyard. When the property was purchased in 1997 it was an abandoned wheat farm and for the previous seven years no chemicals had been used on it. And when grapevines were planted — many of the sections or blocks were nutritionally bereft. The grapes apparently would get pink, but would not fully ripen. Now those same sections are yielding excellent fruit. You can stroll throughout the farm and see the wildlife and biodiversity flourishing. “We have seen some endangered species of butterflies in abundance. The soil colour and “fluffiness” has changed dramatically. We do not import any kind of fertilizer; everything comes from within our own farm. After the harvest, we send all of our animals into the vineyard and they really do a great job of balancing the land and getting rid of weeds.” I was hugely impressed by Moe and his aura of calm reasonableness. I loved the vineyards rolling over the slopes and the captivating cathedral-like airy wooden winery. I understand why Kelley [Fox] works with grapes from here as she herself has an intuitive grasp of biodynamics, which is not a modish philosophy but rather an ancient one based on observation and instinct combined with a distinct ethical component. I will remember the vaulted roof of the winery, the pile of cow horns, the enormous carpet of drying nettles and the doors framing superb soul-nourishing views of tree-clad hillsides.
Of course I don’t believe in it. But I understand that it brings you luck whether you believe in it or not. —Niels Bohr on a horseshoe nailed to his wall
Biodynamics goes a step further than organic farming although it shares many of the practical approaches. It assumes philosophical holism, articulating almost animistic and Gaian values and allies to it its own scientific analysis and observation. I think science is too often confused with technology: its applications might be represented in the metaphor of a pill. What the pill contains is a chemical solution to a problem that tends, by definition, to be a short term one. There may be alternative therapies such as acupuncture or homeopathic remedies which may achieve the same effect as the pill. Faith-healing and hypnosis can alleviate certain illnesses because they can stimulate the brain to send out signals to create antibodies. Biodynamics starts from a different perspective and posits a unified methodology insofar as it is not treating the vine as a patient but creating a healthy environment for the vine to exist in. Rather than being a reactive form of farming, it is prescient, intuitive and intelligent.
Incorporated within this philosophy are such diverse matters as the importance of a planting calendar, seasonal tasks, epedaphic conditions, the waxing of the moon (and how it corresponds to high pressure) and the role of wild yeasts. The dynamic of the vineyard mirrors all the cycles. The seasons are a necessary part of the great natural balance, the constant process of decomposition, dormancy and recomposition. Nature is about a series of transformations, and biodynamics analyses the different states and exchanges of matter and energy that operate in the growth of the vine: between the mineral and the roots; the water and the leaf; light and the flower; heat and the fruit, a series of metamorphoses which can be seen not as different states, but ascendant and descendant ones. This is a radical way of looking at plants (although it was proposed by Goethe as early as the 1800s before being elaborated by Rudolph Steiner and Maria Thun.)
The vineyard then is worked through the cycles of natural peaks and troughs. Autumn, the time of decomposition, the sun in its descendant phase, is marked by the use of compost and diverse animal and vegetable preparations to nourish the soil. Spring witnesses the time of regeneration, photosynthesis, the ascendant sun, and crystalline formation. All activities in the vineyard will mirror these rhythms. The lunar calendar meanwhile is used as a timetable indicating when is the best time to prune vines or to rack the wine from barrel to barrel.
The growers have a specific agenda beyond the vague accord of “respect”. The primary tenet is that each wine shall be the full expression of its terroir; that each wine “be good, healthy, great and structured when the conditions permit this… above all, that these wines give people a desire to drink them, wines simply and solely made from the grapes of their vineyards, wines which have the peculiar characteristics of their grape varieties, of their particular terroirs, of their special characters… the common will is to work their soil while respecting nature, as craftsmen seeking harmony between nature and man…”
Is biodynamic wine better? Perhaps this is not the question we should be asking. Andrew Jefford quotes Nicolas Joly’s credo: “Avant d’etre bon, un vin doit etre vrai”; in other words a wine should ultimately be true to itself – this is the “morality of terroir.” Biodynamic viticulture is the ultimate endeavour to realise terroir. In the case of growers like Kelley Fox the wines can be both true unto themselves as well as being very good indeed!
Wine, like, Language is a process of free creation; its laws and principles are fixed, but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varied. Even the interpretation of wine involves a process of free creation. —(with apologies to) Noam Chomsky
Greatness in wine, like genius, is fugitive, unquantifiable, yet demands utter engagement. How often does wine elicit this reaction? Perhaps the question instead should be: How often are we in the mood to truly appreciate wine? Rarely, must be the answer, for if our senses are dulled or our mood is indifferent, we are unreceptive, and then all that remains is the ability to dissect. But if we are open-minded and open-hearted, we will tap into a new language that is Chomsky’s process of free creation.
If you love the wine you set it free – either as a vigneron or as a taster.
‘She sang, as requested. There was much about love in the ballad: faithful love that refused to abandon its object; love that disaster could not shake; love that, in calamity, waxed fonder, in poverty clung closer. The words were set to a fine old air — in themselves they were simple and sweet: perhaps, when read, they wanted force; when well sung, they wanted nothing. Shirley sang them well: she breathed into the feeling, softness, she poured round the passion, force: her voice was fine that evening; its expression dramatic: she impressed all, and charmed one.
On leaving the instrument, she went to the fire, and sat down on a seat — semi-stool, semi-cushion: the ladies were round her — none of them spoke. The Misses Sympson and the Misses Nunnely looked upon her, as quiet poultry might look on an egret, an ibis, or any other strange fowl. What made her sing so? They never sang so. Was it proper to sing with such expression, with such originality — so unlike a school girl? Decidedly not: it was strange, it was unusual. What was strange must be wrong; what was unusual must be improper.’ —Shirley, Charlotte Bronte
Kelley Fox’s Pinot Noirs might seem exotic and unusual by Oregon standards – and for Oregon tastes. Perceptions will shift. What is strange (to some, to many) is that they are unrecognisably pure and singular – but not simple, and what is unusual is in itself proper as the delicious evocation of terroir is surely the best form of wine integrity.