Biodynamic wines join big league of bottle-tasting

10th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

BORDEAUX, France, April 8, 2007 (AFP) - The biodynamic farming movement, for those who know it exists, would more likely be associated with moon worship than an exclusive Bordeaux wine futures tasting -- but this year they are as one.

BORDEAUX, France, April 8, 2007 (AFP) - The biodynamic farming movement, for those who know it exists, would more likely be associated with moon worship than an exclusive Bordeaux wine futures tasting -- but this year they are as one.

For the first time in Bordeaux during the weeklong tasting of primeurs, or wine futures -- when more than 4,000 wine professionals come to town to sample, and later buy the most recent vintage, as yet unbottled and still maturing in oak barrels -- 32 biodynamic chateaux, held their own primeur tasting.

"There is a groundswell of interest for these products," said Alain Moueix, organiser of the tasting and owner of a St Emilion biodynamic "grand cru classe" Chateau Fonroque, one of two in the area.

"It is this demand which is driving producers," said Moueix, whose wine sells for 20 to 30 euros (26-40 dollars) a bottle. "The environment is in the news these days, the organic vegetable section in the supermarket is getting bigger ... and wine is following this trend."

In France last year, the market for organic food increased 10 percent, according to the national agency for the development of organic farming, L'Agence BIO. So if Moueix is right, there is a future out there for biodynamic wines.

Although biodynamics and organics fall into the same general category of alternative farming practices, the two are distinct.

The main principles of biodynamic farming were laid down by Austrian philosopher and mathematician Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s.

As with organic farming, biodynamics forbids use of chemical fertilisers and weed killers, but it goes further in terms of philosophy, arguing that the entire vineyard is a living system influenced by various factors, notably the moon.

Adherents believe that by using special plant and animal preparations, in tiny amounts, at certain times of the moon's cycle, they can activate the soil and root system of the plant, which then produces better fruit.

Preparations, which are known by numbers, include 501, which is quartz-based and used in doses of four grammes per hectare to improve leaf growth and fruit bearing.

Another, preparation 500, is made of cow manure, fermented in a cow horn and buried in the ground for one winter. It is diluted and sprayed in the vineyard to activate soil and roots. The burying of cow horns is someting often mentioned by unbelievers, to demonstrate the weirdness of it all.

Moueix however, who trained as an agricultural engineer and oenologist, is resolutely un-weird.

He says he knows some people think it's all a bit funny, but that's their problem. "What I know is when we follow the lunar cycle we have less mildew, for example," he said, citing as proof the fact that he has cut his copper treatments -- allowed by both the organic and biodynamic movements -- by half.

"The limit is six kilos (13 pounds) of copper per hectare per year. In 2006, a bad year for mildew, I used three kilos per hectare."

The future of top wines, Moueix believes, is in the terroir -- the particular soil and climate conditions associated with each parcel of vines. "Bio-dynamic farming is about good soil. If you want good terroir you need good soil," he said.

Since he started biodynamic farming in 2002, and organic before that, Moueix says he been producing richer, riper wines, but without the normally associated problem of high alcohol levels.

At the tasting, which included six wines from Bordeaux, two from Champagne, and the rest from Alsace, Bourgogne, Cotes du Rhone, Loire, Provence, Languedoc and Roussillon, were a mix of converts as well as potential buyers simply on the lookout for a good wine at a good price.

"People probably don't understand much about organic or biodynamic, and it is not particularly relevant," said Patrick Barran, director of Clarion Wines in Britain, which has an annual turnover of 1.5 million pounds (2.2 million euros, 2.9 million dollars), a third of which is Bordeaux.

"The whole lunar calendar is a bit of a moot point, but there are some very respected producers doing it. Anne-Claude Leflaive in Burgundy is the grandest," Barran said, referring to the biodynamic producer of Puligny Montrachet premier cru Clavoillon, which sells for 50 to 100 euros (67-134 dollars) and up per bottle, depending on the vintage.

"The thing that's really important is that these wines are good. The fact that they are organic or biodynamic is just a plus," Barran said.

Either way biodynamics has yet to move into mainstream farming practices.

Currently in France about 150 vineyards, of a total of more than 100,000, have been certified as biodynamic by the two main certifying bodies, Demeter and Biodyvin. Of these about 20 are in Bordeaux.

For Moueix, however, the matter is about more than just making good wine. "I have the luck to have a grand cru class chateaux, but it is just passing through me. I have a responsibility, to the environment and to the next generation, to hand it on in good condition."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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