Sunday, June 19, 2011
Shoots and leaves: the effect of biodynamics in the vineyard
I don’t pretend to understand how biodynamics works. For critics of the practice like Dr Richard Smart who recently pronounced that many of the concepts it embraces are 'nonsense' that’s precisely why they are sceptical but my recent trip to Alsace in the early part of the growing season (June) was an ideal opportunity to see for myself exactly what happens to the vines.
Many of Alsace's most successful winemakers are biodynamic including André Ostertag (above) and Olivier Zind Humbrecht, a phenomenon that I would have thought should have given the good doctor pause for thought. Touring Ostertag's vineyards you could see the difference between the vigour and health of his vines . . .
compared to those of his neighbour's a couple of rows down. (Note the use of herbicides.)
The shoots push up vertically (right) as opposed to growing out sideways (left) allowing for better air circulation - down to preparation 501 according to Ostertag.
The fruit is also more spaced out on the shoot as Pierre Gassman of Rolly Gassman showed me at his vineyard.
You can also see a marked difference in the texture and colour of the leaves and the strength of the veins seen here at René Muré's vineyards.
Of course there are differences in viticultural practices - fascinating ones - between one vineyard and another. At René Muré the ground between the rows is kept clean. Grass, Veronique Muré believes, makes the vineyards too wet in winter and too dry in summer when it is in competition with the vines for the available water.
But a couple of kilometres away Matthieu Boesch of Leon Boesch lets the vegetation run wild to encourage the insect population, simply forking through the soil to aerate it.
Despite this divergence in approach both producers' wines expressed the local terroir, the rieslings in particular having quite marked similarities in character.
All in the head? I don't think so. Biodynamics may not be susceptible to scientific proof but you wouldn't have as many winemakers converting to the practice if they weren't convinced by the results. As André Ostertag put it 'When I started biodynamics I saw such an amazing difference in the vineyards I realised something must be going on.' I think you can taste it too.