In a week when a tragic natural disaster in Japan was compounded by the fear of a potential man-made nuclear disaster, I think many of us were grateful for the opportunity to attend the Return to The Terroir Grand Tasting in Melbourne. Here was a group of biodynamic winemakers, passionate about the benefits of working with the land’s natural rhythms and bio-systems, delighting our senses with superb wines and stimulating discussion.
Organised by Castagna Vineyard’s Julian Castagna, the tasting brought together 61 wine producers from around the world and more than 340 wines! Almost all of these wineries are members of La Renaissance des Appellations, an invitation only group of biodynamic winemakers founded by Nicolas Joly of the famed Coulée de Serrant. Members are invited not only on the basis of their farming practices (three years of biodynamic farming across the whole property is the minimum criteria) but are also judged on the quality of their wine and their commitment to a shared philosophy that great wine is made in the vineyard, not in the cellar.
In the catalogue accompanying the tasting, Australian wine critic Max Allen noted that “A rapidly growing number of the world’s best winegrowers, from Alsace to Australia, have enthusiastically adopted biodyanmics in their vineyards because they believe it helps them produce wines that express a more authentic, more beautiful sense of place in the glass.”
Indeed, some of the most celebrated wineries in the world are members of the group. To name but a few, they include Domaine Zind Humbrecht from Alsace, Araujo Estate from the Napa Valley, Compañía de Vinos Telmo Rodriguez from Spain and Cullen Wines from the Margaret River.
At the panel discussion I attended the audience had a chance to hear first-hand from the winemakers about what sets this group and the wines they make apart. Nicolas Joly used a musical analogy to describe the benefits biodynamic winemaking. He likened the vineyard to an instrument, the winemaker to a musician and biodynamics to the acoustics, arguing that a farming system which respects and works in harmony with nature’s rhythms provides the right background for wine to truly express its terroir.
Pure, true, lively, healthy, energetic and fresh were descriptors repeatedly used by the winemakers to describe the effects of biodynamics in their vineyards and on their wines. In response to an audience member who disbelieved the value of adhering to a strict lunar calendar for planting and harvesting, the winemakers unanimously concurred that “it works!”
Photo Credit: Castagna