Aria’s Wine List, compiled by head sommelier Matthew Dunne, was awarded the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide 2009 Wine List of Year. The ‘Cellar Treasure’ page features 21 wines from producers who practice biodynamic farming methods. It includes wine from great producers in France, Spain and New Zealand.  Australian wineries featured are such notable names as Castagna, Howard Park, Lethbridge, Ngeringa, Hochkirch, Bindi, Domaine Lucci and Cullen.

Cullen Wines in the Margaret River, Western Australia, has been at the forefront in introducing organic and then biodynamic farming methods to its vineyards and winery. As the winery comments in its most recent newsletter, Grapevine Winter Edition 2010, since adopting biodynamic methods in 2003, “the quality of wines has increased through having greater liveliness, a better balance between the grape flavours, sugar, acid and tannin levels, and the advantage gained from an earlier ripening of the fruit. The wines now require no additives and benefit greatly from having a lower alcohol content than previously.”

Biodynamic viticulture views the farm as a cohesive, interconnected living system which thrives when the cycles of plant growth are aligned with the rhythms of the cosmos. It fosters the health and life of the soil and encourages the success of a diverse range of organisms including yeast and bacteria. Chemicals and additives are not permitted, so the fermentation of the wine depends entirely on the indigenous yeasts associated with the vineyards and winery.

A proposed plan to build a microbrewery on land that adjoins the Cullen vineyards is of great concern not only for Cullen’s but for one of Australia’s great wine growing regions.

The brewer’s yeasts used for fermenting beer have different characters and flavour properties than the wild and natural wine-making yeasts, but are able to grow in wine must. Cullen says that no experimental trials have been conducted to determine the extent to which which yeast can be contained in the microbrewery. Yeast cells may escape through wind, water drainage, insects and birds, and even low levels of contamination could spoil the wine.

Potentially, such a scenario would ruin the integrity of its biodynamic vineyards and alter the expression of the wine’s terroir or sense of place.

The plans for the brewery have been rejected by Brusselton Shire on the basis that it is “incompatible” with Cullen’s vineyard operations. This decision, however, is expected to go to the State Administrative Tribunal on appeal. Cullen needs help to fight the proposal and is asking its supporters to sign an online petition to stop the brewery. Click here for the link.

Photo: Cullen Wines, vineyard, Cullen Wines