I’ve often said that when biodynamic agriculture starts to go mainstream, it will be largely because the chattering classes and opinion-formers have discovered the special qualities of biodynamic wines. There is a delicious irony to this, of course, because anthroposophists on the whole do not approve of alcohol; so to see biodynamics beginning to win widespread and influential support through the excellence of biodynamic wine must be quite provoking to the more dyed-in-the-wool kind of anthropop.
Nevertheless, even I was taken aback to discover that the Financial Times’ distinguished wine correspondent, Jancis Robinson, is now speculating about the merits of biodynamic viticulture in improving the quality of wines at a time when climate change is causing difficulties for vine-growers. Here is what she had to say in her FT column of March 14/15:
“Vine-growers in the southern hemisphere are grappling with their earliest vintage ever, just one more effect of climate change. For us wine drinkers, the most striking effect has been the rise in alcohol levels. Hotter summers have played a key part in boosting average percentages of alcohol from roughly 12 – 12.5 in the 1980s to 13.5 – 14.5 today.
Growers have observed to their dismay that grapes have been accumulating the sugars that ferment into alcohol much faster than they have been accumulating all the interesting elements that result in a wine’s flavour, colour and tannins – the phenolics. … Who wants to drink a wine that can offer little other than alcohol?”
Ms Robinson then lists the various stratagems adopted by vine-growers to get around this problem, including picking grapes earlier, keeping grapes on the vine much longer and then adding acid, reducing the alcohol through intrusive techniques, experimenting with cunningly-timed irrigation to push phenolic ripening closer to sugar ripening etc – none of which sounds likely to improve the quality of the finished wine.
And here is Ms Robinson’s intriguing conclusion:
“But for many growers the world over, what makes balanced wines is balanced vines, which tends to mean old vines, dry farmed. And those who have adopted biodynamic viticulture – the barmy-sounding, hands-on nurturing of vines according to phases of the moon” (actually, Jancis, there’s rather more to it than that) – “report that vines ripen well-balanced grapes earlier and more completely than their conventionally farmed neighbours. Perhaps this is the answer.”
Well…when the FT’s wine correspondent can write in such terms, something is clearly going on. And here is a link to more evidence that biodynamics is receiving endorsement from the heights of the establishment, this time from Prince Charles.
The newspaper is having a pop at our future king, as usual; but the story must be absolutely true, because I read it in the Daily Mail.