Avril Lavigne et Le Vin Naturel – Is Natural Wine a Fad?

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1978, and a young Morgon winemaker named Marcel Lapierre is experimenting in Beaujolais with no-sulphur winemaking, from grapes grown organically.  In doing so, Lapierre along with a few local cohorts, had unwittingly caused the modern genesis of vin naturel… or natural wine. Of course this didn’t happen overnight, but soon enough, with the help of some Parisian sommeliers, a few eagle eyed importers, a couple of intrigued wine writers, and some notable new wine fairs such as, La Remise, Salon des Vins de Loire, The Natural Wine Fair in Borough Market, then Real Wine Fair, and RAW, and most recently, Rootstock Sydney, vin naturel has become to wine, what farmers markets are to big chain superstores.

The increased interest for natural wines (largely from trade, but consumers are slowly catching up) over the last few years has become a bit of a hot topic in the wine industry. Without a doubt, it’s organic wine that is leading the charge for consumer awareness about the natural wine vanguard, with the promise of little or no hangovers being a significant motivator for someone to want to seek out these drinks. In fact, in the penultimate chapter of Alice Feiring’s book, Naked Winein an interview with Jaques Néauport, Alice discovers that the humble beginnings of natural wine was indeed, “to make life without hangovers a reality” (pg. 172). But, natural wine has evolved into much more than just the promise of an easy rise the next day. Nowadays, it’s seen as a pure expression of place, encapsulating ideas about provenance, sustainable farming practice, sociability, as well as the artisan who creates it and how it is made. It’s also become a bit of a pathfinder, connecting the seemingly exclusive world of wine to the conscious consumer, and brought with it a democratisation of this enduringly beguiling beverage.

“Wine is meant to be fun,” says Tom Belford, from Bobar in the Yarra Valley, “or, at the very least, enjoyable and accessible.”

Merlot - photo by The Wine Idealist

Merlot – photo by The Wine Idealist

There was a time when natural wine was only seen dancing within the margins of wine commentary and communication. Nowadays, it seems as though it’s becoming a bit of an ‘on-trend’ product, with many sommeliers and writers promoting it more and more in their restaurants and bars, and in the mainstream wine press. Some are even having a go at making it themselves (hands up) – possibly because it’s perceived that natural wine can be created fairly easily, with phrases like ‘hands off’ and ‘minimal intervention’ winemaking, often being associated with its creation.

“I think it’s significant,” says Doug Wregg from UK wine importer Les Caves de Pyrene, and Real Wine Fair, “and yes, it is part of the democratisation of wine… critics need to get out of their armchairs and experience life beyond the wine glass. You only truly understand wine when you have tried to make it and realise that it can’t be learned from a text book, or in a laboratory.”

“In some ways the natural wine movement has been mainly driven by somms and writers needing to make discoveries to validate their reputation,” says Clive Dougall, winemaker at Seresin in Marlborough. “The very nature of these wines is that they aren’t judged by the same standards as ‘normal’ wines, with questionable flavours and characters readily forgiven, or even accepted as qualities. This forgiving environment,” Clive continues, “has opened the door to unqualified people to have a go at making it themselves, which is a democratisation of sorts.”

As Andrew Guard says, making a natural wine,”is minimal intervention, but it takes maximum observation.” To make a natural wine is not simply a matter of ‘doing nothing’, as we so often hear. In order to transform any amount of grapes into a liquid necessitates some intervention, and if it’s wine that you want to make, you’re going to need a human being. But just because natural wines are perceived to be easy to make, because you seemingly do nothing, shouldn’t it still be left up to those winemakers and growers who have specific qualifications in viticulture, oenology, and so forth?

“I see no reason why anyone and everyone who’s willing and keen can’t be involved in wine and winemaking, it’s fun right?” says Fraser McKinley of Sami-Odi in the Barossa, “the more the merrier for mine.”

Tom Belford from Bobar reckons that, “it’s exciting to see drinkers get in and make some wine. Maybe it will give them a better understanding of what’s required, in terms of the intrinsic complexity and practical simplicity to making a wine… it shouldn’t be seen as a threat.”

Fermented Semillon, Verdellho, Chardonnay - photo by The Wine Idealist

Whole Bunch Co-Fermented Semillon, Verdellho, Chardonnay – photo by The Wine Idealist

Wine writer Mike Bennie, who has dabbled in the art of making wine, sees many parallels between ‘having a go natural winemakers’ and home brewing, especially with the rise of the craft beer industry, “If home brewing has engendered the impressive rise in interest of craft beer, ipso it should be good for wine. The more that participate in the process is a good thing… and the idea that more Joe Publics are engaging in the wine world, understanding process and provenance of wine, is encouraging.”

“You can’t be a laissez-faire winemaker and a natural one,” says Doug Wregg, “you have to get up close and personal with your grapes, and reach the end without using the usual drugs (wine making additives), that’s the artisan magic.”

But Clive Dougall remains somewhat cautious about natural wine becoming too much of a fad, and having all wine diluted, simply because natural wines happen to be in vogue at the moment.

“There’s an element of this being a self-perpetuating fad that exists in a very small sliver of the wine drinking population, mainly from wine professionals,” explains Clive, “which has now led to a time where the (natural) wines that are seen as the weirdest, or the more scarce, or have the best story, these things have become more important than the quality and authenticity of the wine. It’s the part of the natural wine scene that disappoints me, and I hope that the great traditional natural winegrowers don’t suffer due to the explosion of amateur wines muddying the picture.”

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Natural Aussie Wines – photo by The Wine Idealist

So, like all great movements that evolve, grow and posses an inherent truth which can be captured in a moment, felt, and potentially emulated, whether it’s a painting, a book, or a song, will natural wine eventually become just another tired fad, and sell out to the major labels? Will natural wine, one day, get its own Avril Lavigne?

Fraser McKinley thinks so, “I’m sure every marketing department will have a natural wine in no time, if they don’t already. There’s a lot of wine to sell, and to latch onto these ideas and ideals, whether one believes in them or not, is a sure bet to increasing sales and staying current.”

Tom Belford agrees, that if one of the big wine brands was to release their own version of a natural wine that it would, “probably come across as glaringly cynical and would almost certainly not be part of the community of artisans involved in the movement, which is made up of a lot of small individuals working really hard.”

Without naming names, Mike Bennie says, “they already exist and more are in the works, however, it feels somewhat ingenuine when such wines are ‘made to market’ by larger producers, but it might also reasonably be seen as a stepping stone to cultural change within a winery, leading to better and more sustainable practices in their wine producing.”

And therein lies the essence of natural wine. Small artisan producers, winegrowers that are really not much different to the farmer who sells you his/her strawberries, apples, or potatoes on the weekend at the farmers market. Natural wines are wines made by farmers-cum-winegrowers, who want to showcase their passion, their skills, and their place in a bottle of wine.

Mike Bennie believes the future of natural wine should be to, “encourage consumers to make better choices about wine… if people visit farmer’s markets or grow their own, then the progress should be to encourage more people to engage with wine in similar ways.”

“I’m not much of a fan of the term ‘natural’,” says Fraser McKinley, “but I do like the ideals that sit inside it. Simplicity and nature in a bottle is my kind of tonic.”

D// – The Wine Idealist

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Australian Wine Idealism – Real Wine Fair, April 13/14, LONDON

Is natural wine a fad? Come to the Real Wine Fair this weekend and find out for yourself!

I will be presenting a seminar about the most exciting wine scene in the world - The Secret Australian Wine Revolution -  this Sunday (13th) at Real Wine Fair in London town. Come along and say hello, then taste and discuss with me some of the most incredibly delicious and diverse wines from the new paradigm of Australian wine… More information here.

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The House in the Sun – Te Whare Ra, Marlborough NZ

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“With the way wine seems to be going, I think you need to be a winegrower, not just a viticulturist, or winemaker,” says Jason Flowerday, winegrower, and part owner with his wife Anna, of Te Whare Ra (‘te fahree rah’ TWR), in New Zealand’s most famous wine region, Marlborough.

Jason and Anna purchased TWR in 2003, becoming the third owners of one of Marlborough’s oldest vineyards, which was first planted to vine in 1979 and includes the grape varieties, riesling, chardonnay, and gewürztraminer. Instead of ripping these varieties out, and jumping onto the Marlborough sauvalanche, Jason and Anna kept these varieties, so they could showcase another side to the place they call home.

“People would ask, when are we pulling these old vines out,” recalls Anna Flowerday, “why don’t you rip them out and plant savvy? But we said no, we’ve got slightly different plans.”

“Here’s a place that can grow grapes with it’s fantastic climate, and great soil,” explains Jason, “so why limit it to only one variety?”

Te Whare Ra Vineyard cover crop - photo by The Wine Idealist

Te Whare Ra Vineyard cover crop – photo by The Wine Idealist

Located in the sub region of Renwick, TWR, which means ‘the house in the sun’, in Maori, is a 14ha property with cows, a horse, a dog called Montyit’s own compost piles and cow pat pits, it’s own winery on site, two sets of twins, and 11ha planted to vine, which, in addition to the already existing chardonnay, gewürztraminer and riesling, now has sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, pinot noir, and syrah. Each of these varieties are made into their own wine, along with an aromatic white blend, called Toru (co-fermented: gewürtz/riesling/gris).

When they first bought the property, Jason and Anna set about redesigning the whole place to suit their own precise needs, in order to be able to grow the best wine they possibly can. This included overhauling the on site winery, where they converted old beer tanks into grape fermenters, with every variety having its own dedicated tank for it to be processed in. Plus, Jason designed and engineered specific tools for them to utilise during the crush, such as their cold soak contraption, which looks a bit like a chip basket from a deep fryer. Yet, before all of this, Jason and Anna’s first challenge to get TWR shining again, was out in the vineyard.

“The soil was dead,” explains Anna, “it was like concrete. There was not a living thing it it, and the vines were really struggling. So, we needed to start from the ground up.”

TWR had previously been managed conventionally, that is with agrochemicals, since it was established in ’79. Because Jason and Anna had seen the benefits of organic management when they worked on 4 acres of dry-grown vineyard in Clare Valley, S.A. they immediately set about trying to revive their new home with organic farming practices.

“We’d been through a couple of vintages where the vineyards were organically dry-grown,” says Anna, “and the proof was in the pudding, because our vineyard was healthy and had amazing fruit, as opposed to the chemical vineyard next door, which looked dead.”

“We’re farming like our grandads did,” explains Jason, “it’s nothing new.”

TWR Compost Pile - photo by The Wine Idealist

TWR Compost Pile – photo by The Wine Idealist

TWR have their own cow pat pits, which are inoculated with the biodynamic preparations 502-507. They get the manure to make their own 500 from their Beltie cows, which they let into the vineyard to graze the cover crop over winter. In the winter Jason and Anna plant cereals, such as wheat, barley and a lupin crop, before gently cultivating it back into the soil to act as a green manure, which helps with soil moisture retention. In the summer they plant buckwheat and phacelia flowers, which provide a habitat for beneficial bugs, such as lady bugs, lacewings, and wasps to keep unwelcome pests, like caterpillars at bay, and away from the fruit.

“We just treat our vineyard like a big vege garden,” says Jason. “We make compost and utilise companion planting to create natural and biological controls, so that we don’t need to spray with chemicals. It’s about creating and maintaining an ecosystem amongst the vines.”

TWR are certified organic through BioGro, and is a part of the Mana group of natural winegrowers, as well as participants in Organic Winegrowers of New Zealand program. Certification is important to Anna and Jason because it emphasises their integrity for what they’re doing, and contributes positively to their community.

“We want to look after our piece of community within the world,” says Jason, “that’s important to us… it’s important to shop in the local shops, and have our kids go to the local schools. We own bricks and mortar here, our families live here. This is our land, and we want to be here to hand it over to our kids. We’re not going anywhere else, this is our patch, and we want to look after it.”

“The best winegrowers I know spend a lot of time worrying about what’s going on underneath (the soil), which is the bit you can’t see…,” explains Anna.

“And it’s so important what’s going on down there,” adds Jason, “because you can’t put ripeness into the fruit when it’s sitting in the fermenter already picked. You need the soils to make that already happen.”

Te Whare Ra Vineyards - photo by The Wine Idealist

Te Whare Ra Vineyards – photo by The Wine Idealist

Spending as much time out in the vineyard is Jason and Anna’s main priority, because that’s where the raw materials come from to let them make TWR wine.

“The best chef’s talk about how the key to making food taste great is to get it first from the raw ingredients,” explains Jason, “If it’s a good tasting piece of meat already, then you don’t need to do much to it to make it taste good. It’s no different to wine.”

When it comes to converting grapes into wine, Jason and Anna have an almost military plan of action, with everything in it’s right place, cleaned and ready to go, right down to the last little thing. From the time the fruit is harvested off the vines, to the sorting table, into the crusher/destemmer, then into the press (for whites), and finally into tank, Jason and Anna have set up a workflow system that leaves nothing to chance.

“It’s the 1% that can make the difference,” explains Anna.

“And we have to be organised,” continues Jason, “because our livelihood is based on only one vineyard. Yes, it’s financially harder on us, but it’s important to have that control.”

“It is harder, but any other way, it just wouldn’t make your heart sing,” adds Anna.

Anna & Jason Flowerday - photo by The Wine Idealist

Anna & Jason Flowerday – photo by The Wine Idealist

“Every season is different,” explains Jason. “The organic management technique gives you the tools and ability to adapt to that vintage…  Our wines are determined by the vintage and we make wines that represent the season we’ve been given, rather than having any preconceived idea… that’s why it’s called a vintage.”

D// - The Wine Idealist

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TASTING NOTES

TWR Riesling ‘D’ 2013 – This is the sort of wine I want in my water bottle while I’m exercising, or while relaxing against the gentle current of the Marlborough’s Wairau river. It’s so refreshingly vitalising, so clean and fresh. Intricate aromatics flushed with juicy minerality and thirst slaking dryness from 35 year old vines ensure this wine is honoured with patient time in the glass, as it lives and breathes, and stretches out along an acid line full of punch, spark and verve.

TWR Syrah 2011 –  Unlike Australia, syrah (shiraz) is one of those varieties that isn’t much represented in New Zealand, and, really, there are only a handful that bother to grow it in Marlborough. TWR is one of the few, and that’s a good thing because this is a wine of place. If the whites seem to effortlessly exhibit a freshness and vibrancy within them, then so too should the reds. This 2011 Syrah is as energetic as the rest, only, that it’s a more considered expenditure of spirit. Rather than lolling about in the river, this should be drunk over dinner, with friends, in the wintertime, with a warm roast, baked vegetables and crunchy potatoes. It takes time to emerge from the obvious black peppercorn and darkly roasted coffee aromas. It maintains a firm grip in your mouth via tannins that meld like purple coloured ribbons woven from mulberries and plums. It makes you think a bit… why aren’t more people making Marlborough syrah?

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Biodynamics 101 – The Other Preparations – 502-508

 

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“Whatever you may feel about the principals and practices of biodynamics, there are good grounds for suggesting that this is one of the most positive developments for fine wine over the past couple of decades.” - Authentic Wine, Jamie Goode, Sam Harrop MW.

Preparations 500, and 501 are, no doubt, two of the most important tools a biodynamisist can utilise to manage their property according to the principals of biodynamics. I have already written about 500 (cow manure buried in cow horns over winter and sprayed directly onto the soil), and 501 (crushed quartz crystals ground up to form a paste and applied directly onto the foliage of the plant), but there are a further seven preparations that go to complete the total arsenal of biodynamic tools that a person, such as a viticulturist, can use in their vineyard.

The following preparations are generally used in combination with each other in compost piles. However, each of the different Preparations 502-507 brings its own special contribution to the compost pile, or, as Hamish Mackay from Biodynamics 2024 puts it, “they are the organs of organic agriculture; they ‘organ-ise’ the breakdown of organic matter and the creation of living, humic substances which allow plants to select the nourishment they need.”

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Composting was a normal part of European agriculture at the beginning of the 20th Century and is a major component of organic and biodynamic agriculture today. Steiner recommended that the Preparations 502-507 should be used when making a compost heap. Composting, at its most basic level, is simply a concentrated pile of organic materials, such as leaves, sticks, animal (cow) manure, grape marc and so on, that breaks down into humus after a period of weeks or months. (In Steiner’s day most ‘compost’ was the materials collected from the winter housing of animals, including piles of dung, urine straw etc. piled outside barns. Steiner envisaged adding the preparations to these piles.)  Compost materials should be well saturated with moisture at the time of making, and most biodynamic practitioners only turn their heaps once or maybe twice. The worms and microbes do the turning, fungi breaks up the material, while aerobic bacteria manage the chemical process by converting the inputs into heat, carbon dioxide and ammonium. The ammonium is further converted by bacteria within the heap into plant-nourishing nitrates through the process of nitrification. By adding Preparations 502-507 to the compost, you effectively super charge the pile by accelerating the process of humus formation. A good compost heap neither smells nor leaches liquids into the environment (this is important, as it is one of the criticisms levelled at organic agriculture – that compost pollutes the waterways. This is wrong, because if it is not properly made it would be a wasted/lost resource for the farmer).

As with all things in biodynamics, it is recommended that you make these preparations with the raw materials collected from your own farm, or vineyard. However, you may not have ready access to some of the ingredients needed to make these preps, and you can buy ready made versions through the various certifying bodies and elsewhere. See here.

Each of these preparations should be made in a descending period of the moon. Once the preparations have been made, care must be taken to store them appropriately to avoid drying out.

Te Whare Ra (NZ) Compost Pile - photo by The Wine Idealist

Te Whare Ra (NZ) Compost Pile – photo by The Wine Idealist

Prep 502 - Yarrow, Achilea millifolium

Steiner says: “Like sympathetic people in human society, who have a favourable influence by their mere presence and not by anything they say, so yarrow, in a district where it is plentiful, works beneficially by its mere presence.”  - Agriculture (V/7).

This preparation stimulates the delivery of potassium, silica and selenium activating bacteria, and helps to combine sulphur with trace elements. Steiner recommends the yarrow because of its ability to bring in light forces to the soil through its connection to sulphur and potassium. He said yarrow can,“enliven the soil so it can absorb and retain extremely fine doses of silicic acid, lead and so on that come toward the Earth.” 502 strengthens a plants’ ability to flower, or fruit and helps protect the plant from insect attacks. This is particularly useful to the grapevine to help build its defence mechanisms and immunity.

502 can be prepared by fermenting the heads of the yarrow flower in a stag’s bladder. Stuff the bladder with the flower and hang it from a tree during summer. In the autumn the dried bladder is prepared to be buried over winter in small earthenware pots surrounded by healthy soil. The bladder is then dug up the following spring and the flower preparation is stored in a glass jar and kept moist to prevent it from drying out.

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Prep 503 – Chamomile - Matricaria chamomilla 

Steiner says: “Camomile assimilates calcium and potassium. (Manure treated this way) has a more stable nitrogen content and with the added virtue of kindling the life in the Earth so that the Earth itself will have a wonderfully stimulating effect on plant growth. Above all, you will create more healthy plants if you manure in this way, than if you do not.” – Agriculture (V/11)

Preparation 503 is made from the flowers of the German chamomile, which was once used for preserving meat. Chamomile can also be used medicinally to promote digestion and, also, for its calming effect. This preparation enhances the activities of calcium, sulphur, potash, nitrogen and oxygen, and strengthens a plant’s regenerative abilities, and stimulates the manganese and boron, as well as azotobacter activity, the best bacteria for nitrogen fixation in the soil.

503 is prepared by first drying the Chamomile flowers out completely, and then stuffing these flowers into a cow’s intestines, making it into long sausages. Once the intestines are stuffed gently with the flowers and is full, tie the ends up. Bury the sausage in the autumn in small earthenware pots surrounded by healthy soil. Retrieve the preparation in the early days of spring, and store the preparation in a glass jar, the same as you would for Prep 502.

Yarrow between the vines at Seresin (NZ) - photo by The Wine Idealist

Yarrow between the vines at Seresin (NZ) – photo by The Wine Idealist

Prep 504 - Stinging nettle - Urtica diocia

Steiner says: “The stinging nettle is a regular jack-of-all-trades, who can do very, very much… and has a kind of iron radiation (which) is almost as beneficial to the whole course of nature, as our own iron radiations in our blood.” – Agriculture (V/12)

Preparation 504 helps with the proper decomposition of the compost heap, aids chlorophyll formation and stimulates iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, nitrogen and sulphur activity in the soil.

Preparation 504 is made from the harvesting of nettles, before they flower, during late spring and early summer, which are then dried and placed in a small unglazed earthenware pot and buried in healthy soil during autumn. Upon digging up, the nettle usually shrinks and deposits a small amount of black compost at the bottom of the pot. Sieve out the stalks before storing it.

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Prep 505 - Oak bark - Quercus robur

Steiner says: “It restores order when the Ether-Body is working too strongly, that is, when the Astral cannot gain access to the organic entity. It ‘kills’ or dampens down the Ether-Body… but if we want a rampant Ethereal development, of whatever kind, to withdraw in a regular manner, so that its shrinking is beautiful and regular and does not give rise to shocks in the organic life, then we must use the calcium in the very structure in which we find it in the bark of the oak.” - Agriculture (V/14,15)

Preparation 505 is used to provide calcium and phosphorus absorption into the earth, and provides strength for the plant to maintain its representative form. The ash of oak bark contains up to 78% calcium and Steiner believed that soil needs to contain the right amount of calcium if plants are to be healthy and free from disease. This preparation helps prevent fungal disease, and, when used over time, will eventually raise the pH levels in the soil.

This preparation is made in autumn. The oak bark is grated into a fine powder, then packed tightly into a clean and washed animal skull, preferably a cow, bull, or sheep. Make sure the lining of the brain cavity has not been removed. This bony, calcified container harmonises with the calcium present in the oak. The oak filled skull is then submerged into a barrel of water, which is filled with plenty of rotting vegetation, such as leaves, grasses and so on. The barrel should be placed under a down pipe where water can refresh it – not too close to your house! Alternatively the skull can be buried in a swampy place but make sure it will not be dug up by dogs, foxes et al. The opening is sealed with a bit of bone and/or clay. The skull is then retrieved from the water in spring, and the contents put into a glass jar. The preparation will need to be turned (as you would a compost heap) to allow oxygen to get at it and stop it from smelling, however, if this is done regularly, it will soon smell quite sweet.

Companion planting (mustard) at Tamburlaine - photo by The Wine Idealist

Companion planting (mustard) at Tamburlaine – photo by The Wine Idealist

Prep 506 - Dandelion - Taraxacum officinale

Steiner says: “We need the silicic acid to attract and draw in the cosmic properties… there must arise a clear and visible interaction between the silicic acid and the potassium… We must look for a plant whose own potassium-silicic acid relationship will enable it to impart this power to the manure.” - Agriculture (V/17)

Preparation 506 utilises the dandelion flower to stimulate potassium/silica bacteria in the soil to enable it to work more effectively with the growth forces of the plant. The silica inherent in the dandelion, when made into Prep 506, helps to increase the flowering and fruiting stages of the plant it’s being applied to, meaning you get healthier, more vibrant looking flowers, or fruit.

The dandelion flowers need to be picked early, before they open up too much and become too fluffy and dry. Once picked, the flowers can be dried in the same way as the chamomile flowers for Prep 503. Then, the dried flowers are put into a cow’s mesentery, which is the ‘skin’ that holds all the digestive organs in the body of the cow. The mesentery is also known as caul fat and was traditionally used in making meat loaf style foods.  In Steiner’s day these organs were part of country life and cooking and were not regarded as exotic or strange as they are considered today. The flowers are put onto the mesentery and folded up to make a tight parcel, which can be tied up with string. This parcel is then buried inside larger earthenware pots in healthy soil at a descending phase of the moon, in autumn. Dig up the preparation in the following springtime, at the same time as you unearth the Prep 500. Store the contents of the mesentery in a glass jar with the lid off, for the first two weeks.

Application of Prep 502-506

All the Preparations 502-506 are inserted into holes in a compost pile, which are spaced at least 2m apart and are approximately 50cm deep. They can also be added to liquid manure, or the cow pat pit/manure concentrate. They literally prepare and activate the raw organic material from each source, to encourage it to transform into  fertile and dynamic microbial and bacterial humus, which contains all the necessary nutrients for the plant to survive, and thrive on.

Prep 507 - Valerian - Valeriana officinalis

Steiner says (little about this preparation’s purpose): “to behave in the right way in relation to what we call the ‘phosphoric’ substance.”

Preparation 507 is used in conjunction with the other Preparations to form an atmosphere around the compost pile and help with humus formation. This preparation raises temperatures, stimulates the phosphorus process and mobilises the phosphorus-activating bacteria in the soil, as well as selenium and magnesium. It also prevents the flowering and fruiting process from becoming excessive. If sprayed onto blossoms in spring it can provide protection against late frost.

To make Prep 507 you will need to grind the flowers with a mortar and pestle, and place the mash into a large jar of distilled water. Leave the jar on a windowsill for four to seven days before filtering the extracted valerian through fine filter paper. Pour the Preparation in a bottle filled to capacity and seal to exclude air. Store away in a dark cupboard.

This Preparation is not inserted into the compost pile, cow pat pit or manure concentrate like the other Preps. Instead, 507 is poured as a solution into two separate holes on top of the pile, with the remainder sprinkled out, around and over the pile.

Lethbridge Biodynamic Vineyard, Geelong - photo by The Wine Idealist

Lethbridge Biodynamic Vineyard, Geelong – photo by The Wine Idealist

Prep 508- Equisetum – Equisetum arvense 

Preparation 508 is the final Preparation and is not applied to the compost pile. This Prep is made from the horsetail plant, which can be found growing in swamps in parts of Europe. Equisetum is a proscribed plant in most of Australia and Casuarina needles are used instead. Equisetum/Casuarina has a very high silica content, and is therefore similar to Prep 501, however it does not refract light like 501 and will not encourage the ripening of plants. Like 501, Prep 508 can be used as a foliar spray to reduce excessive water from building up on the plant and therefore reduce fungal disease, such as downy mildew.

To make Preparation 508, add 100g per 2 litres of water and bring to the boil. Let it simmer for 20 minutes and then leave it to stand for two days. The preparation is then ready to use. To spray it out over your vineyard, or farm, stir it using the dynamising stirring method, used to make Prep 500, for about 10 minutes. Spray the preparation on the ground around the plants you want to protect during stress times.

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This article is intended to provide a very basic introduction into the various Biodynamic Preparations 502-508, as prescribed by Rudolf Steiner in his lectures, given at Koberwitz, 7th-16th June, 1924, entitled Agriculture.

If you would like to know more about Biodynamics, I encourage you to read the publications I have listed below, and go see a working biodynamic farm or vineyard for yourself… and then get involved!

D// – The Wine Idealist

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Further Information -

Much of the information translated here has been gleaned from various sources, including Paul Proctor’s, Grasp the Nettle, ‘Making Biodynamic Farming & Gardening Work’and ‘An Introduction to Biodynamics’, by Hamish Mackay at Biodynamics 2024, and The Working of the Planets and the Life Processes in Man and Earth’, by Dr. C.B.J. Lievegoed.

 

 

 

 

 

Organics is Easy – Huia Vineyards, Marlborough, NZ

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“I don’t know why everyone isn’t organic. I think it’s really simple,” says Claire Allan, winegrower and proprietor at Huia (pron. ‘who ee ah’), located in the Marlborough winegrowing region of New Zealand. “It’s just a simple set of rules that you adhere to.”

Huia (named in honour of a native New Zealand bird, now (possibly) extinct) was established in 1996 by Claire, and her husband Mike, beneath the dramatic slopes of the Richmond Ranges, along the banks of the Wairau River. Their vineyards are certified organic by BioGro, New Zealand’s leading organic certification body, and Huia is apart of the Mana Group of Natural Winegrowers, which is a small collective of like minded Marlborough artisan wine producers growing their wines organically, with as little intervention as possible.

Claire and Mike returned to Marlborough from making wine in South Australia, at the end of 1989, intrigued by some of the wines coming out of the region. Back then, the Marlborough was a fairly unknown entity on the world wine stage, but, those who were fortunate enough to have this youthful regions’ wines thrust underneath their noses, were greeted with that distinct and unmistakeable zip of lemons and lime, green ant freshness, otherwise known as pyrazine.

“We were brought back (to Marlborough) by the flavours in the wines from the likes of Stoneleigh and Cloudy Bay,” explains Claire, “It was pretty interesting stuff.”

Claire and Mike Allan - photo by The Wine Idealist

Claire and Mike Allan – photo by The Wine Idealist

It’s the soils around Marlborough that give the wines their unique quality and flavour and their own sense of place. Huia owns and manages two separate vineyard sites. One is on the property they live on, in the Raparua region of the Wairau Valley, and the other is located across town, in the Lower Dashwood region of the Awatere Valley. They also buy some pinot noir from certified organic growers near the Southern Valley region of Marlborough.

“The flavours from the different areas are quite extreme,” explains Claire. “The Wairau side of the valley is all river terrace with multiple varieties of soils, mainly rocks, with very little earth, through to silt, sand and clay.  This is where much of the tropical fruit characteristics from the Marlborough come from.” “Further, towards the sea,” continues Claire ,”where our Dashwood vineyard is, there’s more of an elderflower character that comes through.”

This huge variance in soil types makes for incredibly uneven vineyards at Huia, and throughout Marlborough, which can make them quite difficult to manage. However, the climate is nearly perfect for organic viticulture, with it’s low annual rainfall, and large diurnal temperature range.

“When we started Huia, we started off trying to be organic, but there was not a lot of information about it… so, you had to have a bit of courage,” says Claire, “but certification of organics, in it’s purest form, is just complying to certain protocols.”

In simple terms, organic farming is more about what not to do (spray with synthetic agrochemicals), where as biodynamics actively encourages inputs onto your farm or vineyard which have been prepared from organic raw materials. Huia is certified organic, but they do practice biodynamics as well.

“For me, organics is one thing,” says Claire, “but it’s not enough, so we do a whole lot of BD anyway… I just regard it as all being organic… Our vineyards are just lovely,” continues Claire, “there’s an atmosphere in them that includes all the beneficial insects, which is lovely, and we only want to make them healthier and more interesting.”

Huia - Gewürztraminer - photo by The Wine Idealist

Huia – Gewürztraminer – photo by The Wine Idealist

Making compost and various forms of compost teas, as well as using Preparation 500 (cow horn) and 501 (quartz silica) to spray out over the vineyards, keeps the vines healthy and is enough proof for Claire to know that it is the right way to grow.

“I hate dogma,” says Claire, “I have to use my intellect and I have to see a logical reason behind things, which is why I can’t subscribe to the more esoteric aspects of BD.”

Apart from the various preparations that are used in biodynamics, which are full of practical bacterial and microbiological life to stimulate growth and promote soil fertility, there is the more ethereal and philosophical aspects to biodynamics, such as recognising the interconnectedness of earth bound plant growth with the movements of the planets, and rhythms of the cosmos. Understandably, this can be hard to understand at first glance, and is usually the first thing to be dismissed by some sceptics.

“The era that Steiner lived in, there was a wave of interest in fairy folk and things like that,” explains Claire, “but everyone has a personal choice, and I’m quite happy with the natural world, and feeding it with good things.”

“I care about what goes into my body, and into everybody’s body, and what’s going into the world,” says Claire, “and, sometimes, you can feel defeated because you’re just a small cog in the machine, but, ultimately, you have to live with yourself, and that’s why we want Huia to be organic, and try to make the best wines we can.”

D// - The Wine Idealist

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TASTING NOTES

During my visit to Huia in March 2014, Claire and I tasted through their range of wines, including their second label, Hunky Dory. They were all very different and distinct to the scenery around us, and here are some of my tasting notes from just a couple of wines that stood out to me.

Huia Brut, 2009 - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, traditional method - I don’t tend to make a big fuss over sparkling wines, in the same way I don’t fuss over sparkling mineral water, but this I could fuss and fawn over all night long. This sparkling wine pulses with an energy that comes in waves. Delicate beads of CO2 take flight within the glass as they float to the surface in cycles, carrying with them a vitality that really only comes from clean, quality fruit. A fragile whiff of vanilla and strawberries seduce my primal senses and then lemon shortbread instantly comes to mind, due to the malo ferment and stirred lees contact as it slooshes around my mouth. A teasing finish lingers for a while until I got the message… sparkling wines are good, OK!

Huia Gewurztraminer, 2010 - In my humble opinion, Marlborough aromatics are the future. There’s something pleasant about raising your nose’s hopes to the sugary expectations of a sweet smelling aromatic white. Something that smells of lychees dripping with rose coloured toffee, and then having those expectations dashed as a cool slick of sliced pears dusted with ginger and musk texturise across your tongue, sending your senses flailing in the best possible way.

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Liquid Literature – Chapter Wine, Victoria

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“There’s a romantic narrative in winemaking that should be told more often than what it is,” says Jarad Curwood of Chapter Wine in Victoria, “and that story should be told through the vineyard, not through the skills of the winemaker.”

Jarad is a painter who gravitated toward wine’s black hole, while studying a fine arts degree at the University of Melbourne, and working at Melbourne’s City Wine Shop. There, he was exposed to the mysteries of wine via the dregs of near empty bottles, left over from the evening’s trade.

“Working in hospitality gets a little tiring after a while,” says Jarad, “and I realised that I’m no good at talking about wine. I prefer to use my hands and see myself as a creative person. So, I decided to go down the path of actually making the stuff.”

Jarad isn’t formally trained in either viticulture, or winemaking, but has worked a vintage with Pierre Gaillard in the Northern Rhône, in France, after doing a three year informal apprenticeship as an assistant winemaker with Adam Marks at Bress Wine and Cider in Harcourt, Victoria.

“If you can’t keep up with Adam, you’re off the boat,” says Jarad of his time spent at Bress, “and I knew that if I did a three year apprenticeship with him, then I would learn so much more than if I spent three vintages with a bunch of different producers.”

This informal training has allowed Jarad to be a lot more expressive when it comes to the way he approaches winemaking, drawing upon his artistic influences to create and express a sense of place, rather than just simply making a wine.

“I would be a very different, and probably safer, winemaker if I’d studied at university…” says Jarad, “my mission is to capture a time and a place as honestly and truthfully as I possibly can.”

Chapter Home Vineyard, Southern Heathcote - photo courtesy of Chapter Wine

Chapter Home Vineyard, Northern Heathcote – photo courtesy of Chapter Wine

To capture this sense of time and place in his wines, Jarad sources fruit from a range of different vineyards throughout Victoria, including the Yarra Valley, and a home vineyard in Heathcote, where he has 10 acres of mostly shiraz vines that he owns and farms himself.

“I do as little as possible in my vineyard,” says Jarad, “I’ve had it since 2011 and I’m still trying to learn about the place.”

Jarad’s vineyard is run organically, but only by default, simply because he says he does nothing in the vineyard, in terms of hands-on maintenance.

“I struggle with interference, in nature, in the vineyard, and in the winery as well,” says Jarad. “One year I’ll water the vineyard if it needs it, but the next I might not need to,” he continues, “I don’t believe in spraying with X amount of chemicals just to keep it safe, I’d rather let the vineyard do whatever it’s going to do, and try other ways to prevent disease and manage certain issues.”

Minimum interference extends into the winery too, with Jarad preferring to make sure the fruit is picked at exactly the right time, rather than trying to correct any flavour imbalances later on during the wines transformation from grape to juice to wine.

“The timing of when I pick my fruit is the most important thing,” explains Jarad, “and the most influential step that I have in my involvement with making my wine… I like to pick my shiraz (for example) on the borderline of unripe, because that way I can get the acids to be as high as I possibly can, which gives the final wine better structure in the end.”

True to the Chapter namesake, once the fruit is picked and brought back to the winery, Jarad will then decide whatever’s the best way to capture the wine with that years narrative, and tell the story that appears in the bottle.

“I don’t want my wine, from a specific site, to always look exactly the same,” explains Jarad, “because there’s different growing conditions every year. I want my wine to show vintage variation, not a Chapter wine style… I don’t want Chapter wine to have a style.”

The idea behind Chapter wine is to tell the story of each vintage, in each year, and express the differences that occur as vintage variation in the vineyard site, where the wine is grown. You could say Chapter falls into the category of a natural wine, but Jarad is reluctant to assign himself to that, so called, style.

“I’m very hesitant about the term natural wine, because I’m concerned that it will become a fad,” says Jarad, “I love drinking natural wines myself, but I don’t want them to battle with conventional winemaking because it’ll just end up becoming a “them and us” situation, and I don’t think that’s good for the industry.”

Jarad Curwood - photo courtesy of Chapter Wine

Jarad Curwood – photo courtesy of Chapter Wine

Writing down memoirs with wine is the ongoing story for Jarad that’s almost as infinite as wine itself. Making Chapter wine allows him the freedom and flexibility to continue the story elsewhere, wherever that may be.

“One of the original ideas for Chapter was the ability to be able to move somewhere else to make wine,” explains Jarad, “To be able to say, ‘the story in Heathcote is now finished, and I’m moving to New Zealand to now make wine from there’.”

The word ‘Chapter’ is written with a typewriter style font, which Jarad says, “connects people to the idea that this is liquid literature.”

“I just find it a fascinating industry, in the sense that you’re just continually able to learn, and there’s no finish line or end to making, or even drinking wine,” says Jarad, “you’ve just gotta keep up with the story.”

D// – The Wine Idealist

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  • Chapter Wine – ‘You need to work on your website, Jarad!’

A Whole New World – Hans Herzog Estate, Marlborough N.Z.

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“In the new world, everyone talks about winemakers, like they’re heros,” says Hans Herzog, owner and vigneron at Hans Herzog Estate in Marlborough, New Zealand, “but we should be talking about the vineyard, and winegrowing, because that’s where wine really comes from.”

Hans thinks of himself as a vigneron, a French term for someone who cultivates a vineyard for winegrowing. He thinks that winemaking is secondary to viticulture for the process of making wine, because the majority of the work he does on his estate is out amongst the vines.

“90% of our work is done in the vineyard,” explains Hans. “We do a lot of mowing and hoeing, and manual weeding, which is very hard work, but always worth it in the end.”

Hans Herzog is from a winegrowing family in Switzerland, who have been growing wine there since 1630. He is a graduate from the Wine University of Wädenswil, Switzerland, with a degree in viticulture, and a Masters in Winemaking. He participated in his first vintage when he was 16 years old at the family farm in Zurich, which has been organically managed from the beginning.

“Where I grew up (in Switzerland), we had a mixed farm that included a vineyard, and we did everything with organics,” explains Hans, “because that was just normal for us… we thought nothing of it.”

Springtime in the Hans Herzog Vineyard - photo courtesy of Hans Herzog

Springtime in the Hans Herzog Vineyard – photo courtesy of Hans Herzog Estate

Hans and his wife Therese, were holidaying in New Zealand in 1982 and, upon visiting the Marlborough wine region, they both fell in love with the place and the lifestyle that it afforded those who lived there. Noticing many similarities, in terms of climate and soils, to Switzerland and other winegrowing regions in Europe, Hans identified the Marlborough as an ideal place to allow him to experiment with growing different kinds of grape varieties without the strict laws and restrictions that prevented him from doing so back home.

“”We moved to New Zealand for the lifestyle, and to live our dream,” says Hans, “because you can make wine differently to what you can do in Switzerland. The climate is great in the Marlborough. We have a lot of wind, dry summers and cool nights, which is great for ripening the fruit. The soil is very gravelly next to the river, similar to the Médoc (France), and there is a freedom to plant what you want to plant without the restrictions we have in Switzerland.”

Liberated from the strict constraints of the Swiss appellation control system, Hans embarked on an experimental planting regime on his 11ha vineyard, right next to the Wairau River. The Hans Herzog Estate is now home to almost 30 different grape varieties, including pinot gris, viognier, marsanne, roussane, riesling, gewürztraminer, grüner veltliner, chardonnay, verdellho and sauvignon blanc for the whites, and pinot noir, cabernet-sauvignon, cabernet franc, montepulciano, nebbiolo, barbera, tempranillo, malbec, grenache, zweigelt, st. laurent, lagrein, and saperavi, for the reds.

“My dream was to grow wines that are different to the ones you can grow in Switzerland,” explains Hans, “because, for me, it’s much more challenging to push the boundaries of winegrowing (in New Zealand), otherwise, we could just stay in Switzerland and have an easier life making wine there.”

Hans and Therese - photo courtesy of Hans Herzog

Hans and Therese – photo courtesy of Hans Herzog Estate

As part of Hans’ boundary-pushing motives for wanting to grow and make wine in New Zealand, he employs an organic method of farming, because he believes it is the best way to represent the unique sense of place that he gets from his new home in the Marlborough.

“For me, natural winegrowing is so important,” explains Hans. “We never needed to spray with chemicals in Switzerland, but in the first few years living in New Zealand we’d spray with herbicide,” Hans continues, “until I thought ‘this can’t be right’, because we also use the same water in the vineyard as we do for our drinking water… we need to be careful in the way we live on the land.”

Hans switched over to organic viticulture on the estate in 2007, certifying both the vineyard, and the winery with BioGro in 2011.

“For me, certification is just an extension of what we do out in the vineyard and in the winery,” says Hans, “My passion for wine and for giving my customers a healthy wine means I would want certification,” he continues, “It’s important (to have certification), because some people will say they’re organic, but still spray. There’s no excuse with certification, no compromise.”

Using organic farming practices on the Hans Herzog Estate allows Hans to grow his grapes as best as he can, which helps him to try to make the best wine he can.

“A wine should be fresh and show the fruit,” says Hans, “this is very important. If we have a clean, healthy vineyard, then we’ll grow clean, healthy fruit, and our wines will be the best they can be, and then we don’t need to add very much sulphur to protect the wine.”

Nets On - photo courtesy of Hans Herzog

Nets On – photo courtesy of Hans Herzog Estate

Hans does practice some elements of biodynamics, consulting the lunar calendar when it comes to harvesting the fruit – picking on fruit days – and moving the wine around, otherwise known as racking, but he doesn’t use any of the preparations associated with BD.

“We work with some aspects of biodynamics,” says Hans, “for example, we use the moon calendar to plan our picking days, as well as when we do racking and bottling”.

Doing certain tasks in the winery, such as racking (a process of moving wine from one container to another to help remove sediment and lees) on a descending moon ensures that the wine is settled and calm, and that any sediment that remains in the wine sits at the bottom of the barrel, or tank, where the wine is stored. The wine is then able to be transferred from one container to the next, without carrying across left over deposits and sediments. It also reduces the need for excessive fining and filtration before bottling.

“There’s a lot more sediment in the barrels and tanks when we rack on an ascending moon,” explains Hans, “so, we wait for a descending moon, and do our lees stirring before a full moon and it settles down beautifully.”

Hans Herzog - photo courtesy of Hans Herzog Estate

Hans Herzog – photo courtesy of Hans Herzog Estate

Moving from Switzerland to New Zealand isn’t exactly moving around the corner. The Marlborough wine country must have had a pretty profound impact on Hans to make him want to leave his home in Zurich, with all its culture and tradition, not to mention his long family history of farming and winegrowing there. But, the challenge of growing wines in an entirely new world, without the constraints of growing laws and appellation controls has meant that Hans is really able to test his winegrowing skills, and make wines that not only showcase the terroir of the Marlborough, but also represent Hans’ own philosophy for what it takes to make authentic wine there.

“We’re very lucky to grow wine in the Marlborough,” says Hans, “It’s a present that we get every year from nature, and we just try and use our one chance each year, to try and make the best wine that we can.”

D// - The Wine Idealist

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Innovative Pioneers – Kalleske Wines, Barossa Valley S.A.

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The Kalleske family arrived in South Australia in 1838, four years after the state was established by the creation of the Foundation Act of 1834. Fifteen years later, in 1853, the family set down their roots in the village of Greenock, in the Barossa Valley, and established a mixed farm consisting of sheep, pigs cattle, crop, and vineyards. For 149 years, the Kalleske family sold all of their fruit to various winemaking companies within the region, including Penfolds, of which a component of the iconic Grange, was made.

“Up until 2002, all the grapes were sold,” says Troy Kalleske, “basically like our beef, lamb, and wheat, because the grapes were just another part of the farming mix.”

Troy Kalleske is the first winemaker in his pioneering family. He studied winemaking at the University of Adelaide before going to work for Lindemans, Seppelt Great Western, and Penfolds until, in 2002, he and his brother Tony, decided to have a go at making their own Kalleske wine.

“We didn’t make much, but what we did make turned out alright… so we made a bit more in 2003,” says Troy.

In 2004, Troy and Tony decided to make Kalleske Wines their full time occupation. Today, Kalleske wines are made from 100% of the fruit that’s grown on the farm, and they no longer sell any of it to other winemakers or companies in the region.

Photo courtesy of Kalleske Wines

Centurion (really really old) Shiraz – photo courtesy of Kalleske Wines

Aside from a brief flirtation with systemic chemicals in the 70′s and 80′s, the Kalleske farm and vineyards have always been managed organically, and nowadays, every vineyard is farmed according to the principles and practices of biodynamics.

“The farm was organic by default, but it wasn’t proactively organic,” says Troy. “For most of the vineyards’ history,” he continues, “we farmed organically just by not using chemicals but, there was a period during the late 1970′s and early 1980′s, where Dad did use super phosphate fertilisers, herbicides, and so on.”

Troy’s father, John is a sixth generation Kalleske, and the reason behind the biodynamic farming methods now employed on the property. He started looking into biological agriculture as a softer way of farming the land, which eventually led him down the path towards organics, before making the leap to biodynamics in the 1990′s, again, making them pioneers in the region.

“When Dad started moving towards organics, and then biodynamics, there certainly was a lot of ridicule and mocking from some of our neighbours,” says Troy. “I guess they must have thought he’d gone a bit loopy. But, now, it’s amazing the amount of growers who are becoming interested in what we do… because they can see, at our different workshops and field days that we’re doing good things on the farm.”

The brief flirtation with chemical agriculture in the 70′s and 80′s demonstrated to John Kalleske that their previous means of farming (organics by default), was a much better way to grow things on the property.

“Dad noticed that since he started using synthetic fertilisers he had to use more and more and more as the years went on to get the same yields and results as previous years,” explains Troy, “and he also noticed that the soils just got harder, becoming more like concrete. He was getting more water run off underneath the vines, as opposed to it soaking into the ground.”

Since 1998, the Kalleske farm and vineyards are 100% certified organic and biodynamic. They are certified by the Biological Farmers Association of Australia (BFA).

“Certification is very important to us,” says Troy, “even though it can be a bit of a pain sometimes, in terms of the time and money involved, but it is important for the consumer, so that they know they’re getting a genuine organic, or biodynamic product.”

Despite acknowledging the importance of organic and biodynamic certification, Troy would still prefer to see the certification process be reversed by having those that farm with agrochemicals apply for a license instead.

“(Certification) is totally the wrong way around,” explains Troy. “Organic and biodynamic farming should be the convention, because it’s much better for the environment, and those that choose to use poisonous chemicals on their farm should be made to get a license, because they’re the ones that are doing the most damage.”

Johann Georg Shiraz block - photo courtesy of Kalleske Wines

Johann Georg Shiraz block – photo courtesy of Kalleske Wines

Despite having grown grapes in the Barossa Valley for well over 150 years, Troy is the first Kalleske to become a winemaker and turn the grapes that his father and brother, Kym, grow into the well-known Barossa wines people drink today.

“The winemaking is pretty simple and traditional,” says Troy. “I think that wine should reflect the time and the place where the fruit was grown.”

All Kalleske wines are fermented using wild yeasts, native to their vineyard and winery, and most are done so using open top concrete fermenters. No additions, such as tannin, or enzymes are added to the wines, with only the minimal amount of sulphur added during racking, and right before bottling.

“If you have good quality, sound fruit, there shouldn’t be a need for much intervention,” says Troy.

This good quality fruit comes from biodynamically managed soils, which are comprised of predominately sandy loam over red clay, with a sporadic mix of iron and quartz stone, as well as limestone spaced throughout the different vineyard sites. The Johann Georg Shiraz Vineyard is the Kalleske’s oldest site, consisting of vines that were planted back in 1875, which are dry grown and named in honour of the first Kalleske to migrate to Australia in 1838.

“We sit at approximately 350m elevation, which is a lot higher than most of the other vineyards in the Barossa. It means we have slightly cooler than average temperatures throughout the year,” says Troy, “and, because the soils we have are not super fertile, the vines do it a bit tougher, which means lower yields, and slightly smaller berries, but a much higher concentration of flavour.”

Troy is a strong believer and supporter of his Dad’s methods of biodynamic farming out in the vineyard, because it means he gets much higher quality fruit to make wine with back in the winery.

“Biodynamics is one of the keys to good farming,” says Troy, “because it unlocks the nutrients that exist in the soil, and enlivens the microbes, which are crucial for healthy soil. I like the fact that biodynamics looks at the bigger picture, as opposed to the reductionist, scientific method, and allows you to see how everything really is a lot more interconnected than what we might realise.”

The Kalleske's - photo courtesy of Kalleske Wines

The Kalleske’s – Kym, Troy, John, Lorraine, Tony – photo courtesy of Kalleske Wines

The Kalleske’s are pioneers in the Barossa Valley, not just in a migratory sense, but, more importantly, in an innovative farming sense. They had farmed their property successfully for over 100 years without the use of systemic chemicals and industrial agricultural techniques, and as soon as they began using them, they could see, almost immediately, the degenerative affect these chemicals had on the soil. Switching back to organic, and then biodynamic management of the Kalleske vineyards, has meant that Troy is able to make, arguably, some of the best wines coming out of the Barossa, and the fact that he can do this from fruit grown from ancient, sustainably managed vineyards, should be proof enough to demonstrate the clear and positive benefits of organic and biodynamic agriculture.

D// – The Wine Idealist

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Soul Juice – Patrick Sullivan Wine, Yarra Valley

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“It may have changed, but a winemaking degree is an absolute waste of time,” says Patrick Sullivan, “if you want to make wine, you’ve got to study viticulture.”

Patrick Sullivan is a young Yarra Valley winegrower, and self-confessed producer groupie, who used to work in an abattoir after finishing high school. He moved to London when he was 19 and got a gig in the wine room at Selfridges, on the Oxford high street. After two years travelling, he returned to Australia to study winemaking at university, but soon realised that this degree wasn’t going to suffice.

“For me, winemaking is simple,” explains Patrick, “you put the grapes into a fermenter, check to see if they smell OK, and if they do, then they’re probably fine… it’s all sensory.”

So, Patrick dropped out of winemaking, and enrolled in a degree in viticulture, majoring in botany. “I just thought (whilst studying winemaking) that for the kind of wine I wanted to make, I’m never going to need any of this stuff that I’m being taught.”

The kind of wine that Patrick makes is minimal intervention, small-batch, artisan juice with fruit taken from various vineyard sites in and around the Yarra, including the Thousand Candles site, home to some sauvignon blanc, pinot, and shiraz.

“It begins and ends with the fruit,” says Patrick.

Breakfast Wine / Thousand Candles,  Sauvignon Blanc Vineyard - photo by The Wine Idealist

Breakfast Wine Vineyard – photo by The Wine Idealist

Owning his own vineyard is the ultimate goal for Patrick, but, for now, he works closely with growers throughout the Yarra Valley.

“I work with growers who I respect and trust,” says Patrick, “and who are working with me towards a common goal, which is to get the fruit to be as good as it possibly can be.”

Patrick’s main goal is to be able to source the fruit to make his wines from either 100% organic, or biodynamic grapes. This stems from his experiences in London, and travels around Europe, where most of the wine he drank was made from this particular fruit.

“I’ve always been inclined towards organics, and I learnt, when I was in Europe, through tasting lots of different wines, which ones I liked and which ones I thought were better,” explains Patrick, “and so these are the kinds of wines I now want to make, and to drink.”

In order to make the kinds of wines he likes to drink, Patrick places the greatest importance on site selection to ensure he’s getting the best fruit he possibly can, even if it means paying more for the privilege.

“The fruit is the most important thing,” says Patrick, “so if you identify the best site and source for the fruit that you’re going to use to make into wine, then you don’t need to worry about adding anything to it back in the winery later.”

Back in the winery, Patrick is strictly hands off, subscribing to the principles of minimal interventionist winemaking, and yet, he does not consider himself to be a natural winemaker.

“I don’t put myself in the category of natural wine,” says Patrick, “I just make wine… natural winemaking is a made up term that I really don’t like. I make wine the way I like to drink it, and I’m no better or different than somebody who adds acid or yeasts to their wine… but I’m not going to do that because I don’t like to. I just do it another way.”

Patrick Sullivan

Patrick Sullivan

Patrick uses wild ferments to transform his grape juice into wine, and leaves it alone as soon as the fermentation begins. This is not to say, however, that this is simply lazy winemaking, as Patrick explains:

“Every single time you plunge a wine, you can smell the aroma coming off, which means it’s no longer in the wine anymore… it’s gone. So, I want to be able to preserve as much of what’s in those grapes as I can. I want to be able to lock all of those smells in, and the only way to do that is to just not touch it.”

The Patrick Sullivan Breakfast Wine, named after the sauv blanc vineyard that Patrick can see while eating his breakfast in the morning, and that soaks up the bright morning sun, is left to ferment on skins and stems for about a week using carbonic maceration, and then put into old French oak barrels for 12 months.

The resulting wine is mouth filling, soul-gripping goodness. Its colour reminds me of the piece of amber in the opening scene of Jurassic Park – ‘Hay que lindo eres vas hacer a much gente feliz’ – it smells of geranium and sweet Dr Ellie Sattler sweat, and tastes as confusing and complex as watching a gene sequencing presentation while eating a box of butterscotch and caramel popcorn, with a texture that I imagine to be quite similar to licking the faint specks of mine dust off that golden amber rock.

And it hangs around too. If you can pace yourself, and allow a bit of time in between sips, you’ll be rewarded with a soft pinch of everlasting tannin, and swirling apricot and honey savors.

Half Full - illustration by Roxanne Colk

Half Full – illustration by Roxanne Colk

“I want to make wine that you don’t just taste on your palate”, explains Patrick, “I want to make a wine that satisfies in here (pointing to his chest). I’m aiming to make something that nourishes you, and makes you think here, and feel here.” he says, as he points to his head and his heart.

D// – The Wine Idealist

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The Rise of the Counter Culture – Rootstock 2014

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Coming back bigger and better is a term usually reserved for rubbish sequels of big blockbuster films, and a bit of a cliché these days, but this is fact, not fiction, and Rootstock 2014 was bigger, and we were all excited to see just how much better it was going to be.

Expanded over two days, or three if you include the musical performance at the Sydney Opera House by Giovanni Bietti, Rootstock has grown to include night markets, featuring some of Sydney’s best restaurants and their chefs, local artisan and organic food producers, DJ’s and musicians, the debut of a dedicated Sake bar, and the return of the popular Orange Bar. As well as the reuniting of many of last years winegrowers, plus many more, taking the total number to sixty eight.

It’s a far cry from the cramped, tiny space of Rootstock 2013, but that was a day that took everyone by surprise, hence the move to the cavernous former train yards at Carriageworks in Eveleigh. Despite the increased space and size of the event, it was still just as hot as last year in the Italian Forum, but this was surely down to the huge amount of positive energy, enthusiasm, and all round good vibes that was flowing freely between all the people that were attending, contributing, and dare I say it… playing!

“We’re having a ball!” Shashi Singh told me from behind her stand for Avani wines.

The Crates - photo by The Wine Idealist

The Cracks and Crates – photo by The Wine Idealist

Day One started off early with an informal winegrowers symposium, where many of the producers who were showcasing their wines gathered together to discuss such controversial topics as irrigation and ingredients labelling. Opinions were divided on all sides, especially when it came to the question of using irrigation in the vineyard. Many of those opposing the use of irrigation seemed to forget that their vineyards happened to be in places where it rains fairly regularly, or have had their vineyards planted for such a long time that the vines were now mature enough to be able to seek out their own water supply. Of course, it is impossible to discuss this subject in Australia and not contextualise it within Australian growing conditions. A winegrower must not only be sustainable in their environment, but also in their business. This topic riled up more than a few producers, and it would be good to see the subject discussed again within a longer format.

In a coup for the organisers, Naked Wine author Alice Feiring had come out to Australia for the first time to participate in the two day long event, co-hosting wine master classes alongside the likes of Max Allen, Huon Hooke, Andrea Frost, and Rootstock organiser and dreamweaver Mike Bennie. The two that I attended were on natural wine, namely, A Conversation on Natural Wine, and Truth And Love In Wine. The first class was a little more one way traffic between the panelists, who discussed many of the technical aspects around what makes a natural wine, rather than a conversation with the inquisitive audience. I spoke to a few of the attendees and asked why they had come, with many saying that they were curious about so called natural wine, and wanted to know what all the fuss was about. To that end, I thought the conversation could have engaged a bit more with the audience, and perhaps not only focused on some of the more technical aspects of what it takes to make a natural wine.

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Bobar in the Second Glass – photo by The Wine Idealist

The second master class, Truth and Love in Wine, was an interesting subject, as it gave the panel, and the people who had attended, a chance to look at wine from an often overlooked position, one of emotion and subjectivity. Host, Max Allen encouraged people to think about wine as a feeling, and a connection and as nourishment for the soul, rather than just a point score or cheap recommendation in a magazine. This made for some interesting exchanges and a few raised eyebrows from co-panelist Huon Hooke. The ever impassioned Alice Feiring spoke of her emotional experiences with wine, and how it emphasised a connection for her to important moments in her life. Both master classes featured some delicious wines for the audience to taste, and it was an extraordinary moment to watch Alice, in real time, discover and connect with the 2012 Bobar Syrah we were tasting, later, describing it as an intriguing moment.

At the end of each day Rootstock segued seamlessly into night time festivities with market stalls, pop-up restaurants, Young Henry’s and Birra del Borgo beer bars, a Blackmarket Sake Bar and the return of the popular Orange Bar from last year. Musicians and DJ’s played somewhere in the background, providing a rave-like atmosphere to the night, but, instead of tabs of acid or E being passed around in a swarm of joy and rapture, it was wine, beer, sake and food that was altering people’s minds and nourishing their souls in a way that only this type of produce can.

Rack 'Em Up - photo by The Wine Idealist

Usual Suspects – photo by The Wine Idealist

Day two started early, with daytime market stalls and the first session of wine tasting kicking off at 11am. Of course, it was the wines that were the real stars of the show. There were so many different kinds of wines many with familiar sounding names, all produced either naturally, organically, or biodynamically, and all tasting completely different from one another. This, I believe, is the reason why so many people are now appreciating wines made like this. They are wines with character, personality, individuality, and some flaws, but they are all unique, and all speak of a certain sense of place in time and space.

“There’s a flavour profile (in our wines) that’s unique,” explained Brad Hickey from Brash Higgins Wines in the McLaren Vale, “I think that every one of the producers here at Rootstock, when you look at all their wines, you’d be hard pressed to find two shiraz’ that taste similar,” he said.

A sentiment that was echoed by GIles Lapalus from Sutton Grange, who said, “what’s fantastic at a tasting like Rootstock is that there’s (so many) producers, each with, say, five wines… so there’s almost 500 different wines here.”

It’s this discovery of difference that is driving these types of wines into the hands of wine drinkers all over the world.

One wine that made a huge impression on me and my taste buds was a shiraz by Chapter Wines from Bendigo. Jarad Curwood, owner and winegrower at Chapter, whose aim is to make small-batch wines from different places throughout his home in Victoria, says that he is, “merely the messenger, passing on the story of these places in a truthful and honest way”. His 2012 Southern Heathcote Shiraz danced along the taste buds on my tongue as they revelled in the fresh vibrancy and black current textures of this stand-out wine. I had tasted many wines throughout the course of the two days, and this one, in particular, was a joy to discover, and remember.

Rootstock 2014 - photo by The Wine Idealist

Rootstock 2014 – photo by The Wine Idealist

In one of the free master classes, hosted by winegrower James Erskine and sommelier Banjo Harris Plane, one questioner asked, “Is what’s happening here political?” Speaking with Max Allen, in reference to that question, he told me that, “this is the most political thing that’s going on right now!” and, as the sun began to set on the second day, he explained that, “festivals like this (Rootstock) and Real Wine Fair are offering up a model for existence and commerce that is diametrically opposed to the dominant capitalist paradigm…” which he then quickly followed up by saying, “I can’t believe I just said that, but it’s true!”

The first few words on the ‘About Wine Idealism‘ page, reads, ‘Just as any fad becomes a fashion, a fashion becomes a trend, a trend becomes a change; so then, when enough changes unite, it becomes a paradigm shift…’, and out of the 68 ‘wine artisans’, as they were known, showcasing their natural, organic or biodynamic wines at Rootstock, 46 of them were from Australia and New Zealand. Over the course of two days 13,351 people attended the event, and although they may not be revolutionary numbers just yet, it would be dismissive to call this a passing fad featuring emperors walking around in new clothes. It is a paradigm shift because this is happening right now, right across the world in a moment of pure counter culture.

The question is, where do we go from here, once we’ve reached the point of doing ‘nothing’ (in making the wines)?

I can’t wait to find out! Roll on Rootstock 2015…

D// – The Wine Idealist.

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Go! to Rootstock, Sydney – 2014

- GO TO ROOTSTOCK! -

WIGoneToRootstock

Just about every Australian and New Zealand winegrower I’ve written about, here on The Wine Idealist, will be at this weekends festival. Taste their natural, organic and biodynamic wines and meet them all in person, along with an entire two days jam packed with international winegrowers, artisan food, beer and sake, night markets, art and music, plus master classes presented by the likes of Max Allen, Alice Feiring, Kylie Kwong and so many more…

Click the links to read past editions of The Wine Idealist featuring these winegrowers appearing at Rootstock 2014:

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Australia

Avani – Mornington Peninsula | Between Five Bells – Geelong | Blind Corner – Margaret River | Bobar Wines – Yarra Valley  Castagna – Beechworth | Cloudburst– Margaret River | d’meure – Tasmania | Harkham Wines – Hunter Valley / Sydney I Hochkirch – Henty | Jasper Hill  – Heathcote | Chapter Wines – Heathcote | Jauma – McLaren Vale/Adelaide Hills I Lark HIll – Canberra | Lethbridge – Geelong | Lowe Wines – Mudgee | Lucy Margaux – Adelaide Hills I Macquariedale Wines – Hunter Valley | Moon Wine – Nagambie | Moondarra – Gippsland | Ngeringa – Adelaide Hills I Paxton  Wines – McLaren Vale | Shobbrook – Barossa Valley | Si Vintners – Magaret River | Sutton Grange – Bendigo I Yangarra – McLaren Vale | Cullen – Margaret River | Brash Higgins – McLaren Vale | Small Fry Wines – Barossa Valley I Cobaw Ridge – Macedon Ranges | Gemtree Vineyards – McLaren Vale | Patrick Sullivan Wines – Yarra Valley

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New Zealand

Rippon – Central Otago | Pyramid Valley – Canterbury | Millton - Gisborne | Burn Cottage – Central Otago I Hans Herzog – Marlborough | Mount Edward – Central Otago | Woollaston – Nelson | Cambridge Road – Martinborough I Muddy Water – Waipara | Churton – Marlborough

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Spot The Wine Idealist

Spot The Wine Idealist

I’ll be conducting interviews, talking, tasting all over the weekend so that I can keep bringing you the best and most up to date resource and stories from Australia and New Zealand’s natural, organic and biodynamic wines!

Make sure you come and say hello!

And if you can’t make it to Rootstock this year, don’t worry! I’ll be recapping the entire event in next weeks edition…

Happy days.

D// – The Wine Idealist

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Tickets and More Information Here

Read What Happened Last Year at Rootstock 2013

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