Biodynamics & organics, Effects of
The late Peter Proctor told me that ‘where biodynamics is applied on a well run organic property regularly and frequently using high quality Biodynamic preparations 500-508 the results are outstanding. My understanding of biodynamic agriculture is that this management system actually makes organic farming work. That is how I present it at the various workshops I do. You have to be a good farmer first and then add the extra dimension of Biodynamics. Firstly I accept the concept from Rudolf Steiner of “matter being filled with spirit, and spirit being filled with matter” and that is the stand point from which I teach. I do not teach my students Anthroposophy as such, but if asked about Rudolf Steiner and his work I will tell them.
‘I teach everyone who is interested how to make all the biodynamic preparations and the compost and how to use them efficiently. I share everything I know with everybody so there is a chance that everybody knows as much as I do and can develop the impulse further. The most obvious result of the efficient use of the preparations and BD compost is first seen in the improvement in soil structure quality, then a greater freedom from pests and diseases and then the improved taste and keeping quality of the product. In India there are also many crops where an increase in crop productions has been reported.
‘The nature of the Biodynamic preparations is to have a softening effect on the land. I see this as a counter to the now increasing harshness that we are experiencing in the environment. In the tropics and in our [New Zealand] climate to a lesser degree the bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi in the soil work very quickly, I think, due to the continuous warmth in the soil, showing a remarkable improvement in soil structure. From one point of view it does appear that our preparations do stimulate the micro life in the soil, thus increasing the living top soil. The soil is then receptive to the cosmic energies from moon and planets.’
Thoughts on Biodynamics from various sources, growers etc
‘Biodynamics does not make you totally independent, but it brings real balance to the soils, the vines, more regular yields, and better expression of the terroir, or rather terroirs,’ says Stéphane Tissot (in Malnic et al (p.77)
Budburst: More regular pousse, perhaps linked to moon (Source: Pierre Rolly-Gassmann).
Bud spacing: Bigger spaces between buds on the fruiting canes (Source: Pierre Rolly-Gassmann).
Grape skins: In an interview with Jean-Christophe Estève, Jean-Marie Bouldy of Château Bellegrave in Pomerol said with organics we have skins which have not been hardened by systemics.
Grape spacing on bunches: Grapes are more widely spaced (less cramped) on the bunch, reducing the risk of disease (Source: Pierre Rolly-Gassmann).
Photosynthesis: According to Nicolas Joly, the originality of the biodynamic approach (its point of difference to organics) lies not only in its strengthening of the soil’s authentic character through applying animal and vegetal matter (compost), but also in its application of preparations that will help the vine nourish itself on light and heat. In short, to improve its photosynthesis. He says that when we look at a flower, we understand that its nobility (color, odour, aroma, form) come from the world of the sun. When the earth is too closed in on itself, when it is cut off from its vital solar source, a plant’s sap goes down, and gravity dominates over the sap’s ability to rise. This is what happens in winter. Our “progressive” agriculture has created a permanent “winter” where Mother Earth is no longer able to unite with the solar world to perform its regenerative function. Widespread hertzian wave pollution creates invisible yet profound disturbances in the atmosphere which block our earth from the solar world. Biodynamics helps the vine link itself to its surroundings, the terrestrial world (regenerating the soil) and the solar world (assisting photosynthesis).
Soil: Bodegas Menade, Spain: ‘Increased soil permeability, porosity. Increased micro-flora thereby also increasing its organic content. Plant roots from natural vegetal cover increases air flow and permeability. As a consequence, the temperature of the soil lessens and the humidity in the air increases and this leads to a higher risk of frost,’ quoted in Malnic et al (p.77).
Vine leaves: The cuticle on the leaf becomes thicker (Source: Pierre Rolly-Gassmann). Leaves become rougher to the touch, less smooth (Source: Pierre Rolly-Gassmann). Horn silica 501 appears to make the leaves wake up (Source: Pierre Rolly-Gassmann).
Vine roots: Vine roots become more windy, rather than going straight down (Source: Pierre Rolly-Gassmann).
Vine vigour: Kim Crawford of Loveblock in Marlborough, New Zealand that ‘organics facilitates lower vine vigour, leaving a more open canopy which reduces or eliminates the risk of herbaceous and this which is what people want.’
Wine quality–Ripening: In an interview with Jean-Christophe Estève Jean-Marie Bouldy of Château Bellegrave in Pomerol said with organics we get earlier ripening, so I get ripeness at lower alcohol. The vine leaves turn autumnal earlier whereas conventional vineyards stay green for longer due to the presence of soluble fertilizers.
Wine quality–overall: Roy Richards (UK-based wine merchant) told me 05 Dec 2003 that ‘Biodynamics will give an already good wine grower an extra element, so for me as a wine buyer it is not an ideological thing; I believe in what I taste, and the difference that Biodynamics has brought Domaine Leflaive in Burgundy for example, or at Domaine Huet in Vouvray where quality had improved steadily over a long period of time before the introduction of Biodynamics, which maintained and even accentuated the quality progression. Collectively we have perhaps forgotten what intense wines taste like, so the extra terroir element, the soil extract, that Biodynamics can bring can sometimes come as a shock initially. I never use the fact that a wine is Biodynamic as a selling tool; and I regret the tendency, notably in Bordeaux, where Biodynamics has perhaps been seen more for its usefulness in the marketplace than its benefits for the wine in particular and the wider environment in general.’
Yields: Bodegas Menade, Spain: ‘Cover crops/managed ground cover = the average weight of each bunch of grapes will decrease by between 5 and 25% and the berries themselves by between 3 and 7%. By the same token the density and development of new generations of ‘nietos’ (the strands that will eventually become vine branches) decreases significantly, resulting in far fewer endogamic diseases given better air circulation and less exposure to the sun by virtue of which there is a major accumulation of sugar and a decrease in malic acid prior to their growth, which is particularly beneficial for black grape varieties. In addition, véraison also tends to occur a few days earlier. Two further advantages to this way of natural farming are a distinct improvement in the phenolic quality of the grapes (less nitrogen and magnesium) together with an increase in resveratrol, a type of natural phenol which inhibits botryrtis; and the practical result of all this is wines of more colour, structure and length. One final comment: the natural decrease of nitrogen must be carefully scrutinized; as it inevitably results in longer fermentations.’
Le Nouveau Guide des Vins Biologiques 2010-2011 by Evelyne Malnic, Georges Lepré & Antoine Pétrus (Sang de la Terre, France).