Biodynamic Vintners Part #1: From Cow Horns to Horsetails…

I’m not sure there are many that could explain exactly what the practice of biodynamic viticulture entails. And believe me, there’s definitely more involved than just dancing in the moonlight and reading your favorite bed time story to the vines every night. Honestly though, after having read what hoops producers jump through in order to obtain the “biodynamic” designation, I really wouldn’t be surprised if they do both.

Despite the absurdities, it is evident that something about the practice is very successful. What is it exactly? No one can quite figure it out. No, really! No scientific explanation exists that provides empirical evidence for why this method of viticulture is so successful, but it is just that. So what is it exactly that makes a vineyard biodynamic? Are you ready for this?

This is real life “voodoo” viticulture at its finest.

For a vineyard to be eligible for the biodynamic designation necessary preparations must be followed for each vineyard site. So here we go:

  1.  The horn from a lactating cow is filled with manure and first buried in the soil over the winter season. Naturally. At the end of the season the horn is then dug up and the contents within the horn are removed and mixed with water and finally sprayed over the vineyard that same afternoon.
  2. The horn is then filled with quartz and buried again  during the summer season. At the end of the season the horn is dug up and the contents are mixed with water and sprayed over the vineyards at daybreak the following day.
  3. Next a stag’s bladder is stuffed with yarrow flowers and left to hang during the summer season.  This is then buried at the end of the season and then unearthed at the end of the following spring. Mixed and sprayed over the vineyard.
  4. Following this, a cow’s instestine is stuffed with chamomile flowers, left to hang in the summer sun, buried over winter, and removed at the end of the spring. Once again mixed and sprayed over the vineyard.
  5. If you’ve run out of cow viscera at this point, fear not. You will need only a pair of thick gloves for this next step. The prickly flowers known as stinging nettles, which are known to contain histamines that produce an excruciating sting when touched, are then buried in the summer and dug up the following autumn. Once again, mixed and sprayed.
  6. Hopefully you didn’t toss out our old friend the cow’s head away after inviscerating ole Bessy. The head of a farm animal is necessary for the next step in the process.  For this step, oak bark is placed inside the skull of said farm animal and is buried in water-logged soil over winter and then dug up.  As always, mixed and sprayed over the vineyard.
  7. For the next step, one is to stuff dandelion flowers inside of a cow’s mesentery and this is left to hang in the summer sun, buried at the end of the season, and dug up the following spring, mixed and sprayed discarding the organ afterwards.
  8. Valerian flower extract is then mixed and sprayed over the vineyard.
  9. Finally a horsetail is extracted of its juices and this is sprayed over the vineyard. (Note: the plant, not an actual horse’s tail is used for this process. Don’t worry PETA can’t get you for this. No Seabiscuits were harmed in the making of this extract.)

After vintners have followed each of the preceding preparations thoroughly and accurately they would now be considered eligible.  Yes that’s right, “eligible”. It isn’t certain that they will be granted the title.  So in addition to combating nightmares of headless cows and man-eating stinging nettles, the would-be biodynamic vintner must also combat the stress of possible rejection from the Biodynamic governing body, Demeter.

So remember, next time you’re out and about selecting that wine that pairs perfectly with dinner that evening or just a conversation between friends, keep in mind how much went in to providing you with that stunning and complex bottle. Or don’t, lest you have the same nightmares as the vintners (lucid dreamers exempt).

Great selections from biodynamic farmers available here at Amanti Vino:

Robert Sinskey “Aries” 2009 – $29.99

Villmart & Cie Grand Cellier NV – $74.99

Francois Chidaine Vouvray 2009 – $23.99

Quivira “Fig Tree” Sauvignon Blanc 2009 – $19.99

— Chris Dunaway

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1 Comment »

  1. Aunt Tammy said

    Great insight into the development and contribution biodynamic farming is to the vino industry. Enjoyed your article.

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