Saturday, 16 January 2016

Doing wine the biodynamic way

"Chateau Monty", Monty Waldin

Sometimes a happy accident is just that.

My mother will tell you, and indeed anyone who'll listen, that she struggles with Christmas presents, that she never knows what to get someone, but she does sometimes try, and sometimes she gets it very very right.

I've told my mother about helping a friend with their vine harvest, I've introduced her to more adventurous wine than she's likely to find in M&S, and she's even come to Brockley Market and met the magnificent people at L'Atypique. So she got into her head that wine is something I'm enthusiastic about, and that I'll like the biography of an English bloke trying to make wine in South Western France.

There's no surprise here.

She's Right. I probably will enjoy it.

Initial trepidation that this might be a somewhat sub Year in Provence account of a bumbling rosbif flailing around with the idiosyncrasies of French life are rapidly laid to rest. Chateau Monty is an engaging account of setting up and running a biodynamic vineyard, mixing the homely anecdotes of life in south west France with matter of fact details of what making wine biodynamically involves.

Biodynamics? Well yes, I suppose that does need a bit of explanation. It involves taking principles linking growth with elemental 'forces' connected with the orientation of celestial bodies and energies that can be captured and returned to the soil to help growth. There are times when it comes across as nine parts bollocks. The notion that horn manure is powerful because a cow generates more energy than can be used in its existence, thus it all gets stored in its horn, which can then be transferred to manure stuffed in it and then buried might stretch some people's credibility.

A natural wine, albeit not from Monty Waldin's vineyard.
Leaving aside the skepticism and applying some empirical observation though and there might be something to it. Natural and biodynamic wines can be absolutely fantastic (disclosure, I'm having one now - a marvellous Angevin red from Domaine Mosse) so maybe we should pay attention. There's also something engaging about the way Waldin evangelises about it that makes you want to experiment and see how things might work - after all it doesn't do any harm to plant according to a biodynamic calendar and pay a bit more attention to what sort of chemicals you're sloshing around. If Chateau Monty encourages you to be a bit more creative about what you do with your garden or any piece of land you work, or maybe more realistically drives you to try something slightly more adventurous wine wise than standard supermarket fare then it'll certainly justify the read.

Amusingly I let my vineyard owning friends know that I was reading Chateau Monty. They laughed and said they'd read it too. They'd enjoyed it, found it useful in the context of how they were thinking about wine, and it helped convince them that they could set up a vineyard of their own. They've now got a magnificent vineyard in Kent, and as Woodchurch Wine produce a very good English sparkling wine. For this alone we all should be grateful to Chateau Monty.
Vines inspired by Chateau Monty at Woodchurch Wine.

My response to Chateau Monty hasn't been quite as extreme. I've not decided to jack it all in and start a vineyard, but I have thought about burying a cow horn filled with manure on the allotment and seeing what happens. 

What harm could come from that?

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