This is the way that Colin Ross, vineyard manager at Seresin, likes to describe wine – no fruit descriptors, no talk of tannins, structure or pH. During a leisurely tasting at Michael Seresin’s house, Ross positively exuded his passion for the land, soil and vines. The wines were a rare delight.
Seresin needs little introduction in the UK, where it has built a strong brand. Apart from consistently individual and high-achieving wines, the estate’s also famous as one of New Zealand’s first to convert fully to organic farming. Experiments with biodynamic farming techniques began in 2000, with full conversion reached in 2007. Certification followed in 2010.
Many find the detail of biodynamic farming methods a little esoteric or hard to pin down. The headline summary (from the Demeter international site) is not so difficult to get to grips with:
“Biodynamic farming is a holistic approach to agriculture in which vitality has the highest priority… Biodynamic farmers return more to the soil than they remove in the process of cultivating crops and animals; the farm is considered as an organism in which plants, animals and human beings are integrated together.”
however here is the stuff which ignites sceptics into a blazing furore:
“…the Biodynamic method attempts to work with the dynamic energies in nature and not solely with its material needs. One aspect of this is the use of cosmic rhythms, for instance cultivation, sowing and harvesting are scheduled if possible on favourable days.”
Ross’s one day workshop in London left Master of Wine Anne Krebiehl feeling frustrated about “another missed opportunity” for biodynamics to explain itself. I attended a later tasting and discussion, so content and expectations may have been different, but I personally felt that Ross conveyed a strong message about biodynamic philosophy.
The challenge with “bio-d” (to adopt the hip vernacular) is that attempts to analyse or rationalise it according to modern scientific methodologies are liable to failure. Krebiehl suggests “biodynamic methods must be examined closely so that they can be fully fathomed and understood”, but I disagree. I’m more aligned with her when she later states “Biodynamics, as every other cause, should be judged by its outcome, not by its good intentions”.
The human experience is littered with the unexplainable, the mysterious and the illogical. Call it mind over matter, call it religion or trance. I don’t believe that every human system has to justify itself according to the narrow parameters dictated by modern science.
Consider the well-documented placebo effect, or homoeopathy – both phenomenons that have been shown to have remarkable efficacy in certain situations, both hard to fathom in pure scientific terms.
But back to Colin and Seresin: What was communicated to me was an intense connection to land and terroir. This is the very heart of biodynamics – the farm (and Seresin truly is a farm, producing olive oil, honey and vegetables as well as wine), animals and employees all functioning in harmony, not in opposition.
Ross stressed the importance of Seresin’s staff many times over. Michael Seresin made the telling comment “if we ever wavered and thought about abandoning biodynamics, I know most of our staff would leave. And the richness of what they bring is extraordinary”.
It is worth mentioning at this point that Ross is not some fey pseud trying to dress everything up in romantic ideals. Rather, a robust Aussie hailing from Margaret River, with years of winemaking experience for both conventional and organic estates.
Many have suggested that the devotion and single-mindedness required for biodynamics is what produces such good results – and who would argue with Romanée-Conti, Chapoutier, Weinbach or Nikolaihof, to name only a few great estates. I’m not sure it matters whether it’s really all down to preparation 501, or just the obsessional care and detail shown by most biodynamic producers.
To me there is nothing worrisome about a system which helps people make or rediscover a fundamental connection with craft and land. We happily accept such systems in other avenues – neuro-linguistic programming, yoga, meditation. Why shouldn’t they be equally valid in the sphere of agriculture?
Some high spots from the tasting – hard to choose only a few!
Marama 2010 (100% Sauvignon Blanc)
This wine has wowed me in every vintage I’ve tasted (the first was a decade ago). It’s exciting, rich, long and gloriously vibrant. Even if you thought barrel fermented Sauvignon wasn’t for you, give this a try. Just stunning.
Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2010
A beautiful fruit core, delicate and taut. Almost reserved, compared to the other whites. Long finish.
Home Pinot Noir 2011
Exotic spices, chewy dark fruit, smoky and leathery. None of the overbearing opulence that I associate with new world Pinot.
Rachel Pinot Noir 2011
Superbly elegant, really justifies the term “burgundian” on this basis alone.
Sun and Moon Pinot Noir 2010
Dark and leathery on the nose, but super refined, and the most delicate of all the Pinots.