The Direction of Biodynamic Farming
By Don Clemens
In my long career in the wine industry, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many winery principals, almost all driven by their passion for excellent wine making. And, as knowledge of fine wine making grows every year, everywhere, it’s been instructive to see how vineyard management has been changing over the years. We’ve come a long way from the days of “plant it, water it, fertilize it, spray it with chemicals to inhibit bad stuff and pick the grapes when they’re ripe.” There is far more concern for the overall environment and for the condition of the vineyards in the succeeding years, decades, and even generations. We’ve gone from “Integrated Pest Management”, to “Sustainable”, to “Organic” and on to “Biodynamic” – possibly the least understood and most stringently regulated of all these growing methods.
There have been a small number of Sonoma producers, including Benziger Family Winery along with DeLoach Vineyards, that have embraced biodynamics, but Oregon is featuring an ever-increasing number of wineries that have adopted biodynamic practices. There’s even a book about this phenomenon: Voodoo Vintners – Oregon’s Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers, written by Katherine Cole. One of these wineries, located on the Kubli Bench in Applegate Valley, in the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains, is the focus of this article. Troon Vineyard has been converting to biodynamic farming for almost half a decade now and has been certified biodynamic in most of their vineyards. A driving force behind this conversion is Craig Camp, General Manager at Troon Vineyard. (Editor’s full disclosure: I have followed Mr. Camp’s career for decades.)
I first encountered the term “Biodynamic” when the company that I worked for took on the representation of Nicolas Joly’s Loire Valley wines, about 25 years ago. At the time, almost nobody in America knew what “biodynamic” farming entailed. There were legends of harvesting at moonlight, beating drums, burying dung-filled cow horns at specific lunar cycles, usually accompanied by Druidic chanting and other such exotic rituals. Biodynamic agriculture was based on Austrian Philosopher Dr. Rudolf Steiner’s lectures, which gave so much of what we thought we knew about biodynamic farming. Steiner became a name to revere – if only one could figure out just what the heck he was talking about! Soon after, I was tasked with teaching our sales force about this mysterious, semi-sacred method of wine growing. And then, we took on Michel Chapoutier’s wines. Michel was a serious
advocate for biodynamic farming, and it was instructive to see how his Rhone vineyards (and his wines) stacked up. Looking at his Hermitage hillside vineyards, adjacent to other famous Hermitage growers, was a real eye-opener. His vineyards had almost lush plant life growing between the rows of vines; bees, butterflies, and birds were almost profligate in their busy presence. His neighbor’s vineyards were almost sterile by comparison. No grasses or weeds between the rows, no bees buzzing about, no birds or butterflies flitting about; just rows of well-manicured vines, all nicely pruned and rigidly similar. And, NO BUGS ALLOWED!
Flash Forward to 2018; a visit to Portland, and a reconnection with an old friend. During dinner with Craig Camp, we enjoyed a small sampling of some of the vinous efforts from Troon Vineyard. I’d known that Craig was passionate about taking better care of Mother Earth than most agricultural businessmen have been. (Yes, it’s getting better, but it’s really got a long way to go!) I was happily surprised to find out that his projects included getting the Demeter certification for the vineyards under his management. We tasted, among other wines, the 2017 Riesling, an “Orange Wine” from the estate. For future reference, “Orange Wine” is going to be seen more and more frequently in major metropolitan wine bars and restaurants as the push for more naturally produced and minimally manipulated wines increases. This Riesling was an eye-opener for me, a person who has spent a great deal of time trying to get people more interested in the potential majesty of this grape. I’ve long been an ardent fan of what I consider to be the greatest of white grape varietals. So, as the conversation proceeded, I learned that the next step was to be the acquisition of several very large amphorae in order to make this most natural of wines. (More to come in future columns.)
So far, every wine that I have tasted from Troon Vineyard has been pure, varietally correct and more than “interesting.” I think that you might find the video link here (https://vimeo.com/362378202) very informative concerning the vision of this thoughtful, passionate advocate for Biodynamic winegrowing. (That’s something else that I need to get straight: it’s “wine growing”, not “wine making”. Biodynamic growers are clear that their wines are grown in the vineyard, not made or manipulated in the winery!)
I’ll be reviewing the 2018 Vermentino, 2018 Grenache and 2018 Cotes du Kubli (72% Syrah/28% Grenache) separately.