Home' Scoop : Scoop 52 Winter 2010 Contents 188 scoop WINTER 2010
Acleansing ale might be the
winemaker s beverage of choice
at day s end, but Vanya Cullen
has no interest in her vineyard
sharing a border with a micro-
brewery. She s got nothing against beer itself: what
concerns her is that cultured yeast from her brew-
ing neighbour could contaminate the indigenous
yeasts found in the Cullen vineyard ... and that
could affect her biodynamic certification.
When it comes to biodynamics, the stability of
the microclimate in which the wines are produced
is all-important -- and according to Vanya, the
existence of the microbrewery next door is a clear
and present danger to that stability.
"This microbrewery is a threat to the Margaret
River heartland," she says. "We have documenta-
tion saying there isn t any way to guarantee that
the beer yeast won t travel and reproduce. Once
that happens, the damage will be irreversible.
"We ve spent 40 years developing our micro-
climate. The whole momentum of biodynamic
wine is where the Australian industry is going.
That concept of terroir, biodynamics is its purest
expression. There s no adding anything to the
wine, that s it.
"Breweries and chocolate factories are all good
and well, but ultimately, people come down here
for the wine."
Initially the Busselton Shire sided with Cullen
Wines on the issue, but celebrations had to be
shelved after it was discovered that the matter will
go to the State Administrative Tribunal on appeal.
Nonetheless, the shire s original decision to uphold
Vanya s complaints on the grounds of biodynamic
If widespread industrialisation took the soul out of Australian wine,
returning to Mother Nature might just put it back. Max Veenhuyzen
gets to the heart of biodynamic winemaking in Western Australia.
preservation is surely proof that natural winemak-
ing has been accepted by the community at large.
Which brings us to the $25-a-bottle question:
do the manure-filled cow horns, natural fertilisers
and stuffed sheep s skulls of biodynamic practice
really make a difference?
The Australian s wine writer Max Allen can un-
derstand people s scepticism towards biodynamics.
He used to be a non-believer himself. Conversa-
tions with biodynamics pioneers James Milton and
Julian Castagna certainly helped talk him round to
"the wackier aspects" of the philosophy, but in the
end the most convincing argument for biodynam-
ics was presented by the wines themselves.
"I kept tasting these wines that blew me away
and that I was effortlessly able to come up with de-
scriptors for -- I subsequently found out they were
biodynamic," he recalls. "Biodynamics themselves
aren t a magic bullet, you still have to get every-
thing else right. But in blind tastings, the biody-
namic wines just leapt up. They weren t bigger or
showier, just... livelier."
That may sound like hyperbole, but when you
consider that a growing number of producers have
embraced biodynamics -- including Domaine de la
Romanee-Conti, Bonny Doon, Henschke and All
Saints Estate -- there must be something in it.
But if the arguments for improved quality and
environmental responsibility are the big reasons many
convert to "natural" winemaking, there are those
whose motives for going green are more pragmatic.
"Australian winemakers put SO2 in their wine
like there s no tomorrow," laments Montefalco
proprietor Baldo Lucaroni. "In Italy, it used to be
eight to 12 parts per million. Here it s 200. It s
crazy. I can t drink those wines. They give me
too many headaches."
Baldo had just one option -- make his own
wine, just like he did in his native Umbria. In
2000, he planted his vineyard in the Porongorups
with the Italian varieties he was familiar with --
sangiovese, nebbiolo and sagrantino -- utilising the
same generations-old techniques employed by his
forefathers. But while he follows organic principles
within his vineyards and is undertaking biody-
namic certification -- a five-year process -- Baldo
refuses to get too caught up with the need to have
certificates proving that he s a friend of the planet.
"We certify ourselves," he assures me, "I don t
believe in those extra burdens and costs. Life s
already tough enough the way it is."
John and Jan Pickles can attest to that. The
couple behind Mount Barker s Jeelenup Gully
Wines were biodynamic trailblazers in the state,
being certified in 1987. But for them, biodynamics
hasn t worked out. "It really works, but many
people don t get it," says Jan of biodynamic
agriculture. "We came at it from more of a philo-
sophical point-of-view rather than an agricultural
one. But that s the hard part. If you come at it
from that way, it doesn t pay off."
Retailers are certainly noticing increased de-
mand for green wines. Having regularly pushed or-
ganic and biodynamic wines since the 90s, Settlers
Tavern owners Rob and Karen Gough keep things
eco-friendly at their Margaret River watering hole,
both in the wine selections and practices.
"I have to reorder [biodynamic and organic
wines] so that s a good sign," laughs Karen.
FORCE of NATURE
SHADES OF GREEN
Organic or biodynamic: what's the difference?
A form of natural farming conducted without
the use of synthetic chemicals in the vineyard
and with low levels of preservatives in the
wine. Organic wines can still be made using
sulphides and added preservatives. Both
vineyards and wineries can be certified organic.
A specialised form of organic farming based on
the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf
Steiner that uses homeopathic preparations to
re-connect the soil with cosmic life forces. Like
organic wines, biodynamic wines can still be
made using preservatives and both vineyards
and wineries can be certified biodynamic.
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