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Poo tea and Alpacas: Discovering Biodynamic Wine in Casablanca Valley, Chile

Casablanca is one of many wine regions in Chile with a growing international reputation.

On our South American travels, we visited a couple on our drive back to Santiago and I was impressed by how well set up these wineries are for tourism. Mitch and I were both feeling a bit off that day, we thought probably on account of too much rich food the last few days (it’s a tough life) so it wasn’t the best day for tasting, but I valiantly soldiered on, on behalf of both of us.

We visited Casas del Bosque and Emiliana (organic/biodynamic), and would have visited Indomita and Matetic (organic/ biodynamic) had we had time.

At Casas Del Bosque we learnt that they play music to the wine resting in the barrel room, since they believe the vibrations will contribute to the circulation of the wine in the barrel which I thought was fantastic!

Emiliana was the most interesting; a certified organic and practising biodynamic vineyard, however they can’t put “Biodynamic” on the label since they can’t afford the certification awarded by DEMETER the Germany-based international body for biodynamic agriculture. Shame. Part of the biodynamic ecosystem at this winery is the family of alpacas which will bring a smile to your face even if you don't like the wine!

Biodynamic is a fascinating topic, often ridiculed as being hippy dippy mystical BS. It is based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian academic/philosopher who lectured on, effectively, organic agriculture in the 1920’s before “organic” was even a thing.

His philosophy is a kind of natural energy management system, that sees the vineyard as a living organism, and places emphasis on lunar cycles. Amongst other things, this leads to a biodynamic calendar divided into root days, leaf days, flower days and fruit days, with certain days being more auspicious for certain activities, such as harvesting and pruning, and even drinking the wine (fruit days are best) and days when you should leave the vineyard well alone. It prohibits the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers. One of the wackier practices is filling cow horns with natural fertiliser and burying them, then making a special preparation from this, a kind of poo tea, to treat the soils.

Soil analysis has shown that biodynamic soil versus normal soil has a better quality (more disease resistance and diversity of soil matter) though it is unclear whether it has any advantages over organic soils. Blind tasting tests of biodynamic wine have also interestingly outshone non-biodynamically produced wine, particularly in measures like clarity of fruit and terroir expression. This is very hard to control test however, since biodynamic methods go hand in hand with careful, respectful, fastidious winemaking and viticulture which would likely lead to better wines whether biodynamic or not. If winemaking is a labour of love, you could say biodynamic winemaking is downright masochism.

I believe it’s hard to refute the idea of the vineyard as a living, interconnected organism, so why not treat it as such, and if the gravitational pull of the moon can affect our seas so dramatically then why not organisms on land? Surely it’s no coincidence that menstrual cycles are monthly too, so I don’t think you can dismiss the idea too readily. When we start our English vineyard I think we’ll definitely explore biodynamic principles, though we’d probably have to skip the rules of pest and mould management since in the UK the wet climate makes organic viticulture nigh on impossible (beyond even masochism, let’s say a death wish!).

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