Every so often, it does no harm to challenge an established way of thinking. For that which is fantastical, ceases to be so, once it has happened. And just how many things have happened in the last 100 years, which would previously have been considered fantastical? And what about those matters where even with Wikipedia, Google, and our supposedly advanced state of knowledge, we are still no nearer knowing the answer?
There must be a scientific explanation for the means by which terroir - the make up of the land in which the vine is planted, creates an array of different flavours in the wine? But nobody knows what it is. Not how, nor why. But happen it does.
And so in this broad context, energy and wine. I asked professional taster and Burgundy specialist, Steen Ohman, http://winehog.org/about-thewinehog-org/about-steen-ohman/ what he meant when he described a wine as having ‘good energy’. He said - ‘a burst of fruit on the mid palate, vitality, wine that is not flat’. Generally speaking, this is the way that we think of fine biodynamic wine. Freshness, great fruit and vitality. At the other end of the spectrum, wines that have been subjected to excessive chemical treatments, surviving in soil that is organically inert, are flat, dull, and lifeless.
But why is this? Why does biodynamic wine have energy, and chemical wine not? And where does the energy come from? The biodynamic treatments? The moon dance? Why do the chemicals have this effect? Last week, we went to taste at Domaine Rougeot in Meursault. Until comparatively recently, they were mainly supermarket suppliers. They are now organic, and for the last few years have been producing wine with virtually no sulphur, only a minimal amount added at the bottling. The wine had so much energy and vitality, it almost jumped out of the glass!
A few blogs ago I wrote about Prince Charles and plant talk. His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, believes the plants in his gardens do better if you talk to them. Ridiculous everyone said, twenty years ago. But in more recent scientific studies by Professor Jim Westwood, whose speciality is plant pathology and weed science at Virginia Tech in the United States, it was found that plants can communicate with each other. They share information. He examined the relationship between a parasitic plant, dodder, and a host tomato plant. He discovered that to suck moisture and nutrients out of the tomato plant, dodder and the host were able to exchange messages within cells. During this parasitic relationship, thousands upon thousands of messenger molecules were being exchanged between both plants, allowing them to freely communicate. The professor said that through this exchange, the parasitic plant may dictate what the host plant should do – such as lowering its defences to make it easier for the parasite to attack. It is thought that using this new information, scientists may discover if other organisms such as bacteria and fungi also communicate.
So does this shine a new light on the role of cover crops between the vines? If you plant mustard for example, or allow nettles to grow, can some of these crops or weeds positively assist the vines ability to withstand attack from parasites and fungi? In 2016, which was about as bad a year for mildew in Burgundy as anyone can remember, biodynamic Domaine Heresztyn-Manzini in Gevrey Chambertin applied a treatment of silice (quartz) to their vines in the vineyard Goulots, behind the Chateau. They found that it was effective in drying out the plants, thus reducing the risk of attack. Biodynamic agriculture is a continual search for ways, without using synthetic poisons, to enable the vines to combat the problems caused by the weather and natural enemies. Or put it another way, let the wines natural positive energy speak for itself.
But if plants can communicate with each other, and per Prince Charles, when spoken to in a friendly way, take encouragement, may the vine not communicate with its ground conditions? It does not seem like a major leap from Professor Westwoods conclusions to assume that it does. A molecular exchange with living matter in the soils? A source of energy for the vine? And the less interference in the process, the more in tact the energies remain? The terroir, weather conditions during the year - not enough or too much water, the use of chemicals or artificial fertilisers, the age of the vine and its productivity, whether natural indigenous yeast is used, may all impact on the quality of the energy.
And whether such energetic assumptions have substance or not, the more we think of the vine as a communicative entity, the more likely we are to respect its environment. #thinkbio