How do you feel about the much ballyhooed topic of ‘organic vs not so’? Does the word ‘organic ‘ on a label seduce your basket-filling hand, or do you feel this word is all fur coat and no-actual-benefit-knickers?
Here’s a fact for you: there are many organic/biodynamic vineyards out there that don’t actually state this on the label. They’ve learnt that many customers find it offputting, feeling they are paying more for something which doesn’t pay off on the tastebuds.
So when Waterkloof’s Louis Boutinot perched the hangingditch ladder and informed the customers that, “When we first bought our vineyard in South Africa, there were no worms in the soil,” some people cocked their heads with interest and others (possibly me?) had a shuffle of their feet, and prepared for the inevitable organic-will-make-you-better looking/funnier/more delightful kind of talk.
Waterkloof Estate is based in South Africa and is a biodynamic farm. This doesn’t mean much to a lot of people, and although always intrigued by this 5 syllable gobstopper, nor did it to me.
So what did Louis tell us?
We’ve all heard of organic farming: use of manure and compost, no pesticides, crop rotation, etc. Biodiversity believes in these principles but uses the farm’s own resources to produce this. Manure should be used from their own farm animals – you are what you eat after all, so it makes sense to let the soil digest what the cows originally took from it. The same applies to compost; Waterkloof has a restaurant on the estate which uses veggies and fruit taken from the farm so there’s bucket loads of compost to season the soil.
Use your animals as employees: chickens may look like idle dilly-dalliers but are in fact certified vine-pest-peckers, sheep graze the vineyard in winter months to gorge on the weeds, horses replace your tractors.
Employ your plants: the flower’s main role is to smell good and look good (I’ve got a gut feeling that’s why Ben employed me). Over half of the Waterkloof estate is set aside for flowers which attract an array of dependable, never-late, motivated insects. Their job description includes pest control and pollination.
Let’s go back to Louis’s worm comment. Soil can dry up like over-peroxided hair with over-use of chemical pesticides, weed killer, and fertilisers, and heavy machinery can compact the soil to reduce air volume and its ability to drain excess water. I guess when this happens the worms get the flip out.
All the ethics applied to the vineyard are also used in the cellar. These wines are just grape juice and a smidge of sulphates as a preservative (sulphates – to be discussed in another blog). The yeast is ‘wild’ which means it comes from the natural deposit on the skins and yeast that’s already in the winery’s atmosphere. Unlike some mass-produced wines which can include added acids and sugar or aroma enhancers, there is nothing else chucked into this mix.
I’m skimming a rather mammoth topic here. There’s a spiritual side of biodynamic farming which includes mediating cosmic forces in the soil, burying cow horns, and planting according to the zodiac calendar, all of which creates meaty exasperated sighs from the critics. Nevertheless, I dig the concept that when your ecosystem flourishes in rosy-cheeked health, so will your product. What you taste will be pure and unlike any other wine from other regions, let alone the neighbouring area. And for generations to come, worms will be swimming in the soil like children in chocolate.
Louis god-damn seduced us. One customer (Dave, as in lovely Dave and Di) said he finally understood why you would pay more for wine. The wines are relatively expensive, between £15-20 @ hangingditch. But what about the TATSTE? ACE. Fresh, packed full of fruit, zingy, zippy and all things resplendent. ‘The Circle of Life White’ (turns out it’s not about The Lion King) was a real winner for me.
There’s no mention of biodynamic/organic on the label of Waterkloof wines. When I asked Louis why, he said they weren’t farming in this method as a means to sell the wine, but as a means of improving flavour and sustaining their land.
Will I buy biodynamic wines? Yes, not just for the worms, the effort, and the moral feel-good factor, but because it tastes like success.
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