A cow intestine stuffed with chamomile flowers. Chopped-up oak bark, packed into a farm animal’s skull. These may sound like a witch’s playbook, but they’re actually part of the preparations (“preps,” for short) required for biodynamic farming. You have probably heard of biodynamic wine by now — maybe even drunk a bottle or two.
But what it really entails remains a mystery to most people. Literature on the subject can be dense and arcane. Thank goodness for Katherine Cole’s new book, Voodoo Vintners: Oregon’s Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers, possibly the first to offer a succinct, easy-to-understand explanation of what exactly biodynamics is. We recently had a glass and talked about wine – and magic.
Given the title of your book, honestly, how much of biodynamics really is voodoo?
The title was kind of a joke at first, but then I decided to just go with it. Because so many people who didn’t know much about biodynamics would say, “Oh, isn’t that like voodoo farming or something?” And all the practitioners I spoke with would jokingly refer to themselves and say, “This is that voodoo that I do.” Sure, there are cow horns and burying the preps and all that, but most of these vignerons would tell me that biodynamic agriculture is 90% hands-on, hard-work farming. And probably less than 10% spiritual stuff.
Isn’t there something about Oregon that lends itself specifically to biodynamics?
Absolutely. Oregon is very similar to Burgundy, a similar latitude, and has pretty much the perfect conditions to grow grapes in. We have these lovely, dry summers. Rot and disease, we don’t have that. We also have the things you use to make the preparations, like nettle and horsetail – these grow like weeds in Oregon.
What’s the kookiest thing you’ve seen a biodynamic farmer do?
Oh, I don’t know. Putting bark into in an animal’s skull? That’s a little weird. Hanging a stuffed deer bladder from the rafters. It’s a little bit like the Blair Witch Project.
Did you come across anyone who does all the sustainable farming stuff, but forgoes the spiritual side?
No, they all do the [preps and rituals]. But it’s unclear to me whether, if they were to skip that altogether, would their farm still be as healthy? I’m not sure. There haven’t been enough scientific studies to really determine much.
What’s the best way to find biodynamic wine?
There are a few wine shops – actually, more and more nowadays – that will put a little card by each bottle saying whether it’s organic, sustainable, biodynamic. But typically, you have to ask. When I’m writing about wine, I come back to the same message over and over, which is: build a good relationship with your wine merchant at your local bottle shop. Tell them what you’re interested in and they will find you those biodynamic wines. Even if they don’t carry them, they can special order them.
For you, is the appeal more the eco-friendliness of biodynamic wine or do you just prefer their taste?
I was originally attracted to the purity of the wines and the flavors. But the thing that gets me really impassioned is the sustainability aspect.
So, you’ve gone from wine writer to environmentalist?
I am an environmentalist, proudly so. I was originally attracted by the beauty of the wines, but the more I read about it, the more I realize the message of biodynamics is not just trying not to harm the earth, but trying to heal the earth. You can bring biodynamics into your life in small ways and it can make the world a better place. Since I started writing the book, I started composting my kitchen waste.
Last question. A big question. Name 5 biodynamic wines from Oregon that we must drink right now!
- Montinore’s 2009 Gewürztraminer | Brightly aromatic with floral and citrus notes, it pairs beautifully with so many different foods.
- Johan Vineyards’ 2009 Drueskall Pinot Gris | It’s an orange wine, aged for 11 months, with 10 days of skin contact. Only 20 cases are made each year.
- Cooper Mountain’s 2010 Pinot Gris Reserve | Full of lush fruit flavors, like melon and white peaches, it also has great minerality.
- Brooks Winery’s 2010 Runaway White Pinot Blanc | So pure and clean-tasting, like freshly melted mountain snow.
- Maysara’s 2010 Roseena Pinot Noir Rosé | Full of ripe fruit and fresh flowers, yet still has great acidity.
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