International Biodynamic Viticulture Congress

New ways for the regeneration of the vine  (Colmar/France, 20.11.12)

Is there a way to get back to the original diversity and vitality of the vine? This was the central question at the international wine congress in Colmar, which has just come to an end. Over 100 participants from countries as wide spread as Bulgaria, Spain, Brazil and the United States came together to discuss the future of Biodynamic viticulture. The congress was organized by the Agricultural Section of the Goetheanum and offered fruitful discussions, presentations and workshops for participating vintners, researchers and consultants.

One step back, two steps forward

The central focus of the conference was to identify measures to stem the loss of vitality of the vine. Over recent decades it suffered from cloning, inappropriate breeding goals and industrial plantation style husbandry. Artificial fertilizers and plant protection agents have been used in an attempt to compensate for this but maintenance of the natural processes is in fact increasingly artificial and unstable.

Multiplication from seed to replace clonal breeding

This development goes back to the appearance of phylloxera in the 19th century. The entire European wine production was under threat. A solution was seen in the phylloxera tolerant "rootstock" from America, onto which local varieties were grafted in an attempt to prevent its spread. Today almost all grape varieties are grown on a small number of resistant American rootstocks. The breeding goal was, in addition, to produce identical vines, with identical growth habits and hence practical to use. Only now for example, is it possible to introduce machine harvesting since ripening of the berries is sufficiently uniform. The cost however is high. Through vegetative propagation (where a cutting is planted in the ground) there is a loss of diversity on the one hand, and on the other a decline in the vitality which was originally present. "Balance can actually be achieved only from un-grafted vines and/or vines propagated from seed with their associated synchronous assimilation of light and warmth”, is how the ‘distinguished breeder’ Nicholas Bollinger described the new Demeter vision. "So our first task is to regain the knowledge, which has been lost to modern vintners, about natural grape-vine multiplication from seed.”

Biodiversity and manual work to replace plantation vineyard techniques

Transformation of the grape vine monoculture into a multi-layered habitat has equally high priority. A healthy ecosystem needs natural habitats for the bird and the worm, the butterfly caterpillar and the smallest soil bacterium. Demeter winemaker Werner Michlits spoke in his presentation about his pilot project for reclamation of the vineyard. "The monotony of symmetrical vineyard layout is broken up by planting islands with trees, shrubs, fruit and vegetable crops. Tramline planting and hanging up bird feeders is too little". Another vision that emerged from the Alsatian congress was a reduction in mechanization in the vineyard. In Biodynamics, hand picking is already the preferred harvesting option, but manual labour should be strengthened in all areas of viticulture. In the future, in the Demeter vineyards even more harvest help should be brought in. "A measure that increases both the quality of the yield significantly, and in times of rising unemployment both makes a statement and gives people a job," said French wine pioneer Pierre Frick.

About Demeter

Biodynamic cultivation goes back to the anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner. The Demeter philosophy unifies the only global organic association. The standards of Biodynamic viticulture are considered comprehensive and stringent. In contrast to commonly practised organic viticulture (either certified organic by private associations or under EU organic regulation) Demeter requires "spontaneous fermentation" with natural yeasts to be used. Imported artificially propagated yeasts are only permitted as an exemption in very specific situations. Generally a purist line is followed in the cellar - concentration of the grape must is not permitted and the grapes, ideally harvested by hand, not machine, may be subjected to very few additives or aids. When planting, the stellar constellations are usually considered and homeopathic support measures for the whole ecosystem, known as the Biodynamic preparations must be applied. Worldwide around 147,000 ha are managed according to the Demeter standards. Germany has the greatest certified Demeter area with 67,000 ha, followed by Hungary, France, Italy and India. Worldwide, there are 520 Demeter wineries with a total of 8,000 hectares of vineyards. Biodynamic viticulture is spreading fastest in Argentina, Chile and France.

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