Completely by chance, I was invited to participate in 2 different bio-dynamic seminars, held about a week apart. The first one was held at Mas de Libian in St Marcel d'Ardeche, about 40 minutes north of here, and animated by Pierre Masson, a well-known biodynamic consultant. Originally Matt was supposed to attend with me, but Cisco Systems couldn't do without him on this particular day. I headed up with two other winemakers, Bertrand Cortellini of Rouge Garance, and Remy Klein of La Réméjeanne. There were over 30 winemakers present from all over the south of France, from Calce near the Spanish border, over to Nice, and up to Crozes Hermitage. It was very exciting to see so many people interested in bio-dynamics, some with lots of experience, some just starting out.
Let me back up here and give you a bit of information about Mas de Libian. The Thibon-Macagno family makes some of my favorite wines. The vineyards have always been farmed organically and they started with bio-dynamics in the fall of 2005. They even bought a beautiful work horse named Nestor, who helps them plow their impe ccably kept vineyards. The wines that they produce are dense and rich, with a beautiful expression of southern Rhône fruit. They make some of the most expressive wines of the region at incredibly reasonable prices. The family has a wonderful presence and seemingly a great sense of humor. Their wines have fanciful names like "Vin de Pétanque" and "Bout de Zan". Pétanque, for those of you unfamiliar with the word is another name for the game of "boules" or as some in the US like to call it, "bocce ball". This is a wine to be enjoyed over long afternoons playing pétanque beneath the shade of the plane trees in the village square, fresh, lots of fruit, uncomplicated, natural and delicious. "Bout de Zan" refers to a centuries old licorice-flavored candy that originated oddly enough here in Uzès, so the name of the cuvée roughly translates to "piece of ZAN". The wine offers hints of réglisse, a plant that grew wild in the south of France, children would often chew on the wood to get the sweet licorice flavor the plant possessed. The réglisse plant was the principal flavoring used in the candy called ZAN.
Back to Pierre Masson and our introduction to bio-dynamics. Mr. Masson started out as a farmer in southern Burgundy, who turned bio-dynamics in the 60s when he encountered problems on his own farm. He has since become one of the leading consultants in bio-dynamics working with top wineries all over France, all over the world for that matter. We spent the morning listening to him explain the fundamental priniciples of bio-dynamics; the diversification of plant-life, the use of the bio-dynamic preparations, working with lunar and planetary rhythms, and finally being able to regulate/control weeds. It was a great starting point and introduction for those who have never worked with bio-dynamics, and also for me, since I have learned mostly through what Matt has told me!
We had lunch a the village restaurant, and everyone brought their wines to taste, it was hard to taste them all, but I tried my best!
The afternoon divided into two parts. First there was a demonstration of the materials needed in order to practice bio-dynamics, then Masson continued his lecture, but this time he concentrated more on the origins of bio-dynamics and the cosmic aspects of the ideas behind it. The practical demonstration of the dynamiser and the sprayer were very useful and informative, the lecture on the origins of bio-dynamics was definitely more challenging.
All in all it was a great experience that enabled me to put into context much of what Matt has been studying and practicing in the vineyards, as I've said before, bio-dynamics is definitely his pet-project. It takes a lot of time and energy and lots and lots of research. We are considering taking on one of these two consultants so that we can have some outside advice, from people that have much more practical experience than we do! In part 2 I'll tell you about the second seminar at La Ferme Saint Martin with Jacques Melle, and the who's who of winemakers in the southern Rhône.