Everyone knows there’s nowt like old fashioned farmyard muck to get gardens blooming and crops flourishing. But a single bucketful of cow poo to fertilise a whole 12 acres of vineyard? This is not your average muck spreading spree.
Last week, the vineyard was the scene of a fertility ritual on Friday. The practice itself only dates back to 1924, but it draws on a concept of harmony in nature that goes back millennia: A pile of clean, hollowed out horns from female cows lay waiting for a team of enthusiastic helpers to fill them from that one bucket of fresh organic cow dung.Watch us explain why in this video!
This ritual is fundamental to the practice of biodynamic agriculture founded by the Austrian philosopher and social reformer Rudolf Steiner who promoted ‘spiritual science’ in the 1920s. His biodynamic agriculture was the first of the organic agriculture movements and dealt holistically with the whole natural circle of soil, plants and animals, including, importantly, cosmic forces.
As our regular blog followers will know, we believe in the power of biodynamic farming for soil fertility and plant health. Though we are one of few to practice this in the UK, we are not alone. Major supermarkets Tesco and Marks and Spencers follow the biodynamic calendar when the buyers do their wine tasting. The year is divided up according to the lunar influence into leaf, flower, root and fruit days and fruit days are regarded as the most auspicious for wine drinking. It is believed that the wine actually tastes better on fruit days.
So back to those cow horns, each now neatly packed with poo. We carried them up through the vines to a pit where they were laid carefully to rest, mouths pointing down so that they did not fill with rainwater and go mushy over the winter. They were covered with soil and the burial finished with a pile of stones to deter animals. And there they will stay until April or May, when they will be lifted out again and their precious contents emptied out.
By then, the manure will have a completely different consistency – dark and crumbly and according to biodynamic principles, packed with cosmic forces. Finally, cricket ball sized roundels of the dung are dissolved in barrels of water and the liquid gets sprayed on the vineyard. Like homeopathic medicine, a little is said to go a long way.
We bury horns at three places around the vineyard. The horns are from female cows as they are the most fertile animals and they absorb the cosmic influences. The best way to describe it is that when we spray it, even though it is only a tiny amount, it acts as a trigger to regenerate tired soil and improve its fertility.
We have actually seen first hand in France and Australia the difference between the quality of soil on biodynamic vineyards and that on chemically sprayed ones. It is the difference between living and dead soils Many of the great vineyards and wineries around the world are convinced by the biodynamic approach, including Domaine Leflaive and le Roy in Burgundy, Coulee de Serant in the Loire, Beaux Freres in Oregon, Hensche in Australia and jean-Pierre Fleury in Champagne.
"But does it make a difference to the wine?" I hear you cry! Well, if you ask us, biodynamic practices in the vineyard encourage a natural harmony between the earth, the vine and the cosmos as nature intended, without the need to use systemic chemicals. We believe that this results in a more naturally healthy bio-diverse and sustainable vineyard, producing better quality fruit and ultimately better quality wine, with a unique sense or place or terroir.