Organic and biodynamic wine growers don’t feed plants, they feed the soil through the use of compost, cover crops, compost teas, and in biodynamics with biodyanimic preparations (the term biodynamic preparation is intimidating, but they are simply chamomile blossoms, oak bark, dandelion flowers, valerian flowers, yarrow blossoms, stinging nettle and silica.)
Compost is made up of organic matter such as animal manure, grape pomace, and other organic materials. A wine grower spends an entire year preparing a compost pile. They each have a particular method for preparing their compost, employing unique recipes using special ingredients that provide the right nutrients for their vineyard. Compost is filled with microorganisms that stimulate plant growth, making the vineyard healthy and disease resistant. Microorganisms eat organic materials and digest minerals that pass through their system. Mike Benziger, of Benziger Winery in Sonoma Valley, describes the process as “a huge food factory that provides a gourmet feast for plants.”
Bob Cannard, who has been providing Chez Pannise with vegetables for the past 25 years and who is the vineyard manager for Cline Cellars in Sonoma, brews huge vats of compost tea. Instead of making a rich and delicious stock for human consumption, he makes a nutritious vegetable stock for his farm and vineyards. He also spreads finely ground minerals, such as silica and limestone, throughout his vineyards depending on the needs of each particular site.
In organic vineyards, leguminous cover crops are grown in rows between the vines. These cover crops not only attract beneficial insects, which attack bad insects, but they provide nutrients to the grapevines.
Non-organic vineyards are barren and devoid of life. Organic and biodynamic vineyards are buzzing with activity, ranging from the visible to the microscopic. At a glance one sees insects, bees, birds, chickens, sheep, cows, and the variety of plants needed to attract and sustain them. In the microscopic world of the soil, microorganisms help decompose organic matter, releasing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which are then taken up by the plant as nutrients.
I hope this explains a little bit about organic and biodynamic viticulture. I have the greatest respect for winegrowers and workers that tend organic and biodynamic vineyards, all of whom are sensitive to the life forces in the vineyard – the best of which can capture it in a bottle.