This is over and above her great passion for organic agriculture. I am certainly supportive of organic principles although I admit that my approach to the matter is tinged with a touch of pragmatism.
However, biodynamic agriculture is something else. Prince Charles is reported to use it (as well as organic methods), and we encountered biodynamic winemaking at Cullen (Margaret River) when we were there last year. At the time I was bemused by the concept. Biodynamic goes further than organic, and involves concepts that seem to verge on the mystical.
Caro Feely’s explanations gave me more of an insight into this practice, but I still struggle with concepts such as the “rhythm of the cosmos”.
For example, there are root days when the earth is in the “earth constellations of Capricorn, Taurus and Virgo….days on which it is supposedly better to open an aged red wine than a young fruity one”.
Likewise, she describes one of the key concepts, “the 500”. This is a preparation prepared by fermenting cow manure in a cow horn which is then buried and overwintered before being “dynamised” (that is, mixed with water in a special way) and sprayed on to the soil. It’s said to act like a starter culture for soil fertility, so that a tiny amount (100 grams per hectare) is like placing a drop of yoghurt starter culture in a bucket of milk, so as to create a massive change, promoting root activity and stimulating microbiotic activity in the soil.
Another key preparation is the 501, where ground quartz is mixed with rain water and then buried in a cow horn over summer before being mixed with water and sprayed into the air. This is said to promotes the photosynthetic processes because the microparticles of quartz are like mirrors bringing light and heat to the vineyard.
And yes, when pruning the vines, you talk to them (page 153 of Saving Our Skins). There’s an anecdotal story where a biodynamic champagne producer had told an underperforming vineyard that if it didn’t buck up and produce more volume, they’d be grubbed out. Reportedly yields were up 25% the following year.
I guess it’s not really my place to pass judgement on all this, but as I’ve said, personally I struggle with concepts such as these.