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the magic of montemaggiore Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Montemaggiore GrapesLC:  I read an article a couple of years ago that discussed one of the differences between men and women being that women can take completely disparate beliefs, those that on their face are completely contradictory, and still believe in them — whereas men have a harder time doing that.  It might be a bit of a generalization, but I do think women are able to embrace things that conflict with each other!  {laughing}  But to answer your question more directly, biodynamics is a very sophisticated and involved set of principles and practices, not all of which I understand or believe in, and I have my own interpretation of them.  As far as the mystical aspect of biodynamics, I don't really go there.  But I do think that many aspects of what happens in this world come from greater forces that I don't understand and never will.  I don't know whether any of [the more mystical practices] have any effect or not; I can't prove it one way or another.  The mathematician in me believes that we simply can't see things we can't see, and so we can't explain things we can't see.  We have our particular set of dimensions that we can appreciate, but I have no doubt there are others that we can't nor ever will!  But that allows me to live with contradictions and the realization that I will never have a complete, rational answer for the world, and so I have to do what makes sense for me and what I currently believe in at a particular moment in time.

With biodynamics, for example, there are many aspects that are not proven, but there are many aspects that are.  I don't think you'll find many people who would argue that composting is not a good thing.  Composting is just one of those fundamental things you do in biodynamics.  There are certain preparations you add to your compost that make nutrients more available to the plants.  I can't say I have a full scientific explanation for it all, but I can absolutely believe it to be true.  People have been farming for thousands of years in this way; I have to believe that they learned something through experience that maybe we still haven't been able to prove or explain by science today.  And I feel perfectly comfortable with that.

On the other hand, there are certain things in biodynamics that I don't really believe — like some of the preparations you're supposed to stir in one direction until you get a vortex and then stir in the opposite direction.  My explanation for that?… Stir well!  {laughing}  In some cases you're supposed to bury a horn at one equinox and unearth it at another — well, you know, back then they didn't have calendars!  So nowadays, just bury it and unearth it during this season for that length of time.  Whether it's the exact equinox, I don't think it matters, personally.  For me, I have my fanciful explanations for certain things that are supposed to happen in biodynamics that I may or may not follow, and I think there could be perfectly good explanations for a lot of them.  We follow the ones that we believe in.  Do I look at the calendar and track the phases of the moon?… No.  But, in general, I believe in composting, paying attention to soil fertility, treating your farm as a holistic entity and trying not to import too much into it nor export too much out of it.

Unlike organics which focuses just on the materials that you use in your vineyard or on your farm, one of the great things about biodynamics is that it marries materials with methods.  I think you have to go beyond just materials.  There are definitely things that are beneficial to implement, but organics really only tells you what's bad without telling you necessarily what's good.  Biodynamics actually says 'this is good, this is the right thing to do' and I believe in that type of philosophy.

NM:  It sounds like your approach to grape growing and winemaking isn't in the slightest bit dogmatic — nor even a paradigmatic.  You don't need for everything to fit into a nice, neat box.  And when in reality it doesn't, you don't feel compelled to undergo any significant shift in your thinking.  You're able to sit with this inability to reconcile everything to the letter.  This is clearly where you're really more artisanal in your approach, something that counterbalances your scientific background.

LC:  Right.  I'm not burdened by the past 50 years of growing up in the wine industry, believing that because things have been a certain way in the past that that's how they need to be done in the future.  I'm not burdened by knowing a lot about winemaking or grape-growing.  Yet I do pay attention to the current literature, I do talk to a lot of people [in the industry], and I do believe in learning about it.  But I'm coming from another industry altogether and I'm attacking this afresh.  There's a lot of people in Dry Creek Valley who've been here for generations, and while I don't know anything about their grape-growing, my assumption is that in many cases they grow their grapes in the way that their parents did.  They have a whole family history of raising vines and know a lot more about it than I do.  But some of those people might actually spray herbicides and use fertilizers precisely because their parents did.  My parents never did — my parents never grew grapes — so I'm not burdened with that history.



 

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