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Biodynamic winemaking brings together cosmic calendars and cow horns filled with manure
Landline ABC Posted Aug 6th 2017
By Sean Murphy
Filling cow horns with fresh manure and burying them for six months sounds bizarre, but the substance that is dug up becomes the basis of biodynamic farming.
Add to that a strict adherence to a cosmic calendar with fruit, root, flower and leaf days dictating when to pick, prune, and water plants, and it starts to sound like magic.
But biodynamic farming is practised across the board in Australian agriculture. In the wine industry in particular, some of the most successful brands swear by it with all its mystical connotations.
Award-winning winemaker Vanya Cullen sought biodynamic certification for her 50 hectares of vines at Margaret River as an extension of the philosophies learned from her late parents Dr Kevin John and Diana Madeline Cullen, who helped pioneer the wine region nearly 50 years ago.
“We were always [used] minimal chemical inputs with mum and dad and then when mum passed away [in 2003] it was feeling like there was something else we needed to do, the biodynamics came, it felt right,” Ms Cullen said.
She is now an internationally acclaimed winemaker and an Australian Businesswomen’s Hall of Fame inductee.
Her best wines can sell for up to $350 a bottle and while she has relied on biodynamic farming methods since 2003, she was reluctant initially to publicly speak about it.
“They say it takes nine years for the biodynamics to really kick in so I really was a little bit reticent because you don’t know,” Ms Cullen said.
“Now we feel it’s time, its just time, it just feels like the time to talk about how you can make great wine and grow great food and have a property which is about connecting to nature and being a sustainable business.”
What’s old is relevant again
Biodynamic farming was founded by German philosopher Rudolph Steiner in the 1920’s to counter the emergence of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.
Vanya Cullen said the emphasis on old-fashioned farming with natural inputs was even more relevant today.
“We actually activate the soil, instead of killing things with chemicals, biodynamics is about making alive the land,” she said.
At Cullen, they produce Preparation 500 by burying manure-filled cow horns on the Summer Solstice each year and digging them up on the Winter Solstice.
The substance is then diluted in a gravity-fed concrete trough known as a flow form, which replicates a mountain stream and is claimed to enhance the 500’s power.
It is then used in sprays and compost to stimulate soil microbiology.
Ms Cullen said there was scientific evidence of the impact biodynamic farming had on soil health, but ultimately “you do also have to have faith, but I think people do anyway.”
“I don’t think we have anything to prove. I look at the quality of the wines that we make and that’s the bottom line,” she said.
“We do have science numbers in the vineyard of all the different minerals and PHs and micro-bacteria, fungi and that’s important but it’s only a guide.
“The most important thing is to look at the vine and see what quality of fruit is coming off and you know to taste it and to get a feeling for those plants which in a way they’re like us, they’re beings which are alive like the land is.
“You can take biodynamics however you want, you can look at it from a very practical to a biological way of thinking, that you’re putting nutrients onto the vines and using vines and using plants or you can go wherever you want with it.
“But I think the most important thing is the connection to the land.”
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