Put simply, biodynamic viticulture is a philosophy combining the maintenance of sustainable soil fertility and the recognition of the link between plant growth and the rhythms of the cosmos. It is a method of farming that treats the vineyard as a living system, which interacts with the environment to build a healthy living soil that helps to nourish the vines and general environment.
Since 1971 when the Cullen Estate was planted, chemical intervention was minimal and the family’s concern for the environment paramount.
In 1998 the change to total organic viticulture was made. Diana and Vanya went intuitively towards healing the soil by putting back what had been taken out. Organics is about soil health – drains were put in, cover crops, and composting resulted in A Grade Organic Certification in 2003 being gained by the Biological Farmers Association (BFA) of Australia.
In 2003, whilst attending a Biodynamic Conference, Vanya Cullen decided that Biodynamics would add further to the holistic and natural approach to both vineyard and winemaking.
In 2004 the Cullen Vineyard became certified A Grade Biodynamic by the BFA of Australia and the Mangan Vineyard and Winery followed in 2008. We also farm a biodynamic vegetable garden, which supplements the organic and biodynamic produce in the Cullen Restaurant.
Biodynamics relies on a series of preparations based in mineral, plant and animal substances rather than the traditional potentially toxic chemicals and sprays. In the Cullen Vineyards, this involves firstly the enhancement of the soil structure through the addition of homeopathic preparations, specially prepared composts and various fish and other emulsions and also the use of nitrogen-enhancing cover crops. The resulting increase in humus in the soil leads to greater microbial activity and improved aeration and retention of moisture around the roots of the vines.
Rhythms of the cosmos
Moon rhythms strongly influence life on earth life. As tides rise and fall in a pulsing rhythm, so does the sap of plants and all other liquids including those within the earth’s mantle. Viticultural practices are conducted according to these moon rhythms.
The position of the moon in relation to the planets is also critical. The time of great anticipation is the 48 hours leading up to when the moon (whose forces bring in calcium processes) and Saturn (whose forces bring in silica processes) are in opposition – the optimal time to plant.
Difference between organic and biodynamic
Organic farming is based on the health of the soil. It promotes biological activity, which converts plant and animal residue into stable humus. This in turn increases the soil’s ability to retain moisture and provide a reserve of nutrients. Biodynamics builds on organic farming, working on the energetic level as well as the physical level to make all organic processes work more efficiently and effectively.
Biodynamic preparations include naturally occurring matter, rather than the traditional potentially toxic chemicals and sprays. In our certification the difference between organic and biodynamic is the use of homeopathic preparations 500 and 501, with 502-508 also being used. Each of which were coded by Rudolph Steiner and are listed as follows:
Cow horns filled with cow manure (500) – helps the soil develop humus, attracts earthworms and micro organisms. The cow manure that is placed in female cow horns is buried underground over winter. The spray produced from 500 is applied to the soil in the vineyard three times during the year when either the moon is in opposition to Saturn or is descending. This spray, which is sometimes combined with fish emulsion and seaweed, invigorates the soil.
Cow horns filled with quartz crystals (501) – aids photosynthesis and the uptake of minerals in the soil. The good quality quartz crystals are placed in cow horns and buried underground during spring and dug up in autumn. 501 is applied to the foliage three times a year or when needed. Very occasionally, it is necessary to spray the leaves of the vines with a copper solution.
- Yarrow flowers (502) – strengthens the vine against insect attack
- Chamomile (503) – stimulates bacteria for nitrogen fixing in the soil, strengthens the vine’s regenerative life activity
- Stinging nettle (504) – aids decomposition and chlorophyll formation
- Oak bark (505) – rebalances the soil and protects against fungal diseases
- Dandelion (506) – makes the vine more sensitive, can increase flowering.
- Valerian flowers (507) – contains vine vigour and mobilizes bacteria in the soil
- Equisetum tea (508) – protects against fungus and mildew
Each year, 5 cubic meters of compost containing biodynamic preparations are also applied to each hectare of the vineyard.
Outcomes of Biodynamics
The combination of firstly organic, and subsequently biodynamic viticulture at Cullen Wines provides the opportunity for our land to exist at its full potential, thereby nurturing vines to produce their best and most individual grapes.
While we embrace the beneficial effects of using new technology in the winery, we remain acutely aware that certain traditional methods still produce the best outcomes, including:
- Enhanced expression of fruit, minerality and integration of flavours
- Lower alcohol, lower sugar and higher acidity
- Chemical free and no artificial modification
- Expression of terroir from vineyard to bottle
- Elegant wine styles that are better balanced
From the above, it follows that we consider the ongoing success of Cullen Wines is inevitably interwoven with a continual fine tuning of both our biodynamic viticultural practices and winemaking procedures and, through experience, increasing our ability to respond rapidly and effectively to the challenges posed by any environmental or climatic change.
It’s an exciting journey of learning in Cullen’s quest for quality, integrity and sustainability as we head into the next chapter of winemaking.
In 2013 Cullen installed a ‘Spiral Garden’ on the Winery Grounds, to allow visitors to conduct a self-guided-tour to learn more about the philosophy of biodynamics. Click the following link to read more about our spiral garden.
The Cullen restaurant serves food made only from organic and biodynamic produce. As some of the herbs and vegetables are grown in our garden, the food on our menu, which is adjusted seasonally to take into account what is available, is particularly fresh and healthy. The various dishes prepared by our chefs are designed to complement the wines made from our biodynamically grown fruit.
You can read our menu, or make a booking at our restaurant page.
Since 2006, the vegetables in our garden have been grown mainly from organic, non-hybrid seed stock. We hope that this will provide not only tastier, healthier food, but through our saving of the seeds at the end of the season, enable our favourite crops to become adapted to the specific conditions that exist at Cullen in Wilyabrup.