The McLaren Vale Experiment- Sustainability and ROI Remain At Cross-roads

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A trend is being seen where growers are shifting towards organic and biodynamic viticulture. The primary reason for the shift is to improve the fruit quality and reduce the impact of conventional viticulture to the environment

A six-year field trial was conducted on a 20-year-old, 10ha Cabernet Sauvignon vines in McLaren Vale of South Australia. The aim of the study was to find out the benefits and drawbacks of Organic and biodynamic practices over Conventional viticulture. Below mentioned are the observations found during the trial-

  • There was a marked improvement in the biological properties such as biomass, earthworm numbers, etc. of the soil with Organic and Biodynamic viticulture which was not observed with the use of herbicides in conventional methods. The use of compost led to the increase in total organic carbon, pH and electrical conductivity levels in the soil whereas vines under conventional viticulture showed higher concentrations of Phosphorous, Sulphur and Boron levels
  • The vines under Organic and Biodynamic practices showed reduced yield. The percentage of Organic, Bio-dynamic and LCON (Low-input conventional) yields were 79%, 70%, and 91% respectively in comparison to HCON (High-input conventional). The difference was not only in the yield but also in the alcohol levels. A Higher level of alcohol, anthocyanin (the ingredient which imparts color to the red wine) and phenolic levels (primarily responsible for the look and feel of the wine) were noticed in vines under HCON viticulture.
  • Blind tasting of the wines under the different management treatments was also done with panel members describing Organic and Biodynamic wines to be more rich, complex, textural and vibrant in comparison to vines grown with HCON and LCON means.
  • Though not as high financially beneficial as HCON system, it was found that ORG, BD, and LCON systems produced 74%, 65% and 91% financial return per hectare respectively of the HCON system.

Overall, Organic and Biodynamic viticulture were found to be beneficial for the soil and the environment and more sustainable form of viticulture but talking in monetary terms the returns were high in HCON system.

Understanding the Biodynamic Wines

If you have heard the concept of biodynamic wines in the last few years, then you have heard it late by almost a century. Surprising as it might seem, the concept was first propounded in 1920s by Rudolph Steiner who was an Austrian philosopher. However, if we were to look even more remotely, we will understand that the farming practices of ancient times were in harmony not only with mother nature but also the universe.

It is clear that the celestial bodies have a bearing on our lives. There is a group of people who strongly believe in the unified structure of the Universe and the interconnections among its elements. When this relation in understood in the context of farming and all the practices of farming are adjusted to be in consonance with this universal energy system, it is referred to as Biodynamic farming.

In Australia, where wines are an important part of the national economy and is its identity in front of the world, there is an increased awareness of growing wine-grade grapes by adopting this newly understood practice of grape farming.

For bio-dynamic viticulture to take place, organic farming is a pre-requisite. After all, when wine-growers are taking all measures to ensure that grape farming is as per the overall biodynamics driven by nature in alignment with the forces of universe, it has to be done organically in order to derive the maximum advantages of such cropping.

In practice, there is a preparation of list of activities to be performed in the farm and this is then matched with the best possible times according to celestial phenomenon, such as lunar or solar cycles. In a way, bio-dynamically grown wines are a further refinement over the organic wines. These are believed to be infused with cosmic energy which is healthier than even the organic wines.

bio-dynamic wines pyramid

A number of wines are proudly marking themselves as bio-dynamic. In fact, there have been some global rating agencies which certify that a particular wine has been grown in accordance with the principles of bio-dynamism.