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TAS Country : September 8th 2011
Friday, September 9, 2011 Tasmanian Country 7 News Viticulture LUNAR EFFECT: Wirra Wirra vineyard manager Richard Wellsmore with his cows horns in which the biodynamic mixes are stored. Wines in tune with the moon from the VINE Graeme Phillips LUNA was the Roman moon goddess and it's from her that we get lunar year, lunar eclipse and lunar module. As well as lunacy, lunatic and loonies. So what do we call grape growers who bury cow horns full of manure among the vines, hang stags' bladders stuffed with yarrow from trees and regulate their vineyard planting, pruning, picking and winemaking processes strictly according to the cosmic rhythms and phases of the moon? Some call it lunacy, others biodynamics. And biodynamics, along with organics, is rapidly moving from the loony fringe to become increasingly embraced by some of the most highly regarded and respected wine producers in the country. Chemical scientist and winemaker, David Bruer, of Bruer Organic Wines in South Australia, says that when synthetic fungicides and herbicides were first used in agriculture they were very effective. ''Today fungi and weeds in vineyards are showing growing resistance, some now requiring up to 20 times the initial level of application to control them,'' he says. ''As with antibiotics in medicine, their continued use simply compounds the problem and shortens the time before they become totally ineffective.'' Botobolar Wines in Mudgee was one of Australia's pioneering biodynamic vineyards in the 1970s. Ron Laughton of the iconic Jasper Hill vineyard on the cambrian soils of Heath- cote, says no synthetic chemicals have ever been applied to the vineyard since its establishment in 1975. At Wirra Wirra in McLaren Vale, vineyard manager Richard Wellsmore applies his own cow pat and seaweed teas to the vineyard and, wherever possible, manages his vineyard activities according to the lunar calendar. Turning clock back At the 143-year-old Henschke vineyard in the Eden Valley, source of the famed Hill of Grace wines, Prue and Stephen Henschke introduced a strategy in 2007 to become fully organic and biodynamic. ''We are turning the clock back, taking our lessons from the past,'' Stephen says. ''Instead of trying to control the land with chemicals, we are returning to the practices of our forebears in caring for the soil and the environment, working with the land.'' In doing so they are joining more than 100 other vineyards around the country that have or are now moving beyond organics to adopt biodynamic practices In Tasmania, an attempt some years ago to establish an organic vineyard from scratch saw the vine cuttings struggle to take off and the bid eventually fail. At another well-established vineyard, the move to organics resulted in the effective loss of two years' crops and a subsequent much diminished production. At Yaxley Estate at Copping, now one of only three certified organic vineyards in the state, drought, tight finances and very small vintages during the changeover to organics meant the label virtually disappeared from the market until it was back in full production last year. Stefano Lubiana Wines at Granton adopted biodynamics a few years ago and is two years through the formal organic certification process managed by Biological Farmers of Australia, a process it hopes to have completed next year. Lubiana's neighbours, Lyn and Michael Rochford of Viridian Wines, see things a little differently. Both have science backgrounds, and they say that while they embrace the more rational elements of biodynamic management, they will never seek to be certified organic. ''With organics, you're either in or you're out,'' says Lyn. ''We're out. With biodynamics on the other hand, you have a choice -- whether something works for you, whether it's economic and so on. ''And while we haven't planted cow horns at the end of each row and haven't yet looked at managing vineyard activities according to the phases of the moon, we have planted grasses, clovers and pollen plants to encourage beneficial biodiversity in the vineyard. ''We apply an integrated pest- management regime and use biodynamic mulches, sprays and composts to feed the soil rather than fertilising to feed the vines. '' But, if the only rational and effective solution to a problem is to spray Roundup, then we use it, selectively and with very tight control''. Michael adds: ''If a vineyard is not profitable, it's not sustainable. ''You need to adapt everything, from the size of your tractor to your vineyard management and pruning regimes, to the scale of the operation and make it viable with the resources, the time and finances you have.'' 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