THE MOON CAN MOVE oceans, so is it that hard to believe it influences the way plants grow? Christophe Baron doesn’t think so. He is the owner of Walla Walla’s Cayuse Vineyards, the state’s only certified biodynamic winery. Bio-dynamic farmers work under the principle that planetary rhythms determine how plants and animals develop, and that the cosmos plays a role in their health. Instead of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, they use nine distinct “preparations”—mixes made up of teas, composts, animal-manure extracts, and flowers. To create what they call preparation 500, the most infamous of these growth-stimulating spells, farmers bury a manure-filled cow horn in the soil for six months, then dig it up and wait for a full moon to spray the waste into the roots of the vines.
Introduced in 1924 by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, biodynamic agriculture has caught on big in the wine world. Nearly 400 winemakers—from France to Australia—have begun mixing up intricate concoctions, performing mysterious moonlight rituals, and raving about the results. Of the 1,000 grape producers in the Northwest, however, only a handful have gone bio-dynamic, and its merits remain a matter of debate.
For some, ceremonies involving cow horns are proof enough that biodynamics is nothing more than a superstition-fueled pseudo-science, and naysayers argue that any apparent taste benefits can also be achieved through plain old organic farming. But growers like Baron say that biodynamic principles most closely resemble those laid out in the The Old Farmer’s Almanac. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” he says, “we’re getting closer to Mother Nature by using observation, the rhythm of the moon, and specific work in the vineyard.” He calls the practice “vertical farming” because it connects the depths of the earth and the trunks of the vines with the moon and the cosmos.
Baron first encountered biodynamic wines in a blind taste test and says he immediately noticed a clearer flavor and superior terroir. To see if you do too, log onto Cayuse’s Web site, www.cayusevineyards.com, for ordering information (you may have to wait a few lunar cycles: All wines are currently on back order). The following biodynamic wines from Oregon (the Northwest state with the most biodynamic growers), however, are readily available at local stores.
Brick House Cellars
2006 Boulder Block Pinot Noir ($45)
This light-colored reserve pinot noir is more powerful than it first appears. Made from grapes grown in volcanic soil, it’s big and distinct in flavor, and has a smooth, silky texture. QFC, www.qfconline.com
Cooper Mountain Winery
2006 Reserve Pinot Gris ($18)
Tropical fruit, passion fruit, mango, key lime, pear, and kiwi reveal themselves in the aromatic nose of this pinot gris. The tart entry on the palette explodes with grapefruit, citrus, and tropical fruit, and the wine has a slightly creamy texture and a beautiful acidity to the finish. PCC Natural Markets, www.pccnaturalmarkets.com. Whole Foods Markets, www.wholefoods.com
2006 Reserve Pinot Noir ($25)
The clean raspberry bouquet, cherry fruit, and velvety tannins with toasty oak resonate throughout the finish of this pinot from the Beaverton winemaker. PCC Natural Markets, www.pccnaturalmarkets.com. Whole Foods Markets, www.wholefoods.com
2006 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir ($23)
This pinot from Forest Grove has aromas of bright blackberry, mocha, cedar, and chocolate. On the palate it offers ripe bramble berries, dried herbs, hints of barnyard, dark chocolate, spice, and earth with bright and balanced acid. Esquin Wine Merchants, 2700 Fourth Ave S, SoDo, 206-682-7374; www.esquin.com