Biodynamics and the Testarossa
One of the heartening aspects of life in Burgundy, is that notwithstanding the wealth generated by Burgundy’s Grand Crus vineyards, the affluence of the area remains discreetly under wraps. If you've got it, no need to flaunt it. A Patek Philippe, rather than an arm lengthening Rolex. The cat jumps out of the bag only occasionally, when one of the ‘deep pockets’ shells out upwards of 100m euros, for a small village producer that nobody outside the area has heard of; or perhaps when a local charity auction raises almost 1m euros in one night to support talented young musicians.
The narrow strip of land in Burgundy responsible for this good fortune, is appropriately known as the Cote d’0r - (‘the Golden Slope’). It is God’s own wine country, and possibly the best example of the mythical Golden Goose, which just keeps on laying those wonderful golden eggs. In fact, it’s even better, for the Burgundy goose is called Fabergé, and her eggs carry a rarity premium way beyond the intrinsic value of the gold.
Houses in the area are generally modest, and the second Chateau a distance away in the country. However everyone is entitled to one ostentatious self indulgence, and tucked away in the yard of many a grand crus winemaker, in between the de-stemmer and the crushing machine, you are as likely as not to find a more rarified example of highly tuned mechanical perfection - a Testarossa or Carrera, par example. Names to stir the emotions of the most jaded hedonist. Brands built up over the last 100 years, based on qualities of reliability, durability, and service. And if you follow the manufacturers maintenance manual - feed the beasts the right kind of oil and gasoline, they will continue year after year to grip the road like the tentacles of an octopus, delivering a super exhilarating motoring experience.
By contrast, the extraordinary performance of the vines in Burgundy takes place out of sight - and all too often, out of mind. More than 20m underground is possible if the conditions allow. The minerals and decomposed matter in the earth, are absorbed by the roots, and then by some magical process, find their way via the sap, into the grapes, from there into the press, the barrel, and ultimately the wine in the bottle. It is Burgundy’s unique soil and strata that has been Fabergé’s staple fodder for the last 2,000 years, and which creates more demand for her eggs, than Fabergé is capable of supplying.
The use of fertilisers and weedkillers change this otherwise natural transformational process. They introduce unknown and artificial elements into the Fabergé diet. Weedkillers do not just kill the weeds, they kill the organic matter in the soil upon which the vine feeds. The use of artificial fertilisers discourages root penetration. The vines become lazy and the roots spread out near to the surface, waiting patiently to absorb the next chemical fix. The fertilisers have the same effect as salt on a human, encouraging consumption of water. The vines lose their natural rhythm. In the words of one famous biodynamic wine maker: ‘You are forcing growth through water: the plant has to over-drink, so it grows, and carries on growing after the solstice. The process of growth ends up conflicting with the plant’s act of retiring to seed and fruit. The result of this is rot, so you need to counter this with more chemicals.’ And so on….. The net result - flat and tasteless wine, a disgrace to the terroir and reputation of Burgundy.
And sadly the vines did not come with the benefit of the Testarossa’s Maintenance Manual, which makes it clear that the warranty is invalidated if you add unauthorised supplements to the fuel tank; and the environmental protection accorded by awarding the Burgundy vineyards Unesco World Heritage Status in 2015, seems to apply to little more than the superficial appearance. The vineyard owners have been left to make up their own minds on whether to risk Fabergé’s 2,000 years of loyal service - Dommage!