Magazine article Sunset

Great Wine, Naturally: From Cosmic Forces to Chickens, Winegrowers Embrace Nature to Make Wines Full of Character

Magazine article Sunset

Great Wine, Naturally: From Cosmic Forces to Chickens, Winegrowers Embrace Nature to Make Wines Full of Character

Article excerpt

WHEN THE MOON is full at Ceago Del Lago on the north shore of California's Clear Lake, things begin to happen around the vineyard. Not ghostly things; rather, vines are pruned and wines are blended. When the moon's dark, there's different activity. The wines are racked--siphoned off the sediment in the bottom of the barrels.

The lunar activity isn't lunacy. It's part of the biodynamic farming system that Jim Fetzer, owner of Ceago, and a growing number of other winemakers are committing to, including Robert Sinskey and Quintessa in Napa, and Benziger, Quivira, and DeLoach in Sonoma County. They practice biodynamic methods because it's the right thing to do for the land, and also because they believe it infuses their wines with the most vivid terroir, the Holy Grail of winemakers, the essence of the place where the grapes were grown.

A full moon is a great levitating force: The power that lifts tides in the oceans of the world also pulls moisture up in grapevines and flavors out in wine lots, so it's the best time to cut back vigorous vines and make informed blending decisions. And when the moon goes dark and Earth's gravity holds complete sway, the sediment in barrels stays put during racking.

As Jim Fetzer, owner of Ceago, puts it, "Would you try to paddle upstream when the tide is going out?"

Biodynamic methods go far beyond what you can't do in organicland (that is, use no synthetic fertilizers or chemical pesticides) to what you can do to make a vineyard a fully alive, completely self-sustaining ecosystem.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Like making sure that many things are growing there, because biodiversity is key to soil health and pest management. At Ceago, the vines share the property with lavender, olive trees, and other edibles. Crop rotation is also important. But since it's a tad impractical to switch out grapevines, cover crops--fava beans, strawberry clover--are rotated.

The fertilizer on a biodynamic farm is "green" too. In the vineyards, some of it is dropped directly--by sheep and chickens. The Ceago hens live in style: They have a mini mobile home that gets pulled here and there, giving them a place to sleep and lay their eggs (which you can buy in the tasting room). …

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