Bio-dynamic Masterclass: The notes!

Alpamanta in the local native culture means “Love to Earth”. The owl on the front label represents the owl that was spotted on the site before the vineyards were  planted.

Alpamanta Estate is a new venture 40 km south of Mendoza in a district called Luján de Cuyo. Last week we had a visit from one of its founders Andrej Razumovsky. Half danish, half Austrian he’s not what you’d expect from a man who places his hopes in the constellation of the stars and the bio-dynamic calendar! We organised a small gathering in Behan Lodge at The Residence to learn more about the methods employed on his farm.

Personally bio-dynamics intrigue me. There’s no proof its principals work, but the quality of wines that are produced using the methods are certainly worth a look.

In 2005 three close friends, Andréj Razumovsky from Austria, his cousin André Hoffmann from Switzerland and Jérémie Delecourt from France joined forces to establish a boutique winery in Mendoza, Argentina, in one of the New World’s best suited regions for grape cultivation. Their mission:

  • To produce supreme quality wines
  • In a Single Vineyard Estate
  • Utilizing state-of-the-art organic/bio-dynamic methodology

Built from scratch in 2005 these vineyards are striving to survive in near desert conditions. With only 200mms annual rainfall a year irrigation is necessary through a carefully managed drip system. The 35ha of vineyards are planted with Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Whites include Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

 

Compost is supplied by vineyard cuttings and manure supplied by animals on the farm. To keep it evolving and improving workers have to water it on regular occasions. Analysing soils and the compost happens all the time. Huge importance is spent ensuring the vines are growing in the perfect conditions.
The farming methods are base on Rudolf Steiner’s Bio-dynamic preparations. These include:
  • 500:  (horn-manure) a humus mixture prepared by filling the horn of a cow with cow manure and burying it in the ground (40–60 cm below the surface) in the autumn. It is left to decompose during the winter and recovered for use the following spring.
  • 503: Chamomile blossoms (Matricaria recutita) are stuffed into small intestines from cattle buried in humus-rich earth in the autumn and retrieved in the spring.
  • 505:  Oak bark (Quercus robur) is chopped in small pieces, placed inside the skull of a domesticated animal, surrounded by peat and buried in earth in a place where lots of rain water runs past.

The farming methods are base on Rudolf Steiner’s Bio-dynamic preparations. These include:

  • 500:  (horn-manure) a humus mixture prepared by filling the horn of a cow with cow manure and burying it in the ground (40–60 cm below the surface) in the autumn. It is left to decompose during the winter and recovered for use the following spring.
  • 503: Chamomile blossoms (Matricaria recutita) are stuffed into small intestines from cattle buried in humus-rich earth in the autumn and retrieved in the spring.
  • 505:  Oak bark (Quercus robur) is chopped in small pieces, placed inside the skull of a domesticated animal, surrounded by peat and buried in earth in a place where lots of rain water runs past.

 

Each preparation is then placed in glass jars in a wooden box and stored for one year to evolve some more. When ready they are put into a barrel of water and stirred by hand with a big baton for 90 minutes, changing the direction each minute. This “dynamises” the water which is then taken to the vineyards either at sunrise or sunset and sprayed on the vines. Timing depends on the vines but Alpamanta tend to carry this out bi monthly and just before harvest time.
Alvaro Espinoza is the Senior Wine Maker. Hailing from Chile he is one of the most respected wine makers in organic and bio-dynamic circles. One of the slides shown in Andrej’s presentation showed oval eggs in a large room. Either they have very large chickens in Argentina or very small rooms!! These ‘eggs’ were in fact concrete fermentation tanks each 900l in size. They are designed to make fermentation as natural as possible, whilst enabling the wine to ‘move’ around the tanks, avoiding the need for any punching down or rotofermenters which can be rather extreme. I saw the same tanks in Cheval Blanc’s new state of the art winery in St Emilion.. good company to be in!
Then the tasting. We tried all three levels of this wines:
The ‘basic’ Natal range with no oak influence
The ‘Estate’ range aged for 10 months on 2 and 3 year old French Oak Barrel
The ‘Reserva’ range aged for 18 months in new and older French Oak Barrels

The Natal range especially illustrated the kind of complexity and concentration  not normally found on vines this young. The Chardonnay displayed amazing toasty notes, yet had not been near any oak. The Cabernet Sauvignon was so deliciously ripe, yet has a structure of spice and evolving flavours not expected. Both the estate and Reserva range were delicious. Earthy notes ran through each wine adding different dimensions to the fruit.
Everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves, learnt a lot and were introduced to a very exciting new winery. As a partnership for the future we are very excited with what’s to come. This is only the start of Alpamanta’s story! I went home and ordered a case of the Cabernet Sauvignon which is now being raved about by all my mates as well!

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