Thursday, June 9, 2011

Magick & Wine

I’m a winemaker. I do it as a hobby. This year I planted my first backyard vineyard (which consists of 23 very young cabernet vines) so that in the future, I will be able to make wine from grapes I’ve grown right here in my own backyard. I’ve been watching the vines grow for a month and I can’t even tell you how pleased I am seeing the leaves peeking up past the grow-sleeves as they reach for the first trellis wire. It’s amazing to watch nature work. It’s a miracle. You might even call it magic.
I’ve made wine from grapes of course, but also from blackberries, strawberries, blueberries and apples. I’ve found each fruit possesses its own unique challenges. None have proven better suited to winemaking than the grape (surprise… I guess thousands of years of history have already proven this but I still had to try). Even grapes not traditionally used for wine like crimson seedless grapes do a decent job. (Yes, I did).
The reason I’m bringing this subject up right now is because I learned a few interesting things this week. The first is that Sting has his own label of wine made from grapes grown in his very own vineyard. Cool huh? Rock star wine seems to be big these days. I came across a video of Sting and his wife Trudie talking about it here. The reason I found this video is because I was researching something called biodynamic winemaking. Let me explain. Living where I do, I pay attention to what’s happening in the local vineyards. This year I saw signs go up at Quivira Vineyards proclaiming that the vineyards are now organic and biodynamic. I’ve heard talk about this elsewhere, too.
Hmmm. I wonder what Biodynamic means…
In case you’re in the dark like I was, here’s a snippet from Wikipedia:
Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms,[1] emphasizing balancing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants and animals as a self-nourishing system without external inputs[2] insofar as this is possible given the loss of nutrients due to the export of food.[3] As in other forms of organic agriculture, artificial fertilizers and toxic pesticides and herbicides are strictly avoided.

Okay. That sounds pretty good. But lower on the page I see:
Compost preparations, used for preparing compost, employ herbs which are frequently used in medicinal remedies:
502: Yarrow blossoms (Achillea millefolium) are stuffed into urinary bladders from Red Deer (Cervus elaphus), placed in the sun during summer, buried in earth during winter and retrieved in the 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.
504: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) plants in full bloom are stuffed together underground surrounded on all sides by peat for a year.
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.
Yeah. Okay. Suddenly this environmentally friendly farming technique is sounding a little like hoodoo. Urinary bladders from red deer? Animal skulls? Really? It seems that biodynamic farming relies on mystical practices like burning the seeds of the weeds you don’t like to make them feel bad, and farming by the phases of the moon. Okay, I might buy the second part. After all, I’m a fantasy writer so yes, I do believe in magic. I believe it happens every day, right here in the real world. I’ve seen it. Miracles happen and I believe that’s a sort of magic. When a child is born, when a life is saved, when a room is filled with the sound of laughter, these are all signs that magic is happening. And I know that the phases of the moon have played a role in real-world magical practices as well as farming for about as long as humans have been here.
In Quivira’s defense, I didn’t stop and ask the winery’s employees if they’re using animal skulls and deer bladders. I suspect they’re probably using a more modern and politically correct method of biodynamic farming. And if they’re not… well it might be kind of interesting to hang out and watch their rituals, if they’d let me. At any rate I owe them a debt of gratitude for introducing me to this new idea. Cattle intestines and deer bladders aside, I think the idea of environmentally friendly farming is great. I’m a big fan of aquaponics, which is capable of producing more food in a small space than you’ve ever dreamed. I’d love to get a system running here at my home, but I’ve got a lot of research to do first, and it takes a lot of planning and some cash to invest to make it work. In the end though, I have no doubt it would be worth it. And these days, it doesn’t hurt to know exactly what you’re putting into your body, especially when corporations are lobbying to make sure you don’t. ‘Nuff said.


  1. Great post. I like your take on magic.

    A friend of mine makes beer and wine and I helped out a couple of times. It was fun. Come to think of it, we made some blackberry wine last year, I should check out how that's coming along ... ;)

  2. Thanks for your comment Karen. I LOVE making wine, the entire process is amazing to me. I acquired a couple of used barrels a while back. I hope to make a whole half-ton batch someday soon. I still don't have all of the equipment I need so it won't be this year, but some day.