With wine production regarded more and more as a science as well as an art, Vin-X examines a few of the more unusual tactics employed by different winemakers.
What have you got in your garden shed? A lawnmower? A couple of rakes, some hedge trimmers? Perhaps even something a bit heavier like a chainsaw or a leaf blower? In any case, you probably don’t have a helicopter in there, and even if you do, you probably don’t keep it there solely to give your begonias a bit of breeze on a still day. But that’s precisely what they do at Cloudy Bay, the iconic New Zealand wine estate now owned by LVMH: if temperatures are a little low, fleets of helicopters circle the vineyards, hovering low over the vines to stir the air and raise the temperatures, protecting the wine from potential frost damage. However, this is perhaps not the strangest method employed to get the best out of the year’s harvest. Vin-X takes a look at a few of the oddest superstitions and methods we’ve come across:
1. Give the grapes a show
Tenutæ Alois Lageder commissioned an artist to install a wind turbine powered sound system – for their cellar. The wine (which is in barrel by this point) is treated to Bach’s 11th Brandenburg Concerto in one minute doses every hour, bizarrely accompanied by a projected film of yeast cells dancing on the walls. The artist calls this system ‘Lullaby for Casks and Strings.’ We’d have called it ‘laughing all the way to the bank.’
2. Give the grapes another kind of show
Mike Hayes at Symphony Hill Wines has come up with the unusual practice of harvesting his grapes in the nude. This is not actually unheard of – way back in the mists of time, winemakers would often insist that harvesting be done in the buff for reasons of cleanliness. Who knows – perhaps the lack of clothing-borne bacteria may make a difference? In any case, it doesn’t bother us as long as he keeps it off the label.
3. Use astrology
At super-organic winemakers La Coulée de Serrant, vineyard and cellar work is conducted in accordance with the gravitational pull of the moon, and the movements of the stars. This and other practices date back to Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, and attempts to bridge the gap between ecology and spirituality. Steiner was no mystic, however, and invited empirical criticism of his ideas. Nowadays, biodynamic agriculture is widely practiced across the world.
4. Unleash thousands of spiders
Ton Rimbau in Spain uses the arachnids to keep caterpillars and other destructive creatures away, without resorting to severe use of pesticides and other products that may harm the vines. At a concentration of 15 spiders per hectare, however, this may not be your number one choice for a vineyard tour.
5. Cover the vineyard in tarpaulin
By using a clear plastic tarp to cover the soil at their vineyard, Pahlmeyer in California are able to raise the temperature of the soil by a small margin. This means budding and flowering begins earlier, and have longer to mature and intensify on the vine before harvesting.
Some very odd practices indeed, but after all, such is the nature of wine production that the number of variables is almost infinite, which is why it is regarded almost more as an art form than a science. And anyway – the first person to pick grapes, let them rot, leave them in a barrel for a year and then drink it probably got some funny looks too!