A lot gets made of the contemporary reforms in grape farming, the move away from so-called conventional viticulture and toward organics, biodynamics, and natural farming. Before the onslaught of chemo-industrial management technologies, folk wisdom prevailed. The twentieth century brought the most advanced experimental thinking to bear on agriculture, but it also wreaked havoc on the traditions of balance.
We don't need to return to a forgone past to appreciate the efficacy of that wisdom. But we do need listen.
The term biodynamic comes from the 1920s, inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner, who championed a scientific approach to the investigation of the spiritual (among so much else). While biodynamic farming has caught on in the wine world with the kind of speed that stinks of the ephemeral, it is indeed much more than a hip word to slap on a label.
It means many things to many people. So what does it mean to certified biodynamic grower-producers like Château Le Puy, who have barely changed their farming practices for more than 400 years?
It's "a modern way of saying we tend our vines the same way our grandfathers did: no chemical fertilizers, no herbicides and no artificial insecticides."
The lunar cycle plays heavily into the timing of their decisions; for instance, when they bottle their wines, which are not filtered or fined. And while the idea of them having been "biodynamic" for 400 years leads us into problems with the space-time continuum, no need to go there. The current terminology here is beside the point.
The farm has been in the family since 1610, and because of the foresight of the estate, they never went for the destructive practices of the 20th century. It's a great story, one of small-scale resistance and maximal fortitude. I can't imagine what it must have been like in Bordeaux in 1930 or 1960, being like, "Nah, I'm not gonna spray that shit on my vines. I've got integrity." Or however it went went down. What I know is that I send up a thankful prayer to the old gods every time I taste this wine.
What's the juice like? Classic. Structured. Expressive. Youthful despite its near-endless depth. With no added sulfites in vinification, a painstaking by-hand de-stemming process, utter care in transportation of the grapes, and moon-regulated stirring of the barrels, these wines give, and give, and give.
It's a great time of year to be exploring Bordeaux, even if that might seem passé. Because recently the US markets have gained access to a glut of wines from that region that have never before graced American soils. Nothing says cool like something old made new. And nothing says Cheer-up! on a gray winter day like a bottle of sumptuous Right Bank claret.
Chateau Le Puy "Emilien" ($52)
85% merlot, 14% cabernet sauvignon, 1% carménère
leads with surprisingly lush fruit, follows with forest floor earthiness, finishes long & leggy