Frequently Asked Questions
Why do you practice biodynamics?
The practice of biodynamic winegrowing is something which has come to us, seemingly through intuitive understanding. We have been growing using the Biodynamic technique since 1984 and it makes sense, it feels good, it’s healthy and it works. It is also quite a lot of fun to feel part of the seasonal change as well as giving a slightly better insight to environmental changes and how our limited actions can reduce the amount of reactions thrown back at us.
Does it enhance the wine?
Well, it doesn’t appear to bother it. If you consider that yeasts and bacteria are quite similar to moulds and mildews, and that these are (can be?) influenced by the rhythms of the moon, the sun, the near and far planets, then it can have a hell of a lot of influence on the evolution of the wine while it is being nursed in the cellar. ie. Stir the lees before the full moon and the wine clarifies more quickly and, if you want it, the malolactic fermentation will happen more quickly; rack barrels (removing the clear wine from the residing yeast sediment as well as giving air to enhance the development and upbringing of the wine) after the full moon and you get more clear wine because the sediment is tighter in the bottom of the barrel. Yes it could be true that the biodynamic wine is able to capture the true essence from the fruit of the vine.
Are organic wines better quality than non-organic wines?
Very subjective question depending quite a lot on the prejudice of the questioner, however it is quite clear that, if the desire is to make the best possible wine, or juice, you have to grow the best possible fruit. Time is proving that if you want the best grapes they must be grown organically; better still biodynamically. In order to capture the natural, uninterrupted flavours from the grape’s ether, the process of budding, growing, flowering, setting fruit and maturing this fruit, should be without contamination of the vines sap and the resulting grapes juice. So as a result we choose not to use substances which are systemic, or poisonous to the flora and fauna.
Who is Dr Rudolf Steiner and what is his relationship to Biodynamics?
Dr Rudolf Steiner was a philosophist born in 1861. Many of his theories based on the ideal of a threefold social order have inspired renewal in many areas of modern life. Biodynamic agriculture began with a course of lectures he offered in 1924 in Germany at the request of a group of farmers who were concerned about the lack of reproductive energy in the seeds and the lacking health of the animals as well as the destructive trend of "scientific" farming of ‘outputs’ needing to be enhanced by ‘inputs’. Many of the principles that Steiner discussed are still used in biodynamic farms today.
Are all your wines organic?
Yes, all of our grapes grown and produced on the property are ‘Bio-Gro’ certified organic to international standard. And since 2009 the vineyards and animals have been certified biodynamic with ‘Demeter’
Do your wines contain preservatives?
Yes, we use only sulphur dioxide (preservative 220). We want the wine to stand up against the test of time and travel. We, therefore, use sulphite to protect the natural flavour and colour (as has been practised since Roman times) but are very careful to add the absolute minimum that we can, and no wine should contain more than 150-mg/litre total Sulphur dioxide. Certified organic wine standards allow the use of Sulphur dioxide up to 50% of the levels of conventional wine. Red wines and older wines will have lower levels of free sulphur dioxide.
What is it that Biodynamic growers do, that other growers don't?
In conventional agriculture and horticulture, the grower often thinks about feeding the plant. Biodynamic agriculture, by contrast, sets out to feed the soil, and the soil organisms. It treats the soil as a living medium, one where living creatures can process organic and mineral matter that make them available to plants. A report from the Biodynamic conference is avaliable on our web site for further information
How do you fight diseases/pests in the vineyards?
For the control of fungus and vine health we use limited amounts of seaweed and mineralised sulphur. To complement this we use bentonite and stinging nettle and other herbal extracts (wormwood, pyrethrum, willow water and garlic). We use all the biodynamic preparations including the barrel compost which is a treated and aged mixture of cow manure, from our own cows, dried and crushed up egg shells (living calcium) from our own poultry flock and basalt (silica) coming from volcanos We now understand that it is better to ‘farm ease’ and not fight ‘disease’
To bring insects into balance we use a ‘coating slurry’ which is a mixture of whey, from the cheese process, barrel compost and kieselgur, and sometimes ‘sweetwater’ which is a mixture of organic dextrose and seaweed and nettle tea. We also use homeopathic remedies for crawling insects. Most importantly we use the Biodynamic preparations to enhance life and the environmental systems. It is best of all to use small amounts of very good compost to feed the soil which enhances the health of the plants which in turn leaves the little animals as insects instead of them becoming pest
Our climate is temperate and mild in winter. The summers are hot and sometimes quite humid which seemingly puts great pressure on our vineyard husbandry however now we find that these times are the ideal times to enhance the natural occurring fungi and bacteria, filling the spaces which nature gives us with our own populations instead of leaving those spaces open for pathogenic activity. No artificial fertilisers are used. Instead we use compost (from the grape marc, winery waste, grass, vine pruning’s and cattle waste) together with rock dust and, of course, the six biodynamic herbal preparations. Weed control is by mechanical means.
What does ‘terrior’ mean?
Terroir comes from the word terre "land". It was originally a French term in wine, coffee and tea used to denote the special characteristics that the geography, geology, sociology and climate of a certain place bestow upon particular varieties. Agricultural sites in the same region share similar soil, weather conditions, and farming techniques, which all contribute to the unique qualities of the crop. It can be very loosely translated as "a sense of place," which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the manufacture of the product. Terroir is often italicized in English writing to show that it is a French loanword. The concept of terroir is at the base of the French wine Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) system that has been the model for appellation and wine laws across the globe. At its core is the assumption that the land from which the grapes are grown imparts a unique quality that is specific to that region. The amount of influence and the scope that falls under the description of terroir has been a controversial topic in the wine industry. A ‘terroir’ is a group of vineyards (or even vines) from the same region, belonging to a specific appellation, and sharing the same type of soil, weather conditions, grapes and wine making savoir-faire, which contribute to give its specific personality to the wine. All sense of terroir is removed when the winemaker uses imported cultured yeasts, sometimes genetically modified, and technology such as cross flow filtration, reverse osmosis, floatation, pasteurisation and centrifugation.
Why do you bury cows horns?
The Millton Vineyard carry out many of the Biodynamic preparations needed to control disease and weeds in the vineyard. We have our own small herd of red Shorthorn milking cows who play an important roll to the control in vineyard. Burying cow horns filled with fresh cow manure derived from a lactating cow (one who is producing milk to feed their offspring) is one of the many biodynamic preparations that we make on the property. Horn manure is made by putting cow manure in a cow's horn on a descending moon phase, and overwintering it below ground in a place that is special, free from excess water or cold and away from trees whose roots will otherwise invade the sheath and feast on the contents before they are ‘cured’. When the horns are dug up in the spring, the cow dung has changed into a pleasant smelling, highly colloidal material. Its respiration rate (the amount of oxygen it consumes) can be very high, in turn showing that it has a high level of biological activity. Other tests have shown that during the overwintering, the faecal bacteria are almost entirely replaced by humus forming bacteria. Biodynamic horn manure is applied to the farm or garden once, or preferably twice a year. After two or three applications over a period of eighteen months or so, the grower usually notices striking changes to the soil. They include a larger number of earthworms; deeper rooting of grasses; more numerous clover nodulations; improved crumb structure; and the worms active to a greater depth; bringing sub-soil up into the upper horizons. Eventually this may result in a greater depth of topsoil. Most surprising is the fact that the roots of plants, grasses in particular become ‘stretchy’
Are your wines more expensive because they are organic?
Our wines offer excellent value for money and are very reasonably priced considering that they are speciality products and not commodity products. We only can produce a finite amount of wine each year so naturally we have to be able to maximise our returns and realise that amount of energy and effort which goes into them to maintain and enhance their quality. They are some of the original biodynamically grown wines in the world. However what ever the price it is not a great deal to pay for your "good health"
How important is certification?
Certification gives the consumer reassurance that they are consuming products that are free of harmful residues. The simple act of certification gives the consumer a choice because without it, the option does not exist. Not only that I do believe sincerely that the process of certification
Who regulates organic wine making in NZ?
Organic wine growing is regulated by Bio-Gro New Zealand , who are the certifying body for organic producers, and is supported with the use of the registered trademark Bio-Gro. Their strict standards are audited and recognised by IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements).
Do you use cork or stelvin seals?
I am not convinced with the screwcap. The only given is that the screwcap requires little effort or satisfaction to open and they are not prone to cork taint. But it doesn't end there. There are many questions about the evolution of the wine, the phenolic structures and the natural recycling options. The most obvious situation is that these days it is getting more and more difficult to remember where you left the corkscrew and for that matter to find someone who can operate it with grace and elegance.
We use both natural cork and Stelvin, therefore, depending on the style of the wine and the position in the market the wine is destined for. These include:
All of the wines under the Clos Ste. Anne range and at this stage those wines made from botrytised grapes to produce naturally sweet and late harvested wines.
All wines under the Millton Vineyards and Winery and Crazy by Nature range
Do your wines contain animal products? If so what do they contain?
Some of our wines have been fined with animal products in the course of normal wine-making practise. These products, such as trim milk or egg whites may be residual in the wine in trace amounts. Our wines that have been fined with animal products are labelled accordingly as is required by the allergen labelling requirements for both New Zeland and Australia. If the wine has not been fined at all (which is our desire) then we state that the wine is suitable for vegetarians and vegan consumers. Those more over, who don’t consume alcohol can find enjoyment with our natural fresh grape juice ‘Amrita’
What fining agents do you use and why?
Demand has it that we are sometimes obliged to use casein or isinglass to soften and balance the palate.
All wines are fined with bentonite for protein stability. (Bentonite, yeast and kieselgur lees go back on the vineyard as a vine paste or into the compost). All wines are cold sterile bottled on the premises and aged for a period of time in bins before being prepared for labelling and dispatch.
Where can I find more information on biodynamics and grape growing?
Below is a list of references commonly used at The Millton Vineyard
o Agriculture, Rudolf Steiner. ISBN 0-938-250-37-1 - The original read. Difficult to start with but always good to refer back to as more knowledge evolves.
o Agricultural Renewal – A basis for Social Renewal, Hugh Lovel - Interesting read and very far reaching.
o A Bio-Dynamic Farmers Handbook. ISBN 0-473-01894-2, Norrie Pearce - Great, clear concise. Good first read.
o Secrets of the Soil. ISBN 1-890693-24-3, Peter Tompkins & Christopher Bird - Not only biodynamics info but very profound.
Wine and Vineyard related reading
o Working with the Stars. A Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar. ISBN 0-906155 31-2, Maria Thun - An annual calendar translated from German.
o Work on the Land and the Constellations. ISBN 0-906155-30X - A must read for all those thinking people.
o Agriculture of Tomorrow. ISBN 0-906492-00-9, E and L Kolisko - Not applicable to viticulture but good for wine quality.
o Wine from the Sky to Earth. Growing and appreciating Biodynamic Wine/ ISBN 0-911311-60-2, Nicolas JOLY - Interesting read from the grape to the glass.
o Adventures on the Wine Route. ISBN 0-370-31362-3, Kermit Lynch - Nothing about biodynamics but gives a wholesome view on real winegrowers in France.
o Biodynamic Perspective. Farming and Gardening. ISBN 1-86941-460-8, NZ Biodyanmic Association - Unfortunately very little on grapegrowing.
o Grasp the Nettle. Making biodynamic farming and gardening work. ISBN 1-86941-318-0, Peter Proctor with Gill Cole - Some reference to vineyards.
o Steinerbooks 09-574 3356
o Humanity Books 06-8707069
If we have not answered you question please contact us and we will answer as best as we can.