Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Wine Dinner with Rippon Vineyard and Pyramid Valley Vineyards

From left to right: Curtis Marsh, Mike Weersing and Nick Mills
I’ve talked briefly about the benefits of biodynamic winemaking before, and was thus delighted when Curtis Marsh from The Wandering Palate organised a dinner with two of New Zealand’s best-known and eloquent biodynamic winemakers, Nick Mills (Rippon Vineyard) and Mike Weersing (Pyramid Valley Vineyards). Among those present were some of Singapore’s most fanatical wine lovers, including Lisa Perotti-Brown MW (Wine Critic, Wine Advocate), Henry Hariyono (General Manager, Artisan Cellars), Mohamad Fazil (Operations Manager, Vintry), Ryan Gan (Sommelier, Resorts World) and Zachary Tay (Chef Sommelier, Les Amis).

Coincidentally, earlier this month there was a debate on the merits of biodynamics, with renowned viticulturist Richard Smart calling it “emotional black magic” while proponent Monty Waldin praised the model for being “uniquely self-sustaining”. The arguments for and against biodynamics are particular vocal because of its unusual sounding practices (such as the role of cosmic energy and lunar gravity in viticulture) and also because the father of biodynamics, Rudolf Steiner, was a bit of a quack who also believed that the human race is descended from Atlanteans.

Biodynamics is often confused with organic production, and for good reason. Both methods stress the importance of conservation and eschew the use of synthetic chemical fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides. A key difference is the use of special “preparations” in biodynamics, made from cow manure or various plants such as nettle, camomile and yarrow. The regulations for biodynamics are not set in stone and there is a fair bit of diversity in how winemakers apply their preparations in the vineyard. In the Rippon vineyards for example, seaweed is used as compost to supplement nutrients to the schist-based soils.

Nick and Mike stress that the reason they practice biodynamics stems from a respect for the earth and the life within. Says Nick, “If consumers buy the wine [because of the biodynamic label], then it’s a happy bonus, but the whole idea is that it enhances my land in a way that my family and I can look after it. So to have a badge on the back of the label, I don’t need that.” It’s an illuminating statement because most people in the wine trade have focused on what biodynamics can do for the wines rather than for the vineyard. Biodynamic wines are promoted as having more expression of origin (due to less intervention at the winery) and being healthier for consumption (as less agrochemicals are used). “It’s a new world now,” says Mike. “When we began, being biodynamic wasn’t a marketing advantage; it was a qualitative advantage you could say. It’s really changed, and the way that it’s changed is that it has more credibility now.”

About Rippon Vineyard
Located in Wanaka, Central Otago, the first vines were planted in 1974 by Lois and Rolfe Mills. The total area under vines is 15 ha with the majority planted with Pinot Noir and Riesling. As a pioneer winery of the region, Rippon has had a deep influence on other winemakers, particularly in its contribution to the understanding of Pinot Noir. It is also famous for its spectacular views of the Southern Alps. The wines are distributed in Singapore by Wine Exquisites.

About Pyramid Valley Vineyards
Pyramid Valley is located in Waikari, North Canterbury, roughly 85 km north of Christchurch. Winemakers Mike and Claudia Weersing purchased the property in 2000. It’s divided into four vineyards, named after the predominant weed species in each block. The wines are distributed in Singapore by Artisan Cellars.

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