On Innovation

adam_egg_captionI am continually looking for ways to further help the fruit complexity from our vines, shine through in our wine. Even the highest quality, finest fine-grain French oak, needs very careful handling. I was therefore very excited when last year I tasted a Pinot Noir which had been matured in an egg-shaped food-grade concrete tank. The wine from the egg tank had bright Pinot fruit characters with really fresh expressive complex aromas – to my mind a better wine than the same wine matured only in oak, although both were wonderful.

The egg shape has been referred to as ‘the most perfect shape in physics’.

I couldn’t help searching out these tanks and buying some, to add them to the mix of container types we use for maturation. They hold 900 litres and are the most beautiful wine tank I have ever seen. Their shape reduces pressure on the lees and also deposits the lees over a larger surface area which should eliminate battonage.

Vintage 2016. Almost done. 

The pressing part of Vintage 2016 is nearly done. It’s sticky, grapey work but someone has to do it! Adam has just pressed one of our whites fermented on skins. For those of you curious to experience whites with skin contact, head to our Wines page for tasting notes for our yummy 2013 Grower’s Selection Harlequin.

Adam Castagna celebrating the last white press (and yes, he has pants on!)

Adam Castagna celebrating the last white press (and yes, he has pants on!)

Adam pushing out the last of those beautiful grapes.

Adam getting out the last of those beautiful grapes, ready to be pressed.

Vintage 2016

What an incredible vintage 2016 has been. Here we are in a cool climate Beechworth yet everything is off before the end of summer. Shiraz, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo all picked in the same week – quite unthinkable yet the flavours seem really, really good with fantastic beguiling aromas; time will tell.

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Checking out what’s in fermenting in the egg with Mr Piphare.

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Open Day 2015

Another heavenly day for Open Day. This time of year shows Beechworth at its very best.  Why would you be anywhere else? It’s really lovely to have so many of our long-time customers all together. I guess Open Day has become a bit of a tradition as it is now in its 5th year. Here are a few photographs as a memory of the day.

On Rosé

From the very inception of the Castagna Allegro in 1998, my driving force has always been to make a wine that is, in its own right, memorable. Rosé was at that time the neglected wine style but should have been, at the very least, the centre piece of Australian drinking during our summer months. Most of what was made, was made was made as an after-thought, a solution to a problem for red wine producers facing over-cropped fruit. And although it is gratifying to see the growing interest in Rosé Continue reading

Some Thoughts on drinking well

Some thoughts on drinking well – Over the last months I have been looking at a lot of wine, some only available in our local market, but much destined for the Chinese market, and what I saw, to say the least, was disappointing even perhaps a bit alarming.  I believe that China has the potential to become our most important market and I hope we are not taking that market for granted and selling them indifferent wine at inflated prices. Wines at all price points should have their own personality. Too much of what I have tasted recently Continue reading

Some thoughts on our progress

thoughtsWith the passing of the years, the vines are changing from being producers of youthful, vibrant fruit to ones that deliver more brooding, moody, nervous fruit. It is as if they have given up their years of childhood frivolity and have taken on the angst of teenagers; more aware of the complexity of life yet not fully evolved to deal with the twists and turns that can so quickly beset them. Not fully mature, but nevertheless, full of Continue reading

A Perspective on Biodynamics & Intuition…

When people come to visit us, they often ask questions and want to find out more about biodynamics. I try to explain that to fully understand biodynamics requires a shift in thinking, a shift in thinking that requires judgments to be not solely scientific.  I suggest that embracing biodynamics requires an instinctual understanding of the space we inhabit, the land we farm, and an understanding of the importance of intuitive perceptions. Acceptance of intuition is something that our scientific community finds difficult to embrace.  In an earlier Newsletter I quoted a scientist – Professor Stuart B. Hill now of the University of Western Sydney – about the scientific basis of the BD preparations.  I would like to quote him again if I may, this time about intuition:

“A purely scientific approach does not allow for the intuitive understanding of the ‘good’ farmer. Most people, including scientists, make decisions partly based on ‘feelings’ and intuitions, probably more often than they recognise, but science makes no allowance for that.  In fact, most aspects of science are in denial about the phenomenon, and scientists set-up experiments which ignore it. Those feelings or intuitions are, in fact, based on readings of inputs we don’t consciously recognise, and while most tertiary courses provided no support training for use of those intuitive registers, and in many instances actively worked against them. In social ecology we talk about mystical or spiritual dimensions, which are not scientific but represent our best attempts to acknowledge that conscious human knowledge represents only a minute portion of the sum of knowledge in the world.”

To illustrate his point he refers to an image, used by André Voisin, a French agronomist, where a minute dot beside a huge circle represents the sum total of human knowledge with the circle representing the knowledge there is to discover.

“There is no doubt we need to get better at recognizing and making use of these intuitive inputs”.

To further reinforce his point he talks of his grandfather, an ‘uneducated man’, who knew intuitively just when and where to plant particular vegetable crops.

“He couldn’t explain it. He just knew the time was right and that is what he should do.  Although the reasons may have been inexplicable, but the inputs he was tapping into were still real, and the results he achieved with his intuition out-stripped those of people taking the more limited ‘scientific’ approach. It’s the same with really good farmers, although the modern trend to put farmers through degree programs strongly focused on conventional science is tending to kill that by closing them off to intuitive inputs, which are real even thought they can’t be easily measured.”

I wonder if the criticism now being leveled at Australian wine of ‘sameness’ would be tempered if our highly-skilled, highly-trained,  science-based winemakers listened to their inner-self, their intuition, a little more often.

On Lunar Cycles

Those of you who have followed us from the beginning will know that I place great faith in the Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar. I never make any major decisions with regard to our wine on root days, indeed I try not to even taste wine on those days, my palate simply lies to me on such days. Many of my colleagues think this trait of mine ‘quaint’ and have often told me so. So it is with great interest that I recently read a report of its use by the big end of town, from the London-based NNA news agency, part of which I reproduce here.

Spraying vines with biodynamic preparation 501.

Spraying vines with biodynamic preparation 501.

Lunar cycles and the taste of wine

LONDON (NNA) Maria Thun’s “Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar” is probably one of the better kept secrets of the wine trade. Yet, as the London Guardian newspaper recently revealed, for major supermarket chains such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer it has long been used as a tool to determine the best days to invite critics to wine tastings.

Grapes are harvested on a fruit day.

Grapes are harvested on a fruit day.

“The biodynamic calendar is a very familiar concept to people who work in the wine trade, and has been for decades,” Mary Rochester Gearing, Tesco BWS PR Manager, told NNA. “Tesco have been referring to the calendar when choosing a date for their tastings for the press over the past years, something that Marks & Spencer also do and have done for a long time,” she added.

Maria Thun’s calendar is used by biodynamic farmers to determine the optimum days for sowing, pruning, and harvesting various plant crops, based on the rhythms of the moon, planets and constellations. Days are categorised as fruit, flower, leaf or root days, depending on these astronomical relationships.

“Although biodynamic practices are to do with the work in the field and the tending of the vines – winemakers in Burgundy in particular operate according to these methods – the theory also goes to the extent that wine will show more flavour on certain days,” Mary Rochester Gearing explains, “but from a very basic perspective it makes sense to try and show wines at their optimum which is why we try to hold our tasting on fruit or flower days.”

Marks & Spencer, too, believes that using the biodynamic calendar helps to present the wines to best advantage, even going so far as to advise customers to avoid disappointment from the best bottles by making sure not to open them on root days, the Guardian reports. “Before the tasting I was really unconvinced,” the paper quotes Jo Ahearne, winemaker for Marks & Spencer, as saying after having sampled more than 140 wines over two days, “but the difference between the days was so obvious I was completely blown away.”

And even the Guardian itself found the calendar worked: “The Guardian tested the theory this week and tasted the same wines on Tuesday evening, a leaf day, then again on Thursday evening, a fruit day. Five out of seven bottles showed a marked improvement,” the paper writes.

Bottling is done in accordance with the biodynamic calendar.

Bottling is done in accordance with the biodynamic calendar.

Although Maria Thun’s yearly ‘Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar’ is available in Australia and is a marvelously, interesting book to read, it is designed for use in the northern hemisphere, so the dates and times are not correct for use in Australia. Fortunately there is an Australian version.

Brian Keats has been publishing a Southern hemisphere version for 22 years ‘Antipodean Astro Calendar’. It is available direct from him at www.astro-calendar.com or from Biodynamic Agriculture Australia at www.biodynamics.net.au which is the premier Biodynamic teaching organisation in Australia.

On What is Biodynamics

hornsBiodynamics was first detailed in a series of agriculture lectures given by Rudolf Steiner in 1924 and is internationally recognized as a leading organic method working across al1 agricultural systems.

The biodynamic method involves the use of specially developed preparations, better known by the numbers 500-508, which assist in connecting the whole farm unit with the dynamic rhythms of the earth and of its atmosphere. Instead of just acting on the physical, biodynamics goes a step further and works both, with the living soil and the less understood but powerful invisible energies of nature. Biodynamics recognizes that great wine starts in the vineyard, not the cellar, and that a wine-grower must understand his soil and site before he can make a great wine. Biodynamics – because of this connection with the world of invisible energies – helps to dramatically increase the possibility of individuality in wine. The French call this individuality Terroir.