Dawn Jones-Cooper bought a 3.5 hectare vineyard in 2005. It’s in Entre-Deux-Mer, about 40 minutes east of Bordeaux. Right away she learned the extent of neglect and disease in the vineyard. She tore it out, planted barley and applied comfrey. She is one of dozens in Bordeaux practicing Biodynamic agriculture.
In fact, producers in wine regions around the world are questioning their agricultural and winemaking practices. Some have deep and historic organic roots but ponder aspects of their operation. And due to market pressure, others are changing their methods. Finally some acknowledge there is a gentler way that nourishes the soil, vines, and earth. This is the category that fits Jones-Cooper at her winery Château de Monfaucon.
Dawn’s a viticulture and oenology graduate from Plumpton College in East Sussex, England who chose biodynamic research projects during school. This straightforward and funny former hairdresser shared with me “it was the ethos of the whole thing” that hooked her on this alternative form of agriculture.
And Biodynamics Is?
It’s a philosophy. It’s about working with the soil and vines. If the soil is healthy, a vines resistant to sickness increases and it is healthier. The biodiversity of the area begins to flourish. The magnetic force of the earth and the cosmic force of the sun are involved. Several dynamics come into play, ranging from burying a cow’s horn full of manure at the autumn equinox and digging it up in the spring to bottling wine in the cellar during a full moon.
Chemical and artificial fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, growth hormones, and genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) are not used in biodynamic agriculture. Only certain organic preparations help to battle insects and/or plant diseases. The soil is alive, it’s living matter with billions of organisms so why mess that up?!?
Biodynamic viticulture is practiced in wine regions everywhere including those throughout France. Some aspects might sound a bit bizarre, yes. Regardless, those practicing it, and also those drinking it notice biodynamics makes a ‘real and positive’ difference in the taste of the wine.
Biodynamics at Château de Monfacon
I first visited Jones-Cooper after a huge rainstorm yet happily trudged the grounds to learn about biodynamic principles used at her Château Monfaucon.
One is laying a mixture of cover crops down the middle of rows to attract beneficial insects. Her mixture includes Lucerne, White clover, Yellow clover, Red clover, Caraway seeds, poppy seeds, Tansy, Agri Lupins, Dill, Rye grass, buckwheat, and a variety of herbs. You can see the baby cover crops between rows in the above photo.
Another is use of Botanical infusions. Each one provides a particular attribute to the soil, plant, and surroundings. Dawn makes infusion teas from the plants she grows onsite: Tansy, Stinging nettle, Wormwood, Grand Chamomile, Comfrey, Yarrow, and Common Horsetail. She utilizes these in her vineyards spraying as necessary to combat unwanted predators.
Compost is made too, a blend of 40% carbon waste, 40% green waste, and 20% other organic scrap matter. These preparations are stored in non-glazed earthenware pots surrounded in peat to stop the radio-active waves and electric interferences from penetrating the pots.
In The Winery
Biodynamic principles are followed in the winery too. One is pressing just enough to release the free run juice. After that wild yeasts (those on the grape skins and ambient in the winery) take over to start fermentation. Utilizing existing yeasts adds a complexity of flavors to her fruit-driven range of wines.
Biodynamic viticulture and winemaking continue to evolve. People try new things and have new ideas to share. Jones-Cooper stays on top of these as much as her overflowing plate permits.
“I do find our terroir and end product has a remarkable difference to the average vineyard.” Dawn Jones-Cooper on how she feels about using biodynamic principles.
And She’s Off! First Vintage 2013
A winemaker friend tried her first available wine, a 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion, Muscadelle blend. He told her it tasted like “flat champagne” (in a very positive way). This is her main blend.
Additionally, she produces 100% varietal wines from each of the above grapes. And a 100% Chardonnay, not common in Bordeaux. These are all under her brand Nobody’s Perfect.
Monfaucon is a white wine only Château, a decision made from the start and one not often found in Bordeaux.
Current production is enough juice for 3,000 cases. While she waits for sales to grow, a portion of her wine is sold to other organic producers in bulk. At present she has eight wines plus one sparkler.
The Nobody’s Perfect 2014 Muscadelle received a Silver award at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2016. Not Gold, but then, nobody’s perfect. The wine retails for $25 (22€).
Bordeaux Biodynamic Sparkling Wine
Jones-Cooper’s produces sparkling wine. And her first was released early last year. It’s sold out!
The 2016 vintage is scheduled for release this summer. I can’t wait to taste it!
Copper in Biodynamic (and Organic) Viticulture
A challenge facing biodynamic producers will be new European Union regulations limiting and eventually banning the use of copper sulfate (also known as the “Bordeaux mixture”) as a treatment against Downy mildew. Particularly in regions with moister climates, such as Champagne and Bordeaux, Downy mildew can devastate vineyard production if not controlled. Copper sulfate is currently the only approved organic treatment for Downy mildew. But it’s a hazard for vineyard workers and surrounding communities and impacts terrestrial, aquatic, and soil ecosystems. Of particular concern, copper does not biodegrade and can accumulate to toxic levels in vineyard soils and the surrounding environment over time. Without this important treatment against Downy mildew, growers will need to find alternatives and may face significant yield and quality impacts in the future.
~ French Biodynamic Wines From the #Winophiles ~
The #Winophiles group of writers and bloggers dig into biodynamics and French wine– what it is, how it works, how biodynamic wines taste and more– on a Twitter chat January 19th at 11am ET and 17:00 in France. You can find us there via the hashtag #Winophiles.
Please enjoy more articles from our group below.
- Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla whips up “Learning about Biodynamic Wines + M.Chapoutier Wines with Some Cross-Cultural Pairings.”
- Wendy at A Day In The Life On The Farm reminds us about “Eating and Drinking Responsibly”
- Jill from L’OCCASION shares “Lessons From A Biodynamic Winemaker In France”
- Deanna from Asian Test Kitchen tells us how “French Biodynamic Wines get Crabby.”
- Kat from Bacchus Travel & Tours tells us how “The #Winophiles Unlock the Mystery of Biodynamic Wines”
- Jane cooks things up at Always Ravenous and shares “Why You Should Give Biodynamic Wines a Taste.”
- Nicole from Somms Table shares “Somm’s Table: Cooking to the Wine: Marcel Lapierre Morgon with a Hearty White Bean Stew”
- Lynn from Savor the Harvest shares “ Biodynamic Bordeaux- Nobody’s Perfect But The Wine Is Fabulous.”
- Jeff from foodwineclick discusses “Our Biodynamic French Friends”
- Susannah from Avvinare joins us with “Biodynamic Wines Crémant D’Alsace“
- Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles entices us with “Fabulous French Biodynamic Wines and some exquisite pairings”
- Host Gwendolyn on Wine Predator presents “Still and Sparkling: 2 Biodynamic Wines from Alsace, 2 from Rhone for #Winophiles.”