Human life depends upon the soil and yet we abuse it, degrade it, pour endless indelible chemicals upon it and suck the very life from it. Crazy, no? And yet apparently it’s people who practise organic and biodynamics who are the crazy ones. Yes that’s right, it’s those people who nurture, value and place soil above all else who are crazy. Who knew?
Not me. But I must be crazy too as I happen to think they have the right way of doing things. Last year I was fortunate to be a guest of Marlborough’s MANA wineries and attend the inaugural Organic & Biodynamic Conference in Blenheim. What I saw made me think that this has to be the way of the future.
Why? Well, for a start:
– organically-farmed soils are proven to support greater eco-systems above and below ground, and maintain thicker more resilient topsoils (which assists with erosion). This is peer-reviewed bone fide sciencey stuff. There’s also greater ability to hold carbon in such soils, which has significant benefits for reducing the speed of a warming global climate.
– our life-giving, life-enhancing waterways (which suffer enough from the dairy industry) are brought welcome relief by the fewer artificial inputs and less intensive nature of O/BD farming.
– intensification is increasingly shown to be not working, not only from an environmental perspective, but at an economic level: the ever-increasing external inputs required to prop up ailing, failing soils impacts directly on profitability.
– the wider community benefits: pesticide/herbicide sprays affect not only the people working with them but also the environment in which our families and friends live. Good health for all should be a given, not a privilege.
– (the birds and) the bees. Bees Are Very Important, and unfortunately also pretty much incompatible with conventional modern agricultural practices. Promoting safe, bio-diverse environments is a cornerstone O/BD principle as the effects of agricultural pollution are severe and long-reaching.
– O/BD encourages collaboration, not only amongst its adherents but also increasingly between ‘conventional’ growers and winemakers. This flows outwards to overlap with scientists, and other industries as those cognisant seek to understand, quantify and harness the benefits of the O/BD practices.
– and finally, a personal one… what I like most is the way O/BD farming encourages recognition of the importance and the equality of other living beings. We’re all in this together so we may as well accept that and do our best to live it.
The Blenheim conference addressed all of the above, and much more. It impressed me in its breadth and practicality – and its inclusiveness too. From hippies to scientists, esoteric navel-gazers to multinational corporate producers there was something from and for them all.
Sure there was the odd crazy person, and as a science graduate I certainly had a few buttock clenching moments, but that’s generally par for the course at most wine gatherings. And at least the weirder of this bunch had vineyards brimming with life and for the most part made pretty good, sometimes even pretty spectacular wine from them. The writer Matt Kramer is convinced O/BD simply feeds the spiritual vacuum we’re all living in in such godless times, and maybe so – if that makes your buttocks clench then consider that at least you can get some decent wine out of this particular cult.
No doubt about it, there is plenty of preaching to the converted going on in this area (though probably less than when a group of suphidey-chardonnay-loving cultists get together) but what was interesting in Blenheim was seeing the number of bigger companies and ‘conventional’ practitioners who attended. It seemed the information imparted was falling on fertile ground there too. People are waking up to the fact that New Zealand’s clean, green image is increasingly falling short of reality and that there is ever more encroachment and degradation of our unique environment.
All around us, too many aspects of our lives are showing how vital it is to work with nature not against it, that it’s essential to preserve and enhance harmony, to act now to ensure our children and future generations will have an environment that’s still viable with life. And certainly, if we consider how young New Zealand is and how far we have to go as a wine country, it’s simply imperative we keep our most valuable asset in the best condition possible.
As a wine lover and a gardener, it gladdened my soul to be amongst such kindred spirits. Soils are living organisms, a richness of life and vitality. Great wine captures the essence of this and then some. I cannot for the life of me see how one could ever hope to coax such a thing from dead soil. Can you?
Pic of PETER BYNUM glass work