Sunday, July 13, 2008

The holy cow of vineyards

We’re off to our first of two visits to a vineyard on this gastronomic trip. This one is a specialist biodynamic operation which before visiting I assumed was some sort of über organic set up but little did I know what delights were in store. The countryside is just idyllic; the pleasing straight lines of the vines dot the hillside, the gentle undulating greens and the distinctive outline of the olive trees. I would say surprisingly Provencal and I wouldn’t have been surprised to come across fields of French lavender undulating in the breeze, this must be why it seems so familiar.

As we approach the Demetria Estate I am intrigued by the diversity of the flowers blooming at the foot of each row of vines but this is all explained by our host later.

The vineyard buildings are so elegant in their dusky amber hues, slated roofs and shuttered tall windows. The colours make me wish it were possible to get out my watercolours and paint those stunning delicate hues.

Around the building are dotted clumps of flowers and artfully arranged ‘shabby chic’ enamelled jugs, a water fountain and the lavender I was hankering after. I do wonder if this is ‘au natural’ or the result of a consult from Elle Décor, but whatever it is I find it terribly appealing. Maybe my Parisian conception has imbued me with this inexplicable sense of belonging whenever on French soil and it transpires, anywhere that reminds me of France.

We are furnished with a splendid box lunch and taste some of the fruits of Demetria’s labour as we tuck into our marinated chicken, rustic herby potato salad (thankfully not doused in mayonnaise), a tasty chopped mango dressing, garlicky oil vinaigrette which we were probably supposed dribble over our various salad leaves but we all dunked the hunk of country bread in to ensure we didn’t miss the garlicky juices. The chicken was enormous, an elephantine hen if I ever so one so most of us struggled to finish it but enjoyed what we had. There was a great gooey chocolaty brownie to finish, which unsurprisingly most of us were able to find some space for.

As we’re enjoying the wines we are having the biodynamic approach to vine cultivation explained by our enthusiastic host. And huge apologies if my interpretation doesn’t quite grasp all the principles as I’m sure there are considerably more learned tomes out there but this is what I think he said, but of course the wine we were eagerly swigging could have coloured my memory! The biodynamic way is to adhere to the lunar calendar. This means that some days are designated leaf days, some fruit, some roots and the rest flower. So if you are planning to harvest, you can only be undertaken on a fruit day – but you might have a fighting chance as a day doesn’t necessarily last 24 hours, sometimes it is actually 48 hours or longer! No I’m not entirely sure either.

They also make every effort to create bio-diversity by encouraging other flowers and plants to grow around the vines, which is what caught my eye at we entered the estate. And that does seem very wise to introduce helpful plants to the wine-making process, it can control the undesirable insects and promote the friendlier ones. The don't use traditional fertilizers which is commendable and instead used green tea and other foodie remedies poured onto the base of the emerging vines but if I recall, only permissible on the root days.

The practice that did perplex nay entirely floor me was the use of cows. Apparently cows have a lot of cosmic energy in their horns (“their horns is their aerials” if I can paraphrase Withnail and I?) and they walk the cows down in-between the vines so that their cosmic energy can permeate the grapes as the horns brush by them. And when the cows die, they are still chockfull of cosmic energy so their horns are removed, filled with manure and transplanted at 5m intervals in the vineyard. Hmmm some say the magic secret to the finest of healthily produced, lovingly nurtured wine; others perhaps consider it San Franciscan new-age psychobabble! The choice is yours! The wine we sampled was certainly enjoyable, I cannot vouch it was due to Ermintrude’s cosmic-energy infusing but who can say?

They also have the unusual practices in the pressing of the grapes and very rigorous strictures on how long their wine should mature in a barrel before being transferred to specially designed concrete eggs so that no further flavour from the barrels can impregnate their wines.

Demetria’s wines aren’t exported at the moment so I won’t be able to relive our tranquil afternoon on their beautiful hillside for a while, but it was a memorable experience and I'm never going to forget about the importance of cosmic energy!

No comments: