Celebrating the Nature of Biodynamics

Rudolf Steiner

World Biodynamic Day is celebrated every year during the Pentecost weekend, i. e. today.

Winemaking at Vineyard Son Alegre is not just a matter of following organic standards within what is called Natural Farming or agriculture of non-intervention with no ploughing or turning of the soil, with no chemical fertilizers or prepared compost, with no weeding by tillage or herbicides and with no dependency on chemical pesticides.

We also follow a number of biodynamic principles as propagated by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the Austrian-born spiritualist, lecturer and spiritual teacher. He founded the Anthrophosphical Society, the first Waldorf School, Anthroposphic Medicine, Eurythmy and many more things. Biodynamic agriculture encompasses soil fertility, plant growth and livestock husbandry as ecologically interrelated tasks.

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Steiner had been asked to hold a course on agriculture and he gave a lecture series at Koberwitz Palace, Koberwitz, Silesia (now Kobierzyce, Poland), on Whitsun in June of 1924. In the course of ten days he held a total of 8 lectures entitled ‘Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture’ which were part of ‘The Agriculture Course’, introducing a totally new and unconventional way to farm. Steiner himself wrote on the aims of the lectures: “As lecture-content I placed the being of the products which are delivered by agriculture and the conditions under which these products come about. These discussions aimed to reach those practical considerations that can spiritually illuminate the decisive questions. This is then added to the practical insights and what is gained from the scientific researches of today.”

The lecture series presented a complete reversal of the mechanical-materialistic causal analysis of matter in farming by suggesting a holistic land management approach to agriculture.

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Allow us to quote some of Steiner’s thoughts from the Koberwitz lecture series:

“Two things we must observe in the plant life. The first thing is that the entire plant-world, and every single species, is able to maintain itself – that is to say, it evolves the power of reproduction. The plant is able to bring forth its kind, and so on. That is the one thing. The other is, that as a creature of a comparatively lower kingdom of Nature, the plant can serve as nourishment for those of the higher kingdoms.” (Lecture 1)

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“Altogether, we should be clear that the whole domain of Agriculture – including what is beneath the surface of the Earth – represents an individuality, a living organism, living even in time. The life of the Earth is especially strong during the winter season, whereas in summer-time it tends in a certain sense to die.” (Lecture 2)

“The Spiritual here must always have physical carriers. Then the materialists come, and take only the physical carrier into account, forgetting the Spiritual that it carries. And they are always in the right – for the first thing that meets us is the physical carrier. They only leave out of account that it is the Spiritual which must have a physical carrier everywhere.” (Lecture 3)

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“It is simply untrue that the life ceases with the contours – with the outer periphery of the plant. The actual life is continued, especially from the roots of the plant, into the surrounding soil. For many plants there is absolutely no hard and fast line between the life within the plant and the life of the surrounding soil in which it is living.” (Lecture 4)

“Nevertheless, by prolonged tillage we can gradually impoverish the soil. We are, of course, constantly impoverishing it, and that is why we have to manure it. But the compensation through the manure may presently become inadequate – and this is happening today on many farms. Then we are ruthlessly exploiting the earth; we let it become permanently impoverished. We must then provide for the true Nature-process to take place once more in the right way.” (Lecture 5)

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“So you must learn to see into the workings of Nature in all her different domains. Then you will really take the processes of growth in hand. (We shall afterwards see the same for animal growth – animal normalities and abnormalities). To get the growth-processes in hand – that is the really important thing. To experiment at random on these matters, as is done today, is no real science. The mere jotting-down of isolated notes and facts – that is no science. Real science only arises when you begin to control the working forces. But the living plants and animals – even the parasites in the plants – can never be understood by themselves.” (Lecture 6)

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“Organically speaking, the plant is in all respects an inverse of the animal – a true inverse. The excretion of air and warmth has for the plant the same importance as the consumption of food for the animal. In the same sense in which the animal lives by absorption of food, the plant lives by excretion of air and warmth. This, I would say, is the virginal quality of the plant. By nature, it does not want to consume things greedily for itself, but, on the contrary, it gives away what the animal takes from the world, and lives thereby. Thus the plant gives, and lives by giving.” (Lecture 7)

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“The plant, as we saw, has a physical body and an ether-body, while up above it is hovered-around, more or less, by a kind of astral cloud. The plant itself does not reach up to the astral, but the astral – so to speak – hovers around it. Wherever it enters into definite connection with the astral (as happens in the fruit-formation), something available as foodstuff is produced – that is to say, something which will support the astral in the animal and human body.” (Lecture 8)

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Steiner’s ideas are embracing the holistic view of interconnectedness and make for interesting reading and learning. Should you want to know more, you can read the 8 lectures, one by one, on-line. The lecture series is also available as a book under the title ‘Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture’ in either the printed or the digital version.

 

In Aqua Veritas

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Today, March 22nd, we celebrate World Water Day.

World Water Day has been observed on this day since 1993 when the United Nations General Assembly declared March 22nd as ‘World Day for Water’.

This day focuses on advocating the sustainable management of freshwater resources and also pays attention to the importance of universal access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in developing countries.

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Water and water management play an integral part of any agricultural activity, especially so in the case of a farm managed on organic and biodynamic terms of natural farming as at Vineyard Son Alegre in the municipality of Santanyí in the southeast of the island of Mallorca. At Son Alegre, we cultivate vines, olive trees, carob trees and Xeixa, an ancient species of wheat (Triticum aestivum) indigenous to Mallorca, which used to be grown all over the island hundreds of years ago but sadly has virtually disappeared and is only slowly being reintroduced now by us and a few like-minded young farmers.

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During the first three months of this year, we had plenty of rainfall here on our finca with almost 250 litres of rain on our land, plenty for us and our needs but not half as much as in other parts of the island where massive downpours were said to have fallen. That’s almost half the amount in less than three months of what we had last year over the span of 12 months.

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During the twelve months of 2017, we measured a total of 460 l of rainfall per square metre on our land. With an extension of 512,500 m2 (51 hectares), we would have benefitted from about 235,000,000 litres of rain. A large portion of that water, roughly one third, is absorbed by our plants and vegetation, as well as consumed by our animals, by insects, birds, ants and other creepy crawlers. An estimated further one third of all that rainwater evaporates in wind and sunshine. The remaining one third filters down into our subterranean groundwater aquifers which we can then access whenever our vines need irrigation during the high temperatures of summer. We resort to irrigation very little; last year we supplied water to our vines on only four occasions with an amount of roughly 200 to 250 l per plant in total, using some 3,500,000 l in total.

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An old proverb says In vino veritas, a Latin phrase meaning ‘In wine there is truth’. We would rather claim In aqua veritas.

The Amazingly Rich Diversity of Balearic Grapes

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Between 1869 and 1891, the Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria published the most intriguing œuvre about the Balearic Islands under the title Die Balearen, spanning some 6,000 pages of information spread over 9 books. Ludwig Salvator, for nearly 40 years a resident of Mallorca, learned the island’s local language and conducted research into its flora and fauna, history and culture, as well as agriculture, architecture, industry and navigation, and so forth.

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The extraordinary publication is pretty rare in its original edition, published in German, but book lovers can sneak a glimpse of the beautiful edition by visiting the impressive library at the Fundación Bartolomé March, in Palau March, just below the Palau de l’Almudaina in Palma. Admission is free (Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 to 14:00h, Tuesday and Thursday from 16:00 to 20:00h). Or you could have a look at the online version here (in German).

It would appear that the Archduke’s masterpiece, which has no equal in the field of regional studies and ethnology, was never published in English, however, it is available in Spanish (Caixa d’Estalvis de les Balears “Sa Nostra”, 1980-91) and, as far as the Mallorca segment is concerned, also in Catalan (Govern de les Illes Balears and Grup Serra, 1999).

In an ample chapter on agriculture the encyclopaedic publication contains in all three languages a prolific section on vines and winemaking, with the description of 39 indigenous grape varieties found in Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza. The Archduke is said to have planted the Malvasia grape on his estate near Valldemossa.

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Only last week, the Govern de les Illes Balears and its Department for Environment, Agriculture and Fishery published a very useful and informative book in Catalan about the native grape varieties in the Balearic Isles. If you are interested in wine and wine making in Mallorca, give yourself a treat and acquire this stupendous sourcebook, listing, in great detail, 28 autochthonous grape varieties suitable for winemaking (Al·leluia, Argamuss, Batista, Batista mallorquin, Callet, Callet negrella, Escursac, Esperó de gall, Fernandella, Fogoneu, Fogoneu mallorquí, Gafarró, Galmeter, Giró negre, Giró ros, Gorgollassa, Malvasia de Banyalbufar, Mancès de capdell, Mancès de tibús, Manto negro, Moll, Quigat, Sabater, Sinsó, Valent blanc, Valent negre, Vinater blanc and Vinater negre) plus 10 more varieties classified as table grapes (Calop blanc, Calop negre, Calop vermell, Joanillo, Mamella de vaca, Moscatell, Moscatell romà, Pepita de oro, Pepita rosada, Peu de rata).

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Of course, many more grape varieties exist in Mallorca and are cultivated for winemaking but those are predominantly of either French, Italian, Spanish or German origin.

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To make things a little more complicated and perhaps also a bit more intriguing, there are some grape varieties that currently are not authorised for winemaking by the Mallorcan mandarins, be those grapes of foreign, national or native origin.

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Oh well, politics.

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Today’s photos of grapes and vineyard were taken by John Hinde. Thank you very much.

The Soil Has the Last Word

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Son Alegre‘s Miquel Manresa was recently asked to give an interview by the new magazine ConCiencia, published in Palma on a monthly basis and now only in its second month. The interview was published in the issue of December 2016 under the heading ‘La tierra tiene la última palabra‘ (The soil has the last word). We at Son Alegre are very happy about this published feature and would like to give you the opportunity to see and read it for yourself.

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For those of our friends who might struggle a bit with the Spanish language, here is a brief translation of the interview:

THE EARTH HAS THE LAST WORD

Vineyard Son Alegre

The owner of Son Alegre, Miquel Manresa, proudly shows us his vineyard, a perfect example of how Nature looks after herself.

Our walk begins by listening to the “sound of the earth”. This man is in love with his work and his vineyard; he lets us participate in his dialogue. He speaks with each stone, with each branch, and each animal or insect, thanking them for their contribution and collaboration so that this land enables the fruit produce to give us the best 100% ecological wine.

The land is doing the cultivating process all on its own. There is no need for us humans to do what roots, worms and microorganisms can do best. In addition, the act of ploughing the soil alters the natural environment and promotes the growth of weeds. Miquel tells us with absolute conviction that only through respect and love of Nature we can find the balance and harmony we have lost and which we do need so much.

Miquel continues to tell us that the vineyard is cultivated according to the principles of Fukuoka [1] which implies a “total respect for Nature and the environment”.

The particular weather conditions of our land give our wine the unique and special qualities it has. The cold air coming from the sea is reacting with the warmer air which has been heated by its contact with the warm earth and this encounter generates a fresh air stream during the hot summer afternoons.

We tend to believe that it is the grape which gives the wine its flavour, when it really is the land on which the grapes are cultivated which creates its particular taste. This is due to the typology of the soil, providing some elementary nutrients to the vines and also partly due to the microclimate of the area.

At Son Alegre we grow vines on 15 hectares at two different locations, one on the edge of Santanyí, in the area between Son Danus and Ses Angoixes, and the other one in the neighbouring area of Can Taconer in Calonge.

For us, growing the grapes is an opportunity to live out our fascination for the wonderful complexity of the natural environment. We use the classical methods of practice in viticulture and oenology. The grape harvest is done only by hand and in crates, the pressing is done the traditional way, the fermentations are facilitated with indigenous natural yeasts and the barrels used for the ageing of the wine are made of French oak.

At Son Alegre, a very important tool for our work is the lunar calendar. By observing the phases of the moon, the way our ancestors always have done it, we know the most propitious time for the pruning of our fruit, the grafting of plum on to almond branches, the planting of new trees, the planting of cereals, the harvesting of our grapes, the mating of pigs, sheep or horses, or even the cutting of our hair.

He speaks very animatedly, explaining all the intricacies of the finca, that we find it slightly difficult to follow and, more so, transcribe so much information in a single interview.

Nature creates and gives peace, supports us and helps us to find a balanced state of equilibrium, just what is needed so badly in our times. Here, the conversation focuses on education and the importance of keeping children in permanent contact with a natural and healthy environment. *

* ConCiencia and MundoFeliz propose to our readers to use this special set-up to hold workshops for schoolchildren, to give the young ones an opportunity to connect with the land.

We could spend hours and hours talking to a person who conveys so much ancestral wisdom, learned through the work which he carries out day by day in his vineyard, being continually connected with Nature which he loves and so deeply respects.

Miquel, it would be an honour for us to have you at some of our conferences and events. You will always have a special space in our magazine. And of course, we will taste your wines!

To which he responds, with his usual relaxedness, being as calm and cheerful as is his land, that he will gladly share his knowledge with us, our readers and friends.

See you soon, Miquel.

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[1] The Principles of Fukuoka:

Do not plough or turn the soil: In this way the structure and composition of the soil is maintained with its optimal conditions of humidity and micronutrients.

Do not use chemical fertilizers or prepared compost: Through the interaction of the different botanical, animalistic and mineral elements of the soil, the fertility of the cultivated soil is regenerated as in any non-domesticated ecosystem.

Do not use herbicides or weed killers: These destroy the nutrients and microorganisms of the soil, and are only justified in monocultures. Instead, Fukuoka proposes an interaction of plants to enrich and control the biodiversity of the soil.

Do not use chemical pesticides: These also kill the natural richness of the soil. The presence of insects in farming can be healthy.

Do not prune: Allow the plant growth to follow its natural course.

Use clay seed balls.

These fundamental working principles are based on a philosophy of Do- Nothing (Wu Wei), or more accurately, of not intervening or forcing things.

Fukuoka reached a degree of comprehension of the microsystems of the soil and devised a system of farming that desists from unnecessary tillage and unnecessary endeavours of traditional agriculture. His method, which he sometimes called Natural Agriculture Mahāyāna, is based on starting to give and to then receive in a natural way, rather than be demanding on the soil until it is exhausted.

Winter in a Mallorcan Vineyard

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When driving through certain parts of Mallorca in November and December, one will pass by many a vineyard in a state of colourful display – yellows, oranges and reds. These vineyards were full of activity during the months of August and September when the grape harvest was taking place. Now at the beginning of winter, the vine fields appear quiet and sturdy, tranquil, and often quite dead and without any active life whatsoever.

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But invisible to us, there is more activity than meets our eyes. Yes, the Vitis vinifera vine plant has slowed down its business of fruit production but now it is producing a substantial amount of Ethylene (H2C=CH2), an organic compound which is needed for the process of abscission (the shedding of its leaves). At the same time, the vine plant is also producing Abscisic acid (ABA), a plant hormone which is needed to enter into the dormant state – the period of hibernation – during the winter months. ABA prevents cells from dividing and suspends growth.

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The vine plant is very intelligent in as much as it knows exactly how to regulate its metabolism, its energy consumption and its growth. By stalling growth during the winter a lot of energy is saved. This process is similar to an animal’s hibernation. Most animals who hibernate store food as fat and then use it to run their essential systems during the winter, rather than grow any more. Likewise, the vine’s metabolism slows down during dormancy, and this is partly why cell growth is impeded. Since the plant has to conserve the energy it has stored, it is best if it uses the energy up slowly and only for essential functions.

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We at Son Alegre think it is best not to interfere in this energetic process of shedding and absorption. In fact, we interfere in our vineyard as little as possible throughout the year. We have our unsung hero helpers such as ants and worms, ladybirds and bees, spiders and snails, who help us day in, day out, with the aeration of our soil and the distribution of plant nutrition, macronutrients, micronutrients and moisture. Without these helpers we simply couldn’t do our business; without them there would be no Son Alegre wine.

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Let’s not forget what Nature does, every second of the day, all year round. Thank you.

And let’s not forget to say Thank you to John Hinde, the photographer of the photos of today’s blog entry and, in fact, of most of the photos published on this blog throughout the year.

Thank you, John. Thank you Nature. Muchas gracias.

Grape Harvest in Santanyí

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September is always a busy month for us here at Son Alegre in Santanyí. September is the month of the grape harvest on the island of Mallorca. Depending on area and grape variety, some grapes, especially white ones like Chardonnay, Macabeu, Malvasía and Giró varieties, may already have been picked in the latter half of August.

In the past there were plenty of grape harvests in Santanyí. During the 1880s, some 580 cuarteradas of land (approx. 420 hectares) were cultivated here with vines. But the Grape phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae), a tiny sap-sucking insect, destroyed virtually all of Mallorca’s vineyards, including the ones in Santanyí, between 1893 and 1898. Son Alegre is the first, and so far only, vineyard in the Santanyí area to grow wine again since almost 120 years.

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Even though this year was unusually dry in Mallorca with hardly any rainfall over the last eight months, the year 2016 promises to be a very good year for wine here in Mallorca, both in terms of quantity and quality. Our grapes do not seem to have suffered too much from the current water shortage. If anything, the lack of water may have improved the quality of our grapes; they are definitely smaller than usual but probably of a better quality. Had there been more water, the grapes would have a lower sugar level and a lesser concentration of aromas. It may have helped that we never plough our land and thus do not deprive the soil of any remaining humidity that might be stored that little bit further down below the surface where Mycorrhizae and other organisms form an important component of our soil life and soil chemistry.

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Ten days ago we started with this year’s wine harvest at Son Alegre. We collected about 6,000 kilogrammes of white grapes and expect to convert these into perhaps 5,000 bottles of Son Alegre white wine, ready for consumption in 2017.

Our red grape varieties, such as Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Monastrell, will be harvested anytime soon between the middle and the end of September, depending on their state of maturation and on the analysis of their sugar content.

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This year, Nature rewarded us again with a truly beautiful harvest, always in harmony with the land. We are truly blessed with our land and are grateful for what we receive from our soil, year after year.

The New Son Alegre Wine Cellar

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We have recently established our own bodega (wine cellar). Since the harvest in August 2015 we have been vinifying, fermenting and creating our Son Alegre organic wines in our own wine cellar, which we share with our sister company Camp d’en Ventura in Calonge (Santanyí).

We have had ultra-modern stainless steel tanks built to order for us with a capacity of 1250, 1800, 2150 and 3500 litres. The vats are equipped with individual internal temperature control systems. The grape harvest at Son Alegre is always performed manually. At the new wine cellar, the grapes were carefully selected by hand, before being pressed by hydraulic means and stored in separate tanks, according to grape variety and location.

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We continue to benefit from the expertise of our good friend Luis Armero González from Bodega Armero i Adrover in Felanitx, who is the oenologist for all our Son Alegre organic wines. Luis Armero is considered to be one of the pioneers of contemporary Mallorcan wine. His work and his wines are always subject to environmental considerations.

Our collaboration with Luis Armero began in 2008 and we are proud of the wines that we have since brought to the market with his help. We are very grateful to Luis for the tireless work and enthusiasm that he has dedicated to our wines so far, as well as for his commitment and passion.

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Our new white wine Es Faralló 2015 and our new rosé wine Roca Fesa 2015 should be ready for consumption any time soon and will be bottled before long; they are both expected to come to the market by the end of March or the beginning of April 2016.

Our new red wine Tricentenari 2014 should also come to the market soon. This wine was elaborated at the bodega of Armero i Adrover in Felanitx, with a fermentation process of 6 months in stainless steel tanks, an ageing period of 6 months in French oak barrels and a resting phase of 9 months in the bottle.

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Salut.