If you read DeMorgenzon's website, the first thing that will probably jump out at you is the fact that they play Baroque music to their vines and wine. Yes, that's right: every bottle of DeMorgenzon's wine has been "listening" to Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and many others from vine to bottle. They cite a number of studies that draw positive connections between music and plant growth.
It's a fun story--and certainly a memorable tidbit that will be fun to bust out at cocktail parties--but there's another method of winemaking that they talk about that really caught my attention. The vineyards are right in the middle of one of South Africa's greatest ecosystems, and they are actively encouraging this ecosystem to flourish within the vineyards (they've also set aside 10% of the estate to a nature conservancy, to preserve this biodiversity). This is where DeMorgenzon's real virtuosity lies.
Modern agriculture is all about growing only the crop you're trying to grow, and basically eliminating the rest. This is where we get all those pesticides, weed-killers, and other chemicals that are starting to sound so scary. The idea was to make it easier to grow the crops without all that other stuff getting in the way.Of course, we're starting to learn that there are some consequences to these methods, and so a lot of winemakers have turned to biodynamics as an alternative to these farming techniques. I won't bore you with the details of biodynamics, but the principle behind is pretty fascinating: it treats farmland, including the land's natural habitat, as a living organism, and so everything that's a part of this land must be encouraged to flourish in harmony. So if you kill off all the beetles, or wipe out all the weeds, it's like cutting off an arm or a leg--the land will survive, but it will be crippled.
Winemakers who have turned from chemical treatments to biodynamics report amazing changes. The vineyards "come back to life," they say. The vines become healthier as other plants and animals return to replenish the soil with lost nutrients--in essence, the vineyard becomes an ecosystem again. The upshot is that healthier vines produce better wines! It's no surprise that many of our favorite wines at Shubie's are made by producers that employee biodynamic practices.
I should make it clear that DeMorgenzon doesn't claim to be a biodynamic producer. There's a lot that goes into biodynamics (including some practices that seem a little hocus-pocus, like harvesting according to moon cycles), and it may simply be that they don't want to employ all of tenets of biodynamics (I haven't had a chance to ask them about this myself). However, their main goal is essentially the same: encourage biodiversity within the vineyard. It's a wonderful philosophy, and there's a vibrancy to their wines that I like to think comes from the health and vitality of their vineyards. And I bet the music helps, too!
Go to their website to read more about their farming practices, and the amazing things they're doing to preserve what sounds like a truly remarkable ecosystem (after reading it, I certainly want to visit!)