Monday, May 21, 2012

Food Hero Tuesday: Eddie McDougall, of the Flying Winemaker, teaches us about sustainable viticulture

Note from the Editor: Every Tuesday, TFT HK will bring you a post or article from one of our local or global food heroes. These are people who inspire us, and whose visions align with the values that TFT espouses and promotes. This week's post is from Eddie McDougall, creator of The Flying Winemaker (wine store and education center in Lan Kwai Fung). Eddie has partnered with TFT HK, to bring TFT supporters a sustainable wine tasting at The Flying Winemaker tonight, and he generously shares more of his knowledge with us here today. Many thanks to Eddie and the fine folks at The Flying Winemaker. We can't wait to sip and learn tonight!

Myth Buster: Organic, Biodynamic & Conventional Wines

Still to this day I get asked several questions about the integrity of organic and biodynamic wines. Most of these questions revolve around the value-added taste benefits and the notion of healthier drinking.

Sustainable viticulture which is what biodynamic and organic practices falls under, is a farming method used to preserve the natural environment with minimal intervention. Farming under these practices generally implies, minimal use of chemicals, building the natural population of micro-organisms in the soil and the use of natural composting fertilisers.

The key differences between biodynamic and organic viticulture is the application of the Rudolph Steiner’s principles. Steiner’s principles are an integration of organic practices and theories based around the lunar cycle. Much like the Chinese lunar calander, Steiner believes that elements such as planting, irrigation, natural fertiliser application and cultivation should occur on specific astronomical days as it will enhance the effects ofthe process. For wine producers that abide by Steiner’s theory, they believe that the resultant grape and wines quality is superior and more importantly the wine tastes of the environment it was grown in (a.k.a. terroir).

It is incredibly difficult to prove whether or not sustainably made wines are better than those produced under the conventional methods. From my experience in the judging world and from academic research conducted by fellow industry friends little to no difference is detectable viaorganoleptic evaluation. So why bother with all this?

I truly believe the theory that sustainable viticulture is first and foremost the best way of growing grapes. The process in my eyes is beyond just making a better wine but more importantly preserving the land for future harvests. The application of chemicals to vines over time could cause serious contamination to the soils and water table. One of the major concerns observed by researchers is that there could be a significant imbalance in nutrients in the soils, which could alter the physiological growth of the vines.

At the end of the day, yes, sustainable farming is better for the grapes however once those grapes are harvested who knows what else has been added to the wine throughout the conversion process of grape juice to that fine wine. Preservative free and organic wine production is a whole other story.  I will sign off by saying this; organic and/or biodynamic grape growing is not the same as organic and/or biodynamic winemaking. 

Eddie McDougall, The Flying Winemaker

TFT afterthought: 

The World Hunger Education Service (WHES) cites "harmful economic systems" and climate change as two important causes of global hunger and food insecurity. Sustainable farming practices include not only a consideration of agriculture's environmental impact, but also a commitment to socially just working conditions for farmers and farm laborers. Grape-growers adopted chemical-input intensive farming practices earlier than did those managing other crops; and they were also early adopters of the 20th century movement toward organic/biodynamic/sustainable farming.  Sustainable viticulturists have, thus, served as ambassadors of the global movement toward sustainability, and continue to play an important role in addressing the underlying forces that precipitate and perpetuate world hunger.

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