What's the difference between organics and biodynamics, I asked Terry Baines, the winegrower at Saltings Estate in Matakana, when I called in there at Easter. Terry practices biodynamic viticulture but because of the location just north of Auckland City, organic management is practised too.
He explained it to me in some detail, after all, biodynamics is a complex subject. I took lots of notes but later, when reading one of the handouts I had been given, the simple succinct answer I wanted jumped out of the page.
"Biodynamics is different to organics as biodynamics uses natural methods applied at certain phases of the moon."
The concept was introduced by philosopher and scientist, Dr Rudolf Steiner, in 1924 and there's a short course introduction on the Saltings Estate website - which I recommend you read if you are interested - click here.
One thing that's happened in the last 80 years of biodynamic farming is that you no longer have to bury manure-filled cow horns at the start of winter and dig them up in the spring. You can buy the cow horn preparation, and the other biodynamic preparations too, from a certified biodynamic supplier. But you have to make your compost and all waste from the vineyard and winemaking contributes to the compost pile.
When Terry and his wife Maureen bought their beautiful property overlooking Sandspit estuary and the mouth of the Matakana River, viticulture was not on their minds and until now the Saltings has been best known as boutique bed and breakfast venture. They will soon be known for their wines, especially this week's Wine of the Week, the Saltings Estate Matakana Malbec 2006.
Terry was inspired by his neighbour's 'hobby' vineyard and in 2003 planted three and a half acres of his steeply inclined property with Malbec, Merlot and Syrah. Cabernet Franc went in the following year.
He's not sure why he went down the organic and biodynamic route other than he knew he didn't want to use chemicals. Being in the position to travel internationally, biodynamic vineyard in France, Italy and the USA were visited on various trips. He has also completed the two year correspondence courses on viticulture and wine making at EIT in Hawkes Bay, although winemaker John Worth is employed to make the wines.
The first harvest in 2006 resulted in four tasty drops - a Syrah and a Malbec in the premium Saltings Estate label and a Syrah and a Merlot in the second tier Sandspit Cove label.
I was most impressed with the deeply coloured and impressively juicy Saltings Estate Matakana Malbec 2006 ($28). Vibrant crimson with purple tints, this intense wine emits a concentrated aroma full of rich fruitcake, plums, violets and sweet smoky oak with perhaps a hint of liquorice and tar. It's ripe and lush and lavishly full bodied with juicy purple plum and blackboy peach fruit, and finishes earthy with Malbec's distinct savouriness and oak spice making a statement. With a long full purple-fruited aftertaste and just a hint of mint - this is the indeed the star of the Saltings Estate wines. Matured in new French oak for 16 months, it's finely structured and the most cellar worthy, in my opinion, and should be good to go until at least 2013, perhaps longer.
Interestingly my second favourite wine was the cheapest - the Sandspit Cove Matakana Merlot 2006 ($16). A lighter coloured, lighter bodied red but full of bright fruit with a touch of grip to the tannins and savouriness to balance the fruit sweetness. It was the overall best food match over two nights, to both herb-crusted rack of lamb and medium-rare cooked beef fillet steak.
I find the syrahs a bit of an enigma. Saltings Estate Matakana Syrah 2006 ($26) is matured in old oak and is the softer, more elegant of the two. Vibrantly peppery with leather and tar, there's quite obvious underlying acidity despite the juicy sweet fruit.
Sandspit Cove Matakana Syrah 2006 ($22) is matured in 100% new French oak, which rather overpowers the wine with its varnishy nuances and volatile acidity, which initially does not detract from the rich, ripe, creamy flavours.
All the wines are closed with DIAM technical cork closures.
There are no cellar door facilities at Saltings Estate, but the wines are available from the versatile Vintry, in Matakana Village. Of course they can be purchased on line too.
Find out more from www.saltings.co.nz.
© Sue Courtney
30 Mar 2008