On the occasion of our first ever biodynamic wine release
The production team holds the two newly released Demeter certified biodynamic wines, 2017 Summerhill Vineyard Riesling & 2017 Summerhill Vineyard Gruner Veltliner. L-R: Eric von Krosigk, winemaker; Brett Thiessen, vineyard manager; Gary Leslie, maintenance lead; Holly Pierce, enologist; Michael Alexander, cellar master / assistant winemaker; Gabe Cipes, biodynamicist
My brother Gabe moved back to the family farm in 2004, and I followed in 2005. At that time our vineyard had been managed organically for 17 years. We noticed that the leaves were a little yellowish green and the crop was smaller than it should be. One of our mentors Gabriel Howearth described to us that no matter how you do it, farming is always mining. Crops mine nutrients from the soil, and we are hard on the land when we drive a tractor over it. Conventional farmers can add nitrogen fertilizer, but organically it is not so easy. We had to build up the soil so that nitrogen and other nutrients could be available to the vines, and so we set upon the Biodynamic path.
Biodynamics views the farm as an ecosystem, connected to the greater systems of the earth, solar system, and universe. It’s a wonderful feeling for the farmer to be a part of something greater than oneself, and the biodynamic program of composting and making special plant and manure preparations is demonstrably good for the farm. By 2012 my brother Gabe had been practicing Biodynamics for long enough that the leaves on the vines were green again and the crop level was back to a balanced, sustainable level. At that time we sought Biodynamic certification through Demeter Canada. Also at that time, we started to experiment with making wine biodynamically.
The biodynamic wine standard is quite beautiful. It describes “…the human being in the role of an artist to develop soil, fertility and plant in such a way that fruits of vital quality become available,” and then a production method so that “Nothing shall conceal the true nature of the factual properties of the produce.” Therefore when we make wine biodynamically we add no yeast or nutrient and no fermentation or processing aids of any kind. We create the right environment for the juice to turn naturally to wine, and we monitor the process. At the end we clarify the white wine with bentonite and add a little sulfur as a preservative. That’s it; that’s all.
The first year we made wine this way was 2013 with our Summerhill Vineyard Riesling. Winemaker Eric von Krosigk says the process gave him new gray hairs. The fermentation was slow and the wine developed H2S, which does not smell at all pleasant. Apparently this chemical reaction occurred because there was not enough nutrient in the juice for the yeast to do a tidy job. Eric ended up pumping that wine through the air into a new vessel so that the atmospheric oxygen could act as a nutrient for the yeast. The smell and taste of H2S receded and the wine ended up being beautiful for all its imperfection. We learned a lot about the health of our vineyard through that early trial, and have made wine in the same method from our estate grown fruit ever since. Now when we make wine biodynamically it is proof of the vitality of our vineyard.
This year we decided to see about certifying our wine as biodynamic through Demeter Canada. From the 2017 vintage we vinified Riesling and Gruner Veltliner as single estate varietal wines. Summerhill Vineyard is now healthy and vital to a point where the fermentation happened beautifully. Assistant Winemaker Michael Alexander says that the process is still stressful for the winemaking team, as the transformation of sugar to alcohol does not happen as quickly as when we add organic yeast to the crushed fruit, but after a few slow days it happens naturally and efficiently enough to show the true nature of the fruit and of the farm, and creates wine with an individualism that is the essence of the aesthetic pleasure a bottle can provide.
-Ezra Cipes, August 14, 2018