Our world is filled with cycles and seasons, ruled by what exactly? Ancient mythology tells stories of gods who’s jealousy, love lives, and personal drama have affected the Earth. Giving power to goddesses like Demeter, the goddess of harvest, crops, grains, and fertility. Before her heart was broken when Hades kidnapped her daughter, Persephone, everything was always fertile, luscious and hearty. In Demeter’s grief, she allowed all of the crops and plant life to die. This upset the balance of the Earth. Thanks to contributions from several other gods and goddesses, Persephone was rescued from Hades and reunited with her mother. While Persephone had been in the Underworld, she had fallen in love with her captor, and felt conflicted. Then there was this pomegranate situation and Zeus ruled that Persephone would spend six months in the Underworld and six months on Earth with her mother; but not because he cared about Persephone, Demeter, or Hades OR despite the fact that he was Persephone’s father. He needed Demeter and Persephone’s gifts to keep the Earth alive. So, half of the year, Fall and Winter, Demeter grieves, causing the crops and flowers to die. The other half of the year, Spring and Summer, are filled with new abundant plant life. Thus, we have seasons.
Why am I giving you a mythology lesson? Because, these stories and archetypes are based on astrology, which I’m sure seems to have absolutely nothing to do with wine, but bear with me. In Astrology it is believed that the the cycles of the moon rule certain aspects of us as humans, but also nature. Scientifically speaking, there are theories that connect certain moon phases with behavioral changes in animals, humans and water. The moon’s gravitational pull changes the tides, and the theories say that because we are made of about 60% water, we are affected by the moon. My grandpa is a surgeon and he is always on-call during full moons because there are always more accidents. I also have a friend who is a dispatch officer for Ventura County, and she says that full moons are always filled with the weirdest calls. In the event that the moon does in fact affect the Earth in these ways, it is entirely possible that plants are affected as well.
In the 1920’s Rudolf Steiner, a scientist and philosopher, wrote books about agriculture, and coined the term Biodynamic Farming, which is a holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food, and nutrition. Today we might compare it to organic farming, but Biodynamics leans heavily on astrology. Biodynamic vineyards essentially create an ecosystem out of their farm/vineyard. It is a comprehensive organic system of farming, and a complete entity. Instead of using pesticides, these vineyards grow specific plants and flowers that attract “good” insects and birds with the purpose of eating the “bad” insects. They have bird boxes and owl boxes overlooking the vineyards to managed pests that might destroy the vines or eat the fruit. Sheep and goats are used to eat the vegetation and weeds growing along the bottom of the vines, so that they don’t have to compete with weeds for water, or healthy soil. Legumes are often planted at the base of the vines as a cover crop. Chicken droppings are used as fertilizer, and maintaining healthy soil is at the forefront of Biodynamic farming. These farms grow their own herbs which they use to create tinctures for the plants. Farming in this way enables vines to last up to 50 years longer than farming methods we see today.
I’m sure all of that sounds perfectly sustainable and understandable, but that is only a part of Biodynamics. As a Biodynamic farmer or viticulturist, it is imperative that you follow astrology. I am not saying that the farmers check their horoscopes in Cosmo before going to work. They do, however, keep track of which sign the moon is in. I’m sure you’ve heard this line before, “As above, so below”, these words are found in some of the most ancient texts, specifically The Emerald Tablet, (which is said to hold the secrets of the universe), Kabbalah, (which is Ancient Jewish Mysticism) and even The Bible, (which is one of the most popular books to date). “As above, so below” refers to the belief that everything that happens on Earth is related to the astral plane. I know it’s getting weird, wait for it. Yes you still have freewill and no the planets don’t have control over you. The idea is that each of the planets plus the sun, moon, and several asteroids are connected to a specific part of our own natal chart (where the planets where on the day you were born); it’s like your space fingerprint. In Astrology, there is what looks like a pie chart. This chart has 12 slices. Each slice represents an astrological sign. Each astrological sign represents an element. There are four elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water, and three astrological signs fit into each category. On the chart, you’ll see that the signs that are alike, are not next to each other. The order is: Fire, Earth, Air, Water…. Aries (fire), Taurus (earth), Gemini (air), Cancer (water), and then it repeats, Leo (fire), Virgo (earth), Libra (air), Scorpio (water) and repeats once more, Sagittarius (fire), Capricorn (earth), Aquarius (air) and finally Pisces (water). This is important because as the moon orbits, it changes signs just about every two and a half days.
In Biodynamics specific signs correlate to the type of farming you do that day. This is because it is believed that the moon brings energy in and out of the plant at certain times of the month. When the plant is taking in energy, you fertilize. And then the plant is giving energy, you harvest. For instance, when the moon is in a fire sign, it is giving energy, so fire signs are considered fruit days. When the moon is in a water sign, it’s a leaf day, which is a time to prune. The theory goes as far as to assume which days certain wines will taste the best, like when the moon is in an air sign, it’s a flower day, which, rumor has it, means that white wine taste better.
As if that’s not strange enough for some people, there is a tradition, which is the cornerstone for Biodynamic farming called “horn manure.” It’s held on the Autumn Equinox beginning the 6 months where the earth is “taking energy.” This is when the farmers fill 40-50 cow horns with manure, and bury them; then they dig the horns back up in Spring. Now, it’s not just any horns that are used, it’s specifically supposed to be female horns. The belief is that cows are (Taurus) Earth animals, and the horns reach up to the sky, balancing “above and below” and female energy is nourishing and fertile. The manure is supposed to be from a lactating cow. It’s mixed with finely ground quartz crystals (Yes, you read that right!) and a mixture of various herbs. Throughout the 6 months that these horns are buried, the combination of the earth itself, the horns and the manure become rich a compost. The contents of the horns smells sweet and almost chocolaty. It is then stirred in a barrel with rain water. The stirring part is spiritual, the farmers stir in a specific direction and create a crater in the liquid, then they reverse causing a whirl pool effect. (Some farms invite everyone who works on the farm to participate in this ritual stirring.) They repeat this for one hour. Then the contents are sprayed all over the property. It’s like the circle of life. Planting decay, and allowing the Earth to essentially alchemize it, changing it from … regular cow shit to vitamins for the soil. Or scientifically speaking, it stimulates microbial activity in the soil, regulates the pH, dissolves minerals and stimulates seed germination.
Even though it sounds pretty “woo-woo”, Biodynamics is practiced far and wide, and has been proven to be an incredibly sustainable solution for vineyards and farms alike. A huge part of this type of farming is respecting Mama Nature and working with her, as opposed to shutting down her cycles. This is a lesson we all can learn. If you are intrigued, I recommend following the moon yourself. I do this in the back of my journals, I write the date, the moon phase and which sign the moon is in, then my mood/energy. (If you are a woman, you can go as far as to chart your cycle along with the moon. You might be surprised to see how in tune you really are.) If Biodynamic Farming is a small representation of the Earth itself, designed to follow natural cycles, then we are much smaller representations of the Earth, just flowing along as nature intended. Consider the benefits of paying closer attention to our own bodies, and finding your own fruit, root, flower and leaf days.
Author’s note: My name is Justine and I have been working in the tasting room at Strey Cellars for over four years. We are a small family owned local boutique winery. If this is your first visit to my blog, you’ll notice that I write as if we are old friends, because this is the energy of our winery. Come visit sometime, and see for yourself. If you enjoyed this blog, please share it with a friend. Cheers!