Understanding Biodynamic and Terroir

For things like wine, sometimes our ancestors know better ways to express the terroir.

In February 28th 2018, Vin+ was hosting a Joseph Drouhin Wine Dinner in Vin+ Arcadia. It was a 5 course menu by Chef Djoko Sarwono and Chef Deni Sugiarto, paired with premium Burgundy wines, Joseph Drouhin. Christophe Thomas, the Export Director of Joseph Drouhin was also present to host the night. Delighted by the fine Burgundy wine, we decided to have an exclusive interview with Christophe to find out the secret of Joseph Drouhin’s quality.

How’s the market situation for Joseph Drouhin in Europe?

Europe is a big market for us, UK is our second biggest market here. Our growth depends on each country, because not everyone has the same level of wine understanding. The countries with low income probably will drink something else, but salary is going up steadily, little by little, and there will be more market for wine.

How about Asian market?
Japan is our third export market in the world and the number one country in Asia. In fact, it’s seven times bigger than China as the second biggest market, followed by Hong Kong, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand.

I had your fantastic series of your wine tonight, now why don’t you tell me a bit about Joseph Drouhin?

It’s a family owned winery for four generations with big interest to keep the highest standard of wine growing. It was established in 1880, so it’s a 138 years old winery. We have 8 hectare of land in Burgundy, France and 120 ha in Oregon, USA. We started over there (Oregon) in 1987, we bought 60 ha of land there, we’re one of the pioneer to get to Oregon at US. In the past 4 years we bought another 60 ha. We’re bigger in Oregon than Burgundy.

Our estate in Burgundy is entirely biodynamic. We don’t use pesticide, fertilizer, and we’ve been doing it for significant amount of time. We stopped using chemicals in 1976, we’re turning into organic farming in 1988, by 1996 the entire state is organic biodynamic.

It makes me wonder, who actually benefits from biodynamic farming? The winemaker or the customer?

It’s actually the customer, because we don’t use any certification, we don’t promote the biodynamic on the label. We don’t do that because we want to be recognized as one of the greatest winemaker in the world. If people are interested, they will look for the information about the wine, they will find out that the wine is organic and biodynamic.

If people are not interested into that organic biodynamic thing, fine, just love the wine, it’s perfect! We don’t want to be like, in many many shops, like if you got organic wine, they’re kept at the back of the store. All the other good wines are all around but the organic corner is somewhere special. We don’t want to be special, we want to produce fantastic wine and just recognized for that.

So, you don’t want it the label “biodynamic” to be upfront?

Yes. we do this for the benefit of the wine and customer. We don’t use pesticides, no poisonous thing inside.

What’s the difference between organic and biodynamic?
In organic farming you can still use fertilizer and pesticide, but of course the organic ones. Fertilizers are actually increasing the production of the grapes. We don’t want that, because if you over produce, you have too many grapes per vine trees. You’ll have what we call “dillusion”, it means that the signature of the terroir, the soil will be lost. The grape will have too much water. When you reduce the yield, you actually concentrate the aroma, the signature of the soil is more important.

In biodynamic farming, we have 4 different timing, you know, it’s like
the effect of moon on tide. In fact, there’s calculation of these kind of different influences. Like, one period for the leaf, one period for the root, for fruit, and for flower. So these calculations are put into calendar called the seeds calendar. Sometimes in biodynamic farming, we just leave the ground as it is. Sometimes, we plough by horses, we don’t use heavy machines, so there’s no impact on the soil, it’s stays breathable.

Why do we even use fertilizer or pesticide in the first place?

Honestly, they were invented in the early 19th century because of famine. People are dying from hunger and they invented fertilizer to increase production. However, when you use it, you’re not only increase the production of food, but also the growth mushroom and bacteria. Then, after the fertilizer they invented pesticide, fungicide, herbicide, and all the other chemicals that can kill the extra combination mushroom and bacteria. In fact, you’re putting into the ground some deadly chemicals.

Before that, farmers were still doing farming, they’re growing vegetables, grapes, without these fertilizer and pesticide, they were more observing. Even my grandfather, he used to say, like, “if the wind came from that direction, it’s going to rain in two days.” And he was right, all the time.

Nowadays people look at the chemicals. You can find some places where the heavy use of chemicals is poisonous for the people working in the vineyard, you can also find the poison into the wine in tiny amount. Being organic biodynamic is a global thing, it’s good for the environment, human working in it, and the consumer. You know what is terroir?

Kind of, but I’m not sure, please elaborate.
Many people are using this word, but it’s often misused. Terroir actually means the soil character. Terroir is only possible when you do biodynamic farming because you don’t use fertilizer or pesticide, it’s the purest way of expressing soil character, there’s no other way. Winemaker is just here to make the different steps of the wine production, but not the style of the wine. The style of the wine is where it comes from.

What’s Joseph Drouhin’s main agenda in 2018?
Actually, 2018 is doing to be a challenging year, because we are putting into the market the 2016 vintage. It’s a great vintage but we have some frost, so we lost roughly about 50% of our production of the entire region so this year, we don’t have stocks. Our strategy for 2018 is to maximize our stocks and to find the right market to sell what we have. There’s one thing for Burgundy, it’s small region, which means small vineyard, small production, and every bottle of Burgundy is rare.

Terroir actually means the soil character. Terroir is only possible when you do biodynamic farming because you don’t use fertilizer or pesticide, it’s the purest way of expressing soil character, there’s no other way.