Bruichladdich distilled the world’s first ever whisky from biodynamic barley last year. Such is the extraordinary quality of the spirit that we are doing a second distillation - and it is double the size of the first one.
We will be distilling 200 tonnes of biodynamically grown barley, harvested in September 2011, from Monday 23rd January for four weeks.
If you thought that using organic barley for Bruichladdich whisky was mad enough, biodynamic is barking. Biodynamic is über-organic. Barley that is sown, grown and harvested according to the controversial agricultural principles of the messianic Dr Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, educationalist, spiritualist and lecturer, is considered the ‘Galileo of organic science’; to critics, and there are many, he was just a cosmic nutter.
In the twenties, to counter farmers' over-dependance on agrochemicals, Steiner set out an holistic approach to agriculture, where the farm itself becomes self-sufficient in all its needs, as any farm would have been before the advent of the agrochemical industry and as far back as the stone age; the farm becomes "biologically dynamic".
Biodynamic Farmers are guided by a cosmic calendar. Phases of the lunar and astral cycle do not only influence the tides and lunatics, but the ideal time for sowing, pruning or treating crops. Whisky is an agricultural product; barley is the crop.
The problem though for biodynamics, what with astral calendars, nettle insecticides, and cow horn fertilisers, is that it all sounds far too hippy, whacky, cultish and alternative. It's wide open to ridicule and an easy target for sceptics. Many exponents keep quiet about it for fear of being labelled a crank.
But there’s a very simple method to this apparent madness: Steiner basically codified the rapidly disappearing 18th century farming ways. He could see that the knowledge, or folklore, that was being lost as people migrated from the land to the cities. Stripped down, biodynamics is a farming way of life based on our forefathers' knowledge, the culmination of 8,000 years of accumulated, agricultural know-how, from an era when Man was more in tune than we are to day with the earth’s natural cycles. And when there was no alternative.
It's no fad. It started with a handful of farmers following Steiner's agricultural doctrine ninety years ago, and today the world’s greatest wine makers, the likes of Leflaive, Lafon, Zind Humbrecht, Romanée Conti and Domaine Leroy, are all exponents. Surprisingly, Beaux Freres, the US property of the most powerful wine critic Robert Parker, is also an advocate of Biodynamics.
Biodynamics does not make a poor terroir good, or an incompetent wine maker a genius. But it does seem to produce the very best crop possible.