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These photographs were taken in Southern France over a six-day period during la vendage (grape harvest) in a vineyard in Saint-Remy de Provence in the Baux de Provence wine appellation area. Saint-Remy is a particularly special part of Provence, famous amongst other things for being the place of Van Gogh’s assignment to a mental institution, where he subsequently painted many of his famous paintings, and also for being the birthplace of the 16th century prophet, Nostradamus.
The vineyard shown, Romanin, is unique for a number of reasons, not least for being one of the oldest in France, with evidence of wine production for supply to the Greek empire as early as the 4th century BC. During this period, Romanin was a holy druidic site and a cult dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis was active here. In the Roman era, wine production continued and Romanin supplied all of the great Roman cities. The Romans constructed a fort here (see picture one) which was occupied by the Moors from the 10th Century. When the Moors were eventually banished, a Château was constructed that became famous throughout Europe for its ‘Court of Love.’ The objective of the court was “to perfect the idea of love, to cultivate all that touches the heart, to render it less primitive, to soften character, to teach men to put more good faith and restraint into passion where previously they had invested so little.” Romanin thus became the intellectual centre of Provence, and the source of much of the 13th and 14th century Provencal literature.
Nowadays, Romanin is one of the few vineyards in France that practices biodynamic wine production. Less than 1% of all France’s vineyards are biodynamic so this in itself puts Romamin in a unique category. A basic ecological principle of biodynamics is to conceive of the farm as an organism, a self-contained entity. A farm is said to have its own individuality. Emphasis is placed on the integration of crops, indigenous biodiversity, recycling of nutrients, maintenance of soil, and the health and wellbeing of crops and animals. The farmer too is part of the whole. While biodynamics parallels organic farming in many ways – especially with regard to cultural and biological farming practices – it is set apart from other organic agriculture systems by its association with the spiritual science of anthroposophy founded by Rudolf Steiner, and in its emphasis on farming practices intended to achieve balance between the physical and higher, non-physical realms; to acknowledge the influence of cosmic and terrestrial forces; and to enrich the farm, its products, and its inhabitants with life energy. Biodynamics can be understood as a combination of “biological dynamic” agriculture practices. “Biological” practices include a series of well-known organic farming techniques that improve soil health. “Dynamic” practices are intended to influence biological as well as metaphysical aspects of the farm (such as increasing vital life force), or to adapt the farm to natural rhythms (such as planting seeds during certain lunar phases). The concept of dynamic practice – those practices associated with non-physical forces in nature like vitality, life force, ki, subtle energy and related concepts – is a commonality that also underlies many systems of alternative and complementary medicine. It is this latter aspect of biodynamics which gives rise to the characterization of biodynamics as a spiritual or mystical approach to alternative agriculture.
The manifestation of this practice within the vineyard is that as well as the established principles of organic farming (i.e. no fertiliser or chemical use, natural compost, minimal disturbance of habitat, and the like) all farming activities, including planting, watering, pruning, picking, bottling, are carried out in accordance with the lunar cycle and the Calendier des Semis, or the French biodynamic calendar. The plants are treated with care, with all grapes picked by hand, to minimise plant-stress. The vines at Romanin are also watered with infusions made from a combination of dynamacised water and hand-picked mountain herbs such as Achillea millefolium – a traditional woman’s herb used to ease menstruation.
The Romanin vineyard is situated in a land corridor where the wind is extremely restless. The vines are planted on terraces on the slopes of Les Alpilles mountain range. This range propels the prevailing wind upwards; keeping frosts at bay, protecting the vines from cryptogamic diseases, and creating a unique microclimate suitable for the growth of natural vines. This mountain range also provides the unique location for the wine fermentation and production process, which is carried out within caves inside of the mountains.