Farming Biodynamically with Alpamanta
One of the first biodynamic producers in Mendoza, Andrej Razumovsky purchased an empty plot of 35ha in 2005, off the beaten path, in the southernmost region of Lujan de Cuyo, in Ugarteche. Finding land that had never been exposed to chemical farming was of the utmost importance to Andrej and his two partners.
Upon securing the property, Andrej first transplanted 110 hundred-year-old olive trees that today stand strong, yielding biodynamic olive oil that is bottled at the estate. Then he planted vines. But because there were then no biodynamic vines available at the nurseries in Argentina, Andrej treated them organically and biodynamically for two years before planting, so that they could gain authorization from Demeter.
At 950 meters above sea level, Ugarteche possesses a dry climate, and is therefore easier to farm organically than Chile. Here, Andrej plants to alluvial soils, with excellent drainage and little organic matter. And while irrigation is necessary, Alpamanta irrigates every ten days, as opposed to the standard two, increasing the struggle of the vines.
With only 2% of all winegrowers carrying organic certification in Mendoza, only five of them farm biodynamically. In support of biodiversity at Alpamanta, vines grow alongside fruit trees – cherry, peach, pear, apricot, apple and plum. And in addition to the five permanent employees who live full-time on the property, there are cows, sheep, chickens, dogs and cats that wander freely and fertilize at will. “It’s important for all people who work in the vineyard to understand biodynamics,” said Andrej. So he brings in an organic/biodynamic consultant to the property every three weeks, and ensures that he explains the importance of biodynamic practices to the workers. “If you don’t believe in it,” he added, “then it doesn’t make sense.”
With this knowledge, the vineyard workers chose to manually dynamicize the water used for biodynamic tinctures, rather than having it mechanized. Requiring a constant vortex made in both directions for 90 rotations at a time, this dynamicizing must be conducted for three to four hours at a time, energizing the water, which in turn transfers this same life energy to the vines.
After initially viewing conventionally farmed vineyards, Andrej saw that they had “no life, no soul and no regard for the environment,” and this cemented his commitment to natural farming. Farming biodynamically, he said, “makes plants stronger”. With his most of his peers losing 30% of their 2016 crop to frosts in October and November, Andrej gained 30% in production due the health of his vines. With 1200+mm of rain last year—five to six times the average—most growers applied chemicals before losing leaves to mildew and odium. At Alpamanta, Andrej was able to keep his leaves on the vines for one month after harvest, to allow for additional photosynthesis that serves to strengthen the vine for the following vintage.
From the herb garden located near the entrance to the estate, Andrej harvests chamomile, nettle, dandelion and yarrow twice a year, and dries them for his biodynamic treatments. The day before we arrived, he applied the 500 application of cow horn manure, to help heal the vines after harvest. Consisting of horsetail tea with silica, buried in horn, the 501 treatment serves to increase photosynthesis, and make vines resistant to insects and fungi, while the 503 is made of chamomile mixed with compost and buried within cow intestines to increase the life of the soil. On the property, even the compost pile requires management, because if the temperature runs too high, it will kill of the microbes. So, Andrej checks the temperature daily, and cools it with cold water if the pile gets too warm.
Planting beneficial weeds between the vines, Alpamanta is currently working with the National de Cuarzo University to catalogue the biodiversity that exists within their vineyard. With this, they hope to determine the natural balance that exists in the Alpamanta vineyards. “Chemicals kill all life,” said Andrej, “creating an imbalance in the vineyard.”