B.C. takes on biodynamics
When Stephen Cipes moved his family from New York to the Okanagan Valley in 1987, his vision was to preserve the pristine land on which their new home was located and allow the terroir to show through in their wines. Since Summerhill Pyramid Winery's inception in 1991, the Cipeses have made organic growing practices integral to their farming and winemaking, becoming organically certified in 2007.
After a three-year passion project, this July saw Summerhill receive its Demeter Biodynamic certification, making them the first, and currently only, vineyard in British Columbia to do so.
"The desire to make the best wine possible motivated our biodynamic program," says Ezra Cipes, one of four of Stephen's sons and estate CEO. "Biodynamics and organics is the royal road to authentic, terroir-driven wine."
While organic and biodynamic farming methods are similar in that they both strive for optimal health of the land, environment, animals and people, biodynamics takes a more holistic approach by operating the farm as a single living organism and minimizing overall human intervention. Essentially, the idea is to restore balance with nature and the earth by creating a self-nourishing, closed system with little use of external inputs.
To achieve this, biodynamic agriculturalists will grow companion crops, such as herbs, to promote healthier soil and vegetation. They also make their own composts and plant preparations using raw materials, many of which are found onsite, like decomposed plant matter, animal manures and food scraps from the winery's bistro kitchen. These preparations are specially designed to aid in soil rejuvenation, fertilization and the prevention of plant diseases by increasing the microbial life in the soil.
"You are actively breeding microbiology and inoculating your soil and compost with it," says Cipes. "The result is that the vines have a deeper relationship with the land and that their immune systems are stronger."
Though some biodynamic methods may seem unorthodox — planting and cultivating in accordance with various cosmic and planetary rhythms, for example — they've been shown to increase the quality of the soil and overall environment, and the mission is always the same: to generate strong biodiversity in the vineyard in order to grow grapes in a healthy and sustainable way. As for its effect on the wine: "The result," says Cipes, "is a balanced crop of flavourful grapes that make wine with great depth and nuance." Kelly Schweitzer