A lesson in biodynamic farming with Fidora
I'm sitting with Emilio Fidora, from Fidora Winery in the Veneto discussing the meaning and purpose of biodynamic farming and how it impacts winemaking...
Your winery was the first to go 100% organic in the Veneto and now you have gone completely biodynamic, tell me what made you take that leap? It was an idea I had because I had been hearing a lot about biodynamic winemaking and had begun to taste quite a lot of biodynamic wines that were very good quality and this really sparked my interest. I started to do some research and saw that it was not going to be an easy task. I thought if I was really going to do it then I needed to be 100% sure that there was a purpose behind it. I needed to really believe in it. I’m kind of crazy too, when I put my mind to something I really go after it. I enrolled in the Rudolph Steiner school in Switzerland and today I have done all the biodynamic preparations for all of my vineyards myself. It has become a way of life for me.
How have you seen this change affect the wine? The wines have become more expressive. Our wines already had loads of character because they are single vineyard and cleaner style but now they are more expressive.
What about biodynamic winemaking do you believe in? I believe that the land is alive and as a living organism you need to treat it properly. If you continue to overuse the soil and to take and take, eventually it will die. Think of it like you would your spouse, if you treat him/her badly eventually the love will die.
How do you see biodynamic working with the vine? Biodynamic growing is very difficult with the vine because its a perennial plant. In other forms of agriculture, you rotate the crops and with each rotation give a new input into the soil and you let it rest for a year. But the vine is very particular as it is always there. There is no rotation or rest period. You have to find ways to give and renew the soil whilst the plant always being there.
Steiner is an esoteric science so to view the vine from this perspective there is a magical and mysterious sentiment behind it.
To begin you need to do a series of preparations where you mix different things to create inputs that then can stimulate the soil one of these for example are the cow horns filled with silica or manure.
Tell me about the concept behind the cow horn... It must be a female cow horn because only females have the power to create life and if you want this energy of creation it must be a female horn. Ideally it should come from a dairy cow who has had a calf to really reinforce this concept of the power of life. In the Steiner school, the cow and horn are also very symbolic as they are connected to ancient mythology and represent the saying as above, below to explain that there is a connection between the cosmos and ourselves.
In the spring we fill the horns with silica because silica captures light and hence the horn will capture the light energy. So we keep it in the soil during the sunniest, warmest months, absorbing all of the energy from the sun.
Opposite to this, the manure horn we bury into the soil in the autumn when it is cold and dark. It should be buried in the coldest place in the estate. This is all about earth energy. In other agriculture this winter period is all about the soil and the work you do during this period in reviving the soil will pay off greatly later.
What other preparations do you do? We grow things like chamomile, stinging nettles, yarrow and dandelion throughout the year. With the chamomile for example, we will hang it out to dry and then in the autumn we will put it inside a cows intestine and bury it inside the ground. Because chamomile is the plant of balance. It encourages the natural circle of growth of plants and ensures a stable nitrogen content in the soil.
We use yarrow or Achillea millefolium for its healing properties. Achillea takes its name from the mythological Greek hero Achilles, who used this herb to heal his wounds. Yarrow is very high in sulphur, which stimulates and reinvigorates the soil. In addition, it works like a catalyst for light energy, which is vital to the plants.
However, the most important thing above it all is the biodiversity of the land. In your estate, you must have as much land as possible that is wild and not productive. Have forrest, trees, and wild life. I walk around my estate in Venice and it feels healthy. I feel that the organisms that live there are happy. It’s about feeling. Sometimes when I visit other vineyards, you can tell in overproduced areas that the energy feels tired. Fertility is something that slowly dies if left unreplenished.
At least one third of our land is wild. Now in Valpolicella I have a problem because there are too many boars. So I need to find a way that is balanced to deal with this problem.
What are the biggest challenges…The hardest part is to convince my employees that what they are doing is right and real. I can't do all the work alone so I must be able to inspire them to understand.
Do you think other producers in the Veneto will follow suit? I think others will follow but even if they don’t do it as full on as I do, because I’m crazy and have done all of the preparations myself, even if they buy the preparations and choose to do it for marketing purposes over environmental, this is still a big step moving away from chemicals.