Fruit, Leaf, Flower, or Root: Tasting Wine According to the Biodynamic Calendar

Paul Blow
Wine Tonight iPhone App for tasting wine based on the biodynamic calendar

The Wine Tonight? app

I recently tasted a lineup of wines, and they were all shut down—hardly any aromatics. I could feel the wines in my mouth, but could taste very little. Out of curiosity, I pulled out the trusty old iPhone and booted up a little app called Wine Tonight? The app told me that according to the biodynamic calendar, the day was a "root day," and that wine drinking should be avoided.

Conversely, a few weeks earlier in a cellar in California's Santa Rita Hills, everything tasted great. The wines were exuberant, fresh, and extravagantly aromatic. In the midst of my enjoyment of these wines I pulled out the app to check the biodynamic day. Yep, it was a "flower day": good for wine drinking.

I know this sounds hokey, but it happens over and over again. I'm not to the point of planning my wine drinking around what an app says, but when wines seem to be especially vibrant or unexpressive, I usually find an eerie correlation between so-called good and bad days for tasting wine. As I recall a winemaker recently saying: "The phases of the moon are powerful enough to move the ocean; why not affect a wine or our bodies?" Some people say that on fruit days wines show more fruit, on root days they taste earthier, etc. For me, however, it's usually just the difference between open and closed. (A caveat: Truly great wines show well no matter the day. For instance, the 2008 Burgundy tasting at La Paulée in February was a root day, but all the whites were amazing.)

The app Wine Tonight? is based on the book When Wine Tastes Best: A Biodynamic Calendar for Wine Drinkers. Authors Maria and Matthias Thun have written a day-by-day forecast for the year based on the movements of the moon and planets in and out of various constellations for the last 50 years. Heliotrope Wines, a site run out of Austin, Texas, gives much the same information as the app, but in more detail as well as with a week's forecast, so you can plan ahead.

The biodynamic calendar divides the year into four kinds of days—fruit, flower, leaf, and root—on which it's better to plant, prune, or tend the various cultivars as they fall into each of those categories. Biodynamics, "a unified approach to agriculture that relates the ecology of the earth-organism to that of the entire cosmos," according to the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association, has become particularly fashionable in the world of winegrowing in the last 10 years, with more and more top estates moving to this ultranatural system of farming and reporting almost universally good results.

As you might expect, not everyone believes in biodynamic days affecting the taste of wine. The talented winemaker Tahmiene Momtazi of Maysara Winery in Oregon, which operates one of the largest biodynamic vineyards in America, said that she tries to be indifferent. "Often wines taste amazingly fruity on leaf days and vice versa." Momtazi suggests that the day on which she picks the grapes—fruit, leaf, root, or flower—has more of an impact on the resulting wine than the day she tastes it on. Still, she tries to orient her blending sessions around flower and fruit days.

Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon is a believer in the biodynamic calendar, but also thinks the performance of wine is more complicated than just the day. "I do believe it is a real phenomenon," he wrote to me. "Certainly temperature, barometric pressure and moon phase are quite important, but first and foremost, affective state of the taster is crucial. If a taster is experiencing negative emotions, there is no question that the expression of the wine is profoundly affected."

I agree with Grahm that, as he said, "It seems essentially impossible to separate out the experience of tasting a wine from the social/physical milieu in which it is taking place."

However, the other night I shared a couple of bottles of wine with my sister—a Washington red blend and an Oregon Pinot. They were OK, but closed, ungenerous. I was in a good mood and love her dearly, but I still couldn't really taste the wines. So I checked, and, sure enough: leaf day.

Jordan Mackay is a San Francisco–based wine and spirits specialist whose work has appeared in publications such as Gourmet, the Los Angeles Times, Food & Wine, and Decanter. Follow him on Twitter. Follow CHOW too, and become a fan on Facebook.