The return of the earthworms

There is much more to the biodynamic farming practised at the Manincor winegrowing estate.

  • November 2016

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The return of the earthworms

There is much more to the biodynamic farming practised at the Manincor winegrowing estate.

I stand at the entrance to the estate and look out at the vineyards stretching before me. The mountains soar in the distance and the valley is wide. The white gravel by the entrance gives way to green vines that reach down to the Kalterer See lake, which is shining in the sun. My gaze remains fixed until the proprietor, Count Michael Goëss-Enzenberg, wakes me from my dreams. Very elegantly, he bids me a friendly welcome. He speaks clearly, calmly and in an assured manner. He too seems to be enjoying the view where there is always something new. Welcome to his world, a world of creeping and crawling.

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The young Michael Goëss-Enzenberg wanted just one thing in life: To acquire the ancient Manincor farm with its winegrowing estate. The Count, who was born in South Tyrol and grew up in Austria, bought the farm in 1991.

A thousand and one vines

It’s a hot late summer’s day. We saunter through the vines, one row after the other. Pale red clusters follow red grapes. On some rows behind me I see yellow fruits. “There are fifteen different varieties growing here and from them we make our fifteen different wines,” the Count says, with a passionate yet straightforward demeanour. He plucks a few grapes and hands them to me. They taste delicious.

Suddenly we hear a clucking. Are there hens here in the vineyard? Indeed there are! They sit in the shade of the vines with chicks running around beside them. We approach and Count Michael Goëss-Enzenberg bends down to look under the car of one of his employees, parked in the vines. “They often lay their eggs here,” he says. But not at the moment.

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Yet they are not the only creatures here. “Occasionally we also let the sheep into the vineyard,” he says. Not today, however: “We can’t allow them in the vineyard before the harvest, or they would first eat the small shoots and then the grapes.” They gnaw at the roots and the old bark of the vines and eat the weeds, while their dung makes excellent fertiliser.

“Anima”, the animal spirit has returned

But are a few animals enough to be able to speak of biodynamic agriculture? Count Michael Goëss-Enzenberg bends down to the ground then holds up some soil in his hand: “In here there are more microorganisms than there are human beings on the entire planet. We want to improve the health of our vines, not just kill off diseases.”

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For many years, Count Michael Goëss-Enzenberg could not imagine adopting organic farming principles. Being responsible for over 50 employees, he did not want to risk smaller yields – until in 2005 Andrew Lorand, an expert in biodynamics, finally managed to convince him. Biodynamic principals were first applied in the year 2006. Three years later, the estate was awarded its 100% biodynamic certification.

Back then, the Count’s oldest employee asked him sceptically: “Do you want everything to go to rack and ruin?” Later, when it all turned out well, the same employee insisted that such methods were actually used in the old days as well. While it’s true that Count Michael Goëss-Enzenberg did not invent biodynamics, he certainly practices by its principles today.

Biodynamics

Biodynamic agriculture is not a method of cultivation, but rather the holistic development of the farmer with his farm.

- the soil is revitalised with compost and treated with minerals so that it again becomes a habitat for various microorganisms and achieves a natural balance
- applications of herbs are likewise very positive for the vines
- nettles ensure balance and harmony in the vineyard
- the phases of the moon should be taken into consideration

The invisible winery

The surprises don’t end here. We descend a ramp and arrive at the heart of production, the winery. Because I have never been here before, I enter all the more curiously. It is cool and the scent of wine is immediately apparent. The historic building is only a few paces away. A pane of glass separates us from the ultramodern wine cellar, three floors deep. While the space is deep, it is not tall because the cellar is located underneath the vineyard.

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The Count says: “There is only one part above ground that receives daylight.” His wife, Countess Sophie, welcomes us there with a smile. A bottle of wine stands on the table along with some glasses.

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A mother of three children (now all studying), she is the family’s herbal expert. If all of her natural healing methods worked so well with her children, then it must be the same in nature, she reasons. “We use various teas to restore equilibrium to the plants,” says the Count. Are the vines sprayed with tea? “Yes, we live in a natural pharmacy. Many herbs are concealed. We simply have to know which ones to use, when and in what doses.” It all sounds very healthy – and very biodynamic.

Herbal tea for the vines

#1 nettle to stimulate
#2 camomile to calm the plants
#3 horsetail to promote healing

When we leave the winery, Count Michael Goëss-Enzenberg tells me he would soon like to hear the sound of cowbells among the vines. I say goodbye and look out once more at the beautiful landscape. I will soon be back, when I hope to see the cows – and also the sheep.

Text: Katja Schroffenegger
Translation: Gareth Norbury
Photos: Ivo Corrà
Video: Veronika Kaserer