It’s a sunny spring morning at the winery, and Virginie Saverys is on her way to meet Adriano Zago, our biodynamic consultant, who is waiting for her in the winery vegetable garden, near the Vin Santo vineyard at Le Capezzine estate. He is standing at the edge of a large, square hole in the ground.
He jumps into the hole and picks up an object. It’s a cow horn, filled with dung. He brushes off the dirt, empties its contents into his hand and smells. He nods to the vineyard crew. “The horns are ready, you can dig them up.”
Avignonesi applies biodynamics to all our vineyards, and today is an important day in the making of 500P, one of the main biodynamic preparations, also called “horn manure.”
Aged horn manure is diluted with rain water, heated to 37°C, dynamized for an hour and sprayed onto the soil in the vineyard in the late afternoon to improve the structure, permeability and water-holding capacity of the soil and to increase humus and microbial content.
It is composed of dung from biodynamic cows, which is put into cow horns and buried underground in the autumn for approximately 5 months, during which time it turns into humus.
Adriano Zago: “The first time a person smells the manure that has just been removed from the horns, he or she is always surprised. When we put the manure in, it’s smelly and sticky, but after 5 months in the horns, it is a powdery, dark humus, smelling like a spring meadow, fresh and flowery. It’s an amazing transformation.”
Virginie Saverys decided to convert Avignonesi to biodynamics when she acquired the winery in 2009. She’s a very hands-on leader, and can be found sorting grapes during harvest or emptying the cow horns for the 500P, enjoying the company of her vineyard-crew and cellar-team.
Virginie: “We have about 200 hectares (approximately 500 acres) of vineyards now, so it takes quite a lot of 500P to treat them all, even though only a tiny quantity of product is used per hectare. In fact, 100 grams of 500P, stirred in rainwater, is enough for an entire hectare (2.5 acres) of soil. This means that we need to bury approximately 1.000 horns every year to produce our own.”
(Click on the photo to see a brief film)
After all the horns have been emptied, the manure is kneaded into a homogeneous mass and transferred into large terracotta vases, where it matures for another month.
The vineyards at Avignonesi have already been treated once this year with 500P, and if we see more rain in the near future, we will probably spray again in a few weeks and then again in autumn. We also use the other classic biodynamic preparation, 501, which is horn silica, said to have light-reflecting and heat-enhancing properties, and which promotes balanced growth and photosynthetic activity.
Adriano Zago: “In addition to the preparations, we also tend to the vineyards by applying various herb sprays, like nettle, which helps their defence system. We spray propolis as an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal remedy, and this year we are also going to test the effects of the essential oil of lavender, which naturally relieves stress.”
Virginie: “I love going into the vineyards and seeing how much life there is - insects, birds, and butterflies – and smell the colours and aromas from the cover crops we grow under the vines. Nature is symbiosis, a circular system of life, which when respected is powerful, generous and an endless source, not only of nutrition, but also of joy.”