The Cow’s horn has long been a symbol of fecundity, a cornucopia of abundance since Hathor the bovine – horned Goddess was worshipped as the Goddess of Wine by the people of the Nile.
While working on this post, I was reminded of the Festivals of Drunkenness, similar to the Greek Bacchanalia,, celebrated annually in ancient Egypt, dedicated to the Gods and Goddesses who ruled supreme, especially Hathor and Thoth. It was a time of magical thinking.
Almost a Century ago, Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher who gained recognition after founding an esoteric spiritual movement (Anthroposophy) with roots in Theosophy and Rosicrucianism, in an attempt to find the connection between science and spirituality, engaged in the same sort of magical thinking that the ancient Egyptians lived by. After WWI, Steiner began to establish practical applications for his studies, including Waldorf Education and Biodynamic Agriculture.
The concept behind Biodynamics is that everything in the universe is interconnected and that the interconnectivity of everything includes celestial bodies; the moon, planets and stars.
In actuality, there’s really nothing novel behind the theory of Biodynamics. Mankind has looked to the Heavens for guidance from the time of the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, all the way to the trusty ‘Farmer’s Almanac’ which is the bible of traditional American farming.
Biodynamic Agriculture is in reality, a holistic, homeopathic manner of farming that also happens to include viticulture. It is the oldest, anti-chemical agricultural movement that predates the creation of organic farming by about twenty years.
Visiting my daughters at the recently opened Cellar at Cids one afternoon, I overheard one of the employees, Paul Greenhaw, talking about compost preparations used in Biodynamic viticulture, one of which included a cow’s horn stuffed with manure and buried in the field of vines.
Paul moved to Taos with his wife (who is an event coordinator at El Monte Sagrado), after a brief stint in Kansas via NYC, where the couple had lived for twenty years. Originally from California, Paul is a musician who spent many years working at the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts, while gigging around the city and its boroughs at night.
He began growing food on their fire escape and later in a small back yard in Brooklyn, but moved to Kansas to explore growing food with different principles including Biodynamics. Wine, beer and spirits were also being experimented with.
Kansas proved too conservative after two decades in the City and now the couple find themselves here in Taos, which Paul agreed with my longtime observation, is a bit like the East Village in the Mountains.
These days, while he still gigs frequently and says Taos treats musicians well, his day job is a great avenue for him to exercise his formidable knowledge on the practice of Biodynamics, especially since the Cellar currently carries no less than 67 Biodynamic wines.
Genevieve Oswald, my youngest, who also works at The Cellar, first became interested in Biodynamic wines while managing the Love Apple for the past two years, before coming to work for her sister, (Angelica Robinson), and Lee Backer at the wine store.
Jen of course, has been on the cutting edge of the Farm to Table Movement here in Taos for years. The Love Apple is world-famous. In fact the infamous fashion photographer Terry Richardson celebrated his nuptials there this past weekend, no doubt with ample bottles of Biodynamic wines and Bubbly!
Which brings me back to Hathor, and her bovine horns.
There are nine compost preparations used in Biodynamic farming which include everything from manure stuffed cow horns (more about this in a bit), to yarrow blossoms (mentioned in Homer’s Iliad for treating wounds), chamomile (a natural antiseptic) and stinging nettles (a natural cleanser.) Of course, there is no serious evidence on whether or not cow horns are a necessary component in what is ultimately a dedicated organic gardening process, but Biodynamic vineyards experience far fewer pest and mold problems than conventionally farmed vines do.
“Organic” wines are made from organically grown grapes, then made without any added sulfites (though naturally occurring sulfites will still be present.) Biodynamic is similar to organic farming in that both are practiced without synthetic chemicals, but Biodynamic farming incorporates ideas about a vineyard as an entire ecosystem, and utilises metaphysical principles such as astrological influences and lunar cycles.
A Biodynamic wine means that the grapes are farmed Bodynamically, and that the winemaker did not use any common manipulations such as yeast additions or acidity adjustments. They are then able to be stored correctly for distribution without the worry of contamination. It is really up to the ‘farmer’ to decide how this is done and what they have used previously to help their crop. It is not known if at any point they are stored in one of the metal buildings Kansas storage areas, but it could prove beneficial as they are solid and can withstand harsh weathers that may come during crop time.
True Biodynamic farming might make the vegans and vegetarians amongst us cringe, Biodynamic viticulture requires special compost preparations including the aforementioned manure stuffed cow horns which are buried in the soil. Later, the cow horns are dug up to be reused and the ‘stuffing’ is distributed throughout the vineyard.
Paul commented that while visiting a vintner in France, he was told that ground, powdered quartz is used as well.
“I think the horn with quartz powder is used during a different season,” he explained, “almost like homeopathy for the earth and the vines.
Although many believe the practice of Biodynamic composting a pseudoscience, it is a practice that is quickly gaining in popularity, with established vineyards in traditional wine making countries including France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Australia, Chile, South Africa and the United States. A number of very high-end, high-profile commercial growers have converted recently to Biodynamic practices. According to an article in Fortune, many of the top estates in France, “including Domaine Leroy in Burgundy, Château de la Roche-aux-Moines in the Loire, Maison Chapoutier in the Rhone Valley, and Domaine Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace,” follow Biodynamic viticulture. For a wine to be labeled “Biodynamic” it has to meet standards laid down by the Demeter Association, an internationally recognized certifying body.
The historical precedence perhaps explains why cow horns are used; the horn has long been a symbol of fertility and abundance ever since Hathor wore two cradling the Moon as her crown, while presiding over the Drunken Festivals along the Nile. The Vikings believed that water drunk from a horn contained life enhancing properties. In traditional Chinese Medicine, horns are still used in preparations for various ailments.
Lastly, the taste of these wines differs from conventionally grown varieties; stronger, clearer, more vibrant tastes, as well as wines that remain drinkable longer are the result of Biodynamic viticulture. Biodynamic producers say their methods bring a better balance to the wine, with grape sugar levels equal to physiological ripeness, resulting in wine with the correct balance of flavor and alcohol content, even with changing climate conditions. Magical thinking might not be so far-fetched!
The Cellar has clearly labeled their inventory to make it easy for you, the customer, to find what you are looking for; Biodynamic wine has a blue dot with bd on it, Practicing Organic is light green, Organic (certified) Dark Green and several are a mix of both.
For more information on The Cellar and all the wines, beer and spirits they sell, please visit them if and when you are in Taos, and don’t hesitate to engage any of the staff in conversation – they are all so knowledgable and super helpful.
You can also discover more about The Cellar, by visiting their site linked below this post.
Photographs of a few of the Biodynamic wines for sale at The Cellar by Joshua Cunningham
Other images, stock files