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Drink Wine and Look at the Moon
By Marguerite Thomas
Aug 25, 2020
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Goodbye summer, hello autumn.  We are entering the time of year when temperatures begin to drop, dusk comes earlier and sunrise arrives later.  Another symptom of the season is that in the coming weeks we’re going to be treated to an exhilarating amount of celestial activity that kicks off with a full moon on September 2 with two more full moons arriving in October.  The autumnal equinox begins this year on September 22, ushering fall into the Northern hemisphere and spring in the Southern hemisphere.  The autumnal equinox will last 89 days until December 21, when astronomical winter begins. 

While astronomers and other moon watchers will delight in the upcoming period of lunar commotion you might well ask what any of it has to do with wine.  For vintners who follow biodynamic practices, the moon and its cycles play an important role in both viticulture and winemaking.  Not to be confused with wines labeled “organic” or “natural,” the term “biodynamic” has a very specific meaning.  “All Biodynamic wines are organic but not all organics are biodynamic,” explains wine writers Per and Britt Karlsson.  Biodynamic wines are produced according to stricter rules and “sometimes odd practices,” add the Karlssons, and they must adhere to systems laid out by the Demeter Association.  Founded in the 1920s and named for the Greek goddess of harvest, agriculture and fertility, the Demeter Association sets agricultural standards including replacing the use of chemicals with natural materials and composts to be employed on farms, vineyards and wineries.  Biodyvin, a mostly European focused organization created in 1995, focuses exclusively on grape growing and wine making.

Can the moon’s different phases affect how a wine tastes?  Some people think so.  On her website “Wine Folly,” James Beard Award-winning author Madeline Puckette wrote “The lunar calendar has been used in farming for centuries, but recently people have noted the moon’s effect on wine tasting.”  Specific biodynamic calendars in which lunar cycles and astrological forces overlap are used by biodynamic adherents to determine which days are best for planting, pruning, harvesting and, for some, wine tasting.  Each calendar day is defined as a Root, Flower, Leaf or Fruit Day.  Fruit Days, for example, are said to be the best time for harvesting, while pruning should be done on Root Days.  According to the lunar calendar the most auspicious time to taste wine is on Fruit Days.  Madeline Puckette writes that after testing this theory for eight years she concluded that “for some beyond logical reason” red wine does seem to taste best on a Fruit Day, while aromatic wines “really seem to sing on a Flower Day.”

Puckette is by no means the only person to suggest that the biodynamic calendar can be a guide to tasting wines.  Master of Wine and prodigious author Clive Coates has written: “Fruit Days are the best for tasting wines, and Root Days are the worst”.  When I ask Coates if he plans to drink anything special to celebrate September’s upcoming full moons, he directs me to his website “Wine of the Month.”  His selection for September 2020 is Chambolle Musigny, 1999, Comte Georges de Vogué.  “Village wines don't come much better than this,” writes Coates.  “But this has the result of the young vines of the domaine's Amoureuses, Bonnes Mares and Musigny in the blend.  It is a very lovely, indeed profound wine, with delicious fruit.  It is perfect now”.

The renowned biodynamic producer Nicolas Joly, who is responsible for some of the world’s most beloved wines including Clos de la Coulée de Serrant and Clos de la Bergerie, believes strongly enough in the moon’s influence on a wine’s taste that it is said he refuses to even open his wines on a Root Day. 

In Alsace, Olivier Humbrecht MW, produces biodynamic wines at his family’s estate Zind Humbrecht (I’ve heard Zind Humbrecht wines described as “celestial,” which in this case I do not consider a hyperbolic term).  When I ask Humbrecht if the upcoming moon phases will influence the harvest, he responds via email that while ripeness and weather conditions remain all important during harvest “we also look on the moon/constellation positions.”  He adds that “bottling or racking wines is done on a descending moon (and if possible on a Fruit Day).” 

Not surprisingly there is a fair amount of skepticism around some of this (read, for example, “Expectation or Sensorial Reality?  An Empirical Investigation of the Biodynamic Calendar for Wine Drinkers,” by Wendy V. Parr, et al).  I’m not taking a stand one way or another myself.  Instead, what I plan to do is follow the advice of the 11th century poet, mathematician and astronomer Omar Khayyam: "Drink wine and look at the moon and think of all the civilizations the moon has seen passing." 

Read more from Marguerite:    Marguerite Thomas
Connect with her on Twitter at @M_L_Thomas