More and more winemakers are turning to biodynamic practices – but few are employing the decidedly emotional techniques that Spanish winemaker Sergio Avila uses. Editor Chris Losh sat down with the producer at Enotria&Coe's portfolio tasting to learn the ways of the whisperer
Sergio Avila doesn’t look mad. In fact, clear-eyed and sparky, he seems disgracefully cheerful for a damp February in London. But what he’s saying is, to put it politely, unusual.
‘I talk to my vines,’ he says. ‘And I listen to what they say. They tell me how much water they want, whether they’re sick. And I listen.’
When he says ‘talk to his vines’, I ask, does he mean ‘take readings and make analysis?’
Avila looks at me like I’m insane.
‘No. I talk to them. With my mouth.’
‘So could I talk to them?’ I ask, somewhat facetiously, ‘or do they only speak Spanish?’
‘It’s a universal language,’ says Avila. ‘Like when you are talking to a dog. It can understand what you are saying even if it doesn’t know the words.
‘I ask my vines what they need. Do you want water? Yes or no. How much per plant? Two litres? Three litres? Yes or no. When do you need it? Today? Next week?’
To ‘hear’ their responses, Avila uses a divining rod which twitches up for ‘si’ and sideways for ‘non’.
Unsurprisingly, Avila treats his 40 hectares of Tempranillo in Ribera del Duero’s ‘golden triangle’ both biodynamically and homeopathically.
Biodynamic viticulture – where vineyard actions and treatments are governed by the lunar calendar – is well-established. And the use of homeopathic formulations is a common part of it.
But Imbibe has never heard of any viticulturalists practising ‘radiesthesia’ – the process of using a divining rod to talk to their plants.
Put the three processes together, and Avila says his plant-care philosophy is all ‘one step on from biodynamism’.
And yet Avila has not always been a proponent of such holistic methods. He fell into the alternative medicine field when his infant daughter was suffering from a skin condition more than 10 years ago. It had confounded Spain’s medical practitioners for months, but was sorted out very quickly by a homeopath using allergy testing.
This was back in 2006, and it made a big impression on the winemaker. He began to shift to a more biological approach, going on to study homeopathy in Latin America before introducing it into his vineyards shortly after.
‘The doctors taught me the methodology, and I put it [to practice] in the vineyard,’ he says proudly.
‘If you have a fever, it’s the consequence of an imbalance,’ he explains. ‘Homeopathy looks for the reason for that imbalance. And it could be either physical or mental, even in the vineyard. Because a plant has intelligence too.’
Since the plants are all connected by their root system, Avila does not, fortunately, need to converse with each one individually. Rather, since vines are ‘linked by their roots’, he has 20 different areas where he talks to the vines to assess their physical and emotional states.
The practice, he maintains, doesn’t take any more time than conventional viticulture.
‘I’m the only person who does this in Spain,’ he says happily. ‘The neighbours think I’m crazy.’
Cruz de Alba, based in Ribera del Duero, is a new addition to the Enotria portfolio. Trade prices range from £13.87 for the crianza to £38.42 for the single vineyard Finca los Hoyales