Wining by the Light of the Moon

Cat Moon and Wine.jpg

I am writing about wine and the moon under a clear night sky in a blast of lunar light (albeit, augmented by the illumination of a laptop). There was a full moon in the Northern Hemisphere last night and under it, I recalled how I have been fascinated by the full moon since an astronomy addiction in elementary school. Astrophysics rapidly slipped from my mental grasp along with my wish to be an aeronautical engineer, but the glimmering light that waxes and wanes on its regular celestial cycle remains a powerful attraction for me.

So what does the moon have to do with wine? With the full moon overhead for the next couple of days, let's consider that question, because it is very possible the moon exerts an influence that not only controls whether we get good grapes (and thus good wine), but also dictates how our wine tastes.

The Pull of the Moon

We all witness the moon in action, its subtle swings from New Moon (paradoxically the term for what is apparently no moon at all) to a faint crescent to the oddly named gibbous moons. An aside: Who has not wondered what "gibbous" means, and marveled that while we see the word in poetry, we probably know no one who ever used "gibbous" in a spoken sentence? In case you are wondering, a gibbous moon is between a half-moon and a full moon and can either be waxing - moving from half to full - or waning, moving from full to half.

The Full moon (photo: from the galileo mission, 1992, Courtesy of Nasa)

The Full moon (photo: from the galileo mission, 1992, Courtesy of Nasa)

So, consider the moon’s gravitational pull on the oceans that give us the subtle, but absolutely unstoppable, push and pull of the tides. If the moon can influence so large a body of liquid, does it not make sense that it would influence much smaller quantities of liquid? Say, the sap in a plant? That was one of the questions that intrigued Rudolf Steiner, a late-19th and early-20th century writer and educator. Had he been a scientist, he might not have asked the same questions, but he was not a scientist, he was a philosopher, and in an age when industrial science seemed to have an answer for everything, he wondered if we were not ignoring some simple  albeit unscientific truths of nature.

At the risk of vastly simplifying Steiner's teaching, let’s just say that he felt that natural gravitational pull exerted a huge influence on plant life. We've all seen how plants bend toward the sun, but much less visible is the possibility that sap rises and falls in a plant due to natural influences as well. This is one element of his larger approach called biodynamic agriculture.

Whether biodynamics is the next level of agricultural evolution (as some believe) or New Age claptrap (as an equal number of skeptics argue) isn't the point. What interests me, sitting here with my empty glass under a full moon, is whether that beautiful moon is tugging on my wine.

Sheer Lunarcy

Part of Steiner's philosophy held that because of the moon and other influences, there were certain days, called “fruit days,” that were good for picking fruit plants (like grapes) and other days better for picking root plants (carrots and turnips) and still other days for flowering plants and leaf plants.  

The moon above Viña Montes' vineyard in Marchigüe, Chile (C) Lyn Farmer all rights reserved

The moon above Viña Montes' vineyard in Marchigüe, Chile (C) Lyn Farmer all rights reserved

These days are calculated not on a standard calendar but on a lunar calendar that is more tied to astrology than to astronomy. The idea is that root days (days when the moon is, astrologically speaking, in one of the three earth signs – Capricorn, Taurus and Virgo) are not very good for drinking wine while fruit days (when the moon is in one of the fire signs – Aires, Leo and Sagittarius) show wine at its best. Leaf days (moon in water signs – Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces) are also not particularly good, but flower days (the moon in air signs – Gemini, Libra and Aquarius) are relatively neutral for the taste of wine but may enhance aromas.

Is this crazy? Maybe not. A BBC news report (and this comes from England, a country of gardeners as well as wine drinkers) says that wine buyers for the huge grocery chain Tesco as well as the high-end retailer Marks & Spencer will only taste on fruit days. There are plenty of people who dismiss this as pseudo-science, but certainly an equal number who say that, science be damned, for whatever reason, this still seems to work.

The BBC report quoted English wine expert David Motion following an experiment in which he and a team of tasters evaluated the same eight wines on a leaf day (Tuesday) and, two days later, a fruit day. "It wasn't that the wine tasted bad on Tuesday,” said Motion, “but it was much more expressive on Thursday. It was more exuberant and 'on-song'. It was like the heavens opened, the clouds parted and the wine just expressed itself."

Is it enough of a difference that you will notice it and push away that proffered glass of Château Lafite if it happens to be a root day? If someone else is buying there is nothing that would have me push away a glass of Lafite, but this could still be fodder for idle chatter at a wine bar.

Where To Go From Here  has terrific infographics on wine, including this lunar calendar,  (C) Wine Folly, used with permission has terrific infographics on wine, including this lunar calendar,  (C) Wine Folly, used with permission

I'm not about to rule out wine for half the days of the month while the moon languishes in the wrong part of the astrological sky.  However, I'm intrigued enough by the concept that I'm going to start keeping a log and correlating that to days on the lunar calendar. Remember, it's not enough to say one wine tastes good on a fruit day and another wine tastes bad on a root day. You have to taste the same wine (not the same bottle, but the same wine) on successive days to see if it turns out differently. And the process is complicated by inevitable bottle variation that probably has nothing to do with where the moon finds itself on any given night.

Having a good wine bar nearby is a big help in this endeavor – it's good to have a place to go where you can taste wines by the glass on several different nights. You'll likely become a friend of the wine steward and gain a reputation as an eccentric but entertaining drinking companion as well. And where do you find out if today is a fruit or a root day? Consult a calendar of such things – a handy one can be found at Rhythm of Nature or among the wonderful infographics that populate the blog Wine Folly.

Tracking the Days

As I write this on March 5, it is a root day in the United States where I live (the lunar calendar will vary depending on your location). I'll likely have to postpone putting this to the test. We transition to a flower day on March 6, and then transition again to a leaf day on the 9th. We have to wait until March 11 for our next fruit day, but I'll be there, bottle and glass in hand when the transition occurs at 1630 Wednesday afternoon. I'll be pouring steadily until the root day comes at 2340 on Friday the 13th. How’s that for an omen?