We toast and I ask Mark [Cassar] if, in his opinion, this is the essence of real biodynamics. He smiles and points out: “Biodynamics is possible only in vineyards... what one does in cellars, that is alchemy.” And so, he starts talking about qvevris.
“Qvevris are hand-made by George Kopadze from Shroa, Georgia, using the best quality Caucasian clay which contains large amounts of gold, silver and magnesium. The ageing in these amphorae makes the wines shine and reflect the light, through a specific process known as ‘ionic bond’ with an underlying magnetic field,” Mark explains.
“Inside qvevris, wine can move − it’s alive and can express its soul. The alchemist is the one who transforms the earth into wine, and the wine into blood. To do this, electricity and mechanics are also needed. But the alchemist should be able to use these forces properly.
“For this reason, it’s important that the electricity is generated from solar panels and that the thermal conduction of cooling uses air produced by wind turbines (aimed at maintaining a constant temperature of 15-18˚C all year round).
Then there is the spiritual work, concerned with the control of natural forces: extensive contact with peel and seeds, without interfering with the indigenous yeast at work.
“Lastly, without filtration, the transfer from the qvevri to the bottle is carried out in vacuo, without adding nitrogen. In the end, you’ll drink the terroir, which is clayey soil-based in the case of Chardonnay and calcareous-based for Merlot and Petit Verdot.”
The alchemist is the one who transforms the earth into wine
I had a question which had been buzzing in my head for some time… It’s the kind of question which is unpleasant and embarrassing and thus one keeps postponing it, but I then decided the time had come to pose it. So I ask Mark the reason why he decided to grow international grape varieties rather than autochthonous ones.
“There are no autoch-thonous varieties, what does autochthonous even mean? Maybe it refers to a certain type of grape which has remained in the same terroir for many years?” he asks.
“In Malta, there are Ġellewża and Girgentina, grapes varieties brought here by the Phoenicians or, maybe, by Sicilians. But why use grapes which do not give alcohol, producing poor wines in which fermentation cannot even start? It will be necessary to help them, adding something, altering them. Indeed, this is precisely what people who try to vinify these grapes do.
“Merlot and Chardonnay are strong grape varieties, fully-fledged, thousand-year-old travellers, wanderers who are able to be citizens of the world. It is up to the alchemist to make sure that a holy blood will flow from them.”
Mark does not seem annoyed at my questions, but rather happy to have the opportunity of exchanging views on certain topics. I also earn the right to visit the cellar.
It’s time to take a look at the qvevris, buried underneath the soft clay. A light, scented silence reigns. Mark kneels down and with liturgical movements, which recall the sweetness of the Buddhist lamas’ harmonious blessing gestures, moves the sand with his hands in order to uncover the little hole. He leans over and lays his ear on it: the wine is moving in the dark; you can perceive its slight, circular movement, like that of a wave.
Mark then carefully extracts a small quantity of wine, which he then pours into our glasses.
This red wine turns out to be a true revelation: its colour is extremely bright, its aroma is sweet but dry, fragrant, almost of wild honey. The mouthfeel is indeed lysergic. Its saline flavour, at the beginning so delicate, then gives off its aroma, causing saliva production with its crystalline dryness. A sensational wine. Malta is well worth a service. Celebrated with the blood of the earth.
Concluded. Part 1 was published on February 28.
Luca Farinotti is an Italian writer and journalist, with a particular interest in food, wine and sport.