Biological Time by Bernie Taylor is more a scientific book than something a layperson would sit down and read through. Only 116 of the 209 pages is the main book - the rest is graphics and appendices.
Primarily, the book is about the breeding cycles and movements of fish and wildlife. It talks about how primitive man tracked the migrations and lunar cycles and could tell when animals would be easiest to catch. Only now are we starting to re-discover this information with modern tracking methods.
The interest for grape growers comes on page 54. Taylor explains that grapes are usually harvested based on their pH, sugar and acid levels. This can then be traced back to when the buds first unfurled from the vine, called "bud break". Bud break is thought to begin based on warm weather - and the grapes' maturation is then traditionally counted from that point based on the number of "degree days" - days that are over 60F to help the grapes grow.
Bud break seems to happen during the new moon cycle - and the harvests (chosen on the best balance between BRIX and pH) also time themselves to new moon cycles. Taylor then stretches this hypothesis to say that we should be able to choose which vintages will be great simply by looking at the lunar cycle for a year, and determining if the harvest will come in before or after rainy season. Rains tend to harm fully ripe grapes, as the rain literally soaks into the grapes and either dilutes the flavor or bursts the skins. Many winemakers would rather harvest early than let the grapes be rained on before harvesting.
The section is literally over on page 59, and we're back to fish and deer again. I do find the idea of when the buds choose to break intriguing - but living around many small vineyards, I know that buds seem to break based on the warmness of the weather. In fact in years with strange weather (very hot or very cold) the buds break very early or late because of that. Having even, sunny days is far more important for grape growth than lunar days.
Taylor says that the hypothesis works well in even sunny years - but that is the point of vine management - that vines grow best with even, sunny days, with controlled irrigation. You want enough water to sustain the vine, with a ton of sunshine to let the grapes ripen. The problem with harvests is when this does NOT happen. It's not usually just that "the harvest was before rainy season". Sometimes it's that a late frost hits. Sometimes it's that a thunderstorm rips through the vineyard and shakes the grapes off the vines. Sometimes it's a long dry spell in a location that doesn't allow for irrigation - and sometimes it's that a wave of storms comes through and dilutes the grapes. Weather is not standard. If it was, every year would be a banner year for grapes because we would know how to plan for it. Weather changes. The lunar cycle stays the same, but we get thunderstorms, or hurricanes, or tornados, or killer dry heat. You know when the new moon will be - but you don't know when Hurricane Andrew will sweep across the gulf states and be a lvl 5 hurricane vs a tropical storm.
It was interesting reading this book, although the content was written in a very dry style. I have been partners with a fisherman for almost 10 years now, and I went into college to study biology. Even so, the fascinating topic became a listing of historical situations and day-counts from lunar events. It would be great to read a book just about grape vines and growing techniques, that actually had research done on this situation that accounted for various weather patterns. But while I think light and dark does influence nature, it is just one of many different influences. Especially with plants, the amount of water and specific weather situations that happen are just as important, if not far more important. A moon can never matter as much as an attack of phylloxera or a drought will.
Buy Biological Time from Amazon.com
Wine Book Reviews