The Effect of Music on Vine, Wine, and Grapes

Remember back in the day … when talking to your plants was all the rage … I’d wager any of us who did that (and I admit to nothing) probably sang to them too. My orchids were particularly fond of Kate Bush, or at least of my rendition of Hounds of Love. Oops! Gave myself away!

The science

It has been scientifically proven, though, that sound does have a positive effect on plants. The findings show that it did not matter whether the talk was positive or negative – of three groups of plants, one received sweet talk, another was hurled insults, and the third was in silent retreat. Oddly enough, there was no difference in the nice and the nasty, but both did better than the ignored, which languished and withered in its solitude. Maybe, like some people and dogs, plants would prefer any attention rather than none at all.

But would music make a difference in how plants grow? It’s no secret, music does wonders for the soul. But what about the soul of the vine?

The romance

There are some winemakers who are convinced that it does. Case in point: Giancarlo Cignozzi of al Paradiso di Frassina in Montalcino, producer of an organic Brunello that also bears the term “Moz art”, primarily due to the small detail that during the growing season the vines have been serenaded with Mozart. They have been doing this for more than a decade.

Speakers are placed throughout one particular vineyard block, and the observation was that the vines closest to the speakers were more robust, and actually had a higher sugar content than the other vines. It also has the fortunate but unintentional effect of keeping the insect population down, which is highly beneficial in light of their organic certification.

On to South Africa now, and to a highly regarded winery producing some of Stellenbosch’s best chenin blanc. De Morgenzon winery prefers Baroque to Mozart, and believe that it has a profound effect on the ripening process. In fact, music is played continuously, not only in the vineyard but also in the cellar.

Notable observances include later ripening, which may not bode well for cool-climate vineyards, and a reduced need for sulphur during the winemaking process – another significant boon for organic producers.

Beyond the effect of 24/7 Bach on the vine, the fruit, the wine, and no doubt the imbiber, studies conducted in the 1950s through the 1980s have consistently proven music’s positive effect on root growth for many types of plant life. One study even went as far as to determine a 66% increase in wheat yields when the crop was subjected to a playlist of Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms, and other 19th century composers.

On to Austria now, and further along in the winemaking process where winemaker, musician, and restaurateur Markus Bachmann is marching to his own score, and pairing up with wine producers who use his invention: a specially designed speaker that floats free in tanks during fermentation to expose the must to various types of music, from classical to EDM.

The vibrations

While scientists largely dismiss his claims (they say that the wine couldn’t possibly distinguish between AC/DC, Coltrane, or Rachmaninoff) there is some evidence that the yeast acts differently with the UFO-like speaker invading its ecosystem. Regardless of what the “experts” say, winemaker Franz-Michael Mayer introduced waltzes and polkas into his Semillon for around three weeks, and the results were convincing enough that he was willing to continue on with the program despite the naysayers.

The decrescendo

One would think that if the results are proof enough, everybody would be doing it; but there are always sceptics – or worse, Madonna fans (no offence to Ms. Ciccone). Even if it’s simply that the vibrations are responsible for all the good, I must stand with Giancarlo Cignozzi when he says “I prefer the music. Sorry, but I’m very romantic!”

We’ll wrap up with the wise words of my former mentor, Tim Aikin, MW, when he says that their philosophy would be “largely irrelevant if the wine was mediocre or worse.” Yet another positive slant in favour of a vinous musical intervention.

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