Biodynamic farming has been around since the 1920s, but it's only become a household term in the wine shop in the last decade or so. With a holistic and nuanced approach to viticulture, biodynamic wine has gained traction with winemakers looking to combat climate change along with wine enthusiasts looking to drink environmentally-conscious, quality wine.
What Is Biodynamic Wine?
Biodynamics actually came about before the organic movement in Austria thanks to philosopher Rudolf Steiner. While it took a little bit of time to gain traction, some winemakers in the Loire Valley, France caught on and started transitioning their vineyards by the 1980s. Biodynamic wine is a holistic approach, focused on nurturing an entire ecosystem through various steps so it is healthy and resilient.
The Lunar Calendar
Biodynamics follow the Lunar calendar that dictates the best time for certain agricultural practices based on the natural lifecycle of the vine. Part of this calendar includes breaking down time into four categories, which coincide with the four elements. The categories are root days, fruit days, flower days, and leaf days. The system translates to mean that it is best to prune on root days, while watering is best done on leaf days and harvesting on fruit days. On flower days, the vineyard is left alone.
Compost and Cow Horns
Nurturing the vines with the humus created from composted manures and organic waste is a crucial piece of biodynamic farming. There are nine compost preparations used in biodynamic farming, as suggested by Steiner. These can include ingredients like manure, yarrow blossoms, and chamomile, and other homeopathic preparations that are diluted into sprays and used for specific needs across the growing season. Cow horns are also an integral part of the composting process. Horns are filled with compost and buried in the soil. The horns are later dug up, and the super-charged compost is then diluted and distributed throughout the vineyard.
Plant Diversity & Animal Life
If you visit a vineyard and there are all sorts of grasses and wildflowers growing knee high between the vines with bees, beetles, and butterflies zipping between blossoms, it's likely not overgrown but rather the vineyard may be biodynamic. That term holistic is a key part of the diversity a biodynamic vineyard cultivates. From inter-planting vegetables, hedges for birds to nest in, and keeping sheep, pigs, or other animals between the vines, the more diversity the better when it comes to biodynamic viticulture.
No Synthetic Fertilizers or Chemicals
Just as with organically certified wine, biodynamic wine does not permit the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides in the vineyard. In the cellar, the addition of chemical correctives and sulfites is prohibited.
The Difference Between Organic and Biodynamic Wines
Biodynamic wines are produced using the principles of biodynamic agriculture, which sets them apart from organic wines as a whole. The process is similar to organic farming in that there is an absence of chemicals, but biodynamics take the process one step further by treating the vineyard as its own ecosystem. Lunar cycles and other spiritual forces are taken into consideration, which is a large departure from traditional organics.
Biodynamic Certified Wine
To be labeled as certified biodynamic, a wine must pass certification. Biodynamic wines, whether certified or not, follow strict guidelines set forth by Demeter International in the USA, or by Biodyvin in France and Germany. Minimal invasive manipulations are allowed, and the rules cover details of each part of the wine growing and winemaking process.
You may see a wine that notes, "made from biodynamic grapes." That is not a true biodynamic wine as defined by Demeter and Biodyvin; the note simply means the grapes were grown using biodynamic techniques, but the process used in making the wine itself may not have been as strict as what is required for certified biodynamic wines.
Finding Biodynamic Wines
More and more wineries are transitioning to biodynamics in the vineyard and cellar. If you are looking in the right places, you'll find certified-biodynamic wines from the United States, Europe, and beyond. While demand is increasing, the accessibility to these wines, for the most part, you still won't find them in a generic grocery store. Check special bottles shops, in particular natural wine shops and/or wine bars to find a good selection. When searching, look for the Demeter logo to indicate that it is a certified biodynamic wine. And when in doubt, ask!
Taste the Difference
Biodynamic winemaking is a thoughtful and forward approach to viticulture that takes steps to mitigate climate change and produce a more authentic, terroir-driven wine. When the earth is truly nurtured and the wine is not manipulated with artificial elements, it is a vibrant reflection of a time and place across your palate.