A Complete Guide to Biodynamic Wine

by Chelsea Cummings
Red grapes

You’ve no doubt heard about biodynamic wine, but what exactly is it? How is it different from organic? What are the pros and cons? Does it really work? Does it taste different? Find out the answers to the most asked questions in this comprehensive guide to biodynamic wines.

What is Biodynamic Agriculture?

According to the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association, the official definition of biodynamic farming is “a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, gardens, food production and nutrition.” Biodynamic wine is made using a set of farming practices that views the vineyard as one whole entity. The idea is that the ecosystem works as a whole, with each part of the farm or vineyard influencing another.

The idea of biodynamic agriculture was developed in the early 1920s by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, long before the organic movement took hold. Ultimately, his goal was to create a self-sustaining system, minimize our impact on nature, and leave the land better than we found it for future generations. 

What are Some Examples of Biodynamic Practices?

One example of biodynamic viticulture includes involving local animals in the winegrowing progress. By introducing sheep to the vineyards you can have vine leaves happily trimmed for free and receive a fresh load of manure to fertilize your soil – a win-win for sheep and winegrowers!

Companion planting is another farming practice used in biodynamic gardening to discourage pests and disease. One example is planting roses in vineyards. Not only do roses attract insects like aphids before the vines, they also get fungal disease like black rot and mildew before the vines. In this way, roses can act as an early warning system to take action before the vines are affected. Clever, huh?

However, there are also aspects of biodynamic farming that raise a few eyebrows.

Criticism of Biodynamic Practises

While some aspects of biodynamic farming make complete sense if you’re trying to create a sustainable system, other aspects are more difficult to justify. Take following a biodynamic calendar, which takes lunar cycles into account to determine when it’s best to prune, water and harvest. Solar energy clearly has an effect on plant growth, so while it requires no stretch of the imagination to believe that lunar energy could also influence plants, it’s hard to prove a noticeable impact on growth, quality or taste. 

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of biodynamic viticulture is the use of specific compost and field preparations. One of the most well-known is preparation 500. Preparation 500 involves stuffing cow horns with manure compost and burying it in the soil throughout winter.

When the horn is excavated in the spring, the material is “dynamised” by vigorously stirring it with rainwater and spreading it across the vineyard. This process is thought to bring a host of benefits such as regulating the pH balance of the soil, stimulating seed germination, and dissolving minerals.

Preparation 500

Critics acknowledge the high quality of biodynamic wines but ask whether several of the improvements in wine taste and vineyard health would not have happened anyway if organic farming alone were used, without the mysticism of some biodynamic practices.

While some critics dismiss some biodynamic practices as mumbo jumbo, they admit that it doesn’t really matter if people think burying cow horns full of manure will help them channel new life forces from the cosmos. What matter is the higher craftsmanship and meticulous attention to detail that biodynamic growers pay to their vineyards.

What’s the Difference Between Organic and Biodynamic Wine?

Both organic and biodynamic farming are very similar in that they both do without the use of chemicals. However, whereas organic wine is produced with organic grapes, biodynamic farming concerns itself with all aspects of the vineyard, including other plants, insects and animals. In short, it takes a much more holistic approach than organic farming.

What’s more, unlike organic farming, biodynamic farming prohibits the use of foreign agents like acid or extra yeast, ensuring that the wine is a faithful and natural representation of the vineyard.

Or as biodynamic winegrower Gérard Bertran sums it up: ‘Organic is a methodology, and biodynamic is a philosophy.’

Does Biodynamic Wine Taste Different?

While definitely a subjective question, the short answer is generally no. It would be almost impossible to taste whether a wine was biodynamic or not. However, a combination of organic grapes and lack of pesticides often results in a higher-quality taste than other wines.

Biodynamic wines are generally well-reviewed for authentically expressing the wine’s terroir as well as a notable minerality, freshness and potential for ageing.

How Can You Tell if a Wine is Biodynamic?

The oldest and one of the most respected food certifications for biodynamic produce is the German organisation, Demeter. If you see a bottle with the Demeter logo, you know it’s biodynamic wine.

Another biodynamic certification is the French Biodyvin, which is a little more lenient than the strict Demeter standards.

While there are several certifications and logos for organic wine, Demeter and Biodyvin are the only two internationally recognised certifications for biodynamic wine. 

Where Can You Find Biodynamic Wine?

Despite still making up a tiny percentage of the world’s wineries, the popularity of biodynamic wine is rising. While not all are convinced about some of the more ‘mystical’ biodynamic farming practices, most would agree that biodynamic wines are respectful to nature and are often excellent quality.

Europe leads the way with biodynamic viticulture, led by a large margin by France and followed by Italy

In third place it’s The United States. Within the US, California is the leader for the number of Demeter certified vineyards, most of which are concentrated in Mendocino County in the North Coast, where you can find biodynamic vineyards like Frey Vineyards and Bonterra.

Unsurprisingly, Germany and Austria also do well on biodynamic viticulture, given their historical ties with the practice. 

While you’re more likely to find biodynamic wines in specialised organic shops, nowadays you can often find them in your local supermarket. Or why not have them delivered straight to your door? Discover Drinks&Co’s special selection of biodynamic wines and have them sent to your home with just a few clicks.

 TAGS:Bonterra Vineyards The Butler Biodynamic Organic Vineyards 2016

Bonterra Vineyards The Butler Biodynamic Organic Vineyards 2016

Deep purple with a slight red hue, this delicious biodynamic wine leads with intense, complex aromas of spicy black fruit, cigar paper, and espresso.

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