Biodynamic wines are wines made using the principles of biodynamic agriculture. Biodynamic refers to both the agricultural methods and the handling and processing of the fruit post-harvest.
The practice of biodynamics in viticulture (grape growing) has become popular in recent years in several growing regions, including France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany, Australia, Chile, South Africa, Canada, and the United States. A number of very high-end, high-profile commercial growers have converted recently to biodynamic practices. According to an article in Fortune, many of the top estates in France, "including Domaine Leroy in Burgundy, Château de la Roche-aux-Moines in the Loire, Maison Chapoutier in the Rhone Valley, and Domaine Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace," follow biodynamic viticulture. There are currently more than 450 biodynamic wine producers worldwide. Currently, for a wine to be labeled “biodynamic” it has to meet the stringent standards laid down by the Demeter Association, which is an internationally recognized certifying body.
Like biodynamic agriculture in general, biodynamic viticulture stems from the ideas and suggestions of Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925), who gave his now famous Agriculture Course in 1924, predating most of the organic movement. The principles and practices of biodynamics are based on his spiritual/practical philosophy, called anthroposophy, which includes understanding the ecological, the energetic, and the spiritual in nature.
As a practical method of farming, biodynamics embodies the ideal of ever-increasing ecological self-sufficiency just as with modern agro-ecology, but includes ethical-spiritual considerations. This type of viticulture views the farm as a cohesive, interconnected living system.
Some grape growers who have adopted biodynamic methods claim to have achieved improvements in the health of their vineyards, specifically in the areas of biodiversity, soil fertility, crop nutrition, and pest, weed, and disease management. For example, Anne-Claude Leflaive of Domaine Leflaive estate in Burgundy claims that the use of biodynamic methods saved a badly diseased vineyard, to the point that it now produces some of her most highly prized wines. A long-term study of one California luxury wine-farm found that improved quality for both biodyanamic and organic could not be explained. This study in different vineyard blocks at a commercial vineyard in Ukiah, California found no difference between biodynamic methods with general organic farming methods with respect to soil quality, nor in the yield per vine, clusters per vine, and cluster and berry weight. However, one of the authors, Leo McCloskey has made the case that consumer quality scores, 100-point scores, are expected to be higher for both biodynamic and organic over traditional farming.
Biodynamic winemakers claim to have noted stronger, clearer, more vibrant tastes, as well as wines that remain drinkable longer. Biodynamic wines are more "floral", according to Spanish biodynamic vintner Pérez Palacios. Biodynamic producers also note that their methods tend to result in better balance in growth, where the sugar production in the grapes coincides with physiological ripeness, resulting in a wine with the correct balance of flavor and alcohol content, even with changing climate conditions.
In a blind tasting of 10 pairs of biodynamic and conventionally made wines, conducted by Fortune and judged by seven wine experts including a Master of Wine and head sommeliers, nine of the biodynamic wines were judged superior to their conventional counterpart. The biodynamic wines "were found to have better expressions of terroir, the way in which a wine can represent its specific place of origin in its aroma, flavor, and texture." Critics caution that such comparisons of wines of the same type need to be controlled for differences in soil and subsoil, and the farming and processing techniques used.
Critics acknowledge the high quality of biodynamic wines, but question whether many of the improvements in vineyard health and wine taste would have happened anyway if organic farming were used, without the mysticism and increased effort involved in biodynamics. Other critics attribute the success of biodynamic viticulture to the winemakers' higher craftsmanship and meticulous attention to detail. Ray Isle, managing editor of Wine & Spirit magazine, says, "So what if they also think burying cow horns full of manure will help them channel new life forces from the cosmos?"
For a vineyard to be considered biodynamic the wine-grower must use the nine biodynamic preparations, as described in 1924 by Rudolf Steiner. These are made from cow manure, quartz (silica) and seven medicinal plants. Some of these materials are first transformed using animal organs as sheaths (NB: the animal organs are not used on the vineyards). Of the nine biodynamic preparations three are used as sprays (horn manure, horn silica and common horsetail) and the other six are applied to the vineyard via solid compost:
- Preparation 500 - Cow manure is buried in cow horns in the soil over winter. The horn is then dug up, its contents (called horn manure or '500') are then stirred in water and sprayed on the soil in the afternoon. The horn may be re-used as a sheath.
- Preparation 501 - Ground quartz is buried in cow horns in the soil over summer. The horn is then dug up, its contents (called horn silica or '501') are then stirred in water and sprayed over the vines at daybreak. The horn may be re-used as a sheath.
- Preparation 502 - Yarrow flowers are buried sheathed in a stag's bladder. This is hung in the summer sun, buried over winter, then dug up the following spring. The bladder's contents are removed and inserted in the compost (the used bladder is discarded).
- Preparation 503 - Chamomille, the German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) flowers are sheathed in a cow intestine. This is hung in the summer sun, buried over winter, then dug up the following spring. The intestine's contents are removed and inserted in the compost (the used intestine is discarded).
- Preparation 504 - Stinging nettles are buried in the soil (with no animal sheath) in summer, are dug up the following autumn and are inserted in the compost.
- Preparation 505 - Oak bark is buried sheathed in the skull of a farm animal, the skull is buried in a watery environment over winter, then dug up. The skull's contents are removed and inserted in the compost (the used skull is discarded).
- Preparation 506 - Dandelion flowers are buried sheathed in a cow mesentery (peritoneum). This is hung in the summer sun, buried over winter, then dug up the following spring. The mesentery's contents are removed and inserted in the compost (the used mesentery is discarded).
- Preparation 507 - Valerian flower juice is sprayed over and/or inserted into the compost.
- Preparation 508 - Common Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) made either as a fresh tea or as a fermented liquid manure is applied either to the vines (in this case usually as a tea) or to the soil (in this case usually as a liquid manure).
- Paul Gregutt, "Not Woo-Woo Anymore: More and more wineries are tasting the benefits of saving the soil", The Seattle Times, November 20, 2005. Reprint copy. Accessed 2008-07-12.
- Jack Everitt, Master List of 475 Biodynamic Wine Producers, as of July 10, 2008, Fork & Bottle. Accessed 2008-07-12.
- P. C. Howard, The Wine Alchemy Biodynamic Directory, July 2008, Wine Alchemy. Includes the status of BD credentials. Accessed 2008-07-12.
- Jean K. Reilly, "Moonshine, Part 1: Why are top winemakers burying cow horns filled with manure on the equinox? Because it seems to help make great wine", Fortune, August 9, 2004. Reprint. Accessed 2008-07-11.
- Demeter Calls, Biodynamic Wines: An Expression of Terroir? published by novusvinum.com
- Paull, John (2011). "Attending the First Organic Agriculture Course: Rudolf Steiner's Agriculture Course at Koberwitz, 1924" (PDF). European Journal of Social Sciences' 21 (1): 64–70.
- "Eco-Friendly Wines," The Daily Green,October 1, 2009
- Reeve, Jennifer R.; Lynne Carpenter-Boggs; John P. Reganold; Alan L. York; Glenn McGourty; Leo P. McCloskey (1 December 2005). "Soil and Winegrape Quality in Biodynamically and Organically Managed Vineyards". American Journal of Enology and Viticulture (American Society for Enology and Viticulture) 56 (4): 367–376. Retrieved 2008-07-12.
- Beppi Crosariol, "Converted: I'm a biodynamic believer", Globe and Mail, February 13, 2008. Reprint. Accessed 2008-07-13.
- Roland Brunner, "Alto Adige goes green: Part 3: The stars go green too", Wein-Plus Magazine, February 25, 2008. Reprint. Accessed 2008-07-13.
- Jean K. Reilly, "Taste-Test Results", Fortune, August 23, 2004. Reprint. Accessed 2008-07-12.
- Jean K. Reilly, "Moonshine, Part 2: A blind sampling of 20 wines shows that biodynamics works. But how? (This, by the way, is why we went into journalism.)", Fortune, August 23, 2004. Reprint. Accessed 2008-07-11.
- Douglass Smith and Jesús Barquín, "Biodynamics in the Wine Bottle: Is supernaturalism becoming the new worldwide fad in winemaking? Here is an examination of the biodynamic phenomenon, its origins, and its purported efficacy", Skeptical Inquirer, November/December 2007. Reprint. Accessed 2008-07-12.
- Chalker-Scott, Linda (2004). "The Myth of Biodynamic Agriculture" (PDF). Horticultural Myths. Washington State University Puyallup Research & Extension Center. Retrieved 2008-07-12.
- Monty Waldin's Biodynamic Wine Guide 2011 ISBN 978-0-9566678-0-9, p.9-76.
Newspaper and magazine articles
- "Converted: I'm a biodynamic believer" Globe and Mail, February 13, 2008
- "Think organic, then take a big holistic leap to biodynamics" Montreal Gazette, Feb. 23, 2008
- "Rainer Loacker", Wein-Plus magazine, Feb. 3, 2008
- "The stars go green too" Wein-Plus magazine, Feb. 25, 2008
- "Dolan's Code", Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Feb 20, 2008
- "Voodoo on the Vine", San Francisco Weekly, Nov. 18, 2008
- "A Tempest in a wine glass", Napa Valley Register, Nov. 26, 2010
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- The First International Biodynamic Wine Forum
- Biodynamic viticulture at morethanorganic.com
- "Organic Wine Journal" an online magazine for organic and biodynamic wine
- Master List of 425+ Biodynamic Wine Producers. Accessed 2008-03-06.