If someone tried to explain what Biodynamics were to me 5 years ago I probably would have zoned out and just started drinking. Flash forward to the present day, I now realize it’s implications for overall Vineyard health and quality grape production. But what does this term, Biodynamic mean?
Let’s first start with its history: Rudolf Steiner first developed this concept in 1924. Biodynamics was the first of the organic agriculture movements. He was a philosopher and social reformer who truly believed in living in harmony with the land, sun, moon, and stars. He felt there were rhythms to life and a time to plant, prune, harvest, and so forth. In Steiner’s view, the farm functioned as one unit, with a goal of self-sustainability. Relationships among the crops, animals, and activities of the farm within this model are symbiotic with one another.
Biodynamic calendars associate each day of the year with Earth, Fire, Air and Water symbols, which ultimately provide guidance for farming (and wine drinking). Taking this step a little further, in the 1950s Maria Thun developed the concept with her own research using radishes. She found with her research that certain planting days yielded bigger and better radishes than others.
The days are broken down into the following categories: Root (when the moon travels through Earth signs Virgo, Taurus, and Capricorn), Flower (when the moon travels through Air signs Aquarius, Gemini, and Libra), Leaf (when the moon travels through Water signs Cancer, Pisces, and Scorpio) and Fruit (when the moon travels through Fire signs Leo, Sagittarius, and Aries). But if we’re talking about wine drinking, the emphasis is on Flower (think aromatic wines) and Fruit days (think everything else!), with Fruit being considered the best days to drink wine.
You may (or may not) have heard that biodynamics can involve some bizarre practices in lieu of the usage of fertilizers. One method is called Biodynamic Preparation 500. Cow (specifically cow, not bull) horns are filled with manure then buried for six months below the soil surface. They are then dug up and the nutrient-rich substance inside is stirred with water for one hour. The mixture is then sprayed across the property. But I guess that’s better than pesticides, right?
Organic farming is not the same as biodynamic. One key element is that organic farming permits the outside sourcing of animal feed, fertilizers, and pesticides. In biodynamics, it is required that a farm system produce its own fertilizer as much as possible through the integration of livestock and the rotation of crops. There are limits to the amount that can be imported from the outside. For example, no more than 36lbs of nitrogen are permitted per acre/year. Additionally, the usage of commercial yeast with the wines would not be permitted in biodynamics.
Of course, the biggest question on your mind at this point is probably “but is the wine good?” It’s difficult to say! I would say sometimes yes and sometimes no. Your tastes and preferences are unique to you and your individual life experiences. One important positive that I can see is the stark reduction in pesticide use as compared to conventional farming. Currently, there are many certified biodynamic or practicing biodynamic wines available on the market. Demeter and Biodyvin (Europe only) are the certifying bodies for Biodynamic wines.
As with any wine, what happens in the Vineyards will affect the quality of the grapes. How the grapes are handled and treated by the winemaker will ultimately affect the quality, taste, and composition. Do your research, investigate producers, and never stop tasting different wines! Cheers!