Biodynamics is an agricultural philosophy that regards the vineyard as a complete ecosystem. It bears some commonalities with organic agriculture but takes the philosophies of organics to a new level. Biodynamics abstains from the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the vineyard. It also abstains from artificial adjustments in the winemaking process. Biodynamic farmers only use natural fertilizers and schedule their vineyard maintenance according to the lunar calendar. This agricultural philosophy predates modern organics and was first conceived by Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s. The facets of biodynamic winemaking are discussed in more detail below.
The Leap from Organics to Biodynamics
Biodynamics is a holistic view of agriculture that suggests everything in the universe (that includes humans, vines, and even the moon) has a resonance or a vibe. (No disrespect to biodynamic farmers, but to put it in layman’s terms, biodynamics is a lot more “hippie dippy” than organics.) Biodynamics seeks to find a balance between interacting resonances to maintain the integrity of the vineyard as a complete ecosystem. It is fair to say that organics is more concerned with the grapes. On the other hand, biodynamics is more concerned with the vineyard as a whole. While the benefits of organic winemaking have been proven by quantifiable scientific research, biodynamic philosophies have yet to be backed up by scientific data.
Cow Horns and Natural Fertilizer
One of the odder aspects of biodynamic winemaking is the use of cow horns in the vineyard. Hollow cow horns, (considered a symbol of abundance) are filled with organic material including manure, yarrow blossoms, chamomile and stinging nettles. The stuffed horns are buried in the vineyard for the winter. In the spring the horns are dug up and the compost inside is removed and distributed throughout the vineyard. Biodynamic farmers believe that this special compost, known as ‘preparation 500,’ is an effective means of structuring the soil. It is believed to regulate pH levels, stimulate seed germination and to dissolve minerals. Observational evidence suggests that biodynamic soils possess greater disease suppression, decreased soil compaction, and contain more organic material, although the reasons behind this are not fully understood.
Follow the Moon
The moon’s gravitational pull on the earth has a significant effect on our planet’s environment. A great example of this is the moon’s influence on earth’s tides. It is believed that the moon’s gravitational pull has an effect on the sap running through a plant’s veins. The pull can make it more or less favourable to perform certain vine maintenance activities dependent on the position of the moon relative to the earth. Following the lunar calendar, each day is designated as falling under one of four categories, each with its own recommendation for vineyard maintenance. Root days are good for pruning. Fruit days are good for harvesting. Leaf days are good for watering. And flower days are a time to leave the vineyard alone.
Organic winemaking prevents the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides. However, it does not ban the use of adjustments to the wine inside the production facility. For example, an organic wine may have tannic powder added to it to adjust the level of tannin, while a biodynamic wine must have nothing added to it. Some winemakers believe that biodynamic winemaking is the purest expression of terroir, for this reason. Terroir: a specific place where the grapes are grown. No artificial adjustments and no cultivated yeast may be used in the production of biodynamic wines.
At the end of the day, what is the importance of biodynamics to the consumer? Consumers of biodynamic wines believe that everything in the universe is interconnected. As a result, they believe humans should leave the natural environment in a better condition than we found it. Consequently, there is no evidence to suggest that in a blind taste test, a wine drinker can tell the difference between a conventional wine and wine made following biodynamic principles.
By: Michael Twyman
Sommelier and Niagara Wine Country Guide