The idea of biodynamic wine isn’t new by any means. For the average wine drinker, all of the options for sustainable and organic wines can get a little confusing.
Biodynamic wine is definitely unique, even certifiably so. No, really. Winemakers need to get certified to get that biodynamic label.
What is biodynamic agriculture? Biodynamic agriculture is a type of farming that treats the farm — or in this case, the vineyard — as a living organism. Biodynamic winemakers use planting calendars and all-natural soil management and fertilization techniques to cultivate their vines.
It’s also the only method that involves cow horns.
The main goal is to work with the natural environment rather than against it, even if it means embracing some of the quirkier aspects of biodynamic farming.
Today, there are hundreds of biodynamic wineries around the world, from Europe to Australia to the United States. Winemakers in the biodynamic movement claim it’s the most sustainable type of wine out there. Let’s take a deeper dive.
A History of Biodynamic Vineyards
Biodynamic farming came onto the scene in the 1920s thanks to an Austrian philosopher and occultist named Rudolf Steiner. Steiner was very interested in blending science with spirituality and viewed the farm ecosystem as a living, breathing organism.
He believed that if you time things right, the proof will be in the harvest. In a series of lectures at the time, he urged farmers to consider moon phases and planetary movements in their planting cycles.
Steiner’s lectures were put together in a book called The Agriculture Course. Today, it’s the key text for farmers seeking a how-to guide in biodynamic farming.
One of the first converts in the world of wine production was Nicolas Joly, a wine producer from the Loire region of France. He’s been bottling biodynamic wines since the 1980s and has fully embraced Steiner’s philosophies.
He won’t call even himself a winemaker, preferring the title of “nature’s assistant.”
Since Steiner, some researchers describe biodynamic farming as wishful thinking that lacks enough science-backed proof that it’s any better than organic farming. Some even call it pseudoscience, pointing out that Steiner wasn’t a scientist by trade.
It’s important to note that the research doesn’t show that the biodynamic planting processes make the difference. It may just be that organic practices used for these types of wine have a high degree of sustainability. Basically, more research is needed.
Biodynamic winemakers believe it’s the only kind of winemaking that makes sense. They say that it improves biodiversity and gets you closer to the soil that is the foundation of any good wine, despite practices that can come off as a little odd to others.
Some biodynamic practices mirror organic, low-intervention, and natural wine farming practices, especially when it comes to their grapes.
Biodynamic producers avoid chemicals like pesticides and herbicides on their vines. These grape growers also avoid additives like commercial yeast in the fermentation of their wines. While sulfites are naturally-occuring in wines, these wines won’t have added sulfites or added sugars.
If a biodynamic farmer is faced with an infestation of some sort, they won’t look to chemicals as a quick fix. They’ll look at why the problem is happening in the first place. That can be too much moisture in the soil or a lack of plant diversity that might keep pests from occupying that space.
Biodynamic practices start before a single grape is grown, though. Everything from planting to harvesting is dictated by the biodynamic calendar.
Most credit Maria Thun, a life-long advocate for biodynamic farming, for creating an accessible calendar for farmers to follow based on Steiner’s principles. Her work is based on the lunar calendar and the moon’s passage through the various astrological signs.
Thun’s calendar is broken down into 4 unique days. Those days correspond to the usual tasks at the vineyard:
- Fruit Days: These are fire sign days. Wait for Fruit Days to harvest your grapes.
- Root Days: The moon travels through the earth signs. These are great for pruning.
- Flower Days: These correspond to air signs. Take a rest on Flower Days.
- Leaf Days: The moon travels through the water signs. These are good watering days.
These days also describe ideal wine drinking times for the consumer. Some biodynamic tasting rooms even schedule events around these strong suggestions. Fruit and flower days are the best days for wine drinking, by the way.
The most intriguing aspect of biodynamic winegrowing may not have anything to do with the moon, though. Enter: the cow horn.
The Cow Horn
One of the most talked-about farming practices in biodynamic viticulture is the cow horn, a fertilizing tool that may give vegan wine fans pause.
The biodynamic winemaking process requires a special kind of compost known as “500” or “preparation 500.” Cow horns stuffed with manure are buried for several months in the fall with a variety of plants, including chamomile, dandelion, and stinging nettles.
By spring, farmers dig up the holes, make a tea out of the compost, and use it as natural fertilizer.
The manure isn’t just any old cow pie, either. It has to have the right kind of moisture that isn’t too wet or too dry and come from a lactating cow.
The origins of the cow horn as the vessel for this key piece of biodynamic farming aren’t clear. Animal horns in general are symbols of bounty. In any case, the practice is essential to biodynamic farming.
About the Wine
Biodynamic wine enthusiasts and fans of functional wines like knowing what they’re sipping is a more sustainable choice. Newbies to biodynamic wine might have some questions, and we’re here with answers.
What Does Biodynamic Wine Taste Like?
Biodynamic wine doesn’t have one unique flavor profile. While some natural wines can taste a little funky, a biodynamic wine may resemble the traditional wines you’re used to drinking.
Does biodynamic wine taste different? Biodynamic wine generally does not taste different than any other wine.
It lacks the additives some winemakers use to adjust the flavor of their wines, so it can be more difficult to keep a consistent flavor profile. Some also describe biodynamic wine as more expressive, but that’s a fairly subjective measure on taste.
Biodynamic Wine & Your Health
Is biodynamic wine healthier? Biodynamic wine may be healthier if you generally consider organic products to be better for you than others.
You could make the argument that a pesticide-free wine is a healthier wine than wines that use chemicals in their vineyards. Outside of chemical use, there isn’t research to show that products grown on a biodynamic planting calendar are any better for you than others.
If we’re talking about wine in general, red wine is better for you than white thanks to its resveratrol content. Red wine is also acceptable for those on the paleo diet, although it isn’t strictly paleo.
Whether you’re drinking a conventional wine or a biodynamic option, you can’t avoid a hangover either way. Drinking less wine or sipping on a non-alcoholic option is a good strategy for that!
Finding Biodynamic Wine
Biodynamic wines are becoming more common in shops wherever wines are sold, but you’ll need to be a bit of a sleuth to determine if the bottle you’re eyeing is biodynamic. In the United States, seek out wines that are Demeter-certified.
How can you tell if wine is biodynamic? You can tell wine is biodynamic by reading the label. Biodynamic wines must be certified by either Demeter International or Biodyvin. Demeter Association, Inc., is the governing body handling biodynamic certification in the United States.
Those agencies can also point you to biodynamic wineries.
Scribe Winery in Sonoma and Cooper Mountain Vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley are two examples in the U.S. where you’d find sommeliers pouring biodynamic wines. Domaine Michel Magnien in the Burgundy region of France is a well-known European producer.
Biodynamic vs. Organic Wine
Is biodynamic wine the same as organic? Biodynamic wine is not quite the same as organic. While biodynamic farming practices are organic by default, these winemakers take things a step further when it comes to their relationship with the vineyard.
Simply put, all biodynamic wine is organic, but not all organic wine is biodynamic.
Both biodynamic and organic grapes are pesticide-free. The wines are bottled without the additives and preservatives used by some winemakers to improve the shelf life or adjust the flavor of their wines.
From there, the 2 differ when it comes to the natural environment, or terroir, and the emphasis biodynamic winemakers place on their connection with the earth.
At Surely, we’re all about trying new wines. Most wines in moderation are just fine, with some more eco-friendly than others.
If your healthy lifestyle is more about cutting back on drinking, we’re here for it. From non-alcoholic sparkling rosé to our non-alcoholic pinot noir, our wines make the perfect pairings for nights when you want real wine without the alcohol.
- Ernst Haeckel's biodynamics 1866 and the occult basis of organic farming
- Organic Winemaking and Its Subsets; Biodynamic, Natural, and Clean Wine in California
- Comparative life cycle assessment in the wine sector: biodynamic vs. conventional viticulture activities in NW Spain
- Natural and sustainable wine: a review