Biodynamic farming for wine grapes is a growing trend. Some believe it makes better wine, others think it’s crazy. So what is it, and does it work? Read on!
1) It goes beyond organic.
Biodynamic farming follows all the guidelines of organic farming (such as avoiding synthetic chemicals, fertilizing with compost, using natural pest deterrents, etc.), plus more. Biodynamic growers practice sustainable agriculture and view the vineyard as an holistic, interconnected ecosystem.
The Chilean winemaker Emiliana produced the first biodynamic wine in Chile and has a great demonstration of a biodynamic vineyard on its website. This interactive virtual vineyard shows how organic growing practices, crop rotation, the natural features of the land, energy efficiency, and farm animals are integrated to maintain a balanced and sustainable system.
Sounds great, right? Here’s where some people become skeptical: Biodynamic growers also follow a farming schedule that is influenced by astrological calendars and lunar cycles, and use specific preparations for spraying and fertilizing, which some find bizarre. For instance, one of the compost recipes calls for stuffing chamomile blossoms into small intestines from cattle, burying them in the autumn to decompose, and digging them up in the spring.
2) It has its own international governing body.
The U.S. government regulates the term “organic,” but does not regulate the terms “sustainable” and “biodynamic.” Biodynamic wines are certified by an internationally recognized governing body called the Demeter Association. The Demeter Association certifies that growers meet biodynamic standards through their Demeter Certification. Because the Demeter Certification uses the USDA National Organic Program standard as a base upon which additional biodynamic requirements are built, growers earning the Demeter Certification can also be certified organic.
Note the difference between “biodynamic wine” and “wine made from biodynamic grapes.” Biodynamic grapes were grown biodynamically, but the winemaker may not have followed the stringent rules of biodynamic winemaking. The same distinction applies to organic grapes vs. organic wine. (The difference is often whether sulfites have been added to the wine. Sulfites are used as a preservative in most wines, but organic and biodynamic wines cannot use them.)
3) The wines score better.
Biodynamic growers say they have adopted the practice because it makes their wines better. Skeptics reply, “of course they would say that” and dismiss biodynamic agriculture as superstition or a marketing tool. However, in blind tastings, biodynamic wines have outperformed wines made from conventionally raised grapes, and experts find that biodynamic wines better express terroir (the idea that a wine should reflect all the natural elements which impacted the grapes as they grew, and which are unique to each vineyard).
There is not yet a scientific reason why the unique biodynamic preparations would make better wines, but experts rightly point out that because biodynamic growers must pay closer attention to the grapes and take better care of the soil, the grapes are raised in optimal conditions and can make a better wine.
I’m a big believer in organic farming and the way it keeps the soil healthier and more productive than conventional/industrial methods. It makes sense to me that organic farming leads to higher quality produce, so I’m not surprised that organic grapes would make better wine. The addition of sustainability and energy efficiency is a positive thing too. I don’t understand how the biodynamic calendar, lunar cycles, or special preparations make a difference. So I’d be interested to see the results of a blind tasting comparing organic wines to biodynamic.
In an upcoming post I’ll be featuring 3 wines from Emiliana, the biodynamic/organic winery mentioned above, so I’ll let you know how they taste!
Have you tried any biodynamic wines? What did you think of them?