2 weeks ago our Editor penned her latest blog on the difficulty of navigating wine bottle labels, but if it is confusing enough to try and choose a wine from thousands of wine valleys and varieties worldwide, then figuring out what a biodynamic wine is adds a further layer of complexity.
This is partly due to the rather strange methods that biodynamism calls for: Lunar cycles, stags’ bladders filled with dung, nettle tea; we’d forgive you for thinking it was the start of a spell from Harry Potter, but it is in fact part of a 90 yeard old farming technique.
The key thrust of biodynamics, which was invented by Austrian philosopher-scientist Rudolf Steiner in 1924, is to view the farm, or vineyard in this case, as one living system. So the soil, for example, is not considered a substrate for plant growth, but rather a self-sustaining organism, as much as the vines. So any malaise affecting the quality of the wine is not seen a problem in isolation, but rather a problem affecting one part of the whole system, which can be solved by applying a treatment elsewhere in the winery.
As such biodynamic wineries will plant plants that attract insects which encourage growth, plow (in some cases with horses) to encourage vines’ roots to grow deeper and use herds to produce manure for fertiliser and keep the grass down. Naturally, the use of pesticides or artificial fertilisers is also not allowed. Instead, biodynamic wineries make their own composts and vine treatments.
This is where biodynamics differs from other forms of organic or sustainable agriculture – the belief that viticulture can be attuned to the spiritual forces of the cosmos. This might mean timing harvesting with the phases of the moon or the positions of the planets; it also might mean burying cow manure in a cow’s horn (such as the one above) over the winter, unearthing it in the spring, and then making a fertiliser to spray over one’s vineyard.
So does this method represent the future of wine growing? Some viticulturists remain sceptical that biodynamics is really an improvement on organic viticulture because its treatments are not based on hard scientific proof, rather belief. Similarly biodynamics requires great commitment to its practices, which for some vineyards is just not practical. 2 things are certain, however. Firstly, avoiding the use of pesticides does mean that harmful products won’t be be absorbed by the vines, which can spoil the wine. Secondly, wineries deserve recognition for their dedicated work in improving the environment around them.
So, the next time you’re searching for a bottle of Chilean wine, be sure to look out for the biodynamic label – and reflect on just how much work has gone into just that one bottle…
For our article on 5 “green” wines for St. Patrick’s Day, please follow the link below: