Biodynamic WinesJasper Morris MW

Definition of biodynamics and biodynamic methods of viticulture

Biodynamics has only risen to prominence in the wine world over the last few years, but the roots of this philosophy go back to Rudolf Steiner in the first years of the 20th century, and indeed many aspects can be traced to very much earlier times.

An organic wine-making approach is axiomatic, but biodynamics seeks to go further. Central to the issue is the calendar which divides days into flower, fruit, leaf and root categories according to the influence of the moon and stars on the earth's natural rhythms.

Track the rising and falling of the moon (not the same as waxing and waning) and cut your hair or mow the lawn when the moon is falling it will not grow as quickly afterwards.

Various preparations have been identified to overcome deficiencies of the soil and these need to be applied in homeopathic doses. Some are in humus form and are best buried in the ground inside a cow's horn, while others are infused with dynamised water for spraying in homeopathic doses.

A further idea is the 'ashing' of an unwanted pest. Beetles are ravaging your crop? Capture some, kill same and burn them. Then add the ashes to water which is 'dynamised' by stirring for hours in the prescribed fashion.

Vignerons who have tried these methods report healthy vineyards giving grapes which reveal the nature of their terroirs in a finer and more precise way than ever before. Tellingly, the list of biodynamic producers below shows many of the greatest names of their respective regions - producers who might be thought to have more to lose than to gain in the market place by adopting such radical methods.

Biodynamics – Do We Believe?

More and more of our producers have been experimenting with biodynamic methods of viticulture in recent years. Some go the whole hog and have achieved biodynamic certification; others are experimenting with certain aspects only.  A third group is fully committed but not certified.

Of course another viewpoint is that these producers are certifiable and should be committed at the first opportunity. There are certainly aspects which are hard to swallow: the burying of dung in cow’s horns, the harnessing of cosmic forces, too slavish discipleship of the theoretical founder, Rudolf Steiner.

Some suggest that the biodynamic label is a marketing tool.  However it should be pointed out that many of the most active proponents are those with most to lose: great domaines which were already flourishing before they moved in this direction, such as Zind Humbrecht in Alsace, Lafon, Leflaive and Leroy in Burgundy or Château Pontet Canet in Bordeaux. Find out more and browse through the list of other biodynamic wine producers worldwide.

The central tenets of biodynamic production are (1) an organic minimum, no pesticides, herbicides, or other chemical input; (2) respect for the biodynamic calendar which charts the movement of the moon through the constellations, along with the location of the sun and the planets – an evolution of theories which date back through the middle ages to Hellenistic and even Egyptian civilizations; (3) a homeopathic approach to preparations and treatments which has enthusiastic adherents and vehement deniers in the medical world – another subject altogether!

What we care about is that the vignerons make the best possible wine from their terroirs. As a retailer, Berry Bros. & Rudd does not, and should not, insist that producers follow certain production methods but, as a rule, we like our suppliers to demonstrate awareness and care for the environment and Biodynamics fits this profile.

Whilst some Biodynamic methods are not instantly understandable or explainable, our number one concern as a business is selling the very best quality wine and we are increasingly seeing that Biodynamic production methods, given the stringent attention to detail required by producers, often result in better quality wine. The individual wines seem to be purer, more mineral and more precise reflections of their vineyards than these same producers were making before. See here for a report on a comparative tasting in New York.

Interestingly, in the difficult 2008 growing season in Burgundy, both the best and the worst looking vineyards were farmed biodynamically, with everything in between to boot. And ‘normal’ farming methods also provided a wide range, from clean and healthy to ravaged by mildew or oidium.

written by Jasper Morris MW
22 May 2009 for Berry Bros. & Rudd Wine Blog