What are Biodynamic Wines?
As we continue to become more aware of the harmful effects of pesticides and chemicals on our food and environment, it is no small wonder that we have shifted this concern over to what we drink. Fortunately for those of us who want to drink green, we now find ourselves with a wider selection of organic, sustainable, biodynamic and natural wines than ever before. With all this terminology it can be a challenge to know where to start. The first part of this series will touch upon biodynamic wines.
Estates whose wines carry 'biodynamic' on their labels receive their certification through the Demeter Association, a not-for-profit organization. Founded in 1924 by the Austrian scientist, philosopher and architect Dr. Rudolf Steiner, Demeter promotes the use of holistic, sustainable and organic practices in agriculture. The use of pesticides and chemicals fertilizers is prohibited as are many other unnatural manipulations during the winemaking process – all similar to what you would see on an organic or sustainable farm. What makes biodynamic agriculture different is the belief that farming to produce optimal quality crops can be achieved via spiritual forces and looking towards the cosmos to know when to plant, prune harvest, even begin fermentation. The phases of the moon, astrological signs and the position of planets all dictate work in the vineyard. Perhaps the most famous technique is burying of a horn of cow manure over the winter, where it is believed to channel cosmic energy. In spring it is dug up, mixed with water and sprayed in the soil. Herbal preparations such as yarrow, stinging nettles and chamomile are also used.
The number of producers using some biodynamic methods has sky-rocketed in the past several decade. Many who started out using biodynamic practices in the vineyard have since full converted or are in the process of converting their facilities. Biodynamics have been adopted around the world. Storied producers world wide from Burgundy, Piedmont, Spain, California, Australia and beyond have discovered the benefits of biodynamic farming.
Typically, biodynamic wines are thought to express their terroir better. Terroir is the French term that refers to the variety of climatic and environmental factors that can influence a given crop. It is also the foundation of the French appellation system that regulates wines production in France which has sub-sequentially been used as a model by other wine producing nations around the world.
The definition of terroir can also be expanded to include the human element of wine making, such as the type of grape variety selected for a site or the use of native wild yeasts or commercial yeasts.
Even if the methods may seem a bit hokey to some, the results are undeniable. By creating more biodiversity, using non-chemical approaches to weed and pest management, and improving the overall health of the grapes, there is an overall greater attention to detail which translates into better quality wine, and wine lovers and critics alike seem to agree.