Biodynamic Farming and Wine

What exactly does the word biodynamic mean in relation to wine and how does it differ from organic or sustainable? As a society that is becoming more and more health conscious, all of these words are tossed around quite frequently. And as consumers, we eat that up. We love it. It makes us feel better, healthier. Like we’re doing our part for the environment. But when it comes to wine, exactly what can you expect out of a bottle of biodynamically farmed wine?

Well, for starters, it goes so much further than being organic. It’s a much deeper, almost spiritual connection with the earth. To quote Wine Folly, “The concept behind biodynamics is that everything in the universe is interconnected and gives off a resonance or ‘vibe’. The interconnectivity of everything even includes celestial bodies like the moon, planets and stars. Biodynamic viticulture is the practice of balancing this resonance between vine, man, earth and stars. Essentially, biodynamics is a holistic view of agriculture.” The United States government has long regulated the use of the words “sustainable” and “organic”, but there is no legal definition for “biodynamic”, even though it’s been around for over a century. The concept started in the 1920’s with Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner and predates the evolution of organic farming by about twenty years. Biodynamic farming is similar to organic farming in that both take place without synthetic chemicals, but what we love about biodynamic farming is that it treats the vineyard as its own little ecosystem.

Last year, several members of our staff were fortunate enough to tour Littorai, a winery located in Sonoma. Ted Lemon, owner and winemaker, is one of the most respected people in the world of wine and a pioneer in California biodynamic farming. Ted and his team have one goal: to produce as many of the farm and vineyard needs on site as possible in a manner harmonious with and respectful of the surrounding environment and wildlife. Eight acres of the property are woods and streams, never to be developed. Fourteen acres are open pasture dedicated to providing a home for the cattle and hay which form the base of their annual compost pile. One quarter or these pasturelands have been re-sown with legumes, grains and grasses- a key component to the natural teas and tinctures that are applied to the vines. Yes, you read that right. Case in point- They grow (and then dry) their own chamomile, make a tea out of it and spray it on the vines when they’re “stressed”. And as if we needed any more convincing, all of the water used in wine production is recycled through eco-sensitive constructed wetlands in which plants naturally treat and recycle the water for reuse as irrigation water on the property. We have one word for this type of commitment to the environment- WOW.

So, what exactly makes a wine biodynamic? Well, it all starts in the vineyard before winemaking even begins. In addition to not using chemicals, all tasks related to the maintenance of the vine (pruning, planting, harvesting, etc.) are regulated by a special biodynamic calendar. The calendar was originally devised by the ‘high priestess’ of biodynamics, Maria Thun, who divided days into four categories: Root, Fruit, Flower and Leaf Days.

Each biodynamic calendar day coincides with one of the four classical elements of Earth, Fire, Air and Water that have been used since before Plato’s era:

  1. Fruit Days: Best days for harvesting grapes
  2. Root Days: Ideal days for pruning
  3. Flower Days: Leave the vineyard alone on these days
  4. Leaf Days: Ideal days for watering plants

Now to answer the big question that you’ve all been wondering- Do biodynamic wines taste different? The answer in short: NO. If anything, in our professional opinion, it could make a wine taste BETTER. Many people believe that the “hands off” approach of biodynamic farming allows the terroir to truly shine through. Ultimately, we feel that minimal manipulation is always the best way to go.

One might think biodynamic wines are rare and hard to find but that is hardly the case. You would be surprised by how many wineries that you already know and love practice biodynamic farming- Bonny Doon, Domaine Leflaive, Benzinger, Michel Chapoutier, Nicolas Joly, Domaine LeRoy, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht and Cristal…just to name a few!

We love being able to share our thoughts and insight with you, but at the end of the day, the best way to figure out if you like something is to try it for yourself. Our goal is and always will be to challenge your palate, expose you to wines that you’ve never had and teach you a little something along the way!