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The Magic of Biodynamic Wine
The principles of biodynamic wine and farming seem a bit airy-fairy, mystical, magical and maybe even slightly ludicrous...
The principles of biodynamic wine and farming seem a bit airy-fairy, mystical, magical and maybe even slightly ludicrous. After all, Biodynamic farming relies on the belief that nature and human beings can work together in perfect harmony. That astronomical changes can impart ‘magical’ characteristics into the soil. However, the facts are the facts. Biodynamic wines are winning awards for outstanding quality all over the world. Winemakers using biodynamic techniques must be doing something right.
So what exactly is biodynamic farming?
Biodynamic wine is made by using techniques of biodynamic agriculture, such as using organic soil supplements, following a planting calendar that depends upon astronomical configurations and employing the overall ethos that the earth is “a living and receptive organism”. It is a holistic agricultural system that is very similar to organic farming in that you cannot use any man-made chemicals, pesticides or fertilizers and all preparative methods must be completely natural. Austrian Rudolf Steiner first established the principles in 1924, after many farmers noticed degraded soil conditions and deterioration in the health and quality of crops and livestock resulting from the use of chemical fertilizers.
Obviously in the world of biodynamic wine this particular version of the calendar is not as necessary, as only one type of plant is being grown: vines. However, this approach considers astrological and lunar influences on the soils and plant development. Therefore, a winemaker can see when is the most appropriate time to cultivate, prune or harvest their vines, in order to get the highest-quality fruits possible from their soils and therefore produce the highest quality biodynamic wines.
Let’s look at an example. During an ascending moon, the soil contains more moisture and so there is an increased risk of a fungal attack. This makes it an appropriate time for natural preparations to be applied to protect the vines. The added moisture also means that it is an opportune time to spread compost. On the other hand, when the moon is in a period of descending, the roots develop more easily and so it is a good time to plant.
There are a total of 9 different preparations that can be used to nourish or protect the soils. They range from a simple oak bark that puts calcium into the soil, to cow horn manure that is said to make the soil more porous and help the roots grow longer. Common flowers such as dandelion, valerian and chamomile are also used and they each have a particular purpose. Whether that's helping the soils to absorb the correct amounts of silicic acid or stimulating phosphorus activity, each is said to have an individual impact on the character of the biodynamic wine.
Biodynamic Regulating Organisations
Demeter is the most well known and the oldest regulating body for biodynamic practices, whose name originates from the Greek Goddess of grain and fertility. Its headquarters were first established in 1928 in Darmstadt, Germany, shortly after Steiner’s lectures on the principles of biodynamic agriculture. Due to the tight restrictions, it is extremely hard to be awarded the certification by Demeter and it must be renewed annually.
Although Demeter has around 5000 members worldwide, it is not the only biodynamic regulating body in the world. Biodyvin is another that oversees the strict rules and regulations, but it only certifies 105 wineries: 103 in France and just 2 in Germany.
Why the increase in biodynamic wine?
In 2016, there was a 20% increase in the amount of vineyards that were certified as biodynamic with regards to the previous year. But why such an increase? The answer to this is twofold: personal health reasons and ecological reasons. We are becoming more and more aware of the effects that man-made chemicals may have on our bodies and want to know exactly what is in everything that we consume. Yes, nowadays there are labels on all food and drink to tell us what’s in them, but we still have no idea what has been used to make different products. Organic is a term that is readily used and lots of people have started trying to eat organically for a long time now. Biodynamic food and drink is the next step on from this.
Alternatively, the ecological impact that winemakers and farmers have on the planet is becoming a universal concern. Part of the definition of biodynamic includes sustainability and self-sufficiency, so everything that is needed on a farm or vineyard to protect the plants must be grown there too. Ultimately being biodynamic reduces waste and is socially responsible, as well as being economically viable for the vineyard or farm.
So can you really taste the difference between a biodynamic wine and a regular wine?
According to consumer quality scores (100-point scores), both biodynamic wines and organic wines receive on average higher ratings than those made using traditional farming techniques. Biodynamic wines are said to be brighter, more vibrant and have more intense flavours than regular wines and studies have shown that the longevity of the wine is also increased.
Another important advantage of biodynamic farming is that winemakers are managing to control the effects that the rapidly changing climate is having on their wines, somehow still managing to achieve a good balance between flavours and alcohol levels.
So, despite the lower yields, time-consuming methods and obligatory belief in magic, biodynamic wine seems like it may be the future. However, these benefits have yet to be scientifically proven, so you are going to have to try some of our best biodynamic wines and taste the differences for yourselves!