The word “biodynamics” is unapproachable, intrinsically scientific, and sounds like some graduate course you’re set up to fail. Well, au contraire – it’s actually a generous, down-to-earth (literally), sustainable and passionate existence of a term. The theory of biodynamics began in the 1920s and is based on the spiritual insights and observations of Austrian activist Rudolf Steiner, whose philosophy is called “anthroposophy.” Steiner’s lectures on attempting to cultivate and balance nature through independent thinking are what inspire biodynamic agricultural and viticultural practices.
Basically, the grower has totally gone elsewhere to try to bring the farming process more closely in tune with nature. In biodynamics, the vineyard is seen as a complete living system: the soil, insects, animals, and anything living that inhabits the space is seen as affecting the growing system. At a most basic approach, it’s the practice and methodology of viewing the vineyard and its internal operations as a living, breathing organism. This type of winemaking is not just about the winemaker’s personal taste preferences or selling enough bottles, but also concerns the richness and ancestry of the soil, the quality of manure, and most significantly, the cosmos.
Growers turn to biodynamics to enrich soils, deepen biodiversity, and better the overall crop health, which all inevitably make the vineyard become self-sufficient and naturally fertilized (versus artificial fertilization). Natural, self-sustaining fertilization methods are used in hopes that the vines will become more resistant to drought and disease. However, it isn’t merely what is added to the land that upholds the quality of biodynamic crops, but the choice of crops, the timing of rotation and harvesting, and the fundamental overall approach in which they are grown.
Basically, the concept of biodynamics sees the weaknesses of conventional farming practices in its fixation upon examining the tangible, physical effects and the conventional farmer’s choice to disregard the energy and dynamisms that determine those effects.
Biodynamic wine is 100% organic and sustainable. For a vineyard to be considered biodynamic, the wine grower must use the nine, numbered biodynamic “preparations,” as described in 1924 by Rudolf Steiner. These basically entail a system of herbal sprays and composting techniques, and strong attention must be paid to timing the operations of the land, governed by the movement of the moon and the stars.
There are of course some practices that appear bizarre: “horn manure” is made for fertilization and involves burying a cow’s horn full of manure at the autumn equinox and then digging it up in the spring. But the reality is that on top of these strange practices, the actual farming mechanism has real benefits for the life of the soil and for producing better crops.
How has this earth-wind-fire method of farming become so popular in wine? Some of the world’s leading producers are implementing it because they see results. The most effective argument for biodynamic wine is that the wines evoke tremendous terroir and are truly expressive of the place they’re grown, which moves the wine toward a more fascinating authenticity. Which, ultimately, makes them more fun to drink.