What’s the story behind biodynamic wines?

Nowadays we’re all striving to go green; eager to support sustainable, eco-conscious brands that give us natural, environmentally-friendly products. And while you’ve probably heard a bit about organic wines and biodynamic wines, you may be wondering… what do these labels really mean?

Fundamentally, organic and biodynamic farming practices have a lot in common. They are both all about a natural approach to farming – free of pesticides, synthetic fertilisers and chemical additives; minimal to no added sulfites, and so on. They both rely on natural fertilisation, composting and the like to create a healthy environment for vines to grow.

Given these rules, the majority of biodynamic wines are organic in practice, but not all organic wines are biodynamic – why? It comes down to philosophy and approach.

Biodynamic farming is a holistic approach that is all about ecological balance and sustainability, keeping the land as close to its natural state as possible. It originated from Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher who developed the (somewhat controversial) theories behind biodynamic farming in the 1920s. Steiner believed our approach to agriculture should not be solely scientific, but based on a harmonious existence between man, earth and the universe.

The belief is that the farm should be a single entity in which the land, animals and even the cosmos work together to create a sustainable ecosystem. It’s not just about the grapes, but the farm as a whole, and each element contributes to the wellbeing of the next. Animals eat weeds and insects and fertilise the soil; rich soil nourishes the vines; vines and fruit attract insects; back to the animals eating these insects… it’s a vibrant circle of life!

It goes further than this – biodynamic farming also incorporates mystical and spiritual factors, for example, following astrological and lunar planting calendars. A biodynamic calendar designates specific days for tasks: “fruit days” for harvesting grapes, “leaf days” for watering, “root days” for pruning plants, and “flower days” for leaving the vineyard alone.

And how about the horns? If you search “biodynamic wine”, you’ll find loads of images of what look like cow horns stuffed with poo. Well, that’s basically what they are! These horns are part of an unusual composting and fertilisation practice, which has both spiritual and biological theories behind it.

Here’s the basic gist: farmers prepare what’s called “horn manure 500”: cow (not bull) horns stuffed with cow manure and other plants, which they then bury in the ground for six months. The manure ferments, and once dug up, farmers mix it with water and use this strange brew as a natural fertiliser for the vineyard. The practice originated from the belief that the packed horns pull positive cosmic energy and nutrients from the earth, which are then returned to the soil.

While some of this may sound a bit wacky, biodynamic farming actually predates modern organic farming and can be credited as the first example of organic agriculture. Today, biodynamic wines receive certification from regulating agencies such as Demeter International. If your bottle is certified biodynamic, you know it’s legitimate.

Now for the big question – does biodynamic wine taste different? Of course taste is subjective, but theoretically, the answer is no. However, many believe natural and organic practices produce tastier, higher quality fruit, resulting in tastier, higher quality wine. Either way, biodynamic wineries are out to produce excellent wines while caring for the planet, too – what’s not to love?
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