Biodynamic viticulture is a form of organic, but is a bit more controversial, less strictly scientific and more of a philosophy we think. In fact it was a green movement that started earlier than a classic organic movement as such.
Biodynamic vineyards are generally practising organic, but there are a few areas where it becomes ‘special’.
The main concept is that the growers intend to create a self sufficient environment that works, heals and becomes as an organism in itself.
There are also some specific ‘preparations’ that are being used by biodynamic wine growers: they are herb or mineral based.
Finally, everything they do in the vineyards should coincide with the natural forces - be it earthy or lunar. They plant, prune, pick and bottle based on these factors.
Remember the name - Rudolf Steiner, Austrian philosopher who described this all back in 1924. However it took quite a while to pick up as a movement and France’s first biodynamic producer Boucher began to grow grapes biodynamically in Touraine back in 1962.
He then brought this all to Burgundy and Alsace in 1980s and then it took off very nicely. After one microbiologist suggested Burgundy’s vineyards contained much less life than Sahara dessert, it suddenly started to make a lot of sense. The movement concentrated on employing minimal technology during the process of growing their grapes.
Biodynamic growers use animal sense organs and in particular cow horns to make their ‘preparations’. The belief is that these organs enable and enhance medicinal properties of the substances placed in them. Steiner referred to several in his ‘realm of the living’: cow manure, quartz, flowers of camomile and dandelion.
It is then turns into organic compost that has elements of yarrow, chamomile, nettle, oak bark, dandelion, valerian root. These are to vitalise the compost making it important to grow the vines.
Do you agree that most of farmers now try to use advanced mechanisation to work their farms? It means that all those lovely creatures who used to help them to keep the vineyards free of disease and harm are gone. Not with biodynamic farming! Cows, hopes, mules, sheep, chickens are all back!
First all, biodynamic winemaking is very similar to organic - minimal intervention, strict guidelines regarding enrichment and additives. They try to use recycled packaging and solar energy where possible. Wines from healthier vines, made without much extra ‘going on’ are expressive and represent the soil, region and winemaking style really well.
In fact we are not alone in our conclusions, biodynamic wines are slowly but surely gaining in popularity. In 2013 over 700 vineyards worldwide were certified biodynamic. Look for Demeter certification or on a lesser scale Biodyvin. Together they encompass more than 10K ha of vineyards. Impressive, isn’t it?
Verdejo Parra Jimenez from Castilla La Mancha, Spain
Spanish Verdejo is rightly fashionable at present especially when it's made in a clean, fresh style like this offering from organic pioneers the Parra brothers. Made in a lighter style than some with clean ripe fruit and an easy approachability. It shows lovely floral aspects, a little spice and appealing freshly mown grass characters.
Riesling ‘Sander’ from Rheinhessen, Germany
Made with grapes grown on 25-year-old vines on slopes facing eastwards to the Rhine. The soil is chalky with good humus content giving the vines a good balance of nourishment and minerals. This award winning Kabinett is dry and fairly light with gorgeous tropical fruit, limey acidity and a refreshing spritz.
Graciano Parra Jimenez from Castilla La Mancha, Spain
Made from a special parcel of grapes, fermented and aged in stainless steel vats. A deep ruby red colour with generous aromas of plum and black cherry. Flavoursome, with notes of prunes, dates and savoury elements back up with gutsy tannins.
As you can see from these 3 biodynamic wines we’ve tasted they do not necessarily need to be - Spanish examples were £9 and this refreshing Riesling below £12. Of course we do cary more expensive examples, but they are not going to break a bank too.
There are scientific reasons to follow biodynamic viticulture but also beliefs that are personal and based on history of winemaking and actually reviving dead vineyards to life. Organic growers are increasingly using biodynamic preparations in their practices too. Regardless if you feel these are just esoteric, biodynamic wines are worth your attention and the general practices are making our planet Earth and our immediate communities better.
Cheers to that
PS. Have a look at our new Lifestyle Wines section, we have a special 6-pack case of biodynamic wines for you if you want to try for yourself!