What is biodynamic wine?
Biodynamic wine is at once loved, hated, feared and misunderstood. Biodynamic agriculture is the world’s oldest form of green or sustainable farming – and it may be the most controversial. The field of biodynamics is nothing if not interesting, and its application to wine attracts a lot of attention.
What is biodynamic wine, exactly?
For those living under a rock (or perhaps buried in a cow horn), biodynamic wine is a branch of organic winemaking that is more popular today than ever. Think of it as organic wine taken to the extreme: All biodynamic wine is organic, but not all organic wine is biodynamic.
Producers of biodynamic wine must follow the principles and practices of organic winegrowing, but they don’t stop there. Biodynamics is a more demanding form of agriculture that transcends mere farming and enters into the realms of philosophy and the celestial arts.
In addition to farming their grapes organically, biodynamic producers undertake a number of rather unusual practices, famously including the use of the so-called biodynamic “preparations” and following the rhythms of the earthy, the sun and the moon, among others.
To understand biodynamic wine a little better, a quick history lesson is useful.
Rudolf Steiner: A brief history of biodynamics
The biodynamics movement began with an Austrian philosopher named Rudolf Steiner. In 1924, Steiner delivered a series of lectures that would form the basis for what we know now as biodynamics. Steiner viewed the farm as a self-contained organism which should be capable of sustaining itself without the addition of chemical or other external substances. His goal was to empower the farm to better sustain itself through a series of treatments encouraging microbial life and a healthier ecosystem.
Steiner died in 1925 so did not live to see biodynamic principles applied to wine. It was not until the early 1960s that biodynamics was introduced in French winemaking with François Bouchet in the Loire Valley. It would take several more decades before the influence of biodynamics spread further afield, and Bouchet assisted several major French producers to convert to biodynamics, including the prestigious Domaine Leroy in Burgundy.
Rudolf Steiner was a controversial figure in many ways. Critics of biodynamics specifically characterise it as a cult or pseudo-science, whose practices don’t hold up to scientific scrutiny. Whatever your view, biodynamics has gone from strength to strength and is today a serious presence in the world of wine.