What is Biodynamic Wine?

Brendan McGuigan

Biodynamic wine is wine made from grapes grown using the principles of biodynamic agriculture. Biodynamic wine may, in some locations, be certified by an organization, but in many others is simply labeled by the winemaker. Although some wineries buy biodynamic grapes and non-biodynamic grapes, and make wines from both, generally a biodynamic wine producer will produce exclusively biodynamic wine.

Famous biodynamic wineries, such as Domaine Leroy and Domaine Leflaive are in Burgundy, and, like Domaine Zind Humbrecht, in Alsace.
Famous biodynamic wineries, such as Domaine Leroy and Domaine Leflaive are in Burgundy, and, like Domaine Zind Humbrecht, in Alsace.

The theory of biodynamic agriculture is largely based on the theories of anthroposophy developed by Rudolph Steiner in the early-20th century. The basic premise is to view the vineyard as part of a holistic system, in which the plants and soil make up only two components. Everything from insects, to other large animals living on the land, to the water, to the sun, to the stars and moon, are seen as integrally connected to the health of the vineyard and the grapes themselves. For this reason, biodynamic wine requires a great deal of attention to be paid to the vineyard and its relationship to the rest of its natural environment.

Because of the mystical components of biodynamic wine production methods, there are many outspoken critics against the practice. Many people claim that there is little to no difference between biodynamic wine and wine that is simply organic, and that the mystical components are simply so much hand waving. Others note that biodynamic wine production requires such an intense amount of energy to be spent tracking the vineyard to align practices with things like celestial alignment, that the winemaker is likely to spend more time and attention on their vineyard than a non-biodynamic winemaker, resulting in a higher quality crop.

Nonetheless, biodynamic wine is incredibly popular throughout the world, and its popularity has grown immensely over the last few years. There are more than 450 mid- to large-scale wineries worldwide making biodynamic wine, including some prominent wineries in prime growing regions in France, California, Italy, Germany, and Australia. These include famous wineries in Burgundy, such as Domaine Leroy and Domaine Leflaive, and wineries in Alsace like Domaine Zind Humbrecht.

Many specific biodynamic preparations are used in a biodynamic vineyard, some of which can seem a bit odd to those not versed in biodynamic principles. The use of a cow’s horn, for example, as a vessel for holding preparations that are buried in the ground seems to some to be strange and primitive. Proponents of biodynamic wine, however, believe that such preparations help increase the health and vitality of the vineyard, ultimately improving the quality of the wine.

There are nine major preparations used in biodynamic wine, with the first two being some of the most important. Preparation 500, for example, consists of cow manure buried in a cow horn in the soil. This preparation is buried on the Fall equinox, and dug up on the Spring equinox, at which point it is added to the crop, where it is said to increase the presence of beneficial microorganisms. Preparation 501, is made of powdered quartz silica, which is again buried in a cow horn for six months, then dug up and sprayed on the crops to stimulate growth. The theory behind this is that as sunlight strikes the powdered silica, it refracts, as the quartz acts as a prism, which stimulates the plant to make more chlorophyll.

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