Biodynamics is an agricultural philosophy, whose main concept is to treat the Earth as a living organism, as well as to use technologies for controlling the forces of nature and the cosmos in order to obtain ecologically pure products of exceptional quality. According to this philosophy, the winemaker lives in perfect harmony with nature and the cosmos.
The founder of biodynamics was the Austrian Rudolf Steiner, who in the early 20th century developed an entire theory about the loss of modern man’s sensory awareness of nature. For example, Dr. Steiner’s teachings talked a great deal about the harm caused by the unlimited use of chemicals, as a result of which soil and plants lose touch with nature and lose their natural immunity. Such plants are of no benefit to man because they have no positive energy. Dr. Steiner and his ideological followers began to preach biodynamic farming, because in order to get a healthy crop it is necessary to act in harmony with nature and the cosmos, considering their cycles, without destroying the balance and increasing the energy of plants by means of harmonizing the nutrient balance of the earth with natural fertilizers.
Although it shares some methods with organic agriculture, biodynamics is drastically different in its decidedly occult dimension. The most profound divergence between organic agriculture and biodynamics is the idea of “energizing” soils and other materials with “cosmic forces”.
Steiner introduces these concepts of “cosmic forces” and “earth forces” — which he sees as unrelated to the phenomenon of gravitational force — when they are not used by astronomical scientists and do not refer to any known phenomenon. Without any foundation or evidence, he asserts the existence of these “forces” and considers that they are emitted by the Earth and the cosmos and that they are the cause of various phenomena such as the development and growth of agricultural crops, the formation of humus, the presence of parasites and weeds.
Biodynamic winemakers use the loosening of the soil and the sowing of certain herbs, which activate the activity of certain soil bacteria, thus strengthening the natural vitality of grapes against pests and diseases. Biodynamicists also use different kinds of organic composts, cow manure and homeopathic preparations, which undergo a process of dynamization (activation of vital forces) through a long stirring. Much attention in biodynamics is paid to the connection of plants with planets movement and phases of the moon, taking into account their seasonality, you can accurately determine what work must be done at what time, increasing its effectiveness.
Here ar some principles of biodynamy in winemaking:
- Vineyard care according to the phases of the moon and other indicators of natural rhythms.
- The winemaker’s own preparation of organic fertilizers, also taking into account biorhythms.
- Guarantee biochemical purity of the vineyard.
- Maximum manual operations.
- Minimal mechanical stress is applied to the wine making process. The winery is built so that the wine moves through the winery by gravity.
- You will never make a good biodynamic wine in a poorly situated vineyard.
- Mandatory fertilizers are : №500 cow horn manure for soil microbiology and №501 quartz aged in cow horn to enhance photosynthesis.
- Ideally, Demeter or Biodivin certification.
Other side of the coin
Organic and biodynamic agriculture practices are more difficult to implement as compared to conventional practices and in some cases pose the risk of negatively impacting a product’s quality. Because organic wine growers cannot use synthetic chemicals to avert fungi or pests, they need to use more manual labor. This is confirmed by cost studies that suggest that switching from a conventional to an organic- certified winery can add 10 to 15% in cost for the first three to four years.
In addition, organic and biodynamic wines makers use a lower quantity of sulfites than conventional wines in the winemaking process. Since sulfites help to preserve the wine, stabilize the flavor, and eliminate unusual odors, wine produced without added sulfites may be of lower quality.Such quality concerns are most pertinent for red wines, which are usually kept for longer periods before consumption than white wines.
In addition, sustainable growing practices are more sensitive to weather events that might damage the vines and grapes. Quality in eco-labeled wineries might therefore be more variable from one year to the next.
Firstly, the argument to support biodynamic practices is that chemicals, used in conventional viticulture kill some important organic components of the wine that lead to its quality. Each region has its own unique microbes that live on the skin of the grape and contribute to the unique “terroir” of the wine.
Furthermore, several studies show that biodynamic and organic vineyards have a higher cumulative soil respiration and a higher content of microbial biomass after conversion to these practices, and that this impacts grape quality.
Climate change adaptation
A study published in the journal Nature in 2018 concludes that plant adaptation to climatic threats is greater in biodynamic compared to the conventional system, suggesting that the sustainability of biodynamic practices would rely on fine molecular regulations. The same stood true for seasonal trends and pathogens attacks, which were associated with higher expression of silencing and immunity genes, and higher anti-oxidative and anti-fungal secondary metabolite levels. On the other hand in the study it wasn’t proven that the same is not true for bio agriculture as well, not to mention the overall controversy of biodynamic practices.
What about the taste?
Being bio wine or biodynamic wine, does it actually make it tastes better?
Scientists also were interested in that question. For example Delmas, M. A., & Gergaud, O. in 2021 found that the third-party certified organic and biodynamic labels lead to improved tasting ratings (+6.2 and + 5.6 percentage points respectively) as compared to conventional wines.
Though the experiment was done based on the scores published in three influential French wine expert publications: Gault Millau (GM), Gilbert Gaillard (GG), and Bettane Desseauve (BD) from 2008 to 2015. However, wine experts apply slightly different tasting and scoring methods depending on the publication for which they are tasting. For example, both GM and BD use semi-blind tasting methods, while the wines rated by the GG team are tasted blindly. Thus, the scores provided by GG might be more objective. Other studies taking into account larger range of scores from different reviewers have to be conducted, and the score probably should be homogenised too to make conclusions more affirmative.
One interesting fact, founded in this study, is that biodynamic wines are rated better than organic wines. Why so? Biodynamic wines have secured a special reputation for quality despite a certification that many consumers have trouble understanding. It is possible that this is due to a selection effect where the world’s most awarded and expensive bottles of wine are biodynamic. For example, the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti in Burgundy and the Chateau Pontet Canet, a Pauillac classified winery in the Bordeaux wine region of France, were early biodynamic adopters in 1996 and 2004 respectively. Brands are dictating the fashion in winery practices as well.
Biodynamic or not, the wine is the wine. And good wine is worth it, no matter which labels it has.
Enjoy your degustation,