Biodynamic and Organic Wine Trends. Learn About its History and Why It Gained Popularity In the World of Wine
At the beginning of the 20th-century, farmers, particularly in Germany, started to notice the degradation of their crop health. This was largely attributed to the vast overuse of chemical fertilizers. It was this problem that Rudolf Steiner was trying to fix with his series of lectures that he gave in 1924 on Biodynamics. The idea was largely based on trying to take a step back and produce crops following more natural methods. The way that humans would have farmed prior to industrialization.Simply put, biodynamic farming practices are very similar to those of organic farming with a few notable additions. The most important addition is viewing and treating the farm as a closed cycle, when executed fully and done properly, the farm should be able to sustain all the life on it without bringing in outside resources. There are no chemical fertilizers or pesticides, instead, natural forms are made on-site with products grown on the estate. A composting system to fertilize the soil is essential to the health of the farm and is a large part of what is being taken into consideration under biodynamics.
There is a lot of process in Biodynamics that is largely viewed as pseudoscience to the greater agricultural community. This is because there is little to no verified proof that some of the more “magical” for lack of a better term, aspects have any effect on the outcome. These processes are based around the astrological signs, the phase of the moon during any given action, and ground quartz that is buried in a bull horn to collect cosmic energy prior to being turned into a preparation for spraying on crops. Other than these more esoteric practices, most of the other preparations can be seen as beneficial even from a biological and chemical approach. The preparations that are made from fresh and fermented herbs that are applied to the compost system, help stimulate the growth of the microbiome which in turn, promotes health and diversity in the soil.
There is no argument against the fact that the microbial life in the soil of a Biodynamic farm is healthier and more diverse than that of a conventional farm. But why would a farmer care about the diversity of microbes in their soil? One of the most consistently reported phenomena from farmers that have made the transition to Biodynamics, is the consistency of their crop every year. Basically what they have said is, the bad years, which in the past would have been catastrophic for the farm, have become less bad and the good years are still good. They have credited this towards their healthier plants which are healthier because of their more diverse and complete soil. The presence of more types of microbes in the soil means that there are more microbial byproducts in the soil which tend to include a lot of the nitrogen-based compounds that chemical fertilizers are made to replace.
Biodynamics in Wine
Biodynamics seems to only be getting more popularity in the wine community. Retail and on-premise wine vendors talk about biodynamics all the time because some of the leading estates in the world are fully converting or at least practicing simplified versions of biodynamics. There are a variety of reasons, some of them may be a trend, but producers don’t like having catastrophic years that damage their brand image and drastically affect their income. There has also been a large push towards sustainable agriculture in the last decade, with places like Sonoma county taking a lead on this with 99% of their vineyards being certified sustainable. With most wineries only producing a single product, especially from a plant like grapevines, which will live for a century if you let them, there isn’t a lot of opportunity for crop cycling. Taking a biodynamic approach allows a vintner to take care of their land without having to cycle their crop plants. Using a variety of cover crops, a proper compost system, and allowing their animals to walk among the vines, the vineyard is able to thrive.
Even if you can’t buy into the astrological aspect of Biodynamics, there is no denying the extraordinary effort and attention that is required to maintain a system like this. You know if a vintner is putting this much effort into growing their grapes, they are putting an equal amount of effort and care into the production of their wine. That attention to detail is what can separate a good producer from a truly great one.