What does it mean to drink on an Fruit Day or Root Day ?
Biodynamic wines combine a mix of sustainable agriculture practices – similar to organic growing – with a bit of mysticism. Biodynamic farming was first coined in the 1920’s by Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner, but has roots (pun intended) that harken back to ancient practices.
The concept of biodynamic viticulture is that the whole vineyard is connected – from the grapes and vines to the flowers planted nearby and animals grazing on the land. These vineyards rely on composting, cover cops, and natural predator-prey relationships to keep the grapes healthy, instead of commercial fertilizer and pesticides. As an example, sheep are often used throughout the vineyard as they keep cover crops low, illuminating the need for mowing, and add fertilizer to the vines. Certain plants act similarly, attracting the right types of insects and warding off ones that would hurt the vines. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Benziger winery in Sonoma, CA, which was the first to be certified biodynamic. Walking through their beautiful gardens, you can learn why each plant is there and how it helps to contribute to the ecosystem of the vineyard.
Now enter the mysticism. The thing biodynamic wine is most famous for is filling a cow horn with compost and burying it in the vineyard for a while, then digging it up for fertilizer. This is not a folktale; biodynamic vineyards do this by stuffing cow horns with manure, along with other ingredients including chamomile and nettle, and burying the horn during the winter. This practice is said to stimulate the soil and reenergize it for the following year and while science cannot prove how or if this works, some vineyards have seen a revitalization after starting this tradition. The other main feature of biodynamics that falls outside of traditional science is astrology . Biodynamic vineyards are run according to a model of Root, Fruit, Flower, and Leaf Days where everything from planting to pruning to harvesting and even drinking is done according to a calendar. Wine will taste best on a Fruit day and slightly different on other days. One day, I would love to test this! There’s a handy calculator out there so you can see for yourself.
There are no official laws governing biodynamic farming (unlike organic farming), but there are two organizations that certified vineyards as biodynamic. While the number of certified-biodynamic vineyards are growing, biodynamic practices have been used throughout winemaking for centuries. When speaking with a French winemaker several years ago, he joked that some of these ‘new’ biodynamic practices – especially those related to plants and animals in the vineyards – have been used for centuries because they are also the most economical. Biodynamic practices also aid in the notion of Terroir, meaning that by using the natural environment to help grow the grapes, these wines have the fullest expression of the land where they’re from.
What do you think? Have you tried a biodynamic wine before?