Although organic wines are commonplace on restaurant menus and liquor store shelves, biodynamic wines are just starting to become mainstream. You might have seen a label or two boasting a biodynamic certification. But, what does biodynamic wine mean and why should you be drinking it?
Biodynamic wine is created using a philosophy that wines should reflect the terroir of the vineyard where they are produced. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, terroir is defined as, “the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate.”
In order to reflect terroir, biodynamic winemakers use a strict set of rules which tell them how to fertilize their vines, when to plant, when to prune and when to harvest.
Below, we’ll discuss the major elements of biodynamic wine and then, we’ll list some of the best biodynamic wines available for online ordering and delivery.
What is Biodynamic Wine?
Biodynamic wine is vino that’s produced through the process of biodynamic farming, which is defined by the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association as “a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, gardens, food production and nutrition.”
In other words, biodynamic farming approaches the vineyard (or farm, or estate) as a single being with everything inside the vineyard, from the vines and the humans to the moon and the stars, as essential pieces in the functioning of this organism. And while all these pieces are connected, they each have their own resonance. The trick of biodynamic farming is to balance those resonances to create a functioning vineyard.
To bring this mentality to fruition, biodynamic farming uses restrictive practices to produce wine. A special calendar determines when to plant, water and harvest. It also relies on natural composts as fertilizers, ensuring no artificial chemicals or pesticides are used in the vineyard. Usually those natural materials come from a range of animals, including, for example, cows, sheeps or ducks, that live on the vineyard.
The final tenet of biodynamic farming is the belief that owners of a vineyard should leave the land in better condition than they found it for future generations. This means the land shouldn’t be over-farmed, polluted or developed.
History of Biodynamic Wine
The practice of biodynamic farming is more than a century old. It actually predates the organic movement by about 20 years. Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner invented the practice in the early 1920s. The earliest form of biodynamic farming was based on the way Greeks, Egyptians and American settlers raised crops. Like the Farmer’s Almanac, the theory relied heavily on the lunar calendar and discussed how the stars, moon and planets might influence crop yield.
Beyond using the lunar calendar, Steiner also taught that living in harmony with the Earth and keeping its annual movements in mind was a better approach to farming than using the new, scientific approaches, which involved the use of chemical fertilizers and other additives.
Another name that often pops up when discussing the history of biodynamic farming is Maria Thun. Considered the “high priestess” of biodynamics, Thun devised the biodynamic calendar and divided each day into four categories, namely leaf, root, flower and fruit days. Keep reading to learn more about this calendar and the impact it has on biodynamic farming.
What is the Biodynamic Calendar and How Does it Impact Wine Making?
The biodynamic calendar is the system through which biodynamic farmers determine when to plant, care for and harvest their crops. The calendar is based on the lunar calendar and approaches the vineyard as a single entity.
Furthermore, the biodynamic calendar puts each day into one of four categories. Those are root, flower, fruit and leaf days. Each of these categories coincides with one of the four worldly elements, namely earth, fire, water and air, and is associated with a set of tasks.
Root days are best for pruning or harvesting root vegetables. Leaf days are best for watering. Fruit days are best for harvesting, and on flower days, winemakers leave their plants alone.
What Makes Biodynamic Farming Practices Worthwhile?
The scientific community has been reluctant to accept and study biodynamic farming practices. Many scientists believe it to be dogmatic, and many of the biodynamic practices are hard to prove scientifically beneficial.
However, a 2009 study in the Journal of Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems noted that this type of farming does have a positive impact on soil quality, biodiversity and yield. It went on to explain that the preparations behind biodynamic farming use less energy and are more efficient than traditional farming practices.
A separate study shows that biodynamic soils displayed greater disease suppression, more organic material and less compaction when compared to non-organic soils.
Even with all of the above benefits, more scientific study is needed to prove that biodynamic farming practices are more worthwhile than others.
Why Should You Buy Biodynamic Wine?
While biodynamics is more beneficial to farmers than to consumers thanks to increased yield, it is a worthwhile purchase if you’re concerned with the use of chemical fertilizers and additives. Because this type of wine is produced using a holistic approach to viticulture (and agriculture in general), you can rest assured that any biodynamic bottle you open was made with the utmost concern for the environment.
Is Biodynamic Wine Vegetarian?
Technically, biodynamic wine is vegetarian, but plant-based individuals may want to look a little further into the biodynamic farming process before buying their first bottle.
Viticulture following the biodynamic process requires a special preparation of natural fertilizers. In the fall, compost is stuffed into cow horns and subsequently buried in the soil. In the spring, the horns are exhumed, and the compost from inside the horns is used as fertilizer throughout the vineyard.
No one can decisively explain why cow horns are used, but it likely has something to do with pseudoscience. The horn symbolizes abundance within biodynamics and across cultures around the world. Just think about the American cornucopia or the Viking helmets and water jugs.
In addition to cow-horn fertilizer, there are nine other compost preparations associated with biodynamic farming. These include the use of stinging nettles, chamomile and yarrow blossoms.
Is Biodynamic Wine Organic?
The short answer is no. Both organic farming and biodynamic farming are similar as they don’t use chemical fertilizers. However, organic wine simply requires the sole inclusion of organic grapes.
Biodynamic wine, on the other hand, relies on particular farming preparations based on the lunar calendar and the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner, which defines the vineyard as an entire ecosystem. The latter is also produced using no chemicals, manufactured additives or acidity adjustments. Rather, the growth cycle is supplemented by special composts using all-natural ingredients.
Does Biodynamic Wine Taste Different?
Generally, no, biodynamic wine does not taste different to normal wine. In a blind taste test, you likely would not be able to tell the difference between a biodynamic wine and non-biodynamic wine.
With that in mind, it is important to note that some experts believe biodynamic wines have a higher quality profile. This is due to the fact that most biodynamic winemakers also grow fruit. That combined with the lack of pesticides means pollinators are more common within biodynamic vineyards, resulting in a slightly altered taste profile of the grapes produced.
In addition, some biodynamic winemakers have also created a wine that features “secondary flavors.” These are the yeast flavors naturally produced in the wine fermentation process. If this is something that interests you, you’ll likely need to seek out and order such bottles from the producers themselves.
Does the Calendar Impact Wine Tasting?
If you believe in biodynamic farming, you likely believe that the lunar calendar impacts wine tasting, too. In the eyes of many experts, this could account for the fact that a bottle of wine tastes amazing the first time you open but doesn’t taste half as good the next time you open the same bottle.
For believers of biodynamics, you should only open bottles of red wine on fruit days and bottles of white wine on flower days. You can find several examples of the biodynamic calendar for this purpose across the internet. There are even apps to help you track when you should open which bottles. Bio Garden and When Wine are both free wine apps which track the lunar calendar, so you can always open those special bottles at just the right moment.
How to Find Biodynamic Wines?
There are more than 700 biodynamic vineyards around the world, from the USA to Australia. You’d also probably be surprised to learn that many labels you already know are biodynamic. These include Bonterra Vineyards in Mendocino County, CA, Cristal Champagne in Champagne, France and Bonny Doon Wines from Santa Cruz Mountains, CA.
To determine whether a bottle of wine is biodynamic wine, you’ll need to look for a mark from one of the two governing bodies. These organizations oversee the strict regulations in place for vineyards to become biodynamic.
Demeter International is the larger of the two certifying bodies as it encompasses all types of agricultural produce. You’ll find their plant-like mark on hundreds of labels from around the world.
On the other hand, Biodyvin Biodynamic Wines certifies 160 wine growers across Europe. You can read more about their certification process on their website.
To buy a bottle of biodynamic wine, you can head to your local liquor store and look for either of the above certifications. Alternatively, you can order a few bottles from online suppliers, like Drizly, Reserve Bar or Wine.com. Below, we’ve listed a few of our favorite biodynamic wines available for online order and delivery.
1. Bonterra Organic Chardonnay
Although also the cheapest bottle on our list, the Bonterra Organic Chardonnay is one of the most readily available and most enjoyable biodynamic white wines in the USA. All three of the Bonterra ranches are certified biodynamic by Demeter, and the company boasts that the ideology allows them to “bring back practices from centuries ago…and incorporate modern ways to ‘listen’ to the land.” This particular bottle of Californian chardonnay boasts notes of honey and toasted almonds, ideal for sipping on a warm, spring afternoon.
2. 2016 Domaine Duseigneur Côtes Du Rhône La Chapelle
On the left bank of the Rhône in Châteauneuf-du-Pape lies Domaine Duseigneur, a vineyard developed by five generations of winemakers. Despite this long history, or perhaps because of it, Bernard Duseigneur, who runs the vineyard today, believes that creating the best bottle of red wine is about “seizing the opportunity that nature gave to us.” Perhaps that’s why this biodynamic-certified red blend deemed “La Chapelle” is so fruity and aroma-filled. Created from old Grenache, this is a bottle that is best consumed young, so open and enjoy it on the first fruit day available.
3. Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling
Like many biodynamic winemakers, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace, France holds both a biodynamic and organic certification. In 1998, the Domaine, which has been cultivated by the same families for centuries, was certified as a biodynamic vineyard by Biodyvin and as an organic vineyard by Ecocert. Today, Olivier Humbrecht, the owner of the vineyard, is the president of SIVCBD, a subsection of Biodyvin. So, if you want to try a bottle from one of the most active biodynamic vineyards, pick up this Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling. The semi-sweet white boasts intense citrus and white fruit aromas with a fresh finish.
4. Nicolas Joly Savennieres Clos de La Bergerie 2017
MOST HISTORICALLY BIODYNAMIC
Nicolas Joly was one of the earliest French converts to biodynamic viticulture. In 1977, Nicolas Joly took over a vineyard dating back to 1130, and began to make wines using modern methods. Anecdotally, he soon noticed dissatisfying alterations in the vines. After reading a book about biodynamics, he was curious whether a holistic approach would help his vineyard, so he converted a small section of the vines into a biodynamic farm. He saw great results and soon transformed the rest of the vineyard, becoming biodynamic certified by Demeter in 1984. Today, Nicolas Joly has written several books on the subject and is respected as a pioneer in biodynamic viticulture. Pick up this Nicolas Joly Savennières Clos de La Bergerie to try the results for yourself.
5. Louis Roederer Cristal Brut 2012
Louis Roederer, the brand behind the world-famous Cristal champagne, believes wholeheartedly in biodynamics. In fact, its been working for nearly 10 years to make all of vineyards biodynamic. While the company still hasn’t achieved that goal, with only 50% of the holdings now biodynamic, 2012 marks the first vintage made from 100% biodynamic grapes. This makes Louis Roederer the first major champagne maker to produce fully biodynamic wine (although it doesn’t yet hold the certification). Because of the challenges associated with the growing season, the 2012 yield was low but you can expect the resulting champagne to be full-bodied with fresh, floral aromas.