You may or may not have heard this term, but trust me, it’s an ideal which is increasingly gaining momentum with winemakers globally as the concepts of sustainability and environmental conservation grow. Nicolas Joly, the esteemed Domaine de la Romanée–Conti in Burgundy and Champagne House Roederer are among producers to make the move into biodynamic viticulture.
What does it mean? Based on the work of Rudolph Steiner way back in 1924, the movement pre-dates Organic farming, yet is arguably nowhere near as well known. Essentially, it’s a ‘green’ farming movement which follows some organic principles (ie banning the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides, low or no additional SO2, natural yeast fermentations) but is supercharged with a few additional concepts:
- The belief that the planet is sensitive to life forces (stick with me, it sounds a bit ‘out there’ but this rather ‘holistic’ concept is interesting) – with followers basing their viticultural and vinification tasks around the celestial/lunar cycle ie ploughing, planting and picking based around four kinds of days: ‘flower’, ‘fruit’, ‘leaf’ and ‘root’ days.
*Followers also believe the wines taste different depending on which of these days it is tasted on, it may sound weird, but I have experience this myself so I won’t poo poo it as a notion!*
- The use of up to nine different composts and herbal preparations, these include: placing cow dung inside a cow horn and burying it over winter before digging it up and using it in a spray in the vineyard, a variety of herbal and plant preparations (ie stinging nettles), and perhaps most controversially a spray made from the dynamized ashes of pests!
- The ultimate aim of biodynamic farming is to produce a healthy ‘living’ soil with vines in harmony with nature, thus essentially creating a self-sustaining ecosystem.
Now I appreciate this may be viewed with scepticism, all I will say on the matter, is some of my favourite wines also happen to be biodynamic, is that a coincidence or is there really something to this?
Biodynamic wines do taste different. If I had to put my finger on what makes a biodynamic wine taste different, I’d say that for me, they tend to be more textural and offer greater complexity, tasting more of their provenance – which perhaps makes sense given all the extra work that goes into their production.
How to tell if a wine is biodynamic? If the producer is certified they will often include a logo of the certifying body ie Demeter on the label, although it’s also worth noting some will follow the principles but not have certification (getting certification can be onerous and expensive), in these instances they will usually state it somewhere on the back label.
So there you have it, biodynamics in a nutshell. If you are interested in trying a biodynamic wine for yourself, but are not sure where to start, some of my personal favourites include:
- Millton (the pioneer of the movement in New Zealand, James’ Chenin Blanc and Viognier are simply outstanding)
- Quartz Reef – All Rudi Bauer’s wines are terrific.
- Domaine Marcel Deiss
Tomorrow, C is for Châteauneuf-du-Pape