Biodynamics, what do we really know?

A fascinating subject for some, mysterious and exciting for many and a load of tosh for others!

Whatever we think, our wine portfolio now consists of wines made using traditional methods, organic methods, biodynamic methods and last but by no means least ‘thoughtful’ or ‘natural’ methods.  What a minefield!

One thing’s for sure, there are plenty of folk out there with opinions on all styles of winemaking, which is great.  But before taking our ow view, let’s take note of the wise words of the man associated with first identifying the biodynamic movement,

“It ought to be clear to anyone that people have no right to talk about agriculture, including its social and organizational aspects, unless they have a sound basis in agriculture, and really know what it means to grow grain or pototoes or beets.” Rudolf Steiner, FIRST LECTURE, June 7, 1924

Three simple points to explain biodynamics : 

  • A biodynamic farm should run as a self-sustaining unit that respects the principles of nature.  It stretches through every different element associated with a farm, with animals very much at the core.
  • Ultimately, the farm should be optimizing the level of environmental harmony  –  and that is what biodynamics is all about.
  • Simply put, happy and vital animals and healthy soils leading to 100% naturally grown crops.

Biodynamic farming can often be construed as a little crazy.   But rules are rules and to be considered biodynamic, the farmer must use nine biodynamic preparations as laid out by Mr Steiner in 1924.

The likes of cow manure, horn silica and horsetail are used in spray form.  Yarrow flowers, chamomile, stinging nettles, oak barn, dandelion flowers and valerian flowers are ground, dried and applied to the land.

And if that’s not enough, all of these are prepared using containers such as cow horns, stag bladders, cow intestines, animal skulls and animal abdominal tissue.

Sounds bonkers?  Well many growers now claim to have seen dramatic improvements in their vines as a result of using these materials.  Some claim changes to soil fertility, crop nutrition and better resistance to disease and pests.  Others have seen the quality of their wines literally explode – purer flavours, more floral character and longer-lasting.

On the other hand, there’s a sceptical opinion that believes the trade is driving recognition of biodynamic wines and using it as a marketing tool with which they can achieve greater standing and better return.  Worse still is the opinion that biodynamic methods are driving an unwelcome diversiveness in farming that is unhealthy for farming as a whole and poo-poos the efforts of traditional wine farmers.

One producer well known to me literally sits back and does the bare minimum when it comes to managing his vines – walk into his vineyard and you’ll find a display of what looks like an overgrown field of weeds!  But what is instantly noticeable is the fragrance – the vineyard is in fact packed full to the brim with healthy, heavily scented wild flowers.  And incredible as that is, it’s nothing compared to the stunning aromas found in his eventual wines.

My own experiences of tasting biodynamic and organic wines do suggest that there are subtle differences in the flavours and aromatics – possibly a little more rustic, a little more ‘terroir’, perhaps a little more perfume on the nose?  But I’m still exploring and cannot be hand-on-heart confident of those findings just yet.

In conclusion, my view is that there is no hard and fast rule.  Key to vineyard management is a thoughtful and sensible attitude to nurturing the vineyard.  Sensitive actions are far better than heavy-handedness.  Our wine range choice is all-inclusive and does not set out to deem any style of wine-farming ‘better’ than the other.

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