Between Organic, Sustainable and Biodynamic wine, Biodynamic is the designation which guarantees the best practices for the environment and human health. While it is currently less common, more and more winemakers are using Biodynamic practices. Supporters claim that not only is it the gold standard for environmental health, but that the wine also tastes better and lasts longer naturally. Some of the most prestigious French winemakers now use Biodynamic practices.
Biodynamic refers to a system of agricultural practices --developed over a century ago by philosopher and educator Rudolph Steiner --which understands an entire agricultural operation as one living organism. According to Demeter, the international biodynamic certification organization, biodynamic agriculture refers to "...holistic stewardship that integrates plants, animals, water, air and soil into a self-regulating ecosystem." Biodynamic begins with Organic practices (no synthetic chemicals) but goes much further.
For example, a core requirement of Biodynamic agriculture is that fertilizers and other soil amendments are produced within the same operation in which they are used. So Biodynamic operations will also include livestock--sheep grazing among the vines, cattle and horses producing manure and often used for tilling, and chickens--as well as a host of other plant life which produces preparations used in composting and fertilization. Biodiversity is emphasized. In fact in order to be certified, 10% of the total land of a winery must be maintained as a biodiversity preserve.
The Preparations are another core tenet of Biodynamic. These are "teas" made from plants and minerals with specific functions and which have specific guidelines for usage. Here is an example of one set of preparations used to develop compost:
502 – Yarrow – stimulates the potassium, silica and selenium in the soil bacteria
503 – Chamomile – stabilizes nitrogen within the compost and increases soil life
504 – Stinging nettle – aids chlorophyll formation and stimulates iron, potassium & calcium
505 – Oak bark – combat harmful plant diseases like fungus and eliminates the need for lime
506 – Dandelion – builds potassium and magnesium
507 – Valerian – forms a blanket of warmth over the entire compost pile, earthworms LOVE this
Biodynamic agriculture is, of course, not without its skeptics and detractors. It is criticized as being based on spiritual rather than scientific ideas. Some of its ideas can seem rather "woo-woo". For example, it its original form it prescribes that planting, harvesting and other farm operations be guided by the cycles of the moon. (This is, however, not required in order to receive Demeter certification.) And one of the preparations requires that cow manure be stuffed into a cow horn and buried on the farm over the winter. This manure is then dug up in spring and used to create a "tea" for spraying on the vineyards. To some this smacks of magic. One can instead consider that the horns become incubators for beneficial native micro-organisms.
We have carried many Biodynamic wines here at the cafe, both in our Enomatic wine system and in our wine shop. As more producers go Biodynamic, you can be sure to find more and more here at The North Branch! Biodynamic wines have been some of the most distinctively delicious wines we have had!