Biodynamic wine has its roots in the work of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, in which he advocated a style of biodynamic agriculture that has since become further popularised by pioneering writer Maria Thun. It has much in common with organic farming, where you use minimal pesticides. Throw in some figurative howling at the moon and planning your viticultural calendar around the movement of planets and the four elements, and you have a holistic, new age approach to managing your vineyard.
Is it all bull?
In some ways yes, since winemakers make their fertiliser by filling cow horns with manure and burying them underground for months! Rudolf Steiner was reputedly a clairvoyant and much of his work marries science and the arcane. Many overlook that Isaac Newton was secretly obsessed with alchemy, or that a preferred pastime of Robert Boyle, one of the fathers of modern chemistry, was to hunt around for demons and witches. Say what you want about fruit days, the unusual use of stinging nettle and chamomile tea and other pseudoscientific oddities behind this type of winemaking, anyone who has tasted wine produced biodynamically will recognise that energy and vibrancy that you struggle to find in other wines. If that means burying cow horns in the ground or fermenting yarrow heads in a stag's bladder, so be it!
What is the difference between biodynamic wine and organic wine?
The exact methods of organic farming vary from country to country, but on the whole, organic wine is produced from vineyards that employ natural fertilisers, and all additives that go into the final wine must be organic. Organic winemaking is a more recent movement that has exploded with popularity in recent years. Biodynamic viticulture, on the other hand, has been around for slightly longer and has more consistent internationally recognised standards delineated by the Demeter Association. That being said, there are many shared values and the overwhelming majority of biodynamic winemaking is also certified organic.
The main differences underlie the biodynamic practices advocated by Rudolf Steiner. A staunch rationalist would have no issue setting up an organic vineyard in France, but might take issue with the biodynamic farming of Steiner's Agriculture Course. Another way of thinking about this difference is that of astronomy and astrology. Whilst the former is a branch of science that deals with space, the latter with its horoscopes and birth charts goes beyond the celestial bodies themselves, instead of trying to fit them into an interwoven, living picture of all life in the universe.
What about natural wines and vegan wines?
Natural wines are a bit of a misnomer, and generally embody low-intervention, organic practices that have much in common with biodynamic wines. There is no official certification, although the working definition is that nothing is added to the wine and nothing is taken away - the grapes mature with minimal intervention, and the winemaker tries to give as natural an expression of the terroir as possible.
Vegan wines on the other hand are easier to understand - they are simply wines made with no animal products. During the winemaking process, sediment is often removed from the wine by filtration and fining agents, some of which are made from casein, a protein found in milk. Winemakers can either choose to use plant-based fining agents or not to at all, as is the case with some natural wines that take on an unusual cloudy appearance.
What does biodynamic wine taste like?
Part of the charm of biodynamic wine is its unrivalled expression of terroir. One of our favourite biodynamic producers, Clemens Busch, was a pioneer of organic and then biodynamic winemaking in Germany and each of Clemens' different plots along the Mosel is vinified and bottled separately, leading to between 30-40 different wines per vintage. Not only are the wines some of the finest, laser-sharp Rieslings we've ever tasted - each one is totally unique, even if they were harvested metres apart!
From Alsace and Bordeaux to New Zealand and Chile, more and more domaines and château are making the conversion to biodynamic practices, bringing a greater expression of the soils, rocks and climate to their winemaking. Sometimes the wine has a funky taste often associated with natural wine. In red wines, grapes like Syrah in the Rhone and Pinot Noir in Burgundy take on a more complex fruity character with zip, energy and attractive floral elements, while in white wine and sparkling wine like Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc from the Loire and Gewurztraminer, the wine becomes more elegant and vibrant.
What is the effect of biodynamic production?
Many winemakers who have swapped to biodynamic wine production have noticed a profound effect on the vineyard. From original pioneer Nicolas Joly in the Loire, M. Chapoutier in the Rhone and Domaine Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace, leading producers in each of their respective regions, biodynamic winemakers try to treat the vineyard as a single, self-sufficient organism and notice improvements in everything from soil fertility to biodiversity. How much of this can be attributed to biodynamic practices is hard to say, but many of the top winemakers in the world swear by the practice!
Click here to see the full range of our biodynamic wines and do get in touch with our wine gurus if you have any questions or want to learn more about our leading selection!