Where are all my wine lovers out there? Few things in life bring me more pleasure than curling up with a juicy bottle of Pinot, preferably if there’s a block of cheese within reach. But as with everything I consume, I’ve started think about the sustainability of wine and how it’s made. That has led me to the wonderful world of biodynamic wine. I recently took a wine tour through Willamette valley in Portland. Several of the wineries we visited specialized in biodynamic wine production. It’s a relatively newer, more sustainable way of producing my favorite beverage on earth…so I was determined to learn more about it.
What the heck is biodynamic wine?
To put it simply, biodynamic wine is defined by the *processes by which the grapes are grown, harvested and then turned into wine. Oftentimes, it can be confused for organic wine. And for good reason — biodynamic wine does employ organic farming and harvesting techniques, staying away from pesticides and chemical fertilizers…so it’s probably fair to say that any biodynamic wine is also organic…but the reverse isn’t necessarily true. While both methods eliminate chemicals from the wine making process, biodynamic viticulture requires an entirely different holistic approach to farming. Biodynamic wine is developed on the idea that all the elements of nature are interconnected, and work together to affect the vineyard, and thus the whole wine making process. That determines the types of soils that are used, specifically where and when the grapes are planted and harvested, even when to open a bottle. Biodynamic agriculture practices go back even farther than organic farming, but the technique in wine development really started taking off in the 1920’s, and today is way more popular in Europe than in the U.S.
How is it made?
Biodynamic farming is expensive, time consuming and a lot of hard work. You have to work in tandem with the elements, as well as the movement of the Earth, Sun and Moon. While this may be starting to sound a little hippy and hokey, stay with me. The processes of winemaking all run according to a special biodynamic calendar, which tracks specific fruit, root, flower and leaf days correlating with the natural elements, include water, earth, air and fire. These days tell farmers the ideal time to harvest and prune grapes, when to just leave the vineyard alone, and the ideal times to water the grapes.
Instead of chemicals or manufactured yeast, biodynamic wine farmers make special composts for their soil, full of natural ingredients, ranging from manure, to chamomile to stinging nettles. The compost is stuffed into cow horns, and buried in the soil throughout the vineyard to nourish the ground. This isn’t entirely scientific, and partly rooted in ancient farming traditions — for example, cow horns are historically seen as a symbol of abundance.
When tested against non-organic soil, biodynamic soil is shown to have better disease suppression, less compaction in the soil (not good for roots!) and added organic material.Reporting from ‘Wine Folly’
In keeping with the biodynamic processes, there is also a schedule for when you should open and drink these wines. In keeping with the lunar calendar, fruit and flower days are the best days to drink wine. Wine experts have tested this theory out time and time again, and agree that, for whatever reason, the calendar holds. Red biodynamic wines are said to taste better on fruit days… and aromatic wines apparently stand out on flower days.
One thing to keep in mind, is that biodynamic wines are not regulated federally like organic products are. There are several prestigious organizations that certify biodynamic wine, including Demeter here in the U.S., so you can do your research and know what you’re getting. It’s also important to note that biodynamic wines, like organic wine, does contain sulfites, which are essentially naturally occurring preservatives. You’ll find them in the form of little particles at the bottom of your bottle, but don’t worry. They are harmless to most humans, and contain less sulfites than most processed foods. However, the U.S. is one of the only countries that requires winemakers to label sulfite contents in wine, and the rising concern about preservatives in general make some people wary.
Why should I drink it?
SO WHY SHOULD YOU DRINK IT?!
There are several reasons I’m a big fan of making biodynamic wine the star of your next happy hour.
For one, a lot of biodynamic wine makers say they are able to produce bottles with stronger and more vibrant tastes that last longer than other wines. And we already know these wines are organic, so they’re free of pesticides, chemical fertilizers and other man-made additives. They also tend to have lower sugar levels, meaning your headache the next day might not be as bad as drinking that two-buck chuck.
It’s also better for the planet! Farmers and viticulturists also claim that biodynamic wine production has been good for vineyards overall, improving biodiversity and crop nutrition, soil quality, pest and disease management and more.
Furthermore, as global warming and climate change continues at faster and faster rates, the natural effects from that have major impacts on vineyards. And this means that winemakers have to do even more tinkering to achieve balanced flavor, sugar levels and alcohol content, even from year to year on the same soil. Biodynamic wine already takes those factors into account, producing more balanced flavors that more clearly represent the region in which they were grown.
Where can I get it?
There are just over 600 biodynamic wine producers in the world today. You can easily find growers online, and I’m willing to bet your local wine shop carries a few bottles, if you ask.
Still want to know more?
In case you want to learn even more about biodynamic wines and who makes them, you can check out these resources below:
- https://wineanorak.com/biodynamic3.htm (this list isn’t entirely exhaustive)