Biodynamic | Wine buzzwords

Charley May
By Charley May
almost 2 years ago
5 min read

Welcome to the next leg of our journey to make sense of vino vocabulary. Today, we’ll be tackling a term that’s shrouded in mystery and a fair bit of scepticism: biodynamic wine. Among the preferred poison of wipsters (aka wine hipsters), biodynamic vino is made using a philosophy that’s free of chemicals and tuned into the cosmic forces of the universe. But the question is, does it really make a difference to the juice in your glass? Well mofo, let’s look into a crystal ball and see.

Biodynamic agriculture is a type of organic farming ideology that’s based on a number of ideas that were developed by controversial Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in 1920s. Born in response to the negative effects of conventional farming, biodynamic farming is an ideology that encourages a more spiritual and environmentally sustainable way of caring for the land and producing food (and wine). 

The heart of the biodynamic movement revolves around a number of special organic soil composts, and the belief that all living beings are heavily influenced by celestial bodies like planets and stars. Over the years, a number of devotees built a significant body of work in the field. This included the development of a special astrological calendar, devised by Maria Thun, that sets out what specific farming activities can occur based on the phases of the moon and its relative position to distant constellations and planets. 

Consulting the stars

This biodynamic calendar is broken down into four categories (root days, fruit days, flower days and leaf days) that coincide with the classical Zodiac astrological elements of Earth, Fire, Air and Water. Therefore what’s happening with the stars and what category the day falls under, dictates when you should prune, plant, water, harvest, fertilise, and even taste wines! No, for real, according to the calendar some days, namely ‘fruit’ and ‘flower’ days, are better than others for tasting vino. In fact, some of the UK’s biggest retailers are so sold on the idea that they’ll only schedule critics to taste wines on ‘fruit’ days. But let’s put our feet back on solid ground again and take a closer look at biodynamic soil composts. 

Coming back to earth

Made from natural mineral, animal or plant materials, rather than potentially toxic chemicals, these potions are designed to improve the soil structure and increase the microbial activity, aeration and water retention capacity of the soil, and enhance vine health. A number of tonics exist that are mixed up for different purposes in the vineyard, with the most well known being a compost called preparation 500.

This sh*t (literally) is cow manure that has been stuffed into female cow horns and buried underground over winter, before being stirred into water and sprayed on the vineyard. And it’s apparently very effective at stimulating all the microbes, bacteria and earthworms involved in making soil humus (the good stuff that the vines love) to do their thing.  

There’s a whole bunch of other tinctures, numbered 502-508, that can be added to preparation 500 to bring about specific benefits in the vineyard. My personal fave is preparation 502, a special brew made from yarrow flowers that’s been sunbaked in a stag bladder and is said to connect the soil to the planetary rhythms. Yes, I’m cynical about this claim, but a number of winos swear by the value of biodynamics in making better vino. 

And they’re not just crazy, tarot reading fringe wine enthusiasts either, they’re some of the world’s most respected producers. Here in Australia, producers such as Cullen, Castagna and Paxton are making extraordinary wines that are both revered by enthusiasts and awarded by critics. 

Searching for certainty

The question for me is: do biodynamic wines taste better than conventional vino? In nutshell, the jury is out on that because it’s such a difficult thing to judge. Taste is subjective and there are so many influences that can affect how we perceive and experience vino. For example, the wine I drank under a Tuscan sun with my besties didn’t taste quite as good when I opened it again back in Melbourne (definite holiday effect going on there!). So coming up with a failsafe way of testing the two wines and arriving at a definitive answer is near impossible. And to be honest, such an exercise would be tragic because for me much of the beauty of wine lies in just enjoying it for what it is and who you’re drinking it with.

However, what I do know is that biodynamic viticulture is an environmentally sustainable way of growing wine. And in age where the effects of climate change are starting to bite, anything we can do to reduce the pressure on Mother Earth is good thing. 

That’s all for today mofos, you’ve done a stellar job digesting all that waffle. Until next time, don’t drink biodynamic wine on a full moon or else you’ll turn into a werewolf… just kidding.