Biodynamic wine production is an approach to winemaking based upon the work of Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner. In addition to organic practices such as the exclusion of chemical or synthetic herbicides, fertilisers and pesticides, biodynamic farmers rely upon special plant, animal and mineral preparations to enhance the health of their soil and vines. Utilising the Stella Natura Biodynamic agricultural calendar, biodynamic farmers also consider the positioning and rhythmic influences of the sun, moon, planets and stars as guides for when to prune their vines, plant new vines or pick the fruit.
For winemakers the key principle of biodynamic wine production is totally logical. It makes no sense to extol the virtues on the geology of a vineyard, the unique aspects of its soil (its ‘terroir’) and what that imparts to the wine, if that soil is then totally transformed by a mixture of chemicals, herbicides and fertilisers. Healthy soil dictates healthy vines and experience has shown that biodynamic practices give rise to greater purity and precision in the resulting wines.
Steiner’s biodynamic disciplines date back to the early 1920’s, (twenty years before the organic movement) and followed the notion that in harnessing the metaphysical, the physical is improved. In his approach to agriculture, Steiner believed that the health of the soil, plants and animals depends on reconnecting nature with the creative forces of the cosmos. The practical methods he outlined were intended to be adopted by farmers and winemakers alike with the intention to revitalise the natural forces that were rapidly becoming depleted through modern agricultural techniques.
Beginning with a healthy living soil, often enhanced by judicious quantities of biodynamic, naturally-occurring preparations, Steiner felt that it was also important to recognise the role of the rhythms of light from planets, sun, moon and stars. Understanding this aspect allows for optimal timings in viticultural activity and thus it follows that, if the winemaker is tuned into their needs, the vines and soil will respond better.
Steiner’s concept is not that difficult to grasp, after all, we know about lunar cycles, tidal flow and seasonality, so have already accepted certain, very obvious aspects of these life forces without question.
Undertaking a biodynamic approach is far from an easy option and the problem for many winemakers is that in order to produce wine biodynamically, the adoption of its principles has to be wholesale, with no holds barred. Following the rhythms of earth and space is taxing and even very diligent organic farmers are wary of the extreme measures required to conform fully to the disciplines which are considered by many to be too expensive.
Thankfully, more and more winemakers are experimenting in biodynamic principles and gradually adopting what, ultimately, is a life changing way of working. Whilst the initial aim may have been the long term sustainability of the land and the health of themselves and their co-workers, the results of their endeavours has witnessed an intense and more honest expression of terroir.