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22 September 2019 № 368


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Biodynamic wines

The theory of biodynamic agriculture is largely based on the theories of anthroposophy developed by Rudolph Steiner in the early-20th century.

Many specific biodynamic preparations are used in a biodynamic vineyard, some of which can seem a bit odd to those not versed in biodynamic principles. The use of a cow’s horn, for example, as a vessel for holding preparations that are buried in the ground seems to some to be strange and primitive. Proponents of biodynamic wine, however, believe that such preparations help increase the health and vitality of the vineyard, ultimately improving the quality of the wine.

Not being allowed to use chemicals to treat disease once it’s established means constantly administering preventative doses of, say, camomile, bark, fennel, dandelions or valerian, anticipating problems by intimate knowledge of each vine. It is the use, and particularly the timing of the use, of these preparations that particularly distinguishes biodynamic viticulture from organic. Some biodynamic growers are downright rude about pussyfooting about with ‘just’ organic farming, while some of the many organic farmers mutter darkly about the deeply suspect social beliefs of Rudolf Steiner who first advocated biodynamism in general (not for viticulture in particular) in the 1920s.

Because of the mystical components of biodynamic wine production methods, there are many outspoken critics against the practice. Many people claim that there is little to no difference between biodynamic wine and wine that is simply organic, and that the mystical components are simply so much hand waving. No matter what you think of biodynamics, the fact of the matter is that its complexities necessitate extraordinary care, and that level of care, when applied by skilled winemakers, almost always produces great wines. That they would take to these intensive practices and philosophies really demonstrates that none of them think of wine as a commodity, and all of them wish to express the fragile sense of place in their wines.

Nonetheless, biodynamic wine is incredibly popular throughout the world, and its popularity has grown immensely over the last few years. There are more than 450 mid- to large-scale wineries worldwide making biodynamic wine, including some prominent wineries in prime growing regions in France, California, Italy, Germany, and Australia. These include famous wineries in Burgundy, such as Domaine Leroy and Domaine Leflaive, and wineries in Alsace like Domaine Zind Humbrecht.

The world of biodynamics has its own certifying agencies. In much of the world, that agency is Demeter International, while the US has the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association. In France, wine is certified biodynamic by Biodivin. Growers have to have been completely biodynamic for three years before they can be certified. The movement is certainly taking hold in France. Biodivin even has members in the most sceptical French region of all, Bordeaux, and Les Baux de Provence is planning to become the world’s firstall-biodynamic appellation (helped by the drying mistral [wind] that whistles through the vineyards).

J Robinson: On paper it sounds completely crazy, but when you see the health of the grapes that result and, perhaps even more importantly, the vibrancy of the wines typically produced, it is increasingly convincing.

The big unanswered question in all this it how on earth it works. Olivier Humbrecht for example — someone who is much more like a stolid German than a fanciful Latin — admits that he doesn’t know. He just knows that his wines are better, more intense and a truer expression of terroir, and that he feels comfortable that he is doing his bit for the long-term benefit of the planet’s ecosystem.

Next time you are in the mood for a glass of wine, consider making it biodynamic. Biodynamic wines are becoming much more widely available, and many are highly regarded, as well as better for the Earth.

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