Biodynamics has roots in both mysticism and holistic elements and biodynamic wine also stems from the same philosophy. In the 1920s, before the organic movement that we're familiar with began, an Austrian philosopher, playwright, and artist named Rudolf Steiner introduced the notion that a farm must be viewed as a single organism and should therefore be as self-sustaining as possible.
That Sounds Like a Good Thing. What Else is Involved?
A known occultist, Steiner introduced practices that he devised from his knowledge of astronomy, and farms that practice biodynamics are known for scheduling around the lunar cycle and other "witchy" practices like burying manure-filled cow horns where they will ferment over several months before being unearthed and spread onto the farm.
Strip away the dismissive assertations that biodynamics is a pseudoscience at best and you may see that it has a lot in common with modern organic farming, albeit with stricter guidelines. To be considered biodynamic in the US, a farm has to be certified by Demeter USA. In Greek mythology, Demeter is the goddess of agriculture.
Biodynamic farming isn't restricted to wine. Farms growing fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, grains, and raising livestock can be biodynamic. Even oil processors, bakers, and cosmetics and textile manufacturers can be certified. But winemakers have very specific guidelines to follow before they can be certified biodynamic. First and foremost is a belief in a philosophy of embracing "nature as an interconnected whole, a totality, an organism endowed with archetypal rhythm." (source)
Essentially, the farm itself is considered a living organism, and all the inputs of the growing and fermenting process must come from within the farm itself. Things like imported aromatic yeasts, plastic containers for fermentation and tanking, and synthetic corks aren't permitted in Biodynamic winemaking.
Demeter USA encourages Biodynamic winemakers to observe the Biodynamic calendar and align their harvests accordingly. The calendar is used as a guide for the winemaker to decide when to plant, prune, harvest, and even racking. The calendar has four types of days that correspond to the main parts of a plant: Root Day, Leaf Day, Flower Day, and Fruit Day.
While machines can be used to harvest (if the winemaker can justify it to the Demeter association), hand harvesting is ideal. Demeter covers a lot more in its Processing Standard—covering all topics from processing aids, acid/sugar adjustments, oak aging, filtering, sulfite usage, equipment maintenance, and even record keeping.
What Else do Biodynamic Farms Do?
Aside from eschewing agrichemicals and synthetic fertilizers (as organic farms also do), the biodynamic farm sustains itself by recycling as much as it can from its own ecosystem. It recycles the manure from its animals through composting or the aforementioned manure-filled horns (known as Preparation BD 500 in Biodynamics). It grows cover crops and other plants used in other Preparations such as yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, dandelion, and valerian flowers. These are added to compost to help the soil's vitality and some concoctions are used to treat disease in both plants and animals (a disease in any one animal or plant is considered a symptom of an ailing farm rather than an isolated affliction). Some Preparations are strictly for intensifying the sun's power.
So, Is Biodynamic Wine Better?
While some of the science seems to support biodynamic farming, one thing remains true: people make good wine. We believe that the passion of wine growers and makers who engage in a tireless pursuit of creating products of uncompromising quality is the key ingredient in excellence. Both organic farming and Biodynamics strive to be good stewards of the land.
At Ram's Gate Winery, we are passionate about creating compelling and sustainable wines for you to enjoy. General Manager and Winemaker, Joe Nielsen, is a firm believer in thoughtfully nurturing the vineyards in line with many biodynamic farming principles, while stopping short of some of the witchier elements. In fact, we are proud to be a Certified Sustainable Vineyard, as well as holding a Fish Friendly Farming® certification, and are dedicated to practicing organic farming in our Estate vineyards.
Sample our critically-acclaimed, sustainably-crafted wines for yourself, like our 2019 Pinot Noir, Ram’s Gate Estate (95+ Points, Jeb Dunnuck) or our 2018 Chardonnay, Ram’s Gate Estate (94 Points, Jeb Dunnuck). Or visit us for a tasting experience and discover the hospitality, uncompromising quality, and dedication to sustainability that make Ram’s Gate Wine special.