In recent years, there have been growing calls for more environmentally friendly ways of producing wine. As such, many vineyards are now turning towards methods like biodynamics, which produce high quality wines while also being much friendlier on Mother Nature.
So what exactly does this method involve? And how can you tell if your favourite bottle comes from biodynamically farmed grapes? Here’s everything you need to know about biodynamic wine - and why biodynamic farming tends to produce superior wine.
What is biodynamic wine?
Biodynamic farming predates the organic movement by almost 50 years, both being born in the 20th century. The biodynamic movement was started by the philosopher Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s, and was first called ‘anthroposophic’ agriculture. Luckily the name was later changed to ‘biodynamic’ agriculture!
Biodynamic agriculture relies on both organic practices and further steps to make its fine wines. This type of agricultural practice aims to create sustainable farms that support biodiversity and generate environmental health benefits, not only for humans but also for animals and plants. These farms focus on creating ideal conditions for life instead of just focusing on maximising yield.
Biodynamic viticulture requires the farmer to take extra steps beyond simply managing weeds and disease control. It includes adding specific substances like plant activators, biofertilisers, and mineral supplements to enhance the growth of beneficial microorganisms. According to experts, these microorganisms play an important role in helping convert nutrients found in nature into sugars needed by grapevines. Additionally, they prevent harmful fungi and bacteria from harming the vines during crucial periods of development and ripening.
While some people may think that adding plant activators is similar to pouring cow dung onto a garden, rest assured, it isn't. Plant activators are safe and effective, especially when used correctly. For example, chamomile tea contains compounds that reduce fungal infection - a common problem among vintners who wish to avoid picking early ripened berries. Similarly, garlic contains antimicrobial agents that fight off infections caused by moulds and yeast. Other popular additives include bone meal, seaweed extracts, kelp powder, ash, horsetail extract, and nettle leaf extract that enhance the health of the soil the vines are grown in.
The ultimate goal of biodynamics is to create a harmonious living environment for the vines so they can reach their fullest potential. This means fighting off disease, surviving climatic extremes (such as being more resilient to temperature fluctuations), and improving access to nutrients to be healthy and strong and produce superlative fruit.
If you're looking for one of the best Australian biodynamic wines around, check out our Hochkirch Syrah
What is the difference between organic & biodynamic wine?
Biodynamic goes a bit further than organic. Simply put, the difference is organic farming is about not doing ‘bad stuff’ while biodynamic farming is about not doing ‘bad stuff’ and doing ‘good stuff’ instead. In practice, while organic farming might involve not using industrial chemicals and using organically certified alternatives instead, the biodynamic alternative might be more about nurturing an ecosystem in the vineyard that eliminates the need for these interventions in the first place.
Like biodynamic farming, organic farming is a greener, sustainable, more natural approach to agriculture than commercial farming. We should be quite proud in Australia, because we’re responsible for more than half of the 70 million hectares of organically farmed land in the world!
One major difference between organic and biodynamic wine lies within the way each style of farming handles pesticide application. While organic producers tend to use pesticides and herbicides that have been certified as organic, biodynamic wine producers often go another route. Unlike organic growers, they choose to employ herbal remedies, biological solutions, and homeopathic treatments instead to combat pests, bacteria and fungi, and to care for the soil.
We think both methods of farming are great and all of our wines are made from grapes grown with either organic or biodynamic practices.
Is wine really organic or biodynamic if it’s not certified?
Organic or biodynamic certification is important, and it does instil a certain level of confidence. But a lack of certification doesn’t necessarily mean a wine is inferior in any way.
There are many truly organic and biodynamic producers who choose not to go down the road to being certified for a variety of reasons:
- Certification is expensive, and many small producers simply don’t have the money to invest in it.
- There can be a lot of bureaucracy involved in getting certified, and some producers would rather focus on growing grapes and making wine rather than jumping through hoops.
- Many small producers are more akin to farmers than fancy winemakers, and they simply farm organically or biodynamically because they see it as the best way to farm, not because it allows them to market their wines differently.
- Biodynamic producers especially view themselves as somewhat rebellious, going against the mainstream of commercial winemaking, so going through a certification process is antithetical to their nature.
- The certified organic label is unfortunately viewed by some consumers as indicating healthier and therefore worse tasting wine. This couldn’t be more wrong, but it is a reason why some organic producers choose not to associate with that label.
At Feravina, we appreciate organic or biodynamic certification, but we don’t require it. We only really care about substance, so if a wine is made naturally using organically or biodynamically grown grapes, then the presence or absence of a logo on the back of the bottle is irrelevant.
Also beware that because of the growing demand for organic wines, some wine producers target the organic market with mass-produced wines, which are technically organic but they’re also of inferior quality and full of additives. You can typically identify these wines as they’ll often have a big ‘organic’ presence on the label and in their marketing.
How biodynamic wine is better for you
Unlike conventionally farmed wine, biodynamic wine doesn't contain as many added preservatives and additives. Instead, it relies on naturally occurring acids, tannins, and friendly microorganisms to prevent oxidation and spoilage. Because of this unique process, biodynamic wines offer increased complexity and depth of flavour, as well as greater levels of aroma.
Aside from having lower sugar content on average, biodynamic wines also boast enhanced nutritional value. Compared to other wines, these types of beverages typically provide higher amounts of polyphenols, flavonoids, and resveratrol. Polyphenols are phytochemicals that give certain foods their colour and rich flavours. Flavonoids, on the other hand, are pigments that contribute to the red and blue colours seen in various fruits and vegetables.
A 2015 study revealed that wines produced via this method had higher antioxidant activity than organic ones. Antioxidants are known for fighting free radicals, molecules responsible for damaging cells, tissues, DNA, and proteins. By increasing the amount of antioxidants present in wine, biodynamic growers could potentially decrease cancer risks associated with drinking alcohol.
Studies showed that consuming moderate quantities of polyphenol-rich red wine every day lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels in patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases. Some studies also suggest that daily consumption of white wine helps maintain normal body weight.
Is biodynamic wine natural wine?
Strictly speaking, no. Biodynamic refers primarily to practices in the vineyard and not really in the winery, so a winemaker could take their biodynamically farmed grapes and employ additives and methods that would render the resulting wine not-natural.
In reality though, biodynamic wines are almost always natural. Farming biodynamically requires great care and dedication, and anyone who is willing to go to those lengths to grow truly exceptional quality grapes is very unlikely to then adulterate them with additives, industrial techniques, and large quantities of sulphites that you’ll tend to find in commercially made wines.
Why biodynamic farming is better for the planet
Biodynamic vineyards encourage animal life and provide a habitat for local fauna by promoting ecosystem conservation that encourages biodiversity. Its goal is to restore damaged ecosystems by protecting native species, promoting pollinator habitats, reducing irrigation requirements, preserving biodiversity, and recycling wastewater generated by grapes and livestock. To achieve this objective, practitioners engage in holistic approaches that integrate traditional knowledge with modern scientific research.
One of the main goals of biodynamic farming is to preserve soil fertility by keeping nutrient cycles intact. Farmers manage nitrogen availability by rotating legumes, cover crops, and grazing lands. Through this technique, they encourage nitrogen fixation and decomposition processes, thereby improving soil structure and retaining moisture. By doing so, they ensure that essential nutrients are available throughout the year, thus avoiding seasonal fluctuations in prices.
Biodynamic farming is thought to be one way in which we can reduce carbon emissions contributing towards climate change. This is because a lot of carbon is trapped in the living material of a biodynamic vineyard, particularly in the ‘humus’ - the top layer of soil that a biodynamic farmer spends a lot of time nurturing. Interestingly, it is thought that increasing the global mass of humus through biodynamic farming could go a long way towards reducing carbon emissions to combat man made global warming.
Additionally, biodynamic growers aim to minimise soil erosion and contamination through careful tillage and field preparation.
Lastly, biodynamic crops are also more resistant to climatic extremes. If we want to continue to farm crops in the era of climate change, without resorting to GMOs and greater agrochemical use, biodynamic farming may be our only sustainable option.
So, do one more bit for the planet and the future of wine, and support biodynamic farmers as much as possible by seeking out their wines whenever possible.
Buy biodynamic wines from Australia and across the world
At Feravina, we stock a selection of biodynamic wines that are made sustainably by small artisanal producers who care about the soil, vine, and wine. We stock Australian biodynamic wines, and biodynamic wines from across the planet such as from France, Italy, Spain and more far reaching places. Check out our wine selection here.