Biodynamic Wines

Oct 1, 2013
2013 / October 2013

Just when we understand the meaning of “sustainable,” “organic” and other grape-growing terms, the world of wine is adding another. It is “biodynamics,” a method of grape growing based on principles the Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner set in the 1920s. It is, in a way, looking back for its future.

Like organic methods, biodynamics bans the use of pesticides and chemicals. Unlike organic, biodynamics adds a bit of spirituality. For a wine to be biodynamic, vintners must perform all vineyard and cellar work according to phases of the moon, stars and sun. They must use natural fertilizer in the form of dried cow dung stuffed into cow horns and buried in the vineyard at the time of the equinox. They must follow with eight other biodynamic vineyard preparations including ground quartz stuffed in cow horns and buried in the vineyards in the summer; and yarrow flowers buried in a stag’s bladder, hung in the sun and buried over winter, after which the contents are put into compost.

The purpose, proponents of biodynamics say, is to make wines that are clean and pure and express their soil, their vintage and nature.

Do they? Is a biodynamically produced wine automatically a better wine? Not necessarily and not always, judging from some recent tastings. I tasted biodynamic wines at an Italian winery that were indeed clean, but they were also neutral to the point of blandness. On the other hand, I tasted Coyam, a biodynamic red wine made by Emiliana in Chile, a blend of Bordeaux- and Côtes du Rhône-style grapes. It is ink-dark, intensely flavored with a rich aroma dominated by dark fruits and vanilla, exquisitely balanced, full-bodied, complex and velvety. Whether due to its biodynamic birth or simply great winemaking, it is a lovely, satisfying wine.

In Austria, I tasted the biodynamic wines of Meinklang Winery and they, too, are winners. Among them, the winery’s Blaufrankisch is deep-shaded, rich with a heady aroma of cherries and wild herbs. Add to these other notable wine properties that have gone biodynamic, such as Maison Joseph Drouhin, Domaine Leroy and Domaine Leflaive in Burgundy; Zind-Humbrecht of Alsace; Raymond and Benzinger of California; and a current estimate of well over 500 other biodynamic wineries. Fad, or the future?

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