If you are serious about serious wine, then you are at least a little bit informed about ‘Biodynamic wines’. BD wines are those produced following the agricultural and philosophical dictums of Rudolph Steiner, a late 19th/ early 20th century agronomist, philosopher, professor, activist and lecturer. Though only a sliver of his philosophies related to agriculture, it is this portion of his famous lectures that have him firmly embedded in the viticulture of the 21st century. Very simply put, Mr. Steiner believed in a holistic approach to agriculture, and that all substances in the world were spiritual and physical at the same time. Further, he believed that the cycle of a plant’s life was linked to the phases of the moon, every bit as much as the effect of sunlight, and that the animal life that lived in proximity to these plants (and the dung that they uniquely produced) was beneficial to these plants.
Although Steiner–who lectured throughout Europe in the 1st quarter of the last century—never referred to grapes or wine specifically in his lectures or papers, his mostly forgotten, controversial philosophies were ‘rediscovered’ by some vintners in the 70’s and 80’s and were most enthusiastically adopted and promoted by Nicolas Joly, a very high-quality producer from France’s Loire Valley, who happened upon a book by Steiner. After Joly began applying some of the principles espoused in Steiner’s writings, he was so impressed that he became a missionary of sorts, exalting other quality-minded producers to sign on. It took some convincing however, since as mentioned, much of Steiner’s dictums sound like a bunch of psycho-babble. Consider this passage we found in Wines & Spirits from Steiner’s Agriculture Course, Lecture 2, June 1924: “Go to a museum and look at the skeleton of any mammal and go there with the consciousness that in the form and configuration of the head there is working above all the radiation of the Sun…as it pours in the mouth. A lion exposes itself to the Sun differently from a horse. The forming of the head and that which immediately follows the head, depends on the way the animal is exposed to the Sun. [The] sunlight thrown back by the Moon is quite ineffective when it shines on the head of an animal. There it has no influence. The light that is rayed back from the Moon develops its highest influence when it falls on the hinder parts of the animal….This will enable you to discover from the form and figure of the animal, a definite relation between the manure…and the plants of which the animal is eating. Thereby [the animal] will provide the very manure which is most suited for the soil on which the plant is growing.” Wow. If you have lots of time on your hands, look up Mr. Steiner on Wikipedia—fascinating stuff.
It should be noted by the way, that ‘Biodynamic Viticulture’ is interpreted differently by different vintners. For example, most think one must use only indigenous yeasts to be truly BD, while others think using cultured yeasts is totally fine as long as you bury a cow’s horn full of manure in the vineyard under a full moon, while nude. Note too that BD wines are not Organic wines, or vice versa, but a wine can be both. And finally, note that there are different stages of becoming Biodynamic—it is a process to get there after all, so you will read terms and references such as ‘Converting to Biodynamic’, ‘Organic with some Biodynamic practices’, ‘from Biodynamically grown grapes’, as well as terms somewhat separate from BD, but thrown around by the same vintners and mixed up like some vinous stew, such as ‘Sustainable Agriculture’, and the French version of the same ‘Lutte Raisonée’ (reasoned struggle) which both sorta mean they only whip out the sprayer when they really have to.
One thing is crystal clear: it seems to work. Perhaps most telling is the roster of the wineries that are involved. More and more top producers are adopting some sort of BD regimen, from the ‘full monty’ version to ‘BD lite’. The fabulous foodie blog ‘Fork & Bottle’ has been following this phenomenon for a while, and has complied a fairly complete list of those wineries that claim to practice BD. The list reads like a ‘who’s who’ of vignerons, including* the likes of:
Domaine de La Romanée Conti
Castello dei Rampolla
So….as you use all the different means to choose which wines to drink and offer your clients, from wine reviews, to packaging, to pricing, and even your own palate, it appears there is now another criterion you might want to include—BD, or not BD ?
*At least some of their wines, if not all