Biodynamics is a rapidly growing method for farming wine grapes, although it is still a small part of total production with less than 11,000 hectares of certified vineyards world wide as of 2017. Essentially it involves viewing the farm as an integrated ecosystem, focusing especially on soil health using homeopathic preparations, and with all vineyard operations regulated by the celestial calendar and phases of the moon.
Yet it has a reputation for being flakey, weird, and unsupported by science. The science behind it is still a work in progress. But many experienced and talented winemakers—from Littorai’s Ted Lemon to Tomas Duroux at Margaux’s Chateau Palmer–are committed to it, so it’s anything but flakey. Weird? Well yes it is. But some of that weirdness comes from misunderstandings about biodynamic processes that look less “weird” when the details are understood.
Craig Camp of Oregon’s Troon Vineyards is one of those talented winemakers committed to biodynamics. His recent post entitled “Biodynamic Fake News” goes a long way toward setting aside some of those misconceptions. His entire post is worth a read but here are the highlights.
— Cow horns filled with manure are not buried throughout the vineyard. They are a container for fermenting manure which is then used to make a preparation applied to humus to increase available phosphorus and stimulate the microbiome. (Micro-organisms in the soil. )
–Moon phases are only one factor in determining the timing of activities in the vineyard and are not rigidly adhered to if weather or other factors must take precedence.
–Neither raw manure nor unusual plants such as yarrow and nettle are directly distributed throughout the vineyard. They are fermented and added to compost which is then distributed in the soil to enhance the microbiome.
–The calendar for winetasting is not a required part of the Demeter certification and may or may not have validity.
There is much more in the original post. But what is evident from Craig’s account is that the treatments of the compost are largely about enhancing the micro-organisms in the soil. There is considerable science that is beginning to show the influence of the microbiome on terroir and wine quality. The scientific credentials of biodynamics may in the end be vindicated by this research.
The “mystical” dimensions of biodynamics are not central to its practice and should not be used to dismiss it as nonsense.