What comes to mind when you hear the term biodynamic wine? If your answer is ‘winemakers dancing barefoot around a vineyard under a full moon' you are not alone. If your answer is ‘I have never heard of biodynamic wine’ then, welcome.
This form of farming and winemaking is known in wine circles as your composting hipster neighbor’s approach to creating wine. Despite its eccentric reputation, top wine brands are starting to successfully incorporate some of its practices into their winemaking due to its benefits for the land and taste.
So what exactly is biodynamic wine? First, let’s start with organic wine. Organic wine is wine made from grapes grown without the help of synthetic pesticides or additives. Some organic wine brands take that a step further by making wine without any added sulfites.
Biodynamic is like organic, but on (all-natural) steroids. Biodynamic is a holistic approach to agriculture that views the vineyard as an entire living ecosystem. Farmers take into account the land, the vine, the stars, and the animals when growing grapes.
In the 1920s Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, sought to merge science with spirituality in a new ideology called Anthroposophy. He applied this new way of thinking to farming. The new farming strategy involved following a planting calendar in accordance with astronomical configurations, treating the earth as a living organism, and completely eliminating man-made chemicals. It is the oldest anti-chemical agriculture movement predating the organic movement by 20 years. That means Steiner’s ride was more likely a horse with a flower crown than a Prius.
Like organic farming, grapes are grown with the help of compost and manure in place of synthetic chemicals. Unlike organic farming, astrological calendars and lunar cycles can determine when the vines are planted, pruned and harvested.
Many biodynamic practices strive to make wine in its purest expression. For example, biodynamic vintners do not use common manipulations such as yeast additions, malolactic bacteria or acidity adjustments in order to preserve the subtle flavors of the vineyard site. That sounds far more charming.
Other practices are a bit more unusual. Vintners are known to bury the horn of a lactating cow filled with manure near the vines in autumn in hopes to revitalize the earth’s energy. Freaky.
While certain biodynamic methods might sound like voodoo, many top wineries use these techniques in the vineyard to eliminate the use of chemical pesticides, promote sustainability, and enhance the natural vitality of the soil.
A pristine example of biodynamic farming techniques can be found at Domaine Anderson’s Dach Vineyard. The estate is located among the redwoods in California’s Anderson County. Just north of the Mendocino Coast, the cool climate and marine influences provide excellent conditions to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They’ve taken it one step further on their Dach Vineyard.
Assistant Vineyard Manager Andrew Beebe leads the biodynamic program at Domaine Anderson. Under his watch, workers grow insect-friendly plants along the Dach Vineyard to attract ladybugs, beetles, and bees in order to control vineyard pests and support pollination. An all-natural compost restores the soil and enhances fruit quality while continually rotating cover crops supports vineyard health by suppressing disease. Rainwater is captured and reused for irrigation purposes. And to top it all off the vineyard has an all-organic vegetable garden and honeybee colony.
What exactly does all of this environmental work mean for the wine? Biodynamic farmers believe that by following these steps they can create an unadulterated expression of the region in their wines. An ultimate terroir if you will.
To taste for yourself, start with a bottle of Domaine Anderson 2014 Dach Pinot Noir. The dark, single-vineyard rich Burgundian-style Pinot Noir reflects the biodynamically farmed Dach Vineyard, while the rose petal afternotes are emblematic of the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir character.