A few years ago I worked for Evening Land Vineyards in Dundee, Oregon, probably best known for it’s award winning 2012 “La Source” Seven Springs Vineyard Pinot Noir. As I became better acquainted with Evening Land’s wines, I realised that something was definitely different…possibly better than other wines I had tasted. What was making the difference? I decided to get to the bottom of this oeneological mystery.
Most people in the wine industry agree that all great wines begin in the vineyard. So this is where I decided to begin probing for answers. To my surprise, I learned that the entire vineyard has been farmed biodynamically since 2007. Having previously heard about sustainable and organic viticulture practises, I was instantly intrigued. I began researching biodynamic practices and was overwhelmed with the wealth of information I came across.
Biodynamics was founded by the Austrian Philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861 to 1925) and is based upon the principles that farming is a holistic process between all living things, primarily focusing on biodiversity and sustainability. Livestock are necessary to provide natural fertilizers. Cosmic and earthly influences are considered to determine when agricultural activity should be scheduled in accordance with the position of the moon and planets. So I wondered how does this fit in with biodynamic viticulture? Basically, biodynamic wine is created using grapes that were handled and grown according to biodynamic agricultural processes. Supporters claim that not only are there environmental benefits, but the consumer also experiences more vibrant, fruit flavors in the wines. I can attest to that!
So what exactly is done differently in a biodynamic vineyard? Nine biodynamic preparations (numbered BD 500-508) consisting of mineral, plant, or animal manure extracts that are usually fermented and applied in small proportions to compost, manures, soil, or directly onto plants after dilution and using a stirring process called dynamizations. These are believed to enhance soil quality and stimulate plant life. Some examples are as follows;
- BD 500 (horn manure)-cow manure fermented in a cow horn and buried for six months. (Soil spray to stimulate root growth and humus formation)
- BD 501 (horn silica) – powdered quartz packed inside a cow horn and buried in the soil for six months. (Foliar spray to stimulate and regulate growth)
- BD 502 – BD 507– used to make compost- 502 (yarrow blossoms), 503 (chamomile blossoms), 504 (stinging nettle), 505 (oak bark), 506 (dandelion flowers), 507 (valerian flowers)
- BD 508– silica-rich horsetail plant used to suppress fungal diseases
Additionally, the lunar calendar is employed to determine when and what to farm, as well as when to taste the wine. The calendar is divided into four types of days as described below.
- Root Days (best for pruning/not good for wine tasting) – moon is in any of the Earth Signs such as Capricorn, Taurus, and Virgo.
- Fruit Days (best for harvesting/best for wine tasting)- moon is in any of the Fire Signs such as Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius.
- Flower Days (leave the vineyard alone/good for tasting aromatic wines)- moon is in any of the Air Signs such as Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius.
- Leaf Days (good for watering plants/not recommended for wine tasting) – moon is in any of the Water Signs such as Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces (source: www.winefolly.com)
Basically, the difference between organic and biodynamic viticulture is the attention given to the lunar calendar, the application of specific biodynamic preparations and the focus on the vineyard viticulture as a holistic practice. Nothing in the vineyard is isolated, but rather, everything is part of the greater whole and impacts the other in some way.
Some of the best and most highly regarded wines in the world are created from biodynamically farmed grapes. Despite the allure of biodynamically grown grapes, there are so many other variables involved in creating an exceptional wine; however, beginning the process with biodynamically grown, high quality grapes is a pretty good starting point.