Is Biodynamics the New Organic?

Biodynamic wine is made with grapes grown organically and sustainably and using, among other things, flower heads of yarrow fermented in a stag’s bladder. Wacky? Not really. The point is to pay attention to biodiversity, sustainability, and the overall health of the soil.

The theory of biodynamics was introduced in 1924 by the Austrian philosopher, writer, and scientist (and, later in life, occultist) Rudolf Steiner. Known for his interest in spirituality, Steiner thought the spiritual world had as much to do with successful agriculture as the material world. His controversial theory translates, however, into a fairly practical method for a farm to be a self-sufficient ecosystem, with animals and plants contributing to maintaining healthy soil and crops: Manure from the farm’s own cattle or pigs fertilizes the soil, and pests are controlled with flowers or bark found growing on the property.

The specifics can get a little spooky—like the instruction to ferment oak bark in the skull of a domestic animal and apply it to compost—but ultimately the goal of biodynamics, as it applies to viticulture, is to have a vineyard that naturally deters pests and combats disease through its own strength and diverse ecosystem, rather than relying on external resources like pesticides.

First applied to viticulture in the early ’80s by Nicholas Joly at his Loire Valley vineyard Coulée de Serrant, biodynamic farming is still controversial. It’s also extremely labor-intensive and time-consuming, which translates into higher production costs.

The results? Biodynamic winegrowers generally operate not on hard data but on faith and intuition. There’s some proof in the glass, however. Wines from vineyards where the soil is alive, healthy, and balanced do seem to produce grapes with these same qualities. And no added sulfites or chemicals may mean fewer hangovers.

France currently has the highest number of practicing biodynamic wine producers (38). Some favorite examples are the wines of Domaine Marcel Deiss in Alsace, Domaine Gauby in Roussillon, and Domaine Montirius in the Rhone Valley.