Biodynamic wine: is it better for you? Biodynamic wine remains an enigma to many people and not therefore a priority for most people when shopping for wine. This guide to biodynamic wine explains what biodynamics mean in terms of wine, how you can tell if a wine is biodynamic or not, what the differences are between organic and biodynamic wine and whether biodynamic wines are better for you. I touched upon the subject of biodynamic wine in my blog post on natural wine and how natural wine differs from organic and biodynamic wine. The three terms are sometimes used interchangeably but they are not the same thing. Natural wine is still trying to secure a common identity and remains a somewhat confusing and controversial term. Organic wine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK as people look for healthier food and drink but biodynamic wine seems to be a mystery with a rather wacky reputation. Let’s see why… WHAT IS BIODYNAMICS? In the most simplistic terms biodynamics is farming without the use of any chemicals and taking a holistic approach by treating the farm or vineyard as one ecosystem. This approach is believed to reduce the carbon footprint and to improve the health of the soil. The rhythm and cycles of the moon, sun, earth, stars and planets may also be taken into account which is where biodynamics’ wacky reputation comes into play.   Biodynamics advocates claim it to be the world’s oldest system of organic growing but it was labelled biodynamics only in 1924 by Austrian philosopher and scientist, Rudolf Steiner. Considered the father of biodynamics, Steiner was concerned about the increasing use of synthetic fertilisers and mass farming techniques and lectured farmers about more sustainable agricultural methods which were subsequently researched and developed further. BIODYNAMICS & WINE In the wine world a biodynamic vineyard is treated as one living organism, taking into account the interdependence of all parts of the immediate environment, and it should be self-sustainable and self-supporting. To achieve biodynamically grown grapes, practices in the vineyard may include the following: biodiversity via: livestock which are allowed to roam to graze on cover crops between the vines and assist with natural compost production and cover crops growing between the vines stop weeds and when turned over into the soil help to build up nutrients, break up compacted soil and encourage insects biodynamic compost to encourage microbial diversity and to release carbon planting and harvesting according to biodynamic calendars though this is not mandatory for certification biodynamic preparations including: worm tea instead of chemical insecticide and soil treatments such as cow manure inside cow horns or intestines buried in the soil for several months in order to promote healthy plant growth. These treatments are perhaps also partly to blame for the controversy around biodynamics. WHAT IS BIODYNAMIC WINE? It is important however to differentiate between biodynamic wine and wine made from biodynamically grown grapes. Wine labelled as “wine made from biodynamic grapes” may not be biodynamic wine. How so? The biodynamic practices required in the production of wine made from biodynamic grapes are limited to the vineyard but the winemaker will have more freedom in what he or she can add to, or take out of, the wine during the wine production process. For example they may choose to add bought in yeast rather than using the winery’s naturally occurring yeasts. A truly biologically dynamic wine must be produced from biodynamic grapes AND follow strict regulations dictating the production of the wine in the winery. This effectively means that no artificial agents are permitted during the wine-making process. Using the above example a biodynamic wine can only be fermented with yeasts existing naturally in the winery. Even in organic wine production additional synthetic or natural substances can be used including: sulphites or sulfites – up to certain limits synthetic malolactic bacteria to aid malolactic fermentation additional yeast sweeteners fining agents Biodynamic producers may also use the following practices: leaving the wine unfiltered bottling wine according to biodynamic calendars using solar or wind energy generated in the vineyards. DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BIODYNAMIC & ORGANIC WINE Both biodynamic and organic wines have to be produced without the use of synthetic pesticides and chemical treatments in the vineyard but biodynamics goes further and, as mentioned above, has strict regulations about what can and can’t be done in the winery. The official requirements for all biodynamic food and drink, according to biodynamic association Demeter, “go above and beyond EU organic regulations … They not only exclude the use of synthetic fertilisers and chemical plant protection agents in agricultural crop production, and artificial additives during processing, but also require licensees to proactively take specific measures to strengthen the life processes in soil and in food.” By this definition therefore biodynamic wine should contain no artificial substances – in theory. But when you dig down into the Demeter standards there are exceptions to the rules. For example, under certain conditions when a fermentation is stuck, bought-in yeast is allowed; sulphites can be added and, perhaps more surprisingly given its toxicity and the biodynamic focus on healthy soils, copper is also permitted. Bordeaux mixture is a copper sulphate and lime-based treatment that has been used for over 120 years to control downy mildew. The amounts of these substances and when they can be used are however strictly limited and in fact the EU has recently reduced the maximum permitted copper levels by a third. This may lead to a number of producers losing organic and or biodynamic certification until a natural alternative to Bordeaux mixture is found. Despite these exceptions I think it is fair to say that biodynamic wine will generally have lower levels of artificial additives than organic wine – and that organic wine will have lower levels than non-organic wine. HOW TO FIND BIODYNAMIC WINES Biodynamic wines should be easily identifiable; look for the Demeter logo – often orange in colour or adapted as below on the label for Reyneke’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The Ceres logo by the