Biodynamic farming; quasi-religious hocus-pocus or not?

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Some call it a hoax. At the other side stands those who’s seen the Matrix. A majority of the wine consumers has most likely not made up their minds yet – or even tasted a biodynamic wine. But let’s face it; biodynamic farming isn’t a movement just passing by. It’s here to stay so either you keep on neglecting it or give it a fair chance to reevaluate your attitude towards biodynamic wine.

The decision to turn out wines according to the the biodynamic® farming method is hardly made while thinking: ‘boy, am I going to get rich!’. You’re rather driven by passion, respect and a strong belief that pesticides aren’t the way to produce great wines. In order to understand the movement and give it more than one or two bottles to impress me, I bought 24. It should be said though, that amongst those some were ‘only’ organic wines. No real disappointments so far – only a strengthened admiration for the purity of the wines. Am I becoming one of those biodynamical followers – or have just been lucky in my bio choices? However, I can’t believe it’s just a hoax as some would argue – I mean, the proof is in the glass. Right?

I’ve had long chats with Christoph Röper. He runs Biovinum and concentrates solely on biodynamic and organic wines. Christoph’s wines convinced me there were something about those bio wines I simply couldn’t neglect anymore. So, if you’re feeling just a bit curious to plunge into the pesticide free and stag bladder and cow horn filled world of bio wines, Christoph has promised me that he will give all my readers 10% discount on their first purchase from his e-store! Just refer to this post in your order.

Before checking out the assortment of Biovinum let’s hear what Christoph says about biodynamic and organic farming!

Christoph, you’re the founder and owner of Biovinum; tell me – why only biodynamic and organic wines?

My opinion is, that you do not need all the stuff like fungicides, herbicides etcetera in the vineyards. And by using the natural yeasts on the skins of the grape and letting that do the work, you get deeper wines with a wider variety of tastes. Do less and get more!

Before we continue, could you tell us the basics of biodynamic wines. And perhaps also what distinguishes them from organic wines?

The biodynamic movement is based on the lessons of Steiner. Here I’d like to quote Cowhorn Vineyards in Oregon since it can’t be expressed better:

“The Biodynamic® farming method is a holistic system in which all the elements of the farm are important – air, water, soil, rocks, daytime, nighttime, animals.  In essence, the growing of plants is a transfer of energy from those sources to a single point – the plant. When energy from those sources rearranges itself, a dry, hard, lifeless seed springs green.

Biodynamic® farming uses methods to enhance the energetic plane in the farm, or in other words support the transfer of energy between forms. As these dynamic forces are strengthened, the dynamic and life-giving properties of the plant and earth are strengthened. So what does that mean about our farming techniques, or how do we do it?

First, Cowhorn is a perennial polyculture, which means we grow and harvest more than a single crop and that those crops live more than one season. Biodynamic® farming rests on several key principles, one being that biodiversity is good for all creatures, great and small. Another principle of Biodynamic® farming is that the intellect of humankind is to be used! We must be respectful and thoughtful of all the realms that exist in our lives and spaces.

For us, we have put that principle into action by intending to blend technology and art in the best way that we can to support the energetic principles mentioned above. In the vineyard, our spacing and trellising system is based on a mathematical equation of plant heights and length, and a ratio of leaves to clusters.

Our equipment is specialized for our spacing and soil characteristics, to mechanize weed control while at the same time optimizing oxygen and organic matter in the soil. The garden crops were planned and planted with the vineyard equipment in mind.  The crops are all tended to with concern for floor and canopy management so that the growing environment for the plants is optimized. In a nutshell, if the soil and plant are healthy, the fruit will be too!

Now let’s talk about the art. In the spring, we begin managing the vineyard canopy. Each grape plant is tended by hand. We have rules for pruning to be sure, but each plant is looked at individually. Each is nurtured and shaped according to its own unique needs, whether it is extra water, compost or ties. Each plant is a picture to be created in its own right.

A third principle of Biodynamic® farming is the application of specialized preparations that act as “fertilizers.”  Generally referred to as “preps,” we adhere to the standards developed by the Demeter Association and are experimenting with tailoring our application programs as we gain more knowledge about our farm. Through our practices of Biodynamic® farming, we believe that we enhance the vitality or the life force of this property and all the creatures on it.  If you ask any one of our fabulous crew (and we have the best crew there is!) they will tell you that every day they see something unfolding, returning to health, or becoming more beautiful. That is why we practice Biodynamics. *

Many are they who look at biodynamic viticulture as quasi-religious hocus-pocus and seems to be almost offended when the matter is brought up for discussion. What’s your own point of view? Are you a believer yourself?

I believe in biodynamics although I do not know everything about it and its influence on the grapes. But I believe because I see and taste the great wines. As already said, I feel much more character, deepness and a wider variety of tastes in biodynamic wines compared with “normal” wines. But to be honest, these wines are often not always easy drinking wines and a food pairing is much more difficult.

Zind-Humbrecht has converted to biodynamic viticulture. So has Leroy and DRC in Burgundy and Henschke in Australia. As the first of the 1855 classified growths in Bordeaux, Chateau Pontet-Canet has taken up the biodynamic approach. All of the mentioned producer’s are amongst the world’s best within their areas and it clearly works for them. How come? Is it in the end simply just a fact that you pay more attention to the soil and the vines?

You have to pay more attention to the soil and the vines because your “tool box” of fungicides etc., is now empty and you have to deal with organic substances, insects and animals which can help you. Another factor is that with the years your vineyards become more and more healthy, so you do not need so much “support” – and third, they have learnt to love the wide variety of tastes of the wines. Leave Coca-Cola wines behind. Every year and every grape has its own taste.

Out of order. But keep your eyes open – this is gooood!

How does a wineproducer become biodynamic? Who certifies?

For a certain time frame you need to be an organic wineproducer. After that, you need 3 more years to become biodynamic if you are acting according to the rules of the Demeter Association.

And what about organic viticulture? Who certifies?

There are different systems. For example in Oregon there is an organisation callesd OCSW - Organic Certified Sustainable Wine – which itself is again a member of LIVE (Low Input Viticultureand Enology). These organisations or Demeter certifies.

Can I still call myself biodynamic even if I don’t put cow horns and stag bladders in the vineyard soil?

Sorry, I am not a vintner. I do not know which rules are a must and which a maybe. (Mise en bouteille edit: Burying cow horns is required at least annually if you’re certified by Demeter.)

Now, the wines and producers you offer; how have you chosen them? Is it solely based on your own tasting preferences?

I have visited them all. For me it’s important to know them, their vineyards, cellars, the surroundings, the soil, the sun etc. In general, I try to limit myself to 2-3 wineries per region. Usually I cooperate with small wineries with high quality wines. They are small and I am small. No mass productions for Wall Mart.

More or less, yes it is based on my taste. I am a Wine Expert Gold from Wine and Sommelier School in Koblenz and certified taster according to PAR-System. Finally, even if I like the wines but nobody purchases, I remove it from the list and drink it myself!

Are the number of biodynamic vine farmers growing?

Yes, as you mentioned above, big and well known wineries are changing to biodynamic principles. Another example is Sepp Moser, one of the biggest and most famous wineries in Austria (soon at BIOVINUM).

Would you say there’s any specific scent or taste in biodynamic wines?

Yes, as I already said, for me the biodynamic wines are full of tasting variations with a remarkable deepness and length. You feel the soil much more the minerality. Deeper fruit, diffent types of fruit, herbs and greens.

Can you understand the criticism saying all biodynamic smell and taste the same?

It’s just the other way. You wount find more different tastes in other wines than biodynamic. Standard wines made with pure culture yeasts can always taste same. With the right yeasts you can make tastes like a Riesling with a Mueller-Thurgau.

Are biodynamic or organic wines better keeper’s when the bottle is opened?

In general I would say yes, but why do you want to keep an open winebottle? Drink it with friends!

If I want to better understand biodynamic farming should I then plunge into the philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s ‘Into Agriculture: Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture’ – or can you recommend an easier read?

Regarding wine, you can reed the books of Nicolas Joly.

Do you have a physical shop as well or is Biovinum solely run on the internet?

Actually only on internet. But I have plans to open a winebar and shop in one. Just need the right location. Maybe next year.

Any new exciting projects coming up – new producers for example?

I am talking to six American wineries and wineyards working biodynamic, organic and LIVE in Oregon and California. I am so excited about the “cool grapes” from Oregon like Pinot Noir and Riesling as well as Pinot blanc and Pinot gris.

Thank you Christoph!

As mentioned in the beginning, Christoph offers all readers eager to learn more and taste biodynamic wines a 10% discount on your first order (not applicable on the shipping cost). Prices are already more than reasonable so take the chance! Shipment costs to your country can be checked with Christoph – in my case they’re most fair.

Just to eliminate any suspicious thoughts; beyond the fact I hope more wine consumers will drink and appreciate biodynamic wines, there’s no profit in it for me in recommending Biovinum.

That said; here’s some quick notes on some of the wines I’ve managed to taste so far:

2006 Chianti Classico Concadoro, EUR 11,50 (89 p)

‘Classic Sangiovese with a fine, pure expression. Morello’s, iron, humus and slight floral. Moutwatering acidity, pure dark fruit and quite fullbodied style. The vintage greatness shines through! Needs some hours in the decanter.’

 

2004 Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Barmès-Buecher, Alsace, EUR 20,75 (91 p)

‘A sniffing wine! Compost, sweet strawberries, barnyard, herbs and wet earth. And oh yes; roses. A touch of sweetness on the palate. Meaty, compost and dark cherries. Not that dissimilar to a German Spätburgunder. Fine acidity. Unusually concentrated and finishing with a long and mineral driven aftertaste.’

2007 Shiraz Gabarinza, Weingut Weiss, Neusiedlersee, EUR 9,85 (88 p)

‘A tricky one! With its notes of violets, meat, white pepper and red fruit I would never have guessed Austria on this one! Pure fruit with savoury acidity. The choice of writing Shiraz, I guess, is due to wanting to resemble an Aussie style instead of Rhone. Lots of wine for the price here!’

2008 Spätburgunder, Weingut Feitig-Richter, Pfalz, EUR 6,45 (85 p)

‘Easy drinking Pinot with lots of grape character for the ridicoulously low price. Strawberries and mineral. Dry with fine acidity making it a great everyday glass. Tell me; when did you consider a Pinot Noir as your house wine?’

2008 Zweigelt Hammer 2008, Wimmer-Czerny, Wagram, EUR 8,95 (87 p)

‘More restrained on the nose than the Pratsch Zweigelt. Sour cherries, bitter almond, white pepper, floral notes and a dried tobacco. Delicious tannins and balancing fruit and acidity- Like a Valpolicella in its appearance.’

2008 Zweigelt Windradlweingarten, Biohof Pratsch, Weinviertel, EUR 7,45 (88 p)

‘Cherries, white pepper, wet earth and a slight floral touch. I’m thinking Cotes-du-Rhone! Delicate and seductive red fruit. Easy drinking but still with lots of personality and structure to make me want to have yet a sip.’

2008 Malvasier Classic, Biohof Pratsch, Weinviertel, EUR 6,95 (87 p)

‘Hear this all Gewurz sceptics; go Malvasia instead! This is pure seduction with perfumed notes of jasmine nicely balanced with apple peel, wet rocks, herbs and lime. A refreshing acidity with pure fruitiness and jasmine on the palate. Not any intentions of being an outstanding wine; just pure drinking pleasure!’

2008 Muskat Ottonel, Prädikatsweingut Weiss, Neusiedlersee, EUR 7,45 (86 p)

‘Ok, so you’re like me and do like Gewurztraminer. Then check out the Muskat Ottonel which has more perfume to it than the Malvasier. More demanding in its style but a great match with a loin of pork. Fine acidity and just a hint of sweetness. Love it!’

2009 Roter Veltliner, Wimmer-Czerny, Wagram, EUR 8,95 (87 p)

‘Ever heard of Roter Veltliner? If not do take the chance to check out this one from one of the most interesting bio producers in Austria. Spicy, grey pear and gun flint. Quite concentrated dry style with a most interesting hyacinth note. Spicy acidity making it a great match with the freshly caught flatfish we had.’

2008 Welschriesling, Biowein Weber, Weinviertel, EUR 6,95 (86 p)

‘More demanding on the nose with yellow fruit, gun flint and herbs. Dry with a quite rich palate and fine acidity. Herbaceous and flinty. Again, this needs food pairing and a Portuguese Bisaro with Migas was excellent.’

2009 Rosé, Biowein Weber, Weinviertel, EUR 7,75 (87 p)

‘Pale rosé, like a Provence. A blend of Zweigelt and Blauer Portugieser with strawberries, roses and mineral on the nose. Lime peel, orange acidity, floral and with a fine pure expression of mineral and red fruit. Delicious high-quality rosé!’

2007 Spätburgunder N, Ökoweingut Stutz, Württemberg, EUR 11,95
(88 p on the 2007)

‘Terrible label that might frighten away potential impulsive buyers but don’t be; this is a really nice Pinot with more Burgundian resemblance than German. Dry, mouthwatering acidity with lovely red fruit and humus. Now a 2008 but if you’re into gracile wines, this is it.’

* Demeter® USA is the non-profit American chapter of Demeter International, the world’s only certifier of Biodynamic® farms and products. Biodynamic agriculture goes beyond organic, envisioning the farm as a self-contained and self-sustaining organism. In an effort to keep the farm, the farmer, the consumer, and the earth healthy, farmers avoid chemical pesticides and fertilizers, utilize compost and cover crops, and set aside a minimum of 10% of their total acreage for biodiversity.

The entire farm, versus a particular crop, must be certified, and farms are inspected annually. In order for a product to bear the Demeter logo it must be made with certified Biodynamic® ingredients and meet strict processing standards to ensure the purest possible product.

Source: www.cowhornwine.com


P.S. Whether it is the biodynamic producers attention to details and passion for the land that generates great wines, or the principles of biodynamic farming, I don’t put much effort in finding out. I like the result a lot and that’s somehow what it’s all about?

P.S.2. You can find Biovinum and Christoph on Twitter and at the blog as well.

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  • Puteljen!

    >The question is not if biodynamic wine are better than non-bidynamic wine. This may very well be the fact, for some of the reasons stated above (more work in the vineyard etc.) The question is WHY they are better. I find it extremely hard to belive some of the explanations offerd by the biodynamic movement, like buried cowhorns, miniscule additions of herbal extracts etc. So, no the answer is NOT in the glass.

  • Niklas Jörgensen

    >Puteljen;

    I think I owe a more thorough explanation. I'm impressed by the wines I've had but whether that is due to using cow horns and stag bladders I am more sceptic about.

    The fact that the biodynamic producers give more attention to their soil and surroundings in general are probably, in my opinion, the answer to the greatness in many of the wines.

    I too have issues with burying cow horns. But, and that i think is relevant, if someone believes it does have an affect and they're happy with doing so, I'm fine with that. I'm probably too academic and needing answers of scientific nature to believe but the result is in the glass – although that is more due to taking care of the vines.

    Thanks for commenting!

    All the best,

    Niklas Jörgensen

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