Biodynamic wine comes from the ideas of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). Rudolf gave his now famous Agriculture Course in 1924 where he proposed the principles and practices of biodynamic viticulture, based on his spiritual and practical philosophy, which included understanding the ecological, the spiritual and the energy states of nature. Steiner's goal was to link the gap between the material and spiritual worlds through the philosophical method. He created the spiritual science of anthroposophy, which persists to this day. Steiner's lectures, entitled Spiritual Foundation for the Renewal of Agriculture, was given just before his death and remains as the foundation of biodynamic farming.
Biodynamics encourages ecological self-sufficiency during viticulture and includes ethical-spiritual considerations. The biodynamics used in viticulture sees the vineyard as an interconnected living system. Biodynamics also views the vineyard in the context of the wider pattern of lunar and cosmic rhythms. To be able to view the vineyard as an interconnected living organism, the farmer must first be able to think biodynamically.
The idea of using synthetic fertilisers or pesticides is against the philosophy of biodynamics. Instead, the farmer produces a series of special preparations to enhance the life and quality of the soil, which is applied at appropriate times during the year, keeping with the rhythms of nature. Disease in the 'organism' is not seen as a problem to be confronted head-on, but rather as a symptom of a deeper ill within the vineyard, if the problem is corrected, the problem will fix itself.
Biodynamic viticulture has a focus on soil health, and in particular, the development of healthy soil microbial populations. If anything is added to the soil during the biodynamic process it is usually done through via the compost heap. Compost heaps used in biodynamic vineyards contain waste material from the winery, such as grape seeds, skins and stems, also added is cow manure (some practitioners have their own herd of cows which graze on the grass within the vineyard 'organism'). The heap is then covered by straw and watered at regular intervals. The difference between biodynamic and organic compost is simply the different preparations added to the compost, which is listed below. After about a year, the compost is spread across the vineyard a plot at a time. Biodynamics also demands that the farmer works the soil by manual plowing. Some farmers use horses to plough between the rows of vines instead of tractors.
Below is a list of the preparations used in biodynamic viticulture:
500 -Cow manure fermented in a cow horn, which is buried in the soil over winter. It is then sprayed on the soil.
501 -Ground quartz (silica) mixed with rainwater and packed in a cows horn, buried in spring and dug up in autumn. It is then sprayed on the vines.
502 -Flower heads of yarrow fermented in stag's bladder. This is added to the compost to control the breakdown of the manures and compost.
503 -Flower heads of camomile fermented in the soil. This is then added to the compost.
504 -Stinging nettle tea. This is added to the compost. Nettle tea is also sprayed on low vigour vines.
505 -Oak bark fermented in the skull of a domestic animal. This is then added to the compost.
506 -Flower heads of dandelion fermented in cow mesentery. This is added to the compost.
507 -Juice from valerian flowers, which is added to the compost.
508 -Tea prepared from horsetail plant. This is added to the compost and used as a spray to counter fungal diseases.
Today a number of very high-profile growers have converted to biodynamic viticulture. Many of the top estates in France, including Château de la Roche-aux-Moines in the Loire, Domaine Leroy in Burgundy and Maison Chapoutier in the Rhone Valley. There are currently more than 450 practitioners around the world. Almost every major wine region has biodynamic viticulture. Biodynamic viticulture is on the rise and is destined to become the norm in the near future, a movement, which is friendly to the planet and to humanity.
Below is some good literature on biodynamic viticulture:
Biodynamic Wines (Monty Waldin)
Monty Waldin's Biodynamic Wine Guide 2011
Agriculture Course: The birth of the Biodynamic method