Although organic farming is far better known, biodynamic management processes continue to hold their ground when it comes to responsible practices. Most people — at least, most people with an interest in sustainable food production — know what the “organic” label means. It’s all about saying goodbye to synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Relatively few people have “biodynamic” on their radar when they come to make buying decisions.
Biodynamic vs Organic
Partly that might be because biodynamic practices are a little more complex and sometimes less readily explicable. A biodynamic farm is organic, but an organic farm is not necessarily biodynamic. The full package includes very particular methods of creating and using organic fertilizers and other products for use around the farm. Slightly more controversially, a fully biodynamic farm also plants by the astronomical calendar.
Animal and plant interactions figure alongside soil management practices. Maintaining a healthy soil isn’t easy even if you don’t use synthetic agrochemicals. Overall, you can think of biodynamic farming as an attempt to make an entire farm along sustainable and self-sufficient lines.
The philosophy has a long history. Rudolf Steiner (whose name will definitely be familiar to many) was the driving force behind the development of the biodynamic method, with the first certification scheme dating back to the 1920s. It still stands today and you can still look for the Demeter Trade Association mark.
Biodynamics and Wine Making
Viticulture (growing grapes for wine making) is one area where biodynamic farming is enjoying good success. In part this is because quality is far more important than quantity. A vineyard that bottles its own produce stands to gain more from a moderate yield of outstanding quality than it does from a bumper crop of mediocre standard.
To make fine wines, producers invest huge amounts of effort into soil characteristics and crop management whether they are farming organically or not, so one other reason biodynamic principles have been adopted more quickly in this industry may be that that the time and care investment demanded by biodynamic standards seems like less of a stretch.
Fortune Magazine — not a publication known for left-wing bias — conducted a blind taste test experiment in August 2004 which compared biodynamic wines to the nearest non-biodynamic equivalent. The tasters were industry experts. In 90% of cases the biodynamic wines came out on top. Master sommeliers, restaurant owners, the author of Wine for Dummies, and the managing director of Wine & Spirits magazine have all come out in support.
Far from the exclusive domain of small, independent vineyards, biodynamic wine production methods have been adopted by some very big names in both the old world and the new. There are biodynamic wineries in the Loire and the Rhone, in Burgundy, in California, and even in the UK.
Supporting Biodynamic Wineries
You might not be able to find biodynamic wines at your local corner store, unless that happens to be an unusually responsible one. You can, however, buy your wine online or direct from an organic or biodynamic producer. Because biodynamic wineries range from small independents right through to the big players, it’s not difficult to find options at both ends of the budget spectrum.
Jess Spate is an Australian writer and activist with a 15 year interest in sustainable agriculture. She lives and works in South Wales — an area which does have its own biodynamic vineyard.