Defining Wine’s Eco-lingo
This particularly intense school of agriculture has both organic and spiritual aspects. Based on a series of lectures given in 1924 by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, biodynamic agriculture views the farm as a single organism, with the plants, animals, crops, soil, air and celestial influences, such as the moon and stars, all interconnected. By balancing these elements, the farmer, in theory, makes his property self-sustaining, thus eliminating the need for artificial nutrients or pesticides.
Protecting the Vineyard
As part of creating a self-sustaining farm, Steiner devised nine biodynamic preparations, numbered 500 to 508. Most are compost treatments made with stag’s bladders or other animal parts stuffed with herbs and minerals, meant to improve the soil. Two are called field sprays. They holistically treat the entire farm, including a spray made by burying a cow horn in the spring, unearthing it in the fall, and diluting the contents with water.
The two field sprays are activated during what’s called dynamization, when a small portion is diluted in lukewarm water in a circular vessel. The farmer stirs the water in a steady rhythm for a good hour, swirling first in one direction, then quickly reversing to animate the solution. While stirring machines have also been invented to dynamize the treatments, many practitioners prefer to use their hands. Once the treatments have been dynamized, they are sprayed on either the grounds or vines.
Protecting the Name
Though anyone can practice biodynamics, the term itself has been registered as a trademark by Demeter, the main association of growers founded in 1928 to promote Rudolf Steiner’s ideas and farming practices.
Demeter’s stated goal is to prevent misuse of the term biodynamic. A side effect, some opponents point out, is that winemakers who use biodynamic methods are deterred from labeling their wines as such because in order to do so, they must first obtain certification from the organization.
A small, strict, mostly French movement, "natural" winemaking uses organic grapes that are farmed and picked by hand, and are fermented with native (not manufactured) yeasts. No sulfites or other additives go into natural wine.
The use of the term organic is defined by the USDA: For a wine to be labeled organic, the vineyards from which the grapes are picked must be farmed without synthetic fertilizers, conventional pesticides or genetically engineered plant material. In addition, sulfites cannot be added to the wine as a preservative.
Unfortunately, wines made without sulfites can re-ferment or oxidize in the bottle. That’s why many winemakers who use organic grapes also add sulfites. If their wines contain less than 100 parts per million, they are still permitted to label their wines "made with organic grapes."
Although there are no government standards for sustainable agriculture, practitioners generally promote both ecological and social responsibility by avoiding pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and by enriching soil with cover crops and composts.