Can’t argue with results: wine biodynamics might be hocus pocus, but it doesn’t really matter
As consumer demand for organic wine grows, more and more wineries will be adopting the oft-contested growing method known as biodynamics. “It’s coming whether we think it’s bunkum or not,” Toronto wine expert Tony Aspler tells us. “Once growers start on organic growing, they usually will take the next step and go biodynamic.” With Halloween just around the corner, it’s probably an apt time to look into the merits of biodynamic viticulture anyway—critics often equate it with witchcraft.
Biodynamic farming is a mix of organic principles and skulduggery. Its crux is a holistic approach to farming (no chemical additives or pesticides) that includes harvesting at proper solar and lunar cycles, and the use of compost mixtures composed of such ingredients as stag bladders and animal skulls (eye of newt, anyone?). One practice involves burying a cow horn stuffed with manure at the autumnal equinox to harness the “etheric and astral force that the horn was accustomed to reflect when it was on the cow.” The most devoted biodynamics practititoners believe that wine tastes better on different days, depending on the phase of the moon.
Biodynamics was introduced to the world by Austrian theosophist Rudolf Steiner in 1924 and has since been adopted by some of the most respected wineries in the world, including France’s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine Leroy. Last year, Canada got its first biodynamic wine from Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
But what does the expansion into biodynamics mean for wine culture in general? While opponents have gone so far as to launch anti-biodynamic Web sites, many wine experts are finding that they can’t disagree with biodynamic results. Toronto Life’s own David Lawrason observed, “Such meticulous attention often results in better tasting wine.” Jay McInerey, writing in the Wall Street Journal, basically points out that, questionable as the practice may be, it can’t hurt. He also observes that all of the practitioners he’s spoken with report that the switch from organic to biodynamic yields better results. “It’s as much about stewardship of the land as it is about improving the quality of grapes grown in it,” Aspler says.
Who would have thought that wine would pair so well with paganism?