Biodynamics - organic-type farming in conjunction with the moon and cow's horns. Sounds crazy? Wine blogger, Jamie Goode, of Wine Anorak, breaks it down for us.
Along with the usual organic practices, biodynamics relies on a range of strange sprays and Harry Potter-like 'preparations'. These include flowers fermented in a stag's bladder, oak bark fermented in the skull of a domestic animal and dandelions fermented in cow guts.
Two of the key biodynamic preparations are buried in cow's horns in the field or vineyard for a year. Then they are dug up and diluted before use.
All interventions are timed to occur with particular planetary alignments. Maria Thun's biodynamic calendar has been published for almost 50 years. It identifies 'shoot days' and 'root days' according to planetary alignments. Russell Grant meets Alan Titchmarsh.
How come such a bizarre-sounding method of farming has become so popular in wine? Quite simply because some of the world's leading producers have embraced it, and are convinced that their wines are better since they turned to biodynamics than they were before.
Biodynamic preparations need to be 'dynamised'. This is the process by which first the solution is stirred one way, to create a vortex, and then another way, to create a counter-vortex. Apparently this imparts some sort of energy to the mixture.
Interestingly, at least two UK supermarkets schedule their press tastings according to the biodynamic calendar, which identifies days when wines will taste at their best.
The underlying philosophy for biodynamics is based on the writings of an Austrian guy called Rudolf Steiner during the 1920s. His life mission was to bridge the gap between the material and spiritual worlds, so he created the 'spiritual science' of anthroposophy. Steiner's lectures on Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture were delivered just a year before his death, but they remain as the foundation of biodynamic farming.
Key to biodynamics is considering the farm in its entirety as a living system. To this end, biodynamic farms are supposed to be closed, self-sustaining systems. Biodynamics also sees the farm in the context of the wider pattern of lunar and cosmic rhythms.
Does the great results achieved by growers mean that the rather odd preparations used in biodynamics must be working by the mechanisms claimed by Steiner? Not necessarily. It could be that simply by taking more care in the vineyard and by improving soil health, growers are achieving these results by mechanisms entirely explainable in scientific terms.
Either way, it's good news that so many more people are making interesting wines by application of vineyard philosophies such as biodynamics - whether or not it's the alignment of the planets that is helping them. I'll just keep drinking their wines, and try not to ask too many questions.
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