If you had never heard of biodynamic farming before opening this blog post, then pull up a chair and come sit by me. We can share a bottle of delectable biodynamic wine, courtesy of Sip Wines, while I explain what it is we’re actually drinking and what makes it unique.
You may have noticed that I like making analogies. I don’t know, it’s just how my brain works—I free associate a topic until a suitably comparable concept floats to the surface. When I started brainstorming how to introduce biodynamic wine, almost immediately an analogy hit me over the head. It felt like kind of an odd comparison, this idea that my brain was suggesting, so I wrestled with it for a while until realizing nothing else was coming. So. In my mind, biodynamic farming (in the realm of farming practices) is like Judaism (in the realm of world religions). (My husband is Jewish, so I feel somewhat more comfortable bringing this particular religion into the conversation.)
[DISCLAIMER: I am not a religious scholar, and the following is simply my rumination based on life experience.] From what I have observed, Judaism is quite unique among world religions in that it can be embodied and expressed in two very different ways: religiously, obviously, but also culturally—and those two can be practically unrelated, in that there are many Jewish people out there who experience Judaism almost entirely culturally, with little to no incorporation of religious practices into their lives. That’s not to say that the culture experience is any less profound, but it can be based far more on shared identity, shared history, cultural practices, and daily life rituals, without a spiritual aspect. My husband is a great example.
How does that relate to biodynamic farming? Well, biodynamic falls under the same general umbrella as “sustainable” and “organic” farming, all of which represent a commitment to following environmentally friendly agricultural and production practices: avoiding chemical pesticides, encouraging diverse and naturally growing flora, using low impact means of soil tilling, and more. There can be quite a bit of overlap across the different categories, but each also represents its own set of practices that are encompassed by separate and distinct certifications with their own requirements and metrics, overseen by different organizations. And there ARE important distinctions between each practice, hence the different certifications: in the context of wine, “organic” refers entirely to the agricultural process of growing the grapes (and to varying degrees, the individual ingredients that go into a wine), while “sustainable” can refer to agriculture as well as how an operation is run, meaning power sources (solar, wind) and attention to carbon footprint (shipping, bottling).
And then there's biodynamic, and the connection my brain made between biodynamic and Judaism. In a nutshell, biodynamic can mean very different things to different people, and it can be driven by different beliefs and experiences while still representing a cohesive whole.
Biodynamic is all about the big picture.
First, I think it’s important to dispel any preconceived ideas based on partial knowledge, because understanding biodynamic farming requires a true holistic, big-picture view. If you Google “biodynamic farming” or “biodynamic wine,” you’ll find some stuff that sounds straight up wacky, such as:
- The concept behind biodynamics is that everything in the universe is interconnected and gives off a resonance or ‘vibe’. The interconnectivity of everything even includes celestial bodies like the moon, planets and stars. Biodynamic viticulture is the practice of balancing this resonance between vine, man, earth and stars.
- Biodynamic farmers often follow the lunar calendar, using the positions of celestial bodies to dictate their farming schedule.
- Biodynamic viticulture requires special compost preparations that are stuffed into cow horns and buried in the soil. Later, the cow horns are dug up and reused and the ’stuffing’ is distributed throughout the vineyard.
Yeah, ok, that sounds kind of… well, not exactly pure science-y, if you know what I mean. But it's like Judaism, in a way: for some people, biodynamic farming has a very strong spiritual component, with a deep connection to the land. And who are we to judge spirituality? There’s a certain beauty in experiencing such a profound relationship with the Earth.
For others, however, adherence to biodynamic practices is much more grounded in tangible benefits from healthy soil, better crops, and a vibrant ecology. These farmers don’t necessarily believe in following a lunar calendar, nor is that a requirement for effective biodynamic farming. And that’s the whole point of my analogy: Biodynamic can exist in two very different forms, both of which are true and important.
The problem is, if you look up “biodynamic” with an expectation of more technical, scientific practices, and that’s the first stuff you read, it could be very easy to roll your eyes and write it off as bogus without trying to understand the beliefs at the heart of biodynamics and how important they actually are for our world.
The Demeter Certification: Healing the earth through agriculture
There is precisely one biodynamic certification available for US wineries, and that’s Demeter, a nonprofit organization dedicated to, as I said above, healing the earth through agriculture. I really like how the Demeter Certification guidelines explain their goals:
“In day to day practice, the goal is to create a farm system that is minimally dependent on imported materials, and instead meets its needs from the living dynamics of the farm itself. It is the biodiversity of the farm, organized so that the waste of one part of the farm becomes the energy for another, that results in an increase in the farm’s capacity for self-renewal and ultimately makes the farm sustainable.”
In other words, the goal is for a farm to be REGENERATIVE, not DEGENERATIVE.
Demeter certification is way strict—far more so than some of the organic and sustainable certifications out there. That’s because it is very precise in terms of acceptable sources and applications of fertilization, preservation of biodiversity, and maintenance of green ground cover (tilling the soil is prohibited because it negatively impacts soil health), and it also incorporates the standards of the National Organic Program (NOP). Meaning, if it’s biodynamic, you know it’s organic. But like, organic 2.0+, because self-containment is a huge part of being biodynamic, maintaining the farm as its own self-serving organism—so where an organic farmer could import organic fertilizers and pesticides and still be certified organic, a biodynamic farm is required to produce its own fertility (compost and nutrients) through livestock and crop rotation.
I really like this summary:
"Where a conventional farm could bring in synthetic fertilizers, and an organic farm would substitute inputs that are allowed under the NOP, a biodynamic farmer might think: “Why is my farm needing this additional fertility, and how can I come up with a solution out of the farm system itself instead of being imported from the outside?”
It’s so elegant in its simplicity.
Actually, biodynamic is really just going back to our roots.
A brief history lesson: Since the Industrial Revolution, American society has revolved around maximum production at minimal cost to maximize profits. Sure, the Industrial Revolution drove development and progress from which we can all benefit, but it also wreaked pure havoc on our planet. In the before days, society was largely agrarian, meaning that we relied on agricultural production. That production needed to sustain entire societies for the long haul, which meant that farmers were deeply invested in sustainable farm practices.
Then came the industry, and there was a rapid and dramatic shift towards what I’ll call “churn and burn.” Meaning, YAY WE’RE ROLLING IN CASH, THIS IS SO COOL, WE WANT MORE SO LET’S JUST KEEP TEARING UP ALL OUR NATURAL RESOURCES BECAUSE BEING RICH IS AWESOME.” Our collective view narrowed considerably from the long term to the immediate, and we stopped considering the future consequences of our immediate resource splurge. Industry just kept partying and partying until this little concept called “global warming” started to appear on everyone’s radars and it was kind of like, ok hope you enjoyed your super fancy 18-course dinner, now here’s the check, how would you like to pay?
Point being, biodynamic farming represents a nudge back to where we used to be, treating the Earth as a living thing to be nurtured rather than a collection of resources to exploit. And for that, I have mad respect.
Biodynamic wine is totally tasty.
To be clear, biodynamic wine is just like any other wine once it’s made—except arguably better, because biodynamic farmers are taking such intensive care with all aspects of growth and production (in a way that large mass producers just can’t). I can personally vouch for this, because Sip Wines partners with several biodynamic wineries and I’ve tried their wines. In fact, I treated myself to a biodynamic bottle on my birthday last week, and it was fantastic.
At the end of the day, drinking biodynamic wine means that you’re also doing your small part to help heal our planet, and that’s something you can feel great about. That, plus the delicious wine you're surely going to enjoy just as much as I did.