For a better understanding of biodynamic wines, its definition and principles, it is important to know that certified biodynamic wines must comply with a set of specifications (at the very least stamped organic) that governs their cultivation practices and the inputs they will use during winemaking.
A biodynamic wine must respect the principles of biodynamic agriculture. The winegrower must apply methods that meet the criteria established by "Demeter" or "Biodyvin":
▪ Chemical inputs are not allowed, nor are GMOs.
▪ Harvesting is carried out exclusively by hand.
▪ Sulphur levels in winemaking are less than 70mg/l for total SO2 compared to so-called more conventional wines where we are at 200mg/l of SO2 TT for dry white wines and 150mg/l for dry reds.
▪ The certification is controlled every year by approved bodies such as Agrocert, Alpes Contrôles, Certipaq and Ecocert.
The plots of vines under biodynamic cultivation are subjected to treatments using so-called "dynamised" preparations linked to lunar and planetary rhythms. These methods have been adopted by several renowned estates such as the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in 2007.
From the early 1920s onwards, farmers began to worry about observing certain phenomena, such as the degeneration of crop plants, the loss of fertility in the herd or the deterioration in the quality of food. Then they turned to the Austrian philosopher and scientist Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthropology, a school that incorporated the spirit and spiritual elements of the world into its scientific methods.
R. Steiner gave eight lectures in 1924, called the "Farmer's Course", which laid the theoretical and practical foundations of his agriculture, aimed at mastering the deep nature of the earth, plants and animals in order to work with them while respecting them. This enabled him to lay the foundation for an alternative method to traditional agriculture.
Biodynamics considers the earth as a "whole", an organism that follows its own evolution. It appears today that this naturally aging organism has become weakened by certain human activities (chemical, radiological, electromagnetic, genetic pollution, etc.). This makes it urgent to implement methods for restoring soil and plants for animals and humans.
The AB label, Organic Agriculture, was introduced at the beginning of 2005. Organic wine has therefore officially existed since that date. It is a label that belongs to the Ministry of Agriculture. Then, in 2012, a European organic label created by the European Commission will come out. Before this date, the European organic regulation only regulated grape production (viticulture). It prohibited the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
There were no specifications for wine making. The legislator remedied this in 2012 by setting rules:
▪ Limitation of inputs and additives (including sulphur, but with a threshold that remains high at maximum 100mg/l total SO2 for reds and 150mg/l for whites).
▪ Suppression of electrodialysis techniques, partial dealcoholisation, cryoconcentration and prohibiting the use of sorbic acid.
▪ The list of authorised additives remains quite long: natural acids (lactic, tartaric, citric, ascorbic...), sulphites and citrates can thus be added to the wine, as can exogenous and flavoured yeasts, sugar, thermovinification up to 70°C, and chips to give woody flavours.
Alas, wines bearing the organic label can be at the upper limit of the specifications and we find ourselves more in an industrial production, far from the idea that the European regulation wanted to establish. Fortunately, we have many producers who propose a new way of discovering organic wine while respecting their terroirs and nature.
Rigor, nothing but rigor...
Labels such as "Biodyvin" and "Demeter" are the labels that govern the world of biodynamics for the moment.
The specifications are more complete and demanding than those of the AB label, taking into account the balance between man and the ecosystem of the vine and the winemaking process.
Definition of biodynamic wine:
▪ European regulations decrease the doses of copper 3Kg/ha per year and sulphur in viticulture.
▪ The list of inputs is stricter.
▪ The dosage of sulphur cannot exceed 70 mg/l SO2 TT for red wines and 90mg/l SO2 TT for dry white and rosé wines.
One of the first labels for biodynamic viticulture was created in 1928 and is recognised in about 50 countries.
5,500 hectares of vineyards in France are Demeter certified in 2017, on 418 estates. (Source wikipedia)
This label was created in 1995 by the SIVCB. The control of this certification is generally carried out by Ecocert.
In 2017, this label certified about 135 winegrowers who adhere to it, they are mainly located in France.
Biodynamic wine and the lunar cycles
Not all winegrowers necessarily follow these cycles, but biodynamic viticulture can be attentive to the natural cycles of the moon, the planets and the zodiac.
All the work of the soil and the vine can be done during the rising or falling moon, just respect the black days, fruits, leaves, flowers or roots. It is also possible to link the winemaking process to the lunar cycles, from the racking to the bottling, which is included in Maria Thun's calendar.
Not all wines produced by biodynamic agriculture are elaborated according to these principles, some winemakers do not specifically apply these specifications. On the other hand, those who respect it to the letter find an additional balance in the growth of the grape and its sugar balance. They note a qualitative increase in their production with wines that are more floral and in direct link with their terroir and a good balance between glycerol and alcohol content.
Often the esoteric side is mocked, but it certainly helps to improve the quality of the wines and, it seems to me, most importantly, allows the winemaker to understand his terroir and his vines in depth. Everything is linked!
Is it by chance that the most renowned Burgundy, the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, has been organic since 1985, with part of its terroir in biodynamic farming (7ha) and that in 2007 it switched completely to wines from biodynamic agriculture? It does not make any advertising message, nor a selling point, but Aubert de Villaine its owner simply says "Because that's what gives the best wine". I think this should curb some unfounded criticism.
The work of wines in the lunar phases
On a waning moon, the racking, filtration and bottling are carried out. This tends to increase the aromas in the wine. This helps to preserve the aromas during the racking and bottling phases.
When tasting, the effects are less obvious. It is sometimes noted that during the descending moon phase the reduction seems to be more present. Others refuse to uncork a bottle during a lunar knot. I could not answer these questions. But one thing is sure, you have to taste biodynamic wines to form your own opinion.
Oenological inputs and sulphites
▪ The addition of sugar to the must (chaptalisation) is almost non-existent, reduced to a minimum.
▪ Yeasts are obligatorily indigenous (exogenous yeasting may be used exceptionally).
▪ Fining is without inputs. Fining the wine means introducing a substance of protein origin that will flocculate the proteins to remove the particles in suspension. This is done before the wine is filtered. For the record, our Roman friends were already using this method!
▪ The use of sulphur is of course limited as much as possible so as not to exceed 90 mg/l.
Wines from biodynamic agriculture are now obliged to apply these principles in winemaking. The Demeter label has defined specifications for the vinification since the 2009 vintage. The vintages concerned are neither yeasted, acidified, flash pasteurized and limiting the addition of sugar to the must, enzymes, yeasting, sulphiting and substances of protein origin (the fining).
As far as authorised additives (inputs) are concerned, the specifications for the vinification of biodynamic wine remain more restrictive than those for wines bearing the organic label.
How is phytotherapy used in the vineyard?
The estate that produces biodynamic wine will work its terroir in a natural way without chemicals. It will use plant and mineral-based sprays to strengthen its soil and energize its vines. Phytotherapy is part of biodynamics by preparing its own plant purines to be sprayed on its vines. The winegrowers strengthen the barriers to resist diseases or frost.
My opinion on biodynamics...
First of all, you can find our selection of biodynamic wines on our website. This is not free publicity, but the continuity of our will to make you discover wines respectful of the environment and this technique is for my part only a step to produce natural wines and why not wines without added sulphur.
I discovered biodynamics a few years ago, when I became interested in sulphur-free wines, in the relationship with the soil, in working the terroir and in the therapeutic side brought to the land. Our land is now completely degraded and unable to heal itself. We must provide it with the necessary elements so that it regains its fertility, so that it produces all the elements the vine needs to nourish the grapes and, very selfishly, so that I can drink exceptional wines.
The Demeter label, but also all the winegrowers who follow these principles of taking the terroir for a living asset like a food that should never be irradiated, sprayed with chemicals and preserved thanks to natural products. It's as if you were given a tomato to eat and just before someone sprinkled it with harmful chemicals! Let him pick it green so that it will ripen during transport! Let it be slightly genetically altered so that it can fit better in the crate! You'd say, "No, I don't want it!!!!" But that's what's going on here, damn it, a thousand miles off!
That is why education will take a long time to make our fellow citizens understand the importance of not messing around with the land and of taking care of it.
It is true that this new way of discovering wine raises scientific questions that are not yet fully answered in order to create a universal model. This does not in any way detract from the result of a higher quality wine.