Biodynamic wine is made using biodynamic farming techniques, which emphasize natural and local methods (as opposed to synthetic or imported methods) to raise crops and livestock.
In order to be labeled as a biodynamic wine, wineries must meet the standards of the Demeter Association, an international biodynamic certification body. The entire biodynamic farm, not just a portion of it, should be treated like a living organism, according to Demeter.
Biodynamic wine is made without added yeast, enzymes, tannins or sugars. Sulfites, however, can be added in limited amounts. The Demeter Association inspects vineyards and processing facilities annually to ensure that they adhere to its standards. Water conservation, biodiversity, grains and fertilizers sourced on-site, crop rotation, composting, and minimal pest control and fertilizers are expected in biodynamic agriculture.
Biodynamic Wine or Organic Wine?
Buyers of biodynamic wine should bear in mind that biodynamic wine and organic wine are two very different entities, the first certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, while the second is certified by the Demeter Association. Some wines are both biodynamic and organic, but not all are.
While biodynamic wine is subject to strict standards to be labeled as a "Biodynamic Wine," there is also a less-rigorous standard, "Made From Biodynamic Grapes." This second category includes wine that's made from 100% biodynamic grapes, though the processing and fermentation techniques doesn't meet Demeter's biodynamic standards.
Origins of Biodynamic Wine
Biodynamic farming was first developed in the 1920s, following a series of lectures by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian scientist, philosopher and educator. Part of Steiner's holistic approach to viniculture involves the use of (somewhat exotic) preparations like cow horns filled with manure that are then buried in the vineyard's soil, and herbal/mineral preparations that are used as pest repellents or soil amendments. Planting and harvesting are timed to coincide with astronomical events like new moons.
Though biodynamic agriculture is definitely sustainable, critics have charged that some biodynamic farming techniques are little more than New Age pseudo-science. Using the moon's phases to determine times of planting and harvesting, for example, isn't a technique that's well-substantiated by scientific research.