Wine Talk

Snooth User: Hugo Sauaia

Biodynamic wines, is there any science in this?

Posted by Hugo Sauaia, May 1, 2009.

I´ve read a lot lately on biodynamic wines and how the position of the moon and other things can affect the vines growth or even the wine tasting, mostly on phylosophical grounds believing that "Biodynamics takes organic farming practices and wraps them as broader conception of the farm / the vineyard as a coherent organism, where inputs and outputs of resources work in harmony. It's a stark contrast to the industrial, agro-chemical model--first sterilize the land, then pump it full of petroleum derivatives."

My question is, has any of this been proved yet? Sources? Have you tasted their wines? Prices? Recommendations?

I hope to hear from you all!


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Reply by Adam Levin, May 1, 2009.

There's a brief explanation of its real world applications in the Domaine Leflaive - - writeup on W&S - http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.c...

Reply by Hugo Sauaia, May 2, 2009.

Thank you very much adam. I realize domaine le flaive´s phylosophy has a lot to do with conditions of the soil, what seems indeedly more feet to the earth to me. However, I´d be amused to have more specific information on techniques. I mean, all I hear about is somebody saying that byodinamics is being used, but how? I don´t wanna sound to skeptical on this matter, I have more recently learned to believe that between the sky and the earth there are many more mysteries than we can possibly think of, but I need some data. I´ll start tasting more of these wines to try to understand it in the mouth...but so far I feel it´s all kindda above the clouds of reality. Hope to hear from you soon.

Reply by PortfolioWines, May 3, 2009.

As a wine importer of many years, I have been following the Biodynamic technique over the last 8 years and definitely see the positive impact it has on the overall vitality of the vine, even in bad vintages. I also admire the producers who have passionately implemented this technique, which is labor intensive and often subject to ridicule.

A very good example of Biodynamic approach that have paid off well is Montirius in the Rhone. Already blessed with a superb terroir and climate, the wines are made in accordance to the principles of biodynamic viticulture, and having tasted the wines, I can safely say that the combination of all these elements have produced some of the most consistently impressive wines in the region. There are others who have done well and have proven it with their excellent wines.

Having said that, I am still not really convinced that it is the only viable alternative to maintaining a healthy vineyard without any harmful effects on the environment. Furthermore, wine quality is pretty much dependent on having the right varietals, excellent terroir, sound viticulture and a good winemaker. Biodynamic approach cannot turn a toad into a prince - it just allows the toad to live in a cleaner/healthier ecosystem, with less warts - but it is still a toad. Forgive my tongue in cheek reply.

Reply by dmcker, May 3, 2009.

Can anyone provide specifics about just what biodynamic agricultural techniques are utilized in these vineyards?
For those wondering just what biodynamics is/are, here's a starting point:

So what are we talking about in the vineyard context besides composting and alternative pesticidal techniques? Where does 'anthroposophy' enter in??

Reply by Daniel Petroski, May 13, 2009.

For a more humorous take on Biodynamic wine, check out a post I wrote over a year ago:


Reply by dmcker, May 13, 2009.

Very eruditely posited, Dan. Can't say I still really have much a clue about what biodynamic grapegrowing/winemaking is in everyday real terms, though...

Is it all an ancestral memory reemerging of ancient Bacchanalian rites on the vineyard-covered hillsides? ;-)

Reply by T Andrew Windsor, May 14, 2009.

The concept of biodyamics and it's application to viticulutre and wine production is very complex and because there are far too many variables involved (many of them not controllable) it is essentially impossible to prove or disprove it's contributions to wine quality. When writing a paper for my MSc in Oenology, there were actually very few journals on the topic. Those that existed were typically poor and too abstract, and did not follow through to the end result....the wine quality. Sounds like a cop out but, unfortunately nature is too complex in many regards to fully understand.
As for biodynamic wine quality I must say there are many very good producers. That being said, many of these producers were making good wines prior to their venture into biodynamics and therefore it's difficult to discern what attributes are directly related to biodyamics specifically. All you need to do is look at the majority of the top houses in France and you will find biodynamic wines.
Everyone has their own interpretations to biodynamic applications which makes sense as they were originally prepared for European climates, soils, and wild life, which has little relevance in other winemaking regions of the world.

Reply by pmr, May 15, 2009.

Hi I'm the winemaker from dominio IV winery in Oregon.

We've farmed our vineyard in a BD fashion since 2001 and make wines from BD grapes. I did a Masters in vineyards soils and wines at UC Davis (thesis on terroir) and worked for some great producers. We were raised under the pretty heavy hand of large scale farming and analytical techniques at Davis, so it has been a lot of unwinding to try to understand BD.

There are many circles of chasing one's own tail in the BD and science debate, but for me it has been mostly about honing my skills at perceiving the natural world and my wines. I think about BD as another way to look at the ecosystem, the vines, and the wines. I still use a lot of analytical methods that help me to inform my decisions; sometimes science informs a BD practice. For example, our soils have a lot of K in the soils, so we will tweak our BD compost to help manage this abundance of potassium.

There is a great book by Lily Kolisko "Agriculture for tomorrow" that painfully details her years of trails with BD planting methods. It is from 1932 and is out of print (last pub 1978).

if you'd like to reach me, holler at 503.474.8636

Reply by dmcker, May 15, 2009.

Thanks for the example about potassium balancing, Patrick. Can you relate any other procedures and practices that will inform our view of what a biodynamic orientation means in every day grape growing/wine making?

Reply by pmr, May 15, 2009.

One really dramatic example of practical procedures and practices in the vineyard relates to the spray 501 (silica). 501 is sprayed on the leaves to bring in heat. Yes heat. This was really hard for me get my mind around until I saw a vineyard sprayed with 501 to prevent frost. Every other row was sprayed the day before an expected frost. The next morning I saw a striped vineyard, frost in the unsprayed rows and none in the sprayed rows. I had to reevaluate my assumptions after this.

This spring has seen a slow start to bud break because of cold temps and rain. We may use 501 to help us "bring in more heat" during the summer so our grapes achieve the proper level of maturity.

Hope that helps!

Reply by dmcker, May 16, 2009.

So this spraying silica on grape leaves is considered biodynamic?

I grew up in a family that owned and managed large avocado, apricot, pear, orange and lemon groves, in different parts of California (Lake and Ventura counties). Thus I'm well familiar with the smudge pots and windmills employed in the lemon and orange orchards back when. Silica spraying does sound like a kinda cool (ahhemm, warm) alternative...

Reply by williamsimpson, May 18, 2009.

On purely hedonistic level, have thoroughly enjoyed vins d'issus raisins biologique from the Rhone (Chapoutier), Beaujolais (Eventail des Producteurs) and numerous Southern French estates. They have a richness of fruit and life about them, and would always choose if seen.

Reply by pmr, May 18, 2009.

hey dmcker - yes the 501 is a foundation spray for the BD; it is usually thought to be the opposite of the 500 spray for the soil. I thought the wikipedia page had a lot of good info.

I'm sure you know a lot about the kind a stress a frost can bring about. So it is very difficult for people to trust this BD spray when their livelihood is at stake.

williamsimpson- sometimes I think the most important aspect to BD wines (some) is that "life" or vitality quality that you can taste. It should be noted when drinking wines...good color... acidity...alive quality.

Reply by Uwe Kristen, May 18, 2009.

"perceiving the natural world and my wines" [quote from Patrick]

I agree wholeheartedly.

Science has destroyed so many vineyards and vines in the past that observing the plant itself and approach winegrowing from a natural point of view again is what's needed.

Reply by dmcker, Aug 19, 2009.

I guess we can throw 'reiki' (霊気) into the biodynamic mix, too, according to this article:

Reply by penguinoid, Aug 19, 2009.

Biodynamic viticulture does seem an interesting way to go. There's a lot of stuff about forces and stuff from the stars which I'm more than a little sceptical of, but equally the care taken to look after the soil & the natural systems in the vineyard are very good. I can see how it could work well, especially in areas that have been farmed heavily for some time.

DerKellermeister --
"Science has destroyed so many vineyards and vines in the past that observing the plant itself and approach winegrowing from a natural point of view again is what's needed."

Science as a whole isn't really to blame here. Science is just a set of a few theories and ideas about how to view the world, the most important being the scientific method. It's given rise to a lot of good ideas, and a lot of bad ideas.

When science is applied in a practical way like this, it's technology not science. Often this seems to be done in a somewhat short-sighted way, and maybe without enough thought as to long term effects.

Also, don't forget ecologists are scientists too ;-)

Reply by GregT, Aug 19, 2009.

Hugo - I don't know if you're reading this but you can look at the history of biodynamics, and read the work of some practitioners to get your answer.

Let's think back a bit. We all know Goethe, the great German poet and contemporary of Beehoven. He actually considered himself a scientist first and poet second, but of course that's not how we remember him. He was interested in astrology, alchemy, and many other things that today are not considered serious by those in the natural sciences. When he died, there were a few people who put his papers in order and organized his estate. One of them was a man named Rudolf Steiner. He was so impressed by Goethe's mystical musings that he continued pursuing the line of thinking on his own and eventually came up with something he called anthroposophy, which was his "science". He decided he was an expert on many things, including farming, and came up with biodynamic farming.

It's essentially some practical ideas mixed up with a load of crap. You can walk across the street for example. You can also walk across the street and claim that the invisible threads from the tree on the other side wrapped around your head and guided you there. Of course, you may want to wear a tin foil hat in some places.

Taking care of your soil isn't profound. If you simply add fertilizer year after year, you are doing nothing for the tilth of the soil and it will end up compact and devoid of life. That's not brilliant. I bought a house with such soil in the back. My neighbors suggested paving since nothing would grow. Today I have roses, tomatoes, herbs, etc. Why? I simply added organic matter, composting everything from the kitchen as well as all of the plants that I pulled out or that died every fall. The soil is rich and full of life.

Steiner based his teachings on Aristotle. But Aristotle never did an experiment. Experimental science came much later. So Steiner took some of Aristotle filtered thru Goethe and talks about the four realms and associates them with animals and plants and with parts of plants.

You have the mineral state - rocks, which the roots live in. You have the liquid state, which the leaves live in. You have the state of light, which is flowers, and you have the state of heat, which is fruit.

Even better, you have animals that are identified with the states. For example guess what animal is identified with the liquid state. A cow of course. If your plants need help in the liquid realm, you give them cow manure. Why? Because the quality of the manure is affected by the temperament of the animal. A horse is a nervous and sensitive creature, almost aerial so it is dominated by heat. If you want better leaves, you use cow manure, if you want better fruit, you use horse manure. As far as I'm concerned you can pretty much stop there, because in the end, I think it all comes down to horse manure.

When you mix your preparations, why does it have to be done with the hand of a man, at moonlight, in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction, 100 times? Because the forces from the man are being guided by the cosmic rays into the preparation, making is incredibly powerful!

Taking care of the land is common sense. Setting up any alternative to biodynamics as industrial farming is a red herring. You can be very organic and very practical at the same time. You don't need to buy into the BS.

At the end of the day, I'd like to drink wine that was made organically. But think about it. Think about your biodynamic wine. It's put into glass bottles. How are they made? Sand is mined and so is coal. That coal is burned to heat the sand to make glass. So the biodynamic producer is walking behind his ox and his product gets put into a container that is produced by mountaintop removal. And then the product gets put into trucks, shipped around the world, and it's kept in a refrigerated unit that depends on fossil fuel. How about that?

In terms of overall quality, you can't make a statement about the wine based on the philosophy of the producer. You can only taste it and each wine stands on its own. Some biodynamic wine is great; some is undrinkable.

Reply by dmcker, Aug 19, 2009.

Would be curious to hear what this couple has to say about 'biodynamic' processes:

Reply by GregT, Aug 20, 2009.

Based on no information other than what's in the article, they're doing "sustainable" agriculture. Using ladybugs (which of course cause their own problems - e.g. "ladybug taint") and recycling waste water.

Sounds very nice and I applaud them.

But no cosmic rays, no synchronous frequencies, no Aristotle to guide them? Sheesh. No story there.

Reply by dmcker, Aug 20, 2009.

I was going from the fact that they had careers working at Lawrence Livermore--everyone I've known from there is well into the scientific method. So my guess was that they might have a different perspective than the 'reiki' folk I referenced earlier...

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