*Our staff member Julie wrote this fantastic piece for the blog about the biodynamic “trend.” What does it mean to make a biodynamic wine, and does it really make a difference? Julie delves into this subject, but ultimately we encourage you to taste and decide for yourselves!
[Above, some of Julie’s favorite biodynamic wines available at The Urban Grape]
Growing up in rural upstate New York, naturism has been a way of life for me. Farms right down the road where we would get our produce, picking blueberries and strawberries to make jam with my mother, and countless day and nighttime hours spent in the fields and woods around my home. Though I love Boston, the expanse of pavement and absence of much organic matter leaves me feeling out of place at times. Lucky for me, here at The Urban Grape I can visit and explore places reminiscent of my home through the countless bottles of wine that we have on the shelves. Through research and tasting I discovered that most of my favorite wines had something in common; they were grown and produced using natural, organic or biodynamic methods. Since I don’t believe in coincidence I feel that my palate was naturally drawn to the reflections of the terroir that were present in the wine, perhaps I subconsciously related the tastes and aromas with those of my childhood…
You have probably heard the term biodynamics the practice of which has been around for hundreds of years. With all the hype about “natural” and organics thrown around lately it’s no wonder that biodynamics has come into light. To explain I would like to start by quoting Rudolf Steiner, the father of anthroposophy, of which, biodynamics is a subcategory; “It is helpful to think of biodynamics not primarily as an agricultural system, but rather as an altered philosophy or worldview that then impacts on the practice of agriculture in various ways”. The main principle of biodynamics is that the farm or vineyard is a living organism, vinyard health is emphasized and as much as possible, the farm be regenerative rather than degenerative. Each and every step that the winemaker takes has a purpose, each tiny detail adds to the aromas, the body, and the ultimate expression of the wine.
This health is achieved through a number of different principals; the single most important is to enhance the life of the soil through specific preparations and composting techniques, since the soil is viewed as a living organism only naturally occurring substances can be used. Things like quartz, fermented manure, teas made from chamomile and stinging nettle to name a few, are added to compost in specific ways and on specific days in order to promote the growth of beneficial microbes, which in turn promote the growth of healthy crops. The second principal would be to promote biodiversity. Rather than altering the current landscape to make way for acres of a single variety of crop, they utilize a wide variety of plants and sometimes animals to maintain the natural environment indigenous to the area. In addition to vines; flowers, fruit trees and herbs are commonly planted as well. Ponds, fountains and bird feeders are other ways and some vineyards even go as far as having chickens, goats or sheep on the grounds, this natural environment attracts other wildlife in the area to help perpetuate a well rounded ecosystem.
The third and possibly the most controversial principal, would be to consider the lunar and cosmic rhythms as much a part of the living ecosystem as the land itself. It was believed, and has now been proven that aligning farming practices with the natural rhythms of the cosmic and lunar cycles enhances the vitality of the crops and the farm itself. For example, the ancient Romans used to avoid cutting wood and harvesting crops for winter storage around the time of the full moon because they retained too much moisture. These statements have been confirmed by scientific studies showing that plant metabolism, growth rate and water absorption tend to peak around the full moon. Other studies have shown that the nutritional value of crops grown in this manner to be significantly higher than in conventionally grown ones. If the entire climate and seasons are affected by the rotation of sun, moon and earth, it only makes sense that we participate in those cycles.
Aside from farming practices, the actual act of making the wine has certain standards to follow as well, things like using indigenous yeasts, fermenting in cement tanks or amphore deep in underground cellars, and bottling without fining or filtering. Now, you are probably asking yourself, what does this mean for the finished product? Most would agree that wines made from biodynamic vines tend to have many more nuances and layers of flavor than wines not produced in this manner. These wines have depth and structure, yet are sumptuous and full of finesse. These wines tell a story, a story of the winemaker efforts, a story of the vintage for that year, the history for the area, and the culture from which it was produced. When you hear a sommelier talk about a wine expressing terroir, this is it.
One of my most favorite biodynamic producers that we carry, and possibly the most legendary, are the wines made by Jean Louis Chave. In addition to his Hermitage and Hermitage blanc we carry an amazing southern Rhone style wine he calls “Mon Coeur” this translates to “my heart “ which is a very appropriate name for a wine made by a 16th generation vigneron. Another more modern style winery I am excited about is Reuling Vineyard from Sonoma Coast, they make a bigger, flashier style of chardonnay and pinot noir but one that is still very expressive and elegant. The social and economic values of these farming practices I feel are extremely beneficial not only for our experiences while drinking but for the earth as well. In today’s world we have easy access to anything that our hearts could desire, with one click of a button we can have everything from our groceries to clothing delivered to our doorstep without ever leaving our computer desk. While these technological advances have great benefits, they have become almost too convenient. Our sense of curiosity and connection to the natural world has been severely muted, and with so many distractions can we really live simply in today’s world of technology? Is it possible to find sheer joy in the simple act of having a glass of wine? Or are we doomed to this technological world void of any naturism? Luckily we all have a choice…