Biodynamic wine production up by 20 per cent annually

| October 7, 2018 | 0 Comments
Vines at la Coulée de Serrant winery in France's Loire Valley. (Photo: Coulée de serrant)

Vines at la Coulée de Serrant winery in France’s Loire Valley. (Photo: Coulée de serrant)

It’s 2018 and any good wine list in the country will likely include wines produced following the principles of biodynamics. You may be a keen consumer, or you may have even consumed biodynamic wines at top restaurants without realizing it. You may also have heard a sommelier reference the movement while suggesting a wine at your table. So what are the principles of biodynamics and how do they apply to wine?
Rudolph Steiner developed biodynamic farming in 1924, but he’s better known for his role in developing the Waldorf school system. Biodynamics was a response to a lack of fertility and life in the soils of farms, which Steiner said was the result of the over-industrialization of farming.
In essence, biodynamics, which predate the organic movement by roughly 20 years, is about creating a healthy, self-sufficient and sustainable ecosystem within every farm. It makes the same commitments as organics, including prohibiting chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, but goes many steps further by insisting on values such as biodiversity and the inclusion of farm animals. Biodynamic certification also requires the use of holistic treatments, which include “teas” made from plants known to have anti-microbial and medicinal properties that are used as sprays, as well as animal manures used as compost. In addition, decisions on a biodynamic farm or winery are made based on the lunar calendar.
Demeter, the body responsible for certifying farms or products as biodynamic, is seeing an annual growth of roughly 20 per cent. It offers two certifications for wine. The “made with biodynamic grapes” category denotes a wine is made entirely with biodynamic grapes, but makes no requirements for how it’s produced once the grapes are harvested. The “biodynamic wine” category denotes wine that does not include additions such as enzymes, sugar, aromatic yeasts and acids. It also limits the use of sulphur dioxide or S02.
So why have biodynamics become so popular with grape growers and
vignerons? Winemakers and sommeliers are obsessed with the idea of “terroir” or a wine’s connection to place, time, weather, climate and soil. It’s the belief of advocates for biodynamic wines that this natural approach is the best way for a wine to express its terroir — and that means it’ll result in the best possible final product.
Mark Cuff, owner of Toronto-based wine agency The Living Vine ( is the largest importer of biodynamic wine in Ontario and has been representing biodynamic wines since 2006. He says there is a long list of reasons biodynamics appeal to the wine world.
“Biodynamics is recognized as the highest standard of organic-based farming available today,” Cuff says. “The byproduct of a biodynamic vineyard is an integrated closed-gate farming system that regenerates itself, leads to lower long-term operational costs and healthier disease-resistant crops/vines. Because of the lack of chemicals being used in the vineyards, biodynamic farms are a safer work environment for farmers and their employees. Naturally lower yields and higher quality grapes contribute to more interesting and complex wines for consumers.”
Nicolas Joly of la Coulèe de Serrant in France’s Loire Valley is often referred to as the godfather of biodynamic winemaking. He says it’s hard to hide mistakes if you’re following biodynamic principles.
“The work of the cellar has only needed to become intense to correct the grave secondary effects of synthetic chemical products that farmers were advised to use, without warning them of the consequences,” Joly writes on his winery’s website. “It is these products that ‘spoil’ the unity that an AOC [appellation d’origine controlée] should express. This is why then one must no longer make a wine to please Mr. X or Mr. Y who, because of their name, can sell to consumers who are too confident and badly informed of the changes of the past 25 years. How many people know, for example, that wine-makers can make use of 350 aromatic and genetic yeasts along with a whole arsenal of other products as well?”
To paraphrase, the need for so much intervention and manipulation in the winemaking process is to correct problems that arise due to unhealthy fruit, which are a result of the use of harmful chemicals, and to appease critics and markets rather than to produce a quality product. These practices are a deterrent to producing a wine that truly expresses the terroir.
Readers interested in drinking biodynamic wine can try the Spanish Pablo Claro Biodynamic Cabernet Sauvignon/Graciano by Dominio de Punctum S.L. ($18.95) or New Zealand’s Millton La Cote Pinot Noir 2016 ($34.55.) Both are available in the Vintages section of select LCBO stores.

Alex McMahon is wine director at
Riviera restaurant in Ottawa.

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Alex McMahon is the sommelier at Riviera restaurant in Ottawa.

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