Biodynamic wines

Q. What’s the difference between organic wine and biodynamic wine?  - Mary, ME

A. Amid the romance of it all, it’s easy to forget that, like milk, mustard, or breakfast cereal, wine at its core is an agricultural product, right down to the cork. No matter how many points Robert Parker awards, it starts in the soil long before it meets the swirling, sniffing, slurping masses. More and more wineries are engaging in responsible farming these days. That’s great news for everyone, but can get a bit confusing for the average wine drinker. Let’s break it down:

The USDA certified organic label on wines means that no herbicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or fungicides were used on a winery’s vineyard for three years before planting, and that the winemaker didn’t manipulate the final product with flavoring agents or preservative sulfites. As with any crop though, some small farmers comply with regulations but don’t apply for official certification because it’s so expensive. “You have many producers who farm organically and are certified as such, but they don’t label their wine that way,” says Scott Pactor, proprietor of Appellation Wine & Spirits in New York, where more than two-thirds of his stock is organic, biodynamic, or sustainably farmed.

Biodynamics, on the other hand, is part holistic philosophy, part spiritual guideline, part agricultural tenet. It was created in the 1920s by the Austrian scientist-philosopher Rudolf Steiner, whose goal was to connect the spiritual world to the earthly one. Today, biodynamic practitioners see the farm as a living organism, where the soil, bugs, trees, moon, and stars are all connected and their individual health vital to the health of the farm as a whole. Their practices—which include strategic placement of manure-filled animal horns around the field—might seem a bit wonky, but they inspire a great many farmers and wine-drinkers. Wineries can become biodynamic certified through international governing organization Demeter, whose US wing requires farms to become certified organic as a first step.

-         Amy Zavatto

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