In today’s eco-conscious world, even wines compete for their planet-friendly status and a pure taste unadulterated by pesticides, fertilizers, and sulfates. Just like all things organic, biodynamic wine production is a hot new trend.
Biodynamic farming is as different from organic as vegetarian cuisine is different from its vegan cousin.
In the 1920s, in response to German farmers’ concern about the future of food production, Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner developed a lecture series on an innovative way of looking at agriculture. He insisted that a farm or a vineyard should be seen as an organism, and therefore should be a self-nourishing system. According to Steiner, if certain crops were dying or attacked by a disease, it was a symptom of problems in the whole organism. It couldn’t be effectively treated by the use of outside materials, but had to be eliminated by using the farm’s own resources.
That may not sound utterly radical in today’s day and age. Yet, what truly sets biodynamics apart from organic or sustainable method is its belief that farming can be attuned to the spiritual forces of nature. According to Steiner’s theory, a vineyard’s health encompasses both the earth and the universe – that is plants, flowers, insects, sun, stars, and so on. Modern biodynamic vineyards take into account the cycles of the moon for planting and spraying vines, as well as strict preparations that include burying manure in a cow’s horn, mixing it to the right consistency by hand, and applying it on a specific date and time. They also follow the dynamizing approach, which is a process of stirring organic solutions for a specific time and in a certain direction before spraying it on the vines.
Sounds like a hard-to-believe voodoo system no one has time for in today’s rush, doesn’t it?
In the heart of Vienna, Austria, up in the hills yet still within the city ring, there lies Weinbau Hajszan, a biodynamic winery operated by Stephan Hajszan and his wife. The Hajszans went biodynamic in 2006 and believe their vinery’s mission is to re-establish the balance between man and nature. They use teas and other homeopathic preparations to strengthen the immunity of the wine and skip using auxiliaries and additives. They mix compost into the soil exactly when it is supposed to be deposited and follow the strict guidelines once laid out by their very own Rudolf Steiner. I didn’t see them utter any spells as they popped their bottles at the tasting, but I’m sure that if Steiner’s method called for it, they would do it too. They admit it takes a lot of work, but believe the results are well worth it.
The Hajszans specialize in whites and rosé, which is very popular in Vienna, and they produce 30,000 to 50,000 bottles of wine annually. In sampling some of their wines, I found their Rosé 2009 to be an intense bouquet of raspberry and strawberry, and their Gemischter Satz (a mix of different wines) had elements of apple and peach. As with traditional wineries, their classic whites ferment better in steel tanks while certain specialty wines known for their mineral flavor must mature inside large oak casks.
Do biodynamic wines taste any better? Critics are still arguing about it and probably will be for years – until some other new hot trend comes along. It’s hard to tell. To instigate a proper comparison, one would have to grow, harvest, and ferment the regular and biodynamic crops side by side in the same region. Perhaps one day, some eco-conscious wine connoisseur will set off to investigate.
As to the health and environmental value of biodynamic farming, I am sure it’s best for both, man and planet.