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Biodynamic viticulture

biodynamique viticulture (F)
viticultura biodinámica (ES)
biodynamic viticulture (GB)
viticultura biodinamica (I)
viticultura biodinâmico (PO)

Also known as Biodynamic viticulture, this is a production method for making grapes and wine (principles and general information are described under Organic Viticulture, the study of which is also recommended as an introduction to this complex subject). It goes back to the Austrian anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). He studied mathematics, natural sciences, philosophy, literature and history in Vienna. In the 1920s, Steiner established rules for "biodynamic agriculture" for the prosperity of agriculture and propagated them through numerous lectures. The core statement of his philosophy is that the illness of a plant is the sign of a naturally disturbed equilibrium and is due to the use of chemical aids in fertilization. At first, biodynamics developed in agriculture and horticulture, viticulture was added later.

Biodynamischer Weinbau Verbände - Logos von DEMETER, Biodyvin, respekt BIODYN

Biodynamic principles

In biodynamically oriented viticulture, various measures of biological plant protection or integrated plant protection are applied in a very strict form. The entire ecosystem and its natural resources are protected and the life processes in the interaction of earthly and cosmic forces are specifically promoted. The main focus is on the work in the vineyard. Pruning, fertilizing, weeding and also harvesting are carried out according to a sowing calendar. The soil should be ploughed at least once a year, if possible by horse and cart and not by tractor. It should be revitalized with compost and treated with minerals to make it once again the habitat of various micro-organisms with natural balance. Biodiversity (preservation of species diversity) and sustainability play a major role.

Biodynamischer Weinbau -  Weingut Dr. Bürklin-Wolf (Wachenheim/Pfalz) - Pferde im Weinberg

In addition to the methods of organic viticulture, the use of special agents is prescribed to strengthen the natural forces of the vine and to activate the life processes in the soil. The horn of cattle plays a central role as a fertiliser, which is used in combination with other substances such as cow dung or quartz dust in the smallest homeopathic doses (only a few grams/hectare). Plant strengthening agents with resistance-promoting effects against harmful organisms are used. For example, infusions of herbs or dried herbs are very positive for the vine. Nettles provide balance and harmony in the vineyard. Cosmic forces such as the phases of the moon and other constellations of the stars must always be taken into account. Especially those of the moon have a decisive influence on the development of the earthly plants according to biodynamics teachings.

Effect of biodynamics

The Swiss journalist Andreas Heller in the NZZ-Folio (journal of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung) has vividly described the effects of biodynamics: Just on the day of the autumn equinox a new era began on the Cruchon family's wine-growing farm in Echichens near Morges (La Côte area in the canton of Vaud). Michel Cruchon filled six cow horns with cow dung and buried them in the soil of his best vineyard. For six months, until the equinox the following spring, he left the horns in the ground and when he dug them up again, the cow dung smelled so sharp that Cruchon wanted to throw the horns away. But he did as his teacher, François Bouchet, had ordered him: he dissolved the dung in lukewarm water and stirred the broth in a round container, first clockwise until a vortex was formed, then against it, for 20 minutes.

Then the liquid was sprayed drop by drop over the vineyard in the late afternoon, when the sun was fading. Only 120 grams of this "dynamised" cow dung, he was told, would be enough to positively stimulate the root growth of the vines on one hectare. The cow dung is only one of many preparations of biodynamic viticulture that Cruchon has been using for some time now. Quartz dust, which was buried in a cow's horn in the ground over the summer and then dissolved in dynamised water, is said to support the vine leaves in photosynthesis and to provide a deeper colour of the wine already from a concentration of four grams per hectare. Infusions of herbs also do the vine nothing but good. Nettles, for example, provide balance and harmony throughout the vineyard.

How can this extraordinary phenomenon be explained? I am not an esoteric, Michel Cruchon clarifies: I learned my craft from scratch. I can tell you how pesticides work. But above all, biodynamics has taught me to be amazed. Not everything can be explained. But the results are clear. Cruchon shows a vineyard that is cultivated traditionally. The soil is bare, the vines are high up, rich in fleshy leaves, covered with thick grapes. Right next to it, some rows of vines cultivated according to a new method. The soil is covered with grasses and herbs, the vines are gnarled, the foliage and fruits are small and plump. Two of the same plant, two concepts of agriculture: there the monoculture, trimmed for yield, here the useful plant, embedded in its natural environment. And the wines are correspondingly different.

The conventional products are light and rather non-committal, the biodynamic ones more complex, powerful and concentrated. They are wines with a strong terroir. There were also "sensitive crystallizations" carried out, with which biodynamicists test the vitality of a plant. A mixture of the plant juice (in this case wine) and a copper chloride solution is placed in a Petri dish and the result of the crystallization is awaited. Once the vitality of the product has ceased, the copper chloride solution dries out and leaves an amorphous (shapeless) stain. However, if the analysis material has its full vitality, the living forces arrange the copper chloride into a structure reminiscent of ice flowers. The biodynamic wine shows increased vitality, its crystallization is finer and lasts up to five days, whereas conventional wine begins to decompose before that.

Biodynamic guru Nicolas Joly

The absolute guru and pioneer of biodynamic viticulture is the French Loire winemaker Nicolas Joly with his vineyard Château de la Roche-aux-Moines and the famous single vineyard Coulée-de-Serrant. He founded the organic wine association La Renaissance des Appellations. By chance he read Steiner's writings and, from the mid-1980s onwards, he consistently converted his business. In 1997, he published the book "Le vin - du ciel à la terre" (Beseelter Wein, Hallwag Verlag) about his experiences, thus initiating a worldwide movement in modern viticulture, which has since reached the wine regions of the New World. He writes:

Modern agriculture, which is more and more exclusively oriented towards quantitative and commercial aspects, leads to a dead end. It destroys the soil, poisons food, kills diversity and taste. The paradox of modern agriculture and science is that, although we know a great deal, we have hardly understood how it all fits together.

Biodynamics associations

The oldest globally active biodynamic organic association is DEMETER, founded in 1924. Well-known producers are the vineyards Chapoutier (Rhône), Christmann Arnold (Palatinate), Colomé (Argentina), Dirler-Cadé (Alsace), Didier Dagueneau (Loire), Domaine Gauby (Roussillon), Domaine Leroy and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (Burgundy), Dr. Bürklin-Wolf (Palatinate), Ellwanger Jürgen (Württemberg), Fetzer with Bonterra (California), Kühn Peter Jakob (Rheingau), Meinklang - Weingut Michlits, Nikolaihof, Weninger Franz and Wimmer-Czerny (Austria) and Wittmann Philipp (Rheinhessen). Further associations are BIODYVIN and respekt-BIODYN.

Other organic methods

The further development of Biodynamic viticulture is sometimes referred to as the similarly oriented, but also not uncontroversial Bioenergetic Viticulture, which is based on individual methods such as the use of music in the vineyard and cellar for the purpose of improving quality. However, both forms of production are often summarized in many sources and considered as a unit. The third (second) scientifically undisputed form of production is biological (organic) viticulture.

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