I'm a sommelier who is currently living and working on a biodynamic farm and vineyard called Abbondanza. It is the creation of Daniel D'Agostini, and his farm is Demeter Certified Biodynamic. He is a third generation grape grower in the Amador County, CA.
Biodynamic wine can be more nuanced, surprising, flavorful, terrior-driven, and exciting than commercially made wines, in my humble opinion. Biodynamics does not permit chemical use in the vineyard or in the winery. I think this is the key to soulful winemaking. Because I am already a big fan of drinking biodynamic wine, I am having an incredibly educational experience working in the vineyard.
The word biodynamic is a little mystifying and it's practices are misunderstood. Is it the same thing as organic? Is it regulated in any way? What does it do to the farm?
I'm a novice, but I'll break down the basics.
Is Biodynamic Farming the Same as Organic?
Biodynamic farming encompasses organic farming. For example, USDA Organic farming does allow certain chemical uses, but biodynamic farming does not allow chemicals to be used.
A Biodynamic Farm is Holistic
Biodynamic farming treat the entire farm as an organism in itself. Therefore, a biodynamic farm is not a monoculture. A monocultural farm tends to have less animal an insect diversity, which contributes to poor soil and may increase plant disease. A biodynamic farm is always planted with diverse crops and will have farm animals, too.
Farm animals can help with clearing weeds, pest control, and soil health. At Abbondanza, Daniel has used a herd of goats to eat undesired brush, and a flock of chickens to both til the soil and to eat unwanted insects. He also has three cats, who proudly bring him gophers. The cows who live across the road contribute nutrient-dense manure to his soils.
Soil health is perhaps the central point of biodynamics. Without healthy soil, no plant is going to thrive. Daniel has three different kinds of compost piles. He also uses a worm bin to compost kitchen scraps. In addition to composting, Daniel, like all biodynamic farmers, has created a fermented cow manure preparation to spray on the soil. This is called 500, and it pretty much the main point of biodynamic farming. 500 is an amazing fertilizer that makes soil life thrive.
To boost to the overall health of the farm, a biodynamic farmer will also use different plant and herb preparations to strengthen their plants and keep bad bugs away. Some important herbs used are yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, kelp, neem, and dandelion. Have you ever drank a shot of wheatgrass, made chamomile tea, used aloe vera to soothe a burn, or drank coffee to wake up? If so, then congratulations! You are using homeopathic herbs. Do you think they work?
Additonally, the farmer will also pay attention to what the moon is doing. Just as a surfer checks the surf report before heading to the beach, so too, will a biodynamic farmer check the moon to determine how high or low the water table is in the ground and how the moon is affecting the plants.
Biodynamic Farming Works
There are numerous studies and practicing farmers who say yes! It does work! It is a labor of love.
Sure, it would be easier to use petrochemical-based commercial fertilizers that you can buy at a big box store. However, these chemicals are going to kill the soil and leach into the water table. Studies show that rates of cancer and other illnesses are on the rise, particularly in farming areas. Biodynamics is one way to combat these diseases.
Yes, biodynamics has several regulating bodies. For brevity, I'll only mention the largest one, named Demeter.
Demeter is a, international biodynamic authority that certifies a farm as Demeter Certified Biodynamic. It is a very prestigious certification to be awarded and a rigorous process. If you see this logo on any food or wine, you know that it represents a very carefully created product that is free of chemical additives!
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My name is Floreana and I'm a sommelier. I think that natural wine is the shit. I also think that sustainable farming might just save the world.