A Burum Collective Guide to Biodynamics
Written by Rachel Hendry
If you asked me to put money on what two questions I’ll be asked most at work this week I’d tell you “where are the toilets?” and, “what does biodynamics mean?”.
Biodynamics is a method of winemaking and viticulture that predates organics by about two decades and whilst promoting similar care for the environment in its practices, it differs in three core ways:
- The aim of biodynamic winemaking is for the vineyard to become self-sustaining—a singular ‘farm organism’ that grows all of the plants and greets all of the wildlife it needs to face any adversity.
- The vineyard is regularly treated with what is referred to as ‘preparations’. These are made from herb and mineral based substances such as cow manure, oak bark and dandelion and are encouraged to be encased within the organs of animals as they disintegrate naturally once buried in the ground.
- Key tasks within the lifetime of a wine, from pruning to bottling, should be timed alongside the rhythms of the lunar calendar in order to harness it’s ‘formative forces’. The four elements of earth, fire, air and water are linked to the plant components of root, leaf, fruit and flower and in turn linked to stages of the lunar cycle. When the moon is in favour of leaf, is when it would be a good time to prune the vines, for example. Large wine tastings where awards are up for grabs are often scheduled for fruit or flower days as that is when a wine is said to be tasting at its best.
You can see, perhaps, why some people may think of biodynamics as a cult.
At its core, if you remove animal bladders and the zodiac aside for a second, biodynamics is really about paying attention. To apply care to the ground and the grapes and to take the time to understand the rhythms they go through as a smaller ecosystem sitting within a much bigger one is not a labour of love that can be said for more conventional wine making methods.
It is important, however, to not only ask what something is, but where it comes from, too.
Biodynamic practices are based on theories by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner and if you dig a little deeper through his writings on agriculture you’ll quickly find they sit alongside his frankly racist beliefs in white superiority.
Not surprisingly, Steiner’s racism is very rarely discussed in matters of biodynamics, an omission I have no time for. For if biodynamics is about paying attention to a vineyard as an entirety there is damage made in not applying that same attention to it’s very source.
To know about wine is to know about all of wine, from where it comes from to who it affects in order to dictate where it should go next, and, crucially, to what questions need to be asked along the way.
Reconciling the Racism of Rudolf Steiner - For Trink Magazine, Lauren Johnson-Wünscher writes about the need to ask hard questions about the wines we love