What is Biodynamics?

When asked ‘what is Biodynamics?’ my quick answer is that Biodynamics a way of trying to make the vineyard (farm) a self-sustaining living organism which largely creates all the fertility it needs on the farm/vineyard. This is often achieved by getting some cows whose composted manure keeps the soil replete with both life and organic matter. This idea of a “farm organism” dates to 1924 when biodynamics began, and later became the origin of the term “organic” (in 1945).

  • Biodynamic farmers see life (vines, other plants, animals, humans) as being shaped and formed both by physical matter or substance (blood, bones etc) and by “formative forces”. These ‘forces’ are what help create archetypal vines/vineyards able to look after themselves with no need of man-made fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides.
  • Biodynamic farmers are defined by their regular use of nine so-called Biodynamic Peparations. Three of the nine are used as spray preparations.
  • The first spray called Horn Manure or ‘500’ is applied in large droplets to the vineyard soil (as in the photo above, taken in Weingut Dr Bürklin-Wolf’s biodynamic Forster Jesuitengarten vineyard when I was consulting there). It is made of cow manure buried in a cow horn over winter. Horn manure ‘500’ helps vines root more strongly. It helps wines taste of the local terroir (‘wine with a sense of place’).
  • The second spray called Horn Silica or ‘501’ is  sprayed in the atmosphere. It is made of ground silica (quartz) buried in a cow horn over summer. This is sprayed as a fine mist into the air over the tops of the vines at sunrise. Horn silica ‘501’ helps vines flower more evenly and grow firmer, more erect/upright shoots. It makes the wines taste ripe (‘wine with a sense of varietal character’).
  • Last of the three sprays is made from Equisetum arvense or508′ (or common horsetail), a green, fibrous, fern-like plant rich in silica and impervious to fungal diseases. It can be sprayed either on the soil, or on the vines. It antagonises fungal disease spores causing them to retreat, and makes the vines more disease-resistant (‘wine which tastes healthy’).
  • Biodynamics also uses six preparations (or ‘502-507’) which go in the compost pile. Five of these “compost preparations” (502-506) are solid, being made of yarrow flowers (502), chamomile flowers (503), stinging nettles (504), oak bark (505), and dandelion flowers (506). The valerian (507) compost preparation is an extract or tea derived from valerian flowers. It is poured into, or on top of, the pile once this has been constructed.
  • Biodynamic compost does two things when spread on the land. It provides the soil with physical life (worms, microbes) and food (organic matter, a range of nutrients) as any good organic compost pile would. It also provides the farm/vineyard with the ‘formative forces’ it needs to function healthily as part of the wider environment. In Biodynamic-speak the wider environment means both the local terroir (meaning a living, breathing vineyard), and more broadly by seeing Earth as a living, breathing organism (or terroir) in its own right within the universe as a whole, too.