Why Organic and Biodynamic Wines Matter


We hear a lot of talk about organic and biodynamic wine but do we understand its importance in the world of wine? And its impact on the planet? It’s pretty big picture stuff. In the early 1920’s, a group of farmers, concerned with the decline in the health of soil, plants and animals (yes, even back then it was a concern) worked with Rudolph Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy (spiritual science). He had spent his adult life researching and investigating the subtle forces in nature that influenced the health and wellness of all life. From his work and lectures emerged the fundamental principles of biodynamic agriculture that related the ecology of the farm to that of the entire cosmos. I told you this was big picture!
Steiner introduced the idea for a farming system based on “on farm” biological cycling through mixing crops and livestock. While this thinking wasn’t new to farmers, it was Steiner’s idea of the farm as an organism that helped create this new system of agriculture—a new way of thinking about farming. 
While esoteric-sounding in nature, biodynamic farming has a practical application in growing, suggesting that humans, animals, plants and minerals bond with the cosmic periphery to form a whole system or organism. The root of the biodynamic system is the relationship of the farmer and his or her practices as they relate to the local ecosystem, which in biodynamics includes the influence of the cosmos and subtle life forces on local habitats.
Biodynamic growing also acknowledges that whenever we till soil or remove a crop, the land is being exploited through the breakdown of organic substances and the removal of minerals. Commonly recognized organic practices and fertilizers are used to correct this problem. However, what is more important and often overlooked is the depletion of the subtle life forces that are also needed to sustain biological functioning. These forces need to be replenished in the soil and in the air above the earth’s surface.
There are several ways to strengthen these life forces. In biodynamic agriculture, preparations are made from herbs, mineral substances and animal manures to be applied to soil and plants at very small rates, measured in parts per million. Timely applications revitalize the weakened life forces and stimulate root growth, soil microorganism production and humus formation.
The foundation of Steiner’s theories focused on blending prescriptive, holistic practices with the farmer’s own experimental methods. He placed great importance on the fact that nature could be understood only through studying and integrating natural cyclical rhythms. He was deeply critical of reductionism and agricultural science’s emphasis on products from outside the farm. 
In our modern version of biodynamic growing and farming, it’s important to note that all organic certification guidelines must be met in addition to biodynamic guidelines, so the practices are often intertwined.
Like organic, biodynamic agriculture recognizes that healthy, living soil is the heart of a farm. Vibrant, living soil is the key to growing healthy plants and in turn feeding healthy animals and people. Over time, all successful agrarian civilizations developed farming systems that were in concert with their surroundings, recycling nutrients. By nurturing and feeding the soil, the farm continues year after year, into future generations.
The biodynamic agricultural model solves the problem of substitution in organic farming, which simply replaces a chemical input (fertilizer or herbicide) with a naturally derived product. While biodynamic principles support organic farming on all levels, they additionally consider what is being brought onto the farm, the sources and what the long-term implications of their use, import and distribution are.
Biodynamic farms are a great example of vital, healthy agriculture without importing fertilizers and other amendments. New advances in fertility and agricultural systems management are always being researched with new practices that fit the family, farm and bio-region to create the healthiest food on the healthiest soil.
I can’t stress the importance of these growing practices enough. When it comes to wine, the importance of sustainability is as paramount as flavor.
The history of organic grape growing in Mendocino County can be traced back to the early Italian immigrants who first planted grapes here in the late 1800s. Before the introduction of agricultural chemicals following WWI, all grape growing and food production was what we would consider organic. They knew no other way. Many of the early grape growing families resisted the pressures to accept modern chemicals in favor of their traditional “organic” methods.  
The myriad chemicals approved for use on grapes are not only expensive, but hazardous to the health of those working in the vineyards, as well as those living around them and downstream.
However, organic grape growing is more than just resisting the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Mechanical cultivation replaces toxic herbicides. In place of chemical fungicides, natural sulfur is employed to combat powdery mildew and rot. By creating a bio-diverse farm landscape that encourages natural predators, the need for insecticides is eliminated. Fertility needs are generated on the farm by cover cropping and making compost.
Cover crops are planted in the fall and tilled under in the spring using a fertilization technique known as “green manuring”.  A variety of grasses, legumes and mustards protect the soil from erosion, fix nitrogen into the soils and offer a habitat for many beneficial insects. The benefit of cover cropping is seen in the health of the soil and the quality of vines. 
The use of compost in the vineyard is essential to the health of the vineyard. At a recent visit to Frey Vineyards, I saw how they recycle all of their grape pumice back into the vineyard after it is composted with other organic ingredients including manure, old hay, and garden waste. By returning this valuable resource to the vineyard, the fertility loop is sealed and sustainable soil management is achieved.  
Frey Vineyards, along with a handful of other family owned vineyards in Mendocino County, joined CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) in 1980. Frey winery created the first wines in the United States to be made from certified organic grapes (as well as biodynamically grown). Many of these pioneering certified organic vineyards still produce fruit that is used in Frey wines today. Over the years Frey Vineyards has helped many of these growers through the process of certification, helping to increase the total organic vineyard acreage in Mendocino County to over 3500 acres.
All this sounds great, right? But what about the taste of organic wine? It’s one thing to take the noble road for the planet, but we want to enjoy our wine as well. Worry not, my friends. My experience of organic and biodynamic wines is one of pleasant surprise. Sure, there have been a few wines that could stand to improve, but for the most part, I’ll stand an organic, biodynamic wine alongside any conventionally produced wine and enjoy it just as much.
I am a big fan of Frey Winery wines. From their Petit Syrah to the Organic Agriculturist, their Sangiovese and Merlot to their Dessert Portage, I find their red wines hearty and full of smooth flavor. Their whites are crisp and creamy, with their White Zinfandel and Biodynamic Chardonnay as my favorites, with a smooth vanilla finish that I can’t resist.
You decide. Do we need biodynamic and organic wines? I think Mother Nature would respond with a resounding yes!
Christina Pirello is the Emmy Award-winning host of the television series Christina Cooks!, which airs weekly on over 200 national public television stations nationwide. She has written five cookbooks, the bestselling Cooking the Whole Foods Way, plus Your Way to the Life You Want, Glow, A Prescription for Radiant Health and Beauty and Christina Cooks: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Whole Foods, But Were Afraid to Ask. Her latest book, This Crazy Vegan Life was published in January, 2009 and she is currently at work on her sixth book. Visit Christina on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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