Biodynamic grape growing is gaining visibility and popularity in the wine world.
In a time of meteorological changes, many are looking to be a little greener by consuming organic food, shopping with reusable bags and recycling trash. With these philosophies on the minds of many, similar practices are becoming more prevalent in the agricultural world as well.
The distinction between organic and biodynamic is sometimes murky. What does “organic” mean when it comes to wine? In the U.S., organic wine falls into two categories: wine that’s organic, and wine made with organically grown grapes.
Organic wines certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture have strict regulations. The grapes are grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, and all ingredients going into these wines, which includes yeast, must be certified organic. No sulfites may be added, although some that occur naturally are permitted. These wines may display the USDA organic seal.
A wine made with organically grown grapes means it must be made from certified organic grapes. Wines must be produced and bottled in an organic facility with limited use of sulfites. Although these wines can state on their labels to have been made with organic grapes, they cannot use the USDA’s organic seal.
Biodynamic farming is a set of practices that views the farm as one solid organism. The ecosystem functions with each portion of the farm contributing to the next. The idea is to create a self-sustaining system. Natural materials, soils and composts are used to sustain the vineyard. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are forbidden. Biodynamic farming seeks to leave the land in as good or better shape for future generations.
“Some of these practices are proven scientifically, such as organic growing,” says Paul Vandenberg, owner of Paradisos del Sol Winery and Vineyard del Sol. Despite the scientific sounding name, some of the biodynamic practices are harder to prove scientifically, which is why Vandenberg fully supports the organic side of growing and selects key tenets of the biodynamic process including the use of sheep, pigs and a flock of turkeys in his vineyard.
In 2012, Vandenberg and his wife, Barbara Sherman, began their own zero-pesticide vineyard in Zillah. This vineyard goes beyond the organic requirements. “We are the first commercial vineyard in the world to not use any pesticides at all,” says Vandenberg.
Growers must generate as much fertility as possible on site, therefore the presence of animals and the use of composting are crucial. According to Vandenberg, “Organic and biodynamic are the same in that the focus is taking care of the soil. We don’t feed plants, we feed the soil. What we as a farming society are learning is that soil is a very complex thing. We are realizing how important organisms in the dirt are to farming.”
“I put sheep in the vineyard after the fall frost to help with mowing. It keeps the tractor out of the vineyard and helps eradicate gopher holes. They do a quick cycling of the grass by creating new enzymes that become host to other growing things such as mushrooms. The sheep bring a bunch of new organisms into play. I want the largest number of organisms working in my vineyard as I can get,” says Vandenberg.
“I have 14 different species of mushrooms in the vineyard — partly because of the animals. To have this, I need both living and dead things. I compost everything on the farm,” adds Vandenberg.
It is nearly impossible to blind taste a wine and deduce whether biodynamic practices were implemented, but the lack of pesticides and implemented farming practices of biodynamic growing is undeniably good for our Earth.
• Barbara Glover is executive director of Wine Yakima Valley, an industry group representing member wineries. Her column runs every other week in SCENE.