Biodynamic Viticulture

Introduction

Derived from the work of Rudolph Steiner (1861 – 1925), Austrian social philosopher, founder of ‘anthroposophy’ and a Theosophist in later life. Ms Maria Thun and her team in Germany & Holland developed a method of Biodynamic farming. This method is not prescriptive, but is above all a base for individual work inciting each person to develop personal relationships with his environment.

In 1998, there were 15,000 hectares of Biodynamic vines in France 200 hectares in the USA.

The approach is highly spiritual and rather intangible, but some of the basic principles include:

  • A holistic (almost anthropomorphic) approach to the planet Earth
  • Earth having a ‘cosmic’ relationship with the other planets in the Universe
  • The plant is sensitive to these ‘life-forces’ and so its cultivation must take cosmic aspects into account. Different arrangements of the sun, moon, and planets will favour different parts of the plant, such as the roots, leaves, flowers or fruit.
  • Cultural methods and products are employed that aim to channel cosmic forces in the plant and soil making them vibrate in harmony with the universe

Biodynamic practices

As Earth and the plants are sensitive to ‘cosmic’ forces, interventions must be governed by the positions of the planets (particularly the sun and the moon) in the zodiac.

For example:

  • Root and fruit days are best for planting
  • Fruit days are best for cultivating and any treatment that aims to produce quality fruit

Three preparations (or ‘medicines’ are used), which must be ‘dynamised’ by putting the product in water and mixing in a special way for a precise period of time:

  1. Dung compost or Maria Thun (502 – 506): Made up mainly of cow dung, silica, limestone and various plant-based preparations (such as chamomile, nettle, oak-bark and dandelion)
    For soil applications: supports and reinforces the decomposition of organic matter
  2. Horn dung (500): Made of dung placed in a cow’s horn that is buried over winter where it fills up with vitalising energy.
    It activates the elements of the soil towards the plant, thus stimulating root development. This enables better absorption of nutrients and enhances drought resistance.
  3. Horn silica (501): Made of finely ground silica placed in a cow’s horn and buried during the summer, where it becomes energised by the sun’s forces.
    It treats the atmosphere to allow light forces to reach the plant and helps assimilation by the leaves of micronutrients found in the atmosphere in homeopathic quantities.

Biodynamic growers also use compost and manure for plant nutrition. The aim is to produce plants with ‘harmony’ that will defend themselves, rather than attracting pests. However, growers are still permitted to use Bordeaux mixture (3 kg/ha) and sulphur (7 kg/ha), but encouraged to use natural herb concoctions. Dynamised ashes of target pests (e.g. insects or rabbits) sprayed onto the foliage are also used to control pests.

Conclusions

Some growers come to Biodynamics through the philosophy, but most begin by applying the practices. Growers claim to have healthy vineyards, improved wines, improved health, and the ‘honour of taking part in the regeneration of our planet’. However, they have an increased amount of monitoring of the vineyard and are constrained by the Seedling Calendar which over-rides public holidays, etc.