By Renee B. Allen
I admit, I have been known to knock on wood to avoid tempting fate, and have even caught myself stepping over a crack in the sidewalk on occasion, but the last time I read my horoscope was in junior high school and it was for a lark. So how could I possibly buy into the philosophy behind biodynamic wines?
I first heard about biodynamics while studying for the Certified Specialist of Wine exam. It was afforded one paragraph right after organics and sustainability. I confess to snickering ever so slightly when I got to the sentence about phases of the moon and alignment of the planets. I was confident that, should a question arise regarding biodynamics, I would have no trouble remembering which theory it was and that I need not know any more about it.
“I did not hide my skepticism of what I termed these “quasi-religious” practices. He was nonplussed. I was impressed.”
Many weeks later, I happened to see a wine denoted as being biodynamic on a wine menu at my favorite oyster bar. It was a Sauvignon Blanc and I was in the mood for one, so I ordered it. I was very pleasantly surprised. The taste of mangos and melons married on my tongue and flowed through my mouth in perfect harmony, leaving nothing but an echo of their fresh, lively flavor for an aftertaste. I had a similarly pleasing experience with a biodynamic pinot grigio the next week. The floodgates opened. I attended a local “Taste of” and perused the wine tables. One table of Italian wines caught my attention. Upon tasting a couple of the wines there, I was inclined to sample the rest. After knocking back the final wine, I was receptive to hearing more about them. The national sales manager who had been pouring was all too happy to tell me about the biodynamic methods used in growing the grapes and making the wine. I did not hide my skepticism of what I termed these “quasi-religious” practices. He was nonplussed. I was impressed.
I wanted to know more. I knew the original movement was begun in 1924 when a group of farmers sought the help of Austrian philosopher and spiritual scientist, Rudoph Steiner. The farmers wanted to learn how to grow grapes without depleting the earth of its nutrients through the use of agrochemicals. But where did biodynamics stand now, 86 years later? My search brought me to a book on biodynamics by one of today’s leading advocates and an avid practitioner of the method, Nicolas Joly. Mr. Joly’s vineyard, Coulee de Serrant, is held in extremely high regard by wine experts. I was on the precipice of conversion.
Knowing I had been on a biodynamic wine kick for weeks, a colleague contacted me with a request for a list of my favorites. He had a friend with a self-diagnosed allergy to the sulfites in wine and suggested he try biodynamic wine. This was turning into quite the miracle wine! I told my friend that, while the “spiritual science” techniques practiced in biodynamic agriculture did not in and of themselves render these wines any safer to drink for anyone with sulfite allergies, the fact that biodynamics demand organic vinification and vitification processes would indeed produce a lower sulfite wine. Although sulfites are a natural byproduct of the fermentation process and will be found in all wines to some degree, organic winemakers do not add any additional sulfur dioxide (SO2) to the wine. SO2 is often added to prevent browning caused by oxidation and to prevent microbial spoilage.
So, was I ready to permanently suspend my disbelief and jump on the biodynamic bandwagon? No, that was not in the stars. But I now have a better understanding of the principles behind biodynamics, and a greater appreciation for the many benefits biodynamic agriculture has to offer. Not least among these benefits is the organic methods employed, which not only serve to maintain a healthier ecology, but have the added bonus of producing wines that are truer representations of their terroir. I am no longer snickering.
Reprinted with permission from www.wineinstituteofnewengland.com
Renee B. Allen, Founder and Director of the Wine Institute of New England (WINE) and a Certified Specialist of Wine, is a regular monthly contributor on the topic of local and sustainable wines. “Connecticut Corkers” will feature wineries, winemakers, and wine events throughout the state, with an emphasis on wine education and appreciation. Don’t miss Renee’s first column about Jones Winery, this year’s host farm for the 11th Annual Celebration of Connecticut Farms in September. Jones Winery’s tasting room is open Friday-Sunday from 11-5.