In a world of winners and losers, our humble planet earth seems to be #winning wherever you look. From the Himalayas not seen in New Delhi for more than 50 years, to the clear waters revealed in the Venice Canals, Mother Nature has taken a much-needed vacation, and she sure looks better than ever. While our leaders have throughout history taken advantage of Gaia's giving ways, there were few who thought different. One such visionary, Dr. Rudolf Steiner, a noted scientist and founder of the Waldorf School, believed there was a way to work and farm harmoniously with the environment, rather than depleting its fertile goodness. Through his teachings, the Demeter Biodynamic Farm Standard was born.
In an era of factory farming and synthetic fertilizers, Dr. Steiner's Biodynamic principles marked the foundation of the modern sustainable agriculture movement still going strong today. By 1928, the Demeter Biodynamic way was formed in Europe, that took from the wisdom and ideas of Steiner's lectures, who viewed the farm as a living organism capable of sustaining its own vitality. Named Demeter after the Greek Goddess of Agriculture, this new rigorous farm standard put practices that improved soil health, water quality, and biodiversity at the forefront of its mission. In fact, in order to even make the cut, a farm or vineyard had to be certified organic. Demeter International is the only one of its kind to be internationally recognized as a Biodynamic certifier. With a network spanning over 45 countries, Demeter ensures all farms and products with the Biodynamic seal are legit.
But the Biodynamic label is more than just a set of rules or guidelines, it's a philosophy rooted in nature. With the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, a vineyard becomes an interconnected unit capable of healing the planet. With over half the world's habitable land taken up by agriculture, food production is no doubt a major greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter. In the US alone, farming makes up 18% of GHG emissions, with CO2 being enemy #1. One way to beat the bad guy, is to allow nature to run its course, letting the plants soak up excess carbon while reusing nutrients found in waste. By thinking of the farm as a system able to generate its own fertility, agriculture becomes capable of transcending outside the problem and into a solution.
And while generating fertility is an epic element of what makes Biodynamic farming so efficient, there are a number of key features that set it apart. In particular, biological diversity shapes the lay of the land, requiring that at least 10% of the total effective farm land be used as a nature reserve. If one does not exist, a reserve must be created to preserve wildlife and promote biodiversity. In the case of pest control, several strategies must be put in place to reduce pesky critters and unwanted weeds. Things like creating a predator habitat or using crop rotation are all useful tools in stopping
nature's nuance. But arguably the most distinct feature of the Biodynamic farm is the magical mix of plant, mineral, and animal substance, that when added to compost, enhances its growing power. Many farms use this mixture and store it in a vessel such as a glass jar, or my personal fav, cow horns, until the farm is ready to be replenished. With all the wisdom and mindful preparation involved, it's clear the genius of a Biodynamic farmer is unrivaled.
And while best-selling novels could be written on the virtues of this style of farm, let me attempt to list a few. One such virtue is the protection of water ways and the conservation of water. When irrigating fields from fish bearing streams, installing a fish
screen on diversions can make for a nifty tool, while increasing soil organic matter can reduce water runoff. Another moral essential, is the integration of livestock. While a mix of livestock is the preference, it's hard to deny the holiness of the sacred cow. For what is one cow's waste is another man's treasure, able to nourish an entire farm. And when all is said and done, harvest day is a time to both celebrate and handle with care. In fact, Biodynamic farms and vineyards require that all post-harvest handling be gentle, done with hands, and machines used only when necessary. While it can be hard to scratch the surface of this superior farming style, understanding nature's intentions is a good place to start.
When a grape finally makes it to it's day of reckoning, there are a few things to consider. If you see a wine labelled "Biodynamic® wine", understand that it is Biodynamic in the truest sense. Made with 100% Biodynamic grapes, minimal manipulations, this particular wine is the finest expression of a vineyard estate for any given vintage. However, if you see "Made with Biodynamic® grapes", know that flexibility was allowed to convey a winemaker's style. Crafting a fine wine is like the brush strokes of an impressionist piece, meticulous but miraculous all at the same time.
If you've ever imagined what it must have been like to be among the first humans to discover agriculture, before chemicals, machines, and pollution, Biodynamic farming mimics that, but with a new-age modern twist. Backed by science, Biodynamic farming isn't dynamic based on coincidence. It's dynamic because it flows with change, moving with seasons, conditions, and our ever-changing planet. Because it looks to solve problems without stepping on Mother Nature's toes, and takes from the wisdom of ancestors who came before. Like a good steward, it leaves the land better than found, by adding richness all around. If you never thought of yourself as an environmentalist before, consider yourself one as you sip on the extraordinary pureness of a biodynamic wine.