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Biodynamics detail

Biodynamics detail, Part 3 of 3

Part 1 of this article gave some context regarding the condition of modern agriculture. Part 2 provided an overview of Biodynamics. Now it’s time to describe Biodynamics in detail.

How is Biodynamics practised?

Biodynamics originated in eight lectures in June 1924 by the philosopher Rudolf Steiner. These were called The Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture. He was the creator of the “spiritual science” of Anthroposophy. This system links science with spiritualism in education, health, the arts, and agriculture. Biodynamics will celebrate its Centenary in 2024.

Steiner set out the precepts of healthier and sustainable agriculture in these lectures. It’s about revitalising the soil to produce better-quality food. A convinced teetotaller, he had no interest or involvement in wine!

Steiner wasn’t an agriculturalist and didn’t claim to be. Hence, BD practices have gradually been researched and evolved under his guiding principles.

Firstly, Biodynamics uses a range of unique natural homoeopathic preparations in very dilute form. These promote the microbial life of the soil and boost plant health to combat diseases. See the table below, based on articles by André Ostertag, Maria Thun, and Demeter.

Biodynamic Preparations

BD 500 and BD 501 are essential sprays for soil and vines. However, composting is also fundamental. Compost is a mixture of cow manure and vegetable waste augmented by preparations BD 502-BD 507. These help break down the compost and make trace elements available to the plant.

Biodynamic Preparations and Uses

Preparation Contents Use
BD 500 Fermented Cow manure, buried in a Cow Horn for six months over Autumn and Winter Spray on soil 2-4 times annually Increases microbial acivity in soil, stimulates root growth
BD 501 Ground silica (quartz). Mixed with water in a Cow’s horn, then buried in soil for six months during spring and summer. Spray on soil 2-4 times annually Improve photosynthesis and fruit ripening
BD 502 Yarrow flowers. First buried in a Stag’s bladder add to compost pile as enrichment Works with sulphur
BD 503 Camomile flowers after burial in a Cow intestine. Place inside the compost pile as enrichment Fixes Nitrogen in soil
BD 504 Stinging Nettle (whole plant). Place inside the compost pile as enrichment Brealk soil up,so relaeasing soil nutrients for vine uptake
BD 505 Oak bark. First buried in a Cow, Sheep, Pig or Horse skull Place inside the compost pile as enrichment Raises the pH of soil
BD 506 Dandelion flowers. First buried in Cow mesentery over winter Place inside the compost pile as enrichment Stengthens plant, aids fruit set
BD 507 Valerian flower juice - 5% Valerian juice in rainwater Spray liquid over the compost pile as enrichment Encourages Earthworms, fixes phosphates, improves Photosynthesis
BD 508 Horsetail Tea - 10% in Rainwater Spay Soil and Vines Fungicide



The preparations are diluted down to homoeopathic levels in rainwater. They are then activated, or “dynamised,” by extensive stirring before use. Stirring takes 20-60 minutes. First, it is clockwise, then anti-clockwise, creating a vortex. The preparations are used within 3-4 hours while still fresh.

A “dynamiseur” stirs the preparations, essentially a tiny cask with rotating paddles. Substances are dissolved evenly, and microbial life in the water reproduces rapidly. Hence, even very dilute quantities of BD 500 contain billions of microbes.

Other techniques

Cover crops, e.g. Chicory, Lupin, and Vetch, grow between vine rows. These provide “green manure” to increase humus in the soil and help fix nitrogen. They also promote biodiversity, hold water, and prevent soil erosion. Weed control is done by mulching, ploughing, or grazing.

As with organics, copper and sulphur are still allowed as a barrier to fungal diseases. Bordeaux mixture (copper sulphate and lime) treats downy mildew, and powdered sulphur treats Oïdium (powdery mildew). These are toxic substances. However, BD farmers say their quantities are far smaller as their vines are more resistant to fungal diseases.

Pest control, rather than pest elimination, maintains biodiversity and food chains. Natural vineyard predators will keep pest populations at a low level. Some vineyards also employ chickens, geese and ducks to do the job!

Another control method, advocated by Biodynamic extremists such as Nicholas Joly, is known as peppering. He claims that spraying a dynamised liquid containing the ash of the dead pest works. However, I remain unconvinced that revenge is sufficient!

Microbial life

The most crucial factor is likely the soil’s microbial life. Much scientific research is being undertaken to explore how soils, microbial life, and plants interact. These relationships are highly complex and remain poorly understood.

Bacteria are known to perform a broad range of transformative biochemical functions. These include photosynthesis, carbon and nitrogen fixing, and making trace elements available. One of Earth’s most complex biological materials, a handful of healthy soil contains billions of microorganisms. BD’s beneficial role is promoting the diversity and abundance of these microorganisms to help plants thrive.

The sowing and planting calendar

Furthermore, applying treatments should coincide with the rhythms of the Earth and various cosmic cycles. Hence, the late Maria Thun devised the “biodynamic sowing and planting calendar” based on her experimental plant research over many years. In this timetable, four “forces” are ascribed to the individual parts of the plant as follows:

Earth (and Earth signs) with Roots
Water (and Water signs) with Leaves
Air (and Air signs) with Flowers
Fire (and Fire signs) with Fruits and Seeds

The calendar is complex and divides each year into days (and times of day). These are either favourable or unfavourable for different aspects of work. Timings depend on the Earth’s movements, Moon, and planets against the Zodiac constellations, which change every few days.

BD is a broad church.

Many BD winegrowers do not use cosmic aspects. Some see those ideas too far; others find the suggested timings impractical. Instead, many biodynamic growers have developed practices that suit their particular vineyard situation and needs. For example, Querciabella, being vegan, does not use animal products such as cow horns. Instead, they developed their ceramic equivalents. No wonder BD consultants give differing and sometimes conflicting advice.

As a result, BD is a broader church than it may first appear. All will use the preparations, but the timing aspects remain entirely optional. And it’s no giant leap to developing ideas about the Rights of Plants.

BD requires far more time and labour for vineyard management. As a result, some BD vineyards are more costly to operate than their chemical counterparts. However, others work out cheaper. The economics largely depend on the size and location of the vineyard. This is one reason why many BD vineyards tend to be relatively small. However, there are large estates, such as Querciabella in Italy, Chapoutier in France, and King Estate in Oregon, USA.


One of the ongoing problems facing most organic and BD vineyards is that they are rarely in isolation. That brings the possibility of contamination from neighbours using chemicals. Where possible, creating natural buffer zones is beneficial.

Some organic and BD growers have even been said to encourage the spread of vine viruses, pests, and diseases. For example, there was a recent case in Burgundy. Emmanuel Giboulot faced six months in prison and a hefty fine for refusing to spray pesticides against flavescence dorée. Thankfully, he won his court case on appeal.

Biodynamic Certification

There are official certification bodies such as Demeter and Biodyvin.

Should BD be certified? I’m for it. Under certification, producers must first meet organic production criteria defined by various organic certifying bodies (e.g. Ecocert, IFOAM, and others). Specific rules, therefore, vary. However, the certifier must be an independent third party with recognition from the country in which it operates. It also requires a conversion process. The vineyard must have adopted BD methods for three or more years before full certification.

Secondly, producers must use the biodynamic preparations BD500-BD508. However, adherence to the cosmic calendars is optional and is never part of the certification.

Demeter is a primary certifying body. Its agricultural standards are not unique to viticulture and are not concerned with wine quality. Demeter certifies all forms of BD agriculture. Hence, Biodyvin (the SIVCBD, Syndicat International des Vignerons en Culture Biodynamique) was established in 1995. It has a wine quality charter and wine-tasting tests.

The merits of certification

As with organics, there are arguments about the merits of certification in the Biodynamic community. On the one hand, it guarantees adherence to BD practices. Some growers are not certified and won’t mention BD on the label either. One or two others have abandoned certification, saying they derived no tangible benefit from it. It still has little consumer relevance, representing a significant challenge to recognition and perhaps wider acceptance.

There are several reasons for not being certified:

  • Producers are trialling or still in a conversion process, which takes several years;
  • Producers don’t want increased bureaucracy or are unwilling to pay the certification fees;
  • A minority are reluctant as this would limit their ultimate freedom to use chemicals in a crisis;
  • Some winemakers don’t want to be defined by their production methods.


Like organic certification, biodynamic certification means “wine made from biodynamic grapes” rather than “biodynamic wine”. Demeter does not cover winemaking, so Biodyvin was created specifically for wine.

In my opinion, BD has the potential to make the best-tasting authentic wine because the grapes are the best possible quality. However, clumsy winemaking can still easily ruin all that effort. Some biodynamic (and organic) winegrowers extend their ideas into the winery, and there has been a rebirth of “Natural wines”.

Postscript: Natural wines

The term “natural wines” has recently become the description for wines made “as naturally as possible”. However, this descriptor is so loose that it has little meaning or consensus.

This category may include wines made with organic and biodynamic methods—or not. Natural wine is never a shorthand term for either Biodynamics or organics.

Such natural wine ideas range widely, such as the shape of fermentation and storage vessels. I have seen egg-shaped and pyramid designs. Others have successfully revived the use of terracotta amphorae or made no-sulphur wines or “Orange” wines (oxidised white wines with skin contact). One or two insist on playing classical music or white noise to the wine and claim beneficial effects.

More understandably, wild yeasts, no fining or filtering, and low-sulphur regimes seek to make wine “more natural.” But these are in everyday practice and so hardly new or revolutionary. Worryingly, I’ve also seen “Natural” wines made from chemically grown grapes!

I welcome Natural wines. They are anti-technology, add interest and diversity, and their intentions are often praiseworthy. But this is no Second Coming. Some “natural” wines are brilliant and require immense skill to produce. Some, however, are awful and no more than the Emperor’s New Clothes—Caveat Emptor.

Biodynamics seeks to grow the best grapes in the best environmental way. What happens next is still reliant on winemaking ability. Good wine does not make itself.

I hope that these three articles encourage you to try BD wines.

Do you want to find Biodynamic wines? Ask me!

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