What are Organic and Biodynamic Wines?

There is endless chatter in the market about organic and biodynamic wines.  We have all heard many a sweeping statement advocating for or against these wines (usually the arguments get louder the more vino has been consumed) but there is generally a fair amount of confusion on what exactly makes a wine organic or biodynamic.


Organic viticulture rejects the use of synthetic fertilisers, fungicides, pesticides, and herbicides.  It centres around improving the soil health of the vineyard and preserving the range of microbes and animals within it which in turn betters the health and disease resistance capabilities of the vineyard.  It is a concept that we can relate to and understand quite easily.  Natural fertilisers restore the natural balance within the soil and the use of compost improves the quality and number of microorganisms living in the soil.  Cover crops are planted to prevent erosion and create biodiversity in the vineyard.  They also double up as habitat for bees and other little vineyard creatures.  Cover crops consist largely of grasses and legumes, but you can come across plants like garden peas and even radishes, which cause a bit more of a stir when gardening nerds or chefs are let loose in the vineyards.


When these vineyards are in balance the ecosystem works well and becomes better at fending off pests or diseases, resulting in healthier vineyards which can ultimately produce healthier grapes to make better wine and so the cycle continues!


Sulphur and copper sulphate are natural remedies used in organic viticulture to combat issues like mildew.  These pesky fungal diseases are usually brought about by changes in humidity and can cause havoc in a vineyard if they aren’t treated properly, as they impact the final yields and overall health of the vineyard.  Organic farmers are conscious of the need to use any spray sparingly so they will usually time the application of Sulphur to when it is necessary and use it as sparingly as possible – natural precautions are not without their flaws as sprays do build up in the vineyard soil.


Natural predators instead of synthetic chemicals will be used in the vineyards to protect the vines and the grapes.  Some South African wine farms have become known for their use of ducks in the vineyards.  These resident ducks are chauffeured around the farm to different vineyard sites on a day-to-day basis to eat the snails.  They work hard, and feast hard, to ensure the best quality wine finds its way into your glasses!  Predator insects, including the humble lady bird, are also used in vineyards and the use of pheromone tags will disrupt the mating patterns of insects.


Biodynamic viticulture takes things further.  The idea behind biodynamic practices is to take a holistic approach to farming.  Environmental organic practices are incorporated with philosophical and cosmological principles in order to achieve a balanced system that is in harmony with the earth.  Now, for those of you who are already having a chuckle (most of you?), we have good news- there well and truly is a valuable and considered method to these practices.  Some of the best, most respected, wines in the world are biodynamic – take Louis Roederer Cristal for example.


Biodynamic practitioners plan their grape growing to coincide with cycles of planets, stars, and the moon.  Homoeopathic remedies, otherwise known as ‘preparations’, are used in biodynamic viticulture.  There are hundreds of these interesting and detailed preparations; for example the well-known Preparation 500 involves stuffing cow manure into cow horns and burying them in the soil through winter.  These horns are then dug up, the contents dissolved into water and then applied to the vineyard as a compost solution.


Biodynamic farming is incredibly conscious and so intrinsically linked to a balanced natural ecosystem.  It is believed that this mindfulness and attention to holistic health produces the best quality grapes.  Why don’t you try a glass of De Toren, Patronas 2020 and  experience the quality for yourself!

De Toren, Patronas 2020


A fascinating part of the biodynamic approach is the calendar which sorts its days into the following: Flower, Fruit, Root, and Leaf.

Image of The Lunar Calendar from Wine Folly: ‘Will a Fruit Day Make My Wine Taste Better’.

Depending on what type of day it is in the calendar, different preparations and vineyard activities will be carried out.  Strong proponents of Biodynamics believe that wines will showcase and taste differently according to this calendar!  This is always a fun topic to bring up with your wine friends around a dinner table after a few drinks.  Some people swear there is absolutely no difference, others will beg to differ…  It gets loud.


Fruit days are great for harvesting, root days are best for pruning.  Biodynamic winemakers usually won’t prune with the ascending or full moon as they believe that the increased gravitational pull of the moon will cause the sap within the vines to begin to evaporate through the pruning wounds at a faster rate – this is not in harmony with the earth and therefore not the best possible way to care for the vine.


Flower and fruit days are said to be particularly good days to taste (let’s be honest – drink) wine!  The argument is that the wine inside the bottle is a natural product and depending on the type of day it is, it will showcase different natural characteristics.  If you’d like to test the waters, download an app called When Wine and it will tell you exactly which type of day it is on the biodynamic calendar.


A significant amount of work is done in the vineyards to produce both organic and biodynamic wines.  The utmost care and attention to the well-being of the vineyard is given, so these vineyards grow in strength and quality and therefore have the same potential as any other vineyard to produce top wines.


Once the grapes get to the winery, they then need to follow further protocol to abide by the rules of organic and biodynamic winemaking.  Obviously, the grapes to produce organic wine need to be grown organically.  The wines are then made following protocol concerning additives, regulating amounts of sulphur used in the winemaking process, and ensuring organic matter is used, for example using organic egg white albumin should the wine need to be fined.  Organic standards can differ from country to country based on regulations in that specific area.


Biodynamic wines need to be made using biodynamic grapes, and then follow a set of strict regulations that ensure their winemaking processes are in line with the certified requirements.


The certification process for both organic and biodynamic wines can be expensive and time consuming.  Furthermore, in order to be fully certified, a producer needs to be willing to lose an entire harvest, or vineyard, to disease or pest pressure.  As a result, many farms in South Africa practice organic or certain biodynamic principles in order to achieve optimal vineyard and grape health and the best resulting wines but are not formally certified producers.  This is where asking us comes in handy – we’ve chatted to the viticulturists and winemakers of our Estates and will be able to let you know if they’re making their wines in line with organic or biodynamic principles!  Take a sip of one of our favourite Biodynamic Wines, Eikendal, Infused by Earth Chardonnay 2017.

Eikendal, Infused by Earth Chardonnay 2017


This blog was edited and posted by Digital Squeak.