Biodynamic – many confuse this term with “organic”, some with “natural wine”, some even call it ‘hocus-pocus’. It’s a term which has existed for almost a century and we hear more and more about, but what does it really mean?
So I asked internationally renowned Austrian biodynamic winemaker Fred Loimer (Langenlois, Kamptal in Lower Austria) 10 Q’s in order to find out more about this holistic approach to grape growing and winemaking.
Ater completing his studies at Klosterneuburg in 1988, Fred began his independent wine journey in 1997 when he took over the reigns of his family’s small estate. He then proceeded to purchase the cellar of the Haindorf Castle in Langenlois and then built a black cube above of it: an ultra-modern piece of architecture which has won various awards.
Fred’s wines are listed in many of the best restaurants on the planet and his Grüner Veltliner and Rieslings are regarded as some of the very best Austria has to offer.
1. Biodynamic – First off, what does it mean? And what is the difference to “organic”?
‘Biodynamic’ is a term, first used in 1930, in order to describe the agrarian principles based on the ideas of Rudolf Steiner. It’s a method which employs working with the contained cycles of nature and regards the farm (vineyard) as an individual organism.
Hence, in short, the difference between the two can be summed up as follows:
– Biodynamic agriculture is the only method which attempts to work in a fully sustainable manner.
– Organic farming can function without sustainability, and influences of an intangible nature are not considered.
2. When did you adopt biodynamic principles in the vineyards and what motivated you to switch from conventional winegrowing methods?
We began in 2006. In 2005 we began educating ourselves in regards to the method and also laid down the preliminaries for future implementation. The catalysts were the biodynamic wines I had tasted and found to be “different”, more distinct, and expressed more character. In addition to that it was the curiosity of how it works and the problems related to conventional farming, which led us to make the change.
3. Did you notice a big difference in your wines? If so, how long did it take?
When you compare 2005 (the last year we farmed conventionally) and the 2006 (our first biodynamic year), we already started smelling, tasting and feeling a difference. The latter vintage was more profound and complex, more intense and individual. That has also increased over the years.
Of course, that only works when vineyard and cellar operations work hand in hand. That is to say, minimal intervention is practised in the cellar.
4. Did your customers notice a difference? If so, did your clientele also change after the switch?
Yes, quite a few clients were somewhat unsettled in the beginning and we probably lost a few as well. People who prefer to drink straightforward, fruity wines (in various quality categories) tend not to appreciate the expression of our wines. Those who look for character in wine, fine nuances, they tend to like them.
5. Practically, what do you differently in the vineyard?
In comparison to conventional farming:
We completely renounce using herbicides, insecticides, synthetic and systemic fungicides. No use of mineral fertilisers, and of course no synthetic water-soluble nitrogen fertilisers are permitted. These are all important “ingredients” when it comes to conventional farming methods.
In comparison to organic farming:
In addition to this, we work with biodynamic compounds and rhythms of nature such as the phases of the moon, biodiversity build-up in and on the vineyards, composting, the integration of animal life (grazing with sheep, habitat for the smallest of creatures), flourishing fields in vineyard proximity and within the rows.
A considerable amount of additional effort is needed:
- the increased necessity of foliage work by hand.
- the protection of the vines from disease infestation in an exact and timely manner.
- assisting the vines in regards to resistance by spraying them with tea-based concoctions.
- grapes harvested by hand (100%) and more than likely an earlier harvest than with conventional farming methods due to an earlier physiological maturation.
6. We hear about biodynamic principles in the vineyards but do principles exist for the work in the cellar?
Much effort is expended in the intervention and the configuration of the natural habitat in the vineyards. Time is a huge factor: everything has to be done quickly and in a timely manner. The opposite is true in the cellar, where time is less of a factor: giving the wine time to develop naturally and intervening as little as possible are the main objectives. The consideration of the moon phases and the weather remains.
7. Does one have to be certified to use the term “biodynamic”? If so, how long did it take to get the certification?
Yes, the term is protected by various bodies and is overseen by the IBDA (International Biodynamic Association). The lead time to certification depends on the type of certification present before the transition to biodynamic.
The transition from conventional or organic to biodynamic takes 3 years. If one is already certified organic, it depends on the individual body: Demeter, Respekt, Biodyvin etc.
8. Has the recent “Natural Wine” trend and the trend towards healthier eating/living reached the wine sector?
Definitely, just as much as it has in the food sector. Overall it’s still a minority but growing steadily and quite quickly.
9. Some consumers have the feeling sulphites are a negative thing considering its use has to be added to the label. Can organic/biodynamic producers use sulphites?
Yes, but on average legislators stipulate approx. 30% less than the amounts used in conventional wine. Almost all biodynamic wineries concentrate on optimising the use of sulphur dioxide (SO2). The ‘Natural Wine’ movement goes even deeper, either by only using very small amounts or eliminate the use of sulphur all-together, in order not to adulterate the taste of the wine. But SO2 is also naturally present since yeast produces quite a bit of it. The added SO2 has a different effect though.
10. Visually – How can a one recognise a biodynamic vineyard versus a conventional vineyard?
On the diversity of the plants in the vineyard and the growth of the vines. All biodynamic vineyards demonstrate a higher presence of animate beings, and this is attestable, the vines grow slower, are more feeble and undergo the seasons in a more intense manner. This is very noticeable in the autumn when the physiological ripeness sets and the colours of the leaves change.
For more information on Weingut Fred Loimer, please visit www.loimer.at
Weingut Fred Loimer
Haindorfer Vögerlweg 23