A special viticulture club

Only a small number of winemakers use the biodynamic method, but for them, the end product is better.

Many oenophiles don't just love wine — they want to know the story behind their vino. Biodynamic wine pays off on all counts: it tastes fantastic and is made using a unique and even mystical approach that has health and environmental benefits.

“Biodynamic [agriculture] is a more extreme form of organic agriculture,” says Ann Sperling, director of winemaking and viticulture at Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., a certified biodynamic winery. Organic winemaking — just like organic farming that produces vegetables and other foods — prescribes what farmers cannot use on their land and crops, including synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. It limits the additives, such as sulfites, a winemaker can include in wine to preserve it. Biodynamic farming, a version of organic farming that dates back to the 1920s in Europe, adds to that a focus on healthy soil, self-sufficiency and spiritualism. Biodynamic viticulturists grow other crops too, which are regularly rotated, and they often raise livestock to generate manure for the farm. They time tasks around the phases of the moon and put together unique compost preparations. One made from cow manure gets placed in a cow horn that is buried for six months over the winter.

Only 8% to 10% of wine made around the world is certified organic — a number that is growing — and a small percentage of that is biodynamic. It takes years to convert a farm to either method and entails certification fees, including costs for annual inspections. But going biodynamic helps a label stand out in the competitive wine market. “People are intrigued by biodynamic. For winemakers, it’s a unique differentiator,” says sommelier Debbie Trenholm of Savvy Co. in Ottawa, who adds that no one would undertake this complex approach for marketing alone.

“Once you give yourself over to the process, you see it works,” says Sperling. Canada has a short grape-growing season, but rich, biodynamic soil helps vines do their best. She gets strong, flavourful grapes that need little in the way of preservatives and lend themselves to making a balanced wine. “I think the wines are naturally more harmonious.” This is not just her opinion: a 2016 study from the University of California Los Angeles looked at more than 74,000 reviews in wine magazines and found organic and biodynamic wines scored higher than conventional ones.

For a taste, try award-winning biodynamic Canadian wines such as the 2013 Estate Grown Small Lot Cabernet Franc 101 from Southbrook (Southbrook.com) or the Cipes Blanc de Blanc 2010, a sparkling chardonnay, from Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna, BC (summerhill.bc.ca). They’ve been created with a respect for nature and go down smoothly.