What Is Biodynamic Wine?

If you’ve spent any time in California, you’ve encountered certified organic food and drink. Green agriculture is a staple of the agricultural industry in our relatively environmentally conscientious state. But some vineyards in Northern California’s gorgeous, rolling wine country boast another method – biodynamic farming.

So what exactly makes a vineyard “biodynamic,” rather than simply organic or sustainable?

Biodynamic vineyard management takes the methods of certified organic agriculture, and even permaculture, a step further. Or, to be more precise, the organic and permaculture methods, which derived from biodynamic farming, use only a portion of the biodynamic philosophy. Biodynamic agriculture was introduced over 100 years ago, and it incorporates multiple esoteric and spiritual elements.

At its core, biodynamic agriculture views a given agricultural space — like a vineyard — as a single organism. Within this “organism,” the biodynamic farmer leverages biodiversity to create a more harmonious whole. This means that the farmer incorporates a variety of plants and animals, other than the main crop, in the growing process. The biodynamic farmer cultivates herbs, fruits, and vegetables. They also keep animals, including bees, chickens, and other livestock. A biodynamic farm may also use vermiculture to process things like compost and water. The idea here is to foster a harmonious and healthful relationship with the land.

Biodynamic farming exceeds the standards of organic farming in that it ideologically regards the agricultural space as a contained and self-sustaining system. The vineyard is like a collective but single organism.

The Preparations

Biodynamic agriculture uses fermented preparations of plant materials, including yarrow, stinging nettle, chamomile, oak bark, valerian, and dandelion. The farmer adds these preparations to compost. Adherents believe they collectively work to both foster biodiversity, and to stabilize nutrients.

Additionally, a biodynamic farm relies on three spray preparations. To make “horn manure,” the farmer buries cow manure inside a cow horn during the winter months. To make “horn silica,” a cow horn packed with ground quartz crystals and buried during the summer months. At the end of the season, the farmer excavates the horns. The farmer will then dilute the contents of the horns with water, and spray them on the crops. Finally, the farmer makes a spray using horsetail tea. Adherents claim the horsetail tea assists in balancing the soil and preventing fungal diseases.

The compost amendments and spray preparations are assigned numbers 500 through 508. They constitute a fundamental component of certified biodynamic practice.


As curious as it may sound, biodynamic agriculture has a certification process, and this process is fairly rigorous. For farms and vineyards that wish to seek certification, their first step is becoming certified as fully organic using the National Organic Program standards as a baseline. The vineyard must not use prohibited substances for 36 months. Then, the growers may submit a complete farm plan for certification as biodynamic. The certifying body visits the farm to clarify any questions about implementation.

After the inspection, the farmer submits the plan and recommendations of the inspectors to an Evaluation Circle. This Circle decides whether to certify the farm, based on the plan, the inspection, and any other information available. The Circle’s decision may include additional recommendations or requirements. And, if the application is denied, an explanation is provided. Subsequently, the farmer must renew the certification every year to remain current. 

The Lunar Calendar

Beyond the growing practices of biodynamic farming, the biodynamicist tastes wine based on a special lunar calendar. Biodynamic ideology indicates four categories for each day, with good and bad days for tasting wine. The “good” tasting days fall into two groups. There are “Flower Days,” which are ideal for tasting white wines, and “Fruit Days,” which are ideal for tasting reds.

Conversely, adherents consider “Leaf Days” and “Root Days” to be inauspicious. Some devotees of this practice have claimed that wines actually taste worse on “Leaf Days” and “Root Days.”. If you’d like to start testing this yourself, check out this Lunar Calendar and plan accordingly! 

A farmer removes quartz flour from the horn after excavation, and uses it to make a spray preparation.

Biodynamic Agriculture: How Does It Work?

Supporters of biodynamic agriculture claim that it increases the capacity of the soil to produce healthy, bountiful crops.

Some studies support the hypothesis that biodynamic practices increase soil health, but no one – including the firm that handles biodynamic certification in the US – really claims to know why this might occur. And, there are skeptics who would prefer to understand these mechanisms, and determine whether, in this case, correlation indicates causation. 

Given the esoteric nature of biodynamic agriculture, it’s tempting to be skeptical. Yet biodynamic growers insist that since there are so many biological processes and harmonies that we’re still working to crack the code on, maybe our focus should be on results. They may have a point — exemplary biodynamic winemakers like those at Spottswoode, Quintessa, and Ehlers Estate are certainly nothing to scoff at.

Do biodynamic vineyards interest you? We are excited to share our favorites.

Contact us today to book your tour.