Research suggests today’s wine drinker cares about sustainability. According to an analysis by the International Wine and Spirits Record (IWSR), a drinks market insights company, nearly half of American consumers say they were more inclined to purchase wines in 2022 that had “sustainability or environmental initiatives.”
Beyond purchasing wines that follow trendy terms like organic or natural, one common wine term grouped in with sustainability is biodynamic. But what does biodynamic wine really mean? How is biodynamic wine different than organic? How can you tell if the wine you’re purchasing is biodynamic?
To help understand this category and make greener purchases, we pulled together some of our favorite biodynamic wines and answered some common questions about the category.
What Is Biodynamic Wine?
Biodynamic wine producers focus on more than just the vines. They have a philosophy that their vineyard is one functioning organism and aim to maintain their farms with minimal reliance on imported goods. Instead, they have everything they need coming from the farm itself.
They often have animals on the farm to produce manure and compost, grow cover crops and protect insect communities along with many other practices (which you can check out here). They also follow a lunar calendar, which tells them when to prune, plant, harvest and treat the vineyard, as well as when to open and taste wine.
Biodynamic farming has been around since the early 1920s when industrial agriculture was on the rise and Austrian farmers noticed their soil quality depleting. In 1924, Rudolf Steiner, a scientist and philosopher, put together his theory of biodynamics and his principles are still in use today. But it’s not without its critics. Steiner himself was a founding member of the Anthroposophical Society, a spiritual group that upheld racist ideas. Today’s biodynamic community struggles to separate his agricultural teachings from his personal beliefs.
Many agriculturalists and scientists haven’t found enough evidence to show that biodynamic methods actually work. But producers who grow biodynamically are often keen to sing their praises.
“We see resilience in our vines and the quality of fruit reflects the care and attention to detail that comes with this philosophy of farming,” says Brittany Sherwood, director of winemaking at Heitz Cellar in Napa Valley. According to the winery’s website, they are moving toward being biodynamic.
Mini Byers, co-owner and general manager of Johan Vineyards and Cowhorn Vineyard in Oregon, echoes this sentiment. “When you are committed to farming biodynamically, you can see and taste those philosophies come to life,” Byers says. “You have a healthier and balanced microbiome in your soil, and in turn, a much healthier and stronger vine. From those vines, you’re able to produce fruit that has verve and a specific aliveness to it. When that fruit comes into the winery, you are able to create a wine that does become a true expression of this site and reflects the unique aspects of this vineyard.”
Biodynamic Wines to Try
King Estate 2021 Domaine Pinot Gris (Willamette Valley)
90 Points Wine Enthusiast
Come over to the creamy side of Willamette Valley Pinot Gris. Flavors of guava, coconut and lemon-meringue pie slide across the palate, with enough acidity to maintain a sense of balance. The real showstoppers are the wine’s potent grapefruit, lemon-basil and Marcona almond aromas. —Michael Alberty
Felton Road 2019 Block 5 Pinot Noir (Central Otago)
This is one of the most gorgeous bottlings of FR Pinot this reviewer has tasted in recent years. Ethereal, aromatic and complete, it threads together notes of fresh berries, violet, rose petal, earthy spice and a stony minerality. Tannins are Nebbiolo like in their texture, power and downright sexiness, intricately woven into the wine. Drinking beautifully now, it has the capacity to hold for another decade, at least. —Christina Pickard
Cullen 2019 Kevin John Wilyabrup Chardonnay (Margaret River)
97 Points Wine Enthusiast
Cullen’s flagship Chardonnay, from vines planted in the 1970s and ’80s, saw its lowest yield in 25 years. A shame, considering how darn delicious it is. Its golden color suggests richness right off the bat that’s confirmed at first sniff. Intense, yet still-fresh aromas of caramel and flint thread seamlessly with kiwi, lemon-lime and wild herbs. The palate walks a tightrope of power and elegance. Toasty oak notes make way for pure, juicy fruit. Long, complex in texture, with fabulous, mineral acidity, this drinks beautifully now but can age for several decades, until 2040 at least. —C.P.
Domaine Marcel Deiss 2017 Rotenberg White (Alsace)
94 Points Wine Enthusiast
Celery seed and tomato leaf fragrances almost invoke a Bloody Mary. But if this wine is bold and spicy on the nose, the palate is all restraint. A satiny texture is lively with acidity and faint notes of vanilla bean, lemon zest and fennel seed. The finish is long and clean. Everything is balanced, the flavor and structure flowing smoothly together. It’s also delicate, with muscles flexing below the surface. —Layla Schlack
Troon 2020 Estate Vineyard Syrah (Applegate Valley)
96 Points Wine Enthusiast
An aromatic combination of blackberry, violet, white pepper, chalk and a trace of earthiness. Ripe, earthy marionberry and white peach fruit flavors fill the mouth, while bits of anise and bittersweet dark chocolate float in the background. Smooth tannins and more than enough acidity to keep things lively. Editor’s Choice. —M.A.
Brooks 2019 Bois Joli Riesling (Eola-Amity Hills)
95 Points Wine Enthusiast
If you can’t bring yourself to love this medium-dry Riesling, you need to move along to the next grape. Its primary aromas of apricots, Meyer lemons and thyme dance nicely with traces of petrol and earthy petrichor. The lemon curd, white tea, guava and tonic water flavors are complemented by a wee bit of talc. The Bois Joli’s acidity will impress even the most jaded palate. Editor’s Choice. —M.A.
Nittnaus Anita und Hans 2019 Lange Ohn Blaufränkisch (Leithaberg)
95 Points Wine Enthusiast
A pure and refined red, with flavors of Damson plum, cassis and dark chocolate. A buoyant acidity flows through, providing vibrancy and lift, which give an elegant impression overall. It does have nice extraction, but its poise is unmatched. The lingering sanguine echo on the finish extends like a Miles Davis trumpet. This will cellar so nicely, but it is quite irresistible now. Best 2024–2040. —Aleks Zecevic
How Do I Know if My Wine Is Biodynamic?
For consumers interested in buying biodynamic wines, it’s not as easy as looking at the label. The Demeter organization certifies wines as biodynamic, and you’ll find their mark on the label. But not every winery using biodynamic methods chooses to get certified. Certification and annual renewal gets expensive, which for small wineries can be prohibitive.
Many wineries use biodynamic practices but don’t choose certification. The best way to know is to shop at a local wine store and ask the staff for a biodynamic option. They can steer you in the right direction.
What’s the Difference Between Organic and Biodynamic Wine?
There is a lot of overlap between these two farming methods.
But, organic practices focus on removing synthetic and chemical fertilizers and pesticides and replacing them with organic options. Organic certification also requires growers to act on water conservation efforts and consider overall sustainability.
All biodynamic growers use organic methods of grape growing, and they take additional steps to use methods that add vigor to the vineyard, including using compost and different plants to increase microbial activity and enrich the soil. Biodynamic growers focus on building strong vineyards that work in tandem with their ecosystem for healthy soils and vines that, ideally, don’t fall victim to disease.
“Biodynamic farming brings us closer to our land and teaches us that the vines are just one part of a complex ecosystem,” says Carlton McCoy, M.S., CEO of Lawrence Wine Estates. “It reminds us that we ourselves are a part of this ecosystem.”
Do Biodynamic Wines Have Sulfites in Them?
Demeter does allow for some sulfites in the winemaking process. Up to 100 parts per million is allowed, but don’t fear—unless you have a sulfur allergy, you won’t likely feel any adverse effects. (Sulfites cannot be added to organic wines).
Sulfites are a naturally occurring element. If you can happily eat dried fruit like apricots or raisins, which can have a whopping 2,000 parts per million, you likely aren’t allergic to sulfur. You may be feeling the effects of added sugar or other chemical elements in your wine, which biodynamics is staunchly against.