Friday, December 21, 2007

Biodynamic wine guidelines

BD (biodynamic) wines are better for you and don’t have any "nasty additives", right?

What’s the difference between "BD wine" and "Wine made from BD grapes"?

Can someone "spike" his BD wine with common "organic" wine?

From the DEMETER website come these delightful documents to help us all understand what they're attempting!

First, since I’ve parodied this topic many times before, I feel it important to note that I really do want to know what all the fuss over BD wines is about. And to the point of this post, I’ve been rather frustrated by the lack of specifics when BD proponents and producers talk of these wines.

We now have something a bit more detailed to work with: DEMETER USA has a Wine Standards document posted on its website. That should provide us with a good foundation to decide what is and isn’t allowed in BD wine production. (I'll try to help by translating the more "interesting" phrases in the document... but to view it in its entirety please use the link provided above).

The Standard is of 16 parts, and not surprisingly, the first part is relegated to establishing the vision of the BD wine movement. It also contains the single largest caveat/disclaimer of the document:

Now isn’t that a kicker?

That warning is there to put the producer on notice that BD in NOT a panacea, and that even using it and its associated “spiritual science” you still won’t be able to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. Also, that since you won’t be able to use some of the common “traditional” winemaking techniques to adjust your wines that other producers can employ and still call your wine your wine BD. They expect to have variation from one vintage to the next, so big producers who try to minimize those variations by blending on large scales may be out of luck

But you might end up reading it thus: IF you happen to have a fantastic vineyard which churns out fruit to make a wine which in your eyes is exactly what you want from the start without manipulation, then BD would be happy to ride along on the coattails of your successes!

One would assume from that statement that blending from one vintage to another is verboten (currently allowed under TTB reg’s @ 15% max), but that restriction sadly remains unstated…so its anybody’s guess on how that’s handled for any given wine.

§2 defines the various types/categories of BD wine, as well as placing some restrictions on how the DEMETER name/ BD branding may be used and products labeled.

DEMETER recognizes two distinct categories:
“Biodynamic wine” (explicit)
“Wine made from Biodynamic grapes” (explicit) …

[The document then goes through much of the remaining restrictions applying them to both classes, so the points between them are few, but significant ones at that.]

This same section lays out what it means to be “Biodynamic Wine”, and states curiously, …

(§2.a) “...Common manipulations such as yeast addition, enzyme addition, acidity adjustment, tannin addition, oaking and chappalization (sic) are not permitted.” (See “Oaking”, below…)

However, that doesn’t apply to “Wine made from Biodynamic grapes”, where you can add yeasts and ML bacteria, and can even adjust acid and or sugar as needed, so long as…

(§6.b) “Justification for acid and sugar adjustment must be documented.”

What was that?
Would “it tastes better with the extra acid” be sufficient justification?
What qualifies that addition to be made? Do we need prior authorization, or just to scribble a note to ourselves “wine needs acid” before we do it?
How long does it take for DEMETER or one of its reps to get back to you, in the event you need to make a time-sensitive adjustment?

The door is left wide open on that point…

And there’s no real difference between the acids you can add as a BD producer and the acids you’d be allowed to add if you were a conventional producer: citric, ascorbic and tartaric are all currently allowed under TTB reg’s - depending on what type of wine you are making. The restriction for the BD producer is that those acids must be either organic or BD in their origin (conventional producers can use synthetic...not that there's anything wrong with that...).

And yeast nutrients CAN be added to any/all BD wines, provided it doesn’t contain DAP (see below) and is otherwise approved of by DEMETER.

What is explicitly forbidden is the use of any material which has a GMO (genetically modified organism) origin, either directly or through the process of its manufacture. Also expressly prohibited are;

Diammonium phosphate (DAP) – a yeast energizer (Steiner feared man-made ammonia!)

Isinglas (swim bladders from Sturgeon, which they have errantly called “Sturgeon gall bladders (isenglas)” in the document),

PVPP (polyvinylpolypyrrolidone) – a clarifier which is added then filtered out of the wine (I think they did this because it is synthetic…but that wouldn’t explain why they later allow polypropylene and nylon filtration membranes to be used…curious, eh?)

Blood – classically used in the Rhone region of France to clarify wines (but not currently done to my knowledge)

Gelatin (because of the animal origin, though again that’s curious as they allow –nay require- you spray your vines with various concoctions made using bovine intestines (from BSE free countries), skulls ([only bone] from cows [less than 1 year old], pigs or horses), and stags' bladders (not originated from North America, for whatever reason...) [see link].

Neither class of wine is required to go to bottle unfiltered. In fact, there are no real restrictions on filtration, other than the glaring omission of cross-flow filtration. Unbleached pad filters can be used for any BD wine. So can DE (diatomaceous earth), gold filters (I don’t know anyone who’s using those – and it would be kind of a waste anyways…), and the aforementioned polypropylene and/or nylon cartridge filters (standard industry issue there…).

Wine labeled “Biodynamic wine” must be restricted to a single vineyard estate, but can be of various blocks within that vineyard –provided they are BD farmed vineyards (see my post on single-vinyard-wines here). Regarding blending and topping-off (§10.b) BD wines are stated that this should be done using wine made from BIODYNAMIC grapes.” I think they meant MUST , not should…though that means you could top a BD wine with BD or organic wines, or maybe even conventional wines – though that would really not be in keeping with the spirit of BD production…


This point made above of not allowing “oaking” is misleading – under §7, titled “Oaking” we see the following applied to BOTH classes of BD wines: “§7.a) Oak may be provided by using oak barrels or oak chips. Chips should be barrel grade.

Ok…first things first. Get your document in order so you don’t include self-contradicting propositions. Secondly, it’s pretty hard to classify chips as “barrel grade”, they’ve been through a chipper, and are unevenly toasted, etc….

To paraphrase the old anti-Chicken McNuggets ad “chips are chips”. Frankly, you’re never really sure where they came from or how they looked before the got ripped apart.

So I guess I’ll have to settle for anything other than barrels and chips being outlawed (that being oak extracts and oak powder)…otherwise its still business as usual!


Fining and filtration still can be done. Bentonite and egg whites are still possible agents for that. Most of the language that is included is the document merely outlines what would be considered “industry standard” practices – like the use of food grade equipment. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) can still be used, up to a total level of 100 ppm, which is lower than the TTB reg’s 350 ppm total sulfite level for conventional producers (my experience is that most conventional table wines in the US hover around 25~35 ppm free sulfite, and 100~120 ppm total sulfite).


What we see is an attempt to minimize the influence of the winemaker in making the wines. What I also notice is that despite all of the protestations of the adherents of the system, it is rife with “standard industry practice” and manipulation. Glaringly open manipulation still exists. Other production restrictions also apply as general Demeter production standards are evoked as well, but those can be boiled down to prohibiting the following: GMO products or products made via a GMO, irradiating, fumigated (except for N2 & CO2), and pretty much any treatment involving microwaves. Other restrictions also apply –see the links below for full details.

DEMETER Wine Standards (US)

DEMETER Processing Standards (INTL)

DEMETER Production Standards (INTL)

DEMETER Beer Standards (INTL)

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Blogger Unknown said...

For another insight into biodynamics you may be interested in this interview with Steve Beckmen in Santa Barbara. where you can get more of a grasp of the intricacies involved with this method of land management

Lee Tomkow

December 24, 2007 12:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, there is nothing about more intense forms of manipulation such as reverse osmosis, spinning cone, etc...

There is no doubt that these methods may be against the "spirit" of biodynamics, but as biodynamic and organic wine become more popular branding mechanisms it will be interesting to see what happens.

January 01, 2008 9:14 AM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

I've heard of at least 3 larger wineries which are looking into jumping on the BD bandwagon.......

Now that sort of thing would probably KILL the BD movement outright!

Thanks for the link to the interview! I was ROFLOL!!!

Cheers to the New Year!

January 01, 2008 11:05 AM  

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