Smarter Business: Smart Design

In southern France, grapevines once severely degraded from years of pesticide and fertilizer use now flourish under the care of Robert Eden and Kevin Parker, co-owners of Château Maris vineyard in the Langedoc-Roussillon region. After 13 years of gentle nurturing with biodynamic methods, the healthy grapes now exhibit their vigor in award-winning wines such as the Old Vine Grenache 2008, winner of a gold medal in the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles last June. These successes came about from the biodynamic focus on improving soil health and enhancing terroir , the flavor emparted to wine by the local environment.

For an overview of these biodynamic methods and how they benefit wine production, check out the slideshow below.

Biodynamic Viticulture Gallery

Maris wine bottles

(Click on the image above to view slides)

What Are Biodynamic Preparations?

Biodynamic agriculture, unlike its organic sibling, elicits much curiosity and controversy for its use of "preparations" -- therapeutic treatments considered to be homeopathic remedies for strengthening crops' resistance to pests and disease. Each preparation has its own specific number and ingredients, which include cow manure, quartz (silica), yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, dandelion, oak bark, valerian, and common horsetail.

The biodynamic starter, Preparation 500 (also known as BD 500 or horn manure), involves fermenting manure in cow horns that are buried during the winter. They are then unearthed and sprayed onto the soil to build humus and stimulate root growth.

Why cow horns? Practitioners argue that the bacterial activity needed for breaking down the manure into a rich humus is enhanced by material found on the inside of the cow horn. But for Château Maris' Robert Eden, the idea of using cow horns and plant preparations is also just tied to the fact that "life is continually evolving and biodynamics is working with that life. There isn't always a perfect scientific explanation – it's just part of life."

Preparation 501, a finely ground quartz (silica) is also stored underground in cow horns, but during the warm summer months. When mixed with water and sprayed onto the vines, the silica is believed to reflect more sunlight onto the plants, therefore enhancing photosynthesis.

The other preparations (502 to 507) are applied to the compost pile to stimulate the fermentation process, which breaks down the manure into humus that can be used by the vines. For example, BD 502 is made from yarrow flowers stored inside the bladder of a stag (male deer), perhaps because yarrow has traditionally been used to treat bladder diseases. When added to the compost pile, the yarrow is thought to interact with sulphur, potash, and nitrogen in the soil, enhancing their effects.

The choice of the six special plant-based preparations depends upon the pest that threatens the vines at any given time in its growth cycle. As with organic agriculture, the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides are not allowed in biodynamic cultivation. And organic and biodynamic farms both rely on companion planting, a method whereby strategic combinations of plants are used to make essential nutrients available to crops and to enhance the activity and biodiversity of the local ecosystem. But what makes biodynamic produce different is the application of "preparations" concocted for their influence on the plant's phyllosphere, the biologically-active regions around leaves, and rhizosphere, the biologically-active regions around roots.


last revised 6/24/2011

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