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story.lead_photo.caption Illustration by Kelly Brant

It seems almost every aspect of our daily lives involves choices concerning the environment. We tote our groceries in stylish reusable bags, wash our clothes in high-efficiency machines that use less water, say "no, thank you" to plastic drinking straws, recycle whenever possible and buy local/organically grown food.

The wine world is no different.

We are seeing more wine producers adopting sustainable and natural approaches in the vineyard. In addition to the familiar organic growing practices (no chemical pesticides or herbicides, no genetically modified yeast and strict rules on sulfites) some winemakers are taking it further with biodynamic farming and cow horns play an integral role.

So what is this biodynamic movement farmers are using and what exactly do the cow horns have to do with it?

The official definition of biodynamic farming according to the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association is "a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, gardens, food production and nutrition." Biodynamic wine is made with a set of farming practices that views the farm or vineyard as a single organism. The ecosystem functions as a whole, with each portion of the farm or vineyard contributing to the next. The simple definition is a concept around the universe's "vibe" interconnecting everything. In other words, it's a holistic view of agriculture.

The concept is not a recent trend. Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s (predating the creation of organic farming by about 20 years) used the approach of homeopathic, holistic farming beginning the anti-chemical agriculture movement.

The practice is rooted (no pun intended) around tasks in the vineyard from planting, pruning and harvesting and is regulated around a biodynamic calendar originally devised by Maria Thun. The calendar day coincides with one of the four classical elements — Earth, Fire, Air and Water. Fruit days (best days for harvesting grapes), Root days (best days for pruning), Flower days (leaving the vineyard practices alone on these days) and Leaf days (the ideal day for watering).

The guidelines are complex when following the Biodynamic calendar, and also include the prohibition of chemicals and manufactured additions such as commercial yeast. The growers use highly complex compost preparations using natural ingredients. This is where the cow horns come into play and is a bit interesting.

This farming practice calls for specific compost and field preparations. One is known as the "cow horn manure" or "preparation 500." Cow horns are stuffed with manure compost and buried in the soil during the winter. After being removed the material from the horns is dispersed throughout the vineyard. Biodynamic farming is intended to be a powerful means for structuring the soil, stimulating the microbial activity, regulating the pH, stimulating seed germination and dissolving minerals.

Biodynamic wines can be identified by a certification logo on the label signifying "Demeter Biodynamic Certification."


2018 Benziger Winery Chardonnay, California (about $13 retail)


2018 Montinore Estate Pinot Noir, Oregon (about $18 retail)

Lorri Hambuchen is a member of London's Institute of Wines and Spirits. Contact her at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203, or email:

Food on 10/09/2019

Print Headline: Biodynamic vineyards go beyond organic


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