The "organic" and "biodynamic" are nowadays very complex and controversial matter.
On one hand there's a strong commitment from (so far too few) wine artisans to a wider respect for the land, the grapes, the wine and the man (a clean, sustainable and kind to planet ethics), on the other a growing demand from consumers to more authentic, true, fair and healthy wines (less capital but more land and man intensive), then big industry ready to carve out an important role in the business.
In our opinion, the big issue is that too often we tend to greatly simplify the matter and too often the media give the message that organic is always matched with no pollution.
The respect for land, water, animals, grapes, wine and man, is not achieved by placing a simple statement on the label, but with a responsible approach from the technical-operational and ethical point of view. We are many wine artisans who care about the issue, everyone has his own idea about it, probably none of us has yet managed to make a wine with the certainty of no pollution. The research has a long way to go, the debate amongst the most respectful is open. From our site, we would try to do a little light on this topic and, not having yet the key to the problem, give our point of view.
This philosophy stems from a "course of agriculture" held in 1924 by an Austrian philosopher born in 1861, Rudolf Steiner. At the age of 63 years, not being an expert, Steiner gave a series of eight lectures entitled "Scientific-spiritual impulses for the advancement of agriculture." This conference is called "cosmic forces", "spiritual forces" and "astral energies" that impregnates our world and our physical essence, and have also direct influence on agriculture and soil fertility. Much importance is also given to the position of the planets, the moon and the zodiac. Biodynamic agriculture, rather than a method of agricultural production, therefore, is a philosophy that believes in "life energy" infused into inanimate matter.
From a practical standpoint, it is possible to identify two types of biodynamic approach.
1) The philosophers of biodynamic, practising organic farming with some "esoteric" practices consisting of the use of special "preparations" and a special enphasis on the moon phases and positions of the planets in the constellations of the zodiac.
Suppose you want to chase away the rats. Steiner recommended to catch a mouse enough young, to peel it when Venus is in Scorpio, to burn the skin and to spread the ashes over the entire field in order to activate the negative forces against the reproductive capacity of mice.
Regarding the "preparation" to stimulate the land and increase the health of plants and their quality, the most famous is the "preparation 500" or horn-manure. It consists in cow manure placed in a cow's horn, possibly having already given birth once, buried and left to ferment in the winter. It is dug up during the Easter period. Its distribution occurs after the critical mixing operation and dynamization with warm water from a spring, a well or rainwater. This operation has a duration of about one hour and can be performed either manually or by means of special machines. The quantities of preparation used for one hectare of ground range from 80 grams to 250, depending on the quality of the preparation.
Actually there's no kind of rational reasoning regarding what distinguishes biodynamic from organic. Steiner believed to have direct access to the world of spiritual forces, he is not interested in the relations of cause-effect of the physical world because he thinks the forces of the spiritual world act directly in the physical world.
2) There are various associations in the world who deal with wineries that agree to produce along the biodynamic approach. These associations exert a control on the production, on the processing and marketing of biodynamic products, following every step of the chain until the issue of certification and labeling. The standards to be met to obtain certification are substantially the purchase of oenological products through the certifying company. The EU has so far rejected the application for registration of biodynamic ®, required by the best known certification company.
In Italy is in force the European legislation on organic farming ( Council Regulation EEC 2092/91), which describes both the techniques of cultivation, and the fertilizers and pesticide products allowed in the management of organic vineyards. Until 2011, the organic certification covered only the grapes, therefore from a legal point of view the organic wine in Italy has never existed, because there was no EU legislation on organic wine. On the legislative level it has therefore only been talked about " wine made (or product) from organic grapes "rather than" organic wine ". In the 2012 the new European regulations governing the production of organic wine is to come into force and soon after its approval it will be published on the Official Journal of the EU.
From the practical- operating point of view, today the sulfur is the only substance permitted in organic farming which is fully effective to control mildew. The law does not impose limits on its use. Although not a particularly dangerous and polluting, sulfur is phytotoxic to plants when given in excessive doses and during the hottest hours of the day. It's also toxic to some useful insects. Moreover it does not tend to accumulate in the soil as it is washed by rainwater into the groundwater and streams (but is this good?). Its use can be limited only by association with any other materials allowed in organic farming (some of which are still struggling to penetrate the market for economic, commercial or regulatory reasons), therefore remains a key element in the defense against powdery mildew.
The real Achilles' heel, however, is the irreplaceable biological approach to the use of copper for the defense against grape downy mildew. At each administration, the copper easily accumulates in the soil because it binds to the organic substance and to colloids. Its presence in the soil creates toxicity problems for plants, reduces significantly the biological activity of soil (and thus the contribution of natural minerals to the soil) and it is especially harmful to earthworms (that improve the earth structure). It's also poisonous to some useful insects (Coccinellidae, Hymenoptera except the bees and crisope). For these reasons, the regulations restricts its use to 30kg/he every 5 years (essentially 6kg copper metal / hectare / year). It's thus mainly copper the element which, though natural, prevents organic viticulture to be truly organic.
The best (bio)support comes as usual only from nature: the wind, the sunshine and the low rainfall these are the best defenses against the diseases of the vine. This is the reason why different areas are said to be more or less suitable for viticulture. Another very important (bio) support comes from every action of any winegrower as a result of an ongoing study of agronomy and viticulture. Every vine must be treated and cared as a human being, we must understand its language (different spots on the leaves of different shape and color - depending on the symptom- are a message to the winegrower of a certain discomfort) and we have to give priority to their health rather than a huge production of grapes.
Regarding the defense, we have been studying and testing for years alternative approaches in the vineyards in order to be able to harvest grapes with no sulfur, copper, synthetic substances or any trace of whichever element harmful to human health.
We do not use preventative products to fight the disease. In case of symptoms or in case of the actual growth of the pathogen we evaluate the incubation time (period of time between the "birth" of harmful organism and the actual damage on the vine) and we intervene when we are at 80% of that range.
Until 2008, we have resorted to traditional products (not classified) in association with copper and sulfur.
In 2009, we resorted to traditional products (not classified) only in case of exceptional events and before the cluster was shaped. In 2009 we also carried out the first attempt to biodynamic approach by administration of the preparation 500.
Since 2012, we have been undertaking different experimentation to eliminate any possible pollutants in the vineyard, both traditional and organic, allocating to test 0.3 hectares.
We are then compelled by a regional law to carry out an insecticide treatment against Scaphoideus titanus, the insect vector Flavescence golden: we asked in 2012 to be exempted from that because we do not believe in it and openly in contrast with the biodynamic approach. This request was rejected.
Finally we have never used herbicides.
This is a list of products we are using in the vineyards in 2013: