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What to Know about Biodynamic Preparations

Wine Education  /  Oct 21  /  BY Siobhan Reid

What to Know about Biodynamic Preparations

by Siobhan Reid

In a recent story, we detailed the processes involved in going biodynamic. For many producers, particularly those who are certified by Demeter, one of the steps is the use of biodynamic preparations, all-natural solutions made from fermented herbs, minerals, and manures. These aids—used in place of synthetic, toxic fertilizers—bring vitality to the soil, aid in disease resistance, and transmit terroir.

Developed by Rudolf Steiner and Maria Thun in the 1920s, biodynamic preparations are not used to cure symptoms of specific diseases, but rather to correct imbalances at the core of the plant. As such, biodynamic winemaking is all about taking a holistic view of a vineyard.

If this sounds kooky or mystical, it’s because Steiner believed that cosmic forces were crucial to unleashing a plant’s full vitality. Writes Monty Waldin, a James Beard Award-winning journalist and biodynamic specialist, in his book on biodynamic wine: “Steiner said … there is more to life and the processes of life than the physical elements science can measure. Analyzing living things in terms of numbers—weight, density, size and so on—gives us only half an answer.”

There are nine preparations used in biodynamic farming, and each one spotlights different natural ingredients. Six are used to make compost out of specific plants like dandelion, valerian, and chamomile. Stinging nettle preparation, for example, supports soil equilibrium and texture and limits the growth of hard crusts, while the sulphur-rich yarrow preparation prevents powdery mildew.

The other three are stuffed in a cow horn (stag’s bladder can also be used), buried in the soil for a certain length of time, then mixed with water and sprayed onto the leaves of the vines or the soil.

Why cow horns? For Steiner, cow horns served as “antennae” for capturing the life-giving properties of the universe. “Cows with no horns will look at you only with their eyes,” writes Waldin. “Cows with horns will perceive you by first lowering their heads and pointing their horns at you. These horns are sense organs: antennae.”

Steiner also believed that horns were an extension of the animal’s inner organs and thus contained high amounts of healthy bacteria. “Horns are an organ with a strong blood supply and are connected to the respiratory system of cattle,” states Demeter.

To make preparation 500, horns are filled with manure and buried in the ground during the winter months. When dug up in spring, writes Waldin, the manure is nutrient-rich, having absorbed the “fallen leaves that had filled with the sun’s energy during the summer.” This dark, soil-like product is then “dynamised,” or added to water and stirred vigorously for one whole hour, then sprayed immediately onto the soil prior to sowing and planting.

Preparation 501, on the other hand, is made from silica that’s been buried in a cow horn over the summer. Waldin notes that silica—the most abundant mineral on earth—has a strong relationship with the heat of the sun. When the silica is dug up, dynamised, and sprayed over the crops early in the morning, “it encourages plants to stretch up.” He goes on: “You should be able to identify vineyards sprayed regularly with horn manure and horn silica, because the shoot of the vines will point up to the sky, as if they are really stretching themselves.”

Better-tasting fruit is the obvious advantage of biodynamic farming. Perhaps the biggest benefit, however, is increased resiliency to environmental stressors like excess heat or precipitation. To learn more about sustainable viticulture, save your spot in this VIVANT Experience.

Siobhan Reid

Siobhan Reid

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