Last month one of France's leading champagne houses, Louis Roederer, announced that from the 2017 vintage, all its wines would be biodynamic. To compound the confusion, the savvy Frenchmen excluded any reference to biodynamic production methods on labels, or the exploitation of this new policy as a promotional tool.
So what is the point? Roederer's decision cannot have been taken lightly as there would be cost factors involved, so the only possible explanation has to be that the firm believes biodynamic methods make better wine.
Biodynamic agriculture was developed around 1924 by Rudolf Steiner and predates organic cultivation. Both exclude pesticides and fertiliser, but biodynamic methods go much further by using astronomy to decide the dates for many vineyard tasks, and the phases of the moon are crucial. In its purest form biodynamic winemaking involves practices such as burying cows' horns stuffed with organic fertiliser in the vineyards. At a moon-given moment these are dug up and the contents spread over the growing area. One of Spain's leading practitioners, Ricardo Pérez Palacios, considers the soil to be a living organism and looks upon this type of viticulture from a human and holistic standpoint: the earth, the animals, the plants, the cosmos, nature's natural cycles, etc.
All well and good, but does all this influence the consumer in the choice of a wine? In tastings there is anecdotal evidence showing biodynamically-produced wines have a more intense taste, but we were told the same thing about organic varieties while the fact is that they have not really made much of a mark. Nor have so-called 'natural' or 'sustainable' wines. While in some countries, Germany for example, organic wines occupy a significant market sector, it has not been fully demonstrated that they are better or their consumption is more healthy. Is there any brand whose sales have increased by converting to natural, sustainable or organic? While there are many converts to organic food products, do we really care when it comes to choosing a wine off the shelf?