Digging Deep: Biodynamic Farming in Santa Barbara

“Biodynamics is a religious fervor that has nothing to do with growing grapes,” said one Napa winery owner. A November 2006 poll by Decanter Magazine showed that 52 percent of respondents thought that biodynamics was, “a load of horse manure.” Biodynamics sounds alternative and hip, but is it? Two wineries in Santa Barbara, Melville and Presidio, employ biodynamic practices and help shed some light on this complex idea of farming.

First off, biodynamic is not synonymous with organic. “It’s about being in touch with your vineyard,” said Chad Melville, vineyard manager for Melville Winery in the Santa Rita Hills. “Biodynamaics connects you more strongly to your environment.” Where organic doesn’t use pesticides and reduces the chemical makeup of wine, biodynamics goes beyond that. It requires you to be intimately involved with your land and to respect the natural cycles inherent in farming, and in life.

The idea was first widely promoted by Rudolph Steiner in 1924 and states that the farm (vineyard or otherwise) is managed as a living organism, in its entirety. This means that a farm should be re-generative rather than de-generative and that any farm, including its unique weather, microclimate, water source and sun exposure is treated as a self-sustaining entity. Simply put, it’s a closed end system. For biodynamic wineries, that means a variety of things, including a respect for natural cycles. For example, fertilizer for your crops, in the form of manure, would come from the cows on your property, and the grain those cows eat would be fertilized by that very same manure from those very same cows.
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For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.