ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

What is the difference between organic and biodynamic farming? Do these farming methods have an effect on the final product?

—Siok Hui Leong, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Dear Leong,

Both organic and biodynamic farming take place without chemicals, and both practices place a high importance on soil health. Think of biodynamic farming as a type of organic agriculture, taking it a step further. Biodynamic farming is practiced in an attempt to add vitality by using preparations from minerals and herbs—kind of like homeopathy for vineyards. Biodynamic farming also incorporates cosmic and astrological influences, taking into account lunar cycles, among other things. If you're into thinking of a vineyard as an ecosystem that needs balance and self-healing, biodynamic practices such as burying a cow horn packed with manure may not seem like too much hocus-pocus.

Both of these practices usually mean higher labor costs and lower yields, meaning you might pay more for the wines. These practices are useful for producing high-quality grapes, but they don't guarantee high-quality wines. I've had good wines and bad wines that were made from organically or biodynamically farmed grapes.

In addition to a wine being organically grown, it can also be organically produced, which means it is made with little or no chemical additives in the winery. This is a little more controversial, because the chemicals used in nonorganic wines, such as sulfur, can really help keep a wine fresh and stable. I've had some great organically produced wines, but I've also had some that were unstable and re-fermenting.

—Dr. Vinny


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