Biodynamics in Bordeaux

By Tobias Webb

You wouldn’t usually associate the Wall Street Journal with progressive environmental thinking. Their comment and opinion pages often read like King Canute trying to hold back the waves when it comes to climate science or any kind of environmental regulation. (Although the Canute ‘legend’ is fairly well understood, it’s veracity is disputed).

Canute aside, it’s good to see the WSJ and their wine writer Will Lyons, talking about biodynamics in wine. The example he uses is the well known one of Pontet Canet.

I’ve not been there myself, but have met the family that owns it and visited them at Lafon Rochet (which they also own and run) where we discussed how more sustainable wine making practices there benefit both quality and biodiversity. (Lafon makes a lovely rose too by the way, little known but delicious)

Will Lyons shows how the incredulity writers, experts, fans and others used to show around biodynamics are fast fading as the idea of using such techniques for better farming practices and outcomes starts to take hold all over the wine world.

Draft horse in vineyard

He notes that:

“The first time I saw a draft horse in a Bordeaux vineyard I thought it was a PR stunt. Call me a cynic, but I was convinced that when the journalists left, the horses would be sent straight back to whichever farm they came from. I hate to admit it, but in the case of Château Pontet-Canet I was wrong.”

And goes on to say:

“The wine is made without chemicals, pesticides or synthetic additives. Instead, the vines are treated with a series of mineral, animal and plant preparations, made from anything from oak bark to stinging nettles. The aim is to create better soils and healthier vines that produce better wine…

…My thoughts on biodynamic wines are still fluid. On the one hand, they do tend to taste brighter, purer and more alive. On the other, when a growing season is challenging, as it was in Bordeaux in 2013, they tend to fare worse.”

Read the full piece here.

I’ve been to Smith Haut Lafite down in the Graves area south of Pontet Canet a number of times (amazing restaurant there too) and the winemakers there will tell anyone who listens how hard they worked to clean up the soil and free it from chemicals in the last 20 years. This, they believe, has hugely improved their wines. Although it may be hard to separate out all the factors, you can’t argue with their 2009 100 point score wine. They call it “bio precision” rather than biodynamic. I’m guessing they take their own bits from biodynamics, rather than adopting the whole philosophy. Judge for yourself here.

Horse (yes really) at Smith Haut Lafitte

I know Chateau Palmer do something very similar. They’ve told me in-depth how much sustainable practices have improved their wines. I’ll hopefully be publishing an interview with them fairly soon.

It’s clear there’s a trend towards more sustainable practices right across the wine industry. That’s what this blog is all about. It’s a perfect fit for higher end wines. What will be interesting is to explore how sustainability fits, and the business case works, with cheaper, more mass produced wines. That will be a rather different kettle of fish, to be explored in further posts.

About the author

Tobias Webb

Toby Webb is co-founder of Sustainable Wine. He is also founder of Innovation Forum, a leading platform for change in sustainable supply chains. He has spent 20+ years working in business and sustainability and has spent ten years teaching the subject at various London universities. He advises a number of companies large and small on sustainability. Businesses he has worked with include Patagonia, Interface, Bayer, SOK Group, Boots/Walgreens, Metro, Unilever, Nestle, Reckitt Benckiser, Sainsbury’s, and many others. He co-authored the UK’s national CSR strategy for David Cameron from 2006-10. He has been organising events, advising, teaching writing, blogging and podcasting on sustainable business since 2001. His (non-wine) blog is at