Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine


Demeter Demystified

Jim Fullner of Demeter details what goes into biodynamic certification.

What is Demeter? Where and when was it founded?

Demeter dates back to 1928 in Europe. An experimental circle of farmers and scientists formed to implement Rudolf Steiner’s agricultural teachings into actual practice.

Today, Demeter is an international assembly of member nations. We are Demeter USA. There is also a Demeter Egypt, Demeter Brazil, Demeter Austria, Demeter France and so on. The organizations vary by country, but in general they act as certifiers and educators on the topic of biodynamic agriculture.

What is Demeter USA’s mission?

To foster and encourage holistic practices of food production, especially biodynamic methods. To spur understanding of the whole farm as a living organism. Demeter aids the healing of an ailing earth and the production and availability of the highest-quality healthful food. We provide education about biodynamics and a certification process.

Who does Demeter certify?

We certify farms, which include vineyards; processors, which include wineries; and traders, who are primarily importers who bring products into the US from other countries.

How many certified farms and wineries are there in the US?

A quick count shows 105 entities that are either Demeter-certified biodynamic or well into their transition. That number has doubled over the past two and a half years.

More often than not, our new applicants are already certified organic. For them to then become Demeter-certified can take an additional two years. Our farm production standard is not easy. It’s pretty strict and forces a farmer to get to know the life of the land base being farmed. The growth in the number of Demeter-certified farms is buffered by the amount of time it takes to make the transition. The nature of Demeter certification and biodynamic farming is not something that allows for exponential growth figures. In an odd way it is the antithesis of that.

There are nine wineries that have certification, and 26 vineyards. Some certifications are for individuals who have numerous vineyards under their name, so the actual number of unique vineyards is closer to 40 or 50.

We have new applications coming in, and lots more people telling us they intend on applying this spring, so there is every indication that Demeter will continue to grow at a steady pace into 2007 and beyond.

What is the certification process?

The process is similar to organic certification; application, review of application, assigning application to a site evaluator, evaluator submitting a report on visit, report going to review people who assess compliance with the Demeter standard. More often than not there are items an applicant has to adjust. There is a process of back-and-forth that eventually leads to a certification or an applicant deciding they cannot be certified.

The nature of Demeter certification is different from organic certification in that it is more of a crop and process improvement concept than a cold regulatory concept. You cannot take something like biodynamic agriculture and slap it in front of someone and expect them to grasp it. Biodynamics is a living breathing reality and its core is the idea that each farm is a unique living individuality.

We are there to help educate farmers. It’s not uncommon for someone to ask “How can I achieve getting 10% of my land base into biodiversity reserve area?” or “How can I generate my fertility internally?” Our certification is above and beyond the base requirements for organic certification.

What does it mean to a wine consumer when they buy a Demeter-certified wine?

It comes from an agricultural system that is truly regenerative; that creates natural resources rather than utilizes them. One cannot count on “organic” to do that anymore.

The wine will be more authentic and have a “sense of place.” A biodynamic winemaker approaches a vineyard the way a good naturopath would approach you or me as a living dynamic whole with wide connections. Biodynamic preparations are like good medicine. When an organism is healthy its true identity expresses itself. This will ring through when the grapes are made into wine.

Demeter has social ties rooted deep in history. It is not another new eco-label. It is one of the first eco-labels and it is still here and more relevant than ever.

Are Demeter standards the same in each country?

There’s an international assembly of member countries, Demeter International. Through a democratic process, this body sets the minimum standards for farming and processing worldwide. Everyone is allowed to exceed the minimum and, in some areas, the US standard does exceed it; we currently stand on our own with wine and winemakers.

We require real commitment, from the vineyard to the bottle. You don’t always find this with Demeter-certified wines from other countries because the international standards don’t have a good base for winemaking. There are many international winemakers who meet the US standards, but it’s not yet quantifiable which ones do and which ones don’t.

What is your background and how did you come to Demeter?

I have a BS in horticulture from Oregon State University. I’ve been a biodynamic farmer for 25-plus years. I’ve always found myself working with the US organic agriculture movement in some form or other. My off-farm work life has been as a consultant and as an independent organic inspector. As a farm inspector I have worked both domestically and internationally; in China, Costa Rica, Mexico, Indonesia, China and Russia. I took on the directorship of Demeter in the US two and a half years ago. That, and being a farmer, has kept me pretty busy.