How Austrian Biodynamic Growers Put Individuality First, Together

Photo credit: Manfred Klimek

Why does biodynamics matter? Respekt-BIODYN is the ongoing effort of 25 growers from German-speaking wine regions to answer that question. 

Though there are many forms of holistic farming that benefit people, planet, vines and wines, this tight-knit Austria-based group believes that a shared commitment to viewing the teachings of philosopher and agricultural reformer Rudolf Steiner as a springboard for exchange, cooperation, shared learning, and support helps cultivate a sense of individuality that, ultimately, translates into more profound terroir expression and higher quality in their wines. 

Biodynamic Origins

“The first 12 winemakers started in 2005,” explains the group’s leader, Michael Goëss-Enzenberg of South Tyrol’s Manincor. They came together around the central figure of Dr. Andrew Lorand, a Swiss-American consultant who served as the group’s teacher and mentor (Lorand passed away in 2017). Lorand was instrumental in bringing the group together to learn about the principles of biodynamics and guiding the growers toward a deeper understanding of Steiner’s practices and animating philosophies, says Goëss-Enzenberg.

In 2007, the group, which included many of the leading lights in Austrian wine today — among them Judith Beck, Gernot Heinrich, Johannes Hirsch, Fred Loimer, Hans Nittnaus, Bernhard Ott, and Claus Preisinger — founded respekt “to learn more about biodynamics, to exchange experiences, and to grow everybody’s biodynamic individuality, slowly expanding to the group we are today,” notes Goëss-Enzenberg.

Fellow founding member Fred Loimer says that the group was originally just “friends working on the same theme, searching for new ideas and learning from each other, working with biodynamic treatments and ideas.” But they quickly realized working organically or biodynamically also demands certification to build trust. Today, backed by an independent European inspection organization, respekt offers this to their members as well. 

The original team has expanded to include seven of Germany’s highest profile biodynamic growers — among them Clemens Busch, Steffen Christmann, and Philipp Wittmann. This month, Sven Leiner of Ilbesheim in the Pfalz and the Sattler family of Weingut Sattlerhof in Gamlitz, South Styria, Austria joined the group.

Photo credit: respekt-BIODYN

Distinguishing respekt-BIODYN

What distinguishes respekt is that it is far more than a certifying body, say its members. It is a collective based on friendship, shared intention and, almost by default, a common language: German. New members must be recommended by existing ones; the group meets annually to exchange ideas and experiences. 

Since Dr. Lorand’s death, respekt has been working closely with highly regarded biodynamics consultant and teacher Georg Meissner and leading agricultural instructor Martin von Mackensen. “But we are open to many ideas,” Goëss-Enzenberg stresses.

A key concept for respekt members is Hofindividualitat (farm individuality). “For me and most of the group, the basic idea of biodynamics is not the preparations or cosmic cycles, but farm individuality,” explains Loimer. This means “working with all the resources we can find on our site as the main idea for reaching quality and character and individuality that comes from the place where you have your vineyards and your cellar, and how you are influenced by the culture of your country.”

In this, the group builds on the Steinerian ideal of a farm as a closed system — just as the earth is a closed system. Compost, native yeasts, the interaction of animals, insects and what respekt calls “accompanying growth” (what conventional farming would call weeds) are all seen as elements in building the strength and resilience of farm and vines. “That, for me, makes a very terroir driven wine in the end,” says Loimer.

Respekt shies from dogma, favoring a synthesis of Steinerian ideas, forward-thinking developments in agriculture, and practical experience. Another aspect of respekt’s mission is “to improve the understanding of biodynamics, to take away a little bit of the esoteric parts and bring in the practice of farming,” adds Loimer.

Whereas other international biodynamic certifying bodies such as Demeter require strict adherence to codified working methods, respekt looks at “the intrinsic motivation and the fire of the people behind the wineries,” as member Franz Wehrheim, of Dr. Wehrheim in the Pfalz, puts it. And, unlike Demeter which certifies many other types of farming, respekt focuses solely on the growing and making of wine. 

Today respekt puts its stamp on roughly 850 hectares of vineyards, roughly three quarters of which are in Austria. “This has nothing to do with Rudolf Steiner” — who was Austrian — “but because we started with Andrew here in Austria,” notes Loimer. There is also substantial hectarage in Germany, and smaller holdings in South Tyrol and Hungary, where member Franz Weninger has holdings.

Connecting the Dots

“We are very much open to new members and have many working groups, where we meet, mostly monthly, and have others with us,” notes Loimer. To that end, the group has made a commitment to reaching out to younger and smaller growers, also keeping membership fees on a sliding scale, to encourage their involvement. 

Sven Leiner, of Weingut Leiner, one of Respekt’s two newest members, whose 17-hectare estate in the Pfalz has also been Demeter certified for a decade, says “from the beginning, I was always drawn to respekt. It wasn’t our goal to go into biodynamics, it was just a feeling. For us, respekt is a very dynamic group with a lot of very good, very individual winemakers, and for me that spirit is very important.” 

Alex Sattler, whose family farms 40 hectares in the steep, cool slopes of South Styria, also joined respekt at the start of the year. He says “we see ourselves at the beginning of our development. We see everything my grandfather did, my father did, and the way the farm grew in a very individual way. We look at this in a bigger perspective. That’s exactly what biodynamics means to us: seeing the bigger perspective, connecting the dots.” ​

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