Why do biodynamic winemakers follow the lunar calendar?

The moon rising over vineyards

The Lunar, cosmic, astral calendars… You’ve probably heard of them before but how do these calendars come into play in the world of biodynamic wine? Let’s shed some light on this with you. 

You’ve probably already heard that one of the main principles of biodynamic agriculture, meaning ‘forces of life’ from the Greek ‘bio’ and ’dunamis’, involves working in harmony with cosmic rhythms. While the scientific debate on the influence of the moon and the stars on plants is still ongoing, it is now standard practice for a number of renowned gardeners, farmers and winegrowers (such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Château Pontet-Canet) to refer to the lunar calendar. Whether esotericism or ‘common sense farming’, this is a matter best left to those who possess the necessary data to draw conclusions. Here, in all modesty, we are simply trying to shed some light on how things work in relation to the lunar calendar.

The impact of the moon on the vine and the wine

The underlying principle is pretty straightforward: the moon, responsible for the tides, is also thought to have an influence – minute and subtle, but nonetheless significant – on the development of plants. So, each step involved in cultivating plants must take account of this calendar, the ascending and descending movements of the moon and its transit in front of constellations. The theory is that plants may be sensitive to the various positions of the moon, sun and planets relative to the constellations. Therefore, we should capitalise on this to optimise the timing of the various vine-growing and winemaking processes. This theory, originally outlined by Rudolf Steiner, was further developed by Maria Thun in the 1960s.

A calendar was devised, laying down the work and plant treatments to perform on given dates with Maria Thun developing the biodynamic sowing calendar. It takes three main lunar cycles into account, respectively called the synodic cycle, the tropical cycle and the sidereal cycle.

  • The first of these, the synodic cycle, is the best known. It consists of the waxing-waning moon rhythm, the succession of moon phases ranging from new moon to full moon. Some believe that planting two days before the full moon yields better crops, yet also makes plants more susceptible to diseases. This cycle is deemed secondary in biodynamic agriculture, less crucial compared to the other two.
  • The tropical cycle refers to the moon’s ascending and descending phases. Over the course of a month, the distance between the moon and the earth varies. During the ascending phase, sap flow is believed to be at its highest, stimulating growth in the plant’s above-ground parts. So, this would be the perfect time for grafting or harvesting fruit. On the other hand, during the descending phase, sap flow is believed to diminish, prompting growth in the plant’s root system, suggesting the optimal time for planting.
  • And lastly, the sidereal cycle indicates whether a day is more favourable for the plant, root, leaf, flower or fruit. These variations are attributable to the position of the moon in relation to the constellations of the zodiac, with a rhythm of around 27 days separating two passages of the moon in front of the same group of stars. These constellations are tied to the four elements (water, earth, fire, air) and connected to a particular part of the plant for which the period is considered favourable. The biodynamic calendar is therefore split up based on the signs of the zodiac, just like in astrology, except that here we don’t consider the sky to be divided into 12 equal sections of 30°. The biodynamic sowing calendar is based on the actual size of the constellations. For instance, the Virgo constellation is considerably more extensive than the Libra constellation, so the root influence lasts longer than the flower influence of the Libra (72 hours compared to 31 hours).

For example, when the Moon passes in front of an Earth constellation (Taurus, Virgo or Capricorn), the plant’s energy is directed towards its roots. If it passes in front of a water constellation (Pisces, Cancer or Scorpio), then the energy is directed towards the stem and foliage. And if it’s an air constellation (Aquarius, Gemini or Libra), the force transmitted will be to the flowers. And finally, if the Moon passes in front of a fire constellation (Aries, Leo or Sagittarius), then the predominant drive will be one of fruit bearing.

But things get a little more difficult with lunar perigees, lunar or planetary nodes, occultations and eclipses. These disruptive elements are considered unfavourable times for any action. Other planetary positions can alter the sidereal rhythm, such as the lunar apogee, which is favourable to flowers.

In practice, this calendar helps guide activities carried out in the vineyard over the course of days and months (planting, pruning, harvesting, etc.), as well as in the winery (racking, bottling, tasting, and so on). For example, it is better to harvest on a ‘fruit’ day to stimulate the fruitiness of the future wine, and to rack, filter and bottle during a descending moon to encourage aromatic expression. This calendar also applies to tasting, which is best on ‘fruit’ days, when the wines display a better profile. By contrast, on node days, the wines tend to be more ‘closed’. The flower days express the finer, more floral aspects, the leaf days bring out the watery, vegetal and bitter qualities, while the root days impart a more mineral, closed character to the wine.

If you are interested in this subject, Maria Thun’s sowing calendar is a handy reference book that will give you further details.

And whether or not you’re convinced that following the rhythms of the Moon is the right thing to do, what’s almost certain is that the vines nurtured in this way seem to be pampered with the greatest possible care, producing wines with a refined texture and a purity of fruit that we find particularly appealing.

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