Developed by Austrian scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s, biodynamics is a holistic approach to farming, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem. Biodynamics differs from organic because, although it is based on natural growing practices, it goes beyond the plant to encompass the soil, the life force of plants and nature, honoring a connection to the land and recognizing the spirit of the place. Benziger was the first winery in Napa Valley and Sonoma County to achieve biodynamic certification from the Demeter® Association in 2000. 

Photo: Benziger Family Winery

"We farm the property, not the vine. We look at everything as a whole," said Kathy Benziger-Threlkeld. "Nature farms these fields. It's nature in harmony; biodiversity at its finest. Conventional farming pushes nature out. What we do with biodynamics is invite nature back in." 

Woodlands, wetlands, insectaries (gardens planted to attract insects to help maintain the balance of predators and prey), and fruit, vegetable, and herb gardens thrive in the natural environment, creating a sustainable ecosystem and replenishing resources. Cover crops and bug highways help promote natural diversity. 

Everything on the property is recycled and used to create compost teas for natural fertilizers. Vegetative waste is recycled as compost to nourish the soil. So synthetic fertilizers aren't needed. Native habitat for predatory bugs and animals helps control pests so pesticides aren't used. Pirate bugs are attracted to keep white flies at bay, and owls fly in when gophers are on the scene. 

Water uncontaminated with synthetic petrochemicals drains from the fields into a recycling pond, where it's purified by the native plants and soil. Then it's reused for irrigation as needed.  

The diversity of plants helps ensure a wide variety of nutrients in the soil, as opposed to modern monoculture growing techniques that sap resources from the ground. 

Benziger Family Winery is positioned 1,000 feet high on the side of Sonoma Mountain, where the land gets 360 degrees of exposure and has different soils based on varying exposures to the elements and different temperatures. This makes the vines grown here different than anywhere else. The vineyard farms, harvests, and ages each block of vines separately, creating a "spice rack" of wines to choose from. 

"When you fertilize a plant, it's like mainlining," according to Kathy. "The cells grow fast, so the cell walls are thinner. They're more susceptible to disease and bugs, and you have to fight those off. When you grow naturally, cell walls are thicker and more resistant.  

"We know that flowering happens within two or three days of equinox. The healthier the garden gets, the more in line with nature it grows. 

"We don't have a silver bullet to pull if there's a problem. Biodynamics is about reading the book of nature. It's not what the grower can do to the grapes while they're growing; it's what you can do with the conditions they're grown under." 

Learn more about biodynamics at


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