Biodynamic Wine is More Sustainable, Spanish Study Finds

by Adin Bonapart

A 2014 study by Villanueva-Rey et al. found that environmental impacts from viticulture are substantially reduced with biodynamic practices, as opposed to conventional methods. The environmental impact reductions obtained from biodynamic grape-production systems are attributed to an 80% decrease in diesel fuel, pesticides, fertilizers, and other external inputs. Diesel use is the main source of environmental impacts for viticulture, and is up to 4 times lower in biodynamic systems resulting from differences between mechanized farming techniques in conventional vineyards and the implementation of artisanal methods in biodynamic wine-growing.

The Villanueva-Rey study deploys a life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) of three different viticulture techniques in Northern Spain: biodynamic cultivation, conventional vineyards, and an intermediate biodynamic-conventional wine-growing plantation. The environmental impacts assessed in this study were: abiotic depletion potential, acidification potential, eutrophication potential, global warming potential, ozone layer depletion potential, photochemical oxidant formation potential, eco-toxicity, and land competition. Compared with conventional viticulture practices, biodynamic methods show substantially lower environmental profile for all of the impact assessment categories, other than land competition.

Villanueva-Rey et al. assessed the global warming potential (GWP) by measuring the annual green house gas (GHG) emissions between the three test sites. The biodynamic test site GWP measured 71.11 g CO2 eq./bottle wine and the conventional site was measured at 238.42 g CO2 eq./bottle for the year 2011, a difference of almost 400%. This trend is similar across literature values for other wineries as well.

Natural and synthetic pesticides also make significant contributions to the environmental profile of viticulture systems. Villanueva-Rey et al. found that synthetic pesticides such as folpet or terbuthylazine account for 99% of the total environmental burdens for the eco-toxicity category for conventional vineyards. In contrast, pesticide usage for the biodynamic and the biodynamic-intermediate wine-growing sites represented 9% and 20% of the eco-toxicity impact categories respectively. These two sites did not deploy synthetic pesticides.

Although biodynamic viticulture requires more land, human labor, and has lower annual grape yields than conventional vineyards, biodynamic viticulture could be considered as a future climate mitigation strategy for the wine sector because it requires fewer external inputs, lower production costs, and minimizes environmental impacts.

Villanueva-Rey, P., Vazquez-Rowe, I., Moreira, M., and Feijoo, G., 2014. Comparative life cycle assessment in the wine sector: biodynamic vs. conventional viticulture activities in NW Spain. Journal of Cleaner Production 65, 330-341.

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