Cowhorns and Biodynamic Winemaking

If you’re open to healthier wine and grape-growing methods that work more in harmony with the Earth, you surely know about biodynamic winemaking. (And if you don’t, congratulations for reading this article – welcome to the club!) Just for a little background, biodynamic farming grew out of a series of eight talks that Austria philosopher and scientist Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) gave where he explained his understanding of how unseen forces affect not only the growth and health of plants and animals, but also the vitality of the soil itself. As for those of you who think talk of ‘unseen forces’ sounds too woo-woo, can you explain how electricity works? Me neither, but it’s ‘unseen forces’ have been around for over a century and we seem to take those for granted.

In fact, it’s fair to call biodynamic agriculture one of, if not the first, ‘back to nature’ or ‘organic’ approach to agriculture ever developed. This came at a time when mechanized planting and harvesting methods were introduced, along with man-made chemicals for fertilization and weed and pest control.

From these talks, a calendar was developed and closely followed by adherents to the biodynamic approach. This told farmers the optimal times to till, plant, harvest and even control pests based on the positions of the moon and the stars. It is precise down to the hour of the day. But what we’re going to focus on today is the other part of biodynamic agriculture, namely the preparations or ‘preps’ Steiner said were essential to success with his biodynamic approach to agriculture.

One of the preps, known as #500 or horn-manure, is prepared – per Rudolf Steiner’s precise instructions – by filling a cow’s horn with cow manure and burying it at a specific depth in the ground in the autumn (during a specific phase of the moon), leaving it to decompose during the winter, then retrieving it for use the following spring. This produces a wonderful humus that looks and smells like earth. Naturally, it’s hard to produce much volume of humus this way, but like all of the preps, you only need to use a tiny amount of it, typically mixed into water that is sprayed over the land. That’s all it takes to work its magic. Actually, that’s what humus is (not to be confused with hummus, by the way) – a sort of super-concentrated natural fertilizer. The Demeter Institute (named for the Greek goddess of the harvest) now controls all of the recipes used for the biodynamic preps, thus assuring consistency worldwide.

So passionate are the followers of Steiner’s concepts and biodynamic winemaking that there’s even a winery in Oregon known as Cowhorn Wine ( that is proof-positive that Steiner’s philosophy can produce outstanding results. And why are cowhorns used? Because Steiner said so; that’s all we know. When you discover how fine biodynamic wine tastes, you can see why no one questions what Steiner said – because biodynamic winemaking just works!

Photo by Cowhorn Wine