[Credit: Steelhead Vineyards]

When Henry and Holly Wendt bought the Wine Creek Ranch in Healdsburg, CA in 1981, they had high hopes of bringing the terroir of Dry Creek Valley into their wines. What they didn’t expect to discover was that the estate’s Wine Creek―historically home to native salmon―no longer had any left in it. Already avid conservationalists, the Wendts committed then and there to restoring the land and reversing the destructive farming practices in Dry Creek Valley by adopting a Biodynamic® approach to their grape production.  

As we introduced in an earlier article, Biodynamic: A back-to-basics approach to wine, Biodynamic farming is quickly becoming an old-tradition-turned-new-preference in wine production. At a 15-percent increase in Biodynamic certifications per year across the United States, the more than 80 wineries that have already made the commitment to becoming Biodynamic is quickly growing. At this rate, the United States will soon catch up to the world leader in Biodynamic viticulture, France. Is there a good reason for this?

Elizabeth Candelario, current Marketing Director for the Biodynamic certifying body Demeter USA and former Marketing Director working in partnership with the Wendts during the Biodynamic transformation, believes wholly there is.

“Biodynamic producers aren’t interested in making the ‘best’ wine,” she said. “They are interested in making the most authentic wine to their property. And the most authentic wine is reflective of its own unique terroir. There are many in the wine industry who feel that the surest path to the expression of terroir in one’s grapes―and ultimately one’s wines―is Biodynamic.”

Stepping beyond organic

Over the course of five years, the Wendts completely altered their viticulture philosophy. With the help of Alan York, one of the pioneering leaders in Biodynamic wine grape production, the Wendts didn’t stop at gaining their National Organic Program certification. They became convinced that going even further and adopting a Biodynamic approach was in the best interest of their wines, their land and their employees.

“With organic, you can still import fertilizers and pesticides like in conventional farming, as long as those inputs are organic, but you are still mining them from elsewhere,” Candelario said in describing how Biodynamic is a step above organic. “You are still putting them on a truck and importing them. Organic seen this way is just a higher iteration of conventional farming. Putting less nasty chemicals into the environment is always a good thing, but with Biodynamic, you think about the big picture: How can we manage the farm so it can meet its needs from the life of the farm itself? This striving towards a closed system is what defines Biodynamic from other forms of farming and leads the farmer to make different choices.”

Bringing the salmon back upstream

The Wendts went beyond just restoring their estate and bringing the salmon back to Wine Creek by raising awareness in the community and across the country about the importance of Biodynamic practices. They partnered with Trout Unlimited, a leading trout and salmon conservation organization, and in 2002, released their brand, Steelhead Red, specifically devoted to the advocacy of Biodynamic practices and conservation.

Steelhead Red “honors the Steelhead trout that are native to Wine Creek and Dry Creek in northern California’s Dry Creek Valley [and] is a tribute to the restoration efforts and on-going commitment to the biodiversity of Sonoma County.”

The Wendts have retired and sold Wine Creek Ranch (now Quivira Vineyards and Winery), and its new owners are continuing to lead the Biodynamic pioneering efforts along with a handful of others like Candelario to help the Biodynamic movement thrive.

When we asked Candelario what the outcomes are for a winery that chooses to go Biodynamic, she said, “Most importantly, it increases the quality of the farming by helping the farmer improve and be more connected to the farm. In the case of wineries, a healthier farm ultimately translates to higher quality in the wines, and consumers can know that a particular wine not only represents the very best that winery can offer, it was produced in a way that is healthier for the farmer, the farm, and our planet.” 

When asked to pick which wineries she feels are leading the Biodynamic movement best, she said, “That would be like asking me to choose which of my children is my favorite.”

We will discuss where the California Biodynamic movement is heading in an upcoming article on

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