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12.25.2006

WBW#29 Has Been Announced: Drink Biodynamic

wbw_icon.jpgWine Blogging Wednesday #29 has been announced. It will be hosted by my friends Jack and Joanne over at Fork & Bottle and it will require us all to drink Biodynamic wines and blog about them. Their web site isn't really a blog, per se, but it is quickly becoming authoritative for a number of things, among them cheese and not-so-coincidentally, Biodynamic wine, of which Jack is a rabid fan. In addition to him introducing me to several excellent Biodynamic producers, Jack and I have had many conversations about Biodynamism, and our opinions overlap by about 95%, with me being perhaps a slightly greater skeptic when it comes to the more "new age" aspects of the practices, and certainly an angrier old man when it comes to what I perceive as the unwillingness of many winemakers to separate the many clearly beneficial aspects of the program from the hooey. In short, I believe Biodynamism works, if only because the winemakers who are doing it are not stupid, and they wouldn't do anything that took that much extra time, money, and effort if they didn't get much better fruit as a result. But I don't believe it works because they stir their preparations exactly 50 times clockwise and 50 times counterclockwise.

I've had some lovely Biodynamic wines, and am very much looking forward to drinking one that was just sent to me recently from one of my favorite producers in Alsace.

If you have a blog and would like to participate in this monthly virtual wine tasting event, all you have to do is post a review of a biodynamic wine on January 17th, and then notify Jack and Joanne about your post. It's that easy. And if you don't have a blog, we can help you set one up to participate in the event, or Jack and Joanne will simply post your review on their site.

Comments (20)

Farley wrote:
12.26.06 at 4:02 PM

When I saw the theme for WBW #29, I couldn't help but give a "YAY," as I am very interested in biodynamic wines. Our winemaker does some on his own label, and ever since I read about them when writing some memos for him... I've been wanting to try more.

Sondra wrote:
12.28.06 at 3:42 PM

Biodynamics is just that - it takes advantages of the dynamics of the environment, seasons, sun, spirit, living creatures including us. It may seem new age because we have no scientific proofs for the benefits of swirling, yet. Consider, we swirl the wine in the glass to release aromatics. We stir biodynamic preps to put energy into the waters which may align molecules and vibrations differently. The great biophysicist Marcel Vogel (who invited the liquid crystal for IBM) believed that the ordering of water molecules changed the aging of wine. Swirling reorders and energizes the alchemical mix.

I look forward to adding my swirlicues to the discussion of BD wines and maybe add a bit of the 'deva science.'

Alder wrote:
12.28.06 at 7:38 PM

Sondra,

It’s not the swirling that I object to (aerating fluids has very clear physio-chemical results) it's the proscription of a certain number of times in specific directions that I'm using as an example of the sillier aspects of biodynamics which are associated with (please don't take this personally) nonsense like "align molecules and vibrations differently" or "energizing the alchemical mix" this psueduo-scientific jargon reeks of charlatanism and Biodynamics would be much better off (and more widely adopted, I believe) if it divested itself of such nonsense and concentrated on the sensible practices like cover crops, etc.

Jerry D. Murray wrote:
12.28.06 at 11:34 PM

I tend to agree with Alder. As a winegrower I believe biodynamic farming has many advantages ( as well as disadvatages ) and benefits. The more you to delve into biodynamics the more you begin to sense an extreme degree of structure. How biodynamic do I have to be to be biodynamic? In my case I am asking myself are there ways of getting the same bennefits of biodynamics without being biodynamic? That is, how do I farm better without subscribing to a dogma that may apply rules or beliefs to my vineyard practices that don't have any bennefit or worse yet do harm, simply because it is biodynamic ( liberal use of copper comes to mind ). Do I have to bury manure in a horn to improve the microbiology of my soils? Is it really wise to not plant cover crops in winter ( on hillside vineyards ) because it might interefere with the 'earth breathing in'? I respect the people who use biodynamics I just have a problem, personally, blindly subscribing to an agricultural system developed by a man who never grew grapes. I instead prefer to walk my vineyard, look at my vines and thier surroundings and react to thier needs. I would farm biodynamically in a heartbeat if I knew it made better wine. It is a leap of faith I cannot yet make.

Sondra wrote:
12.29.06 at 8:27 AM

I agree with both of you, a lot of the biodynamic practices are woowoo winemaking. But do you think winemakers are adapting it as a marketing ploy or because good wines have been made?

I did a stint in a biodynamic garden years ago, we stirred and swirled the preparations for an hour clockwise and another counterclockwise. That was a lot of energy - kind of like the film 'chocolat' - putting energy/love/intent from woowoo land - puts something immeasurable into the product. Or so this once 'hard-core' scientist thinks.

The stirring potentizes the water or something like that, similar to making homeopathic remedies. And before you say that's woowoo medicine - throughout Europe homeopathy is part of medical practice, taught at medical schools and is beginning to be taught here as well.
Thanks for the great discussion.

Sondra wrote:
12.29.06 at 8:32 AM

One more thing - you can learn more about biodynamics at the links on my blog as well - check the Aug.14, 2006 posting.

Cheers and happy new year to all, those who stir and those who swirl.

Sondra

Alder wrote:
12.29.06 at 11:28 AM

Sondra,

As I said in the main posting here, I definitely think that winemakers are adopting Biodynamics because in the end they feel it helps them make better wine. Some of the best winemakers in the world have switched to BioD and they are smart smart people, so it clearly works. The real question is WHAT part of it works?

I took homeopathic remedies my whole adolescent life. But wasn't there a recent (in the last 2 years) set of very meticulous double blind studies that showed homeopathic remedies had no measurable effects? I'm certain I heard about that in the news.

Sondra wrote:
12.29.06 at 8:52 PM

Alder,
What works is always a question in science, and why.

Results are not usually a simple cause and effect - this causes that. 19 months in oak will result in..... you name it.

Jamie Goode in his wonderful new book "The Science of Wine" sums wine up as a wholistic experience. We can't look at it through reductionist science. As a card-carrying reductionist scientist I know the limitations of research. We once had a series of pharmacological experiments not work for 6 months in an attempt to duplicate a year's work.

Wine is not a reproducible commodity. It's alive in the bottle and outside. It changes as do conditions shaping it. And I think its the true artisan that crafts exceptional wine however it is done. Thank you to all the fine winegrowers out there. YAY!

A contribution I want to make about BD = BD winemakers give the grapes and soil a lot of attention, energy towards building a sustainable relationship with the land and the creatures, human and otherwise. Many factors involved, perhaps its like giving the vines acupuncture. Its like pets being good for humans, how would you dissect out, what and why of that response?

Same too with picking out the good and the questionable from BD - BD is a wine's lifestyle.

It would be easy to see if the cow's horn is needed. I think.
CLink CLINK
Happy new year,
Sondra

Anonymous wrote:
01.01.07 at 1:51 PM

I'm all for biodynamic farming whether it works or not. As a result of going biodynamic the winery automatically goes organic and that is the most important part. The hocus pocus part is up to the farmer and what he/she believes.
But, the organic part is great science. Less chemicals in the soil means less chemicals in our drinking water and in our oceans. Runoff goes into rivers that flow into lakes and the ocean. That means that the fish we are eating is being poisoned because of the wine we are drinking. What about the poor workers who are working the vineyards and exposed to all those cancer causing chemicals? What about the birds and animals eating contaminated grapes and leaves? I know it's a vicious cycle but it's nice to see people trying to stop it by going organic.
It's unfortunate that more labels don't say they are organic because there is a negative image of poorly made unstable organic wines from a few decades ago. People don't realize that organic wines nowadays may actually taste better than their counterparts.
In the 70's many wineries in Burgundy were putting so many chemicals in their soils that all the nutrients were leached out of the soil, so that by the 80's all the wines were tasting bland and similar. Many wineries than went to organic or biodynamic and the wines now are better than they have ever been but it took @ 20 years to turn the decline around. Of course chemicals help to increase yields but is that really what winemakers should be striving for? Has a cooped up mass produced chicken or even their eggs ever tasted as good as an organic one? I doubt it. Have you ever seen the beautiful color or tasted the flavor of an organic egg? No comparison.
Everyone should make an effort to at least buy something organic once in a while to support those who toil the fields.
Happy new year!
Carlos

Jack wrote:
01.02.07 at 1:33 PM

Carlos, Few US wines are labelled Organic because the USDA requires no sulfur to be added. You are now starting to see "made with organically grown grapes," though.

Arthur wrote:
01.02.07 at 3:17 PM

I have spoken with a few Biodynamic wine grape growers recently and whether you believe the principles or not, from an objective standpoint it seems the practice of biodynamic (or just plain organic) farming (certified or not) boils down to the grower having a more intimate, hands-on, TLC relationship to the vines and the grapes they are growing. Whether you are into the romance or politics of it, biodynamic and organic are more labor-intensive ways of farming that do make a difference. What is noteworthy here, is that many growers, like Jerry Murray above, utilize organic or biodynaic methodology without being officially certified or completely comitting to the philosophy. Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe is another good example. While not a "to-the-letter" adherent to organic farming, he does what he believes will bring out the best in his crop. "The proof is in the pudding".

Arthur wrote:
01.02.07 at 3:27 PM

As an aside to the homeopathic remedies in Europe: I graduated from a European medical school and homeopathy was not part of our curriculum. Empirical methodology and evidence-based medicine were. BUT homeopathic, over-the-counter remedies were ubiquitous, as was adverdizing for them. There may be some mix of true efficacy and placebo, but none of it has been proven - for the most part. In the meantime, they have not hurt anyone so they remain on the market.

Sondra wrote:
01.02.07 at 4:30 PM

Arthur,
I assumed since homeopathics are used so readily in EUrope that it was taught there in med school in addition to the many homeopathic colleges. At least here in US there's more research on how/if they work and some of the med schools are offering it as an elective in complementary medicine.

Fortunately we know biodynamics is not causing a placebo effect in the grapes.

I look forward to discovering the favorite BD wines among these bloggers. I don't have one yet.
Sondra

Arthur wrote:
01.02.07 at 4:50 PM

Sondra,

Actually, the US is one of the few countries to have forma education in alternative medical practices such as Chiropractic, Naturopath and Homeopathy where a graduate actually receives a degree. There is much politics in this but in many instances in Europe, these practitioners are not certified or sanctioned.
That doesn't mean that pharmaceutical companies won't seek the revenue of selling unproven methodologies. Just look at the booming industry that is the vitamin/supplement market here in the US.
Whatever one may think of doctors, our job is to solve a problem (diabetes, a tumor, a broken bone, depression) so we want potent methodologies that get the job done well and with minimal or acceptable side effects. There is just not that much of that proven power to a lot of homepathic remedies. But that does not mean they should be banned. I am not one of those rigid people who absolutely discounts the validity of something on principle. Many of the essential medicines used today came form what was practiced by herbologists and other such practitioners.
But back to more relevant matters:
As the child of farmers and one who never had a CRUNCHY (!?!?!?!?!?) strawberry untill I came to the US, I certainly believe in the effectiveness of the core practices of sustainable and more hands-on farming methods such as BD or Orgainic.

Lindsay wrote:
01.03.07 at 10:15 AM

As a chemist, I'd like to put my two cents in about this. I agree with Alder in his basic objection to what are, at heart, superstitions in BD. I also agree with the poster above that most winemaking decisions have unpredictable results, but I disagree that that must be the case forever. We learn more and more about the chemical composition of wine all the time (lately polycyclic free-radical traps found in reds have been touted as good for the heart, for example). I doubt we'll ever have a perfect understanding of wine composition, and we certainly will never have an agreed on standard of the perfect wine, but scientific study should provide answers about the benefits and detriments of winemaking practices. I confidently predict burying horns and counting stirring strokes will prove worthless.....

Sondra wrote:
01.03.07 at 12:49 PM

Hi all,
We sure got this 'flavor' going. I agree we will ultimately understand a lot more about the chemistry of wine and good winemaking practices. And I hope to do my part in that as a biochemist who loves the innards of wine.

As a medical scientist who witnessed the declarations that acupuncture was a bunch of woowoo as was imagery, and even nutritional interventions, I know that because we can't measure something it is discarded out of the realm of possibility. That said, I think the ram's horn issue would be an easy research question to navigate - if that was the only variable.

The resveratrol question is getting lots of press and now they're engineering animals to produce a lot of resveratrol themselves. Scientific American had an interesting overview on this. I'll add the link when i find it. Again though with the wonderful press for red wine and health via resveratrol - we need a lot more than what wine can offer, if that were the only beneficial quality of wine.

Nonetheless, I'll toast you all with a good red this evening.
Sondra aka Granny Grape

Hank wrote:
01.03.07 at 6:13 PM

Ok folks. I am a practicing biodynamicist (if thats the right term) and my vineyard is certified. I am not an idiot, nor am I weird, but I am rather bothered by the weird stories that circulate about BD. I do not count my stirring strokes (I've never heard that one before), but I suspect anyone who does is missing the point of stirring. Stirring IS a type of homeopathic dilution, not a math excercise.

I do not bury a cow's horn just to bury a cowhorn. I am after a unique (and little studied) composting effect. The fact that I bury a cowhorn does nothing for my vines - but rather it is what comes out of the cowhorn, after it is buried, rests in the soil for 6 months and is then dug up, that counts.
However this horn manure does what it does (improving my soil, making my vines less suseptable to disease, etc) I do not know; but I do know that it works. Sometimes, with the lack of scientific "approval", one must accept positive results for what they are - positive results. I am sure that science will catch up later, if someone decides there is money in it.

Also, I firmly do not believe that one day sceince will explain everything. How? Life is so danm complex, so full of nuance and exceptions to the rule, that no scientific explaination could handle it. There is always something new to discover, new connections to be found...sorry scientists out there, but you'll never understand it all.

What I like most about BD wine is that it requires a commitment to growing top quality grapes. Science has made grape growing very industrialized. In contrast, a good BD wine is something that is unique; something that took commitment to make. Something that took passion to make. It also reconnects us with the soil (a connection "science" has been very good at breaking) - a place, a grape, a dedicated winegrower and his/her product of that dedication.

Why would anyone want to disagree with that?

Sondra wrote:
01.03.07 at 9:18 PM

Hank, thank you so much for your wise words of experience. Though I have called the strange practices of BD 'woowoo' I have seen the results in BD farming and have talked to winemakers courageous enough to embark on such labor-intensive practices.

Science didn't have the answers on how aspirin worked for decades yet it was prescribed because 'it worked.' Having lived much of my adult life as a 'recovering scientist' all I can say is

Long live the unprovables! And let's have another glass of wine while the silica in the cow horn does its thing.

Sondra

Alder wrote:
01.04.07 at 7:24 PM

Hank, thanks very much for the comments.

Steiner (and the Demeter society) talk about stirring preparations consistently in one direction and then another, being careful to let the fluids rest in between (I can't seem to find the reference to specific numbers). I quote from the Demeter society guidelines: "When stirring, be aware of the dueling vortices and consider what they are imparting to your farm."

Leaning on science in response to biodynamics is not an effort to "explain everything" with science (which I agree, will certainly not happen in any timeframe relevant to us living today) but for the last 500 or so years, it has been a way of, to put it simply, settling arguments in a fashion that is acceptable to most* rational people. If two people have an interpretation of why something works a certain way, you can devise and experiment that generates a result predictably and repeatedly to suggest that the explanation driving the experiment is the most logical.

* Of course there will be some people who will always take the "faith" or "spiritual" route which is essentially impossible to argue or engage with.

When the Demeter Association says, and I quote, "The purpose of these Biodynamic preparations is to unite the farm and, indeed the earth itself, with living rhythms permeating the earth from its surrounding celestial reality. In this sense, these preparations have precious and serious medicinal value for the earth and its inhabitants," that's fine. Good marketing to its target audience, perhaps. To then say that plants sprayed with these preparations yield better fruit than those who don't because their rhythms are more in tune with the earth, I have two things to say:

1. Who has done a scientifically sound experiment showing that these preparations have such an effect?

2. I'd put big money on the fact that if these preparations DO have an effect on the fruit, there is a far better and more likely explanation than the fact that these preparations are uniting the farm with celestial rhythms.


But again, I don't doubt that Biodynamics works, because folks like yourself are far too busy to bother with something that doesn’t work. I do doubt that much of what is prescribed as part of Biodynamics and Steiner's philosophy is A) really necessary to achieve the same result, or B) working for the reasons described by Steiner.

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