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11.19.2008

The Skeptic's Guide to Biodynamic Wine

The average wine consumer has no idea what it means for a wine to be organic. And when it comes to Biodynamic wines, most wine drinkers have never even heard of them. But that doesn't matter, because an increasing number of the most sought-after, expensive wines in the world are biodynamically produced, which means that biodynamics is one of the most significant modern trends in global winemaking.

The only problem (for those who care) is that biodynamic winemaking involves a maddening, paradoxical mixture of scientifically sound farming practices and utterly ridiculous new-age mysticism. If you want to know just how kooky it can get, you might be interested in a recent feature on biodynamic wine in SF Weekly, which dives into detail on the cow skulls stuffed with oak bark left in a hole; the red deer bladders filled with yarrow flowers buried in compost piles; the proscriptions to burn insects in the vineyards only during certain proper planetary alignment; and the claims that the moon should determine when you put your wine into new barrels.

Of course, if you actually believe in biodynamics, you now hate my guts along with Joe Eskenazi, the author of the aforementioned article which is entitled Voodoo on the Vine.

Joe's angle on biodynamic winemaking will draw criticism for focusing only on the strangest parts of an elaborate farming and winemaking methodology. His (and my) detractors would be justified in complaining at the sensationalism of a few practices, and a few predilections of the methods inventor, while many, even most biodynamic winemaking principles are the same as good old organic farming.

But that is precisely the problem. Most biodynamic farming principles make sense because they are the same as scientifically grounded organic farming (e.g. don't use pesticides; let the sheep take care of the weeds and fertilize the soil; etc.). But then the whole system is undermined by the use of, and rationalization for, special preparations and actions that are not only bizarre in their conception, but explained by the worst kind of pseudo-scientific quasi-religious gobbledygook that you could possible imagine.

You can't imagine how angry this makes me. You see, I love biodynamic wine. Some of my favorite wines in the world; some of the best wines I have ever tasted in my life; some of the wineries that seem to consistently make some of the highest quality wines I have ever experienced are produced biodynamically, and I don't believe this is a coincidence.

This is what Joe Eskenazi did not include in his article, perhaps because he's not fully immersed in the world of wine. While he rightfully points out, with the appropriate level of cynicism, the fact that some wine producers are moving to make biodynamic wine because they think it will sell better, there are many more producers who have been making wine biodynamically for years, even decades without ever telling anyone about it, least of all the people who buy their wine. These winemakers are some of the smartest, most talented folks in the wine industry. The only reason they would possibly be producing wine biodynamically (which Eskenazi's article points out is much more labor, time, and cost intensive than any other farming method) must be that they believe they make better wine that way.

There are two types of people in the world. Those who believe that while science is not perfect, it is the most powerful interpretation that we have found of the world around us, and those who believe that there are better explanations for what we observe in the natural world than science can provide. I am very much a member of the first group. There's a lot we don't know about the world yet, and there are a lot of really interesting interpretations about how things work, but the scientific method produces the most reliable interpretations of what is real and what is true that I know of. I (and pretty much everyone in a first world nation, whether they know it or not) trust my life to that fact nearly every moment of every single day.

And that belief I hold is precisely the source of my unending frustration with biodynamic wine. I think it's good stuff. But I know it's not good for the reasons that the people who make it, and the people who tell them how to make it, say it is. The claims of the philosophy that underlies biodynamic wine growing, and the specific explanations for various prescriptions of the farming and winemaking process are just plain wrong. They can be proved wrong, in some cases simply with a calculator, but in all cases by rigorous scientific enquiry.

Which is why I keep hoping that someone will come up with Biodynamics Lite™: a kinder, gentler form of biodynamic winemaking that throws out all the bullshit, and sticks to the things that science tells us will actually work.

I plan on continuing to drink more and more biodynamic wine, and encourage everyone who loves wine to do so as well. I just hope there is a day when I don't have to roll my eyes a little every time I see the word on a wine label, or bite my fist as a winemaker proudly tells me that the reason I love his wine is due to the fact that he completely avoided the dueling vortices when he mixed his preparation of ground up quartz crystals.

Read the full article in SF Weekly.

My friend Jack at Fork & Bottle has the most complete list of biodynamic wine producers that I know of.

Comments (46)

11.19.08 at 11:59 PM

I think the reason a good number of biodynamic producers are making some of the best wines in the world is that the system lends itself to strictly paying attention to what you are doing in the field. A lot of it is hokum to be sure, but i'll take a system that encourages good farming first and foremost over what most winemakers are doing. Plus it is a selling point so, hey, even they don't believe in it they still get something out of it.

Alex wrote:
11.20.08 at 12:23 AM

I'm with you in that aspects of biodynamic farming stretch its credibility somewhat. However, over vintage I spent some time in France and spoke to a biodynamic grape grower/winemaker who said that he'd beeen using organic farming techniques and that the vines were still dying/poorly. He's switched to biodynamic and things are improving.

As Cory points out - some of that improvement might be due to increased attention in the vineyard ... The way I look at it is that if planting a cow's horn filled with manure at the end of the row of vines for a year and then using that as fertiliser works for you then so be it!

11.20.08 at 1:43 AM

Great post! I am with you wholeheartedly in the support of rigorous scientific research as it is applied to all fields. However, science, as we all know, is far from perfect, and the majority of that imperfection stems from failing to ask the right questions. And the second major flaw after finding the "right" questions is knowing how to test our hypothesis. Do we know how to measure the impact of oak bark filled cow skulls on the vineyards? I don't know, but I do know that until we can "prove" that the more extreme biodynamic practices don't work, far be it for us to react emotionally to the idea. I would rather have us continually try to question and research why these extreme practices do, or do not, add to the betterment of the wine.

Ashwin wrote:
11.20.08 at 7:09 AM

I think one thing that hasn't been quite articulated yet is what biodynamism represents. I don't know the full history of it, but my guess is that biodynamism comes from a time when science didn't govern these types of processes. And so, for better or worse, people used different forms of "proof," however anecdotal or irrational, to normalize a process that seemed to put out a good product. What that could possibly mean these days is not losing sight of an older-school, traditional way of doing things, where science hasn't automatized and depersonalized a process that should connect one to the earth with which he works. Not to discount the many reasons why science has made winemaking so much better that is...

nikolai wrote:
11.20.08 at 9:17 AM

A famous quote from Eric Texier"the worst thing to happen to winemaking was enology"

Arthur wrote:
11.20.08 at 9:24 AM

I had a discussion about BD with a San Luis Obispo County winemaker where he told me that he has experimented with BD and practices it -to an extent- in his home garden but doesn’t want to be confined by it in a commercial vineyard. Regarding the whole ritual of making and burying preparations, he said:
"biodynamic preps are kind of crude ways to culture some bacteria and other microorganisms which are important to soil health"
Now anyone who's seen me get into heated debates over wine issues knows I don't buy into mystical hocus pocus and prefer evidence-based thinking, but that may be a viable reason for burying different preparations (lunar cycles etc excluded).

Alder wrote:
11.20.08 at 9:47 AM

Ashwin,

Thanks for the comments. Biodynamics was invented in 1924 by Rudolph Steiner a guy who had no experience as a farmer, and who by the way thought alcohol was evil. He certainly chose to prescribe practices that went out of style in the 18th century, but he did so in a time where modern chemical and biological sciences could have easily provided him with proof that what he was suggesting was malarkey.

Alder wrote:
11.20.08 at 9:54 AM

Gabriella,

Agree completely, but here's the rub. The emotional reaction to the cow skull filled with oak bark is not to the preparation itself, but to the EXPLANATION of why the preparation works and what it does to the vine, and the JUSTIFICATION for using it. I might be willing to grant that some of these biodynamic practices might actually do something, but I guarantee they are NOT channeling the life force of venus and causing things to vibrate in harmony with cosmic forces. Nettle tea might actually be good for vines. But nettle tea "volatized" by letting it cascade down through a series of porcelain bowls made from a cast of the winemakers pregnant wife's stomach doesn't make any sense, and rankles me to no end.

Alder wrote:
11.20.08 at 10:03 AM

Arthur,

OK.... so when you're mixing a tablespoon of yarrow that has been hung in a red deer bladder for a month in the branches of an alder tree (yes, I'm a biodynamic child myself) with 800 cubic feet of manure, exactly what are you culturing there...?

Arthur wrote:
11.20.08 at 10:57 AM

Alder,

I don't know much about the different preps used in BD so I don't know if the proportions you mention are correct. Certainly the teaspoon in 800 cubic feet sounds like an insignificant drop in a bucket, so I get your point there. Maybe, the process of making preps and burying them or hanging them out may cause the release of some nutrients or minerals (whether alder or yarrow have some enzymatic properties on the other ingredients or vice-versa, I don't know). What effects those have when mixed into a greater quantity of another ingredient is to be determined by scientific investigation.

The winemaker I spoke to is far more scientifically-rooted and not a zealous adopter. The idea of BD was somewhat tangential to our discussion at the time and we did not get into details. He does not swallow the whole thing - hook line and sinker. And I certainly don't take his word as gospel, but I am inclined to give his rationale consideration because I know he is a sound and rational thinker.

I think that there may be *some* scientific basis to *some* of these BD practices and - as others here have said - these practices and the claims of their efficacy may merit empirical investigation.

Arthur wrote:
11.20.08 at 11:03 AM

Oh, and to clarify, the winemaker I spoke to was talking about preparations that are mixed up and maybe buried before being spread out in the vineyard (or garden). We did not address red deer bladders filled with yarrow (or the use of sheeps' bladders to prevent earthquakes...)

Jeff wrote:
11.20.08 at 11:19 AM

Alder,

Interesting that you suggest Biodynamics Lite with the trademark symbol.

Is this something you have trademarked yourself?

Jeff

St. Vini wrote:
11.20.08 at 11:53 AM

I've written quite a bit about BioD and have even read Steiner's 1924 work (I did it so you don't have to).

Big picture, why can't BioD proponents clearly say "we do X because doing so in the past has resulted in Y". That seems basic and elemental to any school of though, scientifically based or not.

American Indians could tell you that adding rotting fish to their corn seeds during planting created more vigorous corn growth.

Why can't BioD proponents simply and clearly say why they do what they do?

East Coast winemaker wrote:
11.20.08 at 12:04 PM

It would be nice to hear a proponent of BD admit that it's simply a matter of faith. Stop trying to provide explanations, it just makes BD sound even more voodoo than it already is.

suzanne wrote:
11.20.08 at 12:05 PM

I criticize by creation- not by finding fault.
-Cicero

Alder wrote:
11.20.08 at 12:21 PM

Jeff,

Regarding the trademark symbol: Nah. I'm just making fun of the fact that the Demeter association has trademarked the term Biodynamic.

Dan Fredman wrote:
11.20.08 at 1:46 PM

I've always thought of lutte raisonée as being sort of a "Biodynamics Liteâ„¢". Its practice incorporates almost all of the tenets set forth by Demeter, encouraging soil and vine health by discouraging the use of unnatural (and invasive) viticultural practices. It does this without necessarily mandating the mystical aspects of biodynamism, making it a little more palatable to producers who are not as concerned with the ideology as much as they are the quality of the fruit they’re growing.

The downside is that the parameters of lutte raisonée are vague and nebulous to the point that almost any style of farming can be wrangled under its umbrella for marketing purposes. It’s similar to the code words “sustainably farmed” on a label – it doesn’t exactly mean anything specific, but gives the consumer the idea that there’s an interest in green issues. Whether this is true or not is dependent upon the individual vigneron.

My personal view is more toward “whatever works”, albeit with leanings toward "natural wines" (whatever THEY are). Like you, some of the most interesting (and drinkable) wines I’ve tasted over the past few years have been made by people practicing full-on biodynamic winegrowing. Most notable (IMO) are the wines coming from Alsace and the reds from Austria’s Burgenland, where a sizeable group of young producers has adopted biodynamic methods in their vineyards and the wines have improved considerably. Their success has led to other growers making the switch at least to a lutte raisonée approach, further improving the quality of the wines.

scanter wrote:
11.20.08 at 11:21 PM

Full disclosure: I support my family by growing, fermenting and selling Biodynamic wine. I was raised by a positron physicist and have some understanding of the scientific method. While I have gone through phases in my life where I was sure everything could be quantified, I thankfully have moved past this very basic urge and now welcome the idea that parallel and even opposing truths can exist. Can some aspects of BD be called (heaven forbid!) ritual? Hell yes! But if you have ever visited the grave of a loved one, or celebrated a wedding or birth, or even freaking Thanksgiving for that matter, then you to have participated in a ritual, that while anthropologists can trace the roots of, has no scientific validity today. Biodynamics is not a silver bullet. Biodynamics will never make up for a shit vineyard site, stupidity, greed or bad cellar hygiene.It is however one of several farming philosophies that when practiced in a mindful way, keeps the farmer connected to his soil in ways that post-green-revolution conventional farming discourages. If you prefer to have your food and drink produced by guys in lab coats and a bunch of CPA's, your in luck! We are swimming in it. While there are Charlatans coming aboard every day, the implication that less than half a percent of the wine produced in this country by a bunch of wide eyed romantics has pulled off a marketing coup over the rest of this multi-billion dollar industry with nothing but smoke and mirrors, is a little bit of a stretch.

Alder wrote:
11.20.08 at 11:35 PM

Scanter, thanks so much for the comments. I don't think there's anything wrong with ritual at all. You cite some excellent examples of such. I guess I'm frustrated by the fact that every biodynamic winegrower I've met, read about, or heard speak about what they do, talks about the preparations and the activities in exactly the opposite way. It would be one thing if people said, "well, it probably doesn't do anything, but I kind of like burying this horn. It's like making a little offering to the vineyard." But they don't. They talk about all this stuff like Nicholas Joly does, as if it is a separate truth that is beyond the ken of science. Or worse, they talk about it as if it IS science, using jargon and words that reference scientific principles but that are clearly bogus.

Loweeel wrote:
11.21.08 at 7:25 AM

I agree with you that some wines may be good, and that part of its success is a basis of sound farming practices + organic. However, I can't support this pre-scientific, proto-Nazi (yes, Steiner came out of the same anti-rational neopagan movement that Nazism relied upon -- both are all about the connection of people to their land) bullshit. I will refuse to reward promulgators of mystical bullshit (both literally and figuratively) with my hard-earned dollars.

They don't deserve to be rewarded for bullshitting, and I won't give them a cent of my money to do so. As South Park put it, this is just Cherokee Hair Tampons for wine.

Dylan wrote:
11.21.08 at 8:38 AM

I always equated biodynamic wines to organic wine production, but, I had never heard of these additional, more spiritual/ritualistic, practices involved in the process. Alder, you had the foresight to make a proper statement, there ARE two groups of people--some believe in the power of rituals, herbal remedies, and meditation. The other, more science-minded group, would cry, "superstition." I, being in the more science-minded group, have no troubles with people believing in certain rituals and practicing them a certain way. It's to their own right they include them in the process should it bring them some solace unknown to us.

My father has a ritual of holding an empty wallet to the new moon, this has been something in our family line further back than I'm aware. Do I think it works? No. In fact, I think hard work will fill that wallet, not new moon-shaking. However, it is a part of my culture and what I grew up with, and so, I feel compelled in a way to do it as my father and his before me; it's almost out of respect and recognition for the way the method was formed.

If these biodynamic rituals were for the sake of cultural identity, I would be fine with it, but if as you said, people use it as truth to sell the wine, that's where things get a little grey: for those who follow the rituals as fact, then yes it will be truth enough for them, for those who don't, eye rolling abound.

However, you will never have those using the rituals switch over if science proves they don't work, because this is something that goes beyond science and into belief; and, as long as there are two kinds of beliefs, there will be two ways of doing things.

Interested Winemaker wrote:
11.21.08 at 10:42 AM

While I share some of your views Alder, I'm content to live and let live.

From a winemaker's POV, BioD growers are generally a pleasure to work with provided they don't purport to stand on any sort of moral high ground. They are in tune with their land and generally produce excellent crops. Occasionally they can be led down a disastrous path by their dogma, but that can be said for conventional vineyards, too.

The focus on the more esoteric forms of BioD is a bit of a misdirect, as the important tenets are much more akin to sustainable farming and caring for the land, with minimal inputs, healthy soil and so on. The preparations, while the largest portion of the distinction between organic and BioD and certainly the part that gets the most attention (along with, say, crystallization), are a small part of the story in my opinion.

An important point to bring up would be that the truest BioD plot would be self-sustaining, with livestock, crop rotation, a commitment to laying fallow for extended periods of time and so on. By that definition, there are very few truly biodynamic vineyards of which I'm aware in the US.

Dare I say that those who farm biodynamically find what they do much more fulfilling than some who view their vineyard as simply a source of revenue, and are thus much more likely to maintain their commitments for generations. They also care deeply about the quality of the grapes they produce, which is a large part of the battle from where I stand in working with various growers.

With that in mind, I'm content to let them believe what they like. I may even be swayed by some of their more persuasive arguments. I'm more concerned with the results than the process, but if I ever were a vineyard owner, I would probably at least incorporate some of the ideas into my farming techniques (although I wouldn't be rushing out to acquire the materials for the preparations).

Perhaps one of the problems is that the most visible and vocal proponents of BioD are also the quirkiest and most fervent? I have met many who subscribe who are much more reasonable.

Morton Leslie wrote:
11.21.08 at 12:41 PM

When considering organic or biodynamic farming "rules" it is helpful to remember that over 50% of the nitrogen in our bodies is man made. By "our" I mean mankind. It's equally helpful to look around and pick which half of the population we would let starve to indulge our fancy of what is natural and good and what is unnatural and bad. The Nobel Prize went to a couple engineers a century ago who devised the way to fix nitrogen from natural gas and the world remains indebted to them for its food supply. Without man made fertilizer there is not enough land to feed our world even if we cut down every rain forest and farm every square inch of the planet.

I know the idea of "Olde Tyme farming is appealing as are other notions of doing things "the old way." But some times it becomes important for us to get a grip and grow up. If you want to see a polluted world let the biodynamicists spread their manure over the planet. Not only is organic and biodynamic farming silly and unsustainable, it is immoral in a world where so many go hungry or starve to death. These ideas is merely the fancy of an overfed, self indulged society.

agustin huineeus wrote:
11.21.08 at 6:13 PM

Biodynamics is about the dirt, not about the wine.
There is no flavor componen that will identify a Biodynamic wine, while there are many differences in the vineyard.
We consider Byodynamics a farming philosophy of great value, but in evolution. It was inspired by the writings of Steiner, who lived in Northern Europe at the beginning of the last century. He didn't work with vines.His philosophy is of geat interest, but his prctices must be adapted to this country and culture.It is so new amongst us, that we are just beginning to understand the results in the vineyards. It will be long before they are reflected in the wine. It is unfortunate that Biodynamics should be used as a marketing device.
Biodynamics is

Hank wrote:
11.23.08 at 8:01 AM

Morton, I doubt very much that biodynamic winegrape growers are contributing to world hunger. You need to do some research on the real reasons - all political and corporate/economic.
Here's something to chew on, as it were...

"...if modern agriculture continues to follow the path it's on now, it's finished. The food-growing situation may seem to be in good shape today, but that's just an illusion based on the current availability of petroleum fuels. All the wheat, corn, and other crops that are produced on big American farms may be alive and growing, but they're not products of real nature or real agriculture. They're manufactured rather than grown. The earth isn't producing those things... petroleum is!"
Masanobu Fukuoka, Mother Earth News interview, 1982

brian wrote:
11.23.08 at 8:43 PM

Morton,
That is the worst argument I have heard in a while. World hunger has never, repeat never, been a product of food scarcity. It has always been a product of food distribution and the economic and class ramifications of that ownership/distribution system. And as a farmer I can assure you that chemical based agriculture is not and never has been more PRODUCTIVE per se. If you think it is actual farming that is at the center of such debates you are wrong. It is entirely based in greed and economics. While perhaps less efficient, Organic agriculture is absolutely and without question more productive and sustainable. And regarding it being the "old style" of growing, organic agriculture is far from being stagnant and is in fact incredibly innovative and progressive. Your "Green Revolution" of bringing chemical agriculture to the "starving" country of India has created even worse conditions in terms of food scarcity and diet and an economic state that has seen over 200,000 farmers commit suicide from insurmountable debt. So honestly, give me a break and drop your- "may all be fed*"
*brought to you by Monsanto- rhetoric.

As for the Bio-d debate, while not a cult follower of the Steiner model, i always find it humerous that in terms of lunar calanders, people have such a hard time making a leap to suggest that lunar cycles have an effect on plant fertility, germination, and growth when that is exactly the case for our species. Ever heard of the menstrual cycle? Theres some pretty kooky stuff to be sure but I don't think its all fluff.

Brian

Alder wrote:
11.23.08 at 9:04 PM

Brian,

While it is a common wive's tale, there is absolutely no relation between the female menstrual cycle and the lunar calendar. Even the claim that "they are the same length" is factually inaccurate, I believe.

aimee m. wrote:
11.24.08 at 1:57 AM

"...this time he said nothing and pursed his lips, and only when I told him about the bonfires in the stubble did he raise his head. 'They're quite right to do it,' he said. 'They're awakening the earth.'

'But Nuto,' I said, 'even Cinto doesn't believe that.'

All the same, he said, he didn't know what it was, whether it was the heat or the blaze or something waking up inside the earth, anyhow in every field where they kindled a bonfire at the edge the crop grew quicker and heavier.

'This is something new,' I said. 'So you believe in the moon, too?'

'The moon -- we must believe in the moon' said Nuto. 'Try to cut down a pine tree when the moon is full and you will be eaten up by worms. You should wash a grape vat when the moon is new. As for grafting, unless you do it when the moon is only a few days old, it doesn't take.'

Then I said I'd heard a few stories in my travels but these were the most far-fetched of the lot. There was no use having so much to say about the government and the priest's sermons, if he was going to believe in these superstitions like his great-great-grandmother. It was then that Nuto said very quietly that a superstition is a superstition only when it does harm to someone and if anyone were to use the moon and the bonfires to rob the peasants and keep them in the dark, then he would be the backward one and should be shot in the square. But before I could speak, I must become a countryman again."
--Cesare Pavese, The Moon and the Bonfire

Steve L. wrote:
11.24.08 at 7:44 AM

I spend a lot of time at Terroir. I read the SF Weekly article there. I asked each of Terroir's principals whether anyone, during the year that they've been open, has ever walked in and asked specifically for a biodynamic wine. The answer was no. I think the marketing appeal of the biodynamic label is probably being exaggerated, and has never been accurately quantified. Slipshod winemaking practices may still spoil excellent raw materials, and biodynamic wine is not necessarily good wine. As noted by you, many "biodynamic" practices significantly predate Rudolf Steiner and fall into a category of folk agriculture that I, for one, am in no position to second guess. As also noted here, biodynamic producers are probably in tune with their terroir to a much greater extent than those who dump synthetic chemicals onto their land in into their wine, and that may account for much of the qualitative difference.

Alder wrote:
11.24.08 at 8:42 AM

Steve,

Thanks for the comments. I don't mean to undermine your argument, but I have personally walked into Terroir and asked for a bottle of biodynamic Chenin Blanc, so perhaps the owners' memories are a little faulty in this respect. However I agree with you that the marketing appeal is somewhat exaggerated.

One of the reasons that there is no need to second guess many of the biodynamic practices that pre-date Steiner is that they have been validated scientifically -- these are many of the practices that make up modern organic farming.

You'll get no argument from me, though, on the point of biodynamic winemakers really being in touch with their vineyards. As other readers have noted, in the absence of any real efficacy of biodynamic methods, the amount of time that they require a grower to be in the field would almost certainly mean that he or she would have a better handle on what was going on with the vines.

mydailywine wrote:
11.24.08 at 11:33 PM

The tremendous interest in the wine industry surrounding BioD is clearly evident.
Recently at the WBC, Alice Feiring spoke of BioD 'Lite' during her speech.
And indeed Demeter is coming out with new certification rules in early 2009. One for BioD wines and another for wines made with BioD grown grapes.
So it looks like you might get your wish Alder.
My own love affair with BioD wines has grown to fever pitch this past year. But not due to the mystical farming practices, just because the juice is delicious.

Even Bakke wrote:
11.25.08 at 1:38 AM

The problem with this article/argument, as I see it, is that much of the world relies on reductionist thinking. In fact, we as humans are amazingly bad at understanding systems and interactions between systems. Example, currently we have pretty good theories for the minute (quantum theory) and the large (plants, solar system, big bang). Problem is the two cannot exist in the same world. Other examples, do we understand gravity? No. How about the way we smell? Again, no. Plenty of reductionist theories though…

As humans, we are limited by our limitations i.e. our senses, our mental capacity. We can see only a limited waveband, hear particular frequencies, consider/ponder only to a certain limit. We cannot understand all yet many people put their heads on their pillows each night secure that we know a lot…we don’t.

We have not always been reductionists though. Our forefathers looked at the world very differently and many times also fooled themselves into thinking that they knew a great deal too. Yet, if one is not constrained by reductionism, one can admit that the interactions between systems, humans, animals, plants can exists without proof. Example, one can enter a room full of strangers and still have a “gut” feeling about someone across the room.

But please rest assured, I am not trying to prove that biodynamics works, because using reductionism, it mostly doesn’t. Biodynamics is based on Goethean observation that insists that the “scientist” not be an impassive observer of an external universe, but rather engaged in a reciprocal, participatory relationship with nature, thereby the observer is able to interact with the observed.

My full “understanding” of the system of farming inspired by biodynamics is a long conversation so consider these thoughts as a crude outline…

Eric wrote:
11.25.08 at 8:34 PM

Most vignérons that I know use science; they employ oenologues, etc. But empirical evidence is used more than anything else. I did it this way and the wine improved; or at least I think it did. Wine is always a guessing game because the same conditions cannot be duplicated, never.

I will say this: among the best wine producers in France, there are few who are purely rational, purely scientific. Almost all the greats value and rely on their intuition, have romantic notions. When I meet someone for the first time, I get a sense of that person; I feel their vibration. This cannot be measured by science but I trust my intuition. Most people just turn this sense off and lose it.

As you know the biggest difference between organic and biodynamic farming is timing work according to the moon and planets. Working in symphony with the moon and planets puts an emphasis on connectedness with the universe. We can certainly agree that science is in its infancy as far as understanding the relationships between all living things. It was thought in the not so distant past that matter and energy were too different things. Science is certainly in its infancy.

The culture of Apple created products unequaled. The culture of a domain that is connected to universal cycles, respectful of nature and humble produces different wines. Is there an energy there that expresses itself differently? Science cannot measure that. We could theorize at a minimum that within such a culture each decision made in a wine's life from vineyard to bottle is slightly different and thus the finished product is different. Or maybe biodynamics is all just a bit of hypnosis.

Alder wrote:
11.25.08 at 8:59 PM

Thanks for the comments.

I don't actually agree that the biggest difference between organic and biodynamic farming is the timing. I think it's the preparations, and the various activities that are prescribed, like ashing the pests, how many times you stir your preparations, etc.

As for your intuitive vibrations, fair enough, but some scientists would say that they are no more than a combination of pheremones and complex, subconscious reading of micro-facial expressions (see Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink").

Science has not yet fully explained everything. But it HAS fully explained many of the things that the folks who practice Biodynamic viticulture seem to want to attribute to astrology.

JB wrote:
11.30.08 at 1:58 AM

Very interesting session. I have enjoyed the different perspectives and ideas on this subject. How blessed we are to have the freedom to express our differences.

I have been 'studying' and practicing biodynamic gardening and farming for a few years now in different climates and settings, so I have some experience with this topic and have heard many of the arguments on both sides.
Perhaps the biggest reason bd farmers, and practitioners, are still using these methods is due to the realized efficacy of doing so. There is no question that these methods work.
Sure there are those who don't believe and don't take the time to do an honest search of the research. So they follow whatever sounds good and make unsubstantiated claims, but the reality is- biodynamics works. There are long term studies, 20+ years, proving a significant difference and benefit to bd methods; furthermore, the products all speak for themselves. No matter if the produce is fruit, vegetable, wine, grain, medicinal herb, etc... those raised biodynamically and the soil from which they come are of the highest quality.
It is no coincidence that bd wines are consistently the best, highest quality wines produced, and regularly out perform others in blind tastings. The highest quality, most effective cultivated herbal medicinals are grown biodynamically, and are consistently awarded the highest price in the market (independent of the marketing, or lack of). And the highest quality foods, likewise, are those produced using bd methods. Until recently most bd products weren't labeled as such and one would have to know the producers practices or reputation to know that they were bd, yet these suppliers were known for being high-quality and were paid premium prices.
Those who are directly connected to growing and are aware of the benefits, will continue these practical, effective methods unhindered by those who have not yet chosen to see. And in the meantime, these discussions will continue broadening the awareness of the people. Thank you.
Don't judge that which you don't understand. You know bd products are better, so continue to reward those that take the time and care to practice these methods by supporting them with your purchases. That is the most important thing, don't let some vague concepts, and practices which don't fit into your partial world view, detract from good people doing a service to the earth and all connected thereby. You don't have to believe in it, just support it...and we will all benefit.

Alder wrote:
11.30.08 at 10:40 AM

JB, Thanks for the comments. Can you provide references to studies of biodynamics in peer reviewed scientific journals? I would very much like to check them out.

Rachel wrote:
11.30.08 at 10:13 PM

I met someone at the Slow Food event who explained to me that grinding up crystals somehow reflects the light in such a way that the grapes grow better. I am a scientist and was a bit skeptical on this-have been searching for backup support on this theory. I would think that ground up crystal would only result in getting tiny little cuts in your feet if you walk barefoot in the vineyards.


Alder wrote:
12.01.08 at 10:12 AM

Not that I consider him an authoritative source, or anything, but Gerard Depardieu, whose own vineyards are farmed Biodynamically suggests that skepticism is more than warranted when it comes to Biodynamics. In fact, he claims that it literally doesn't exist:

http://www.decanter.com/news/273087.html?aff=rss

Hank wrote:
12.01.08 at 8:19 PM

Rachel - that is a common BD belief, but I've not seen any evidence either that ground quartz will improve photosynthesis. There was, however, a recent study which seems to suggest that the fine silica particles actually stimulate an immune response in the vines, helping to ward off pests and disease.
I've got the feeling that many of the BD practices do work, but for reasons other than the standard BD explanations.

S wrote:
01.18.09 at 9:41 PM

Yes, biodynamic wine is amazing! I thought it was all a bunch of hocus-pocus, too, until I read Steiner's "Agriculture," which explained a lot... much biodynamic info is taken out of context.

Alder wrote:
01.18.09 at 9:59 PM

Uh, I read Steiner's "Agriculture" lectures as well, and the word that comes to mind is: malarky. They were a ridiculous concoction of pseudoscience, mysticism, and at times completely unintelligible rants. Interestingly, he didn't mention grapes, wine, or winemaking at all as far as I remember.

richard wrote:
01.23.10 at 5:22 PM

Interesting discussion to say the least. Here are my thoughts coming in late in the game:
Although many fine vineyards in Europe have adapted BD practices, there is absolutely no proof that these wines: a)exhibit a more pure terroir than other, low-cropped, carefully managed vineyards in the same region or:
b) that even if it is true that BD is the reason these wines are among the "best in the world."

My main problem with Steiner is that he was not really a farmer nor did he do any real research whatsoever to develop his theories and write his lectures. He didn't believe in science but he took credit from the work of other scientists like Sir Albert Howard, who brought the centuries-old practice of composting to European mainstream agriculture. Not to be crass - but Steiner literally pulled the concepts of BD out of his ass.

BD has a great name that sounds like a legitimate science (sound familiar Scientology?) Maybe Steiner should have been a Madison Ave. ad man. After 80 some odd years there is little evidence that his philosophy as a whole, works at all. Here's an example:
A large portion of the program relies on the theory of homeopathy (hence the "dynamism") whereby water is used to dilute a substance to a point that it is almost non-existent. This water is then applied to the soil and plants as a homeopathic remedy. Not to worry though as BD believes that water has a "memory" if it is stirred the right way. Do I hear the words snake oil?
The concept of the moon's having influence on plant growth has also been more or less debunked. The influence that is directly related to lunar cycles is so small as to have little if no effect on plant growth, let alone wine sedimentation.
Along with these facts, there are many companies who are in business strictly to sell various BD concoctions to growers at a huge profit. Let's not forget that the growers of BD produce and wines are selling their products to us at an inflated price. Is this really the moral high ground? Just asking...

Does it make a difference? I'm sure of the fact that people walking and working closely in the vineyard does matter - but other farmers who are not BD are doing this too and are also successful. Does it hurt anyone? Not physically but remember you are being asked to pay a lot more for what is essentially the folly and whimsy of other people.

Why do people believe this and pay money for these products? I believe it has to do with the fact we have become impatient and angry with some scientific developments. Many scientific discoveries have come back to bite us. And science in general has not been quick to find solutions to our many problems. But science is not to blame - people are to blame for loving money more than truth, for cherry picking data and not taking science to its utmost conclusion. Many of us are fed up with modern society and what it has wrought, But we need to remember this is not an excuse to chuck our collective critical thinking out the BD window.

Don't get me wrong, I don't like where "conventional agriculture" has gone - Its clear the use of harmful chemicals is not a sustainable practice. We need to do better. But we owe it to future generations to try and find out real long term solutions to the problems of production agriculture and real ways to help us from fouling our own nest. I have a feeling future generations will look at this time period and at BD producers and ask "did they really believe this stuff?" "Couldn't they have been spending their time, energy and money to try and develop better ways of doing things instead of stuffing a cow horn with manure?"

Do we really believe BD is the solution? I know this - the answers will not be found in the 80+ year old rantings of an occult philosopher.

pam southern wrote:
06.06.11 at 7:28 AM

I really don't know what's true or not involving biodynamic wines, but, one thing I have proven to myself is this: the ONLY wine I can drink without getting a migraine headache is a biodynamic wine. Last night I decided I could surely drink a good organic that was not a biodynamic. I did and today have a migraine. It happens every time. My conclusion is there is something different in the process, but, what I do not know. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

Sarah wrote:
08.17.11 at 8:02 PM

I wrote a much longer comment but entered the captcha wrong and it was wiped :(.

Anyway, I was really just repeating points that richard has made very well. Thanks for sticking up for critical thinking richard!

12.18.11 at 12:34 PM

It is important to note that the 'cosmic forces' of Spirit, Astral and Etheric that Biodynamics talks of, are none other than the electro magnetic radiations of stars ( spirit ) moving through the EM spheres of the Solar System (activating Astral activities), before moving through the magnetic field of the Earth ( called Etheric), before being received by the Earth.

These are astronomical facts, and while the BD folk call these activities funny names, and in some cases add all sorts of religious meanings and belief, the fact remains that these astronomical energetic activities are real. As to the effects these astronomical EM activities have on life on Earth, science needs to look and see for themselves. Does the Sun influence us? Just because science has not looked does not mean that something is not happening, It means science has not looked.

As for the action of the preparations - Every living thing has a particular EM activity. Humans reasonate around 7.8Hz. BD preps are made from herbs. Their energetic vibration is concentrated through the making process and then imparted to water - which we now know has memory - via stirring or rhythmic dilution, which in turn when spread over other plants 'infects' the host plants energetic field with the herbs vibrationary activity, thus effecting change, for a period of time. Eventually the plants natural vibration will dominate again.

Biodynamics makes sense once we accept the scientific fact that everything exists within an ocean of electro magnetic activity.

Glen Atkinson
35 years as a BD gardener

01.27.12 at 11:33 AM

If you still need convincing about the impact of biodynamic growing, check out this inspiring story from our green Web series.

http://bit.ly/ACpjM7

Biodynamic growing practices led this winery to grow better grapes. Now customers and farmers alike are glad they said “yes” to supporting sustainability!

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