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When Biodynamic and Organic Winegrowing Might Not Work

I recently moderated a panel of Biodynamic winemakers for the SF Chefs. Food. Wine event that took place here in San Francisco. We tasted through their wines, and then got down and dirty on Biodynamics with the audience.

At one point someone in the audience asked whether anyone anywhere in the world could produce Biodynamic wine, or whether only some people could. This was a very good question, and one I’ve often thought about myself more than once.

Biodynamics, for those less familiar with the practice, forbids the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and forbids or extremely limits the use of all other commercial treatments including copper sulfate, for dealing with the various ailments of grape vines. The philosophy of such farming suggests that the first goal would be to tend the ecosystem of the vineyard in such a way that the problems never occur in the first place, and the second, to deal with the problems using completely natural means.

That’s all fine and dandy when you’re growing grapes in the near idyllic conditions of, say, the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County, but quite another when you’re battling mildew in the vineyards of Champagne. Champagne maven Peter Liem takes up this point in a recent article on a newly launched web site about food and wine called Zester Daily.

Peter points out that there’s a big difference between the growing conditions of Sonoma County and Champagne. Champagne is France’s Northernmost wine growing region, and its climate reflects that latitude in its capriciousness and in its moisture. Which brings us to perhaps the number one reason that there are so few Biodynamically produced Champagnes. In a word: mildew.

Because Biodynamic viticulture dramatically limits or forbits the use of most products that might control downy mildew, growers who do stick to these methods run a huge risk of catastrophic crop loss. Which is why many are choosing to forgo the certification process for either Biodynamic or organic viticulture, and instead, reserving the right to save their crops when bad things happen.

Peter does a great job of teasing out the conflicting priorities of many admirable growers who are dedicated to sustainable wine growing, but pragmatic enough not to want to ruin themselves financially in the process.

In the end, his article is a great illustration of a great Yogi Berra quote: “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. ”

Read the full article.

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