Follow thewinehub on Twitter

Friday, December 9, 2011

A mere marketing tool or a fundamental transformation of viticultural practices? - My take on biodynamics.


This article will deal with a practice based in a very abstract concept. However, as Clive Coates MW said in his book - The Wines of Burgundy - “Sometimes the extremes of biodynamism sounds like black magic. But the point is: it works. We should learn not to scoff.”. Well,  I’m a believer that is is important to go back to the roots (whenever possible) when talking about a subject as complex as biodynamics. Here is some background on where it all started: The Austrian (born in Kraljevec, in what is now is Slovenia in 1861) Rudolf Steiner published in 1894 “The Philosophy of Freedom” which became the basis of his own theory of spiritual science – Anthroposophy – and its practical results cover many fields, of which Biodynamics is one. The movement itself has its origins on a series of discussions and lectures named “Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture”. He said in 1924 “We shall never understand plant life unless we bear in mind that everything which happens on the earth is but a reflection of what is taking place in the cosmos”.

A lot that is related to biodynamics happens in the vineyard and a major drawback for conventional vineyards (according to biodynamic advocates) is that, in the long term, they are not sustainable environmentally (or even economically). On one hand, there’s a high cost – again, both environmental and economical - involved with the use of the chemicals and the producer is caught in a vicious circle. The more fertilizers and pesticides are used, the higher the need for them. On the other hand, getting balance within the soil and sustaining its humus content and microbiological life, will be cost efficient and provide long-term sustainability for any given vineyard. Cover crops are a considerable part of this, improving soil structure, protecting it from erosion and creating competition for the vines. The other big component being the application of composts, organic wastes and manure, to the soil. However, there’s a clear distinction here between your “regular organic compost” and the ones that were made biodynamic by processes in which they are energized and become one of the nine compost preparations (500, 501, 502, 503, 504, 505, 506, 507, and 508). The animal manure most used in compost for Biodynamic vineyards is cow, to which homeopathic quantities (one cubic centimeter per two to ten cubic meters of solid compost) of Biodynamic preparation (yarrow, dandelion, oak bark, chamomile, and nettle) is added. The scientific community challenges how much these miniscule quantities will alter the qualities of the soil of a vineyard (in comparison to the ones that were treated simply organically) and, apparently, there’s no easy answer to this debate, but Biodynamic followers will say (and try to prove) that their vineyards have better physical properties and more biological life than the ones that are not.

Is biodynamics only “organics plus metaphysics” as it’s been said many times? Well, one could argue that the different positions and alignments (sun, moon, and stars) can be either favorable or unfavorable for vineyard work, so a lot of planning needs to be done according to the cosmic rhythms. Also, all plants, including vines, have their internal clocks. The sun and the moon cycles have been used for millennia in agriculture and Biodynamism is only making sure that the understanding of these cycles is maximized. “Just finding the harmony between the vine and the universe” as Vasco Croft of the Afros Project (a producer in the Vinho Verde region of Portugal) would say if inquired “why” for a specific practice. Following these cycles makes sense (even to the less credulous), but certain things, like why biodynamic preparations have to be stirred by only one person, otherwise the energy contained there is destroyed... is the kind of “black magic” that is so hard to be understood by many. That brings the question: Would some very famous biodynamic producers deliver the same type of quality – in the glass of wine – if they were to produce grapes "simply" organically or, for arguments sake, can one say that the “magic” in the vineyard really makes a difference in the final product? Some may have good reason to say that it does. Producers like Clos de la Coulee de Serrant, Bonny Doon, Zind-Humbrecht, Alvaro Palacios and Alois Lageder (to mention just a few) are perfect examples that great wines can be made with biodynamics. Not to mention that a walk in their vineyards is a much more pleasant experience than a visit to one that is heavily using pesticides and the soil of the rows between the vines looks totally dead.

 
One of the biggest arguments for Biodynamic producers is that, since wines are becoming all the same with modern technologies (both at the vineyard and at the winery), there’s a need for “uniqueness”. In other words, there’s a call for wines that show the place where they were produced. Growing grapes and making wines following the biodynamic rules allows, in essence, a wine to show its birth certificate, its terroir. The use of commercial yeasts is probably one of the winemaking practices most disliked by biodynamic advocates. According to them, its use masks the soil type and the climatic conditions, making it very difficult to tell the origin of the wine and even vintage variations. Therefore, the only truthful way of fermenting the must is with natural yeasts, the ones that come with the grapes from the vineyard. Biodynamic (or organic) practices in the vineyard will also affect the quantity and variety of these yeasts and the wines that are made using natural yeasts will show (even in blind tastings) a more complex character than if made otherwise. Of course, in the process of trying to be unique, there are several biodynamic producers making incredibly bad wine (and by “bad”, I mean faulty) and, for me, the first obligation of a wine is to be good (Nicolas Joly said "the first obligation of a wine is to be true").

Besides the production of some funky and/or faulty wines, there is another huge problem with biodymamics (or organics for this matter). Being against the use of fertilizers and pesticides, they put themselves in a sort of “being wrong by being right” kind of situation. Jamie Goode explains brilliantly in his book “Natural Wine – Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking” the “Malthusian precipice”: Mass starvation has been avoided mainly because we have increased drastically our efficiency in agriculture. Well, biodynamic producers are fervently against these practices and I’m not truly sure if these people (organic/biodynamic producers) have realized the dangers of totally eliminating fertilizers and pesticides from agriculture in general. Jamie adds: “The low yields of organics would also necessitate the cultivation of larger areas of land, which would conflict with conservation attempts. Nothing is as straight forward as it first seems. Organics on a large scale would be not just an expensive luxury but also, to a degree, an immoral one.”

Another moral problem (nothing compared to the mass starvation mentioned above, but still worth mentioning) arises when people question the motives behind a producer becoming biodynamic, and then, ethics become part of the equation. It’s a fact that biodynamics is not “pure faith” in every single case. Biodynamic wines are consumed for the perception that they are beneficial for the health, because one believes they impact less the environment, or simply because they are “cool”. What it means is that the sales of a product can be considerably increased if it is branded as biodynamic. The result? Some people with no spiritual or religious inclinations will come up with stories involving the stars, the sun, and the moon... and even if they do exactly as they should as far as the rules apply, they are in it only for the money, aren’t they? Beware of producers who claim to be making their wines biodynamically because they “have faith”, when they display a lifestyle totally incompatible with Steiner’s mindset. Most Biodynamic producers believe in what they do (or so I hope), but there’s certainly a number of wineries out there who are just surfing the wave of production of natural products because it’s a good marketing strategy. Period.

With all these things being said, and instead of presenting a conclusion, I would like to leave you with a few more questions:

  • Is it safe to say that biodynamic practices are a fundamental transformation of viticultural practices and not a mere marketing tool?
  • Are biodynamics like homeopathic medicine? It works for the “easy” non life-threatening diseases (like a cold), but pretty much have no effect against a more serious one (like a cancer)? In other words, are we just talking about a placebo effect here?
  • Is there a way to confirm that biodynamic practices are better than (“simply”) being organic?
  • I don’t hear people ("wine people" I say) asking if the wheat for the bread they are eating was grown organically... But, so many times, I have heard the question about the grapes used in the wine they are drinking. Why does it have to be so different with wine?
  • Are these practices as good for us (as human race - philosophically speaking) as people claim they are?
Your feedback will be much appreciated. With your help I hope I can write a conclusion to this paper...

Cheers,

Luiz A. G. Alberto
TheWineHub
 
http://www.thewinehub.com/ 
One of the pillars of TheWineHub is Wine Tourism. Whether you are a wine maker, or a wine drinker, we all enjoy having discoveries...
TheWineHub exists to help you with that.

28 comments:

Anders Öhman said...

Interesting piece.

I do have a problem that you without questioning very much seems to accept that there is som form of cosmic or lunar influence. Where do you find evidence of that?

There are some interesting questions you leave us with.
”Are these practices as good for us (as human race - philosophically speaking) as people claim they are?”
I would say definitely no. Biodynamics, like all other pseudoscience, is a dead-end. It's not open to change or to exploration of new ways. It is faith based and as such it should be left behind together with hoemopathy, phrenology and astrology.

Bodhisattva said...

Luis i enjoyed your explanation and your vision about very important aspects of this filosofy of production.

Marco said...

Dear Luiz,

I read he article you wrote on your blog. Very interesting.

However, there is, at the end of your explanation, a question that I would like to try to answer to here:

"I don’t hear people asking if the wheat for the bread they are eating was grown organically... But, so many times, I have heard the question about the grapes used in the wine they are drinking. Why does it have to be so different with wine?"

First of all, I would like to say that I do not agree with the statement according to which people do not ask about the wheat or any kind of food being produced organically.

I have being living in France for 19 years and I have always heard some people (of course, not the majority) caring about their food. Especially these last 10 years people are more conscious about the dangers of pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, GMOs, hybrids and so on.

It's been a little less then 3 years I am in Brazil and I must say that if there is still a lot to do so people really understand these dangers, there are a lot of Chefs that embraced the organic cause and work with these ingredients in their kitchens.

More specifically about wine, there is still a prejudice about organic and biodynamic ("these wines are bad and expensive") but professionals are opening their minds everyday a little more and finally understanding the work done in these small vineyards.

Anonymous said...

Quoting Anders Öhman

" ”Are these practices as good for us (as human race - philosophically speaking) as people claim they are?”
I would say definitely no. Biodynamics, like all other pseudoscience, is a dead-end. It's not open to change or to exploration of new ways. It is faith based and as such it should be left behind together with hoemopathy, phrenology and astrology. "

Sure Anders, it's much more worth believing in consumption, atmosphere pollution, Oil, destroying the rainforest and being blind not understanding that we are not Masters and Possessors of the Nature as Descartes described us but much more part of it as any other specie....

Anonymous said...

Luiz, very provocative article. I can speak to the grains as we have a farm in NE growing such as has been done by farmers over the past centuries. We plant what the soil can nurish with natural rains and basic organics plus some fertilizer. Our neighbors plant ten times more plants per acre, use ten times more herbecides and fertilizers while pumping 10s of thousands of gallons of water through expensive watering systems. They then harvest ten times as much grain per acre for ten times as much income revenue for their efforts. We both sell our grains to the local feed lots or grain elevators for the same price. Our neighbors feed ten times more people than we can. Once in a storage elevator no one cares or is willing to pay for organics. Farming is very risky as over production by neighbors hurts our organic production prices just the same as theirs. Farming is farming no matter the crop. Hence, biodynamics, organic, etc. is no more than a marketing tool to sell more luxury product for a greater price. If organic grain mattered to the price received, we too would be part of the parade.

Frank Haddad said...

I have talked to growers and wine makers who follow biodynamic principles. Some of these do not market the fact that they are biodynamic,or even organic growers. One wine maker gave me the explanation that he thought that marketing the fact that his wines were biodynamic could be considered a negative marketing tool. There are some wine makers in Chateauneuf de Pape who are biodynamic that do not even mention that their wine are bio, you have to search through their websites to even find a mention. The reason for this given to me at a wine makers dinner, was that they wanted the wine is the glass to speak for it"s self.
There will always be someone who will just use the word biodynamic to sell wine, whether they believe in the process and procedures or not. There is and will probably always doubtful claims, and bad marketing. We could use old vines, reserve wines and many others that the definition is questionable.
As in all viticultural or wine making practices there will be good and bad wines made.
There are some great wines that are biodynamic, is it because they are bio or because they are great wine makers or both ?
The final judgement comes down to how good is the wine in the glass. That is the real marketing tool.

Hugh said...

Luiz,

Yet another very interesting article. May I pose two more questions into the mix:
(1) The biodynamic farm is supposed to be a closed system (or something to that effect, from my reading) - why then is there a reliance on non-indigenous substances (you mention dandelion, yarrow, oak bark, etc) that presumably may also have the effect of masking terroir?
(2) Why is the biodynamic prescription so unchanging (or have I missed something)? Why accept that certain substances and practices are some sort of ideal and, assuming that they do actually work, not seek constantly for even better? The denial that there might ever be "a better way" is surely a point where a dangerous bridge of religiosity (from faith to blind faith?) has been crossed.

Anders Öhman said...

Hugh:
Your second point is exactly what I tried to express in my first comment.
This is the real sign that BD is a pseudoscience.

Mark norman said...

There are several key issues here but one that is close to my heart...I lost my father to skin cancer and my wife has already lost her thyroid and part of her right lung to cancer so I find it hard to believe that we as a society don't pay more attention to what we eat and drink and the chemicals that are used to produce them.

One of the most powerful statements that I ever heard was from Claude Bourgignon (who is cosidered one of the top soil scientist in France) was quoted by Andrew Jefford in his book "The New France, A Complete guide to Contemporary French Wine" (pg 87) "Bourgignon is famous for having pointed out that there is less microbiological life in some of Burgundy's vineyard than in the Sahara Desert"...his contention is that the pesticides that are being used are killing the good things in the soil. If this is true, like ground water, these chemicals are traveling up through the vine's roots into the plant and into the grapes. If they are killing all the life forms (good and bad) in the soil they will eventually become concentrated enough to slowly kill us.

The consequences of careless actions of the past will only serve to haunt our futures.

Hope this is helpful. I have many other stories that I could share with you from my time sitting in Sloan-Kettering Memorial Hospital waiting for my wife to recover that has frightening insights to less than healthy lifestyles that are affecting us and must also be happening to plants that produce the treasures we call wine.

Mark Norman

Luiz Alberto said...

@Anders, thanks for taking the time to express your opinion. Like you, I have a lot of problems to accept things that are not scientifically proven. And you're right. I didn't questioned much, for example, if there is scientific proof that the moon influences more things than just the ocean tides. However, in practice it seems to be working for farming who have being following the lunar calendar for their farming activities for generations. Isn't it one of those things that are hard to prove, but even harder to disprove?

Luiz Alberto said...

Thanks for the Support Bodhisattva!

Anonymous said...

Luiz, thank you for an interesting article.
I would like to comment that there is an assumption underpinning the article that a vineyard is either organic, biodynamic or continually spraying toxic chemicals. Those that use chemicals vary greatly in their approach to them from being close to organic and using very targeted approaches (scientific) through to spraying according to routines (a ritualistic approach). I would also like to point out that some biodynamic vineyards interpret chemical use to be consistent with biodynamic, and that the main spray used by organic vineyards is based on copper, a heavy metal that accumulates in the soil and causes toxicity much faster than modern targeted chemicals that break down rapidly. In wet areas with naturally fertile soils controlling grass and weed growth in organic and biodynamic vineyards is impossible without regularly mowing, plowing or tilling the soil which is very destructive to soil ecology, soil carbon levels, causes soil erosion and the emission of a great deal of greenhouse gas.
A possibly conclusion for your article: Biodynamic vineyards are great for areas that have low disease pressure (low humidity) and naturally fertile soils because the low inputs reduce unwanted excessive vine growth. In a good year they produce small crops of high-flavor grapes suitable for wines that are necessarily expensive to cover the extra cost associated with low yields.

Kent Benson said...

“I’m a believer that it is important to go back to the roots…”

Me too. Let’s dig a little deeper into those roots. It seems that advocates of biodynamics don’t want to spend any time talking about Rudolf Steiner. If you read any of his words on the subject you quickly find out why. They are embarrassing. Here are just a few examples of some of the less than confidence-inspiring words of old Rudolf.

He says that insect pests are spontaneously created by “cosmic influences.”

Eating potatoes “is one of the factors that have made men and animals materialistic.”

“Most of our illnesses arise” when our “astral body” is “connected more intensely with the physical (or with any one of its organs) than it should normally be.”

“…in the true sense of the word a plant cannot be diseased, “ plants only appear to be diseased when “Moon-influences in the soil…become too strong.”

In explaining the effectiveness of his Preparation 502 (burial of yarrow flowers in a stag’s bladder) he says, “Its homeopathic sulphur-content…enables the yarrow to ray out its influences to a greater distance and through large masses.” And, “The baldder of the stag is connected…with the forces of the Cosmos. Nay, it is almost the image of the Cosmos. We thereby give the yarrow the power quite essentially to enhance the forces it already possesses, to combine the sulphur with the other substances.”

All along the way, these prescriptions go completely unsupported by any evidence of their veracity. It’s as if Steiner alone was privy to all the secrets of the universe. He alone was selected by the life force of the Cosmos to act as the conduit of its inner workings.

“However, there’s a clear distinction here between your “regular organic compost” and the ones that were made biodynamic by processes in which they are energized and become one of the nine compost preparations…”

What is the “clear distinction” other than that they contain strange ingredients which contain no special properties beyond the cosmic powers Steiner ascribes to them? How do we know it is energized? What does it mean to be energized? This is the starry-eyed language of biodynamism which ceaselessly babbles on about a life force it never bothers to define.

Kent Benson said...

“Well, one could argue that the different positions and alignments (sun, moon, and stars) can be either favorable or unfavorable for vineyard work, so a lot of planning needs to be done according to the cosmic rhythms.”

Yes, one could make that argument, but one would be hard pressed to support it with anything other than wishfull thinking.

“Also, all plants, including vines, have their internal clocks. The sun and the moon cycles have been used for millennia in agriculture and Biodynamism is only making sure that the understanding of these cycles is maximized.”

Okay, let’s say I buy into this line of thinking (which I don’t). How do we know that Steiner’s understanding is correct? Is he the Messiah of agriculture?

“One of the biggest arguments for Biodynamic producers is that, since wines are becoming all the same with modern technologies (both at the vineyard and at the winery), there’s a need for “uniqueness”. In other words, there’s a call for wines that show the place where they were produced. Growing grapes and making wines following the biodynamic rules allows, in essence, a wine to show its birth certificate, its terroir.”

This is a completely specious argument. In the first place, who is to say how the wines of any given terroir “should” taste? Secondly, there is no evidence that biodynamic vineyards produce wines that are more indicative of their terroir than any other methods, let alone organic farming. How does one measure the level of terroir in a wine?

“Therefore, the only truthful way of fermenting the must is with natural yeasts, the ones that come with the grapes from the vineyard.”

Seriously? There is a truthful way of fermenting wine, as opposed to the lying way? Wine is only truthful if it ferments with only the yeast on the grape? I don’t think we’ll be seeing much truthful dry wine then. It’s my understanding that there is typically little or no amount of the critical Saccharomyces cerevisiae on the surface of grape skins.

I don’t doubt that the protocols of organic farming are better for the environment and ultimately produce, to some tastes, a better product – no argument there. The problem is those who use biodynamics attribute this difference to its hocus-pocus instead of the basics practices of organic farming.

Kent Benson said...

Since biodynamics incorporates much of the practices of organic farming, it does nothing to support the results of biodynamics to compare them to the results of more traditional, commercial, nonorganic farming practices. With that in mind, the following is part of a report on biodynamics from the Skeptical Inquirer, which addresses the results of biodynamics vs. organic farming.

“Lynne Carpenter-Boggs and her thesis advisor, John Reganold, both at Washington State University, have done what is perhaps the most highly regarded scientific work on biodynamics. Reganold is a sometime biodynamic consultant to the California wine industry as well as a researcher on the subject. However, even he and his former student have been unable to unearth any real differences between organic and biodynamic practices. Indeed, Carpenter-Boggs has researched precisely the question of whether composts with biodynamic preparations improve soils to which they are added. The results? “No differences were found between soils fertilized with biodynamic vs. nonbiodynamic compost” (Carpenter-Boggs 2000).8 Reganold has said as much in a 2003 interview: research “didn't distinguish biodynamic from organic” (Darlington 2003). It could hardly be clearer.

A six-year study from the Washington State lab in 2005 was the first published in a peer-reviewed journal comparing biodynamic and organic agriculture with respect to wine grapes in particular. They found nothing. “No consistent significant differences were found between the biodynamically treated and untreated plots for any of the physical, chemical, or biological parameters tested” (Reeve et al. 2005, p. 371). Further, when they looked at the grape vines, “Analysis of leaves showed no differences between treatments. . . . There were no differences in yield, cluster count, cluster weight, and berry weight” (p. 373).9 So, careful research demonstrates that the labor-intensive biodynamic “preparations” are simply ineffective. Yet, according to the biodynamic certification body itself, they are the heart of the practice.”

Kent Benson said...

Is it safe to say that biodynamic practices are a fundamental transformation of viticultural practices and not a mere marketing tool?

It’s transformational alright, but to what?

Are biodynamics like homeopathic medicine? It works for the “easy” non life-threatening diseases (like a cold), but pretty much have no effect against a more serious one (like a cancer)? In other words, are we just talking about a placebo effect here?

Maybe. More importantly, should every winemaker be expected to subject themselves to the risk of devastation biodynamics subjects them to in order to gain the respect of the wine trade?

Is there a way to confirm that biodynamic practices are better than (“simply”) being organic?

See two studies cited above.

I don’t hear people ("wine people" I say) asking if the wheat for the bread they are eating was grown organically... But, so many times, I have heard the question about the grapes used in the wine they are drinking. Why does it have to be so different with wine?

I thought we were talking about biodynamics. They should be discussed as the completely different things that they are.

Are these practices as good for us (as human race - philosophically speaking) as people claim they are?

That’s a question for science, not opinion or speculation.

Tracy Cervellone CWE said...

Luiz: finally got a little breathing room, so here goes...
Biodynamics is indeed a fundamental transformation of viticulture, BUT:
As time goes on, it will be adapted to different users according to their tolerance for the spiritual/cosmological bent of so many of its premises. "Plain old" Organic viticulture is here to stay, but as Jamie intimates in his book, it is dangerous to take a dogmatic position on anything where our food/Wine supply is concerned. As for the marketing tool aspect, well, marketing tools come and go. I've been selling wine for 25 years now, and at the end of the day, Organic/BioD is a plus, but the wine's quality and price points are and will be the final arbiter. This isn't going to change anytime soon, especially at the mass market level (where most wine is actually sold...and we need every wine drinker we can get, organic or not). As BioD/organic wines tend to be more expensive, the quality will have to match the price. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't.

Never discount the placebo affect. Any quick look at a common drug warning label or advert will always show a statistically significant percent of people whose symptoms were relieved with a placebo. Same with wine. A classic example of this is the sulfite controversy, with people (my inlaws, for instance) claiming that a certain white wine never gives them headaches...even if it is the massively sulfited, sterile filtered, cold stabilized semi sweet mass market moscato so prevalent now on supermarket shelves. That said, I've been in love with some BioD wines for years: Leflaive, Felton Road, DRC, Joly...but some organic, "just" sustainably or even conventionally farmed wines are just as beautiful, and generally not as expensive. So it does become a matter of money, for a lot of people. And that is just fine by me.
There isn't currently a mass market trial to prove the real, absolute qualitative differences between the wines. It would be an expensive experiment, but a worthy one. Double Blind, with average consumers and trained palates, Davis 20 point scale, on massive scale: it would entail thousands of participants to be statistically relevant. Ergo the expense. And, most high quality BioD producers are generally selling out most of their wine, so what's the point for them?
There can't be much question that reducing petro and other chemical input in vineyards and wineries is better for the workers, but the wine? Jury is still out. See above note...And I for one can't get on the astrological bandwagon for viticulture, other than classic, traditional moon/sun cycles. I plant my veggies by them, with success.
I would also like to see a gas spectrometer analysis of the wines as well.

It is fashionable now to "Order Organic/Biod" anything. Even paper or makeup. I don't follow fads, this one included.

That said, I'll drink Leflaive any day of the week, if I can't afford it, but you know, I've had some knockout wines lately that I would geuss were conventionally farmed.
My bank doesn't care where the wine comes from, only that I have the money to pay for it.

Thanks as always for your great writing and work...

Kent Benson said...

Sorry, I misread the last question as saying, “physically speaking” instead of “philosophically speaking.” Now, I’m not sure I understand the question. How is anything “good for us” philosophically speaking? Nonetheless, philosophy being a set of principals by which we approach our lives, I guess the critical component making any philosophy “good for us” would be that those principals are rooted in truth – truth being what really is. Biodynamics purports to represent what really is when it comes to agriculture. Before we can determine its veracity we must have more than Rudolf Steiner’s word on it. I have yet to hear anyone explain how Steiner acquired his insights into the cosmos or how and why his prescriptions actually work. On the contrary, many of its practitioners are openly proud that their methods have no scientific evidence to support their use. There is an open disdain for science that says, “We are dealing in a realm beyond science.” I can only surmise that for such people, truth is whatever they want it to be. History is full of the disastrous results of man attempting to fashion truth into the image he prefers.

Saverio Petrilli said...

Dear Luiz, I may try to bring my own experience as a farmer producing wine, olive oil, honey and a little more: I have been conventional, organic and finally biodynamic so I think I have gained quite an experience, a REAL one, not out of a book or an article.
As it often happens biodynamic stimulate nasty debates, very seldom animated by a true scientific ideal: "find the truth". Most often I have found myself involved in argument where the only goal of the so called "scientist" was denying any evidence, and win the war?!

As I said before I am a farmer, what matters me is cultivating my land in the best possible way, and the tools I have to judge that are, in order of importance, the following: economic, quality, quantity, pleasure, the less tiring and difficult, sustainability. As you can see I didn't mention marketing nor ideology.

I have learned Bd from Alex Podolinsky whose practical approach is so positive that in Australia, in the association of farmers he founded, they have 85% of BD land on earth. I really advise anybody willing to learn more about BD to read his conferences that you can easily find in english on www.bdgrowing.com or in italian on www.agricolturavivente.org .

If Science has not yet been able to prove Bd (or disprove it) it is not my concern (as farmer). Even if I know so many very interesting researches and many Scientists who are working on that with very fine evidence, one of the last, most interestingly proved that soil in a BD farm could absorb 14 times more water than a conventional neighbor in the first hour of heavy storm. Does that sounds interesting?

But I think more generous on those last days of the year to share my REAL experience.

I would not go back to either conventional or organic because:
- I had to work much more before, except for very difficult vintages with too much rain where I have to work as much as before
- I produce more fruit of the quality I need without need of devastating green harvest.
- the vines are so resistant to diseases that I can afford to spray with very light stuff, for example on 9 ha I only use milk and some dust sulphur, no copper.
- the quality of the fruit is absolutely superior for: resistance to difficult weather in vintage,
color,
aromatics (probably 10 times more),
tannins (riper).
- the quality of the wine is absolutely superior for: resistance to oxidation,
resistance to reduction,
drinkability,
ageing,
no need of artificial flavouring via chips, new barrels, tannins,
no need of any additives rather than sulphur,
total sulphur reduces more quickly not causing health problem in drinkers.

In any visit to my farm I can show REAL evidence of the positive effects of BD so much that 80% of the farmers who have visited me have started Bd as well.

Bd method of agriculture is built on some true Scientific basement, with so much common sense that weather well explained is impossible to deny. In any serious Bd farm you can find such evidence, and otherwise I invite you here.

I hope my experience would bring some light and I wish everybody Happy New Year.

wayne ahrens said...

I would like to echo Saverio has said, I am also a practicing BD farmer having made the journey from chemical via some intense study of Organic to Biodynamic and have been so enthused by the results of changing that I won't be going back. I believe that wine production presents a great opportunity for Biodynamic production to show benefits as consumers are prepared to pay significantly more for quality compared to other agricultural products. This is why the debate gets so heated in wine compared to grains or tomatoes. In our own case the only cost that has increased is the requirement for certification, everywhere else the costs are cheaper and the result is a more economically viable farm. Getting chemicals out of my workplace is a primary motivation. It is easy for people who don't have to handle the products routinely used in chemical agriculture to question how damaging they are but if they were to get their hands dirty I think perhaps their attitude would change. Somewhere in the thread I read about BD farmers using a lot of Copper and this is a good opportunity to talk about the differences between BD and simply organic. We have been able to reduce our copper applications by 75% with no increased disease activity using milk whey and casurina tea as the basis of our spray programme. Our zero till approach means less fuel consumption and vastly improved soil structure. If we are to feed a growing population we can't afford to degrade our farming land any further and I believe chemicals and excess tillage are the main culprits there.

GregT said...

As others have mentioned, and Kent so wonderfully, it's not an either-or argument in which you're either dumping tons of chemicals or believing in the "frequencies" that determine everything. And yes - I've read some of the biodynamic nonsense, including the book by Joly, which was simple lunacy.

Compost? Sure. My grandparents composted everything they could and so did my mother and so do I. Meat, fish, bones, leaves, weeds, pretty much anything organic. It's not a "return to roots" or some revolution. Stirring clockwise 100 times with a man's hand - women don't have the right energy - is just whack.

Good for the human race? Steiner was one of the people who organized the papers of Goethe after the poet's death. Goethe of course, considered himself a scientist, not a poet, and his interest in alchemy and astrology deeply influenced Steiner, who then created his own philosophy. And BTW, never grew a bean.

As for some of the other arguments - that all wine tastes the same unless it's biodynamic - WTF? Really? And that's because it's not biodynamic? Really?

It's quite fashionable in the west, and particularly in the US, to argue that "there are forces we don't yet understand" or "we don't know everything" or some such tripe but how many people making those arguments have any background in science? There's a celebration of ignorance that's the antithesis of the Age of Reason. It's hard to learn things, we'd rather eat French fries and watch a reality show than learn, and we celebrate Oprah and the like as being really "deep". And of course, trust in biodynamics.

pat said...

Interesting read, Luis!
I do want to take issue with the very little differentiation between biodynamic and organic in your article, and the statement that we are, without the grace of modern pesticides and fertilizers, at the edge of a "'Malthusian precipice': Mass starvation has been avoided mainly because we have increased drastically our efficiency in agriculture."
1: I don't think that cultivation of grapes for wine fits into a starvation schema.
2: May I recommend reading http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/fst30years ? While more research needs to be done, they have shown that the idea that yields and ROI to the farmer are better with modern chemicals may be conjecture, delivered from the marketing materials of modern multi-national corporations who benefit from people buying their chemical and gMOD products.

Karin S. Fester said...

Good article. Steiner very interesting philosophy. I believe in biodynamics and that is because I myself cultivate organic grapes, native "old antique" fruits and vegetables; I follow the moon cycle for everything. I personally observe (day by day) how things do or do not thrive. I'm not religious either! I was initially educated as a biologist. One small example: my tomatoes grow more vigorously when interspersed with wild peppermint and are located near hibiscus bushes. Leaving the grass grow between rows in the vineyard will have a positive affect as opposed to cutting the grass short constantly. Another example: bird sounds/music affects plant growth. Another example: allow a variety of herbs (medicinal or culinary) to grow in wild unorganized area of land. All these plants interact some how in a way we do not necessarily understand, but they thrive! Biosemiotics--bio sign systems, is another concept I use in conjunction with biodynamics: plants read "signs" in the natural environment and respond to them. I have observed this phenomenon for many years. Grow them in monoculture and it won't work. Although I was originally educated in the reductionist-mechanistic biology, I have over the years expanded my views and philosophy embracing a holistic view to life in order to be a better and more eco-friendly cultivator. Unfortunately the term "biodynamics" is used loosely, especially in marketing of wines, and the general public just blindly believes what they read in the product promotions.( I could write more on that, but not for now).

Karin S. Fester

Erica said...

Luiz,
nice overview. Being a scientist, I don't consider Biodynamics neither a science nor a pseudoscience. However, I find that - out of the wines that really move me - a disproportionate amount are farmed by biodynamic converts or at least "true" (not marketing converts)organic growers using natural yeast. I would just like to add to one of your questions that I do indeed eat only organic or biodynamic bread, vegetables and meats. For me, with wine, it is rather the other way around. I think this applies to many Swedes. We switch our food to organic or biodynamic but keep drinking conventionally grown, sprayed, inoculated wine. It is important to realize that wine is an agricultural product. Either way, I have no definite answers, but am spending more time now trying to figure out what makes the difference in the wines and in the land. Next stop Cali. Maybe I should go see Randall Grahm...

Best wishes,
Erica

Charlotte said...

Good points Erica!
I hear a lot of assumptions, in this thread and elsewhere, being made about BD without actually have much clue (seems to be the norm, especially with sk journalist with absolutely no experience in farming). Fact is it still being researched, Geisenheim has quite recently produced a 6 year old trial on the difference between Organic, BD and Conventional. This will be on going, but they have so far proved a huge difference in soil life and some in maturity between BD and Organic. Give research some time, till then get of your high horse and appreciate you don't know everything. I commend and respect any winemaker that focus their efforts on respecting nature and learning from it. I have equally very little respect for journalists and bloggers that try to make a name for them selves by trying to belittle a very real reality out there. Many farmers/wine producers work very hard trying to upkeep a BD farm. It's bloody hard work and takes a lot of care. What is so wrong with that?

Caroline said...

Hi Luiz,
Interesting post. Thank you for referring to it in reply to my post on what I took away on bio-D from the RAW and REAL natural wine fairs in London Biodynamics and the liveliness of RAW wine..) Let me try and answer your questions best I can -stating well in advance that I am certainly not an expert on the topic and my response is just my personal opinion.
Is it safe to say that biodynamic practices are a fundamental transformation of viticultural practices and not a mere marketing tool?
Organic farming, and bio-D farming is a form of organic farming differs significantly from the more "modern" viticulture in the sense that there is a focus on a living earth - and in order to maintain life alternative forms of fertilizers and pesticides are used - these are generally less harmful for the rest of the environment and are generally more focused on restoring the balance and harmony in the vineyard. I know a lot of farmers (even here in Champagne) that farm according to organic or bio-d principles yet one has to search high and low on the bottles or tasting notes to find a some form of reference to this. If not mentioned, one can hardly argue that these people only farm in this particular way because of marketing reasons?! I feel they farm this way as they believe it is the only way to preserve the land for future generations and make the best wines...
Are biodynamics like homeopathic medicine? It works for the “easy” non life-threatening diseases (like a cold), but pretty much have no effect against a more serious one (like a cancer)? In other words, are we just talking about a placebo effect here?
I have seen some amazing recoveries of the earth by a change in farming method - ie conversion to organic with at least some principles of bio-D... Therefore I really don't think it is a placebo... It takes time but from what I have seen and heard the earth will restore itself as life will restore in in the earth.. However - in order to grow grapes, or any other agriculture product, one has to have the correct conditions. If these are not present, the earth may restore itself, but grapes may not prosper (as in some very dry areas say eg in Australia)

Caroline said...

Is there a way to confirm that biodynamic practices are better than (“simply”) being organic?
I really do not see bio-D as being in competition w organic farming - in fact it is a different interpretation of organic farming - and to the contrary of what I have read in the comments and this post - I don't know anybody who just blindly follows what Steiner wrote about a century ago... I think it is more about a deep knowledge of life and nature, and seeing what is needed in your particular case to create a balance in your vineyard in a particular season... If you focus on living earth, rather than the division of organic and bio-D, then I would say you provide the conditions needed to restore the soil and let it life in harmony with the rest of the environment.
I don’t hear people ("wine people" I say) asking if the wheat for the bread they are eating was grown organically... But, so many times, I have heard the question about the grapes used in the wine they are drinking. Why does it have to be so different with wine?
I consider myself to be a wine person and I have now for at least 15 years focussed on organic food, bought my fruit and vegies from farmer market stalls and focussed on fresh and wholesome food. I would agree w Erica that for wine I have been less rigid - ie that I actually drink a lot more regular produced wine - made from grapes which have been farmed w lots of chemicals - then I have been for food... So I totally disagree with this statement..
Are these practices as good for us (as human race - philosophically speaking) as people claim they are?
I believe that farming in a sustainable way can only be good for us. I believe, as stated by Mark, that all the chemicals have an impact on us, and that they eventually will slowly kill us. I was reading a study of the increase in cancers in the Bordeaux area by vineyard workers who are regularly exposed to chemical sprays - this article came from a medical magazine so I presume some scientific truth was at the base of this. From personal experience, I get headaches and feel sick in my stomach when the vines are being treated around me - and even my dog seems to suffer... So in the light of this, I do believe that farming in a sustainable way (organic or bio-D)is good for the human race in general...

Anders Öhman said...

I think that anyone who promotes BD should be forced to read Rudolf Steiners insane ramblings on agriculture.