Why Biodynamic Farming Is Overrated

Categories: Vine Geeks

NathanClaiborn32.jpg
Nathan Claiborn
When burying a horn full of poop makes a better wine, call me.

We all like to pat ourselves on the back for shopping at farmers markets, buying organic produce, finding purveyors who care about how their farming practices affect the Earth, etc. I'm one of those people: I buy stuff from farmers markets and celebrate those producers who care about what they are doing. Along with the buzzwords "organic," "sustainable," "carbon-neutral," stands one that, in the wine business especially, garners way too much acclaim for not enough results and that is "biodynamic."

See also: 3 Perfect Wines for Summer

Biodynamic farming is the brainchild of Rudolph Steiner, a late-19th-century Austrian philosopher and naturalist. Biodynamics is a quasi-scientific method of farming that intertwines holistic, spiritual, and practical approaches to crop management.

When I say quasi-scientific, it's because this guy was not a scientist -- not even a little bit. He was a smart guy and wrote a lot about how things should be. But let's be clear: He was an affluent European philosopher in the late 1800s, not exactly "salt of the earth."

Biodynamic farming posits that you should plant, prune, and harvest based on the lunar calendar. And that you should look at your crop as an integrated organism so that every undercrop, rodent, bird, and insect is an integral part of the success of that organism. So far, so good; I'm all for that. A holistic approach to farming that does away with the need for non-organic intervention? We can all have a group hug over that!

The problem here is that biodynamics, especially in the wine world, has become such a buzzword that the mere mention of it produces oohs and ahhs, as if, because you buried the manure-filled horn last winter, your wine will magically taste better. I'm all for good crop management, organic farming practices, carbon-neutral winemaking, all of that stuff. But listening to these folks who think that biodynamics is God's truth gets tiring. Especially when there is not one scientific study showing a correlation between biodynamic farming and organoleptic phenomena in a finished wine. Grow grapes on great land in the manner that you see fit, finish that wine in the winery in the way you see fit, and the marketplace will sort it out.

I'm not saying that those in the biodynamic camp are wrong. Looking at vineyards or any other crop as a holistic organism makes a lot of sense, on a lot of different levels. But to employ magical thinking, like the aforementioned horn burying, and lunar planting is just another permutation of our never-ending search for meaning when meaning is literally right under our noses, or in our glass. The fact that you employ biodynamic farming techniques is awesome. If your wine sucks, I don't care and neither should any of us.

I've never -- in all my wine-purchasing and -selling experience -- sold or bought a wine because it was biodynamically grown, so don't let the buzzword distract you. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Some biodynamically grown wines are great, others are terrible -- put your nose in the glass and decide for yourself.

When I'm not writing this column, or reading vintage charts to my daughter, you can find me pouring wine at FnB.

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5 comments
labelbro
labelbro

ew biodynamics is trashy

alejomorenos
alejomorenos

I'm not going to judge the professionalism of this blog based on the Tilted Kilt bimbos that adorn your page in near lifesize proportions, I'm going to try and stick to the subject at hand - biodynamics.  Whether its "woo" science or not, to poo poo the lunar calendar is to reveal one's ignorance about how much the moon affects plants, vines, trees as well as reveal how little (it appears) you investigated biodynamics. I'm not saying biodynamics is the end-all be-all, and that all biodynamic wines are "winners" per se (and to do so would be naive at best),  but here's an example of how important the moon can be: In several tropical countries there is a massive, thick, giant version of bamboo, in some countries they call it guadua (google it). Guadua when harvested and cured properly, has a greater tensile strength than steel, you can make bridges, homes etc out of it. One of the caveats of guadua being harvested properly, is that it has to be cut early in the morning on a full moon, before the sun has come up. The reason for this is the moon's gravity (remember that the moon influences tides worldwide) helps pull the groundwater high up into the bamboo stocks, and that's when you want to cut the guadua (not when it's "empty"). That water content in the bamboo stocks is crucial for the bamboo's quality and strength, allowing it to cure and bake successfully in the drying ovens, and consequently lasting for a long time. Otherwise, if guadua is cut at the wrong time, you will have a fairly shoddy product. Now I"m not saying that grape vines work like this, my point is that the moon has far more to do with nature than you might superficially think. After all, it helps control your mother's, your wife's, your sister's, and/or your daughter's menstrual cycle, which is what helped bring us all into this world. So you, I, we, the planet, is far more connected to the moon than we might usually think. So, time to get a clue, and get real, cuz that's as real as real gets.

nvhigh
nvhigh

Nathan,

Nice article – good for you.  If anything you are way too nice too both Rudolph Steiner and Biodynamics.  Steiner held séances for money and had never farmed a day in his life.  I have read many of his books and articles and personally believe that he was a fraud and that Biodynamics is a hoax.   Anyone that actually reads Steiner’s Agriculture, which is the basis for Biodynamic Farming, must come to the realization that Steiner is anti-science, crazy or completely delusional. 

Stu Smith

Lori Catherine Becker
Lori Catherine Becker

Disinformative article. If anyone does thorough research on Rudolf Steiner and Biodynamics, it is most certainly not overrated.

Organodude
Organodude

Objectively, there is no disinformation in this article. Despite requests to do so, at least in the vineyard world, there have been no Biodynamic practitioners who have been willing to perform controlled experiments utilizing Biodynamic techniques versus any other farming practice (conventional, sustainable, organic, etc.) and then publish the results in a peer-reviewed journal. Philosophically, the concept of treating the vineyard as a whole, complete ecosystem is to be applauded, but Biodynamics is not the only system to embrace this concept and there has been absolutely no proof of Biodynamics' alleged superiority.


There are a number of examples where Biodynamics has fallen flat - when Joseph Phelps established their vineyard in Freestone, they attempted to use Biodynamic techniques, only to loose their entire crop several years in a row, despite utilizing the most respected practitioners and consultants in northern California wine country. They have abandoned Biodynamics for organic techniques. Losing a crop repeatedly is the antithesis of sustainable agriculture.


I will also point out that in order to use the word "Biodynamic" for a vineyard, the vineyard must pay an annual fee to Demeter USA, which holds the trademark for the term "Biodynamic".


Your position would be more believable if you could supply details on the "thorough research" that leads you to believe (belief is not fact - it is faith, as in religious beliefs) that Biodynamics "is most certainly not overrated".


And for those vegans and vegetarians who think that Biodynamics sounds so wholesome and wonderful, I'd like to point out that, practiced as Mr. Steiner envisioned, Biodynamics requires animal sacrifice.

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