Why Biodynamic Farming Is Overrated
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."
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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.