Probably Still Laughing And Calling Him Names (Biodynamic Tasting Calendar Debunked)

Vinted on January 10, 2017 binned in commentary, wine news

A couple of years ago, I undertook a rather statistically-irrelevant and thoroughly un-scientific study regarding the Biodynamic tasting calendar (based on the lunar-cycle farming techniques espoused by Rudolf Steiner). This study had a single participant (me) who knew next to nothing about this calendar, who downloaded one of those mobile apps that tells you what type of day it is on the BioD calendar. I then tasted through wine samples pretty much every day, as usual, and noted whether or not any given wine seemed to taste really good or really nasty, and what BioD calendar day type it happened to be.

Presumably, I would have enjoyed more of the wines on so-called “fruit” days, and wines would have tasted nastier on “root” days; thus postulateth the Biodynamic calendar, anyway. My tasting results? In summary: totally random, with no correlation to the BioD calendar days at all.

The results of a much more scientific and potentially relevant experiment into whether or not the BioD calendar impacts how a finished wine tastes were recently published. The results of this New Zealand based study found that the tasting impact of the BioD calendar was, essentially, nada. From the study’s conclusion:

“…the findings reported in the present study provide no evidence in support of the notion that how a wine tastes is associated with the lunar cycle… Consumers expecting a wine to be more expressive and aromatic on Fruit days might actually perceive them as such through top down cognitive effects.”

In other words, it’s possible that any impact of the lunar cycle on your wine tasting is just all in your head….

Back in 2011, I went to a few of the more vocal and learned sources on both sides of the debate on Biodynamic wine-growing principles, and afterwards offered my own conclusion. For those too lazy to follow the link, here’s where things stood after my pseudo-reporting attempt:

  • BioD’s founder, Rudolf Steiner, can most politely be described as an eccentric (“total kook” might be more apt) but just because some of his ideas were borderline insane doesn’t mean that they all are wacked-out; but it does mean we need to approach Steiner’s ideas with the requisite amount of skepticism befitting someone who once said that the race of people from the lost city of Atlantis could fly using the power of burned seeds. In other words, he might just have gotten it right with BioD, but what are the odds? Would you take that bet in Vegas?

  • On the plus side, BioD gets people into the vineyard, thinking about how to treat the land sustainably while also minimizing vinicultural trickery in the making of the final product. It promotes a holistic view of the entire winegrowing and winemaking process, and rare is the case when taking the holistic route doesn’t benefit all involved.  And it can result in some stellar wines.

  • But the scientific evidence to back up all aspects of BioD is lacking, and the claim that it is beyond science is, to me, specious reasoning that puts BioD in the realm of the religious, and one shouldn’t have to get certified to follow a religion. If we take a “let them do what they want, it doesn’t hurt anybody” approach (which was my previous going-in position before conducting these interviews) then we may, in fact, be turning too much of a blind eye to the preparations and processes in BioD that might actually be harmful to the environment (for more on that, listen to my interview with Stu Smith).

From my perspective, the conclusions reached in the most recent attempt by science to validate an aspect of the Biodynamic wine craze bolster the above points; actually, they underscore more powerfully the notions that any aspects of Biodynamics that really work are not due to Rudolf Steiner’s work, but likely are based on previously-established and successful farming principles that Steiner incorporated into his odd conglomeration of quasi-religious growing practices.

At this point, the skeptics might be thoroughly justified in laughing and calling Rudoplf names.

I’d love to see BioD farming broken down step by step, with scientific studies testing the validity of every aspect, and a new, more data-based alternative emerging that has the data to back up every part, while keeping the practice’s admirable harmony-with-natural-cycles and holistic views, and dropping the pseudo-religious portions that have so divided and eroded the debates surrounding BioD in the wine biz.






  • Steve

    0n our farm in the Midwest we were constantly between almost drought and real drought. As a result we were constantly building or repairing ponds and trying to drill wells for water. One highly scientific method for looking for water was “water witching” or “divining”, either scientific approach could be executed with a copper wire or small willow tree limb. A good scientist could tell you how deep the well had to be in order to reach water. They would count the number of times the divining rod would bob up and down–one bob was equivalent to either 12 or 13.25″ (you do not want wind for this precise measurement. Many certified “Water Witchers” would claim the bark on the branch would twist right off in their hands when crossing over a good underground water source.
    Results were never under warranty and “underground rivers” were known to change course once drilling started.
    So what has this got to do with certified BioD wine and grape growing? You tell me. I know 50 years ago my dad bought a lot of lady bugs from our local feed store in the spring and set them free from the wire cage. I ask him why he did that and he said “because the Farmers Almanac” said to”, Did it help? Not really, but damn they were sure pretty and in high winds our next door neighbor didn’t care either way (course he was a wealth farmer).
    Oh, the water witcher my dad used, to not much success and a lot of expense, was committed to a house in the country for mental cases where they allowed him to catch pretty butterflies. My Dad was never a lady bug or water witcher again.

    • 1WineDude

      Well, Steve, thanks for sharing those. I suppose if there’s a common thread, it’s that sometimes we are ok with a shortcut answer (i.e., Farmer’s Almanac or BioD) that has actual efficacy, and therefore probably has some basis in phenomena that science could at some point measure and predict.

      • Steve

        very tongue in cheek of course.

  • Matt

    Viticulturist from Napa who has worked with BD guys for ~10 years. Its horseshit. 90% is just good healthy organic farming. The last 10% is so stupid that i have witnessed many people embarrassed to even talk about it…because its stupid. Even a Trump voter could figure this out.

    • 1WineDude

      Matt, we can leave politics out of it, but I’d like to see BioD vetted scientifically in detail, for sure.

      • Steve

        1 wine dude, thin line in Matt’s comment with politics. Efficacy of BioD is kind of- what the definition of “Is” “Is” I guess. Nonetheless, some folks are comfortable making a living in snake oil, mental slight of hand shows, and pseudo intellectual gymnastics. BioD seems now to be stepping out into the full light of day and the push-back seems to be flashing a “TILT” sign on their game. P.T. Barnum lives in the wine industry also.

  • Bob Henry

    I prefer to call it “superstition” rather than a “quasi-religious belief system.”

    • 1WineDude

      Toemahtoe, tahmahtoe :)

  • John Hilliard

    Lucky for you, Nicholas Kollerstrom has proven the BioD calendar does work. He also has established crop circles are communications from aliens and that Hitler did not kill Jews in concentration camps. Such research ties in nicely since the SS set up BioD agriculture at the very first concentration camp, Dachau. And Demeter’s Weleda created potions to test on Jews at the camp, ouch! The relationship between Steiner and the foundational beliefs of Nazis and other fascist and the early environmental movement is astounding. By the way, many of the early founders of organic farming and the environmental movement thought that BioD was esoteric and mystical and had no business being a part of organic farming. I guess those early characters did not understand the benefits of marketing BioD.Testing BioD would be like testing the predictions of Nostradamas: you will reap what you seek. Put another way, you need to believe it before you will understand it. It also helps if you are using BioD to make money.

    • 1WineDude

      John – I think it’d be waaaaay safer for me not to touch that comment. ;-)

  • Michael Matonte

    I love this topic and these discussions, and I hope they never stop! I don’t live by the BioD calendar, but I don’t discount it. Check out Maria Thun’s books! Also, are the wines tasted all biodynamicly produced? A bottle of Barefoot, for example, won’t taste any better (or worse) based on the Bio-D calendar. The bottom line: healthier vineyards and vines make better grapes which makes better wines!

    • John Hilliard

      Maria Thun’s experiments were analyzed by Spiess, who very much wanted Thun to be proven correct, however, he found her calendar unsupported by her experiments. Thun’s lack of methodological rigor provided the bias for her to always “prove” her theories correct. Note Thun uses a different Sun position than Steiner, and that might seem like a problem. Why is mysticism interesting? Do some see it as low hanging fruit, a shortcut to a goal? It just an illusion.

      • 1WineDude

        John – thanks, do you have links to those findings?

        • John Hilliard

          Here is a good discussion on Thun by Malcolm Gardener who translated Steiner’s Ag Lectures (basis of BioD):
          Keep in mind that BioD is a separate entity from organic farming which is simply a marketing program of the USDA, the same entity that also runs the “Got Milk” marketing program. BioD was created by Steiner while he was in a séance, similar to Joseph Smith putting a rock in his hat and then sticking his face in the hat and then dictating the Book of Morman. Steiner could enter the spirit world and access all knowledge of the past and the future. That is where BioD comes from. This was in 1924, the same week Steiner was actively conversing with the German General Moltke who was responsible for making the German WW1 plans to attack France. By the way, Moltke was dead. Yes, it must make the BioD folks feel secure knowing Steiner was carrying on conversations with dead people during the same week as he created BioD. Breaking news: BioD is entirely based on séances.

          • Steve

            Is there fake news in the categories of BioD? Is there Fake News in Man made Climate Change? Can you have one without the other?

            • 1WineDude

              Steve, I suppose that once CNN covers BioD, then at least some of the population (such as those soon to be in the White House) will be able to label it as fake news. ;)

    • 1WineDude

      Michael – I’m of the mind that whatever makes one give more attention to their vineyards, the better it is to use it. However, I think that in those cases, BioD is best used with a healthy amount of skepticism, and I’m not sure that official certification brings much benefit.

  • Michael Matonte

    Agreed on certifications! When I visited Belle Pente, for example, Brian jokingly said he was not BioD bc he drove his motorized vehicle to and from town to transport supplies for his vineyard. Some of my favorite wines (who happen to be BioD) do not seek certification and do not bring that up to market their product! It’s simply a way of life for them, and their end goal is to produce great wine. BioD is a part of the industry, but it should not go out of its way to alienate consumers or other producers. I manage one of the busiest wine shops in Chicago, and hardly anyone shopping ever questions if a wine is made biodynamically. Quite frankly, I hope it stays that way. In the end, it should be about quality and supporting the “small farmer” or family estate. Cheers guys!

    • 1WineDude

      Michael – yep, that pretty much nails it IMHO. Cheers!

  • artisanswiss

    Not so fast. This appears to perpetuate a common mistake about interpreting scientific research. Too much headline, click-bait stuff while ignoring real facts and conclusions. If interested I’ve included my comments about the research here. Thanks.

    • 1WineDude

      Like any study, firm conclusions should NOT be drawn until it can be reproduced, subject to larger sample pools, etc. The findings do suggest, however, that the BioD calendar link to taste interpretation isn’t on solid footing scientifically.

      • Steve

        Something here points to something about numbers and liars. Hard to tell which is which. Did science prove the earth was flat and any point in time? No subjectivity in science?

  • Lou Phillips

    There is an excellent discussion including Cam Mauritson on this subject on the Guildsomm podcast. BTW I could not find a 1WineDude podcast. Double BTW Leveon Bell actually invented Bio-dynamics!

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