Biodynamic Wine, Mystified (Is BioDynamics A Bunch of Fertilizer?)

Vinted on August 26, 2010 binned in best of, book reviews, wine books

I have uncovered potentially serious evidence that could possibly refute the recent scientific evidence suggesting that drinking wine makes you smarter.

Specifically, I offer my recent experience reading Nicholas Joly’s essay-like treatise on the hot-potato topic of Biodynamic viticulture, Biodynamic Wine, Demystified. If this is the demystified version, I’d hate to see it mystified.

I received Biodynamic Wine, Demystified as a gift, of sorts, from the lovely (I know it doesn’t sound particularly manly, but he is a lovely guy) Mike Benziger after a recent visit to his family’s gorgeous biodynamically-farmed Sonoma wine estate.

Frequent readers will recall that some of Mike’s comments in my video interview with him caused a bit of a stir and sparked lively comments-section discussion on the topic of soil profiles and biodynamics generally. Those discussions mirrored, in a way, the current love/hate tête-à-tête – ok, and the occasional heated exchange of invective barbs – between biodynamics’ supporters and detractors.

Supports generally describe Biodynamics as having favorable impacts on the vineyard, its grapes, and the resulting wine. for example, Mike Benziger, from the comments to our interview, speaking about why Benziger employ soil analysis and biodynamic farming:

“Commercially farmed soils around the world have become biologically very similar. The use of commercial fertilizers and pesticides over the last 50+ years, combined with aggressive cultivation has homogenized much of the soil life in the topsoils worldwide. Artificial inputs reduce or terminate soil microbiology and thus eliminate points of differentiation from site to site… Vines that grow only in the topsoil that is healthy or not, usually only express the varietal character and don’t express the sense of place that is associated with soils. When commercial fertilizers are overused, there’s no impetus for roots to stretch down deep, because the snack bar is right on top in the topsoil. To express a more complete sense of place, vines need to have deep roots that feed deep down into the regolith and parent material.”

And the counterpoint, from the comments of that same post, from an anonymous commenter who claims to also be a winemaker:

“No doubt that BD has a tremendous feel-good quality that prompts a certain amount of rationalizing. The problem I have with BD is that it is not benign. It makes claims of superiority without real evidence and presents a defense of “there are some things that science just can’t reveal” as a blanket retort. It’s disingenuous and bad for society in general… There are lots of us that make rational decisions about how to do what we do in the vineyard or cellar. But BD says that it doesn’t matter. That all the science that has served us well in the past, in any aspect of life, is wrong. And that rationality is wrong because there’s a way of looking at the universe to reveal a truer truth. You and I cannot see it, but someone can – he’s a clairvoyant named Rudolf Steiner… The wine industry is enough of a dinosaur already, we certainly don’t need a fairy tale to impede real progress. BD exists only in microcosm. Excess wealth and labor usually do produce good results.”

After reading Biodynamic Wine, Demystified, I’m no closer to understanding which viewpoint is right than I was before I’d even heard of the book. Uh-oh…

Let’s start with the Biodynamic godfather, Rudolf Steiner. Steiner is, of course, the founding father, so-to-speak, of Biodynamics – which itself is an offshoot of Anthroposophy, which itself reads like a mish-mash of Buddhism, evolution, and Christianity, with some other aspects of science thrown in for good measure. I’m being kind.

I am certainly happy to entertain that there are fundamental forces at work in nature and the universe that we may never fully comprehend. I don’t think it should stop us from trying, but we have to accept that we might never fully “get it.” But, in my view, the means discovering any of life’s forces / truths eventually lies – at least partially – in the realms of mathematics and science, which are not human inventions per se, but are the language of the universe.  That might sound overly-dramatic but there is general consensus in the scientific world that intelligent life anywhere in the universe would rely on mathematics to reach conclusions about how their world, and the universe as whole, actually “work.”

The trouble I have with Biodynamic Wine, Demystified is that the science appears to be seriously lacking. At times (those times would be “often”), Joly makes pronouncements that are expected to be taken as fact, without offering a shred of scientific evidence or supporting data. The problem is that those pronouncements require some basis in science for most rational people to be willing to accept them. It doesn’t help that such statements are written in what most might consider obfuscated language (I’m being kind). An example:

“These considerations lead us towards a rediscovery of precious laws of resonance and harmony, acting as the bearers of specific, regenerative energies. It is by means of these laws that we can find a degree of release from subjugation to our separate individuality… What is happening here, really, is that human beings or plants are brought back into resonance with the formative plane of energies.”

It’s 150 pages of this stuff. I mean, honestly, what the f—k is this guy on about? Look, I’m not the smartest person you’ve ever met, but I’ve got a Masters degree and I just cannot follow this stuff, presumably because I am way more logical than I’d previously thought.  The trap for me is that once an author starts building on claims that have to be taken on faith but that I cannot accept without some sort of empirical evidence, then s/he has basically lost me for the rest of the argument being built. I don’t think I am alone in this kind of interpretation.

And I want to believe. I desperately want to believe. Having spoken with many BioD winemaking and vineyard properties, I am convinced that none of them are simply going through the motions – they practice BioD because they see favorable results: healthier and more natural farming, higher quality grapes, and better wines. That has to count for something.

Is it possible that I just don’t understand BioD, that I’m simply not yet capable of properly accepting some of the unknown? Maybe. I do believe in possibility (and therefore the power) of things that we might not yet be able to fully understand through scientific study alone. However… all of those mysterious things that have stood the test of time for me have at least had a modicum of grounding in science. Meditation, for example. Several aspects of the way that Buddhism and Taoism approach the world, for another. Those all have some shreds of scientific evidence to support the possibility that they may be onto something.

BioD is in dire need of such supporting science. Or, perhaps I should say that I’m in dire need of such supporting science to help me get a hande on BioD. Which is why I’ve been glued to the excellent series on the science of BioD currently being published by Tom Mansell. So far, it’s fascinating stuff but the results don’t look all that promising for the scientific support of BioD (I’m being kind).

There is one bit of evidence in support of BioD that cannot be ignored, however: the wine. Biodynamic vineyards are producing some of the finest wine in the world right now. The evidence is in, the jury has deliberated – BioD is fully capable of wine greatness. I’ve tasted way, way too many examples to logically come to any other conclusion than “it works and only a fool would deny it.”

I just wish that I didn’t have to feel like some sort of religious zealot when I say that.







  • RichardA

    I have read Joly before and totally agree with you that it is extremely difficult to understand. And Tom Mansell is doing an excellent job in his Biodynamic articles.

    But I do disagree with you concerning your final point, that Biodynamics is capable of creating great wines. Though you desire scientific proof and support earlier in your post, you then ignore it at the end. Where are the scientific studies that show that it is the biodynamic factor which has made those wines great? There are numerous other factors that could be involved instead of the biodynamic aspect. You are relying on your own feelings about the wines, and not some scientific proof. Could the biodynamic winemakers simply be excellent wine makers who could create great wines if they were merely organic? Is it the terroir, separate from biodynamics?

    We must also consider that the biodynamic farmers don't all follow the same regiments. Some claim to be biodynamic though they lack Demeter certification. So which aspects of the biodynamic system lead to great wine? If you eliminate one aspect, is the wine less great? Proper scientific studies need to be conducted before we can conclude that biodynamic actually makes better wines.

    • 1WineDude

      Great points as always, Richard.

      I am sure that producing great wine is the amalgam of many, many factors. And you're right, of all of the examples that I've had, I can't say that BioD is the determining factor in making any of those wines awesome. But then again, I can't rule it out entirely, either.

      I guess the only way to do that would be to compare wines made from the same land, same producer, same variety, but farmed in different ways. Not holding my breath on being able to make that kind of comparison anytime soon, though.

      Like I said, I *want* to believe… but I'm too I'm too much of a skeptic at heart to just accept it on face value, especially when every explanation I've seen so far is so… odd!

  • Brooklyn Winery

    hey Dude–

    Perhaps a bit of a tangent, and forgive my ignorance on the subject, but does the use of biochar fall into the BioD realm? What are your thoughts on biochar?


    • 1WineDude

      Hey BKW – I know very little about biochar, but to the best of my knowledge it's not part of BioD.

      I think biochar is very promising in terms of helping to possibly reduce global warming if it ever gets any real traction in terms of being used on a wider agricultural scale. As far as biochar in vineyards, I know some producers use it, apparently with beneficial farming effects and no harm to the resulting wine's quality. My understanding is that adding biochar to compost in the vineyard is like putting the compost on steroids (but in a good way) because it increases the surface area of the compost dramatically – Ken Payton did an interview a while back with Peter Schmidt where they talk about this in more detail:


      • Brooklyn Winery

        awesome, thank you!!!

  • Todd Wernstrom

    Honestly, the fact (if there can be such a thing regarding a subject that is so inherently subjective) that some BD producers are making great wines isn't proof of anything other than, of course, that some BD producers are making great wines. Just as true is the "fact" that some BD producers aren't making great wines. So, too, is it a "fact" that many producers who merely dabble a bit in BD and/or organics make great wines (and many don't).

    It seems to me that what matters most is not so much how you farm (though that's certainly a huge factor) or how you work in your cellar (of course, that too is a huge factor), but where your vines happen to be situated. That isn't to say that great terroir equals great wine. It can. And it cannot.

    In my experience, one that has included having much, much more than my fair share of Joly wines, is that half the time after popping open one of them (new releases, old wines and in between), I struggled to tell if the wine was off. Often it would take hours for the chenin to resemble chenin. And that said, Joly's chenins, whether they're your cup of tea or not, are in no way representative of chenins from his neck of the woods. Maybe that matters. Maybe it doesn't.

    For me, the bottom line is that any system has its pluses and its minuses. I think that producers who realize that tend to adjust best to what Mother Nature has bestowed on them.

  • Rick Tyler

    I know you know…

    Causality and correlation are — oddly enough — only loosely correlated. "Some/many/most wines made from biodynamically-grown grapes are good" is obviously not the same as "the biodynamic process made these wines good." DRC and Grgich Hills (to name two) were both pretty good even before their forays into agriculture-of-belief.

    • 1WineDude

      Ah, Rick – we have a man of logic in the hizzy! :)

  • @VinoNotes

    I had white flies on my tomato plants last year and my bioD winemaking friend gave me a little dose of 501 (crushed quartz crystals) to combat the little bugs. While I entertained the thought of waking up at dawn and following the "mystic" principles explained to me by my friend, I just applied the tea (diluted in water) before the heat of the day started. Within 24 hours, I had transformed my plants. Not only were the bugs bye bye, but the plants seemed more vivacious, happier, brighter and much, much healthier.
    My point: my little experiment told me (& my non-scientific mind) that there must be some science to this stuff, right?
    Also, in addition to some common sense views of how to approach agriculture (treat a vineyard as a living being, not indiviual vines – like coral reefs) BioD practitioners just happen to be those who bring a certain brand of reverence and yogic "intention" to their practice/craft. It's really that simple, and I don't see anything wrong with it. I'm more worried about the negative energy given off by growers/winemakers who despise BioD and what effect their bad vibes are doing to their own vines/wine?!

    • 1WineDude

      Nice thoughts, VinoNotes! Reminds me of the microscopic pictures I saw some time ago of water that was spoken to suing words like love in a calm tone, and words like hate in a nasty tone. They were markedly different… but I wondered about scientific explanations for those differences all the same. cheers!

      • @VinoNotes

        Masaru Emoto!

    • @stevepaulo

      "I'm more worried about the negative energy given off by growers/winemakers who despise BioD and what effect their bad vibes are doing to their own vines/wine?!"

      You're kidding, right?

      • @VinoNotes

        :) While, I was being slightly sarcastic there, I am a believer in the power of energy – both healing & destructive. it's the Santa Cruz in me!

  • 1WineDude

    Hi Sasha – interestingly, I have found that wins that are from organic vineyards often posses a vibrancy that other wines lack (and I've noticed the similar "vibrancy" in the wines before knowing they they came from organic grapes). The best BioD wines, in my experience, also have that vibrancy, which as you say could be the organic component coming through and not due to the relation to the moon, cow dung, buried horns etc., etc.

    • Sasha

      if you check out the Monty Waldin book, you'll see that many of the profiled producers went directly from conventional to biodynamic, making it tough to evaluate even their own judgment of their wines. Is it b/c they went organic or biodynamic?

  • 1WineDude

    Steve – I don't disagree that there is some of that going on right now. What I just want to know is… can anyone explain BioD?

    The trouble for me is, we are talking about a subject and almost no one can explain the subject in terms that most of us can understand, let alone appreciate.

  • Lenn Thompson

    Richard beat me to it, but Joe — your last point mars an otherwise solid post.

    I think it can easily be argued that there is far more great wine being made w/o BioD than with (mostly because there are more not doing BioD than are).

    If I had the spare time, it might be fun to look through your Mini-reviews on Twitter and compare your grades for BioD wines vs. not and see if your data supports your assertion here.

    • 1WineDude

      Sorry, Lenn – I don't buy it. What I mean is, one cannot ignore that great BioD wines are made and that it thus remains possible that BioD had something to do with them being great.

      You're insinuating (I think?) that my view is that BioD wines are always superior to wines made in other ways, which is not at all what I am saying.

  • @timbrauhn

    I visited Benziger in April, and found the "resonance" there much to my liking. My mom (back in Illinois) grows more or less BioD veggies and fruits for local buyers. I spent my youth on a farm where we viewed every living thing as being deeply in touch with every other living thing, from the honeybees to the zucchinis.

    Steve is right about keeping track of possible BioD detriments, but I think that for those of us who harbor deep feelings of human/plant/earth/universe/wavygravy connectivity, drinking and supporting BioD is a great benefit. Facts be damned – even a placebo effect is still an effect. You people rock. :)

  • Rich Tanguay

    Great post Joe and I, too, tried to read Joly's book but do not have the cerebrum for it…

    However, I have worked for one of the trailblazers of BioD in Sonoma County (not Mike B) and for conventional as well as organic vineyards and I can say conclusively that BioD does not inherently make better wines. As a few others have stated there are way too many inputs from a growing and winemaking standpoint to point exactly at which one or groups have been adopted to attain great wine.

    Just looking at fruit, I've seen gorgeous organic, BioD and conventional but conversely I've seen nasty organic, BioD and conventional fruit. What made them beautious or skanky — who knows? Was it the prowess of the grower, the soil, the climate, the vintage or the amount of water or a million other inputs that made the grape what they are? That's not even touching on the plethora of variables from crushing and fermentation to barrel and bottle and all things in between controlled (I use that term loosely) by the winemaker.

    Think of it this way… If I were to write a heady, cerebral treatise on a new farming approach that was at both times naturalistic and spiritual or ethereal even and I put it into practice on 10 acres of grapes — as long as my "new" method followed some basic tenets of grape farming — I would probably produce some good grapes. Maybe even in some years great grapes: maybe some years both good grapes and bad grapes — the point is that it's probably not all the way I grow the grapes that makes good or great wine. Stephen Hawking could love and embrace my theory but that's all it is… a theory.

    I truly feel that BioD is another way for a winery/vineyard to differentiate itself from other operations just as organic and conventional farming have their followers. Granted organic and conventional have more grounding (excuse the pun) in science but BioD may have some benefits — who's to really know.

    It is up to us, wine drinkers to choose what's best but if anyone has figured out the best approach to grow and make wine I think we'd all have adopted the same approach by now… Just don’t get caught up too much in the snake-oil thing.

    • Jeff V

      We should try to keep in mind that Biodynamics (the practices, not the name) were around long before 1924. We should also keep in mind that our modern "organic" movement is derived from Biodynamics. Agrarian societies have been following the celestial and lunar cycles for millenia. They have also used many unique forms of composts. There are a myriad of farm (site) specific techniques based on observations and trial and error. Does the farmer ever try and "prove" the "why?", no, ususally he/she is concerned about growing a healthy and bountiful crop.

      As for Joly, he is not the grand master of Biodynamics that many in the wine community like to bestow on him, mostly out of ignorance and a need to have a target. Joly is an easy target. . Joly is extremely interested in the 'resonance' side of BioD. He is a follower of BioD whom happens to really like thinking, talking, writing, and wondering about these 'life' and 'energy' forces that surround us in our daily lives and to what effect do lunar, solar, and planetary energies have on plant life and life in general.

      I know a BioD producer who is obsessed with solar flares and their effect of plant and human life. I know of a BioD producer who uses crystals in vineyard (to channel or deflect energy) and during fermentation.

      So, what I am saying is that there are many specific practices based on personal interest and site specific needs.

      This is the problem with certification.

      This is why there are many different BioD camps in the wine world.

      And this is not about having deep coffers to pull from, as is commonly suggested. BioD doesn't equal expensive. Maybe that is true here in the US, but it isn't true globally. Let's keep in mind that BioD didn't originate with Mike Benzinger.

      I would like everyone to reread VinoNotes comments because they are much closer to the effects of BioD.

      Lastly, BioD is not a religion, it is not a cult, it is not a fad, it is not a marketing ploy. I have not met one domestic BioD producer that was practicing in BioD for any other reason than to make the best, most expressive fruit, IN HOPES of creating a great wine from THEIR SPECIFIC site. NOTHING in agriculture is guaranteed.

      • 1WineDude

        Thanks, Jeff – your comment has made me feel that I'm not totally crazy for seeing the potential good in BioD, while also not being happy with the… *less conventional* aspects.

    • Julie J

      Here's my micro perspective: A concierge from a very upscale property called me the other day asking if we were "biodynamic" as well as organic as she had a "VIP" guest wishing to visit (only) Biodynamic properties. Since it sounded like her client was knowledgeable on the topic I asked her if he was looking for Demeter certified, practicing BioD, or a property like mine (hey, I always need guests with deep pockets!!) that is certified organic (CCOF) but engages a number of active systems to keep the property alive and interactive. Her reply: "He just said Biodynamic". Clearly, someone's story angle had hooked this reader, imbiber.

      So, I pointed her in the direction of Benzinger, Araujo and Sinskey– all properties that I know to be farming from a "soul meets soil" philosophical perspective rather than a marketing stance. (Straight to biodynamic from conventional, eschewing organic as "old fashioned" and "inactive"….how in the world does that make any sense??!)

      My bottom line: the footstep of the farmer is the best nutrition for the vineyard. Moreover, if IPM or Organic or Biodynamic practices serve to draw everyone from the CEO, the marketing V.P, the tasting room folks, the winemaker and cellar crew into the vineyard, closer to the heart of the matter, and good wines that please a discerning customer are the result then frankly, sirs, I don't give a damn what they call it. But—then again, I believe that practice has to be authentic, genuine and progressive. And, growers need to be explicit and transparent about their process. We have too many consumers, servers, retailers (and writers) out there who are confused enough as it is.

      Steiner preps via internet mail-order don't do it for me. I have sheep and guineas and plant a summer as well as a fall cover crop (usually by the moon) and compost and … (etc. etc…) because all of these things make sense for my small farming operation. It seems that my customers enjoy engaging with the property and the wines—even the poor souls from New Jersey (sorry, not trying to pick on a state–it just popped out through my fingers) who come here having never understood that different colored roses can and do actually smell differently from each other get their light bulbs turned on as they transpose that information and connect to the joy (yes!) of looking differently at a Zinfandel and Petite Sirah–maybe for the first time.

      Some guests get really excited hearing about the Syrphids on the Tansy or the hummingbirds in the pomegranates. Some people just want to have a bigger glass of my Cabernet despite the fact that it's not on their "must have" list of "points" or prestige. Thank goodness they purchase my wine and I can keep doing what I do.

      As more growers/winemakers pursue the most soulful and energized relationship with their land that they can and are the beneficiaries of fiscal and interpersonally positive rewards for their labors — ever more effective farming models will emerge and the science may just need to follow. After all, the senses of smell and taste have always stimulated us. Descriptors fill volumes. The euphoria that arises upon a sip from an exquisite bottle in the company of great friends and good food creates a sensory memory and results in a primal drive to repeat the encounter– yet —scientists still know very little about the actual neural connections that make this so. I don’t need the science to revel in the validity of the experience.

      • 1WineDude

        Thanks, Julie!

        Say hi to Mus for me!

  • davemcneilly

    The practice of biodynamics is just good stewardship of the land; it's the whacky stuff attached to it that requires a leap of faith. I think the leap of faith part is irrelevant, and so ignore it.

    Such is the case with religious faith. Following the basic tenets of most major religions will likely make you a better person, as those basic tenets (excluding most of the angry old testament) were based on proven, historical, good behaviours, but you can follow those basic tenets without making the leap of faith required to believe in the existence of an all-powerful supernatural being (no fatwas or inquisitions please).

    My daughter used to believe in the all-powerfulness of Barney. Having to watch Barney made me drink even more than usual, so I didn't have the faith, but his message to my daughter was to be kind and good, and how could I could argue with that?

    So, to each their own. Having said that, if the Biodynamicists ever hire the big purple dinosaur to tout their message, I'll dump them and their wines faster than it takes me to open a screwcap.

    • 1WineDude

      Hey Dave – **very** well said!

      • Evan Dawson

        Sorry, but this isn't "very well said" at all. It fell completely apart when Dave wrote, "Following the basic tenets of most major religions will likely make you a better person." That concept is bandied about with so much abuse that I don't even know where to start. There is plenty – plenty! – of evidence that indicates human beings have an inherent moralism that owes nothing to fictional texts (and before I get attacked for that, religious observers should note that they agree with me that all religious texts are just works of fiction except for the one that they think isn't). There is also plenty of evidence that indicates that following basic tenets of major religion can make you a worse person. Look at sub-Saharan Africa, where there are secular and religious missionaries…

      • Evan Dawson

        They're combating poverty and AIDS. The secular missionaries are handing out medical supplies, caring for the sick, and distributing condoms. The religious missionaries are handing out medical supplies, caring for the sick, and taking condoms away while preaching that fornication is a sin. Want to guess how that turns out?

        I absolutely agree that many parts of religious tenets are pleasant. I should also point out that I am not an atheist. But atheists tend to be some of the most peaceful people on the planet, and that's not exactly a coincidence.


        • 1WineDude

          Evan – I'm an atheist (non-theist is probably a better term in my case) and I fully believe that if you took the bullet point version of the teachings of Jesus, for example, and stuck by their basic intent, you'd be a better person for it. There's nothing to disprove that religious texts themselves don't tap into the inherent morality of human beings.

          What does this have to do with wine?

          Nothing, actually – it's probably best saved for lengthy discussion over drinks! :)

          • Evan Dawson

            Probably true. I'm just sensitive to blanket statements that imply religion makes people inherently "better" or "more moral". It's patently untrue. There are wonderful messages in the good book, yes, but human beings are not lost in the wilderness without them.

            By the way, Joe, you're probably exactly what my wife is: An apatheist. Sort of tongue-in-cheek, but still rather accurate.

            • 1WineDude

              Evan – apatheist… HA!! Love it!

  • Jeff S

    Dave's religious analogy is interesting. In much the same that we rush to place a "label" on a particular creed or religious belief, surely it is the underlying principles of humanity that are the key. Not the name on the place of worship.

    Similarly whether to choose the Bd path in agriculture is as much about personal conviction as science. Whether the practice actually makes for better wine is irrelevent, the real question is is the wine any good at all. Those that have chosen the BD path that I have met seem to be reasonably level headed, rational people and not bong toting wierdos, so maybe, given the potential of their terroir, chances are they would make pretty good wine anyway.

    If a farmer wants to use BD principles & practices they have the same right to do so as someone who prays regularly at the mosque, temple or church. What does seem curious is the attempt to convince the great unwashed, ie "us" that theirs is the one true path. Which does seem to echo a quasi-religious ferver.

    • 1WineDude

      GREAT comment, Jeff – I suppose some BioD proponents feel a need to defend BioD from attack (especially recently), which I see as different that trying to convince others that BioD is THE way.

      Which reminds me that I should remind everyone that I am NOT attacking BioD (and Jeff, I know you're not saying that, I'm just going on a tangent here) – I'm calling into question the poor explanations of BioD I've seen so far.

      I do wish that more BioD grapegrowers/producers would just come out and tell us not to worry about it, they chose it because it works for them and they don't expect others to understand it, just to enjoy the wine, because the BioD stuff can't really be explained totally scientifically yet, end of story for now.

      I would give that person a big hug.

      So, hopefully, it's a cute female winemaker that does this…

  • John G

    I'm interested in how to better "nourish' my vineyard. Healthier vineyard begets better grapes beget better wine beget happier wine lovers. So from this point of view i am interested in a range of farming systems.
    Most agricultural techniques have been trialled – conclusions can be drawn and farmers can adapt and adopt to suit their circumstances. It is remarkable that there is not a large amount of trial work about biodynamics. in fact the absence of this says a lot about biodynamics.
    I think many se people "believe" in biodynamics. They want to believe in the specialness of their site, the idea of resonating with nature, that they can turn their backs on modern industrial processes. These aren't necessarily bad things. Is one's wine great or good because of belief or is it a sum of a series of practical processes tied to the circumstances of site, or is it both?
    But I still want to know will organic or biodydynamic processes better nourish my grapes? Oh and by the way I don't believe in winemaking – I'll leave belief to fairies and the hereafter – I just "do" winemaking.

  • Joe

    Hey Dude! Long time no speak. Been tied up with a copy of "The Celestine Prophecy" Did Joly write that too? :) Anyway, I disagree with Jeff V that there is no marketing hype behind Biodynamic. Surely SOMEONE got into it as to create a bit of a niche for his product that was in a very competitive segment. And if we're told enough times that the wines are "better" because of the BD, we may just start to believe it. Then, everything that's BD is better. I think it has something to do with the reticular activating system in the brain (how's that for geeky science?)…we believe something, then seek out ways to validate that belief. If we really believe BD wines are better, we'll seek out virtues in those wines to justify our beliefs. So, that's my "it IS about marketing" soapbox. But maybe I'm just cynical :)

  • David

    I think we are missing the point here. No reason debating the merits of BD as a vineyard practice. It is really more of a marketing initiative for a winery. A means to differentiate yourself from the endless labels that abound. In that regard it has some traction. We are seeing people ask about it even though they know nothing about it. It is the Paris Hilton of the industry… it is famous for being famous.

    I'm not the kind of person that would ever believe in BD as a legitimate approach, but I'm not religious either. The same way I don't begrudge the faithful for believing in their religion, I don't mind if vineyards adopt BD. In both cases, it is about what the believer thinks they get out of it, rather than any provable fact.

    I have one of the vineyards I source from moving to BD and I will proudly put that on the label and sell it to anyone who wants to believe it's a benefit. I'll keep my opinions to myself. Whatever sells wines.

  • @timbrauhn

    I smell a something. Not sure what. This is a GREAT conversation. We should have a huge forum "Biodynamic, Organic, Resonant, Commercial: Earth-grounded practices in modern wine-making. I'll be the MC, because I own a suit.

    We'll have the NPA people all up in the heezy. And free drinks. And an oatmeal-based dinner, because I just ate a bowl of it and it was rad tasty.


  • Joe

    sorry, this is Joe @$uburbanwino …my company blocks anything pertaining to "$uburbanwino" (I can't even spell it out), so I couldn't comment unless I changed the email and removed all association. Lame!

    • 1WineDude

      Joe – *what* kind of time are spending on SW if your company has to *block* it?? :-)

      • Joe

        I know…crazy! Meant for that addendum to come right after my main comment, but David snuck in between. Hope you didn't miss my rant about marketing because of it. Thanks, buddy!

  • Sasha

    I know I said something similar above, but feel like I need to beat this semi-dead horse. If you care about turning your friends, family, colleagues, students etc on to wine, biodynamics is not your friend. You're already asking wine newbies to absorb a ton of new info, some of which strains credulity (poor soil = better wine? there's a legitimate reason why a bottle of wine can cost a lot of money? the same grape can produce wines that taste so different?) I dare you to explain biodynamics to these folks with a straight face — and with no fear that discussing cow horns stuffed with manure might make them wonder if all the other (true) stuff you've said about wine is manure, too.

    • 1WineDude

      Hey Sasha – that's almost *exactly* the problem I'm wrestling with.

      Of course, it's very, very, very difficult to talk about parallaxes, quantum entanglement or relative time as well – and those all have (extremely) firm bases in science. :)

  • Brigitte Armenier

    Joe, I am unfortunately for you no "cute female winemaker" :), but hopefully the thread of comments Mrs. Linda Chalker-Scott, PhD, and I both developed in The Wall Street Journal will help answer many of your questions:

  • Brigitte Armenier

    … confused about what?

    • 1WineDude

      Well, Brigitte, the comments in that thread are interesting but unless I am missing something (and very well may be!) there isn't consensus on whether or not the review you gave as an example was scientifically valid or not.

      I need a beer! :)

      • Brigitte Armenier

        How could a peer-reviewed study published in the Cambridge University Press not be "scientifically valid"?

        • 1WineDude

          Well there is a final comment that has yet to be answered on that article, addressed to you:

          "1) the Turinek et al. review neglected to include easily accessed, peer reviewed literature that did not support their conclusions;

          2) the Turinek et al. review included PhD theses and proceedings from meetings, neither of which are peer reviewed and are considered of lower value to scientists (than peer reviewed articles); and

          3) there is a substaintial body of peer-reviewed literture that finds no effect of biodynamic preparations under controlled conditions."

          Not saying it's correct or not, Bigitte, just saying that leaving it without response had me confused as to where the whole thing stood – which for me right now is i the same muddy water as the rest of the BioD discussion.

          Now I need *two* beers…

          • Brigitte Armenier

            Joe, why don't you read not Mrs. Chalker-Scott's last comment, but again, the whole thread of comments? And you will find out that these points had been already answered! Mrs. Chalker-Scott was no more than in the repetition of her views… and one doesn't create a fact out of repetition!

            • 1WineDude

              Brigitte – I read the entire thread. I am still confused. And I don't want to even think about this topic again until I have had my beers! :-)

              • Brigitte Armenier

                Does this mean that you prefer beer review to peer review? :)

              • 1WineDude

                Brigitte – I do at that! :-))

  • Sherman

    Aside from the entertainment value of how many BD angels can dance on the tip of a cowhorn, what difference does it really make? Let's not confuse the daily wine consumer with the ugly details of how the wine was produced; for those of us who do care about the wonky details — well, we'll all make up our own minds about all of this stuff on our own.

    The most convincing argument you can make is to let me taste what is in the bottle and STFU! about how it was produced. If and when I have some questions, then we can have a conversation about the details. We do run the risk of "over delivering" TMI to the consumer and killing a golden goose that is somewhat tarnished and sickly right now (that's an analogy of the wine industry in this rather unfriendly economic environment, BTW).

    • 1WineDude

      Hey Sherman – makes total sense; I trust and hope that we are having one of those conversations here about the wonky details, with people who do care about them.

      Having said that, I also hope that some consumers who weren't as interested before can see this dialog and either get more interested or at least feel better if they don't understand this stuff, because there are plenty of impassioned geeks and pros who don't understand it all either. :)


  • Jolan

    Great post, Joe. I am extremely interested in sustainable foods, including the wonderful world of wine production. I'd love to hear more about your reads, and hope you can recommend something a little more substantial for future reading.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Jolan – I have a few promising books in the queue (sadly, none on BioD).

  • Tim

    You'd think a curmudgeon like me would jump in with an excoriating post about the similarities between chiropractic, homeopathy, wishful thinking and biodynamics, but you'd be wrong.

    I'm all for sustainable agriculture, organic production and soil conservation, but biodynamics is both too stupid and completely free of any proof that it works (cow horns, chanting, Steiner et al) to merit any kind of serious debate or thought.

    Really Joe, this is fine for stirring up loons and driving traffic, but couldn't we stick to evidence-based reality?

    • 1WineDude

      Tim – I'm going for conversation, not traffic. Ok, and stirring up loons.

      Keep in mind that this topic is a journey of discovery for me and lots of other people. If I waited until I knew everything about a topic before discussing it here, there would be literally nothing to talk about! :-). I'm on just as much of a path of learning on BioD as most of the people reading this post, and it's meant to have us discuss the evidence out there, of which I've been able to find very little…

  • Saul

    I make wine from my certified sustainable vineyard. I do not use enzymes or need to use Diamonium phosphate additions to my wine must. However, I made wine with a biodynamic farmer/winemaker who had to use enzymes to extract color and Diamonium phosphate to get his yeast healthy. The "authenticity" claims of the biodynamic wine maker were just marketing white lies.

    Another neighbor who is a biodynamic farmer/winemaker has historically made low scoring wines. He bought my absolutely non-biodynamically grown grapes and received the best and only high reviews he ever received. And he continues to brag about the mystery of his biodynamic wines.

    These biodynamic farmers/winemakers pretend they have beliefs and principles with their "authentic wines" and their terrior, but to me they are hypocrites.

    You can guess

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