The Biodynamics Debate: The Aftermath

Vinted on February 1, 2011 binned in best of, commentary, interviews

Over the past two weeks, I’ve posted podcast interviews with leading voices on both sides of the debate over the merits of biodynamic viticulture (if you’re interested in why I chose to tackle the BioD topic in this way, read the backdrop story line for the interviews).

On the “Pro” side, we’ve heard from International viticulture consultant Alan York.

On the “Con” side, BiodynamicsIsAHoax.com author Stu Smith has had his say.

Now that the views of both camps have been aired, it’s time to ante-up, slap the cards down on the table of philosophical vinous clarity, and voice some opinions.  What conclusions should we draw from the BioD debate, and what opinions have been shaped by the voices of Alan and Stu?

Does “ongoing confusion” count as a valid answer to that question?…

Obviously, the interviews previously featured here don’t provide the final word on either side of the debate over biodynamic viticulture’s merits.  Nothing could provide a definitive, succinct “wrap-up” for a topic that possess so much emotional, philosophical and scientific baggage, depth and diversity.  But I think that some conclusions can indeed be made – and some lines, pro and con, can indeed be drawn – as a result of the recent interviews with Alan and Stu.

I’m a tolerant centrist at heart, but on the matter of Biodynamics I’m a hopeful skeptic. Here’s why:

  • 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).

For my money, I’d like to see a “spin-off” of BioD (or something similar) based on organic farming principles, but backed up by scientific study of the results of each of its component parts, and with the option of becoming certified in subsets where viticulturists can choose those aspects of BioD that make the most sense to them and and are proven to be sustainable without possibly being harmful to people and wildlife.  Demeter – I hope you are listening, because your current standards don’t allow that and (I’d argue) aren’t specific enough!

I realize that’s a tall order, but no one is saying that it can’t be done gradually, in steps, and in conjunction with scientific research.  It would, however, take investment – but if it increases the potential pool of grapegrowers willing to get certified, then the investment might be worth it for companies like Demter (or, at least worth researching further to see if there’s a justifiable market within the wine industry to support it).  I’m not saying my suggestion is the best or only solution to bridging the gap between BioD supporters and detractors; I’m just saying that it would be a welcome change from the current all-or-nothing certification stance and general lack of supporting scientific evidence for BioD.  Sophomoric? Maybe, but hey, I’m an idea guy, alright?

How about YOU?  Any revelations, pro or con, about BioD from these recent interviews?  shout ‘em out!

Cheers!

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    Comments

  • Thomas Pellechia


    I'm with you, Dude, with one additional comment: since Biodynamic viticulture does not have science to back it up beyond its "organic" methods, it seems unlikely that there's any benefit to certification beyond "organic" other than as a marketing tool. Therefore, until there is agreement in scientific fields, Biodynamic certification should either be abandoned or viewed as a marketing gimmick–or, as you say, a religion.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Thom. I'm not saying I'm 100% against BioD, but I am against certification without some of the outstanding questions being addressed (particularly some of the preparations being potentially harmful to the environment) and against it being "all or nothing."

  • Robert Strohmeyer


    I think it's worth pointing out that there already is an alternative to biodynamics that's based on organic farming principles. It's called organic farming, and it's widely practiced with great results. All biodynamics adds is a bit of delusional philosophy, an arbitrary calendar that has no relation to actual environmental conditions, and a bunch of superstitious preparations taken straight out of the dark ages. I posit that biodynamics adds nothing of demonstrable value to the principles of organic farming, and as such, should be abandoned both as an agricultural practice and as a marketing concept.

    • 1WineDude


      Strong words, Robert!

      I think there's wiggle room between organic and current BioD (as it's defined today), but I would certainly base it on organic farming as a starting point. Cheers!

      • Robert Strohmeyer


        I'm still waiting for someone — anyone — to lay out a comprehensive list of the specific ideas, practices, and preparations that are unique to biodynamics and examine each of them in turn to provide a plausible and coherent explanation for their efficacy. For that matter, I've yet to see a plausible and coherent explanation for any specific idea, practice, or preparation that's unique to biodynamics. Please, somebody, anybody, explain to me how stuffing yarrow blossoms in a deer bladder and burying it through the winter has any plausible effect on the bottle of juice that will eventually be sold to consumers.

        • @vinotology


          My take on this would be that organic certifications still allow for elements that are harmful for the environment and are potentially dangerous. Maybe the answer is in modifying the existing organic standards to address these issues. The thing that I like about biodynamics (and my overall take on the issue is probably pretty similar to Joe's) is the mindset behind it. There are a lot of people who are just using biodynamics as a marketing ploy

  • Matt


    Hi Joe,

    Thanks for taking this tricky subject by the horn and trying to make some sense out of it.

    I think its useful to look at why biodynamics gets so many people's backs up:

    Clearly the whole farming by astrology, and using seemingly weird preparations is beyond a lot of people's comfort zone. And its quite normal that people want a scientific explanation for what seems weird. So far it looks as though nobody has felt it worthwhile to invest the money required to do that level of scientific study — and perhaps some of the practices that work at an energetic level can only be explained by complex quantum physics that can't readily be proved yet. But the fact that it can't be proved yet by science doesnt mean its not valid. How many times over the centuries have scoffers said that something is impossible based on the current level of scientifc knowledge only for it to be proved valid as scientific techniques evolve. At best we may want to consider suspending disbelief until it is proven by full and rigorous scientific study that biodynamics is NOT a valid method.

    Perhaps even more than the wacky farming methods I think that Demeter's firm 'control' over the whole certification process, the fact that its a private company, and the fact that some producers use biodynamic farming as a marketing tool – claiming that it is superior – pushes a lot of buttons. But dont forget that there are a lot of highly respected producers particularly in France that use biodynamics – and that previously used organics – that don't publicize, don't label it, are in fact so far up their own asses that they'd propbably prefer if nobody knew about it! But for some reason they do use this farming method, and I think its because they believe it results in higher quality grapes, and protects their very precious terroir.

    My roundabout point here is that, just because some aspects of Biodynamics are weird, and frustrating, doesnt mean the whole thing is invalid. I've tasted through hundreds of organic and biodynamic wines and do believe there is a detectable difference between the two. Its subtle – and perhaps it has nothing to do with the biodynamics and more to do with the terroir and the winemaking – but there is nevertheless in my opinion a detectable difference between the wines.

    So for me I am willing to live and let live, until its proved otherwise. And by the way while there may be some hybrid sustainable approaches to farming that are more environmentally friendly, and perhaps Stu has found that good balance that works well for him, lets be clear that there is no way that biodynamics is more harmful than your average conventional farming techniques — if it is then that also applies to organics which uses the same sulfur and copper treatments.

    Cheers

    Matt

    • Robert Strohmeyer


      I don't mean to be jerky here, Matt, and I'm not by nature a mean person, but I have to take your reasoning to task on this: Why should we suspend disbelief over a claim that has no plausibility whatsoever?

      Your comparison of biodynamics (a purely mystical belief system with no grounding in any scientific discipline and no evidence at all to back its claims) to a theory that was once thought "impossible based on the current level of scientifc knowledge only for it to be proved valid as scientific techniques evolve" is deeply dubious. In every case that matches the description you just offered, the theory in question was based on observation and evidence, and provided a theoretical explanation for observed phenomena.

      Gravity, evolution, relativity, and any other breakthrough theory you can name have this basic fact in common: They started with the evidence and worked toward a conclusion, presenting a rational case for their efficacy.

      Biodynamics does the opposite: In the absence of any observable evidence, it prescribes arbitrary behaviors and offers no coherent explanation for WHY those specific behaviors should be undertaken or what specific outcomes should be expected. In short, it provides no mechanism for efficacy and no rational justification for following its prescriptions. Instead, it relies on confirmation bias — taking credit when things go well, and disavowing blame when things go badly.

      In spirit I like your "live and let live" attitude, but like Stu Smith I have a low tolerance for bullshit in public discourse. If biodynamic farmers want to believe in private that burying deer bladders and cow intestines full of herbal concoctions makes their crops better, I don't care. When they claim it in public and it impacts the marketplace, I feel compelled to speak on behalf of reason.

      • 1WineDude


        Robert – just to add a bit to Matt's take on this:

        One good example of something that borders on religion but has since been backed up by hard science is that of meditation and the subsequent claims of those who have gone into the practice very deeply. For example – our bodies and minds perceive things at a perceptible/noticeable lag after they actually take place in the physical world (now backed up by scientific evidence in brain studies); we are all interconnected in subtle ways not detectable in the normal physical realm (mathematics within quantum mechanics, brane theory and string theory underscore the credibility of this); and our consciousness shapes reality, with our physical world being a manifestation and not the true reality (also supported by quantum physics, brane and string theories). It might be a stretch to apply that to BioD, but I can certainly understand the sentiment behind Matt's point here.

        Cheers!

        • Robert Strohmeyer


          Meditation is a subject that's dear to my heart, Joe, so I'll say this: Some meditative practices (certainly not all) are built on long traditions of rational examination and observation. The claims made about these practices are based on evidence and reason, and are propounded at length in thousands of sutras. The sutras lay out specific observations and provide rational explanations for them. Some of those explanations turn out to be fairly dubious, but there's a hefty body of literature on the subject that stands up to modern psychological scrutiny. Once again, this pattern is the opposite of what biodynamics does.

          Again with quantum mechanics, brane theory, and string theory: They start with evidence (even if that evidence is largely mathematical), and work to construct plausible explanations for the evidence. It is, indeed, a stretch to apply that to BioD.

          I understand the sentiment behind Matt's point, too, but it's objectively wrong.

      • Matt


        Robert, I don't see what is so implausible about the biodynamic practices. Its not a set of mystical beliefs but a set of specific practices. Odd yes, but specific, and not completely lacking in scientific basis.

        As far as I am aware it has been shown scientifically that the moon, and other planets have a gravitational effect on the earth, affect the tides etc – so its not really implausible that certain days, where planets have certain configurations, couldn't have an effect on sensitive plant organisms.

        Its not implausible that putting manure in a cows horn under the earth for a few months wouldn't result in
        microbial activity that would result in a useful fertilizer, or that crystals and various herbs wouldn't have a beneficial effect on plant life.

        Yes, its odd, and no perhaps there haven't been rigorous scientifc studies that measure exact levels of activity as a result of these practices but its certainly not implausible that they might be effective.

        Lets hope that some day soon someone does a proper study so that the argument can be put to rest once and for all.

        In the meantime, I remain open minded not because I care so much about biodynamics but because I've tasted wines made by producers that use biodynamic farming that I find extraordinary.

        • actual


          Matt, It seems you're employing a classic religious argument that because it's not known that something doesn't exist, it could exist. This asks the other side of the debate to disprove something, which is impossible w/o being omniscient.

          Lots of things could exist, but you, me, and everyone else in the world don't believe in the implausible (e.g. flying spaghetti monster)

          The jury has already decided on the gravity argument. The force is infinitesimally small. A rabbit standing next to a vine has more gravitational pull than the moon. And the cow horn filled with manure? What reason do you have to believe that the fertilization effect of that is any different or greater that that which would come from a bag of NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium)?

          Answer this question: Is it that you simply want to believe it?

          The straw man argument by BD supporters is that unless there is hard-core scientific study, then it's sensible to be "open minded." But no one is asking for hard-core university study, just simple empirical evidence. "Empirical evidence" has a firm definition and is not open to interpretation.

          Lastly, you are again appealing to authority (with some confirmation bias and cause/correlation fallacy) when you point to successful producers of BD wine. Whether you like these wines or not has nothing to do with the argument of whether preparation 501 has any basis in reality. You simply don't know whether it was the BD practices, the organic practices, or dumb luck that caused the effect you liked. Another question for you. Did you know before tasting these wines that they were BD?

          Again, is it simply because you want to believe? That's not having a very open mind.

          • 1WineDude


            Actual makes some good points here, in that randomness and “small numbers bias” can have bigger impacts on our perception of events than we realize.  A GREAT primer on this is the book “The Drunkard's Walk” which goes into great detail on how that stuff works – I mention it here only because actual's comment brought me right back to passages in that (great) book.  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0307275175?ie=UTF8&tag=1win-20&linkCode=xm2&camp89&creativeASIN07275175Cheers!

          • Matt


            Actual,

            I'm not sure what belief has to do with it? We're not talking about religious questions of existence but rather whether specific practices create any measurable results. Nor am I comparing 501 to NPK and saying its more effective – only that its not implausible that as a result of the microbial or chemical activities that take place while 501 is brewing, that it has some effect.

            As to whether I believe or want to believe in biod – to be honest its not really any skin off my nose if biod practices turned out to have no basis.

            Soon after I started organicwinefind.com I had an interaction with Demeter that kind of turned me off , and I was pretty ambivalent about biod until I started tasting them side by side with regular organic wines and noticed a difference. I didn't go into it looking for a difference and I was quite surprised when I found it. And you are absolutely right, at the end of the day these wines may have been different anyway – perhaps its the properties of the terroir etc

            I'm not here to argue pro biod. All I'm saying is that I personally am not willing to write biodynamics off yet because my tasting apparatus notices something different about wines that have been farmed biodynamically.

            Somehow I suspect that even if a scientific study did show that biod practices had no effect, there are many farmers in France that wouldn't stop using it – they were using it long before it became trendy and will carry on using after it stops being trendy because they see a difference in the soil and in the health of their vines by farming that way. These are farmers whose families have farmed the land for generations, that have seen the transition from conventional, to organic, to biodynamic. Farmers who are extremely intimate with their earth and their vines. These are guys that couldn't give a horses ass what you and I think, they get excited picking up a handful of earth, smelling it and seeing the life there.

            I don't care if it is appealing to authority, if we want to talk about implausibility, it seems to me far more implausible that so many farmers passionate about their land ( and I'm talking about France rather than the US) would use a technique that has absolutely no effect whatsoever.

  • Bill


    I am with Robert Strohmeyer and Stu Smith on this one. Leave aside the bizarre nature of BioD's founder and practices…many great breakthroughs have initially seemed bizarre. The lack of credible scientific evidence to give credence to any practices UNIQUE to BioD should cause any reasonable, intelligent, educated person to challenge BioD's claims as to results and superiority. If somehow one could demonstrate that techniques UNIQUE to BioD were resulting in results superior to standard organic or non-organic farming practices, even though the exact mechanism was not clear, then I believe then there might be some 'wiggle room'. In the absence of that demonstration it is worrisome that so many intelligent people even consider it let alone are willing to invest so much in it. As an agnostic, BioD sure feels to me like most religions: unprovable, zealous in their superiority and immune from rational criticism in the intellectual quagmire engendered by political correctness.

    • Matt


      I'm going to remain open to possibilities until its proven one way or another. I guess in the same way that it's hard for you to understand why so many intelligent people would even consider it, I find it hard to understand why so many intelligent people are willing to write it off without the scientific evidence to prove that its UNIQUE practices aren't valid – particularly since so many highly credible vineyards are using the techniques.

      The question in my mind is why would vineyards that don't publicize, or label their methods and that farmed for many years organically, switch over to biodynamics, and why would they sustain that practice (and not go back to organics) if they didn't see value in it – either in the vineyard or the finished wine.

      • Robert Strohmeyer


        The appeal to authority is a textbook logical fallacy. Rather than point to evidence, it pins credibility to the irrelevant notion that some respected person or organization endorses the idea. But venerable growers and producers are not immune to specious reasoning and misguided investments. If we give them the benefit of the doubt that they're not making the switch for cynical fiduciary reasons, then we have to leave open the possibility that they're deluded.

        • 1WineDude


          I think one aspect we can't forget here is that BioD conversion, for some, has been the thing that ensures that they get their feet in the vineyards and make their wines in as natural a way as possible. I'm willing to bet that for the vast majority of those cases, good results are going to come from that. So there is certainly an argument to be made in favor of BioD on that alone – however it doesn't make BioD the only or best method for that, either.

          • Robert Strohmeyer


            We can bear it in mind, Joe, but it's irrelevant to the efficacy of biodynamics itself. It only demonstrates that a well-tended vineyard does better than a neglected one.

            Religion is often the thing that gets convicts to change their ways, but that fact has no bearing on whether the specific beliefs of any given religion are true. If we want to understand what's actually happening here, we can't conflate correlation with causation.

            • 1WineDude


              Totally agree, Robert – I'm only saying that there are positive aspects of following BioD, not that BioD is the ultimate cause of those positive aspects.

              • Robert Strohmeyer


                There can be positive aspects to doing just about any foolish thing.

                I appreciate that you're so open minded and kind to the opposing view, but I think you're carrying this whole middle-of-the-road thing a little too far. I mean, you obviously know that the arguments you're offering in defense of biodynamics don't hold water, but you make them anyway. Why bother?

                Anyway, I have enough self-awareness to see that I'm totally camping on this page, but I've kind of resolved to stick this argument out and hold it to some basic standards of logic and reason. If you'd rather I bow out and shut up, just say so.

                Cheers,
                Robert

  • Robert Strohmeyer


    Yeah, I should say also that it's not my intention to prevent BioD proponents from presenting their case. I will, however, point out faulty arguments as they arise.

    I've been waiting a very long time to encounter a positive argument in support of biodynamics that doesn't depend on fundamental logical fallacies. Forever the optimist, I'm still waiting. :-)

  • Jack


    This debate should really begin AND end with a side-by-side comparison of BD wines vs. non-BD wines of similar price points. Every other argument is pointless drivel. Proponents of BD farming are wacky and opinionated, but so are people who devote hours each day trying to debunk them on a philosophical basis. BD farming is not a "myth". It's a real thing that some people do that typically yields a genuinely different result than other methods of farming do. If Stu Smith doesn't want to farm that way then that's his deal. Let him pour all the pesticides he wants on his crops and have him put up his product against someone who chose to do it biodynamically in a side-by-side comparison. Share the results, then talk about how each product performs in the marketplace.

    • Robert Strohmeyer


      Jack, I'd be very interested to hear your plan for arranging such a comparison. Given that any two vineyards of the same varietal will are likely yield discernible differences in the bottle even if they're located next to each other, and that any two wines from different winemakers are likely to express different characteristics of the fruit, how could you possibly draw a reliable conclusion as to the cause of those differences? How would you select which wines to compare? Price points alone would make for a pretty arbitrary selection criteria.

      You present a false dilemma between biodynamics and someone who uses "all the pesticides he wants on his crops." There are myriad farming options that bridge the gap between biodynamics and "all the pesticides."

      If the debate should begin and end anywhere, it should be with evidence that the practices that are unique to biodynamic farming have any effect at all on the juice in the bottle. Such evidence would require us to rule out the influence of such basic practices as planting cover crops and composting, which are common across a broad spectrum of farming methods.

      It's not a philosophical argument; it's a scientific one. If biodynamic farming "typically yields a genuinely different result than other methods of farming do," as you say, then we should be able to see evidence of this in a properly controlled sampling of bottled wines. The test you propose, however, would be arbitrary and any conclusions drawn from it would be, to borrow your phrase, pointless drivel.

      • 1WineDude


        To Robert's point, I think it's a tough, tough call to make those types of comparisons. On the whole/aggregate, I've found BioD wines AND organically-farmed wines (not talking about certified in every case but those who claim to go that route even without pursuing the certs) to have more vibrancy and livelier acidity than most conventionally-farmed wines in the same general area (most recently in Napa, but I've also noted this trend in Germany and other regions).

        The important point here is that it's my aggregate, overall opinion, not a side-by-side comparison because such comparisons simply don't exist and as Robert points out are problematic at best (though I think he might be overstating the case for the extremes of bottle variation).

        However, I'm unable to detect (whether because of a lack of refinement in my palate or otherwise) differences between BioD-farmed and organically-farmed wines – again, in the aggregate. So my personal experience suggests that the BioD claims might be overstated. The trouble is, any direct comparison of BioD / non-BioD would need to be done within a particular vineyard site and would require a huge amount of effort and probably therefore expense – but it would go a LONG way in furthering the BioD cause if it were done and it turned out that the resulting wine was better.

  • Bill


    Whew….now I know why you chose this topic Dude! All I can add at this point is my fervent backing for Robert. His views echo mine and hisskills at argumentation are most excellent.

    • 1WineDude


      WillyBuoy – yeah, it's a powder keg of sorts :).

  • Robert Strohmeyer


    I'm fascinated by the idea that people who bother to scrutinize the outlandish claims of biodynamics are somehow fanatical or wacky. Is it fanatical or wacky to deny the veracity of nonsense?

    I liken this to someone telling me that apples fall up, rather than down. If one person said it, I'd probably ignore them. If several people came up to me and said it, I'd be pretty surprised. If I kept seeing magazine articles about it and discovered that there was a global cottage industry of people who charge massive amounts of money based on the premise that apples fall up, I'd demand to see some evidence. Has anyone ever actually *seen* an apple fall up? No? Then I'd be pretty exasperated.

    Biodynamics is like this. The claims are everywhere. There's no evidence. People keep jumping in to defend the possibility that it might be true, even though the whole idea is childishly silly, because failing to allow for the absurdly implausible is too closed-minded and fanatical.

  • Jeff V.


    Thomas & Robert,

    Interesting point(s), I wonder if you are in favor of listing the additives in wine as a more "scientific" approach to knowing how the wine was made?

    • 1WineDude


      I'm pretty sure most winemakers would balk at having to list additives. Most of them don't want people to know some of the things that go in there – not because those things are harmful but because public perception would be negative.

      I mean, look at it this way: many people I know who are intelligent and rational folks but know nada about wine production look shocked when I tell them that "produced & bottled by" has a legal meaning and that tons of wines are made by people who buy grapes / juice that they didn't grow. They feel as though their romantic winemaking notions have been cheated or that they've been swindled somehow, even though that's a terribly illogical conclusion to a perfectly acceptable practice for making wine. I'm reasonably sure that listing additives could be met with the same illogical derision in the marketplace.

      • Robert Strohmeyer


        That's my assessment, too, Joe. Although every winemaker I know will tell any of these facts about their wines to anyone who asks (or, in some cases, anyone who'll listen), putting in on labels can have a dampening effect on consumers — often unjustifiably.

        One good example is the ongoing push to put sulfite measurements on the label. Of course, this raises a whole bunch of issues, such as whether to list total sulfites or free sulfites, and in the end the requirement would likely do more to harm winemakers than to protect consumers. What would the average consumer make of a label that reads "contains bentonite"?

      • An actual winemaker


        My bet is that no winemaker would balk at listing the additives on a label. An owner or the marketing department, maybe. But not the winemaker. Since it's not obvious to me that anyone here actually does this for a living, let's go through the list and see how evil these additives really are:

        1. Sulfur dioxide. Your body makes more in a day than exists in an entire bottle of wine.
        2. Oak. This is one of the most odd things that you could put wine into. It's not grape-derived, yet no one thinks twice about this being an "additive."
        3. Enzymes. These are natural products of bacteria. Your body contains an astronomical number of bacteria that make you successful at digesting food. Bacteria is your friend in 99.99% of cases.
        4. Tannins. These are either grape-derived, or derived from oak or chestnut trees. Not sure why the BD crowd cares whether the tannin in their wine comes from one species of tree and not another.
        5. Tartaric acid. This is grape-derived.
        6. Citric acid (not common in winemaking but approved in the USA). This is naturally derived.
        7. Arabic gum. Sounds odd, but is nothing more than purified tree sap. It's natural.
        8. Fining agents. These have odd sources but are not additives because they don't end up in the wine. They are catalysts for speeding the natural settling of sediment in wine. IF any do end up in the wine you probably wouldn't drink it because they cause haze and it would be obvious to the consumer. But they're all natural except for one.
        9. Concentrates for sweetness and color. These are grape-derived. Did you know that many coloring agents approved for use in foods are insect derived? We don't use those in the wine industry. But many people happily consume them and don't think twice about it.
        10. Water additions / alcohol removal. These are uncommon in the industry in fine wines. But this happens ALL the time naturally. It's called RAIN.

        Here are some things that the BD crowd does to their wine.
        1. They support the industry that slaughters cattle by giving value to their heads.
        2. They support the petrochemical industry by outsourcing their preparations to a company in Virginia that must ship their product by diesel-powered truck or airplanes that put greenhouse gases directly into the upper atmosphere. Is the irony lost here that BD consultants travel by airplane?
        2. They spray evil sulfur on their vines. This sulfur is produced as a byproduct of the petroleum industry. Yes, I am being facetious wither regard to sulfur as everyone does it, even the BD folks.
        3. They spray copper sulfate on their vines. Does copper sulfate break down in the soil? No. Heck, even Roundup breaks down almost immediately after sprayed. Copper sulfate is found in nature, but it's so rare that you would never grind it up for the agriculture industry. That which is used in agriculture is made in a factory using chemicals that would make Alan York wince.

        Isn't perspective wonderful?

        • 1WineDude


          Point taken, actual winemaker.But my point was not that the additives were actually harmful, it's that they would be **perceived** negatively by consumers and possibly the media, etc.  I should have probably said “wine producers” instead of “winemakers” to be clearer.As for “They support the industry that slaughters cattle by giving value to their heads. ” – c'mon, are those cows different than those that would have been slaughtered for the beef and leather industries?  I would find it difficult to believe (but willing to have my mind changed with data/proof) that BioD farming has an appreciable impact on the amount of cattle killed due to other industry drivers.

          • actual


            I wouldn't be against a campaign to educate the public about just how benign the inputs really are. Some people have odd beliefs about what really goes on in the cellar.

            As for the cattle, I don't disagree with you, but the BD crowd is all about principle (and affectation). Why should principle not apply when it reflects negatively on them? What about the idea that the farm (vineyard) should be like an organism with limited inputs? Shouldn't then the cow be raised on the farm? Maybe it could be put to work mowing the grass.

            • 1WineDude


              I don't disagree, actual, but I think BioD proponents could rightly point out that on the aggregate what they are doing is possibly more holistic and better for the environment than what conventional farming practices allow, again in the aggregate. I.e., take the whole, which won't be perfect, and very likely it is overall more positive than what used to be done in that same vineyard, and therefore contributes to a better world despite not being perfect.

              And I think there's a lot of merit in that – but that merit falls down for me when BioD is used in marketing ploys as always superior to conventional farming or organic farming practices, etc. As in many other things within the wine world, it's in the sweeping generalizations where things break down.

              • Robert Strohmeyer


                I'm sorry, but "more holistic" is a functionally meaningless phrase. More holistic than what? What is the totality that this holism addresses? Biodynamics advocates like to pretend that they're addressing the whole ecosystem in their practices, but the evidence works against them here. Their ideology claims to be holistic, but their practices are riddled with blind spots.

                Yorks talks a mean streak about intentionality as the distinguishing factor between BioD and organic farming, as if it matters a whit what his intentions are. I hate to boil it down like this, but winemaking is about putting fermented juice into bottles. And however grand or delusional York's intentions are, they'll never appear under the cork.

              • 1WineDude


                Not necessarily, Robert – the totality could be defined in many ways, but I'd opt to start at the vineyard level (soils, plants, etc., etc.) and extend it from there as much as is reasonably possible (impact on the surrounding environment, on the consumers of the product, the workers…).  The point is not that it has to be one definition but that it doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to understand that a target could be defined.In that case, one could say that they want to reduce a carbon emission footprint, revitalize the vineyard soils, etc.  It *could* be measured.  I'm sure many places do NOT measure it but the point is that it could be done.  And I think *some* of that effort *can* appear under cork, especially when it comes to a healthier vineyard environment.  Not saying that BioD doesn't have blindspots – I clearly think that it does and have said so in the article and in the subsequent comment. But I am saying that a measured approach that aims to be more holistic than its predecessor approaches will very likely result in begin better for the vineyard, the environment to a larger extent and possibly also for the wines.  And all of it could theoretically be measured.

              • Robert Strohmeyer


                You're reinforcing my point, I think. They *want* to do all these things, but I'm far from convinced that they *actually* do any of them. At a minimum, I'd say that spraying copper sulfate on soils does demonstrable harm, regardless of the intention to revitalize soils. I don't buy the argument that BioD leaves a smaller carbon footprint at all, since many of the materials have to be trucked in just as conventional alternatives do. You're just giving them the benefit of the doubt that their practices actually make for a healthier vineyard, which takes the whole dialog backward about fifty paces. Let's see the evidence that a single one of those claims hold water.

                Biodynamics IS NOT a measured approach. It's a fantastical one that evades measurement at every turn. The burden of proof rests on the BioD camp to back up their claims with evidence.

              • 1WineDude


                Robert – just a caution, when I mention that something within the BioD realm could/should be done, don't take it to mean that I think it *is* being done or assuming it doesn't have to be done.  I think there is a significant burden of proof, as you say, that the BioD camp has in front of it.  The only difference in what we're saying (I think, anyway) is that I'm not going to rule out BioD's potential environmental benefits being possible – I'm just going to call them unproven.  The point is that evidence could be gathered in support of it, but as you rightly point out it hasn't been done and so we should remain skeptical as I've said quite a few times already in this thread.I guess where we are differing is that where I'm leaving open the possibility of those benefits, you're not and won't entertain them at all without the proof?  Or am I totally getting this wrong?

              • Robert Strohmeyer


                Right: I'm withholding acceptance of all claims regarding purported benefits from any practice that is unique to biodynamics until evidence — or at least a plausible explanation of efficacy — is presented.

                To be clear: I'm not saying that none of the BioD methods work. Most of the methods are common in other agricultural paradigms, and many of those are perfectly plausible. But I'm not giving biodynamics credit for practices that it shares with other paradigms. In order to demonstrate that biodynamics is superior to other paradigms, its proponents must show that its unique practices actually get results.

                Overall, though, I don't see much in biodynamics that isn't found elsewhere in organic and sustainable farming practices. What does BioD bring to the table besides a half-baked ideology, a kooky planting calendar, and a literal witch's brew of superstitious preparations? Nothing. And since none of those things have plausible explanations for actually making soil healthier or lowering carbon footprints, I see no reason to provisionally accept that they do anything of the kind.

              • 1WineDude


                Understood, Robert – thanks.

              • Robert Strohmeyer


                I should also say that I'm not lumping BioD in with the broader spectrum of organic and sustainable farming methods that are subsets of BioD. I'm talking specifically about the practices that are unique to biodynamics.

                To my eye, this debate is about biodynamics itself, and I'd like to avoid getting sucked into a false dichotomy that has biodynamics on one side and a never-ending stream of neurotoxins and poisons on the other.

  • Bill


    I predict that someday this may be a significant quote…..

    Is it fanatical or wacky to deny the veracity of nonsense?

    • 1WineDude


      Bill – I sense a haiku coming on… ;-)

  • Bill


    Robert I once again totally agree with your comment…..cool with me

  • Tom Wark


    There is a certain absurdity to BioDynamics. But there is a certain absurdity to many things that I like. However, the minute anyone starts to claim that biodynamic wines are or higher quality than UC-Davis-Theory-made wines, that's when I start to call BS…

    There is after all no proof of aliens. Still I don't mind thinking about aliens. But when someone tells me that their belief in aliens make them a better person, I start to call BS.

    • 1WineDude


      Well-stated, Tom.

    • An actual winemaker


      Tom, I suspect that you didn't mean to, but as a UCD educated winemaker, I can tell you that there is no theory taught there. This idea stems largely from the ramblings of Clark Smith that, for some odd reason, thinks that UCD has an axe to grind (as if UCD was a person, not a department full of researchers pursuing independent projects). They don't. In fact, they state early on that they don't teach you how to make wine. For that, go get yourself an internship at a winery. They simply teach the science that is the basis for what goes on in the vineyard and cellar. It's then up to the student to draw philosophical conclusions.

  • Thomas Pellechia


    Jeff,

    Whether I agree with it or not, the only thing preventing wine label ingredients from happening is that FDA does not have authority over wine labels. Don't see, however, how ingredient labeling relates to Biodynamic certification.

    • Jeff V.


      Really? Well, one of the main requirements of the Nutrition Facts label is listing ingredients including "additives"……it is my understanding that BioD wines are free of additives. So, I guess it would get to the crux of the "higher quality" debate.

  • wee ree san


    substance would be nice
    uh oh not this time darling
    oh no baby oh

    • 1WineDude


      I love you, Wee Ree San! :)

  • Andy


    While I agree with the majority of the posters that BD is nonsense, I also think that one must look for the "proof in the pudding"…e.g. are BD wines better? Recently, I did a wine tasting trip thru Lake County and tasted at 3 estate wineries –one farmed organically, one via BD and one converntionally –this was a "natural" experiment in that I did not know a priori what farming method each vineyard espoused. There were 4 of us and I was the only one familar with the differences in agriculture. At dinner, I first discussed which wines we did and did not like. Interestingly, everyone was quite impressed with the concept of BD as advertised at the winery (which was a very nice winery BTW) and bought in fully that BD was "better than organics" as a method of agriculture. Also, everyone agreed that the worst wines were from BD (there were wines with obvious VA, brett and just some funky flavors) and the group was split as to their preference b/w conventional and organic wines. Clearly this is not scientific and there are many other factors at play here…but I found the experience and discussion to be interesting

  • A BD person


    It is interesting to read comments from people, re: Biodynamics, who ( it is obvious by their posts/comments), know little or nothing ABOUT Biodynamics. At a minimum, they have never worked with the preparations, nor have they studied the entire subject deeply. It is endlessly fascinating to read comments written by people – who claim to be
    " scientific" and " rational" and " practical" – and they dismiss a modality or method BEFORE observing it or experiencing it. Actually, their approach is quite IRRATIONAL and just based upon OPINION alone. Actually, the former is a very unobservant, obtuse, and most UNSCIENTIFIC method.

    If, on the other hand, they would experience Biodynamics and do some of their own research (BTW, research HAS been done). And if they would spend some years making, applying and working with the entire Biodynamic Method, while studying its history….. And THEN dismissing it….. That would be an approach even Goethe would approve of!

    • 1WineDude


      BD – I agree that informed discourse is best. Having said that, I don't think people should be prevented from engaging in the discourse only because they've not spent years practicing BD winemaking/grape growing. Provided they keep an open mind, that is!

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