Friday, July 25, 2014

Biodynamics: Part 1 – An Introduction

MYou are really going to have to follow me down the rabbit hole for this one. Right now, your reaction to biodynamics is probably something along the lines of… “You mean, that crazy vineyard witch doctor voodoo shaman stuff?” Yes, that stuff. In Part 1, I hope to give you a basic education on biodynamics in general, including a brief history, why it is significant and it’s basic tenets, just to see if I catch your interest. If I do, you can follow me further down the rabbit hole to Part 2, where I will cover some of the more technical aspects as well as the cosmic influences and briefly discuss the controversy surrounding certification. Part 3 will be my interview of an internationally renowned winemaking guru with experience working with biodynamic vineyards. Yes, you have to wait and read Part 3 to find out who it is. Hopefully somewhere along the way, I can address the million-dollar question… does it work? Although every one needs to answer that question for themselves, I will certainly offer my opinion.

Biodynamic farming is part of a much larger worldview, an all-encompassing philosophy developed by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, social activist, architect and all around wacky guy. He is most noted for developing Anthroposophy, a spiritual movement that encompasses the Waldorf/Steiner method of education, Biodynamic agriculture, social finance principles, Rs01the performing arts, architecture, medicine and much more in an effort to bridge the gap between science and mysticism. He wrote more then I want to mention (for fear of revealing my own inefficiency as an author) but he thankfully wrote an autobiography that detailed his life, even admitting the times people called him crazy, including Hitler. Go figure. The book is called “The story of my life.” It won’t change yours (or will it?), but it is entertaining.

Putting everything else aside and just focusing on the agricultural aspect of biodynamics, Steiner got the proverbial “ball” rolling with a seminar he taught in Germany as a response to local musings that modern chemical fertilizers were hurting, not helping, their crops and land. He introduced a comprehensive, all-natural philosophy for farming that covered all the bases: pest management, composting, soil fertility, greenhouses, sustainability, synergy with the surrounding environment, animal welfare, etc. The rest, as they say, is history.

It’s practices are already used extensively worldwide and it is growing in significance daily. The movement is a major “hot-topic” in the wine community right now, as evidenced by large international studies, buzz in the blogosphere, many magazine articles and more. Just how extensive is it? Let me mention some Burgundy Domaines you may have heard of: Romanee-Conti, Dujac, Vogue, Leflaive, Leroy, Mugnier, Tremblay… anything ringing a bell? There are literally hundreds of producers all around the world using biodynamics (certified or not): Araujo, Chapoutier, Gaja, Frog’s Leap, Grgich Hills, Littorai, Quivira, Zind Humbrect, Mordoree, Alois Lageder, Nikolaihof, Pingus, Casa Lapostolle… and the list goes on and on.

So… what is it? The basic tenets of Biodynamic farming begin with the recognition that the Earth as a whole is a single, yet multi-dimensional ecosystem that is bio-diverse, self-regulating and sustainable. Farmers following the biodynamic principles attempt to recreate that on a smaller scale within their own farm. This is for the benefit of their communities and the planet as a whole. The second major tenet is that there are cosmic forces in nature not yet fully understood by science and that the health of a farm (and consequently, the quality of the products being grown), the farm’s environment, and really, the whole planet and all its inhabitants, can be enhanced by working with and utilizing those forces.

By now, you are most likely thinking one of two things… 1) This seems weird, I’m outta here. Or 2) This seems weird, tell me more. In either case, you’re right, it’s weird. It gets weirder, trust me, but, that’s it for now. If you have questions or comments, please post them below. This is a controversial and confusing, yet significant topic. Part 2 will be live next week, where I will cover some of the technical details of biodynamics and how they tie into the cosmic forces.

By the glass … a wine blog by Woodland Hills Wine Co.