Friday, January 07, 2005

Biodynamic email

Sir Bedevere: ...and that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana shaped.
King Arthur: This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedevere. Explain again how sheep's bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail

An email from Jack:

I recently discovered your blog and have been enjoying it.

However, today's column on Biodynamic wine left me - hmmm - well, puzzled to say the least. You basically say that there's no advantage to biodynamic farming over (just) organic farming. But here's two facts that say otherwise:
1. Plants are in tune (or however you wish to describe it) with the cycles of the moon. No one questions this. (Or, how do you explain, for example, Fortnight Lilies blooming at the same time?).

I don’t agree that plants are in tune with the cycles of the moon – and I do question that statement.
I can agree that everything in the Universe is in some way interrelated, but the question arises “is it at a significant level?” – or is it some perceived “je ne sais quoi” which is in fact ethereal? (see "apophenia")

Just because the Moon is close to the Earth, and exerts gravitational pull on this planet – which is significant – doesn’t mean it has any other properties of significance (to agriculture). If that were so, then one should be able to hunt down some plant which does flower(/seed/etc) GLOBALLY based on some lunar cycle. For this hunt to be successful, this hypothetical plant would have to “react” to the moon’s cycle exactly the same – at exactly the same moment - whether it was in Northern Greenland or Cancun, Mexico (say during the
Full Flower Moon in April just for fun).
The statement implies that Fortnight Lilies should all flower on the same day – all over the world – which is clearly not the case. They bloom locally at roughly the same time due to the effect of weather & the seasons (Earth’s aspect & relationship to the Sun). As one pushes North (or South in the Southern Hemisphere) from the equator those dates will be pushed forward until a time when the season & weather are favorable for it to occur.

2. Some of the absolute greatest wineries in the world practice biodynamics. Domaine Leroy, Zind-Humbrecht, and Domaine Weinbach (Fallers), to name three. Why, why, why would they bother (and not just do organic farming) if there was nothing to it? I mean, we're talking about some of the smartest, talented winemakers on the planet. Answer me this!

I agree that these people are talented, and indeed quite smart. But I don’t think that they get due credit for their true stroke of genius – marketing.

In a sea of wines they have been able not only to differentiate themselves from other producers who use modern inorganic fertilizers, but also to further separate themselves from ‘organic’ farmers/producers - and simultaneously position themselves at the vanguard of the organic movement no less!
Genius! Pure unadulterated Genius, I tell you!

Perhaps they truly believe that they are effecting some cosmic change by packing cow’s horn with manure & burying it. But believing in something doesn’t cause it to become true. One need look no further than US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s statement that “…we know there are WMD’s in Iraq, and we know where they are”, to see that even very intelligent & talented people can be wrong about something they ‘know’ to be true. Surely you've heard the anecdote about the world being flat?
(I have a whole host of ancillary criticisms which arise from the stated beliefs of biodynamic theory, but I’ll save those for another post.)

Sure, we're not talking about the extremes...I don't think anyone goes to that. I know the guys in Australia buy packaged biodynamic stuff - very easy for them to implement there (I think it was Australian Karen? Cullen/Culler(?) who mentioned this to me). Did you talk to any winemakers who make biodynamic wine?

If you’re talking about burying horns packed with manure to “concentrate” the cosmic energy, then YES, I think we are talking about extremes.

I have visited 2 biodynamic wineries & vineyards, and talked with both adherents and skeptics, and listened to winemakers. My visits and talks with tour staff who get “doe-eyed, and speak in enthusiastic hushed voices about biodynamics” have left me nonplussed. Nobody seems to be using their brains, instead they merely wax philosophical about all the perceived benefits – yet when asked, can’t provide any particulars of how it works, or even why it works.
I’m here to tell you…the Emperor has no clothes on.

I also wonder if you read Nicolas Joly's (Coulee de Seurrant) book--Wine, from Sky to Earth before writing your post. I read it, and can't say I'm really won over, but there was some interesting stuff in it; a couple of photos were esp. interesting.
-- Jack

No, I haven’t read it. And I don’t think I’d be inclined to spend money (though I may get it at the library one day) which would then encourage Msr. Joly to continue on this avenue. I have read every interview and article that I could get my hands on, and also his ramblings on his own site (
Coulee de Serrant).

I think one could have as much success by just practicing organic farming. If a vintner longs for some cosmic connection, they can go buy a “Magic 8-ball” . And as long as they still farm organically, there should be no change in their results.

Thanks for the email, Jack. I hope I cleared up my position for you.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am as skeptical as the next person when I hear about burying horns and the like, but I think it is wrong of you to completely discredit it based on your own personal "hunch" that it is a bunch of hocus-pocus. A lot of how the world works is still a mystery, and I kind of like it that way. I buy biodynamic wine and organic wine because I like knowing that care and attention went into how they are made. Demeter only certifies 12 wineries in California, so is this really such a huge marketing movement? Many wineries don't even list their organic or biodynamic status on the label. How does that fit into your argument? I also question your reasoning as far as the blooming flowers since the moon's pull would probably be different based on which side of the earth it happened to be on. I understand that flowers respond to day and night, warm and cold etc., but these are the main influences on everything. I believe there are other, subtler, influences like the moon that work below our awareness, perhaps like human pheremones, which were previously not acknowledged, but are now widely accepted.

August 02, 2005 8:16 AM  

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