Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Joseph Phelps Vineyards: biodynamic-like

Interesting & timely article @ about Joseph Phelps Vineyards, and their “biodynamic-like” viticulture.

See? This is what I’m talking about – marketing! - you get your name in the paper and an article where you get to differentiate yourself from other producers, merely by using the word “biodynamic” to describe your operations.

The beauty of the Phelps article is that they want “to build healthier soil” rather than “to gain formal biodynamic certification.” Brilliant isn’t it? Use the BUZZWORD to get the attention of the media (& the masses) to tell your story, then stop short of paying out any money to third party groups for some certification, which essentially is just voodoo anyway…
But I just love the logic (or lack thereof) that’s applied. Take this quote from the article:
Williams pointed out that farming organically, which in itself isn't a simple task for wineries, also involves compromises and often neighboring, non- organic vineyards can compromise a fully organic vineyard. Biodynamics is a more rigid system that makes for a healthier soil and, Williams hopes, will allow him to make a more regionally typical wine.

So exactly how does adopting biodynamics resolve the issue of neighboring agriculture which isn’t organic or biodynamic as well? They never explain, and the reader is possibly left with the false impression that biodynamics cures all ills – even those imposed upon us by neighbors with different agricultural practices.

"We are trying to embrace the philosophy and the principles of biodynamics," says Williams. "The idea is to develop a natural culture, a natural environment that we hope will give us a Pinot Noir of more regional character" than if farmed using chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and other non-natural chemicals.

This I applaud – the idea that we are entrenched in the same environment as the agriculture we are trying to promote is one which is too oft overlooked by modern farmers, as is I think the idea of Integrated Pest Management (
IPM). A return to - and reinvigoration of - sustainable agriculture is what this culture needs. And it sounds as though they may actually be thinking about what is useful from the biodynamic philosophy (anthroposophy), rather than adopting the entire system. (And I mean why would you want the entire philosophy with it?...Besides the most widely read "Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture", Steiner's other literary titles include "Reincarnation and Immortality", "The Druids: Esoteric Wisdom of the Ancient Celtic Priests", "Atlantis: The Fate of a Lost Land and Its Secret Knowledge" and "Reincarnation and Karma: Two Fundamental Truths of Existence" among others...and they're published as 'non-fiction'. Period.)

There’s more hope from the following:

“biodynamics calls for some time schedules that are very difficult to hit exactly,"
“since he is probably not going to seek formal certification for his system, he's not overly concerned if a procedure isn't done exactly on the vernal equinox.”
Dear Lord, was that actually some rational thinking? Unfortunately it isn't extended to question the validity of the "procedure" itself.
But even so, perhaps there’s hope for the human race after all…

And what happens in a year when there’s too much rain around the equinox anyway? Do we run our tractors into the field, risking getting them stuck, making ruts and compacting the soil into a hard pan (as well as cause more erosion) just because some dead philosopher wacko (Steiner) said to do some esoteric action on the equinox? NO!….we look at our local situation and assess when the environment is proper for some action…anything else would be sheer stupidity on our part.

Let’s just adopt that which is useful from biodynamics (meaning organic farming and a few broad strokes of philosopy), why take the baggage as well as that which is practical? My view is that the following is beneficial from biodynamic theory:

  1. that mankind is not separate from the environment and the natural cycle (“Nature”)
  2. greater personal attention to your plantings (vigilance) will offer you better potential to spot problems early before they get out of hand
  3. greater interaction of mankind within his agricultural practices is required than merely applying chemical stimulants to the earth
  4. utilize existing systems within the natural environment to increase the fertility of the soils and crops production
  5. utilize cover crops and crop rotation wherever possible
  6. return plant materials to the soil through composting and land covers

I’ll finish with a quote from a slide

presentation by Charles Francis, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, on sustainable agriculture:

“Useful philosophy comes from the Iroquois and other First Nation peoples: make decisions today after projecting the impacts seven generations into the future”

That may seem like a bit much for some people, and our current culture changes too rapidly for us to project that far into the future, but the idea that we have to think about what/who’s still to come in the future generations is a good one to remember…



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