How to practice Biodynamics...?
Previously I have reviewed Nicholas Joly's book Wine, from Earth to Sky on this site. That was after reading it while trying to determine exactly what BioD was.
His work was impossible to make any sense out of, and it left me troubled that so many people have jumped on the BioD bandwagon without even a thought as to what other practices it entails, or philosophy it espouses. I mean, just because you had a good wine that someone said was made using a certain philosophy doesn't automatically and universally make that philosophy a good one, does it?
I still had a hankering to find out exactly what it was that Rudolf Steiner had said seven decades ago that started this whole mess of BioD farming. Perhaps my disappointment with Joly's book was that he (Steiner) was subjected to two layers of translation (German > French, then French > English) and one "interpretation" (by Joly) before I got to it...and that doesn't even account for various editors in that chain either...
So - I rationed - if I read the original Steiner work, as translated by the people who belong to the official Rudolf Steiner Press (their own publishing house) that I would cut out some misinterpretation on Joly's part, as well as possible misunderstandings of Steiner's ideas during another round of translation...
The original is about as impenetrable and insubstantial as anything ever put together.
In fact, it reinforces the idea that if there is any improvement in BioD wines from other methods they are due to something other than BioD practices - with ONE possible exception...
...the fact that growers and vintners are actually in the fields watching and reacting to growing conditions that much faster.
His (Steiner's) philosophy is so backwards, and so completely ignores anything contrary to it, that at the end it remains totally unsupported - no true foundation for the dogmatic regulations and theory is ever laid.
Some gems of Steiner's thought:
- Classic cosmology is borrowed from Greek, Roman and Ptolemaic system (Earth at center, then in order, Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn revolve around the Earth. Neptune and Uranus are both completely ignored although both were discovered well before Steiner formed his theories..Pluto was discovered after his death, so he gets a "bye" on that one point). It is using this system that came to his "conclusions" about how these planets influence agriculture
- it's a polyglot of Hindu, asceticism and other "historical" religions (as reconstructed and adapted by Steiner - some writers calling the resulting practices "pseudo-folk practices"), with peasant folklore and primitivism as central driving forces and ideals
- Modernism (progress) is viewed as a disease which distances us from primitivism and "authenticity" (which ignores the fact that very progress was a product of those 'authentic' people to start with)
- access to your "authentic" self is somehow blocked...though the arguments for that are rudimentary, speculative, dogmatic, and eventually self-contradicting
- Cosmic influences travel into the Earth and must be liberated before they can be utilized by plants and animals (which ignores the conclusion that these forces would have to travel through the organic matter before they could lodge in the Earth...)
- Mars influence is represented by plants with the color Red (yeah, like that wasn't an obvious choice), Jupiter by all plants White or Yellow, and Saturn obviously is controlling all plants which have Blue flowering parts ...whatever...
- Calcium is brought into agriculture preferably via skulls and bones, because they are in a "form created by nature", which ignores the fact that limestone, diatomaceous earth and chalk are ALSO formed from small shells and are biological in their origins
- it is transcendental in nature - experimentation is eschewed for "direct feeling" (intuition), and though exprimentation is always suggested, it seems to consist of "intuit" experimentation - which suggests just thinking of what needs to be done or what is the proper remedy for a problem is sufficient
- because of the preceding point, it consists almost entirely of what can only be called a "lazy man's philosophy" at it's most arrogant, with rampant unsupported conclusions which somehow are used to justify further conclusions later on
- YEAST is mentioned but once in the entire work (pg 104), and then only in a passing example of how we use some substances to make our foods that we wouldn't eat by themselves (right after that he continues "[s]o many strange ideas are prevalent." in apparent reference to everyone else's ideas without considering his own. He was obviously a bit myopic...)
- "The process - not the substance - is important." (pg 104, emphasis in original) This one statement tells more than almost any other about what he's looking for: the ritual is what he's interested in, not whether it's effective or not...-VINES are mentioned 3 times: first in answer to a question about whether the manures can be used on vines (yes); second as he suggests that the Phylloxera epidemic was a result of the loss of "peasant values" (which it obviously wasn't), and that BioD would 'cure it' (which it obviously hasn't) in the past 70 years; lastly when asked if "as anthroposophists" if it was legitimate for them "to resuscitate vine-growing" AT ALL...(meaning viticulture, and implying winemaking and consumption as well as apparently many members were temperance oriented)...Steiner gave a pretty wimpy 'well-it-depends' type of answer, noting that some members did while others chose to support abstinence. Doesn't sound like someone who really cared about viticulture or wine quality at all...
- WINE is never mentioned in the text other than as an example in the preceding point, as one Anthroposophist was apparently a promoter of a German (Austrian or Swiss?) sparkling wine
...I'll leave the readers to wade through the balance of the weirdness in this book, but I can say that it's a most dissatisfying feeling to start this book and see just how slipshod Steiner's thinking was. That there was some winemaking system ever laid down by Steiner is laughable - everything which is passed off as BioD winemaking is based on inference and individual interpretation of Steiner. This contributes to the lack of a consistent outcome when applying BioD to wine - there is no clear set of directives ever laid out. It shouldn't be a big surprise then that there are so many different interpretations about what BioD really is and what it encompasses; Steiner's self-contradiction and ambiguous teachings allow that one person could say it supported "X" and the next could say it prohibited "X" on most points. It's plain that Steiner just didn't know the answers and speculated wildly, or was deliberately equivocating to try to please everyone. And the dogma which is used to support the overall theme is obviously why the biodynamic theory is viewed as religion by most outsiders: it requires blind faith in the lunatic ramblings of Steiner...
In conclusion, I'll call attention to the dangers inherent with directing valid ecological concerns in the wrong direction. That's a recipe for disaster as many try "remedies" which have no affect on the root causes. In fact, the fantasy bucolic society Steiner imagines and advocates never existed, and the effect of his fallacious image is - though an alluring alternative to modernity - neither soundly ecologically based nor an acceptable solution to unchecked progress. That it has been associated with quality wines seems to be rather by luck than anything of substance, assigning it as the reason for any increased quality is a spurious speculative assertion.
Steiner's work was also used as supporting theory for the Nazi-eco policies (as well as some racial theories of his) in the 1930's~40's.
In fact Demeter itself had a very pro-racist stance in 1930's which reappears from time to time in published works from some of their supporters, admin and editorial staff. Steiner's Anthroposophy is still used today by some eco-fascists and neo-Nazi Skinheads as justification for their views.
[See the following links Anthroposophy and Ecofascism, Ecofascism / Fascist Ideology ]
PLEASE NOTE: I'm NOT suggesting all followers of Steiner (or Anthroposophy in general) are racists or neo-Nazi supporters, just that Steiner himself WAS apparently a member of the Nazi party in the 1920's before his death, and that his published theories on racial purity, and the superiority of the "Aryan" race are still in circulation today to justify some rather scary elements of humanity. If he was that wrong on this point (and a myriad of other points as well), why would anyone believe he's beyond questioning on these agricultural and philosophical issues? He wasn't the genius he's been made out to be, period. And if indeed his published statements on these racial matters are to be dismissed, it undercuts any authority he speaks with on all other subjects, and indicates that his equivication to try to please all listeners leaves him sounding hollow, insincere, and confused at best.
[See the following for a few Steiner defenders ~ Coulee de Serrant, Defending Steiner.com, New Myths About Rudolf Steiner]
My viewpoint? Well, if it wasn't already obvious from my earlier posts or the present one, I think the above parody book cover makes it quite clear. If you find a wine you like, drink it - regardless of how it was produced. I won't be searching out BioD wines specifically, but if I find one that works for me I might try other wines from that same producer - regardless of how they were produced.