Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Distilling a 'Why Biodynamic" conversation

Well, I did go to the "Why Biodynamic?" conversation at the Sonoma County Day School last Friday eve. Mrs Johnson and I both went, and though the proceeds were to benefit the Sonoma County Wine Library, I'm glad we each saved $5 by buying our tickets beforehand.
I'll post some highlights in a moment, but I must say I was disappointed the Q&A section was so short that it only allowed for 3 questions to be put to the panel. They were [Thank God!] skeptical in nature...
For the introduction: I'll thank Jeff Cox for his observations, but I have to point out that gravity is NOT an invisible force. (Cox dropped his glasses case from one hand to the other to demonstrate that not all forces were "seen".) We can see and demonstrate its effects, and can predict how it acts. You are correct, it is not VISIBLE (we don't see strings pulling objects toward the Earth or Moon, but that's not the same thing), and the fact that we can't SEE it does not imply that other unseen and yet un-demonstrable forces exist.
Also -and this is important- the Moon DOES NOT influence when women menstruate. This has been proven incorrect time and time again, and Mrs. Johnson would like me to let you know that if what you implied WAS true, then women -as a group- would all menstruate at relatively the same time in the lunar cycle, which she can personally attest to that they don't. She further wanted me to mention that there is only one planet that all the women live upon, and there is but one moon to influence them all, so the assertion implies that women should be in "synchronicity" of some sort. They are not.
Period. [pun intended!]

Alan York  
BioD since 1971, never farmed Organic –went straight into biod, Louisianan good ol’ boy

- Old Yeller & Agriculture course were the only two books he’d read at the time (funny, but hard to believe that’s true)

- Read Agriculture, but didn’t understand anything that Steiner had said…

- Very entertaining! I'd love to talk with the man over some period of time, maybe 1 of the dozen people I’d pick to be stranded with on an island for a week (reminded me of Gilligan – not in an inept way, but too much of the folksy-ness would get to be a real drag)

- We don’t “grow” anything, the plants grow themselves, we just create environments for plants to grow to their potential. We are co-creators with nature, not destroyers.

- biodynamics is an art, not a scientific venue [sadly this seems to be lost on the practitioners who later assert that it IS scientifically proven or provable...]

- Farmers should try to foster a “closed system” [qoutation marks are his, not mine], though that’s not fully possible, to avoid destroying one portion of nature in favor of another

- waste stream becomes fertility stream w/ composting

- DIVERSITY of plants and organisms is the indicator of success and fertility, so don’t focus on just one organism

- Goal of biod is “diversity”, conventional agriculture goal is simplification by removing unwanted organisms [“reductionist”]

- Agriculture removes more than just minerals: life forces & soul forces, which must then be replenished into the environment [interesting, and yet unproven theory of BioD, upon which I'd say most of the conflict with non-believers stems from]

- Cosmic Hierarchy: physical sphere (represented by minerals) – life sphere (plant life) – soul sphere (animals) – spiritual sphere (humans)

Paul Dolan  
Organic for many years, recently has converted to biodynamic, sons still somewhat skeptical [thank God again!].

- Read AG course & didn’t understand it either (like York) but had York as a guide to help him through it (fallacy of blind leading the blind?)

- Don’t feed the plants: feed the soil, or better yet feed the environment, and life will flourish

- Create bug highways for beneficial insects to control the bad bugs

- [after Q from Cox RE “we are part of nature…why don’t we trust it, why don’t we trust preps (witchcraft, voodoo)"] “…we nicknamed the system “moo-joo”…”

- [Cox: vortex is recurrent form in nature: water going down the drain to tornadoes, to galaxies. Shape focuses forces into the center of the form…] Dynamization is process to bring the ethereal forces into the material realm using this recurring natural pattern.

- Dynamization by hand is best, but “flow form” is used to create same effect [this is where the practitioner creates a sculpture like a waterfall, where the water is theoretically mixed continuously in each successive pool...and thus "imprinted" with the desired cosmic energies...]

- Captured rainwater is used for the preps, passes thru flow-form first. Groundwater has mineral components which are “imprinted” with the site already and is considered inferior.

- Cow horns used because they follow the vortex form…manure from female lactating cow (!) is collected for the process [Dolan buys organic manure from outside his farm to use for this process]

- Homeopathic doses used [must be powerful stuff! or maybe it doesn't make a difference that you're using so little because it has no effect anyway!]…manure formula benefits “life force” (microbial life)

- silica formula promotes qualitative “soul force” and governs aromas, flavors, colors, etc., [supposedly] everything that we associate with quality.

- Difficult to attribute qualities to the compost preps… [“weenus” factor in play, wussed-out answer, maybe they don’t exist and that's why this is difficult?]

- Organic cert vs. Biod cert: Biod is also yearly independent party inspected [biod is not so much policing as “counseling”, he says, but that raises some interesting questions whether practitioners are held to the same standards all over the place]

- 10% of area on farm might be left fallow to avoid monoculture (doesn’t need to be “natural” just different than the main crop)

Terroir? Freshness factor brought up as possible explanation for better tasting produce. No further discussion on that point.

Okay! Now on to the questions that were asked....

Q does BD rid you of phylloxera, Pierce’s, etc?

Dolan: We were ORGANIC back in the 90’s while there was Phylloxera outbreak, and many neighbors had to tear out their AXR-1 rootstocks. Bonterra didn’t have to. Overall health seems to have been better, more resistant to those pressures…while a few vines were affected, it wasn’t widespread swaths like the conventional farmers were being hit with. It seemed to be weaker individual vines. We did have hoppers and mites when we changed over. to biodynamic, but they seem to have reached a balance with our beneficials and we don't have a problem now.
[Currently he doesn't have an example of BioD defeating pests like the Q asks...]

Q is there a commercial aspect to this practice?

A [Dolan passes to York] [pause] Yes, we are in business (dead silence from the audience), and we need to continue to make a profit like all businesses.

Q I have chickens, and have been organic for many years, but no cow. Can I be BioD?

A if you aren’t using the preps then you aren’t biod. “Biodynamics is organic-plus” (dead silence from the audience – especially those organic farmers present that I know!) in the fact that it fosters these etheric forces using the preps.

Q you can’t have a "closed system", which you placed in quotes, so how does it work?

A [York]  it is the effort towards the goal, not the attainment which is important. It has to be a stretch. If we don’t stretch then we aren’t going to fulfill our (human) potential.

Well, that about sums it up.
Entertaining evening. And while there were some positions outlined, there was no persuasion to be had.

The biodynamic food and wines that were poured in the lobby afterwards were all serviceable, but nothing I'd be running out to get. "Good", not "great", and certainly nothing discernable that I'd ever be able to pick out from the numbers of other good, servicable wines out on the market...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

At least it sounds like they aren't hurting anyone by practicing it.
Live and let Live, I say.

April 29, 2009 9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You say there was only time for 3 questions, but you list 4. Which is it?

Maybe you're just talking out of your ass again since you hate biodynamics so much.

April 29, 2009 1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes anonymous one: Lets have a society of extra-dumb folks who believe all kinds of invisible things and spread their infection of ignorance to everyone. Then lets let the Biod's form a complete religion, and arm them. Then they can spread their clearly sensible agenda. Why are humans getting dumber?

Anon 2: It's probably not that he hates biodynamics, but is irritated like I am when people ignore science and the scientific method and try to sell people things like electric-foot-water baths and magnetic bracelets that put your Qi in balance.

April 29, 2009 1:40 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

Stuart Smith recently wrote a great letter to the editor (of the Chronicle?) responding to the Dolan-Benziger school of non-stop BD promotion, practiced with nothing but anecdotal claims of efficacy, and plenty of marketing hype. As Stu pointed out the problem with the BD promoters is that it puts the rest of us at a competitive disadvantage. There are a few accounts that won't buy anything but organic and BD wines. Those of us who are more concerned with making delicious, well-made wines are fortunate, so far, in that most people care most about wine quality, not BD hokum.

When you look deeper into BD, beyond what the winery proponents choose to talk about, you find some truly wacky stuff, as if the common BD practices aren't enough already. Steiner was a paranormal fancier and clairvoyant. There are lots of spirits of various kinds. There are sylphs and fairies that move light and water into the plant and gnomes in the earth that tell the roots and worms what to do --- I'll bet there wasn't much about that at the seminar!

Careful, minimal input viticulture ought to be the standard, but the antiscientific-religio-cultish stuff at the heart of BD will eventually send it back where it belongs .... I hope.

April 29, 2009 5:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steve, who said BD and science were mutually exclusive? And are BD producers not "concerned with making delicious, well-made wines." I don't remember that point; Your logic is flawed. Vintners aren't bound to buy in part and parcel with the entire BD program, especially with regards to the more "crystally" edge, and they certainly don't eschew technology in the cellar.

As for the guy spouting on about "extra-dumb folks..." God, Steiner was such an idiot...world reknowned Goethe scholar, spoke half a dozen languages...yup...just straight up stooopid. Again, Dolan and York are not ignoring science here, rather they seek to reinforce their vineyards' health through natural means, no more, no less. Nothing insidous here folks, just farmers giving insight into their work.

April 29, 2009 11:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Steiner was so brilliant, check out his ideas on race.
Looks like he was Hitler's scientist.

April 30, 2009 4:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For those who think Steiner was so brilliant, check out his ideas on race. It will be interesting to see if the BioD movement buys into that too.

April 30, 2009 4:45 AM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

I have problems with people practicing "stuff" that doesn't advance society, rather it turns it backwards...which is what animal sacrifices, superstition & sympathetic magic actually do.

I have 4 Q's listed because that final one was a follow-up to the third Q...

Steve - I think that's the letter he wrote to the PD, unless there's a newer one... [link here...]...

And you're right, there is selectivity in what the proponents talk about: I was somewhat surprised to see Dolan punt some of the Q's about the metaphysical theories to York, who didn't seem too "happy" to field them either...
I felt there was a real reluctance to have to bring those weirder aspects out into the open, perhaps because they know too well of the poor reception those ideas get.
I hope it disappears from the face of the Earth also.

To Anonymous after Steve:
Science is "not a belief system", while biodynamics IS a belief system. And since BioD is nothing but ORGANIC viticulture along with the use of their "shamanistic" potions they concoct, there isn't anything NOT to buy into...you either believe the Stag's bladders are helping your vineyard and use them, or you aren't BioD.Now if you are talking about the use of their calendar and dynamization, then yes I seem to remember that those points aren't addressed in the DEMETER wine production guidelines [BioD wine guidelines] or in the more recent [Standards For Demeter Biodynamic Wines, June '08]...
But since those publications require the use of DEMETER certified grapes (which are grown via those dynamization methods) then you CAN'T really opt out of them...they WILL be performed by someone in the chain...

RE Steiner & racial theories...there are websites out there which each person should view & make his/her own mind up about.

Lastly, does it matter that he was brilliant in many ways? That alone was an argument from authority, and those shouldn't be looked to as anything authoritative...
Think of Einstein...brilliant on the field of theoretical physics, but even though he was a genius in that field, I wouldn't have wanted him perform even a simple appendectomy on myself. The fact he led in one field didn't -and shouldn't- imply he was qualified to speak on all fields and all topics.Cheers to all - keep thinking critically!

April 30, 2009 7:32 AM  
Anonymous Steve said...

BD and science are actually mutually exclusive. The one published scientific article I know of showed BD practices had no effect compared to standard viticulture. This was a set of trials with proper controls, published in a peer-reviewed journal. BD proponents "evidence" is generally of the "I just know it works" variety. Composting for soil health, encouraging beneficials with diverse cover crops and other practices common to all the strains of organic viticulture are surely good things. The BD preparations are outgrowths of the cosmic-cultish stuff of gnomes, sylphs and fairies and are placebos except in the minds of the true-believers and marketers hyping BD.

April 30, 2009 8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's the problem with arguing with people who practice or are fans of BD....They elicit a sympathetic response! Because they use the mantra of "improving the earth" or "being natural", people give them a HUGE break because, emotionally, they connect with that. Unfortunately, when doing so, they turn off their intellect!

People, it's okay to criticise something that is well-intended.


April 30, 2009 9:14 AM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

Great point, Jason!

As with any debate, how one couches the argument is paramount. And you're right - it IS OK to criticize something well-intended which "sounds" good, especially when only half of the practices are really exposed to the general public.

There's a slippery slope approach to the more "lunatic" ideas: if you can marginally accept the idea that water has some "imprinted memory" upon it and that "dynamization" somehow "cures" this malady, then maybe over time they'll expose the more radical ideas of yarrow-stuffed Stag's bladders hung around the vineyard (!), skulls stuffed with oak chips (!) and buried for months (can ANYONE present a reality where this practice WOULDN'T be considered witchcraft?), etc. to the public with the hope that they'll see it as a "harmless but backwards" set of practices...

Keep thinking critically!

April 30, 2009 10:13 AM  
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