Faith, Gambling and Technique in the Vineyard

The Associated Press’ Michelle Locke has written a story about Biodynamic farming of wine grapes in the United States focusing on Benziger Winery in Sonoma Valley and Quivera in Dry Creek Valley.

It’s very much like other Biodynamic-centered articles in which the personalities at the center of the story claim to have had great success with the system, yet prefer to either discount the somewhat loony alchemical aspects of the practice or speculate that these practices "must be doing something" in the vineyard.

You don’t have to go back very far to see farmers applying mystical techniques to try to influence the creation of a better crop. They’ve used prayer, dances, and sacrifices in order to influence the outcome of their annual plantings. Biodynamics seems just about the same thing.

You have to remember, farmers are one part technicians, one part faithful and one part gamblers. The technicians in them employ the techniques in the vineyard they know help produce a better crop such as, in the case of wine grapes, particular irrigation regimes, certain trellising systems and the use of various crop covers among other techniques.

The faithful part of the farmer hopes, prays, looks to the sky and assumes this year will be like last year. Sometimes they help their faith along by employing somewhat odd practices such as many of the Biodynamic techniques that, well, are a bit odd.

The gambler in them is demonstrated by basing their living on the odds that the weather will be like it usually is, though they know that any number of natural disasters could arrive, without much warning, to wipe out their crops: Torrential rain at harvest, massive frosts during bud break, intense and extended heat toward the end of the growing season. While these aren’t "likely" to occur according to odds informed by past performance of Mother Nature, you can’t rule them out.

It’s not difficult to understand why some vintners would succumb to their faithful part and employ all the facets and practices of Biodynamic farming.

8 Responses

  1. Jack - March 29, 2006

    Tom, Biodynamics isn’t Big Distributors trying to prevent wineries from shipping to their terrority. You’ve made your extreme distaste (see how nicely I put that?) for Biodynamics clearly before; just don’t drink the wines, okay? So, what is the point of your continued bashing of the subject? Again, don’t drink such wines. Leaves more for me, ya know?! I’m starting to think you’re having Cow Horn nightmares now.

  2. Ben - March 29, 2006

    I agree. When you get so knee-jerk, rabid, one sided about something, you sound less like a person who has thought about what he’s writing and more like someone who just likes to rave. It’s gonna be funny when one of your clients decides to give biodynamics a try.

  3. tom - March 29, 2006

    I think the biodynamicists make great wines, really great wines.
    But I do find it fascinating that the explanation for their greatness lies in faith and mysticism. It’s just really, really interesting, don’t you think?
    You’d think the act of gambling on nature would be enough for farmers.
    What I’m waiting for is a story that explores this side of biodynamics. The mystical side. The side that looks much more like astrology than enology.
    Furthermore, there is a derisive element that comes with the mainstreaming of biodynamicism: it suggests that the organic farmers aren’t able to take the full step for the sake of their grapes whereas the biodynamicists are on the cutting edge of viticulture. That’s hooey.
    Finally, Ben, if a blogger can’t sit down and pound out a rant on an issue they feel strongly about, what’s the point of blogging?

  4. Ben - March 30, 2006

    Tom, you’re right. There should be a picture of a rant next to the definition of “blog” in the dictionary.
    I know you will always write what you want to write, and I would never ask for anything else, but I better understand your point of view from the above comment more than from the original post.
    There ya go. Feedback.
    Any of your clients thought about biodynamics?

  5. tom - March 30, 2006

    I have one client that is certified organic, that’s as close at it gets.

  6. Al - March 30, 2006

    I think St.vini/Huge has already mortally skewered the biodynamic industry in his rants, and I don’t see how Tom’s can be considere d worse than his. Actually it’s much more charitable than Vini’s are by a mile.
    Jack & Ben, take a load off & relax.

  7. jeff - March 30, 2006

    I look at biodynamics this way…
    Would I rather live next door to a vineyard where I see workers spraying chemicals in protective white suits, or a vineyard where I see workers with a shovel and cow horn in hand?

  8. Ben - March 30, 2006

    Hey Al,
    I was responding to Tom cause I was reading Tom’s blog. St. Vini is someone different than Tom. If St. Vini says something I would like to respond to, I will respond to him. Besides, I’m not waving the biodynamics flag, I was explaining to Tom how I perceived his comments. I can’t read his minf, but I don’t think he was offended. In fact he answered a question that I asked him without calling me names.
    As for telling people who are excited to relax, I’ve found that never really works.

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