Praying Hands at World of Pinot Noir
I admire those grapegrowers and winemakers who employ organic and biodynamic methods of grapegrowing with the goal of making better wines and being better stewards of the land. I admire them the same way I admire the bagger at the check out line who makes the extra effort to double bag my groceries if my purchases are hefty enough to cause an accident on the way back to my car under single-bagged conditions. And I admire them the way I admire those who say grace at the table in a genuine, rather than rote way.
But I've never felt like the conscientious bagger or those who earnestly say grace at dinner believe they are ethically or morally superior to those who would rather single-bag my goods or simply want to dig into the meal in front of them without any heavenly communication.
So why is it that when I read the words of or listen to the evangelists of organic grapegrowing or biodynamic grapegrowing I feel like I'm being told they hold the moral and ethical high ground? That they are better than the rest of us.
It's that feeling that I came away with at a seminar on Organic, Biodynamic and Sustainable Farming Practices that was presented at World of Pinot Noir. Five American and one Austrian grapegrowers and winemakers sat on the stage and essentially described how they were doing the right thing.
They talked about their responsibility to the planet, about leaving the land in good shape for their descendants, about the spiritual nature of the organic/biodynamic approach to grapegrowing and they talked a little about the benefits to the wines that are eventually produced by using organic or biodynamic techniques.
I should be clear about a few things that I think are undisputed:
1. Organically made wines or wines made from organically grown grapes are not better tasting, longer lived or higher quality than wines that have no connection to the rigors of organic approaches.
2. Biodynamic farming is based in part on a mystical notion that has little with and no grounding in science or research.
3. Organically grown grapes produce are likely to produce healthier soils for grapes to grow in
4. The judicious and careful use of a few chemicals here and there in the vineyard, if not overdone, can be a winemaker's and grapegrower's best friend and do very little harm to the environment.
I don't have anything against organic farmers. I believe them when they tell me that they have, in large part, turned to organic farming because they feel a responsibility to the planet and they think it makes their land better suited to grape growing. And I appreciate Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa for admitting that "It's very hard to make a qualitative evaluation of wine before and after conversion to organics".
But what makes me really think is when I hear Biodynamic growers apologize for what are truly the loopiest of the requirements of the Biodynamic Religion, yet continue to insist that they are making better wine and hint that they are doing more than others to preserve and extend their spiritual nature of Planet Earth.
Many will justify their own ordination into the Biodynamic creed and others will justify this cult by explaining that "anything that gets a grower closer to their land and vines is likely to result in better wines because they better understand their environment." Hard to argue with that. And I'll even buy that.
But in the end, there remains the same sort holier than thou attitude among these folks that I think needs to be pointed out for the fraudulent attitude it really is. The suggestion is that if you aren't farming organically, if you are using any pesticides or herbicides at all, no matter how little, you are making unauthentic or perhaps immoral wines. And this comes from folks who have no problem displacing the natural environment that once existed where their holy vineyard not sits. It comes from winemakers who have no problem putting their wines in oak casks made from trees that were planted where a different ecosystem existed before oak-for-barrel trees once sat. It comes from winemakers that extend their carbon foot print as they ride their machinery around their vineyard.
Grow your grapes organically. Put on your tin foil hat and become a member of the congregation of the Biodynamic. But let's not pretend you are making better wines than others and let's surely not suggest, insinuate or even hint, that you are holier than me or your neighbor who kills pests with things other than other pests.