Fact, Reason and Resenting the Biodynamic Wine Movement

Biodynamic In Stu Smith's latest volley at his blog "Biodynamics is a Hoax", he delivers in his most succinct fashion ("succinct is not one of Stu's strong suits since he, like me, tends to like words and uses them in volume) yet, the reason many in the wine industry are coming to question the Biodynamic movement.

In "Why I Resent Biodyanic Farming" Stu explains, "By publicly claiming superiority they, de facto, belittle and ridicule everyone else’s farming methods and wine quality for not being Biodynamic."

Stu goes on to give examples of claims that biodynamic farming makes better wines. Included in his examples is this statement:

“Does it make better wine?  Of course it does – not because it’s certified organic, but because organic and Biodynamic farming is being used.  By ridding the vineyards of chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers, and by building healthy soil … we grow healthier and more balanced vines which, along with great terroir, gives us better wine.”

On a few occasions I've asked questions about what constitutes "quality" and how claims of superiority can be grounded in reason rather than subjective preference. The fact is, one can not reasonably claim that simply by using biodynamic methods the resulting wines are any "better" than wines that don't use biodynamic farming methods. It's a claim that has foundation or reason.

Now, were someone to say, "I like wines that result from biodynamic farming more than those that use other methods of farming", I'd have no basis to dispute that claim. However, I sure would like to do a blind tasting with this person.

I too have listened to folks claim that wines made from Biodynamic farming methods are "better" than those not produced from farming methods that rely on what I like to call "somewhat magical". My point here today is to remind my readers that: THIS CLAIM HAS NO BASIS IN FACT.

Beyond that, I now defer to Mr. Smith to continue to use his love of words and reason to explain at more length why this is true and why those claims are insulting.

16 Responses

  1. Alicefeiring - February 7, 2011

    Speaking about words, Tom, it seems as if Stu resents people who make blanket and thoughtless statements as opposed to really contemplating the theory and practice behind Biodynamics. It’s important to separate one from the other, no?

  2. Tom Wark - February 7, 2011

    How are you????
    Stu may represent these types of folks, but I don’t think you can say that Stu IS one of these folks. If you read through his blog you will find that Stu has been very thorough in his attempts to debunk much of what he finds in Biodynamicism to be bunk.
    Hope all is well,

  3. WinoBeeroFoodo - February 7, 2011

    I agree that the real issue here is the use of unsupported statements that biodynamics produces “better” wine. More importantly, how the heck can biodynamics actually be respected as a scientific method of growing “better” grapes? You bury cow poo, do a rain dance, and magically you make a better product? The whole process sounds a little too mystical for me. From a scientific perspective, I understand why some of their methods may work to some extent, but I suspect that most perform these mystical farming practices based on faith rather than any scientific proof.

  4. El Jefe - February 7, 2011

    Exactly. And you can add:
    Wines made from estate-grown grapes are not necessarily better than wines made from non-estate-grown grapes – but they may be.
    Wines made from old-vine grapes are not necessarily better than wines made from young-vine grapes – but they may be.
    I could go on…

  5. Thomas Pellechia - February 7, 2011

    “contemplating the theory and practice behind Biodynamics” certainly is the issue.
    To date, I have yet to find generally that the BD practitioners offer much in the contemplative field, which would be, oh let’s see, scientific indicators maybe?

  6. Alicefeiring - February 7, 2011

    While I might not agree with biodynamics always making better wine, I have to totally disagree with this statements of Stu’s.
    ‘I’ve always taken offense that the Biodynamic supporters claimed superiority with their “living soils, healthy vines and better expressions of terroir.’
    I absolutely believe that living soil and healthy vines make better wines and prettier expressions of terroir. I am surprised that this is even debated.

  7. Mike - February 7, 2011

    Well there have been studies that show more biodiversity of microbes in biodynamic and organic soils. Does that make the wine taste better?
    It probably does if you care about soil health, long-term viability, and the ecosystem as a whole. So, a better question might be: Do enophiles care about anything other than their glass?

  8. tom merle - February 7, 2011

    Stu gets vehement to the point of anger in large part because he is so frustrated by how few people give science its proper place in considering various actions, one of which is grape growing. You can hear Stu at his usual intense self on Joe Roberts blog. Here’s the podcast: http://www.1winedude.com/audio/1WDRadio_Episode5-Stu_Smith.mp3

  9. Thomas Pellechia - February 8, 2011

    You may “absolutely believe that living soil and healthy vines make better wines and prettier expressions of terroir.” Fine, that’s what you believe. But unless you can offer proof, believing does not make it so.
    But first: explain “better wines?” Better than what?
    On the face of it, your comment seems to ridicule the fact that in order to exist, wine needs a winemaker, the person who guides the product to its conclusion. That is the entity responsible for making whatever you mean by “better wine” or, as in some cases, “worse wine.”
    A simplistic view may be comfortable, but a reality-based view is far more eductaional.

  10. Thomas Pellechia - February 8, 2011

    or even educational…

  11. Stuart Smith - February 8, 2011

    Demeter, Mike Benziger and Kevin Morrisey are leaders of/in the Biodynamic movement that I’m quoting, even I wouldn’t call them thoughtless.
    I too like soils that are alive (however that is defined), healthy vines and wines that express a true sense of place, but what I resent is the B-d folks claiming sole ownership of those qualities. I know of no person or organization that makes a blanket statement that Biodynamic soils, vines or wines are inferior, as those that farm or support Biodynamics do against all other farming methods. You’ve been to my vineyard and tasted my wines; are they dead lifeless vines and wines? Folks should understand that winegrowering is a very personal process, very akin to your children and, as any parent is, I am very protective of my children and my love of winegrowing.
    I never would have started my blog if the Biodynamic folks hadn’t claimed superiority.

  12. harvey posert - February 8, 2011

    Interested folks should monitor the replanting of the Raymond vineyard on Zinfandel Lane where pygmy goats are thriving — will Raymond’s wines be better in a few years? Stu Smith, a direct descendant of David Hume who knew what you see is what you get, has yet to be proven wrong.

  13. WinetrippingTV - February 8, 2011

    I believe it’s our duty to support sustainable techniques. I think it makes us all feel warm and fuzzy…and rightfully so. However, to say it makes wine “better” is silly.

  14. rebecca - February 9, 2011

    I find it interesting how folks outside of biodynamics jump all over and take out of context the statement “biodynamic makes better wine”. Being in the industry I hear many winemakers state that using crossflow filtering makes a better wine, etc. The great thing about the wine industry is that we have many options to use and/or do to make the quality of wine we want. I have elected to utilize the biodynamic principles because I believe my vines are healthier.
    The great thing is we can believe and follow our own direction as long as it does not destroy or take the lives of others. We have the right to our opinion and we should respect that. For me I prefer to eliminate all of the nasty chemicals and restore the environment that we are good at abusing. (FYI the term organic came out of biodynamic)
    As for the cow horn (lets not forget that it needs to be a female cow horn) — there are some explanations. If you look back to when biodynmics began the farmers stored their supplies in cow horns, cow heads and intestines of animals. The reason for the female cow horn is the male cow horn is calcium and the female cow horn is silicon — last longer.
    At the end of the day, the proof is in each and everyone’s individual palate. Whether it is crossflow filtering that makes a better wine, whether biodynamics makes a better wine, whether…. I think it is great we all have options in order to make the best.

  15. CastlemanCellar - February 12, 2011

    Rebecca…in the nicest and sweetest way possible…i gotta tell you…you have presented a couple of usefull examples of Stu’s points…
    Chemicals = nasty
    environment…people are abusers ergo envirnoment at it’s most natural withholding human intervention is better.
    cow horn apologetics
    you gotta have faith (hat tip to George Michael)

  16. Fabio (Vinos Ambiz) - February 15, 2011

    I’m arriving late (as usual!) for this discussion, but I’d just like to add my 2c worth:
    For me, the proof is in the bottle (or in the glass) – all the rest is just words, opinions, postures, hot air, own trumpet-blowing!
    I think we’re all agreed that cultivating grapes organically and/or biodynamically results in healthier, more complex, more balanced (ie ‘better’) grapes and a cleaner, healthier soil, water, environment both for ourselves and for future generations.
    What the winemaker does with those beautiful grapes in the winery, though, is another matter! It’s of course perfectly possible to make a ‘bad’ wine from those lovely grapes, no?

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