The Wine Industry Should Commit to Telling The Truth

TruthfulnessBiodynamics is about as intellectually coherent a philosophy for grapegrowing as Alchemy is a coherent source of precious metals.

If you disagree, then read this formerly active, yet highly coherent, set of posts on the issue of biodynamic farming.

One thing is for sure, however. Raymond Paccot, of Domaine La Colombe in Switzerland, as well as others at the recent convention of the Academie du Vin, will disagree. According to Paccot:

"Biodynamic winemakers represent a 'resistance' movement. They are at the forefront of efforts to improve expressions of terroir by rejecting 20th Century cultivation methods."

Hogwash. Artisan winemakers across the globe including California, Australia, New Zealand and many Old World winemaking countries have been chasing terroir for decades using minimalist techniques in the winery and in the vineyard. Suggesting that Biodynamics is somehow at the forefront of any movement to capture terroir in a bottle is not only insulting to many fine winemakers who would never think of adopting Rudolph Steiner's snake oil, but also demonstrates a blind eye toward what has happened in the world of winemaking over the past 30 years.

This is an old, tired topic that doesn't need any explanation, nor much in depth consideration. Biodynamics IS a hoax.

I was inspired to revisit this issue here, briefly, after reading Decanter's report on the Acadamie Du Vin's recent conference in England where the issue of "Noble Wine" was debated and biodynamics again was raised as something serious. Color me a curmudgeon if you like, but occasionally I read this sort of stuff coming out of the wine industry and simply can't help myself. The unwillingness to disconnect fantasy from reality invades so much of our culture, including the wine culture. Folks ought to know better. And others, prominent folks in the industry, ought to appreciate their responsibility to tell the truth.


23 Responses

  1. Edible Arts - June 13, 2012

    Thank you! It’s about time people in the industry start pushing back against this nonsense. I am embarrassed (for the presenter) when I attend wine events and he/she starts spouting off about buried cow horns and phases of the moon.
    I am amazed and horrified at how often, in a society so utterly dependent on science, people are so willing to cast aside evidence and believe utter tripe.
    Sustainable viticultural practices, when based on science, are one thing. Metaphysical mumbo jumbo is something else, and wholly unnecessary.
    I love the wines of some biodynamic producers but their rhetoric turns me off.

  2. SUAMW - June 13, 2012

    So BD is bullshit (pun intended) and the Subjectivity of Wine Myth is not? Hmmmmmm……….

  3. Tom Wark - June 13, 2012

    What is “Subjectivity of Wine Myth”?

  4. StevenMirassou - June 13, 2012

    I think that was a poke at wine reviewers and the “objectivity” of the 100-point scale.

  5. SUAMW - June 13, 2012

    The notion that “wine is subjective”. That 1) no two people can perceive the same things (smells, flavors and textures) in the same wine and 2) quality is subjective.

  6. SUAMW - June 13, 2012

    As long as points are not awarded based on per-determined criteria, any rating (Puffs, Points, Smiley Faces, etc) are nothing more than a statement of personal preference/enjoyment at a given point in time.

  7. Tony - June 14, 2012

    Biodynamics marries proper soil management techniques with empty new age spirituality, snake oil, and ignorance. There’s no magic involved with soil management. When you take care of your soil by replenishing it and preventing erosion, your soil will return the favor tenfold BECAUSE OF SCIENCE. You know, biology, geology, and the like. Buried cow horns aren’t magic. Think of them as unprocessed bone meal or simple organic matter. If you believe in twinkle dong enchanted elves, call it biodynamics and charge lifestyle farmers accordingly for magic. If you recognize science and wisdom, call it soil management, and charge professional farmers for vegetative and animal waste.

  8. John Kelly - June 14, 2012

    Tom, if it only mattered. Those using bioD for marketing will not be dissuaded. Thank god that 99.9% of wine consumers don’t give a (cow)shit.

  9. Bruce G. - June 14, 2012

    If BD is a hoax then you should be able to:
    1. show conclusively that it doesn’t work
    2. show how (and which) proponents of BD are acting from a desire to intentionally deceive.
    If you were capable of doing so you’d be one up on Stu, who never could manage to finish the job.
    Care to try?

  10. Vineyard Paul - June 14, 2012

    I would like to see the proof that BioD works. But it is a very hard task to scientifically analyse for 3 reasons:
    1. Biodynamics is a whole of vineyard theory, so it would be impossible to do a randomised, replicate experiment
    2. Humans are involved. It would need to be double blind with placebos.
    3. There is no way to accurately measure “life force energy”. With out a life-force-ometer, how can one propose that a treatment increases/decreases energy?

  11. Mike Meisner - June 15, 2012

    I have always thought BD was some bogus witchcraft. However, it does have some basis for legitimacy. For example, the tea that’s made from the cowshit/horn does promote soil bioactivity. But then again, so do a lot of other organic amendments.
    Personally, I think it’s a bit of a marketing hoax as well, falling in line with the organic movement.

  12. John hilliard - June 15, 2012

    When ever you might feel attracted to Steiner’s agricultural pronouncements, recall he gave around 8,000 lectures, only 6 were about agriculture.  Less that a hundred thousandths of one percent.   Steiner disagreed with Copernicus , Einstein and Darwin in so many of those 8,000  lectures, on the wrong side of  Copernicus, Darwin and Einstein?  
    Copernicus:  Steiner’s lectures insist the planets do not orbit the sun but follow each other in a celestial conga line.
    Darwin:  total disagreement with Darwin on evolution of humans,   As Steiner says in lecture after lecture humans are cosmic beings evolved on other planets.  
    Einstein:  Steiner completely disagreed with the a theory of Relativity.
    Medical science:  disease is caused by cosmic beings.
    Genius:  Goethe’s brilliance was related to the fact that he was inhabited with the cosmic spirits of babies who died before they got their first set of teeth.  And Steiner lectures on and on about what happens when babies die between the first and second set of teeth.  Steiner thought when babies get their teeth was spiritually important.  How crazy can he get?
    Do thousands of insane lectures seriously concern biodynamic farmers or the folks at Demeter?

  13. Bruce G. - June 15, 2012

    I agree totally.
    I’m sceptical about the claims attached to BD. But, in the name of scientific rigor, it would be best to do the work and show a lack of efficacy (if possible) before condemning the protocols.
    And I’m not so happy with the word “hoax”, which implies an intentional deception. From all that I can see, the vast majority of the pratitioners of BD believe in what they’re doing…. they’re not out to fool anyone.
    Reactions vary, but most BDers I know are perfectly happy to pick and choose from Steiner’s teachings, discarding those that they don’t like.

  14. Thomas Pellechia - June 15, 2012

    You confuse me.
    Shouldn’t the scientific burden of proof be on those who propose a process?

  15. John Hilliard Bruce Vineyards LLC - June 16, 2012

    I am in Dornach today enjoying Steiner’s Goetheanum and watching his dance method, Eurythmy,  in the main theater.  As an artist, I have never seen such amateur sculptures, architecture, painting and dance as what Steiner has on display here.  Absolutely bad stuff.    Eurythmy is a terrible joke,  and I pity the well meaning audience attending the performance tonight.  The entire thing in Dornach is a “tell”.  What I mean by that is the arts as executed by Steiner are pathetic, and this  indicates much about the man.  Here is the work of a failed artist- the building, the 2nd Goetheanum, is ugly, his drawings reveal a lack of technique, his principle wood sculpture is the unballanced work of a beginning student.  This deeply narcissistic and deluded man was clueless of his lack of talent, just as his lectures are froth with absurdities.  The dung in the cow horn is just more of the same dribble.  

  16. Bruce G. - June 16, 2012

    To my mind, emphatic, definitive statements need proof regardless of where they come from. So anyone saying “it definitely doesn’t work at all” is under as much obligation to offer evidence as someone who says “it definitely produces profound and undeniable results”.
    [Of course, “it definitely doesn’t work at all” is a hard nut to crack from the perspective of scientific inquiry, but we can possibly get close enough for some folks to go the extra few yards, rhetorically speaking.]

  17. Thomas Pellechia - June 17, 2012

    Bruce G,
    Yeah, proving the negative is a tough nut to crack. I wonder, however, why bother to try?
    As long as BioD remains a belief system that offers neither scientific basis nor proof, it doesn’t matter; it should be ignored.

  18. Bruce G. - June 17, 2012

    Trying to prove the negative is futile. But coming to conclusions like “no significant differences were observed” is a fairly strong statement in scientific circles.
    I have no problem with ignoring BD. Nor do I have a problem in voicing scepticism (indeed, I did so myself in a previous post). But if someone is going to issue sweeping declarative pronouncements one way or another I’d like to see what proof (if any) they bring to the table.

  19. Thomas Pellechia - June 17, 2012

    Fair enough.
    I agree with your premise, but you know how things are: opinions act as facts these days.

  20. Tony - June 18, 2012

    I can prove that biodynamics works, but has no spiritual or magical basis whatsoever.
    1. Visit the bookstore of any university that offers majors in agriculture or geology.
    2. Purchase the textbook (e-book, or whatever is offered) for the school’s introductory levels soils class.
    3. Read and absorb the book.
    4. Make note of proper soil management principles that are explained scientifically with no mention of faeries, elves, spirits, ancestral guides, or etc. Compare and contrast these principles with the rituals set forth by your local biodynamics snake oil salesman.
    If you still think that you need biodynamic rituals to achieve the same results as basic soil science, I can’t help you any further.

  21. Bruce G. - June 18, 2012

    Not the most compelling of scientific proofs, Tony. But thanks for the input.

  22. Tom - June 22, 2012

    A couple of the wines I import are biodynamic, and the producers feel this best represents their philosophy of winemaking — at least among the certifications available to them. So I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a hoax
    However, I can say that the Demeter certification borders on flim-flam. The organization is willing to give wineries a pass on huge swaths of the requirements (like not having a monoculture and also raising farm animals) simply because wine is a high-profile product that will bring attention to biodynamics and Demeter. Also, Demeter USA will not accept Demeter certifications from other countries without further information (and fees, of course). And because Demeter has a certification mark on the word biodynamics, importers who want that word on the wine label also have to register and pay Demeter USA for the opportunity. Demeter USA doesn’t require distributors of U.S. biodynamic wines to do this, so it obviously has no real purpose other than to raise money for Demeter USA.
    So I’ve chosen to leave the word off the label, with my producers’ consent. I’d be happy to put it on the label and explain it if I could afford to.

  23. Lee Newby - June 26, 2012

    I believe in Organic and Biodynamic farming and have seen the results, better fruit and better wines, that said its all common sense, don’t poison your soil or vines and look after them. I believe it’s principally the fact that the winegrowers are very connected to what is going on in their vineyards, NOT ANY STIENER SH!T. Look after your vines and they will look after you.

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