Biodynamics: Natural Wonder or Just a Horn of Manure?

Steiner Berlin 1900Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic farming techniques have never made any sense to me, especially the fact that they seem to work! It also strikes me as odd that the Wall Street Journal would assign bad boy author Jay McInerney to write a report on the spread of biodynamics in the world of high end wine, but here’s what he found outside of the Bright Lights, Big City:

Burly, heavily bearded Stu Smith has been tending his vineyard atop Spring Mountain with his brother Charlie for more than 40 years. The Smith Brothers have gained a quietly loyal following for their Smith Madrone wines, despite eschewing such Napa conventions as new French oak, irrigation and Robert Parker raves.

Stuart, the more loquacious of the brothers, has been known to complain about the high alcohol and the high prices of many Napa wines. Recently he has directed his contrarian streak at a fashionable new target: biodynamic viticulture.

Biodynamics is a system of organic agriculture based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, the German theosophist, specifically on a series of lectures he delivered to farmers in 1924. It uses many of the principles of organic farming—no pesticides or chemical fertilizers—but goes further, relying on practices like planting and harvesting according to solar and lunar cycles and combating pests such as moths and rabbits by scattering the ashes of their dead brethren.

Some of the most revered domains in France practice biodynamic viticulture, including Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Leflaive, Leroy, Chapoutier, Coulée de Serrant and Zind Humbrecht, and in recent years the system has been gaining converts in California. Araujo, Benziger, Grgich Hills, Sinskey, Joseph Phelps and Quintessa embrace it in Napa and Sonoma.

Last year Stu Smith created a local stir when he published a letter in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat charging that “biodynamics is a hoax and deserves the same level of respect we give witchcraft.” He has continued his assault on a website, Biodynamicsisahoax.com.

“Rudolf Steiner was a complete nutcase,” Mr. Smith writes, “a flimflam man with a tremendous imagination, a combination if you will, of an LSD-dropping Timothy Leary with the showmanship of a P.T. Barnum.”

In order to demonstrate his point, he quotes Steiner at some length—something which he claims proponents are reluctant to do. (And there’s some wild stuff to quote, about ghosts and the Lemurians, the jellyish beings who inhabited Atlantis.) The most emblematic and controversial practice of biodynamics is the practice of burying a cowhorn stuffed with manure at the time of the autumnal equinox…

[continues in the Wall Street Journal]

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  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Based on the vitriol in the criticism…one gets the feeling that the critics are very very desperate to poo-poo any farming that smacks of organics and eschews modern chemistry. I wouldn’t really care even if the founder insisted that people should dance naked over their crops at the full moon…I really don’t…but anyone who gets on the “don’t spray toxic waste on my f*cking food” bandwagon is an automatic friend of mine.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Based on the vitriol in the criticism…one gets the feeling that the critics are very very desperate to poo-poo any farming that smacks of organics and eschews modern chemistry. I wouldn’t really care even if the founder insisted that people should dance naked over their crops at the full moon…I really don’t…but anyone who gets on the “don’t spray toxic waste on my f*cking food” bandwagon is an automatic friend of mine.

    • Haystack

      By the same token, when you make a comment like that, it appears that you’re saying “I’ll uncritically accept anything that smacks of organics and eschews modern chemistry.” It’s harder for the organics movement’s legitimate criticism to find an audience if, at the same time, they’re saying “Oh, and we dance naked over our crops at night.”

      • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

        My worldview has the advantage of simplicity in this particular case. There are only two sides…pro poisonous, toxic, cancer eats out our bowels death…and anti poisonous, toxic, cancer eats out our bowels death. :-)

        I find issues like these refreshing and pleasant…because without those pesky gray areas its a great deal easier to know exactly whose side I’m on. I can handle a little batshit twaddle with my nice clean food…as opposed to doubling the yield through modern chemistry…and winding up with an awesome giant highly profitable pile of food that actually manages to not be good for you or even edible.

  • Haystack

    By the same token, when you make a comment like that, it appears that you’re saying “I’ll uncritically accept anything that smacks of organics and eschews modern chemistry.” It’s harder for the organics movement’s legitimate criticism to find an audience if, at the same time, they’re saying “Oh, and we dance naked over our crops at night.”

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    My worldview has the advantage of simplicity in this particular case. There are only two sides…pro poisonous, toxic, cancer eats out our bowels death…and anti poisonous, toxic, cancer eats out our bowels death. :-)

    I find issues like these refreshing and pleasant…because without those pesky gray areas its a great deal easier to know exactly whose side I’m on. I can handle a little batshit twaddle with my nice clean food…as opposed to doubling the yield through modern chemistry…and winding up with an awesome giant highly profitable pile of food that actually manages to not be good for you or even edible.

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