Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Bio-D for You and Me
(But maybe not for St-Vini)
"The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, and a meaningful unity between the two.’
It is difficult to speak of biodynamics without waxing philosophic. While it parallels organic farming in it's use of organic materials for enriching the microbiology of the soil, it embraces a much more holistic vision that sees any farm as a single organism whose success or failure is dependant upon the health of the greater organism in it’s entirety. Unlike both chemical and organic agriculture, it is not solely based on the ‘soluable,’ the simple reduction of a plants needs to elemental additions of nutrients, but ties the plants health into a more unified ecological vision. It is concerned with the subtle manipulation of life forces (energies) and aims to work alongside these rhythms of nature.
In this metaphysical sense it shares much with Chinese medicinal practices, both homeopathy and acupuncture, which recognize these subtle energies (chi) within each of us. On a practical level it espouses many of the principles of perma-culture, reflecting the design and interactivity of self reliant and self contained communities.
It obviously an easy target to lampoon. It’s use of homeopathic doses of compost energizers made from plants fermented in animal bladders and bones is but one of the practices that test the left side of our brain. But acupuncture and other alternative medicines are gaining acceptance by the mainstream, even though there is little scientific evidence that it actually works, and this to the disdain of much of the medical and pharmaceutical community. On the other hand, the damage that pillars of modern agriculture such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides have done to the environment are well documented. The lesson here is that as a race we still have much to learn about the subtle interactions the exist in the natural world. Perhaps this is at the root of an emerging anti-science movement, embracinga new more holistic perspective. Perhaps it is just filling a void.
But while the jury is still out on wether or not it actually works, the list of winemakers espousing this approach is both impressive and growing (Bonny Doon in California, Huet in Vouvray, Romanée Conti in Burgundy and a 'who's who' list of the best winemakers in Alsace to name but a few). For the list to keep growing, there must be something to it aside from marketing potential.
Yesterday I sat down the André Ostertag, an Alsatian winemaker who has been practicing biodynamics for close to 15 years and I asked him what were the ‘observable’ benefits he could attribute to his practice of biodynamics. While he has a penchant for the poetic, he spoke of grapes achieving an earlier (8-10 days) maturity compared to his non bio-d neighbours. He spoke of the verticality that other bio-d winemakers like Pinguet from Huet have mentioned to me. This translated to thinner trunks, and leaves which mysteriously grew in a way which they would not shade one another. But in then end, he spoke of equilibrium and balance and his plants capacity to synthesize the micro elements necessary to healthy, productive growth. He was convinced.
I drink a lot of wine and many of the above bio-d producers are behind the wines that I love the most. Is it because of the mechanics of bio-d or simply because they are simply more attentive to their vines? For me what separates the great wine from the good is it’s ability to transport me, to make me feel awe. The need to spiritualize human life is part of what makes it interesting; a little vacation from the rational. So within this framework, I am willing to at least stay open to the idea that a vine could benefit from these subtle interventions, and that it will be it’s best when it’s health is considered in a cosmological perspective. As the continued refinement of this approach is based upon careful observation of the environment and communication between practicioners, this too might lead us to a more profound understanding of our environment (sometimes it is fun to go outside the box). And perhaps this is what Einstein was alluding to when he talked of the “unity between the natural and the spiritual.‘