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 AndrĂ© 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.‘


Mithrandir said...

Biodynamic agricultural practice offends me, as if someone spat on the graves of my ancestors.

For ten thousand years, man has struggled to figure out how his world works. Much of that has revolved around agriculture, and still we have much to learn.

But we know how to learn it. Useful, applicable truth is testable, and falsifyable. "Biodynamics" is neither of these. See also "Intelligent Design" and "Flying Spaghetti Monster".

Biodynamics is geomancy - the same branch of mysticism that brings us pyramid power and feng shui. It has been studied in comparison to standard Organic farming techniques, and no significant difference has been detected.

This persistant belief in mysticism is harmful to the advancement of agriculture as a science. It is the desparate flailing about of primitive minds unwilling to accept a universe of cause and effect.

It doesn't even have the weight of tradition behind it. How many farmers celebrate the first of May by jumping through a fire and having ritual sex? Now that's a tradition with history. Western civilization has been following that practice in one form or another for millenia.

Burying sand in cow horns over winter and spraying a dilute mixture of silty water on one's vines - because some crazy man said that it was a good idea - isn't a way to make better wine. It's a way to demonstrate one's willful ignorance of the way plants work. And it is disrespectful of the thousands of men and women throughout history who have gone to the trouble of rigorous experimentation to find truth.

Ayurvedic doctor said...

Pharma drugs are sometimes harmful, so buy only herbal medicines

caveman said...

Hmmm. I think you have issues here. How about a touch of humility man? I too was raised with the scientific method and I too look upon many aspects of bio-d with scepticism but chill out. The reality is that some studies have shown areas where bio-d has improved the soils, and if we speak of the wine that is the result, as I said, many of these are my most preferred wines in the world. I resent your lack of humility, your disrespect of the poetic... Look, just because it has yet to be proven does not mean that it does not exist,,,go back science man, there is always a leap of faith that needs to be taken.

beau said...

M. I don’t believe Bill stated that biodynamics is the only or best way to make good wine. He simply observed that many of his favorite wines are produced using biodynamic practices. This led him to ponder the philosophy behind the practice. And some of bio-d’s philosophy rests in the spiritual realm.

Now, reasonable people can disagree. Moreover, taking a scientific approach, you are well within the bounds of logic to state that there are no scientific justifications for some of the biodynamic practices such as the all-too-often cited ‘cow horn stuffing and burying.’ However, these aspects of biodynamics strike me as more spiritual tenants of the practice. And, from what I’ve read, a viticulturist can take the organic-like practices of bio-d and ignore the metaphysical/spiritual/odd-to-us practices.

I do have one quibble with the content of your comments (and definitely a larger quibble with the tone/approach of your comments). You state that, “It has been studied in comparison to standard Organic farming techniques, and no significant difference has been detected.” That seems reasonable. However, in the spirit of science, your statement should be backed up by a citation or reference (i.e. please provide a link/source to these studies).

St. Vini said...

Interesting that you chose Homeopathy, another unproven bit of quackery. Homeopathy has many problems of it's own [], and can be charitably written off to the 'placebo effect' (a multi-billion $ industry). And the underlying principle of applying small amounts of a illness causing substance to provide a cure is clearly not always applicable - as demonstrated by people with anaphylactic shock (remember the peanut allergic girl who died recently in Toronto after kissing her boyfriend who'd just had a snack containing peanuts? those small exposures were just making her more and more allergic)("snake dancer" Christian cults come to mind as well - each subsequent exposure to snake venom makes the individual more reactive rather than provide protection).
That placebos (or spiritual practices) work at all is dependent upon the individual believing they will have an effect. And even then they only affect the individual, not external animals/minerals/vegetables.

Neither grapevines nor yeast have the capacity to believe, and therefore are unaffected by the placebo effect of BioD ritual.

Winemaking practices which disdain sulfite addition, and utilize indigenous yeast ferments are most likely responsible for the differences found in the final wine. Viticultural practices which promote artificially low yields may also have an effect, though there is recent discussion on whether that is in fact true (post in progress on that one).

Beau, I think the reference you want re Mithrandir's statement is here on a post of mine [I live for quotes like this] - 6 years of study - BioD vs. organic farming - and no differences of any significance could be detected.

BTW, IMHO if you divest BioD of it's ritual there's really nothing left but organic...but I guess I've made that opinion pretty obvious over the past 2 years...nothing wrong with organic, but if that's all you're after, why bother with Bio-D?

Mithrandir said...

I view Biodynamics as nothing more than Organic agriculture with some extra geomantic ritual slapped on. If that view is somehow factually invalid, please correct me.

Put another way, if you strip Biodynamics of all of its ritual magic, how does it differ from standard organic farming?

Regardless, the presence of that mysticism offends me because Biodynamics is presented as "just a farming technique", and not a religion. Farmers are free to practice and preach their religion just like anyone else. Seeing a cross, crescent, star of david or pentacle on a bottle of wine would not bother me, because they are religous symbols and no one pretends otherwise. Biodynamics presents itself as something other than a religous faith though, and that offends me.

C: You assert that Bio-d has improved soil. In comparison to what? Traditional, high-tech farming? Organic farming? Fallow ground? By what measure of "improvement"?

As for humility and tone: yes, I have made violently negative assertions about the nature of Biodynamics. The best way to deal with such hubris is to strike it down, with hard facts. Prove me wrong. But don't assert some sort of "disrespect for the poetic" on my part. I find no poetry in chicanery.

B: And I didn't state that Biodynamics made bad wine, only that biodynamic-specific observances will not improve the quality of the wine. I have had crappy biodynamic wine (Cooper Mountain Vineyards).

I would like to read whatever gave you the impression that the biodynamic preparations are optional to certification. That has not been my impression. At least planting by the phase of the moon appears to be optional, as far as Demeter is concerned.

SV: Thanks. That's the article to which I was refering.

St. Vini said...

"The best way to deal with such hubris is to strike it down, with hard facts."

Cheers, kudos and a polite golf clap. Well said!

St. Vini said...

Beau: Something else occurred to me....why hold Mithrandir to one standard (proof) and not hold Caveman to the same....?

If BioD is better than organic farming, let's see some evidence.


caveman said...

wow..okay here it goes...
I believe that applying small amounts of illness to create antibodies to said illness is the basis of medical vaccines, not homeopathy. Most homeopathic medicines are plant based and are administered frequently but in small doses, hence the tie in with bio-d. Homeopathy and a yoga nose rinsing technique helped cure my year long bout with sinusitis, the docs kept putting me on stronger and stronger antibiotics. Quackery perhaps, but it worked for me. Many hospitals are using acupuncture for pain prevention instead of drugs. Thankfully I had an open mind.

Vini, I liked your post on the usewild yeasts. But the use of indigenous yeasts goes far beyond the realm of bio-d (that is more the natural wine a coming also)

Now, both of you dudes...follow the link in the post to Jamie Goodes site with results of a 21 year study of bio-d versus organics that I supplied above. I have more anecdotal evidence from personal experience that I will have to post separately.But the reality is that the people who believe, believe. They had made some leap of faith, as there is not alot of evidence to support either position.

But they have seen improvements. These are winemakers that maintain the discipline of the discipline because they believe it works. But you guys, due to your belief system and a with a couple of studies in your backpockets are willing to cast all these intelligent men and woman onto the scrap heap of side show freaks. If they believe that by picking during a full moon will give them maximum juice and in energy in their grapes (i assume because of gravitational pull), and they do it the next year and the next..,either it works for them or they are retarded. You tell me.

My problem with the hubris factor is your quickness to rush to judgement... as witch hunting pilgims to left handed women. What matters is observable results to the people doing the work. They do not force anyone to follow. Not enough people care wether or not a wine is bio-d, so if these people are doing this just to sell bottles, then they do indeed have a problem. But they do it (at least the dozen or so people that I have talked with), because they feel it offers them more than simple organics.

My point is that we don't understand everything, yet. Pyramid power and pasta monsters aside, there are enough respectable folk working in bio-d to perhaps consider having a certain open mindedness.

St. Vini said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
St. Vini said...

Caveman: I removed my earlier post after I reread Jamie's reference to the 21-year study. Missed that the first time. My bad. I'll come back to that later.

I did stand by what I posted (which you've probably read) and wanted to also comment that your analysis of your cure for your sinusitis shows a similar lack of critical analysis. How do you know it was the homeopathic treatments and not the sinus irrigation (something I've found helpful for the same problem)? You can't claim you've found homeopathy to work if you're simultaneously using another method.

I think the same thinking applies to organic and biodynamic farming, hard to isolate the benefits of organic from BioD. If your anecdotal evidence is along the same lines, I don't see what it will demonstrate. Show me two wines made from adjacent vineyard rows, one organic and the other BioD with measurable differences and you've got my attention.


Brad Ford said...

Strong original post.

As for the biodynamics bashing, I don't understand it. The people who do this bashing are A) Not winemakers, B) Not Top Winemakers, C) Not winery owners, D) Must think Leroy, Humbrecht, Deiss, Fallers, Joseph Phelps Owners, etc., etc., are all friggin morons to convert their vineyards to biodynamics, despite the higher costs, greater risks, etc., E) Particularly have to focus on the wacky aspects that Steiner came up with (nearly a century ago!) because they can't actually find fault with the actual success of the wines from these vineyards, and F) You would think they would just go drink the non-Biodynamic wine instead of whining about it here and elsewhere. But, no! It's under their skin, making them crazy and they just can't, CAN'T stop thinking about the cow horns.

Mithrandir said...

"I believe that applying small amounts of illness to create antibodies to said illness is the basis of medical vaccines, not homeopathy."

Compared the concentrations used in homeopathy, viral or bacterial concentrations used in vaccination are generally quite high. More importantly, vaccination has a well understood method of action, and individual vaccines are tested under strict conditions.

Homeopathy is based on the hypothesis that "Like cures like". The methodology for the development of a homeopathic cure is called a "homeopathic proving".

A group of healthy test subjects are given doses of a substances thought to cause the symptoms the patient has. They journal their experiences and the principal investigator of the study then selects a substance based on the symptoms that it causes.

This substance is then diluted so much that it is quite likely that a give sample contains none of the original substance. The more dilute, the more potent the remedy, or so the reasoning goes. Most dilutions are made at a "potency" of 30C, which is a dilution of 10^60 parts water. At least it won't hurt you :)

Homeopathy is sympathetic magic. It garbs itself in the clothes of scientific rigor, but at its core, it's all about the magic. It's a brilliant way to sell very expensive water though. Almost as good as Dasani :)

As much as I love a good story, anecdotal evidence is worth nothing in the pursuit of truth. See Selection Bias, Clustering Illusions and Observer Expectancy.

"My problem with the hubris factor is your quickness to rush to judgement... as witch hunting pilgims to left handed women."

Witch hunts based on left-handedness are an excellent example of clustering illusions. It is exactly that sort of reasoning that the scientific method seeks to prevent.

I cannot help but notice that you have not answered my last question. What is left of Biodynamics if you strip away the dandalion sausage, manure-filled horns and magical moon rays? How does it differ from standard organic farming?

caveman said...

Like much of the evidence 'supporting' bio-d, the results of my experience with my nose is anecdotal. I don't feel obliged to break it down any further as it may be any number of intertwined circumstance that cured me. But that is sort of the point of this post.

Mithandr, I like the clustering illusion definition, I will use that later. But in answer to your question, I guess the biggest difference between bio-d and organics is the calendar. I know that my wife has tested how certain plants react to similar compost applications but with one section of the plantation following the bio-d calendar to the T. She found root systems in the bio-d planted section much healthier than those in the organic section. They were massive she said. And she is a sceptic.

But lets look at the 'facts'
1- there are studies to support both sides of the argument
2- the number of winemakers using bio-d are growing
3- most using it are staying with it
4- using bio-dynamics does not offer any serious marketting advantage (as most of those using it don't even mention it on the bottle)
5- these people aren't morons

Are they victims of observer expantancy as a result of dealing with the lower yields, increased costs etc... Perhaps.

But I maintain that as long as winemakers that I respect (via their wines) use bio-d, I will continue to believe that there MIGHT be something to it.

After all, closing our minds to possibility is at the root of ignorance.

DINO said...

I read Jamie Goode's series of articles. Several things struck me. In part 2 he said, "As I’ve talked to various biodynamic winegrowers from around the world, one thing has become clear. While they tend to agree on the big details, each has their developed biodynamics to suit their own particular situation. Winegrowers drawn to this philosophy tend to be inventive types, always experimenting and refining their practices to see what works best. As a result, there are many different flavours and variations around this common theme, and it’s hard to define biodynamics in any sort of rigid way."

To my mind that's a statement of religiosity. I'm not certain the certification agencies such as Demeter would certify someone that showed so little respect for the rituals of BioD.

Also in Part 2, Preparation 500 is described. Its the only one of the nine preparations that gives concentrations. Preparation 500 is 60 g of fermented cow manure, diluted with water and applied to 1 hectacre of vines. For 1 meter vine spacing, that's 6 milligrams of fermented manure per vine. Powerful stuff, it must be the special BD stirring process.

In part 6, Jamie interviews Alvaro Espinoza from the VOE winery in Chile. He goes on to comment "The wines? They’re pretty good. While I might have expected them to show more ‘terroir’ characters, the structure and concentration set them apart from many of their peers."

The four wines are blends, only the Cab comes close to being a varietal.
If you think about it, wine blends are expressions of style, not terroir. Or maybe you would like to ascribe it to the lack of local sources for yarrow or red deer bladders. The only place you can get all the ingredients, locally, is France, therefore, maybe France is the only place that you can actually practise BioD!

One last quote from Philippe Pacalet, a Burgundian vignoron, quoted by Alice Feiring in her new blog "The problem with biodynamics is its founder Steiner. Steiner didn't drink. Biodynamics is good for grape juice but not wine."

For what its worth, I'm with mithrandir and Vini, its FLAPDOODLE.

caveman said...

My point of this whole post was to leave open the option that we don't know everything. There does exist evidence (albeit some anecdotale)that certain bio-d practices (which ones I don't know)may have a positive effect on soil microbiology and positive effects on plant development which go beyond classic organic agriculture.
The 'discipline' of bio-d is constantly evolving. As you mention, Steinert didn't make wine and in fact many of the winemakers that are proponents of bio-d don't even mention him as their primary influence when I have talked to them.
Certain winemakers don't use 500 because they believe it isn't relative to their particular situation. While I agree that there is a certain religousity involved here, it does not seem to be too dogmatic. That is why many of them choose not be certified by Demeter and in fact don't even mention the fact that they use bio-d on their bottles.
This for me is key for if it is 'flapdoodle,' and is waste of time and money, then they are either stupid or using it for marketting purposes. But then most don't even mention it as I said, so they must be doubly-retarded.
The reality is that these winemakers use it, and believe in the results enough to continue doing it. Why? Go ask them, taste their wines, and then make your judgement as to wether or not it makes a I have.
Insofar as blending and terroir is concerned with respect to Chilean wines, I have always felt that the additives that most warm climate winemakers use do more to take a wine away from the terroir than blending. But that has little to do with bio-dynamics.

Anonymous said...

Is it Doonsday for US Biodynamics?
Randall Grahm’s Faustian deal

"Bonny Doon Vineyard, run by the irrepressible Randall Grahm, now produces nearly 400,000 cases of wine, yet it continues to cultivate an image of a small, boutique winery. Some of the wine world’s most innovative packaging is created by this estate, but, as I have written before, the quality in the bottle has declined from Bonny Doon’s glory years (in the mid-eighties) when Grahm was both a pioneer and a committed Rhone Ranger revolutionary. It now appears to be all about image and high production, resulting in somewhat innocuous offerings." - Robert Parker, June 2005

Over the past couple of years, Randall has been at a crossroads. He suffered with a rare bone infection, his estate vineyards died off, he was involved in a lawsuit for smuggling in “suit case cuttings” from France by Caymus Winery, and he has openly admitted to succumbing to “seditious winemaking legerdemain” ie., making bad wine passable by using dubious techniques in the cellar.

Now in a move that has some in the “real wine” movement worried, Grahm the Santa Cruz marketing wiz behind the bulk juice winery Bonny Doon - is taking up the mantel of Biodynamic. He recently lectured on the subject at UC Davis Viticultural program called Terroir and is now holding himself out to his wine professional colleagues that he is now a born-again Anthroposophist – “fighting for the soul of wine”.

What is Biodynamic wine?

Biodynamics was the original “organic” movement. Founded by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the German occultist, and based on a series of his lectures. It is a bit of a new comer to the wine industry and for many represents the new standard for “organic” or natural wine – a beyond organic or Uber-organic status if you will.

The category of “organic” has been co-opted by the federal government with its NOP (National Organic Program) and watered down and bastardized to fit corporate culture. Companies like Brown-Forman that own Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort, Finlandia, Fetzer, and Bonterra dominate “organic”.

Twenty-five years in the business and now Grahm is suddenly uber-organic? For a man that has several label’s called Big House Red & White (because of its proximity to a Soledad penitentiary) and who makes great fun of how serious others take the wine industry – it becomes rather illuminating to investigate what really drives Grahm.

Rumor has it that Bonny Doon’s finances are in trouble, he sold his winery property at a low point in the real estate market – and keeping pace with production of a third of a million cases is a big task. I once received hearsay from a tasting room worker that Randall demanded at least $10,000 a day in sales from his staff – allot of wine to move at $5.99 a bottle.

Randall Grahm says he has used both reverse osmosis and the spinning cone. ``I'm not proud of it, but I have,'' he says. "We have been very successful as a wine marketing company and pretty successful as a winemaking company. We've been, perhaps to our peril, too good at marketing.”

Grahm is a different type of player in the wine industry. He is the archetypal opportunist, a man driven by image over quality, and his winery has suffered dearly for it for many years. He is not taken seriously any longer by many wine aficionados – Robert Parker cooled to him when he became a bulk producer - and his open admission to using questionable machinery in manufacturing his wines and his switch to Stelvin screw caps has made certain this downfall.

Grahm is the class clown, poking fun where he can but now he is approaching blasphemy with his insincere stance on a really important issue – “what is real wine?” The connection with tradition, history, and the vineyard will be lost and the folks making the real stuff will be relegated to an obscure niche market.

In 2001, Ohio banned Bonny Doon's Cardinal Zin, which featured artist Ralph Steadman's less-than-holy Catholic cardinal on its label. Always the showman, Grahm promotes his Cardinal Zin by dressing up like a cardinal and last year he hosted an original rock opera, "Born to Rhone," which featured high-wire acrobats, a contortionist, comic sketches and satirical songs performed under the big top of Teatro ZinZanni on San Francisco's Embarcadero. A $200,000 event that PT Barnum would have been proud of. His untactful track record for pushing his plunk is well documented.

In 2004, Bonny Doon produced a newsletter called the National Vinquirer (a play on the tabloid National Enquirer) complete with aliens attacking the wine country and a spoof on Robert Parker exploding after a dessert ala Monte Python’s “Just one more wafer thin mint sir”.

Another circus he produced was when he announced that Bonny Doon has switched to screw caps over natural cork because of an inordinate amount of TCA Trichloroanisole “corked” issues with Bonny Doon wines. In 2002 Grahm launched his Ca’ del Solo wines hosting a “Black Dinner” – the theme being Death to the Cork– antics included a theatrical event complete with a casket for "Mr. Cork" a corpse made of corks and MW Jancis Robinson delivering the eulogy.

Worse than any cork taint will be the stench that Randall leaves behind once he has bankrupt the developing Biodynamic group of wineries. It looks as if he is attempting to repackage his screw capped bulk wine under the cloak of “natural” – this will inevitably confuse the consumer and put them off of wines that are truly naturally made Biodynamically without additives and are the real thing.

No single producer has positioned himself to devastate the public perception of Biodynamics than Grahm. Bonny Doon will undoubtedly make a big splash next year when they release 7 wines - with the Demeter seal of approval. If you close your eyes you can almost imagine the zany labels his propaganda machine is now developing. It will be splashed all over the media. This of course will make it appear as if his entire production is Biodynamic and “greenwash” his way into market niche he has no business being able to lay claim to.

For the past few years, Randall has been sniffing around the “Return to Terroir/Biodynamic” conferences drinking up Nicholas Joly's lectures and joining in a study group with Alan York, and Mike Benziger. Now he is ready to take control - like OZ the man behind the curtain - the self-proclaimed pitchman for Stelvin screw caps is about to screw over the category of Biodynamic wines.

For the record, this writer has got nothing against Randall personally, but his credibility for taking on a solemn undertaking such as Biodynamics is questionable, and it is simply not fair to winemaker’s that have devoted their entire career’s to making wine in the simple and traditional methods that Biodynamics embraces.

How can Randall reconcile promoting plastic stoppers (over the traditional cork?) and make it fit in with natural farming and winemaking - is beyond comprehension. He is the Madonna of the wine world, riding the crest of a fad. Randall is reinventing himself to satisfy a short-term market gain at the expense of a worldwide movement towards a greater appreciation of Rudolf Steiner’s work.

The interconnectivity of life and its diversity, the recognition of nature as the best arbiter of quality, and the absolute desire to do what is best in your heart for your craft isn’t a small commitment. It is attempting to be inherently reliant upon nature itself to figure out what is best for your vines. It is acceptance that we are all in this thing called life together and the best way for humanity to survive and thrive is by allowing the natural processes to develop on it’s own – and this takes patience and faith that transcends logic as we physically are aware of. It borders on spiritually but really is just an elevated level of observation. But this is what it takes to make a pure product that is as revered as wine and accept the consequences.

To farm grapes in a Biodynamic fashion is a very small part of the overall spectrum of Biodynamics. Biodynamic winemaking and the spirit of its viticultural and vinification practices requires a true commitment. Not a mere marketing plan.

And one of the saddest consequences of this situation is that it is disrespecting to truly committed wineries and agricultural endeavors that have been at this for many years – like the Coturri and Frey families - without giving the marketing benefits of this type of work a second thought. The big question – is Grahm willing to pay the ultimate price and kill Biodynamics in the US to satisfy his own ambition?

Grahm’s Faustian Bargain

The adjective "faustian" has come to denote any acts or that involve human hubris leading to doom. The parallels to Faust should not be lost on Grahm – a philosophy major and renowned as a literate fellow.

Like his contemporary from Bolinas, Sean Thackery, Randall is drawn to Old World literature. Randall regularly cites back to obscure passages to promote his product. He is fond of adding Latin and French into his newsletters and taking Old English like Shakespeare and reworking it into wine related rhyming prose.

Rudolf Steiner the originator of Biodynamics derived many of his theories on nature from Goethe (1749–1832) – the scientist and writer of the dramatic work Faust. Early in Steiner’s career, he cataloged Goethe’s natural scientific papers.

The long tradition of wine, and observing the interconnectiveness of all things as viewed from the Goethean perspective is what is most important in Biodynamic winemaking applications.

To strike a “Faustian bargain” – comes from the magician and alchemist in German legend who sells his soul to the devil in return for knowledge – and has come to represent the willingness to sacrifice anything to satisfy a limitless desire for power.

According to one account, Dr. Faustus was a real person who’s poor reputation became legendary when while in prison, in exchange for wine he "offered to show a chaplain how to remove hair from his face without a razor; the chaplain provided the wine and Faustus provided the chaplain with a salve of arsenic, which removed not only the hair but the flesh."

Did Grahm have a Robert Johnson Crossroads moment?

“I went to the crossroad
Fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above "Have mercy now,
Save poor Randall, if you please"

Run down, ragged and wondering what to do next – did Randall somehow have an epiphany that if he takes up Biodynamics he could control a market big enough to drive a bus through. Could this be a perfect fit, the salvation for his struggling winery?

Even the initials of Bonny Doon (BD) match the shorthand for Biodynamics – BD – don’t think for a minute that this is lost on the great marketer Grahm. Can’t you just see Randall cloaking himself in the garb of Rudolf Steiner and channeling his essence to a captivated audience? The few haunting ghost like photographs of Steiner in existence – show a man that illuminates a strong presence – he has dark features – he appears tall and lanky and he has deep and hollow eyes –Steiner is captured in the photos as a tight lipped and unsmiling - all characteristics that Grahm could shape shift into at his next launch party for Bonny Doon BD wines.

Never one to shy away from a controversy – Grahm knows that in the wine business, appearances are everything - so if you have long hair like a hippie and speak like a crazed sage - that is enough – then of course you must be organic/Biodynamic.

Does Randall really consider the ultimate cost of these actions – pretending to be Biodynamic and confusing the consumer – it will be years before it becomes clear that this was all a slight of hand – but he is on the cusp of perpetrating this fraud – the biggest crime of his career.

A field of study and life knowledge such as Biodynamics doesn’t coexist well with lighthearted pledge to fit a marketing need. Growing a tiny percentage of grapes from a Biodynamical vineyard and then bombarding the media with press releases and how it is “BD pure” is straight from the huckster handbook of self-promotion and is fraud to the end user.

For the sake of argument – let’s assume that Randall is in fact committed to carrying out this new venture with clean hands. He would need to make some fundamental operational changes. Bonny Doons claims of redemption – and a change towards quality over image can not be taken seriously unless Grahm is going to sacrifice his gigantic production, and drop all vineyards that are not at the very least “sustainable”, low yielding crops, hand harvested, without the use of pesticides, fungicides, etc.

Just as it is incongruous to grow organic wheat and process it into WONDERBREAD - it doesn’t make much sense to take the time and effort to grow Biodynamic grapes and to end it there. Cellar decisions are just as important as the winegrowing procedures.

Right now, most all of Bonny Doon’s wine is, in fact machine made. Machine harvested, pumped, chilled, filtered and bottled: all by machine. Bonny Doon needs to stop producing wines in manufactured methods. Chemically laden, sulfite full, “Mega Purple” additives, velcorin and lysosome, spinning cones, micro-oxygenization, technologies adding flavors and manipulation to homogenize the humongous brew is in its very nature not possible to be compatible with Biodynamics.

Bonny Doon's own Estate vineyards died off a few years ago - succumbed to Pierce’s Disease. No doubt they employed the conventional farming uses of pesticides, hericides like Roundup and synthetic fertilizers. But now Bonny Doon, is farming roughly 145 acres in Soledad in the Salinas Valley of Monterey County Biodynamically and they continue to purchase a large amount of their grape requirements from contract growers (read "un-organically").

Simple math figures that at 3 tons/acre = 435 tons which equates to approximately 20,000 cases/year or just 5% of Bonny Doons overall 365,000 case (US annual sales) production. –this won’t even be enough for his 8,000 member DEWN (Distinctive Esoteric Wine Network) club.

A place that Bonny Doon has traction is the EU and the European market is much stronger and has greater acceptance than the US for Biodynamics.

Bonny Doon is ranked the 27th largest US winery in by Wine Business Online:

Will Randall, the erring seeker, use his depraved advertising to promote jug wine as Biodynamic? Will he willingly trade on the wisdom of Biodynamics for short-term market share? If so, he has apparently sold his soul to Mephistopheles.

Like Randall’s latest newsletter Da Vino Commedia a play on Dante's "The Inferno" Grahm has already examined what it is like to descend into vinous hell. But for right now it’s too early to see if this tale has a moralizing end, with eternal damnation for the foolhardy venturer.

St. Vini said...


Thanks for the heads up to this. This is simply a cut and paste (without reference I might add) of someone else's work. It reads like a character assassination rather than actual journalism. Factually, it is also lacking (Bonny Doon did not sell its winery (I was there recently), nor do they use plastic stoppers). The fact that Grahm is promoting BioD should make its followers happy, no? This smacks of some kind of juvenile jealously, unworthy of serious debate. Of what relevance is Ohio's ban of Cardinal Zin 5 years ago? *(Editor! Can I get an editor, please!)

I've obviously been critical of BioD, but this is downright offensive to me.


St. Vini said...

Bill: With a bit more time to reflect on it, I'm convinced this is a character assassination by a former employee or else someone who has a bone to pick with Grahm (dissed grower?).

Rereading the missive (if you can get over the typos (what is "plunk" exactly?)), it reads as if somebody Googled Grahm and threw up (pun intended) a bio that alternated web-found tidbits with logical fallacies.

To wit: "Robert Parker cooled to him when he became a bulk producer - and his open admission to using questionable machinery in manufacturing his wines and his switch to Stelvin screw caps has made certain this downfall."

True, Parker did walk away from BD when they became too large, but the author's conclusion that a switch the Stelvins and "questionable machinery" is a non sequitor of Jolyian proportions.....chuckle.

The original article can be found (word for word) on another site. I was going to debate the original author (if indeed he is the author) but the site is pretty dead. In addition, I doubt he's got the balls to support his claims anyway.

Oh, and Bill, thank you for having the balls to debate publicly without using a cut (and paste) and run. I enjoy our debates and respect your opinions.


Dino said...

Geez, a good old-fashioned polemic is fun, but character assassination? Why invent stuff to pick on Randall? Alice did a far more proper job on Mike B., letting him hang himself, so to speak. It was fun while it lasted, but I can't compete with anonymous when he says (as anonymous) "For the record, this writer (ANONYMOUS) has nothing against Randall presonally..." This is a professional grudge? But then summer is coming, and I would rather be outside...

caveman said...

Hey 20 comments on a single post..shit, I feel almost 'vinographic,' welcome to the big time billy..yer ship has come in.
Dino, I agree that outside is better...alice..mike B? Is that Benziger and Alice F...? And back to your previous comment, Pacalet is a freakier winemaker than the majority of the bio-d types combined.

Vini,what,if anything is true here? While much of the comment strikes me as a bit hysterical and smacks of deep-seeded bitterness, there are a coupel of points that of interest (aside from the broader question of what is responsible home publishing).I am still waiting for a response from a couple of other cali winemakers in response to the comment... because when all is said and interest is (i sent Randall an email today asking him directly)
1-how bio-d (and organics) fit into winemaking on an 'industrial' level and 2-wether he believes the notion of terroir is compromised by the use of additives and other modern winemaking techniques... '

St. Vini said...


Anonymous seems to be saying (when you weed out all the irrelevant points and personal attacks) that a company the size of Bonny Doon cannot effectively use BioD because it is too big.

If so, then how did they get Demeter certified? Is there a Jolyian restriction on size of wineries? Cannot a 300,000 case winery make 5,000 cases of BioD wine? (why not?) Is Benzinger too big at 100,000+ cases? Is there a moral code (administered by Mr. Anon) that one must pass before one can use BioD techniques?

Can you reconcile the author's contention that Mr. Grahm is out to exploit BioD for financial gain with his own comment that the winery has profit issues historically? Does Mr. Grahm's track record indicate that he generally manipulates people and ideas for personal gain? Look and ask around, I think the man's reputation speaks for itself.

For the record, if anonymous (or "Lincoln" the name he has posted this under elsewhere) posts this on my blog I will delete it unless it is reduced to facts and opinions.


caveman said...

'Jolyian restriction, ' very good, I might have to use that one.

I don't see any problem with anyone, no matter how big they are, integrating bio-d principles into there agricultural practices. I just wonder wether this incarnation of Mr. Graham has turned to bio-d through belief, PR or therapy. And It is not that important. It is just that I know and have talked to alot of people who practices bio-d (both in wine and other agricultural pursuits), and Grahm does not fit the profile.

If the Bonny Doon-Benziger move towards biodynamics is a sign that bigger companies are embracing a more holistic, environmentally friendly perspective, then I applaud them and am filled with hope. They will be my poster children of good corporate citizenship. If it is to test how bio-d affects the final product, also cool.

What makes me suspicious is that he is new to the bio-d game, and has suddenly become the poster boy for the cause. If I were to let my cynical side speak, I would say that he is simply switching an infinitesimally small part of his holdings to bio-d in the hope that it will give him a bit of a ‘natural’ glow which is not representative of the majority of his winemaking. In this I agree with the anonymous ranter. If it is true, it is an insult to all those who are making wine without the help of many of the interventions and additives that are available in winemaking today.

Also, many of those who practice biodynamics (Ostertag, Mann, Weinbach, Zind Humbrecht, Cannonbaugh Bridge for example) have personalized their practice of bio-d to the particularities of their farm. Ostertag does not use 501, because he says he. One of the essential elements of bio-d philosophical underpinnings is Personalization. It requires attention and a certain rigour. They do not care about certification, they do not advertise that they do it, and are thus simply using it because they feel it is the right way. Sounds corny, but many of them are!

Is bio-d ready for the big time, for large scale operations? I for one will give Randall the benefit of the doubt and am watching his experiment with fascination. Insofar as the comment in question, I am still checking out a number of it’s assertions. I must admit to being guilty of using it as a bit of an experiment. I sent it out to a dozen or so people who I respect (writers, winemakers, bio-d vegetable farmers) just to find out what they would do….i have received some interesting and diverse feedback. It is a fine line indeed that separates criticism from slander.

Anonymous said...

Woooo, I'm a bit late to the table here, but can't resist the temptation to comment. I'm a new user, call me Dave.

I have several areas to comment on, let's start with the 6 year study that showed no differences between BD (bio-D) and organic. There were indeed no statistically significant differences in nutrient content, physical characteristics or biological life/processes in the soil between the organic and BD. What doesn't show up in that quote, a single year composting trial did result in statistically different, 30% better nutrient retention in the compost which was made using BD preparations over the compost made from the exact same starting material that did not have the preparations added. I echo some of the other posters skepticism regarding the preparations, yet I do farm biodynamically, and this result astonished me.

Continuing, an unpublished experiment by Reganold's research team was rather unconventional. A rectangular box was constructed. One side of the box contained soil removed from the BD section of the vineyard in the 6 year study, the other half contained soil from the organic section of the vineyard. Worms were collected from the entire vineyard, both organic and BD areas, and then the worms were placed in the box in between the two different soils. The next day the researchers came back and noted that all of the worms had moved into the BD soil. There were no worms in the organic soil. The point? Though modern scientific techniques could find no significant differences in the soils, a bunch of "lower" life forms were unanimous in their selection; we cannot, with current technologies, always find the answers.

Further, to the point of what is the difference between organic and biodynamic. If you are a VERY good organic farmer, there is very little difference, just the preparations, the calendar (these two being the rituals?), and an emphasis on limited inputs. However, you can be organic these days and still farm with the mindset of a conventional grower, i.e. instead of creating a diverse farming agroecosystem that mimics nature (good organic), what organic pesticide can I spray that will kill my pest organism (bad organic)? Organic pesticides are getting better and better my friends, to the point that the farming style can be very similar to a conventional grower. Thus, being BD automatically puts you on the extreme "good organic" side of the spectrum.

People generally associate BD with the preparations and all of the wackyness that entails; however, it is based on very good farming technique. We like to say that the preparations are the icing on the cake; should you not have good farming practices in place, your cake will still be worthless even though you've got great frosting. So, Mithrandir et al., don't get all bent over the preparations, yes they are weird, but they are a small part of the final product.

I was offended by Mithrandir's supposition that science is the end all beat all authority. I have worked as a researcher in universities; never forget that most of your science is paid for with grants from large companies to either get a profitable product, or test a potential profitable product. Mysticism? Try looking at it from another viewpoint, try looking at it as farming techniques that work, passed from generation to generation. Why plant on a particular lunar phase? Has it been proven to work at a university? Perhaps it has been studied, I did not check. But usually, if there is no profitable product at stake, thus no scientific inquiry. Reganold was questioned by many of his peers regarding that 6 year study in the vineyard, they basically thought he had committed professional suicide. Believe me, I'm not saying that this true for every, or even the majority of the BD practices (or reasons for scientific studies for that matter), but some BD practices that may be thought of as mysticism certainly fit here.

I am a BD Skeptic that practices BD viticulture. Very little of my farming is centered on the preparations. It is more about how I can grow a balanced vine with very limited inputs (which is a basic part of BD by the way, but not organic). Thus, the resultant fruit is of high quality and representative of the soil in which it is grown rather than the organic inputs (fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides) that I can use. THAT is what is most important about being BD to me.

Caveman, I'd love to hear what came of your investigations on that post about Randall Grahm.