June 29, 2010

What possible harm could there be with letting Biodynamic farmers go along their merry way with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground?  Shouldn’t we be tolerant of differing viewpoints, isn’t that what our grammar school teachers taught us?   Many on this and other blogs have stated that Biodynamics is a little kooky, but so what as long as the wine is good.  Another frequent comment is that while Steiner is nutty and Biodynamics is way out there,  it seems that they’re paying more attention to farming details and that’s always good.   And science and truth are just arbitrary concepts anyway, let’s just wait and see what happens and besides, we all know science is always playing catch up; what was once ridiculed is now viewed as the truth.

 I answer, not in my own words, but from an article from “The Skeptical Inquirer” (Nov/Dec 2007) by Douglass Smith and Jesus Barquin.  I believe they are more eloquent and persuasive than I could be: 

     “To return to the question posed earlier-what harm does it do if a farmer or winemaker follows such practices? The easy answer is that it is a waste of time, money, and effort. Indeed, one reason that biodynamics has caught on in the wine industry, and practically nowhere else, is that wine is perhaps the agricultural product with the largest sales markup. Most agricultural products are commodities that roughly sell at their price of production. However, if a winemaker can convince the public that the wine he or she makes is some of the best stuff out there, he or she can charge upwards of $50 or $100 for a bottle of what is, in essence, fermented grape juice. Such a markup can pay for the onerous biodynamic overhead of labor, assuming that the marketing is done properly. But, still and all, it appears to be wasted effort, and those who persist in it appear more and more as New Age acolytes.”

     “That said, our critical attitude toward the esoteric aspects of biodynamics does not interfere with our appreciation of many of its wines. Many biodynamic winemakers are indeed talented. The problem resides in the extension of disbelief in empirical technique, and in substituting for it beliefs in unscientific practices like astrology and homeopathy, as well as voodoo-style rituals and even “geo-acupuncture.” We must confront this problem, not just as wine lovers and wine writers, but also as citizens who do not wish to live in, nor present to our children, a society in which pseudoscience and esoteric fantasies are considered reality. Irrational thinking, or reliance on mystical gurus with claims of clairvoyant intuition, does great harm to society. The best research studies to date have not found any distinction between biodynamics and the organic agriculture of which it is a part. The esoterica, it seems, add nothing. And we, as supporters of clarity and rationalism, are dismayed by the disconnect between belief and research. Our hope is that one day, under the clear light of understanding, better-grounded winemakers will dispense with biodynamics for good. Let us raise a glass to reason, and to that day.”

Stuart Smith



June 25, 2010

 My introduction stated that if you believed in science you cannot believe in Biodynamics and that the reverse is also true, that if you believe in Biodynamics you cannot believe in Science. 


I’ve hitched my wagon to science, so let’s take a look at science.  Science is several thousands of years old.  Some pretty big names are associated with science; Pasteur, Darwin, Einstein, Galileo, Newton, Aristotle, Bacon, Curie, Copernicus, Da Vinci et al.  These are great scientists who earned their achievements the hard way – they did the research.  There is the scientific method, reproducibility and the peer review.  Remember cold fusion; nobody else could get the same results and so that theory went into the round file.  Science is critical thinking,  challenging the status quo and never closed to criticism.

 Now let’s look at Biodynamics, which was created by Rudolf Steiner in 1924.  Steiner was a member of The Theosophical Society and hung out with the infamous Madame Blavatsky, a great con artist, medium and holder of many séances.  Like Madame Blavatsky, Steiner also spoke with the dead.  He created The Anthroposophy Society and gave the lectures that became the bases for Biodynamic farming. He also created the Waldorf School system. 

 Instead of rigorous research, Steiner used “intuition,” “perception” and “Spiritual Science” to formulate his theories.   Here’s what Steiner said about peer review:  “As far as I am concerned, spiritual-scientific truths are true in and of themselves, and do not need to be confirmed by other circumstances or external methods” and “Direct perception reveals what I have just described.”

 You think I was talking smack at Biodynamics? Get a load of what Steiner thought of Science?

  • “… for today’s superficial science.”
  • “But that is the case with any science that chooses to take into account only physical things; it only understands corpse.  In reality, however, oxygen is the carrier of the living ether, and this living ether uses sulfur to gain control over oxygen.”
  • “Take for example the scientific absurdities…”
  • “These things cannot be dealt with effectively by the science available today.”
  • “The type of experimentation current today is not real science; it is merely a recording of individual phenomena and isolated facts.”
  • “but what does today’s science do?  It takes a little glass plate and puts a carefully prepared something-or-other on it, gets rid of everything else and peers at it through something called a microscope.  That is the exact opposite of what we ought to be doing…”

 Steiner rejected science and created “spiritual Science” to suit his needs.  Steiner’s beliefs are in direct opposition to all of the sciences such as astronomy, botany, biology, zoology, anthropology, geology, plant physiology, plant pathology et al. 

 Science and Biodynamics are mutually exclusive.   Thus, to believe in Biodynamics, you must accept Steiner’s “Spiritual Science” and reject modern science.  I’m hazarding a guess, but I don’t believe that most biodynamic supporters understand this dilemma they’ve gotten themselves into.  The only way that I can see out of this dilemma is intellectual dishonesty or by accepting Biodynamics on faith, thus making it  a religion.

Stuart Smith


June 22, 2010

I’ve been doing this blog for just over three weeks; it’s been challenging, I’ve learned a lot and I had no idea of the storm I would create.  However, I am pleased that a debate over Biodynamics has broken out at Tom Wark’s FERMENTATION , wineberserkers, Erobertparker.com, West Coast Wine Network, and of course here. Debate, however heated, is always good.  IMO, hostilities always give way to reasoned discourse.  BTW, I do apologize to those who took offense; blogs must be first and foremost entertaining and fun.   I sat on this blog idea for over six months because I was very concerned over a particular group of Biodynamic supporters – please don’t take too much offense with my label for you – but you’re a group that I call the “true believers.”  To the charlatans and the marketers to the gullible I say you’re fair game and I’m going after you, unfortunately I can’t separate you out from the true believers.  To the true believers in Rudolf Steiner, let me say it gives me no joy to debunk something in which you believe so fervently, but I believe, as strongly as you believe in Rudolf Steiner, that you are wrong and that I see this as my civic duty, my good turn, my mitzvah, to provide an alternative view of Biodynamics.  Regardless of my views on Biodynamics—and it may not be much—but please be aware that I capitalize and completely spell out Biodynamics out of respect for your beliefs.

 I knew I’d be crucified by one element in this debate, and that has come to pass, and in some ways that’s the most entertaining for me – and if you have to ask why it’s entertaining, you’d never understand the answer.  Clearly the blog has created a pressure relief valve for those who believe as I do.  Some of the supporting comments humble me with the authors’ knowledge of Biodynamics and their articulate style of writing, for which I’m very grateful – I tend not to respond as much to you, because your logic is mine and/or  I wish I’d said it myself.   Those who disagree with me and are willing to engage in discussion are both the most challenging and the most troubling.   Challenging because you push me to defend what I believe, which I love to do, and also because you bring such a foreign thought process to the table, foreign to me anyway.  Troubling because the way we process information is so different from one another and that this maybe a gulf that can never be bridged.

 I boxed in college and alas, the bell is about to ring and I must move back into the center of the ring. 


Stuart Smith


June 20, 2010

 One of the main tenets of Biodynamics is that their vineyards will be healthier and thus able to ward off diseases.  In a recent Wine Spectator story Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti stated, “What we are interested in biodynamie is the use of plants to fight mildew. [This] helps to diminish in some years the use of copper, which unfortunately is the unavoidable way in organic cultivation to fight mildew.”

 From  “Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of AGRICULTURE” by Rudolf Steiner, published 1993 from the Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association, Inc. – page 128, lecture six, on disease control, originally given on June 14, 1924:

         “Let us assume, however, that the Moon’s influence is too strong, that the soil is overly enlivened.  In this case, the vitality works up too strongly from below, and something that should occur only in seed formation starts to happen earlier.  When the vitality is too strong, it doesn’t reach all the way to the top; its very intensity makes it start working lower down.  Thus, because of the effect of the Moon, there is insufficient force for seed formation.  The seed incorporates a kind of dying like into itself, and through this dying life a kind of second ground-level is formed above the level of the soil.  Although there is no actual soil up there, the same influences are present.  As a result, the seed, or the upper part of the plant, becomes a kind of soil for other organisms.  Parasites and all kinds of fungi appear – blights and mildews and the like…  Direct perception reveals what I have just described.”

         “So what should we do now?  We need to relieve the soil of the excessive lunar force; we need to find some way of reducing the water’s mediating capacity, of giving the soil more earthiness of the water that is present does not absorb the excess lunar influence.  We accomplish this – though outwardly everything remains the same – by making a fairly concentrated tea out of Equisetum arvense, which we then dilute and use as a kind of liquid manure on the fields where we want to combat blight and similar plant diseases.”


QUESTION: “Can these methods for alleviating plant diseases be applied to vineyards too?

STEINER: “I can only say that I am convinced that the vineyards could have been protected (from Phylloxera devastation) if people had gone about it in the way I have indicated.”

 QUESTION:  ‘What about downy mildew?”

 STEINER: “That can be treated just like any other blight.”

Was Steiner right, does using a tea made from Equisetum arvense prevent disease like powder and downy mildew?  What about other diseases like measles, oak root fungus or even Eutypa?   If the answer is yes, I will immediately convert to Biodynamic farming.                                                                                                                          Stuart Smith


June 16, 2010

Some years ago I began sensing that America was moving away from embracing science.  I read that fewer students are taking science classes both in high schools and colleges.  It seems to me that consumers are more accepting today of outlandish claims for food supplements, health products and cures for all sorts of ailments.  Anecdotal testimony by actors, neighbors or co-workers carry more weight than what doctors tell us. We’ll run off to an acupuncturist because, as the new age generation, the old and esoteric practices are assumed to be best.  Just look at the controversy over children’s vaccines which “cause” autism.    While serious science in America is moving ahead with marvelous achievements, the contrary seems to be happening within our culture.  I started saying to my friends that Americans appear to be moving forward into the 21st Century by returning to the dark ages, as far as science was concerned.  

 In my world of wine, Biodynamics began to become more visible and seemingly leapfrogged over organic farming as the absolute greenest of all farming techniques by claiming that Biodynamic farming is the “Rolls Royce of organic farming.”   For many years I had a laissez faire attitude toward Biodynamics – didn’t know much about it and didn’t care much – live and let live.  If Biodynamics got the farmer to put more foot prints in the vineyard that was fine with me – more attention to vineyard farming details is always good.   Yes, Biodynamics is a little kooky, but so what— no harm, no foul!

 But that started to change in recent years.  As of 2008, it was reported that there are over 3,500 biodynamic producers in over 40 countries, a very impressive number, along with some very well-known wineries including Domaine de La Romanee Conti, Domaine Leflaive, Domaine Leroy, Grgich Hills, Quintessa, Joseph Phelps, Araujo, Benziger, Qupe.  But what really caught my attention were the claims that Biodynamic  soils were “alive,” that the vines were healthier and can ward off infection better and that the wines made from those grapes more precisely expressed a sense of place and thus the resulting wines were better.   Better than what you ask?  The clear implication was that Biodynamic soils, vineyards and wines are superior in every way than everyone else’s soils, vineyards and wines, and in my book those are fighting words. I didn’t ask for this fight, it came to me – it reminds me of the movie High Noon, re-set into the 21st Century. 

 I now realized that Biodynamics is the poster child for what was bothering me; what happens when a society doesn’t educate its citizens well enough.

Stuart Smith