September 28, 2010

Two recent and interesting winery profile articles are worthy of note because of the vintners’ comments regarding Biodynamic farming.

 The first article, Cultivating a Cult Cabernet, in the  September 11, 2010 Wall Street Journal by Jay McInerney, profiles Bart and Daphne Araujo.   The elevator version is that Bart, a Harvard Business school guy with success in the construction industry, buys the highly regarded Eisele vineyard in 1991 and starts the Araujo Winery.   Keep in mind that McInerney singled out the first Araujo vintage, the 1991 for special mention.

 It’s always the case that what gets printed is only a fraction of the conversation that goes on between the winery subjects and the writer due to all sorts of issues such as what interests the writer, what gets deleted by the editor and how well the winery stays on their topic – or not.  So it’s impossible to tell if what McInerney reports was what the Araujos thought was most important.

 Here’s the point: in the article Bart says that because many of his favorite wineries in France were Biodynamically farmed he thought that he should too and so he became Demeter-certified in 2002.  Keeping up with the Leroys, Leflaives and the Chapoutiers is apparently a good idea.  Unlike many new vintners in the 1990s the “Araujo story is unique … in part because of their hands-on, fanatical devotion to it, and to every detail of grape growing and winemaking,” so I find it contradictory that “Mr. Araujo cheerfully admits that he doesn’t understand all of the intricacies of biodynamics.”  “But hey,” he says, “I’m a Catholic.  I’m used to making leaps of faith.”  So after dumping a bucket load of money and “fanatical devotion” onto the vineyards, the winery and marketing we’re all supposed to accept that the Araujos joined the Biodynamic community just to keep up with the Joneses.  Here’s another case of “Biodynamic speak:” the vintner admits to no real knowledge of Biodynamics but then makes the claim that “the vineyard is far healthier than it was 10 years ago, before the switch, and ripens earlier.”    

 From tasting all 20 vintages of Araujo wine, McInerney singled out the 1991 vintage as “especially complex,” a wine made eleven years before the vineyard became Biodynamic certified and “far healthier.”

 The second interesting article, Scaling New Heights, by Mitch Frank, October 15, 2010 Wine Spectator, is a profile about Alois Lageder from the Alto Adige area of northern Italy.  Mr. Lageder is the fourth generation to run his eponymous winery and began converting to Biodynamic farming in 2004 because “He thinks biodynamics offers the best hope for keeping vineyards healthy as the (global warming) temperatures climb.”   Lageder says “we must adapt now.”   I’ve read all of Steiner’s AGRICULTURE and as much of Joly as I can stand and I’ve never once seen any mention that Biodynamics was the cure for global warming.   Unfortunately, Frank didn’t do a follow-up question as to why Lageder thought this to be true.   Here is more “Biodynamic speak,” a ridiculous claim with no supporting evidence.  However, I must applaud Frank for being the first writer for a major publication (that I’m aware of) to present a more balanced view of Biodynamics with “The approach is not without critics, however, who point out that no scientific studies have shown it is any more  effective than organic agriculture at creating healthy soils and better fruit or wines.  They worry it promotes superstition over science.”   Well said, Mr. Frank!

 Another interesting quote: “Lageder needed workers who believed in biodynamics as strongly as he did.  ‘It won’t work if you don’t believe in it,’ Lageder says.”    

 Stuart Smith



September 22, 2010

 TODAY’S THE DAY!!! Preparation 500!   September 22, 2010 @ 7:28 A.M.      Burying cow horns on the Autumnal Equinox – SPIRITUAL MANURE!

Here is the very essence of Biodynamics.  Preparation 500 is the burying of cow horns, probably the most visible and controversial of the nine preparations.  To be a Biodynamic farmer you must be certified by Demeter USA, and Demeter USA is an absolute follower of Rudolf Steiner.  Demeter USA requires the use of preparation 500 and 501 at least annually.  There is no such thing as being “Biodynamic lite”.

 A Biodynamic practitioner obtains a cow horn, stuffs it full of cow manure and buries it on or around the autumnal equinox.  On or around the spring equinox, it is dug up and the “horn manure” is made into a highly diluted (homeopathic) spray that when applied to your fields enlivens it with cosmic forces. It’s all bull manure to me, but Biodynamic farmers like Mike Benziger claim they use Preparation 500 “because it works!”

 But don’t trust me; let’s go to the original material: What does Herr Steiner have to say during his Lecture Four, June 12, 1924, pages 64-74.  This is a longer post than most, and there are more quotes from Steiner, but understanding preparation 500 is at the center of Biodynamics and we should deal with it as completely as this format will allow.   But first, a note for Americans by Herr Steiner when he was asked the following question following the lecture:

 “Where can we get the cow horns?  Do they have to come from Eastern or Central Europe?”

 Steiner:  “Life in Africa, Asia, and Europe has a totally different significance than life in America.  So it is possible that horns from American cattle would have to be treated somewhat differently to make them effective.…”   (Most cows after three or four years of living in one place) “belong to that land, unless they are Western cattle.”³   Note 3 says “Western cattle may adapt more slowly because their bodies are especially “dense”; the bodies of human beings in America are described by Steiner as being “very, very, dense” (1921, Jan. 6).”


 “You see, if we want to manage things properly in the various domains of agriculture, it is certainly necessary to have insight into the way substances and forces work, and also into the way the spirit works.…  We must recognize that fertilizing must consist of enlivening the soil, so that the plant is not in dead soil…”

 “Have you ever thought about why cows have horns, but certain other animals have antlers?  Remember that I said that something living need not have (cosmic) forces that only stream outward, it can also have forces that stream inward.  What happens at the places where the horns and hoofs grow?  At these places the streams (cosmic forces) are especially strongly turned back inward, and the outside is particularly strongly shut off.  All outward communication, such as can occur through skin or hair, is completely ruled out.  In this way, the development of the horns and hoofs is connected to the form and development of the animal as a whole.”

 “Antler formation is something totally different.  In the case of antlers, the streams (cosmic forces) are not directed back into the organism; instead the antlers serve as outlets so that certain streams can be led outward for a ways and discharged there.”

 “A cow has horns in order to send the formative astral-etheric forces back into its digestive system, so that much work can be accomplished there by means of these radiations from the horns and hoofs.  So you see, there is something inherent  in a horn that makes it well-suited for reflecting living and astral influences back into the activity of the interior.  In a horn you have something that can radiate life, and even astrality. 

“Next let us take the manure, in whatever form is available, and stuff it into a cow horn, and bury it in the ground at a certain depth – I would say between ¾ and 1 ½ meters … You see, by burying the cow horn with the manure in it, we preserve in the horn the etheric and astral force that the horn was accustomed to reflect when it was on the cow.  Because the cow horn is now outwardly surrounded by the Earth, all the Earth’s etherizing and astralizing rays stream into its inner cavity.  The manure inside the horn attracts these forces and is inwardly enlivened by them.  If the horn is buried for the entire winter – the season when the Earth is most inwardly alive – all this life will be preserved in the manure, turning the contents of the horn into an extremely concentrated, enlivening and fertilizing force.”

 “Once the winter is over, we can dig up the cow horn and take the manure out of it… After spending the winter underground, the cow horn contains an immense astral and etheric energy, which you can now use by diluting the contents with ordinary water, which should perhaps be warmed up a bit.”

 “The next thing to do is to spray the substance over your plowed fields, so that it can really unite with the soil…. If you manage to supplement your usual manuring with this kind of “spiritual manure,” you will soon see what fertility will result.”      Underlining added

 I have three comments:

 1.  Why is it that I try to quote Steiner as much as possible and Biodynamic practitioners never do?   Because I don’t think anyone would believe me if I tried to paraphrase him.  Steiner’s words clearly and forcefully demonstrate a lunacy that  must be experienced firsthand to believe.

  Why do all the practitioners speak in broad generalities which I call “Biodynamic Speak” such as “yes, it’s a little strange, but it works because my vineyards have never been healthier or my wine has never been better,” but never speak directly to what Steiner said?  Because of what I call the TV test.  Could Bart Araujo, Kevin Morrisey or Mike Grgich stand in front of national television cameras and talk about  burying the cow horn so the “Earth’s etherizing and astralizing rays stream into its inner cavity? (thus)  The manure inside the horn attracts these forces and is inwardly enlivened by them.”  They’d look like fools, which is why they all utilize Biodynamic Speak and never directly quote Steiner.

 2.  Preparation 500, and the other eight preparations, have no history before Steiner.  I have not found any mention of burying a cow horn in past farming cultures or as ancient practices from past civilizations.  Supporters claim that Biodynamics is based on old farming practices, forgotten and abandoned with the onset of the industrial age.  As far as I can tell, these claims are false, because Biodynamics is completely the unique creation of Herr Rudolf Steiner.

 3.  I believe it is correct to call this animal sacrifice.  Not just any animal will do.  The horns shouldn’t come from an animal killed at the slaughterhouse, it has to be a cow, the cow must have given birth at least once, and it should have lived in the surrounding area for several years.  I assume the rest of the animal is used, but that is not the point.  A Biodynamic farmer’s protocol is to kill the cow for its horns and then ritualistically bury them in the ground for six months in the belief that it will make their crops grow better.

 So there you have it, preparation 500 and the very essence of Biodynamics.

Stuart Smith


September 6, 2010

I’ve been on a little hiatus with a short vacation to Ketchum, Idaho, a sales trip to Colorado, some long overdue yard work and getting ready to bottle. Harvest is still some ways off for us. Global warming seems to have skipped over Napa Valley since we’re experiencing one of the coolest summers ever. Harvest appears to be about three weeks late. The next 60 days or so should be very interesting – will it be perfection, heat, rain, or some combination of them all?

In the April 2010 issue of NorthBayBiz Magazine Kevin Morrisey (winemaker & GM of Ehlers Estate Winery) wrote a piece called The Vines Are Alive. The attitude and positions that Mr. Morrisey expresses are exactly what drove me to create This biodynamic practitioner’s moral superiority is maddening. Had Mr. Morrisey simply extolled the virtues of organic and Biodynamics I wouldn’t have bothered critiquing his article, but he is so dismissive and condescending to conventional and sustainable farming that I felt I had to present an alternative view. He also tries to steal common conventional farming methods and claim them as the sole province of Biodynamic ideology.

#1: Mr. Morrisey talks about Ehlers Estate Winery’s initial foray into Biodynamics as “cleaning up the land” and ridding the soil of “chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers” which he then claims makes better wine. Mr. Morrisey is emphatic on this point: “Does it make better wine? Of course it does — not because it’s certified organic, but because organic and biodynamic farming is being used.” Proof? None offered! In my experience, only Biodynamic supporters claim superiority over other farming methods and denigrate others while doing so! Yes, I’m hyper critical of Biodynamics, but only after reading one too many claims of Biodynamic superiority without any supporting evidence.

#2: It’s my opinion that most California wine grape growers are a savvy, environmentally enlightened group so when Mr. Morrisey refers to conventional viticulture as “industrial” it’s both demeaning and insulting. Yet that is just what Mr. Morrisey does when he tries to justify Biodynamic farming costs of 25 to 30% higher than the “nonorganic, more industrial approaches” to farming that the rest of us practice. Any wonder why a few of us are upset with Biodynamics?

#3: Mr. Morrisey is OK with the added expenses: “Yes, there are added costs –but what of the unseen costs to society, the planet and human health by not doing it?” Wow, here’s another slap in the face! His message is clear: Conventional and sustainable farmers are irresponsible members of our community and our recklessness is causing untold damage to the world!

Before making such grand pronouncements maybe Mr. Morrisey should have considered the possibility that his efforts to be green may have actually increased the size of his vineyard’s carbon footprint because of the additional hours his vineyard workers have to put in. Consider that more man-hours worked, means more man-days required, which means more commuting back and forth to work, thus more gasoline is consumed, more automobiles are required, more farm labor housing is required, more social services are required and it goes on and on. Analyzing exactly how a vineyard can best reduce its carbon footprint is new and complex. Being green in the vineyards isn’t as easy or as black and white as Mr. Morrisey tries to market it.

#4: Mr. Morrisey slides right over the wacky side of Biodynamics with “In addition to working with biodynamic preparations, we put a lot of effort toward managing cover crops and composts.” I’m not Biodynamic and I was working with cover crops in conjunction with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service starting back in 1975 to evaluate which cover crops work best for Napa Valley vineyards. I was one of the earliest vineyards in Napa County to go non-till 35 years ago and like many other vineyards before me, I’ve been returning our stems, pomace and prunings back to the soil since I began Smith-Madrone.

Mr. Morrisey, why do you think you have a monopoly on caring for the earth, the soil, the environment? The vineyard practices that justify your Environmental Merit Badge are practices that we “industrial” farmers have been incorporating into our BMPs (Best Management Practices) since before you got into the wine industry. Cover crops, green manure, compost, IPM (Integrated Pest management), sustainability and much more are all concepts used by many farmers whether they are conventional, sustainable, organic or Biodynamic. True, many of us who are conventional or sustainable do use Nitrogen “out of a bag” (which is processed from the air), but then you, like us, use sulfur dust which is a byproduct from oil refiners. Please don’t forget that sulfur is a registered Pesticide with an EPA Registration number that requires monthly reporting to the Napa County Ag Commissioner, as does the use of all organically approved pesticides. Unless you can tell me that Ehlers Estate has never filed a Monthly Pesticide Use Report your statement that you don’t use pesticides is false!

The nine preparations are really the only unique part of Biodynamic farming and I find it interesting that you failed to discuss preparations like the animal sacrifice (preparation #500) required of certified Biodynamic farmers or the stuffing of yarrow flowers into the bladders of Red Stags (prepartion #502). Or maybe you’d like to explain how the Common Horsetail tea spray (preparation #508) prevented mildew in your vineyards this year? I didn’t think so…that’s why you had to use a petroleum by-product.

If Mr. Morrisey hadn’t written his piece extolling the virtues of Biodynamics while at the same time denigrating others, I wouldn’t have anything to discuss or respond to…He threw down the gauntlet and I accepted the challenge.

Stuart Smith