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 BiodynamicsIsAHoax.com. 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.