I went and it was painful – both physically and mentally. Eight hours on old fashioned metal folding chairs and then listening to a love fest for all things Biodynamic. A very good lunch was catered by the Silverado Brewing Company, but they didn’t bring their beer — that I desperately needed.
Good for Demeter USA to have a sold out event with almost 200 folks in attendance and for snookering the University of California into violating their ethics pledge and sponsoring this event. While I think Biodynamics is bogus, I have to tip my hat to Demeter for a well thought-out and well executed event. There is absolutely no question, it was a sales and marketing event for Demeter USA to sell their product, Biodynamic farming. There was no balance to the presentation; it was Biodynamics and nothing but Biodynamics. The speakers did a fine job presenting why they were involved with Biodynamic farming and one of the speakers even said “I flew here from Oregon because I want other people to do Biodynamics.”
I can say without any reservation that Demeter USA should have been the sole sponsor. UCCE clearly violated their own code of ethics by being a sponsor – shame on the University for their poor judgment. Dr. Andy Waterhouse (Chair of the Dept. of V & E, UC Davis) was there and asked my friend if he was a Biodynamic supporter and mentioned the controversy. My friend said that he was not, that he was there for a client and that it was wrong for the University to be sponsoring this event. Dr. Waterhouse skulked away.
Elizabeth Candelario, Marketing Director for Demeter, made it clear in her opening remarks that “Biodynamic farming is just sound farming” and while you shouldn’t embrace Biodynamic farming for the marketing, she pointed out that consumers, retailers and the media want more Biodynamic products. She clearly knows how to bait a hook. She also invited and I would assume comped Wilfred Wong, Cellarmaster of BevMo, and several sommeliers. Again, a smart outreach to those who can help the pull-through of Biodynamic wines.
Later in the morning Glenn McGourty, Farm Advisor for Mendocino and Lake Counties, gave a presentation that went way over the line and made me apoplectic. Mr. McGourty didn’t just talk about Biodynamic farming in an impartial and detached way; he clearly believes in Biodynamic farming and promoted it as the superior farming paradigm. He talked about operating in the “post petroleum world” and how to comply with the Demeter USA Farm Standard – as though he were the expert on compliance standards. Mr. McGourty was a co-author of a 2005 paper that found not difference between Organic farming and Biodynamic farming, but he never mentioned it. When not on stage, he sat at the front table with Elizabeth Candelario (facing the stage). I went to Berkeley during the 1960s and saw a lot of ugly things, but in its own way this was one of the ugliest things I have ever seen my University do – it was embarrassing and flat out wrong. If I had the power, I would have fired Mr. McGourty on the spot! And, I suspect that Demeter would hire him in a nano second as one of their compliance inspectors or for marketing.
After Mr. McGourty was a panel discussion on pests and diseases for the Biodynamic farmer which included Dr. Monica Cooper. Several of the panel spoke before Dr. Cooper and talked gibberish about pest control that I could see made Dr. Cooper uncomfortable and shrink into her chair. When the moderator turned to Dr. Cooper he said to the audience “Dr. Cooper will now talk about pest management under the (Demeter) Farm Standard.” Not so quick, Mr. Moderator. Dr. Cooper went on to give a nice, pleasant little talk about the ecology of invertebrates and never, not even once, did she mention or utter the word “BIODYNAMICS” or it’s Farm Standard or give even the slightest hint that she had an opinion on Biodynamics – good or bad. Well done! You may have been snookered into sponsoring this event, but you stood your ground with an unbiased presentation. But she looked a little lower in her chair.
Next were a couple other panelists, including the Preparations expert who admitted that he was a sculptor and didn’t really know anything about farming but was doing research and testing on the Preparations. One attendee asked if you could control mildew by using only the preparations. There was unanimous agreement by the Biodynamic panelists that no, you had to use sulfur or other fungicides. Another attendee asked the panel if “ashing” of pests worked? The panel hemmed and hawed and then an attendee spoke up and said he’d had pretty good results ashing yellow jackets and some other insects, but that it didn’t seem to work on larger creatures. Dr. Cooper is a scientist and this is an area of her expertise and when I looked back at Dr. Cooper she seemed even smaller in her chair and reminded me of that movie Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. As far as I can tell, Dr. Cooper left the building immediately after that session.
After lunch Ginny Lambrix, Winemaker for Truett-Hurst, gave a nice talk on Science and Biodynamics which probably was successful for those who don’t know much about science and Biodynamics. However, she easily slipped from saying a particular study “suggested” a Biodynamic superiority to the “evidence” showed … To her credit, she mentioned what she called the Achilles Heel of Biodynamics, which are exotic pests. Since there has never been any connection with these exotics in the past, the natural defense mechanism cannot be expected to be able to mount an effective defense. This is a new and a refreshingly honest admission.
The only thing I found interesting in the afternoon session was that Demeter now certifies wineries. I didn’t know this. To be a Certified Demeter winery, you can use up to 100 PPM of Sulfur, you must use native yeast, you cannot add acid, sugar or enzymes, and Reverse Osmosis and the Spinning Cone are prohibited. The only question I asked all day was, “is it OK to add water to the must?” First the answer was no, but then the speaker said yes, it was OK to add water. Can’t add acid, yet it’s OK to add water – seems strange to me.
There was a wine tasting of various Biodynamic wines at the end, which were all nice, yet confirmed to me that acidulation should be allowed.