February 6, 2011

 Writing this blog has helped me better understand Rudolf Steiner and clarify the negative issues underlying Biodynamic farming.  I’ve always taken offense that the Biodynamic supporters claimed superiority with their “living soils,  healthy vines and better expressions of terroir,” and now I realize that they are also claiming that only through Biodynamics can your vineyard obtain its greatest potential and thus result in the most authentic wines.  It reminds me a little of the Christian doctrine that only through Jesus can you find salvation.  The clear implication is that if you’re not a Biodynamic grower your products are inferior and will always be inferior because you can never reach your vineyard’s greatest potential.  

I’ve taken personal offense at these claims and resent anyone claiming they care more about their vineyard’s health, soil and wine quality than I do.  But there was something more that I couldn’t identify and it left me unsettled.  Personal indignation is all fine and dandy, but I felt I was only half-way there.  That is, until recently when I recognized that what was bothering me was the divisive nature of Biodynamic farming.   By publicly claiming superiority they, de facto, belittle and ridicule everyone else’s farming methods and wine quality for not being Biodynamic.

 I can’t think of a better way to divide our industry than by pitting winery against winery and grower against grower – something I’ve never seen in my 40 plus years in the wine industry. 

 Here’s a section from my opening remarks at the Unified Symposium that deals directly with this topic:

       “Historically, the wine industry has been a friendly industry; we help one another and work together to solve problems – like most farmers do.  But that’s not the case with Biodynamic farming:  Biodynamic promoters claim superiority and not so subtly put down conventional winegrowers. ”

“Here’s what the Demeter website says under the heading “How do Biodynamic wines differ from conventional wines?”

      “The primary distinction between Biodynamic and conventionally grown wines is that Biodynamic grape growing develops the vineyard’s greatest potential – allowing the vineyard to be the best it can be – and then captures that distinctiveness in the bottle.  You will often hear Biodynamic winemakers say that their goal is to make the best wine by making the most authentic wine.”

“Here is another quote from the April 2010 NorthBayBiz magazine article written by Kevin Morrisey, the president of Ehlers Estate Winery:

       “Does it make better wine?  Of course it does – not because it’s certified organic, but because organic and Biodynamic farming is being used.  By ridding the vineyards of chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers, and by building healthy soil … we grow healthier and more balanced vines which, along with great terroir, gives us better wine.”

 And Mike Benziger famously says that “Biodynamics is the Rolls Royce of organic farming.”

 What’s next – if you’re not a biodynamic farmer your vineyards are dead and your wine stinks?  Is this the future we want for wine marketing  –  trashing your neighbor and his wines?”   I was recently visiting one of my distributors and when this subject came up I was told that they often hear in their Friday morning sales meetings how Biodynamically grown grapes are superior and that Biodynamic farmers care more about the environment than conventional farmers.  Nice touch for a once friendly industry!

 It’s the “Big Lie” concept all over again that Biodynamic farmers care more for their environment than all other farmers.  Biodynamic farmers do not have a monopoly on being environmentally sensitive farmers and I’m sick of hearing this lie from quasi-supporters, that goes something like this “Yes, Rudolf Steiner is a little wacky and maybe even a nutcase, but at least I know that Biodynamic farmers care about the environment and tread lightly on the land, and that’s good.”   To me, that’s bunk, because it’s not true!   I care for my vineyard, my soil and my environment as much or more than anyone else and I resent those who claim otherwise.   But what I really resent is that Biodynamic farming is attempting to divide our industry, an industry that I love and have spent 40 years of my life working in, just to get a marketing edge.  That’s shameful.

 Stuart Smith