Thursday, 15 April 2010

Some thoughts on Biodynamic viticulture

I was lucky enough to sit through a talk given by Nicolas Joly on the subject of Biodynamism on Tuesday (courtesy of Dynamic Vines and Frederic Grappe), and this prompted me to give the subject considerably more though that I have done in a while.
Firstly - I believe that where conventional chemical based agriculture is taking us with regards to wine and the truthfulness of possible expression of terroir is essentially untenable.
I think that biodynamic wine growers are at the forefront of morally acceptable viticulture and are (at the moment) making almost all the wines that I find myself truly excited about tasting.
However I have several reservations regarding the fundamentals of the biodynamic philosophy.
Whenever I listen to people talk about biodynamics there is usually a degree of romancing the past, harking back to a time when growers worked in harmony with the soil, when wines truly expressed their place etc. I very much doubt this was the case. Almost all the times I hear this kind of rose tinted reminiscence I'm extremely dubious.
The Steiner school of though grew out of the teachings of Rudolph Steiner who was a very interesting person, his views on teaching are very admirable, but there is a lot of spiritualism and romantic philosophy threaded into his work. Late on in his career he prepared a series of lectures on agriculture. Given that he was not a farmer I think that he was applying a series of beliefs and principles to another field. When you read through the list of preparations and treatments that biodynamics proscribes this becomes clear.
I have yet to see anyone really test the efficacy of any of the individual treatments, presumably this is because for biodynamics to work fully it needs to be adopted in a holistic fashion. I do understand this, however I can never quite escape the feeling that there is probably a core of really interesting and usable material at the heart of the teachings, but that it is too often dressed up in a lot of unnecessary and extraneous cladding.
That said, I do think that it is the best alternative currently available for conscientious viticulture. It respects the fact that viticulture, indeed agriculture exists within a very complex interlinked web of influences, and that many of these may be too small to identify but yet are still very important within the totality of the system. However I believe that the underlying philosophy is essentially a misunderstanding of these complex linkages, that has brought together a mish mash of spiritualism, astrology, a pagan reading of several different religions and a wishful reworking of the mediaeval doctrine that god shows us the essence of things through their shape and design.
rant over...