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Thursday Thorns: The Report Card
BIODYNAMICS: Filet Mignon or Cow Manure?

By Charles Olken

I keep finding myself in the middle of controversies about biodynamics. I am skeptic at heart. I should
have been born in Missouri. I don’t believe in theories. I believe in results. “Show me” could be my
battle cry whenever I hear someone make a claim that they have found the cure for the common cold
or tells me that we can all stop using best medical practices because they are convinced that drinking
carrot juice is the answer to good health and long life. Or, in this case, that sprinkling a bunch of unusual
herbal and mineral blends on a vineyard, planting cowhorns filled with manure and picking by the
phases of the moon produce better wine. It all boils down to this. I have no argument that doing the
right things in vineyards is better for the planet. I have no axe to grind, no dog in this fight, no dogma to
defend. I simply want to be shown.

I have read the reports, talked to the vineyardists who love what they believe are more “alive soils”,
listened to lectures, attended seminars, read the books. The arguments are compelling—all the way
to the end when someone or other asks to see the results. And that is where it breaks down. There
have been no convincing results one way or the other that I have seen—until now. And, absent those
results, I had no conclusion save this. True believers are true believers. They take their beliefs in
biodynamics seriously just as very large numbers of people take their beliefs in God very seriously. True
believers believe. I know this is so because I recently asked Randall Grahm how he came by his belief in
biodynamics. His honest answer, “I don’t know Charlie, I just believe that doing things without chemicals
has got to be better”. So, I asked, “Isn’t this a little like religion”? His response, “I guess it is”. Now,
don’t get me wrong because I have never argued that religion is the opiate of the masses. I am neither
religious nor a-religious. I am neither for religion nor against it. I am for whatever it is the people choose
as their way of life as long as they don’t impose it on me or anyone else. So, what harm biodynamics?
Probably none whatsoever. So, what good biodynamics? Ah, that is the question.

Welcome to THE REPORT CARD where science talks and bullpuckey walks. I have just read a most
fascinating piece on the website, New York Cork Report,
. It is the fourth part in a long series of articles about
biodynamics, the part where author Tom Mansell finally gets around to talking about results. In the
earlier parts, also available by following the website to the other contributions by Mr. Mansell, there is a
fairly readable discussion about how biodynamics came into being, about the unrepentant skeptics who
refuse to believe and about what it means to follow the principles of biodynamics. Mansell lays all this
out in thousands of words, and I have barely scratched the surface in my comments above. I don’t even
know if I believe all I have read from Mansell, and I certainly think that one needs to see results from
more than one source before reaching any final and irreversible conclusion on the topic. Too many very
smart, reliable, solid people take issue with Mansell.

Still, the end of Part 4 is about results. It is about showing the world what one set of seemingly unbiased
scientists has found. If you want to know what all the fuss is about, you can and should read all four
reports to date. If you already know a bit about the concepts of sustainable farming, organic farming
and biodynamic farming, and you want the results, please go read Part 4. Chances are that the results

will not change your mind. It certainly has not changed mine irreversibly. But, there, in clear black and
white are the results as Mansell sees them through scientific studies published in reliable journals.

Is the concept of biodynamics filet mignon or bullpuckey? It is still up for grabs in some quarters because
biodynamics is not science. It is a belief system, and belief systems are often stronger than science.

I give this report my highest grade: A+.


Earlier this week, on his eponymous blog (, Steve Heimoff wrote an entry
called “Sayonara Chardonnay?” in which he reflects on the fall off in Chardonnay popularity in Australia
and the reduction in Chardonnay plantings in this country. I thought about using that blog entry for
today’s report card, but the Chardonnay picture is more confused than the biodynamics debate. For our
part, we see the slight reduction in Chardonnay as part of a greater overall reduction in white grapes
here in California—all of which has left Chardonnay with more of the total white grape plantings than
ten years ago. But, Steve hits upon the truth when he comments that the biggest change is in the nature
of Chardonnay—change that is producing brighter, fruitier, more crisply balanced wines like our Wine
of The Day. It is a Good Value and well worth the price asked. Here is our tasting note as it appears in a
recent Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine.

88 BUENA VISTA Chardonnay Carneros 2007 $19.00 GOOD VALUE
Clean, fresh, bright and citrusy, this attractive wine is endowed with plenty of energy from
first sniff to lasting aftertaste. It is on the medium-weighted, balanced side in construction and
comes with a fair bit of easy-to-taste, nicely rounded, lively flavor. Alive and zesty at the end,
this well-crafted offering provides a lighter alternative to the ripe wine style and does so at a
great price.


In The Middle
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:9/9/2010 7:50:34 AM
I fall somewhere in the middle here Charlie. I have found that many of the wines I enjoy are biodynamically farmed I willing to say that I would not enjoy them as much of they were not? No. Can't so I wont but I am of the school of, "Doesn't hurt"
The Middle
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:9/9/2010 9:32:19 AM
Thanks for the comment, Sam. There is no middle on this topic. Either one is a believer or one wants evidence. I want evidence--and the article published by New York Cork Report provides all the evidence that I need--until someone comes up with a scientific refutation of that evidence.But, I do get what you are really saying, and I agree with you. "Can't hurt", "does no harm", "no better or worse than plain organic farming" are not reasons to dismiss biodynamics as useless, stupid or fraudulent. You and I are all for doing well by doing good. And we do not denigrate those who practice biodynamics. Rather, and this is my point, my point of view, my bias, when the accolytes of biodynamics argue that BioD is the only route to heaven and then turn around and try to market their wines on the basis of biodynamics as if that practice alone made them better, then their arguments turn from filet mignon to bullpuckey--at the level that we are all supposed to genuflect in front of this pseudo-religion.The study seems to show that BioD is no better and no worse overall than organic farming. If so, then it is better than "doesn't hurt". It helps. It just does not rise to the level that its supporters would have us believe.
Devil's Advocate
by Tamara Belgard
Posted on:9/9/2010 11:54:38 AM
This is a fascinating subject and there is no perfect solution. There is definitely some voodoo agriculture associated with Biodynamics and it's easy to dismiss what we don't fully understand. But one cannot get around the fact the moon and gravity influence ocean tides as well as the water within all living things (look at the female reproductive cycle for support). So while there are some aspects of Biodynmics that may seem strange, using the moon as a guide for when to farm is nothing new and hopefully will be embraced by more than just Biodynamic producers in the future.On the flip side, when you suggest biodynamics can't cause harm, some proponents of organic farming would argue that Biodynamics can have some negative effects. For instance, it requires too many passes through the vineyard, impacting and compacting soils making them less healthy and creating dust and polution. There are definitely some benefits, but some unforeseen side effects as well. Great wines can come from many different ways of farming and it's up to the individual growers to determine what's best for their vineyard and consumers to decide what's ultimately best for them.
Compost is Compost...
by El Jefe
Posted on:9/9/2010 1:05:45 PM
hi Charlie - Congrats on the new blog!I went and read the NYCR article. I'm sorry but I think I have to "call compost" here. The conclusion of the first study said "No differences were found between soils fertilized with biodynamic vs. nonbiodynamic compost." - and all of the other studies cited had similar conclusions. Producing compost is simply encouraging the natural decay of plant and animal matter and thus creating a useful product. But even if we did nothing it's a process that's going to occur anyway. I don't read anything in the information presented that says that BD helps or improves this process. If anything these studies support the "doesn't hurt" position even more strongly. The microorganisms are happily chewing away whether or not anything BD related is present.On the other hand, Mr. Mansell in his conclusion says: "... when BD compost is applied to crops, it gives little advantage over organic compost." Nothing in the scientific studies cited say anything about any advantage for BD. That was just Mansell's twist.The results are indeed in black and white, and they say compost happens, whether or not BD is involved. BD doesn't help or hurt. We're still waiting.Cheers! - j
Is there better?
by Hugh Ammundsen
Posted on:9/9/2010 2:41:08 PM
May I firstly say that I enjoyed the reasonable, sensible and refreshing tone of your blog. I count myself among those wanting evidence, but not rejecting biodynamics out of hand either. There are two questions that bug me most, one of which comes straight out of your comments regarding the religiosity of many biodynamic (but not all) exponents. The first is why settle for the existing biodynamic prescription, the preparations etc; why act as if this is perfection and not continually search for even better? The second is the question of terroir, because if biodynamics is about a closed and natural ecosystem, why is one of its cornerstones the addition of non-indigenous substances (preparations) into the native ecosystem of California or wherever else in the world he grapes are being grown? Maybe there is a sensible answer to these questions. It would be nice to think so. Otherwise, should the evidence suggest there is something special about biodynamic wines, it could simply be that vintners attacted to biodynamics are, after all, simply people who not only care about the purity of the environment but also about the health of their plants.
No Subject
by Ron Washam
Posted on:9/9/2010 4:07:18 PM
Charlie,Welcome to the blog world, Puff Daddy. You can have my place in line. Here's my question. If wine scores and opinions are subjective, and I've read endlessly that they are either one man's opinion or one panel's opinion and not fact, then how can one "prove" that a BioDynamic wine is better than one that isn't, as you ask? Can one prove Mozart is a better composer than Andrew Lloyd Webber, who, by the way, writes music that is best used as compost. I'm too much of a satirist to not think of BioDynamics as further proof of man's blessed ignorance, and I agree with what you say about it being a faith-based practice. Hell, so is the Internet. Randall Grahm is fer BioD, Stu Smith is agin it. I like both their wines. It's their damn property, their damn product, I don't care if they play the accordion to their vines and bury old copies of WineX in the vineyard as long as the wine is good. Wineries claim BioDynamic wines are better, they claim unfined and unfiltered wines are better, they claim wines are better because they're on the same latitude as Burgundy, they claim wines are better because Parker said so. All unproven and misleading assertions. There's wine and there's marketing. In one of them there is truth.
In Vino Veritas
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:9/9/2010 6:16:55 PM
Well, Ron, you have stumbled into the truth. But you cannot prove it. I know that is right, but I cannot prove it. Perhaps we need a biodynamic pudding. I hear the proof lies there.
by Ron Washam
Posted on:9/9/2010 10:20:25 PM
So long as only the proof is in the pudding and not the manure of lactating cows. If anything, it simply annoys me that we even talk about Rudolf the Brown-Nosed Steiner.
by ThomasP
Posted on:9/10/2010 6:17:38 AM
In this, Charlie, we are completely synchronized.No doubt in my mind that the more we keep petrochemicals out of our food and drink, the better off we will be, but I also have no doubt about religious belief systems: they may not technically hurt, yet they offer the possibility of becoming too much doctrine and less reality.Ron hit the nail with the word "marketing." It seems that every innovation, every thought, every activity sooner or later becomes the domain of the hucksters, which is, after all, what sermons are all about.Incidentally, is there a way to have name and email saved in this software rather than have to type it in each time?
Lactating Cow Manure et al
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:9/10/2010 8:24:32 AM
Ron--One of the things that has always confused me about biodynamics is the need to use the manure of lactating cows. As far as I know, their manure stinks just like all the other cows.TomP--I thought, as I typed my name and address above, that you have stumbled into the truth--which is good because Ron and I are still looking for it.The answer to your question is in parts: (1) Not now.(2) Maybe someday.(3) Who knows? I would have thought that this small bit of wizardry would have been automatic. Oh well. Live and learn.
by ThomasP
Posted on:9/10/2010 11:10:44 AM
Charlie,Since we are on religion: What is truth?
No Subject
by Ron Washam
Posted on:9/10/2010 1:32:57 PM
Ah, Thomas, Truth is Beauty, and Beauty Truth. Oh wait, that's Booty. Same difference. Charlie, I assume it's the manure of a lactating cow because a lactating bull is hard to find. And if you do find one, chances are that ain't milk.

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