“Some in the community don’t believe in immunisation. They would rather listen to gossipy hearsay, the views of a quack posting on the internet, or a noisy anti-science evangelist than the considered and researched opinions of just about every doctor and concerned scientist in the world.”
The above quote appears in the Oct/Nov issue of the recently rebranded wine magazine, James Halliday’s Wine Companion, now known simply as, Halliday. It was published in the ‘Opinion’ section, where advocates and critics offer a “for and against” argument to any given question, usually to do with wine. It was written by experienced Australian wine writer Ralph Kyte-Powell in response to this question…
Is biodynamic farming all hype, or are there merits to this method?
In the second paragraph of Kyte-Powell’s argument against biodynamic farming, he writes, with regards to Rudolf Steiner,
“On the matter of race, Rudolf says that ‘blonde hair actually bestows intelligence’. On Jews he claimed that ‘Jewry as such has outlived itself for a long time. It does not have the right to exist in the modern life of nations.”
“He saw the Aryan race as the natural leaders of humanity…”
Now, I cannot vouch for Rudolf Steiner’s potential for racial interpretations of his work and writing, whether they’ve been taken out of historical context, or not, and nor will I excuse them, if they are, indeed, found to be true – You can read a few critiques of Steiner’s Anthroposophic philosophy’s here, here and here.
I also won’t defend the idiocy of anti-vaxxers refuting decades of informed science to not have their children immunised against easily preventable diseases like measles, mumps and rubella.
The thing is, these arguments are just, simply, not relevant to the question.
Kyte-Powell’s argument is a red herring, whether it was intentional, or not. It distracts and misleads the reader from a relevant and important question that ought to be discussed more thoughtfully in mainstream publications, like Halliday. Especially, given the recent interest in sustainable forms of farming, such as biodynamics, and their present role in food and wine.
If Kyte-Powell really wanted to discredit the merits of biodynamics as a worthwhile farming system, all he has to do is point to the lack of scientific evidence that supports this method as being a credible alternative to conventional, that is synthetic, chemically based, farming.
Which, to be fair, he does do – eventually – but, albeit briefly…
“Scientifically researched proof of his ideas may be thin on the ground, but biodynamics has received a fillip by the more recent incorporation of the ideas of organic agriculture into the biodynamic overview.”
The truth is, there is nowhere near as much scientifically researched, evidence based, information about biodynamics as a credible method of farming – whether it be grapes, cows, or corn – as there is for more conventional practices, which rely on mass produced, synthetic chemical versions of pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides (and, I’ll leave you to figure out why that is). A lot of the information surrounding the potential benefits of biodynamics is largely anecdotal, coming straight from the wine growers’ mouth. Winegrower’s like Vanya Cullen, James Millton, or Aubert de Villaine, who are all well-known for producing a pretty decent drop of wine, every now and then.
Biodynamics’ conflict with mainstream science is well-known, and is almost always pointed to by scientific fundamentalists whenever a discussion over its merits, as an effective farming system, arise. Jamie Goode, who has a PhD in plant biology, has written extensively on the clashes between science and biodynamics, biodynamics and science, on his blog, Wine Anorak, and in his book, Authentic Wine.
In this blog post he cites a 2002 study, by a group of Swiss researchers, who found that ‘while biodynamic farming resulted in slightly lower yields, it outperformed conventional and organic farming systems in almost every other case’.
According to Goode, the study showed ‘greater numbers of soil microbes, and more efficient resource utilisation by this microbial community’. While it’s true that this study is now 13 years old, a more recent report, published this year, by PhD candidate, Christopher Penfold, from The University of Adelaide, working in association with the Australian Grape and Wine Authority, and Gemtree Vineyards in the McLaren Vale, conducted a six-year investigation, comparing changes in soil health, fruit production, and wine quality, and found similar results to those from the 2002 Swiss study.
“Organic and biodynamic production led to improved soil quality, with more soil organisms including much greater earthworm populations. Wine quality was also improved,” (Penfold, C., 2015).
Biodynamic wines, in particular, were, ‘consistently described’ by winemakers in sensory evaluations as tasting better than their conventional counterparts.
“In the 2010-2014 wines ORG (organic) and in particular BD (biodynamic) wines were consistently described as being more rich, textual, complex and vibrant than LCON (low-input conventional) and HCON (high-input conventional) wines,” (Penfold, C., 2015).
This is an important point, because wine, ultimately, is all about taste, and anything that farmers can do to improve the taste of something, especially wine, has got to be a good thing. And, if it just so happens to be much less harmful to the environment and the ecosystems operating within it – in fact, actively creating, supporting, and allowing biological communities of all shapes and sizes to flourish and thrive – then, what an excellent value add that is!
At the very least, surely, it is logical for anyone who ‘genuinely loves wine‘ to want to drink and taste as many wines as they can, which can be ‘consistently described as being more rich, textual, complex and vibrant’.
But, I digress…
The point is, yes, Rudolf Steiner wasn’t a viticulturist, but – to the best of my knowledge – no one has ever said that he was, not even himself. In truth, he wasn’t even a farmer! But, he did have a unique way of looking at things, informed largely by the work of Goethe (unofficial nemesis to the Newtonian perspective), which enabled him to develop a few unique ideas. When he was asked by a group of Austrian farmers to help them revitalise their soils, after the devastation brought to them by synthetic chemical substitutes, he synthesised his ideas into what we now know as biodynamics… bio, meaning life, dynamics, meaning energy.
Obviously, there needs to be more studies and more research conducted into the merits of biodynamics for being a credible alternative to synthetic chemically based farming. But, from what little research we have seen so far, the results are promising.
In the meantime, I think we should leave out the irrelevant correlations between practitioners and advocates for biodynamics with anti-vaxxers, as well as Steiner’s thoughts on blonde hair, and just get on with exploring and experiencing the vast universe of flavours, tastes, and complexities inherent in wine. Preferably, without destroying the environment (you know, the place where wine comes from) in the process.
D// – The Wine Idealist
Links and Further Reading:
- Sustainability, organics, biodynamics – new scientific perspectives on viticulture. – Jamie Goode.
- The relative sustainability of… viticulture. Report. – Christopher Penfold.
- Introduction to Goethean Science (Wikipedia)
- The racial teachings of Rudolf Steiner (Skeptic Report)
- Between Occultism and Nazism: Anthroposophy and the Politics of Race…
p.s. There is a great little article in the Oct/Nov issue of Halliday, about Silkman wines, from the Hunter Valley, written by me! The wines are not biodynamic, but, nonetheless, they are bloody delicious…