Last weekend, I attended a long anticipated biodynamic wine conference in France/Switzerland, just a couple hours away from where I am in here, in Nancy. I received a research grant from Lewis & Clark College after much toil so that I could join my professor, Deborah Heath (an anthropologist whose work concerns the study of agricultural practices in the domain of French, Canadian, and American gastronomy, including foie gras and wine products). What an experience it was! I have to admit, I was a bit “over my head” when it came to the vocabulary, especially since the entire conference was bilingual in either German or French. Regardless, I took a lot away from the conference after observing and listening to the wine producers speak and collaborate over their practices with their sacred grape vines.
Around the turn of the 20th Century, the Austrian scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner took an integral part in founding the notion of anthroposophy, which some considered to be almost a cult at the time. Now, it stands as the basis for many of the processes in biodynamic agriculture. This movement was a response to humanity’s trend that led agricultural practices, as well as human intellect, away from an ecological balance. For grape vines for instance, plant cloning had become a prominent method in reproduction. This was ruining the potential to promote biodiversity among the plants in the vineyard, which led to widespread vine diseases such as ESCA. Thankfully, with the help of many intellectuals at the time who founded the principals of anthroposophy (which includes far more than just agriculture: medicine, ethical banking, music, art, and organizational development), biodynamic principals began to be used in the field. Now, producers (if they so choose) can become biodynamic certified, however many choose not to even if they are technically biodynamic. In general, one can think about biodynamics as being MORE than organic, since organic agriculture only dictates what the farmer cannot do in relation to pesticides and preparatory processes. Biodynamics goes a step further in prescribing exactly what should be done to the crops on certain days of the year.
Biodynamic viticulture includes a series of changes that must take place when transforming one’s vineyard from a conventional one. Most of these changes include promoting biodiversity in the vineyard to create resistance to disease, pests, etc. Read more about it on this fascinating method on this website, which is the site for one producer who was at the conference and gave a great presentation on his farm’s work that reaches beyond just wine to create a wholesome polyculture. Although these practices are actually quite old, the renewal and structure of such intellectual ideas in conjunction with anthroposophy is absolutely mind-boggling! I highly recommend reading the links I provided above to better acquaint yourself with these notions. Perhaps you would even be interested in doing some of this in your own garden at home!
Also, take a look at these links:
When we weren’t working in workshops with the other vintners and wine affiliates to discuss the processes of cultivation from the time of a seed, we learned about the preparations of the vine. In biodynamic viticulture, these preparations take the place of what one might call “pesticides,” however, many would argue that these preparations do much more than simply ward off vine “predators” with chemicals. These preparations are almost like potions. Each one is brewed and often heated. One must begin stirring at a certain moment in the day (often times just after the first light of the morning sun is seen on the horizon). These preparations can include interesting ingredients like cow manure as well as the bladder of a deer (fun fact: one bladder will be enough to produce preparation for 1000 hectares!). I have included links below to show you some biodynamic vine preparations (each one is listed as a number from 500-507):
On the second day of the conference, we went to the famous Goetheanumin Dornach, Switzerland, which is the home of the antroposophical society. Here, we learned about the history of Rudolf Steiner and other historical figures who influenced the movement at the beginning of the 1920′s and beyond. I have included pictures of this beautiful hillside arrangement of unique buildings, all of which reflect the ideals of anthroposophy. I have also included a picture of me at one of the many delicious wine tastings with my professor!