Tag Archives: Switzerland

Last Weekend’s Biodynamic Wine Conference in Colmar, France

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!

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Filed under Gastronomy, traveling

Catching Up 3/3: It’s cold here in Nancy!

Lastly, I will conclude my three-entry extravaganza with an account of my past week. Although it wasn’t incredibly eventful, I got my hair cut at a hipster coffer (“Carte Blanche Coiffeur”) and applied to the art school next semester in order to spice up my time spent in France.

I had often noticed this unusual shop en route to Place Stanislas that was situated in the old town of Nancy. Carte Blanche’s large floor-to-ceiling window displays a set of punk-hair stylists two chairs, two toilets, and no mirrors. It looked like a great place to get my hair cut! I went in and asked for a haircut the next day at 10:45 in the morning. I was so nervous when I arrived to get my haircut the next day since it was in the morning and speaking French in the morning is truly the worst for me! (I only function well at dinnertime usually, but only when I have spoken French significantly during the day). The guy who washed my hair after taking my jacket had a giant pink mohawk. He sat me down in the chair near the front, where I saw the toilets (not functioning, thank god) filled with hair brushes and scissors. After waiting a while as the other clients finished their appointments,  got to get a feel for the place as other clients came in to prepare themselves for their hair-cutting experience. The next available guy shook my hand, and asked me if it was my first time at the place. My response with my thick French accent (I remind you, it was the morning) marked me as a foreigner who probably barely understood what he was saying. He walked a 360 around my chair while messing with my hair, and then asked, “C’est parti (Shall we begin)?” as he turned on the buzzing electric clippers. Frightened that I would leave the place with another rainbow-colored mohawk, I quickly explained that I would rather he use the manual scissors to cut my hair. I wanted the sides shorter than the top and I was trying to get rid of the curls on the sides without messing with the length of the hair on the top.

“You speak French well,” he added as he began. I think he was a little sad he didn’t get to haze me or something. Nevertheless, I believe my haircut is one of the best I’ve ever received and well worth the 20-euro student pricing! Caitlyn even mentioned today this today during out weekly meeting  with the program director (not that I am always looking for Caitlyn’s approval, but she usually knows what she’s talking about). Of course, I don’t have many pictures yet to give an idea of how it looks, but stay tuned!

Since I am a little disappointed with the school system here and the lack of school stimulation, I have been working to expand my horizons in art (something I have always wanted to do and never had the chance, which I regret). Danielle, a girl in my group here, applied last spring to ENSA (École Nationale Supérieure d’Art), the art school in SW Nancy and got in as a part-time student with little experience in university art classes. I have none whatsoever. But I have been lead to believe that I can get in regardless just to receive some direction in my drawings. I sent in my portfolio of mediocre art I’ve been doing here and the woman, although she commented on my “weak” level, seemed optimistic. “I really just need some direction,” I assured, “and then I am sure I’ll improve quickly.” The semester starts in February and I’ll most likely be taking two art courses in drawing and one philosophy course. I am excited! I included a photo of a classroom in the school that is just perfect, I think.

On the first Wednesday of the month around 11 am and again at 11:30, there is a siren that goes off throughout the city that resembles the sound of the sirens during WWII. I finally figured out that this is normal throughout France (and Europe, I assume) and that all the citizens here are extremely used to it. It is as if the war never ended and there are still air raids flying over the German border into Lorraine. This is an aspect of the post-war society that still endures and now serves to warn the city in case of a large fire or dangerous event (most-likely a natural disaster, let’s hope).

Lastly, for the elections last week, I just wanted to touch on an amazing party I went to Tuesday night at the Political Sciences school with my speaking tandem partner, Antoine. He invited me to an all-night event from 9 pm – 6 am in celebration of the US elections! The whole room was filled with red, white, and blue as many girls sported American flag tights and some guys wore American flags on their shirts. The evening featured public speakers, student presentations, a band playing the American national anthem (three times at different speeds), an american buffet (complete with cookies, brownies, hamburgers, and muffins), as well as the election results on a projected TV screen!

This even was seriously impressive and quite moving. I think Americans should be more motivated to learn about the election results of other countries. In case you need to know, France’s  president is François Hollande (relatively socialist) and was elected last May against Nicolas Sarkozy (who was up for reelection, which can only happen once for a French president, just like the US). The French president is elected every five years, so next time, it will be in 2017 (for more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_presidential_election,_2012 ).

I have included a couple photos! Tomorrow, I leave for a Biodynamic Viticulture Conference in Colmar, Alsace with my professor from LC in Oregon. This has long been in the works and I have received a grant to defer the costs of transportation as well as the steep costs of the conference itself. I’ll even be visiting the Swiss countryside near Basel. For more information on what I’ll be doing, visit the links below (they are trilingual, much like the conference will be!)





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