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August 12, 2010

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This series should be a lot of fun indeed, Tom.

I'm always interested in hearing that people are introduced to biodynamics as a sort of Zodiac Organics(TM). Personally, I started hearing about it in terms of practical applications with concrete effects. For instance, I've used horsetail tea to save a crabapple tree in my backyard that usually lost most of its foliage by mid-August, and now keeps almost all its leaves up, scab-free, until actual fall comes. It worked - and works - extremely well. And I assure you I didn't check if it was a waxing moon in Gemini before spraying. Nor did I spray it while dancing naked, as biodynamics is sometimes caricatured.

That goofier side of biodynamics is something I could do without, quite frankly.

The fact that you seek to work out what empirically makes sense from some of the wilder assertions we sometimes hear - and not just throw the horn manure out with the horsetail tea - is praiseworthy in itself.

Can't wait to see where it takes us.

Remy:

I could have lived without that visual.

However, I'm curious about the horsetail. Steiner would say the plant is silica-rich (he erroneously claimed that horsetail was 90% silica), so it is associated with heat and upward growth (lifting force)... which could be good for a tree.
Apples are strongly associated with Jupiter, so it's possible that you applied it at a time when Jupiter was ascending.

Contrary to your experience, biodynamics, to me, has always been on the defensive. "It's not voodoo", "It's not religious", etc. Reading the original works and the works of modern standard bearers (i.e., Joly) has done little to convince me otherwise.

Tom,

I will be an avid reader of this series.

No particular requests now, as I expect you will cover all the parts of this phenomenon.

I'm remembering an incident with one of my dogs and the homeopathic path my wife chose to take, as the local vet wasn't being much help in anything other than lightening our bank account. As I looked into the homeopathic "medicines" she bought I couldn't help but wonder why such an intelligent woman would buy into something so obviously questionable--unless water is that important to curing all ailments.

It became clear that she was building a personal sense of well-being through hope, a psychological boost. That process of positive thinking, some say, has more power than we can ever imagine, but more likely on us, and not on something external, unless one believes in the power of praying for others.

Alas, we were forced to finally take the dog to the Cornell U. vet clinic, where our vet had been educated. It took them 10 minutes to diagnose and treat what was a case of mange picked up from our resident coyote crowd. The local vet tested for everything under the sun, moon, constellations, and elsewhere, but never tested for mange.

Incidentally, the homeopathic mixtures were supposed to cure everything a dog could contract--except: no mention of mange.

In anticipation of more on this subject from Tom M, readers might want to spend some time at

http://biodynamicshoax.wordpress.com/

Tom:

First things first. Effective grape fungicides accepted for use by the National Organic Program (and OMRI Product Listed)include sulfur, copper, mineral(petroleum) oil and hydrogen peroxide. All are synthetic materials and identified as such by the NOP and OMRI.

Sulfur is a by-product of crude oil and natural gas refining. It is not mined. Petroleum oil is a natural part of crude oil and goes through a complex refining process including two distallations and multiple exotic metal-catalyzed reactions to remove carcinogens (benzene, toluene, etc.) It is as "natural" as gasoline. Copper is open-pit mined, and purified through the complex use of heat in smelters and chemicals to purify it. Then it can eventually be synthetically transformed to copper sulfate, etc. Hydrogen peroxide is made from coal tar extracted from coal and put through a number of synthesizing steps to produce.

Conventional, sustainable, and organic viticulture (and therefore Biodynamic viticulture) depend completely on synthetic chemicals for vine disease protection. It is a simple fact. So I would suggest that at the outset of your exploration you state that this is the case so that none of your readers gets confused by your orignal definition of "organic".

If you look carefully on Nicholas Joly's website you will see he acknowledges his use of copper and sulfur for vine disease protection.

For the record, I have not yet defined "organic", but rather stated that all organic claims must be certified. I don't think I'm being misleading when I use Demeter USA's own definition of "biodynamic."

As their definition is worded, I totally agree that it is a bit sneaky:

"Biodynamic® farming is free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in the same manner as certified organic farming."

In short, biodynamic producers are held to at least the same standards as organic producers vis-à-vis pesticides.

That being said, it is EXTREMELY important to point these things out. It's no secret to growers that copper, sulfur, etc. are allowed by NOP, but most consumers are likely not aware of this.

So, certain synthetic pesticides are allowed by NOP (and, as Larry points out, necessary) in all forms of viticulture. But certain synthetic pesticides are not allowed. Interesting, no?

Biodynamic farming loses me when it starts to get into the ritualistic stuff like planting cow horns with manure, quartz, and composting with deer bladders. Otherwise, it's very similar to organic farming.

Tom and Larry,

Being a wordsmith myself, I love it when others find the buried agenda underneath the use of words.

"Biodynamic® farming is free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in the same manner as certified organic farming."

The above is a classic example of saying something with the ring of importance but is intended to obscure the facts instead.

It's fairly common knowledge that in the food industry, the word "organic" has been bent and stretched to the point of charlatanism. Why should wine be excluded from the wordplay game?

Anyway, Larry long time no see. How are you?

Tom,

Great Post and I look forward to this series.

I do understand bio-dynamic farming and it seems that it is "Organic Plus". I do believe in the who idea of the farm being one whole being. I, just like Chris, seem to get lost when it comes to the 9 Bio-dynamic preparations. I look forward to that part.

I do believe in the moon cycle and the elements of nature around us. I believe that they have been a part of farming for years. Alot of folk use the moon as a gauge as to when things happen and when to do things. That is after all how we first used to keep track of days long before we had a calendar.

And looking back, many years ago in the colonial times, there were farms that had livestock and grains. They used those for feeding their family. It truly was a Whole Farm Organism. And think about it, back then, what did they have to spray their crop with? I bet they did not even spray.

In my opinion, the basis for Bio-dynamic farming was around long long ago. Things were added to the philosophy but as the saying goes, "everything old is new again".

Nice post Tom. Looking forward to the series.

Putting aside the merits of Biodynamics, I submit that anything that must consistently be referred to with an ® after the name by its certifying body is immediately suspect.

Everything old is indeed new again. Including snake oil.

Tom...

I have questions and hopefully you can address them in future posts about this topic:

1)Is bio-dynamic farming expensive compared to regular farming and if so, on average how much more.

2)If one were to convert to Bio-dynamic farming how long would it take if they started today and how much if any is it cost prohibitive.

3)Is wines made in the bio-dynamic or organic way more or less expensive?

4) What is the sure fire way we can tell if a vineyard is practicing Bio-dynamic Farming? Stating it is one thing, but where is the proof?

Thanks Tom!

I think the pursuit of natural, organic, and especially sustainable agriculture is very responsible and moral, and a most honorable way to handle the crops. But, to confuse the real issues of vine health and fruit health which is based in science with the laughable ranting and raving of a well known lunatic like Steiner is insulting to thinking people everywhere.

I imagine we will be treated to the rundown of well known producers of fine wineries practicing Biodynamics like DRC, LeFlaive, Grgich, Zind Humbrecht, Arajo etc. but it will ignore the fact that these houses were already great before these practices.

Show me the moribund vineyard that was "revived" by a teabag's worth of burned bug parts, and teaspoon of good karma?

Tom:

I am well thank you. Hope all is good with you. Reading your book so I can see where I have gone wrong. Nice job.

Larry

Great post and likewise great responses.

With regard to the practices of agriculture past, there is no doubt that hundreds of years ago most farmers did not have to spray anything to control insects and diseases. The world however has changed a great deal. Since the onset of frequent and unencumbered international travel, both bugs and microbes have hitchhiked along with humans to infiltrate areas they had never been before. Both humans and plants have suffered because of this (smallpox and phylloxera being just 2 examples) and we have yet to see life brought back into balance.

It's nostalgic to believe that we can just farm like our ancestors did but for better or for worse we live in a totally different world with completely different problems. That being the case, it is my belief that we can have a system of agriculture that is better than what we have been doing over the past 100 years. However I feel strongly that in order to achieve this we need to look ahead and not backwards - to use our intellect and our ability for critical thinking to develop new ways of growing crops that are both economically viable, environmentally safe and socially responsible.

Richard,

What you say is, to me, absolutely true. But I hate to see a movement toward dramatically atavistic pseudo-principles, many of which are encoded in biodynamism (and I know you are not espousing them). Agriculture must change, but not in the direction espoused by charismatic dead crackpots. How can we go forward with this truism?

Peter's and Richard's brief back-amd-forth have more gravity (and earth-bound granite) and more seriousness than all of Steiner's pseudo-intellectual hucksterisms. I am so sorry for those who have fallen for the false hopes provided by already appointed "atavistic" arguments made by these biodynamic charlatans.

I think when we attack Rudolf Steiner as a person calling him a Lunatic or crackpot, or miss quoting him and taking his language out of context like the biodynamicshoax website sited here, we only insult our own intelligence. Steiner is one of the most influential philosophers of the 19th century aside from maybe Carl Marx and Nietzsche (whom he wrote a biography of later in life).

I think to put this discussion in context we have to remember that Steiner was born in 1861 in what was the Austro-Hungarian Empire. To us the time and place of Rudolf Steiner's birth would have been almost entirely alien and had changed little since the middle ages. He traveled extensively in Eastern Europe and in his writings railed the class system always calling the people, “the peasants”. His most influential book which everyone should read is “The Philosophy of Freedom’ which is more about spirituality and ethics. And more importantly Steiner wrote an essay "Education in the Light of Spiritual Science" in 1907 which is the basis for the Waldorf school system he helped found in 1919 which now has 1000 schools worldwide including here on Long Island and in Manhattan. His philosophy has been adapted to an entire holistic educational system with millions of graduates including some of the readers on this blog I am sure. His philosophy has also been adapted to Agriculture which is something he was very interested and passionate about while he was traveling and learning from ‘the peasants’. In 1924 at the age of 63 Steiner was asked by a group of farmers to give a lecture on farming in regard to the introduction of chemical fertilizers just invented in WW1 (specifically nitrogen) which was damaging there soils. Steiner passed on the knowledge he had learned from peasant farmer’s direct observation and oral history. Mostly focused on soil health, and soil ‘Preparations’ for fertilization and sprays, but he called them preparations not sprays because there was no sprays back then, or sprayers, or tractors, or combustion engines, or electricity, or ‘conventional’ or ‘Organic’ there was just 1000 years of farming knowledge in Eastern Europe based on observation of the seasons and natural cycles and use of local plants and animals to create a healthy holistic farming system. Steiner died the next year in 1925, He was not a farmer, never wrote a farming book, never wrote a word about grapes and only gave 8 university style lectures about farming. You can rip apart the language he used because it sounds spiritual but he was a philosopher and did not have the scientific knowledge we have today or know about the existence of things like soil microbes. Not to mention people spoke differently back then and the lectures were translated from German.

Tom I don’t know what the intention of your post is, not to mention the biodynamics hoax blog, and the myriad of comments made here. But I don’t see you writing a blog post questioning “conventional” farming or even ‘Sustainable’ which is completely undefined. When I was in collage for agriculture in the 90’s at UMass Stockbridge we were involved in writing the Organic code. With input from farmers, universities and the rest of the industry it still took 10 years to get a national organic standard finished. Whether you agree with every aspect of the standard or not, it is at least a standard, meaning you meet the standard or you don’t. Biodynamic standards in this country use the national organic standard for pesticide and fertilizers which is what this statement is saying, "Biodynamic® farming is free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in the same manner as certified organic farming."
“conventional” farming standards include anything the industrial bio-chemical companies can get the USDA to approve, even if they are manufactured or banned overseas.

About the farmers of old, it's true that they didn't spray, but they had knowledge - and some means - of pest and disease management, as the writings of Cato or Columella will easily show you about Roman times. And they also faced periodic catastrophic loss of crops that could have deadly consequences for the local population. Think potato blight or phylloxera.

Those realities certainly inform why humanity turned so massively to synthetic chemicals - with some measure of success, but also often dire consequences that lead others, today, to an equal and opposite reaction.

Indeed, as I've had the chance of discussing with many people, including Larry Perrine, organic or biodynamic cannot be given a blank check - as the oft-discussed topic of copper use shows. However, the people who brought you DDT and Roundup cannot be given a blank check either.

Overall, this whole question should not be about trademarked labels of one sort of another, but rather about careful, rational decisions about improving the soil, the ecosystem, etc., where you are cultivating.

And indeed, as Tom pointed out, the series is looking "to examine concrete observable phenomena related to biodynamic practices". Empirical data, whatever the approach, is what it should be all about.

Most educators and human development researchers have serious issues with Steiner as well. But that discussion is for another blog. His philosophy on education and his racially tinged beliefs on the development of humans can be easily accessed on the web...

Farmers have in fact been spraying their crops to control insects and diseases since at least the latter half of the eighteenth century. One of the earliest materials used was a natural substance found freely in nature and was probably more "organic" than many of the certified organic materials used today - arsenic. Arsenic and lead arsenate were used to control weeds, insects and diseases up until right after WW1 when its toxicity to humans was understood and the search for a replacement began.
I have read Steiner extensively - his ideas are enormously hard to digest for a critical thinker. Some of it reads like he was just making it up as he went along. I understand many of his disciples believe he was channeling..

To give him a pass however due to the time and place of his life does a great disservice to the truly great agricultural minds of the time - many of whom came years before Steiner. These were people who did the rigorous, hard work of scientific research and developed solid theories and provable, reproducible results - people like Gregor Mendel, Justus von Liebig, Louis Pasteur, and Luther Burbank to name just a few.

Here we go again!!

Whenever this topic has come up on other fora it has created a passionate debate. It seems to be the case here as well. What is always missing , as the emotions heat up, is a context to make it all make sense.
For simplicity how about being concerned with low toxicity and effectiveness and designing a program to achieve best results in both?
Over the years I have found that none of the three programs that we talk about ie conventional, organic or biodynamic, none of them alone provide the least toxic and most effecive way to grow grapes successfully on Long Island. And in fact there are alternatives to select from each and combine them into an effective and least toxic program. It may not be certifiable but if it is the least toxic and most effective what good are the certificates for?

What Charles is referring to is what is called "Best Practices", which naturally evolves over time as we continue to learn more. At this time it includes using cultural practices that reduce disease pressure (leaf removal) and the use of the lowest toxicity materials. If anyone out there thinks that there are "non-toxic" fungicides that effectively work in preventing annual grapevine diseases, they are dreaming. They have to at least be toxic to the fungus or why would a grower use them.

In addition, the belief that "sustainable" viticulture (or agriculture) is undefined is nonsense. Any serious look at the NYS Vine Balance program, the Oregon LIVE program and the Lodi program will put the lie to that. Works in progress, no doubt, but defined yes. And progressive.

The idea that a group (whether the USDA or Demeter)can proscribe a set of practices and suitable fungicide chemicals that includes copper and be taken seriously as environmentally sound, is dubious at best and probably just nonsense.

This is an ethically flawed situation that needs to be addressed formally and effectively by the USDA and Demeter. Simply restricting the amount of copper that one can use per season (as is done by Demeter and the EU)does not address the issue that modest, annual use of copper fungicides will inevitably lead to a toxic copper build-up in the topsoil, permanent damage to the soil micro-flora and the evacuation of the earthworm population. This is demonstrated clearly in the modern scientific literature.

Soil copper toxicity is a serious problem in France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, New Zealand, Australia and Italy, etc. Any system of viticulture that depends on copper fungicides to control Downy Mildew is destined eventually to this fate. It is only a matter of time. In New Zealand the average age of vineyards studied was 11.5 years and the alarm bells for copper soil build-up are already going off. It doesn't matter how many other good practices or intentions are in place. Copper is held permanently in topsoil (its soil half-life is 2,600 days, which means forever)and is toxic to microbes and earthworms.

Many of the softer materials not allowed by the USDA National Organic Program or Demeter but effective against Downy Mildew (phosphites, Revus, etc.) have soil half lifes of hours or a few days. The are bio-degraded.

And Anthony......please read my original post. The NOP and Demeter-allowed fungicides used on grapes that actually are effective (copper, sulfur, mineral oil, and hydrogen peroxide) are all SYNTHETIC, period, end of story.

The Demeter definiton Tom originally quoted and you repeated is fraudulent.

I challenge it. Right here. right now.

Biodynamic farming is not free of synthetic pesticides. It depends on them.

Larry,

The Demeter statement is not quite fraudulent; it's creative syntax. The operative creativity is here: "...in the same manner as certified organic farming."

That essentially interprets into "the same standards as NOP or NOFA or whomever certifies."

That's how you can speak the truth and neither tell the truth nor say something new at the same time.

In any case, if in his series (and he still wants to move on with the series) Tom can somehow enlighten the world as to why it is that such subjects take on the cloak of a religious nature more so than they rest on reasoned, scientific principles he will have done much to advance the discussion, but I don't know how much to change people's minds.

Changing a person's religious belief is among the monumental slogs in the universe, and so much of what I read and hear on this subject from wine producers and from ideologue couch coaches who write from their urban bedrooms sounds like religion to me.

Thomas:

The NOP identifies those fungicides as "synthetic".

Federal Register Vol. 75 No. 58
Friday, March 26, 2010

Department of Agriculture
Agriculture marketing Service
7 CFR Part 205

October 12, 2012 Sunset Materials

"The Crops Committee will review the continued exemption (use) of the following synthetic substances allowed for use in 205.601 that are scheduled to expire after October 21,2012, from use in organic crop production:....Hyrogen peroxide....Elemental sulfur....Copper hydroxide, Copper oxide, Copper sulfate....Horticultural, narrow range oils (mineral oil)...."

OMRI Generic Materials List idnetifies these materials as "synthetic".

Therefore Demeter is not being truthful in their statement

"Biodynamic® farming is free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in the same manner as certified organic farming"

The NOP makes no such claim. Demeter does and it is not true. If something is not true, and you state the untruth as part of your marketing of yourself, what is that called?

I think "creative syntax" doesn't quite cover it.

Best regards

OK, Larry, we shall disagree on a minute point of the intended language of the phrase "in the same manner as."

The message was obviously constructed by someone trained at PR obfuscation writing--it is a truism that doesn't tell the truth.

Your point, however, is well taken. The particular bent toward marketing, branding (and trademarking) in our culture leads to such practices and, sadly, while it is up to the industry to weed out the wheat from the chaff, it is largely left to consumers to find out what actually is and what isn't being said and sold to them.

It's consumers that I hope Tom's continuing series benefits, as I am certain he can ably point out the reasoned scientific facts behind or that dispute BdioD.

I have to say that I haven't read all of Steiner, but what I have read reminded me of the once touted mystic, Swedenborg, whose works I had read extensively as a young man and found to be, well, ghostly...

I think just about everyone agrees about the toxicity of copper. The good news is that a fermented version of phosphite is on the way to becoming certified organic for next season, giving us what will be an effective tool to control downy mildew and greatly reduce or eliminate copper fungicide sprays. Not to discount what has been proven about the toxicity of copper, but we have been monitoring the copper levels in our soil at Shinn for over 10 years, and with regular consultation with soil experts have yet to see levels that would cause concern. By the way, copper use is not exclusive to organic growers. Many NYS conventional and sustainable growers use copper as part of their resistance management spray program.

The NYS grape growing community took huge strides forward in developing the NYS Vine Balance program. We were one of the original vineyards to enter the program and learned a great deal about sustainability through the use of the self-evaluating handbook that is the centerpiece of the program. However, we believe the NYS Vine Balance program has no real teeth since it does not currently have third party certification or any hard and fast standards. Without an independent certifying body or real and tangible standards consumers and the wine industry have no way to determine at what level NYS wineries are sustainable.

“Grapes are among the most contaminated food products and receive a higher dose of synthetic pesticides than almost any other crop,” according to a March, 2008, study by the European Pesticide Action Network. The study revealed that conventional wines contained residues of pesticides potentially harmful to human health. All 34 conventional wines tested contained from one to ten pesticides, with the average bottle containing four. Of the six bottles of organic wines tested, five samples contained no pesticides and the sixth had one detected.

This year Shinn Estate Vineyards became the first Long Island winery to enter the National Organic Program and we hope to be certified in 2012. Although far from perfect we believe this is the best course forward for the immediate future of our farm.
NYS vineyard managers and academia have counseled us for over a decade that we would never be able to grow grapes profitably without the use of conventional fungicides, herbicides, and fertilizers. We do not agree and have chosen to move forward.

We have also begun working with Demeter to achieve Biodynamic certification. Demeter, like NOP is far from a perfect entity, but one that has offered us holistic solutions to viticultural issues. Treating our farm holistically is something that few if any have ever argued against, but take your best shot. We will not apologize for our effort to change the viticultural paradigm on our farm. We would be happy to share our experience with anyone who is interested.

Why don't we all settle down with our separate agendas (agendi?) and let Tom go on with his series?

I'm sure that each of his individual posts will offer enough for everyone to discuss.

Tom,

I reject the Demeter Biodynamic Trade Organization's assertion that "The Biodynamic method is distinguished from organic and sustainable farming methods by four key attributes..."

1. "A Paradigm Shift in Thinking: The Biodynamic farmer thinks in terms of forces and processes whereas organic and sustainable agriculture farmers think in terms of substances." While I agree that most non-biodynamic farmers pay little attention to the phases of the moon and cosmic resonance vis a vis their farming practices, biodynamics does not own the concept of thinking in terms of forces and processes versus substances. Science and years of experience for any conscientious grape grower have validated the less obvious benefits of sun light — a "force", not a substance. The UV rays contained in sun light will greatly reduce the viability of powdery mildew. Researchers at Cornell have documented this: "Growers have long observed elevated levels of powdery mildew (PM) in shaded areas of vineyards, but the causes have been poorly understood. However, in a recently completed five-year study, we found that sun-exposed leaf and fruit microclimates are unfavorable for fungal growth—likely because increased ultraviolet (UV) radiation and surface temperatures resulting from that exposure affect survival and growth of PM colonies. This helps explain why PM is worse in wet and cloudy years, on vines close to bordering hedgerows, and in vigorous, shaded canopies. Our results indicate that growers can greatly enhance their disease management programs by using appropriate canopy management practices to optimize light interception." (Go to http://foodscience.cornell.edu/cals/grapesandwine/appellation-cornell/issue-2/upload/Research-Focus-2.pdf to view the complete report). Similarly, wind and water (rain, mist, dew, soil moisture, etc.) are equally powerful "forces" that the conscientious grower most definitely factors into their thinking when considering what is the best course of action for raising their crop. Farmers have always had to contend with — and take advantage of — the elements. On the subject of substances, it must be repeated (I'm sorry) that one of the substances most biodynamic growers elect to employ is copper...

2. "The Biodynamic Farmer Uses All Nine of the Biodynamic Preparations: The preparations are made following very specific methods. They are numbered, and are used in very small quantities to homeopathically treat compost, soil and plants. They include #500 Horn Manure; #501 Horn Silica; #502 Yarrow; #503 Chamomile; #504 Stinging Nettles; #505 Oak Bark: #506 Dandelion Flowers; #507 Valerian; and #508 Horsetail." While I agree that these preparations are unconventional, there is of course nothing stopping any "conventional" grower from using them.

3. "Understanding and Use of Earthly and Cosmic Rhythms/Cycles: The Biodynamic farmer is attuned to the daily, monthly and seasonal rhythms of nature, for example, the affects [sic] of the new and full moons on planting seeds and plant growth" As I said above, I agree that most non-biodynamic farmers pay little attention to the phases of the moon and cosmic resonance vis a vis their farming practices. If anyone has any SCIENTIFIC evidence to share on the subject, please do so. However, it is nothing short of absurd and insulting to any conscientious grower that they are not "attuned to the daily, monthly and seasonal rhythms of nature". Any conscientious grower knows that morning and evenings tend to be calm and that the wind picks up as the sun rises higher and air temps climb, that as the days get longer and average temps rise growth will accelerate, that in the spring as the frozen earth thaws and then freezes again, then thaws and freezes again that mother nature is effectively massaging the earth and ameliorating ground compaction in a way that no subsoiler ever could, etc.

4. "Creation of a Whole Farm Organism: The Biodynamic farmer strives for this ideal, as described below. The farm depends on a minimum of input nutrients from outside the farm and, ideally, generates its own fertility through cover-cropping and the use of manure from animals that live on the farm." Again, this is common practice for many "conventional" growers. Biodynamics should not get a pass as if they own the concept.

That said, I do support and endorse the idea of standards and certifications, but they must be implemented and verified in the most ethical, honest and scientific way, something easier said than done.

For me, the proof is in the pudding. The wines of producers such as Zind-Humbrecht, Chapoutier, Joly, DRC, etc., speak for themselves. Some of these include the most authentic, memorable wines I've encountered. So in spite of the misinformation and disinformation included in the marketing of biodynamics, I remain open-minded on biodynamics because I've had too many wines of exceptional quality from biodynamic producers — and many that have been thoroughly underwhelming. However, my conviction is that the quality of these wines has everything to do with the conscientiousness and fastidiousness of the growers and much less to do with a Biodynamic® certification.

But wait, this comment is not over yet...Please allow me to share additional thoughts on the subject that I wrote in response to the same:

At Paumanok we practice viticulture that allows us to achieve our goal
of growing the ripest, healthiest grapes our vineyards can produce
while managing the vineyards in a responsible, sustainable way. In
general, we follow the program and principles of New York State's
Sustainable Viticulture Program set forth here:
http://vinebalance.com/ , by Cornell Cooperative Extension with whom
Paumanok has had a productive relationship since my parents planted
our first vines in 1983. We believe that the most important factor in
making great wine is starting with the healthiest, ripest fruit
possible. Growing grapes in order to achieve this goal and growing
them sustainably are not mutually exclusive, in fact, they are one and
the same.

At Paumanok, we manage our vineyard as sustainably as possible.
Simply put, we do not use any more inputs (crop protectants, micro
nutrients and fertilizers) than necessary to grow the ripest fruit
possible. We employ various IPM (Integrated Pest Management) tactics
to reduce our reliance on pesticides. For example, we perform the
following activities on the entire vineyard: manual-shoot positioning
with catch wires and clips to hold the shoots up straight, suckering,
shoot-thinning, fruit-thinning or "green-harvesting", hedging and leaf
removal in the fruit zone. All of these practices increase the vines
natural ability to resist disease (such as powdery mildew or downy
mildew) by allowing UV rays from sunlight to burn off the inoculum and
generally make conditions less favorable for mildew and other
pathogens by creating a microclimate within the vine that minimizes
moisture and allows it to dry quickly after a rain event by allowing
better ventilation. In any vineyard, but particularly on Long Island,
these activities are essential to give the vine its best chance of
naturally fending off pests such as powdery mildew which would take
hold much more easily and rapidly - and require more spraying - had we
not done these activities. We carry out these practices as
diligently, meticulously and thoroughly as possible. What does that
mean? For example, when we drop fruit, i.e., green-harvest, we don't
do it just once but repeatedly until harvest. Some vines may have
been visited four, five, six or more times (for green-harvesting
alone) to ensure that only the cleanest, most desirable fruit remains
hanging on the vine upon harvest.

We follow a philosophy of low-toxicity inputs, meaning given a choice
we would rather use a product that has the least environmental impact
and does the best job at protecting and ripening our fruit. This
includes, in some instances, selecting more benign synthetic
pesticides relative to more toxic organic (not an oxymoron) controls.
The best example of a toxic organic control is copper. Copper does a
great job at controlling downy mildew, but it is a heavy metal which
is something we would rather not spray as it will destroy our soils as
it accumulates in the soil over time. There are numerous synthetic
pesticides which are far more benign that we may opt to use instead.
Similarly, if there is an organic or biodynamic control that delivers
the best result in terms of efficacy in keeping the vine healthy and
offers the least environmental impact we may use that option instead.

Several of the pesticides we use would qualify for an organic program,
however, there are some grape pests for which we feel there is no
satisfactory organic control that we know of at this time, such as
black rot, phomopsis and botrytis. Given that grapevines must be
sprayed (if you know of a grower that never sprays their vines, please
let me know), our belief from day one has been to use the most
effective, least toxic material available regardless of whether that
product is labeled for organic or biodynamic use or not. This allows
us to ripen healthy grapes and minimize any impact to the environment.
Long Island's climate, relative to hot and dry wine regions, makes it
more challenging to successfully ripen wine grapes grown under an
organic program due to it's relatively greater periods of humidity.

We have invested in state of the art spraying technology. We use a
recycling tunnel sprayer to spray our vineyard. This sprayer greatly
reduces drift, and, as the name implies, recycles much of what would
have otherwise been lost as drift. This results in a reduced
environmental impact and improved profitability, two key pillars of
sustainability.

All of the above requires a great deal of commitment and hard work.
But it is an easy decision to make as it is rewarding on every level;
the same practices we use to grow sustainably are in fact the same
practices we use to grow the healthiest, ripest fruit possible. They
are one and the same.

We live on the property and drink water from our own well and thus we
have one more reason to be responsible custodians of the lands we
farm. My perennial barometer of whether what we are doing is
sustainable is the biodiversity in our vineyard: lady bugs, praying
mantis, dragon flies, earth worms, etc., are present in our vineyard
in abundance. As you probably know, some farms and vineyards actually
introduce populations of some of these beneficial insects as
biological controls. So the fact that we have them without having to
introduce them says to me that we must be doing something right. We
maintain a permanent cover of grasses and wild clovers and other
vegetation in the row middle and under the vine which create a habitat
for all the biodiversity cited above. Most importantly, the ultimate
measure of the success and sustainability of our viticulture and the overall health of the vineyard is evidenced in the lush green canopy of the vineyard, the absence of disease and rot, and, of course, the cleanliness, ripeness and character of the fruit and resulting wines, which speak for themselves.

Since the first vines were planted in 1983, Paumanok has been and
continues to be a leader in looking for new ways to improve the
overall health of our vineyard and the resulting quality of our fruit
and wines. The most recent example of this is our recent investment
in a new mechanical weeding implement (the latest in decades of
experimentation at Paumanok) that may allow us to completely eliminate
use of herbicides. Check out our Facebook page to see the video.

Also, renewable energy is another example of sustainability at
Paumanok. We were the first winery on Long Island to install solar
panels, a 10 kW system which has been operational since October,
2009. See our Facebook page for the video.

As Paumanok continues to experiment in the vineyard and improve on our
27 years of viticultural experience on Long Island, we will pursue
whatever methodology allows us to achieve our goal of growing the
healthiest, ripest grapes possible regardless of whether that method
is known as organic, practicing-organic, biodynamic, IPM, sustainable,
etc. There is only one dogma to which we will adhere:
GREAT WINE IS MADE FROM THE HEALTHIEST, RIPEST GRAPES OBTAINABLE.

I believe a third party certification process for sustainability is important and will eventually be in place for NYS. We are already beginning the work to accomplish this.

I think everyone is free to try and operate their vineyard and farms in ways that they feel good about - as long as its operating within the laws of labor, safety, environmental responsibility, etc. We are free in this country to practice any religion we choose. Because when discussing BD that is what we are talking about - it is not a legitimate agricultural practice but a religion. That is what has made it so difficult to prove or disprove. As with all religions however it starts creating issues when it claims itself superior and the only safe and successful pathway.

What I profoundly reject is the notion that if one is not certified organic or practicing BD then one is "conventional" and on the payroll of Monsanto. This is intellectually dishonest and it is exactly where sustainability fits in.

When confronted with dubious claims and incomplete language, the organic and BD supporters remain silent, content with positive press despite inaccurate and vague language. One could say that in the discussions between organics, BD and conventional, honestly is something often missing - from both sides. In comparison, sustainable agriculture has only been presenting itself honestly, describing an imperfect system as best it can.

What this discussion is bringing to light are some of the salient facts surrounding organics and in particular BD - both of which have gotten a free ride in the media for years. Its a healthy, intelligent exercise to look at this with a critical eye. We can only come out the better for doing this.

I have to say that I really appreciate the debate taking place on this page - and Tom's series hasn't even really started!

Beyond the differences in philosophy, I think Charles Massoud effectively summarized the central concern of all the growers that have commented here: "For simplicity how about being concerned with low toxicity and effectiveness and designing a program to achieve best results in both? "

Indeed, that should be the only concern, shouldn't it? With empirical evidence to back it up.

BTW, thanks to Richard for updating my knowledge of spraying practices - I'd obviously skipped a couple of centuries between Columella and industrial times. It's a good example on the impossibility of equating ancestral with beneficial.

Also, Larry, it is possible to work with volcanic sulfur which, in this case, is not a synthetic product. Several committed growers I know in the Roussillon found it very effective and easy to use.

Remy - I think what you are talking about and what Charles described earlier in this thread is what sustainability is all about. Sustainability is not beholden to an occult philosophy nor a government program that is clearly lagging behind the science. Rather it is using locally based research and proven principles for guidance and direction.

I'm not a wine grower, not a wine maker, not a scientist, not an agricultural philosopher.
I am a consumer.
And in between all this chatter, there is 1 paragrah that makes me take notice:

(from Kareem Massoud):
As Paumanok continues to experiment in the vineyard and improve on our 27 years of viticultural experience on Long Island, we will pursue
whatever methodology allows us to achieve our goal of growing the healthiest, ripest grapes possible regardless of whether that method is known as organic, practicing-organic, biodynamic, IPM, sustainable, etc. There is only one dogma to which we will adhere: GREAT WINE IS MADE FROM THE HEALTHIEST, RIPEST GRAPES OBTAINABLE.

Amen. Make the grapes healty, make the wine good.

I'm all for organic and/or biodynamic if the wine itself is good. If the wine sucks, I don't care that it is organic, biodynamic, or that it had farmers out in the field chanting ritualistic verses under a full moon.

Richard- The reason I did not use the word sustainability is that I do not know what it means any more as so many people use it without any reference to what standard(s) it represents. In that respect I do not find it helpful. But if as you say your are working on practices that would be clearly defined under sustainability, then I may take another look.
In the meantime talking about goals and practices is more helpful than throwing labels around. In the end and as stated by Kareem we are pursuing the growing of the healthiest and ripest fruit to make the most delicious wine. Labels be damned!

Charles - sustainability is all about goals and practices - that's all it has ever been about. I look forward to working with you on helping our region define what these should be and perhaps add more clarity to this important issue.

With regard to the PAN study on pesticides in wine mentioned earlier ( a study that has not held up well to peer review btw) I thought the following statement put out by the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) quite interesting: "ECPA underlined that the levels of residue were found "in such minute quantities" that they "are not even remotely close to [reaching] any level of concern. The association also deplored the fact that the PAN report did not test other elements such as copper or sulphur, which are both used in organic viticulture."

I think much of the quality upswings attributed to producers that have gone organic or biodynamic can be attributed to one major change occurring at these farms: involvement in the vineyard.

People enter the wine business for many reasons, but the one thing in common between most of them is a passion for great wine. This is the reason for every successful (and many less successful) and quality owner and winemaker I've met in the Finger Lakes. Not all of these people entered the business with farming experience though, in fact, I'd say the majority did not. This makes managing a farm difficult (duh!).

Now, many of these people are quick learners and passionate about the grape growing end as well, which I think leads to many adopting the "Best Practices" paradigm in their approach to farming. They truly want to leave the least imprint on the land while growing the best possible grapes. This involves them being out in the vineyard on a nearly daily basis and making decisions always with those two goals in mind: great grapes, little imprint. You can't ask for more than that.

Some others decide to pass on the grape growing end (as winemaking is certainly a challenge all by itself) and hire someone who is passionate about growing grapes to manage the vineyard, or purchase fruit from people who they believe are passionate about quality as well. There is certainly nothing wrong with admitting ignorance or lack of hours in a day or whatever and still pursuing your passions as a winemaker.

Finally, there is the group that is either entirely profit driven (high yields, cheap input farming style) or don't have a good understanding of vineyard practices, either due to lack of education or lack of time in the vineyard, who commit most of the poorer, more damaging practices in the vineyard. Do Central Valley bulk growers in California want to spend a little more money to use a spray thats better for their vineyard? Depends on how much they believe it alters their bottom line now or if they think it will harm their land (and thus their bottom line) in the future. Often, the answer is no, they won't use the more expensive methods. As for the grower with little knowledge or little connection to his land, education can often be effective and comes in many forms from many places. Few would disagree Cornell's cooperative extension has raised the level of grape growing in the area tremendously on the whole, even if certain practices are debated. Biodynamic and Organic teachers also offer education on their own, and often, all encourage the same behavior that cures the problems of that final farmer that has little connection to his vineyard: They encourage them to get out into the vineyard, take an active interest in what he/she is doing and make good decisions.

The bottom line is that I don't believe people that are truly interested in the quality and imprint of their grapes and practices have ever really had a problem, or been one for that matter. It is the last group that will always need education and encouragement to be passionate and connected with their land. It is these people that will see great strides in quality with switches to organic or biodynamic farming, probably mostly due to their increased involvement in the vineyard, and will fuel the discussion about these different practices.

On side notes, I can't wait for more articles Tom, your lecture at Cornell was great in the Spring. Also, I fully realize people often fall into more than one of the categories I mentioned, but you get the point.

-Brad

A question popped into my head....

How does bio-dynamic farming view the barrels that the wine ages in?

Does the Oak that the wine ages in have to be from organic grown oak trees? And is there a such thing.

I would assume, and i know it is never safe to assume, but if you are an organic farm or bio-dynamic farm, would you not want your oak to be the same?

I hope to see an answer in a future post.

Not sure if there are any certified organic (or BD) forests but there is an organization called PEFC or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. They are a non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to sustainable forestry management. I know Sequin Moreau and Vicard cooperages are PEFC certified. Not sure of any others at the moment. You can find out more about this here: http://www.pefc.org/


Virtually all sulfur used in agriculture is captured at a crude oil or natural gas refining facility. It is a fact. The USGS has documented this thoroughly. In a few places in the world, volcanic sulfur is mined. I have searched the US market and have not found it.

I'm not so sure it works well for the miners except for their $6.00/day cash pay.. If you want to see for yourself, check out the video below of the most important source of volcanic sulfur being presently mined.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENY6z2pj2pQ


If a grower wants to source this stuff and use it........I don't know what to say anymore.

Remy:

In addition, I think it is a good thing that we are capturing elemental sulfur from petroleum refining plants. Since oil is essential for our modern society, it certainly behooves us to process it without polluting the air with sulfur dioxide, rather we capture the sulfur and process it into a useful product. I thinks it a good thing. I have no problem with it therefore being classifed as "synthetic".

Best,

Larry

I am getting really curious about what products you guys are actually using in the vineyard?

How about sharing a detailed list of the fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and botrycides that you have applied to your soil and grapevines in the last five years?

This information would be very helpful in the discussion.


Michael,

In response to your Oak question, biodynamics as intended is a system of faming, not winemaking, so the actual vinification is not included.

I see in this introductory post something I see elsewhere constantly with regard to this subject. I don't know if it is consciously done or not but it's easy to point out in this case. That is the idea that BD is "organic plus". That is a flawed and misleading way to describe BD and it's relationship to organic farming by dedicated farmers that do not specifically practice BD.

Unfortunately the word organic is a general term and it's meaning has been abused over the years. BD on the other hand is a fairly defined and specified method of farming. The specificity seems to give it an upper hand in peoples' minds. However BD does not own the idea or practice of treating the farm as an ecosystem neither was it by any stretch, the first to include doing various tasks in accordance with lunar phases etc. The Farmers Almanac has been doing that for a long time.

I've known friends who have farmed vegetables and other things since the 70s organically and have also incorporated these other concepts. We had never heard or knew anything about Steiner or BD back then. So to describe BD as "organics plus" creates a false framing of perspective that can create a favorable bias towards BD.

I have a friend who creates and experiments with his own treatments and mixtures and has for years. He feels he is fine tuning to what is best for his site.
He is not BD at all, he is his own specific organic method. He wouldn't dream of
switching to BD as that would be far too rigid and possibly not even optimally suited to his site compared to what has done on his own for over 20 years.
Call it Dave-O-metrinomics.

Because there are no other well defined and specific organic methodologies like BD to compare it against, it seems impossible to evaluate it meaningfully.
Plus the evaluation needs to be of the grapes coming out of the vineyard, not the wine(s) produced from them.

Bedell follows the VineBalance program for sustainable viticulture. Vineyard manager Dave Thompson was one of the original contributing authors to this state-wide initiative and is one of the leaders in the northeast on sustainable viticulture. More information on this program can be found at http://www.vinebalance.com/

As VineBalance does not have an approved list of materials as of yet, we more or less follow the recommendations laid out in the Oregon LIVE program (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) with the main exception being copper products which we choose not to use for obvious reasons. In fact, none of the sustainable growers I know on L.I. would choose to use copper on their vineyards after all we have learned about it.

Many of the recommended materials that we use can be viewed on the LIVE website which is listed as a Yellow List of Approved Pesticides for Region 1 - cool climate and maritime regions: http://liveinc.org/

We strongly believe that the freedom for judicious selection of materials allows us the safest and most successful pathway for quality wine production on the North Fork.

In terms of fertilizers, Bedell has not used "synthetic" fertilizers on their vineyards for many years. Instead, Dave has used Peanut Meal which seems to work really well for us. The vineyards look absolutely healthy and beautiful so it seems to be working!

I think this quote from the VineBalance website sums up our philosophy quite succinctly:

"VineBalance is not an organic viticulture program with a defined set of allowable and unallowable inputs. Rather, the program addresses how all of the potential production practices impact the environmental, economic and social outcomes on the farm and how best to maximize the benefits associated with these outcomes through sound growing practices."

One thing that I would very much like to look into is the carbon footprint of organic, biodynamic wines. I can't remember where I read it, it may have been the aforementioned biodynamicsisahoax blog or a comment thereof, but it made the argument that organic, not biodynamic farming, emits more CO2 because without herbicides tilling must be conducted more often by tractor to keep down weeds that may interfere with the vines.

First of all this sounds to me like a specious argument, because whether true or false, it attempts to paint organic farmers as worse for the environment solely based on CO2 emissions. Let's not forget all those wine tourists cum jet-setters who troll around in gas-guzzling 747s to visit vineyards (chemical, organic, or otherwise).

Secondly, in terms of biodynamics I believe (I am not very well versed) that it would be taboo to use such a tractor, the only inputs to a vineyard including energy being derived from on-site animals. Additionally and more importantly, I believe cover-crop is sought-after for the nourishment of the soil, so for biodynamics at least the argument seems moot. We could go on into the methane emissions of cows...

As for my personal beliefs, having been trained as an engineer, but a recent convert to the loosey-goosey word of wine I am rooting for biodynamics. Sure, a lot of the explanation, and maybe even some of the tenets, may be bogus from a scientific standpoint, but that doesn't nullify what the system may have to teach us. There are plenty of examples of ancient wisdom that have held up to the scientific lens.

I appreciate what sounds like it will be a very reasoned, and un-biased exploration of these matters, as oppose to the status-quo of either standing fast by an unfounded belief, or picking and choosing certain convenient scientific facts in an attempt to undermine an entire philosophy which may yet have something to teach us even if science and UC Davis haven't stumbled upon it yet.

Cheers!

Cafe Carlu is a clean, modern cafe in the Cité de Architecture on the the Trocadero with a small menu of simple,well prepared sandwiches, salads,quiches and plats. So what's the big deal?

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