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Industry split over value of biodynamics

On Friday 16 January, Daily Wine News published a Friday Forum, asking readers to debate whether the practice of biodynamic winegrape growing was pseudoscience, or a recipe for wine quality, in the context of a column relating to the former by Californian vigneron John Hilliard. To view the original Friday Forum, visit http://www.winebiz.com.au/dwn/details.asp?ID=2326.

In today’s edition, we share some of the responses received. There’s still time to have your say by emailing before close of business Friday 23 January.

Linking the powers of observation to sound management

Dr. Jim Fortune, Fortune Consulting: Let’s take a step back from the ‘philosophical rulebook’ and consider what is involved for effective (i.e. profitable and sustainable) production in any system, be it biodynamic, organic, or that deep and varied system labelled ‘conventional’. Management of any system requires:

1. The powers of observation 2. The energy to regularly and systematically observe 3. The energy to support those observations with monitoring and measurement

When we sum 1+2+3 we have the basis for rapid and adaptive management.

Archie Campbell (mid-1960’s, Ruakura, NZ) simplified this further by suggesting that “banging a black post into the middle of every paddock” (or block for grapes) and visiting it every day will see immediate improvements in productivity. It was interesting to note on a visit to Lodi several years ago, that central to a display on The Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing program was reference to ‘footsteps in the vineyard’ as a success indicator.

Regardless of the belief and mystic elements focused on by Hilliard, the most diligent of biodynamic growers will spend many hours visiting their ‘black post’ in the vineyard. It is these visits and the knowledge gained from them that will deliver rewards in product quality.

Supporters of biodynamics

Michael Gow, director, RAW Wine and Beer: We are distributors of organic and preservative-free wines and beers in Victoria; we distribute to 17 certified organic or biodynamic vineyards. We have been distributing for the last eight years and have seen a huge growth in this niche market, now supplying to over 800 customers Australia wide. So, yes, we love to support the biodynamic wine market.

Biodynamics a marketing tool

Roger Young, D.J. Young Pty Ltd: John Hilliard is a much wiser man than Rudolf Steiner. The unproven psychobabble taught by Steiner is a good fit for the people who are uninformed enough to believe it. The smart biodynamicists use it as a marketing tool to exploit the vulnerable; good luck to them.

Need for more science-based comparisons

David Lloyd, Eldridge Estate, Victoria: It is my feeling that there is a lot of psuedoscience associated with the Steiner priciples. In particular, it is rare for practitioners to perform side-by-side comparisons over many years. However, I can see some merit in aspects associated with reduced chemical and herbicide use.

I observed many Burgundy producers using biodynamic practice encountering severe problems in a season of high disease pressure during vintage 2008. Some neighbouring vineyards who used what they called a "sensible organic" approach harvested a sound crop. Disease pressure is a factor to consider and many seasons are require a value judgement based on controlled experimental practice.

At the moment, I see too many evangelist-like proclamations gaining public prominence and achieving marketing spin without a real set of controlled comparisons. I am not calling these evangelists ‘witch doctors’ but I am asking for some balanced and science-based comparisons.

Seeley International


New Holland


Rowe Scientific


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