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The Wine Conversation that has worn out its Welcome

Part of the beauty of the wine world is its gentle nature, which is good because the storylines move at a pace more aligned with the rhythms of nature instead of a 24-hour news cycle and not only that but the stories don’t change that often, except when they should.

Frankly, I am ready for the story on Biodynamic wine to change.  If it were a TV channel, I would have long ago surfed past – and not for reasons of interest in the story itself, it has more to do with the fact that the rancor around BioD is starting to resemble our partisan political climate, including the absence of reason.

Give me a lament about wine media, wine critics, the 100 point system, New World vs. Old World, high alcohol, the three tier system, and any number of other issues that dominate a reasonably staid wine conversational climate and I can drink it all in inexhaustibly.  These issues are a part of the wine world’s rich pageant and all reasonably benign.  After all, most of what passes for controversy in the world of wine is a gentle disagreement along differing points of view and no more dangerous than a high school debate match. 

I kind of like it like that, too.


Even Randy Dunn’s Molotov cocktail against high alcohol wines three summers ago was met with interest, but also a, “Yup, he has an opinion and he’s entitled to it” sensibility, not necessarily fawning nor fanning the flames. 

Within the context of these issues that bubble, but never really reach a flashpoint, I think most wine insiders and hardcore enthusiasts take a measure of solace in the pace of the wine world, an anchor in a sea of continual change.

However, one wine topic is taking on an escalated level of verbal vengeance:  Biodynamics.

By now, I think most seasoned wine enthusiasts are not only familiar with BioD, but they’ve formed an opinion on it.  If you are like me, you take BioD for what it is – a belief system, nothing more and nothing less.  Maybe you agree with it, maybe you don’t, but it’s like walking down a New York City sidewalk and accepting an “All God’s Creatures” point of view, instead of living like Travis Bickle.

Yet, read the comments to any article or blog post discussing Biodynamics and you will inevitably see a comment denouncing Biodynamics as the work of hucksters, crackpots and loonies.
What happened to reasonable people being able to respect differing belief systems—particularly when there is no right or wrong answer?

In a world that is striations of gray, people want to reduce the Biodynamic argument into simple black and white terms.  Biodynamics is a Hoax. Biodynamics is perpetuating a fraud.  Rudolf Steiner made this shit up.


Okay.  Maybe so.  But, what if biodynamics is not a fraud?

What if the health care bill actually ends up being a good thing, protecting the uninsured while bringing a check and balance against healthcare insurers run amuck?

What if Santa Claus is real for six year olds and he brings out the spirit of Christmas for 60 year olds? 

You know, I’ve never seen a ghost, but that doesn’t mean I dismiss claims from those who have.

Yet, this is where we’re going with BioDynamics.  Right or Wrong.  Black or white.  Right vs. Left. 

It’s all very unseemly. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a good argument, but Biodynamics is still so very early in its formation in our wine consciousness that I worry that the vigorous side-taking that goes on today can only lead to a divisive polarization in our little segment of the world, that, yes, acts as an anchor in a sea of change.  Excuse me if I’m not anxious for name-calling politics to enter my sanctuary.


Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (22) |


On 07/20, Tom Wark wrote:


I think the reason that bioD gets some folks all rankled is because of the common suggestions and occasional straight out statement that BioD farmed grapes make better wine.


On 07/20, Clinton Stark wrote:

I agree completely. Except for the ghost part. Anyone who claims to have scene a ghost—biodynamic or not—is a certifiable whack-job.

On 07/20, Clinton Stark wrote:

And “seen”

On 07/21, John Kelly wrote:

Funny, you rarely hear those arguments between growers and winemakers (except from the folks that were whack-jobs before they “discovered” bioD). Those of us who actually grow grapes and turn them into wine, for the most part seem to get it that bioD is just another valid way of doing things. Even the folks I know who are practicing it don’t necessarily buy Steiner’s BS, but they do know they are doing something different - and they often can show that they get a different result as a consequence. But the minute one suggests that one is being kinder to the Earth, growing better grapes or making better wine than I am, simply because one is practicing bioD? Like Tom said - conversation over. I’m out of there, and dismissive of that person.

On 07/21, Mart S - Grotto Wine Racks wrote:

I strongly agree with Clinton! Good point. Cheers!

On 07/21, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

Once again, John Kelly makes good sense.

The real name-callers in any back and forth about wine and grape growing often seem to be the ones who write from their air conditioned apartments or offices, not the ones sweating it out to grow the best crop and make the best wine they know how or aspire to learn how.

Still, Jeff, you equate biodynamics with religion—a belief, and you ask where is the tolerance with the belief of others. Good question, but unlikely to make a dent.

I trust you’ve been exposed to what religious belief and “tolerance” has done to humanity through the ages…

On 07/21, Lindsay Ronga wrote:

we could leave the discussion strictly to the winemakers / growers (where it belongs, IMO), but it does affect the consumer and could be a genius or disastrous marketing play.

jeff, would love to see a post on how you think BioD on a label impacts wine buying consumer who thinks BioD is just organic or something entirely different. while you’re at it, include how the healthcare bill is going to impact all the gen x and millennials wink

On 07/21, Fabius wrote:

Nice post! If only everyone could relax, and enjoy, and tolerate, and respect other points of view, as you do!!!
I really don’t know what to think about BioD grape production, apart from the fact that it does no harm to the environment and no harm to people’s health. Whether the wine is good or bad I think depends on what the winemaker does with the grapes in the winery (ie it’s possible to make bad wine from good grapes!). But I don’t think there’s any doubt about the quality of the grapes produced biodynamically, ie the quality will be better than that of grapes produced with chemicals, in the sense that the environment is not polluted with runoffs, there will be no residues (however minute) in the must, and the must will be more natural and balanced; all other things being equal, ie assuming the grape-grower knows how to produce health grapes!
As regards the influence of the planets and stars on grape quality, I don’t know! I haven’t had time to do ‘due diligence’ on that. As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out. For the time being, the fact that no chemical have been used in the vineyard and winery is enough of a plus for me. But ‘caveat emptor’ (buyer beware) is the key: there’s a lot of crap organic and bio-d wine out there.

On 07/21, Jeff Lefevere wrote:


Thanks for stopping by.  I have to say I’ve been seeing quality comments lately, good thoughts all.

Generally speaking, I separate the wine elite from wine enthusiasts, and then, wine enthusiasts from wine laypeople.  All are different segments.  I’m a wine enthusiast, but not in the Bordeaux / Futures, stock my cellar wine elite.

When I refer to most wine enthusiasts having an opinion on BioD, that’s wholly separate from the casual wine buyer and because they’re pretty confused about wine in general, I agree that they don’t have a good feel for the differences in between BioD and Organic.  But, then, I’m not sure that it matters a whole lot, either.

But, I’ll take your suggestion and start working on a post about the healthcare bill and how Gen. Y will get tagged, though, if that’s the case, I’ll bear my share of the burden as I’m Gen. X.  grin


On 07/21, Thomas Pellechia wrote:


If you can figure out both the health care reform bill and its potential impact on Gen Y, you should stop this wine blogging nonsense and send your resume to the prez. wink

Here’s my undiluted take on “organic, biodynamic, and whatever else-ic.”

Grape growers who think hard about such matters, and then apply them, likely are going to produce good quality fruit, because they care about producing good quality fruit. That is, however, a generality. There will always be the b.s. artists (I was lied to by one during an interview for an article on the issue) and there will always be opportunists who see only PR value and dollar signs.

In my view, anything that is done to lessen the chemical and other pollution impact a farmer and a winery makes on the world is a good thing. But then, how many organic and biodynamic grape growers consider the pollution their tractors create or the pollution created by using fossil fuel generated electricity.

The subject is so filled with contradictions and pitfalls that it seems the only way people have to talk about it is to shout. If they shut up and listen, the would have to think.

On 07/21, Jeff Lefevere wrote:


Thomas Watson, the CEO who ran IBM for the first half of the last century recommended to, “Think.”  Take one day a month and “think” about what you’re doing, paths forward, solutions, etc.

I’m not good at doing one full day a month, but I do occasionally sit with nothing but my thoughts. 

Unfortunately, these days, we live in a reaction society, not a thinking society.


On 07/21, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

Yes, I know, Jeff. I also know exactly what unthoughtful reactionary response does to the dialogue, which you already eloquently pointed out.

On 07/21, Hardy Wallace wrote:

The one thing I’m sick of seeing is Biodynamic or Organic grapes on wines that truly suck.

A lot of what happens when this fruit hits the winery is so counter to what happens in the vineyard…

On 07/21, Jeff Lefevere wrote:

Hey Hardy,

thanks for the comment.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say “suck,” but I do agree that some BioD wine is made in a style counter to the vineyard.

Case in point, to me, is Quivera.  I have no idea if it was an owner pressing a style, or what, but with a new winemaker, I’m expecting that a quote from the new guy that says:

“I was also drawn to their organic and Biodynamic farming practices and their interest in a more elegant expression of their diverse range of terroirs.”

...means that a hot, high alcohol Grenache is going to change stylistically to the more restrained.

They are an example of a winery that has a really interesting thing with BioD going on that was really wrought differently in the winery.


On 07/21, Stuart Smith wrote:


I started the blog, in part, because there wasn’t an alternative view to the relentless self promotion of the Biodynamics community.  For many years I couldn’t have cared less about Biodynamics, if it got more foot prints into the vineyard so much the better, but then I started to see their claims of superiority over all other farming methods – “Biodynamic soils were alive, their plants were healthier and their wines gave a greater expression of terroir, etc.”  I asked several of my friends and neighbors why they farmed Biodynamically and they all said that it sounds better than organic, but didn’t really know much about it.  I started reading Steiner and was horrified at what I read, it was utter nonsense and sheer fantasy.  I feel being a skeptic and calling the Biodynamic crowd to task, admittedly in a fun and entertaining way, as my good turn, my mitzvah for our industry and culture.
Stuart Smith
Creator of Biodynamics is a Hoax

On 07/22, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

“What if Santa Claus is real for six year olds and he brings out the spirit of Christmas for 60 year olds?”... HA!  So is burying the manure-filled cow horn kinda like leaving the milk and cookies out for St. Nick?

On 07/22, Thomas Pellechia wrote:


As if to make your point for you about reactionary response, we have the Sherrod story and the USDA.

She was fired because of a reaction to a bogus video clip—and she was re-hired after the govt. idiots used their brains.

Gotcha journalism and dirt slinging is what passes for a new information age…

On 07/22, Charlie Olken wrote:

Hi Jeff—

I think I liked your earlier article about BioD better. You remember the one that compared BioD to the belief system of the Catholic Church. OK, if I have some of that wrong, I am happy to stand corrected.

But, you did make the point very strongly that BioD is a belief system first and foremost. It is filled with voodoo viticulture that has very little hard science as its basis. Steiner put this little ditty together and went back to his day job.

So, there are legitimate criticisms of BioD before we even begin to discuss its efficacy. And I would be happy to discuss its efficacy if the advocates of BioD would present their evidence in anything but terms of miracles in the dirt.

I care for the dirt. I agree 100% with Tom P. (and that might be a first) that anything we do to reduce the pollution we spread is a good thing for the planet. What is less clear is whether it is good for the grapes.

I now hear many folks say, and this is, of course, anecdotal and thus no more scientific than the claims of the BioD advocates, that the land is healthier but the grapes have not been helped. You see that claim above, also. And then there is the tasting evidence.

People like to point to DRC and Zind-Humbrecht and other very good labels whose makers practice BioD and say, “See. You cannot question the wines of DRC so you cannot question BioD”. This is a hokum argument because the wines of DRC were brilliant long before BioD became the practiced method of caring for the land.

There are two and a half other ways we can do this. We can look at the entire body of BioD and examine the results and compare them to the rest of the world—or alternatively, compare today’s results with what the winery was producing before BioD—and either of those would be a good first step. Or we can cause controlled experiments with several kinds of land preparation systems, make wine from each of them by the same hand.

Until then, analysis of impact on wine quality is anecdotal. So, I will give you one anecdote. I have watched with a great deal of interest at the results being produced by Grgich Hills as that winery has moved increasingly to become substantially BioD, and have seen zero positive impact on wine quality.

I have no axe to grind here. I don’t like belief systems presented in religious terms, but I am not a viticulture critic. I am a wine critic, and it is only in that capacity that I am capable of adding anything semi-scientific to the discussion. And frankly, I don’t see it in the wine regardless of my belief that we, as a people, ought to take good care of the land.

On 07/22, Jeff Lefevere wrote:

Hi Charlie,

Thanks for the thoughtful comment. 

The one point I would make regarding BioD and this site is I’m acutely in tune with not repeating myself by simply saying something a different way.

That said, the piece I wrote last year on BioD had a different focus.  This time, I’m simply trying to make the point that the conversation about BioD is becoming very partisan, and not always friendly—it’s a wine conversation that for me has become uninteresting because there is sidetaking that is veering towards the unpleasant.

Thanks again for the comment,


On 07/29, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

Thank you for your post Jeff. The fact that you welcome positive criticism but not hate speech does you credit. And to consider Biodynamics as a belief system is certainly as true for biodynamists as it is for scientists in regards to science. Could there be any scientist with no faith in science? smile
Tom, I guess why “bioD gets some folks all rankled” simply lies in the fact that what professional wine critics keep on reporting over the years is generally in line with for instance this article by Will Lyons in the Wall Street Journal: “…having tasted numerous wines made using some of the practical aspects of biodynamics I have found they are marked with a purity, silkiness and concentration rarely found in other wines… We tasted wines made before and after the biodynamic principles had been introduced, and the comparison was marked. The wines made under the new regime were lighter, cleaner and purer. There was no doubt about it, the wines had more energy.”

On 07/31, tom merle wrote:

In this day and age when all sorts of hokum gets trumpeted across the land, critical thinking coupled with the scientific method is too often missing in the exchanges.  Which is why Stu’s blog is so refreshing.  For those who want to probe a bit deeper I recommend taking the time to read the comments to this post of Stu’s on Steiner:

On 01/07, cilt Bakimi wrote:

For those who want to probe a bit deeper


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