CAN BIODYNAMICS SAVE TERROIR?
Six or seven years ago I was on a field trip with the Culinary Institute of America’s Wine Education program to a prominent Napa Valley Winemaker’s Estate. The class, taught by Wine Bible Author and Educator Karen Mac Neil, was being led through a tasting of Sauvignon Blanc’s by the Estate’s Winemaker. The tasting was held in an opulent and labyrinthine cave, and we sat at one long, white-clothed table adorned in crystal stemware.
As aspiring Wine Professionals, Sommeliers, et cetera, we were all closely paying attention to every word said, most of us taking copious notes and asking questions. Out of the blue, the Winemaker introduced a Wine he claimed was ageing in a ‘concrete egg’. A few people chuckled, as they obviously thought it some sort of joke. When asked to repeat what he’d said to make sure there was no mistake, the Winemaker repeated the wine was, in fact, currently still in a rather large concrete egg. After some chuckles, a few attempted witticisms, and a couple sincere questions to clarify why a top Napa winery uses a concrete egg, he went on to explain that the shape of the egg is believed to be an ideal receptacle energetically , and the French had been doing it for decades. They were merely experimenting with it.
The matter was quickly dismissed by the Winemaker and we quickly went back to the task of deconstructing the assembled wines. However, the incident piqued a strong sense of curiosity in me to hear Wine being spoken of on an energetic level – I wanted to know more about the egg and other arcane subjects. While I thoroughly enjoyed the CIA program, I knew it was no place for the questions I had lingering in my mind regarding Wine. To get the answers I needed, I would have to tap other, less-known sources.
At the time I was working at a high-end Napa Resort under a Master Sommelier. Far from my blue-collar, Hispanic roots, I found myself in the Wine equivalent of a “Devil Wears Prada” environment as a weekly retinue of Wine royalty paraded through the property. Suddenly, the pages of Wine Spectator were coming to life before my very eyes, inexorably drawing me into their tangled web of power, money and purported gentility. Deep in the hallowed caves of Napa’s royalty, out in their storied vineyards, and in their well-appointed homes, I chipped away at a future that became increasingly incongruent with what was deeply rooted in my nature.
I was losing myself in machinery whose reach I saw in the eye of every star-struck tourist, and whose financial make-up was akin to some third-world countries. Part of me was saying, “just play ball for a while and make some money before you duck out.” The other part was screaming in my ear the sage advice of Keith Richards to “Walk before they make me run.” Taking the Middle path of Mahayana Buddhism, I split the difference and switched jobs but stayed in Napa. Aside from the global wine machinery, there are many wonderful and sincere winemakers, farmers and restaurateurs in Napa, and as I was in what I considered to be one of the world’s largest classrooms, I set about steeping myself in those areas I was drawn to.
Napa’s Long, Strange Trip from Falcon Crest to Green Acres“What about the many wine producers who use organic and biodynamic methods yet say nothing about that on their labels? They want to be judged on their wine and not the ethics of production, but they depend on a healthy environment, and to have that, isn’t it time to take a public stand?”
- Edward Behr, The Art of Eating # 81, June 2009.
Napa worked ever so hard to achieve the “Falcon Crest” status it was awarded in the 1980′s. If one were to research the subject, they’d find romantic tales of Robert Mondavi and Warren Winiarski, the miracle of the 1976 Paris Tasting, and before that, the pre-prohibition glory of the To Kalon vineyard among such Arcadian palaces as Inglenook. The opulence has been part of the allure. To enforce the status of Napa wines the AVA (American Viticultural Area) system was instituted as a way to delineate specific growing areas. It was outright mimicry of the French government-ruled AOC (Appellation d’ origine Contrôlée) system instituted in the 1930′s, and it worked beautifully.
Visitors to Napa are regaled with tales of Napa’s uniqueness, its dizzying array of soils, the differences between mountains and the valley floor, the Vaca range from the Mayacamas…it’s true, the Napa Valley is a great place to grow grapes. However, great grapes aren’t grown in a vacuum, and as Winemaking is a farming pursuit, a healthy and beneficial environment needs be cultivated. Responses to global warming, water issues, and other affiliated challenges have been well met by the Napa Valley Vintners, though, I would argue more out of necessity than desire.
For the type of endeavor that owns substantial vineyard acreage in Napa, it’s all about the bottom line. There are sales projections to be met, quotas to fill, product needs be bottled and disseminated. In this world of timetables, schedules and projections, the natural rhythms of nature are oftentimes left out of the equation. Grape yields must continually meet the demand of on-paper projections. Most operations take a page out of Malcolm X’s book and do so “by any means necessary,” attempting to supplement any shortcomings in the vineyard by artificial means, e.g., fertilizers and other chemical compounds.
In addition to the volume that needs be met, there are affiliated taste profiles and stylistic qualities to be replicated year after year. Oftentimes the naturally occurring processes instigated via nature in the vineyard are manipulated in the Winery if they fail to meet the paper projections. The arsenals of remedies on hand for inferior grapes are numerous and are meant to sculpt body, flavor and taste that resemble the trend of the market. For large-scale, commercial wine production this has been a windfall, as it tends to mean masking by addition of artificial yeasts, barrels, blending, and other technology.
The current trend in “non-interventionist” wines doesn’t bode well for this way of wine production, as it’s all about unmasking to reveal what the work of the farmer and the land have accomplished in any given year. Non-interventionist winemaking recalls the European tradition of producing wines that display unique qualities which don’t follow a particular pattern, but exhibit the intricacies of any given year, for better or worse.“The more you help the vine to do its job, by means of a live soil, proper vine selection, and avoiding poisonous treatments, the more harmony there is. If the wine catches this harmony… well you have nothing to do in the cellar: potentially it is all there.
-Nicolas Joly, Owner and Winemaker at Coulée de la Serrant, Savennières, France.
Unmasking the winemaking process thus brings a level of transparency that’s commensurate with rising consumer awareness. As the culture of wine has grown in America, so has the understanding of the winemaking process. Coupled with the rising awareness of the farm-to-table movement and its corollary of nutrition, the business of wine is poised to undergo dramatic changes in the twenty-first century. Water issues and climate change are at the top of any list of potential hazards, with affiliated soil and pest problems quickly following suit.
To its credit, Napa Valley had the foresight as far back as 1968 to declare the valley floor a preserve, barring any potential non-agricultural building outright. Such prescient thinking led to the formation of the Napa Valley Vintners Association and their agenda of sustainability, including a Napa River Restoration project in 1998 and the development of the Napa Green Certified Land Program in 2004, which helps landowners by enhancing their watershed by preventing erosion and meeting regional sediment discharge requirements, reducing, or eliminating chemical use, and restoring the wildlife habitat.
Another Napa Valley Vintner’s program called The Green Certified Winery has its members demonstrate a commitment to conserving water and energy, reducing waste and seeking to reduce their overall carbon footprint. If you enjoy Napa wines, chances are the winery is green certified, as they boast 3.3 million cases of wine produced per year. Their literature claims to have saved more than three million pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere in 2012, and according to the California Certified Organic Farming program (CCOF), Napa Valley has more certified organic acreage than any other wine region in California at 3,616 acres.So what is the difference between biodynamics and organics? “In biodynamics we are connecting the vine to the frequencies it needs—like tuning a radio, we are tuning the plant to the frequencies that bring it life. Organics permits nature to do its job; biodynamics permits it to do its job more. It is very simple.”
- Nicolas Joly
The problem with Napa isn’t so much what they’ve done, as what they haven’t. The Green Certified Winery program was instituted in 2008 – not exactly at the forefront of the green movement – the Falcon Crest mentality that’s ingrained itself into the mindset of Napa Valley won’t go away overnight. Most landowner’s politics view environmental data with healthy doses of skepticism, preferring to embrace facts and figures that allow the minimal amount of intervention. When you’re in such a high profile situation, though, it’s important to pander to the crowd a little, and with the aforementioned heightened public awareness, its proven necessary to do so.
The modus operandi of grape growing and production in Napa in the 1970′s was geared towards producing wines that purportedly could rival those of Europe. The infusion of cash from external and internal sources led to purchasing the best technology available for use in the vineyard as well as the Winery. America loved it, although most serious buyers stuck to European wines, at least for collecting.
The Eighties came along and Robert Parker and his palette began a market revolution that solidified his position at the top of wine chain by the mid 90′s. Suddenly, the paradigm was turned on its head, and Napa was at the forefront of the boutique-high-end “revolution” in wine.
The first decade of the twenty first century has seen that era coming to a close as the science and study of wine has taken on a life of its own in America. The old guard, led by producers who view their wine and vineyards as extensions of themselves and their excellent taste produce wines with a healthy dose of hubris and are appalled when consumers balk at paying upwards of $75 to $500 a bottle for their wines. Money invested equals excellence for them, and their used to getting support for that viewpoint via the wine press and the fact they’re located in Napa.
The new guard is in tune with the public’s need for transparency and truth in advertising. They’re generally concerned about the welfare of the planet and believe changes need to happen regarding sustainability. They’ve made the distinction between farming and Winemaking. Coming to understand that the greatest wine always starts in the vineyard, and the best vineyards not only are in the right places for the right vines, but are farmed sustainably. Winemaking, as such, is more of a way of shepherding along the process from juice to wine to make sure nothing goes awry.
Friedrich Nietzsche reminds us in his 1872 work, The Birth of Tragedy, of the story of King Midas and Dionysus’ Falstaff- like companion, Silenus, by writing this:
The twentieth century rise and solidification of reductionist science, or left brained thinking, as a tool of empire has left planet Earth reconfigured in a degraded manner that’s brought about unsustainable cultural and ecological changes. Based on the Newtonian revolution of the early-eighteenth century and based on a conceptual understanding of matter where conclusions about the whole are based on a detailed examination of the individual parts — an act that consistently results in abstract concepts that separate the observer from the observed. Reductionist science, in its current form, is a major contributing factor to climate change, water shortages and reduced availability of arable land for farming and grazing.”According to the old story, King Midas had long hunted wise Silenus, Dionysus’ constant companion, without catching him. When Silenus had finally fallen into his clutches, Midas purportedly asked him, “What was the best and most desirable thing for all mankind?” The dæmon stood silent, stiff and motionless, until at last, forced by the king, he gave a shrill laugh and spoke these words: ‘Miserable, ephemeral race, children of hazard and hardship, why do you force me to say what it would be much more fruitful for you not to hear? The best of all things is something entirely outside your grasp: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best thing for you – is to die soon. ‘ “
This doesn’t mean that advances in Science, Chemistry, and Medicine aren’t considered important – even necessary in some instances – but they shouldn’t be the sole means of observation and have the final word in what’s best for humanity and our planet.
Unbeknownst to most people, the twentieth century was also the incubation period for a uniquely homeopathic and holistic view of science that had deep roots in J.W. Goethe’s combined left and right brained direct experience view, a melding of analysis with synthesis, wherein conclusions about a subject are based on observing in natural time and setting; imagining the way things work in the mind’s eye prior to poking, prodding, and taking apart a subject in order to study it.
Towards the end of his life, in 1928, The Austrian Scientist and philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, who happened to be his era’s foremost Goethe scholar, assented to give a series of lectures regarding recent problems at large farming estates throughout Europe.“Fertilizer is a salt. It takes more water to compensate salt. You are forcing growth through water: the plant has to over-drink, so it grows, and carries on growing after the solstice. The process of growth ends up conflicting with the plant’s act of retiring to seed and fruit. The result of this is rot, so you need to counter this with lots of chemicals.”
- Nicolas Joly
The introduction of chemicals and chemical warfare via the First World War left European farms and livestock devastated. At that time in pre-world war 2 Germany, Austria and Poland, if you had an agricultural problem, you sought the advice of the foremost Goethe practitioner, so a group of Farmers desperately turned to Steiner to find a solution to their loss of crop yield and seed vigor, as well as various livestock maladies.
Steiner, exhausted after a life of lecturing and research, wherein he began his Spiritual Science of Anthroposophy, based on ancient Greek interpretations of the Bible and his own scientific observations , initially declined to give the lecture, hoping to put it off for as long as possible, but an associate hounded him until he finally assented.
From June 7 -16, 1924, at what is now Kobierzyce, Poland, Steiner delivered a series of eight lectures entitled Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture. The course was the birth of Organic Farming, as we know it, as well as the seed of what would bear fruit thirteen years later as Biodynamics.
Perhaps the most common phrase people come away with after inquiring about Biodynamics is “seeing the farm as a whole organism,” which is true, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Based in Goethean Science and Anthroposophy, Biodynamics not only goes about sustainably farming without chemicals, it simultaneously heals the earth through the use of homeopathic applications, called ‘preparations’ used in conjunction with the farm’s compost pile.
The eight main preparations are numbered 500 – 508, and act in concert with the compost pile and inter-galactic forces at various times of the year, aiding in the natural processes at hand by tuning in to these pervasive energies via the planets. As you may have heard, some of the preparations seem preposterous initially; cow horn stuffed with the dung of a lactating cow and buried at the autumnal equinox, then dug back up in the spring; dried yarrow flower stuffed in a stag’s bladder and hung in full sun over Summer, oak bark in the brain cavity of a sheep, goat, or cow skull…there’s no doubt such images can conjure macabre thoughts, or seem laughably rife with malarkey.“The vine is one of the few fruit trees strictly linked to the season. The vine is dominated by the earth forces. It goes downwards so it has immense strength in its roots and only goes up a little bit. It couldn’t flower in the spring like the cherry or the apple. The more a plant leaves its gravitational forces, the more it can develop its flowers.”
- Nicolas Joly
The truth is that when one understands the deeper meanings behind the preparations, an entirely different way of seeing reality becomes accessible. There’s interconnectedness to the universe that becomes apparent through the lens of Biodynamics that resembles the observations of Plato, Marcus Aurelius, and Eastern philosophies, among others, where the blueprint of reality is laid out in detailed form for the benefit of the whole. Steiner would be the first to admit there’s nothing “new” about Biodynamics, but that it merely views the world in a manner that was prevalent prior to the Middle Ages.
Biodynamics means bringing life into matter through the rhythmical forces of the universe through the natural processes of day, night, and the seasons. At the crux of Biodynamics is the belief that behind all matter and universal forces, e.g., gravity, mass, atoms, DNA … there is an underlying, pervasive, and active spirit. The Farmer becomes the medium between these forces and the soil using judicious application of said treatments at appropriate times of the year to the end of creating a healthy biosphere. The goal is to produce food that completely nourishes the human body and spirit.“Inspired by the late-nineteenth century Austrian Philosopher Rudolf Steiner and his “anthroposophism’ (a belief in the inseparability of the personal and the universal), Biodynamic agriculture seeks to address any given plot of land as a unified organism, in which all living elements – soil, plant, and animal – are to be mutually self-sustaining. It encompasses such medieval concepts of pruning a vine only during certain phases of the moon, the use of phytohomeopathic cures (like fermented herbal and mineral preparations) in the place of any chemical or artificial fertilizer. Above all, there is an underlying belief that all living energies, from the tiniest microorganisms, are interdependent and therefore sacred and that the soil, the grape, and the resulting wine will reflect this holistic change. While skeptics may deride this as mystical claptrap, many of the world’s most scientific and empirically driven vignerons, from chemist Nöel Pinguet and his Cartesian rationality at his Huet estate in Vouvray, to Dominique Lafon in Meursault and Frédéric Lefarge in Volnay pursue their personal version of Biodynamic Farming.”
Jonathan Nossiter, Liquid Memory
Aubert de Villaine, co-owner of famed Grand Cru producer Romanée-Conti in the Burgundy Region of France farms Biodynamically and says this about terroir at his famed Estate, “The Cistercian monks gradually worked the land, attentive to its natural contours and underlying shapes, in much the same way that the anonymous artists at the great Incan site of Machu- Picchu in Peru created their sculptures in relation to the mountains natural rock formations.”“Great Savennières offers a spectrum of unusual flavors. Our No. 1 bottle, for example, the 2007 Les Clos Sacrés from Nicolas Joly, reminded us of beeswax, citrus and spice, with a mineral, saline quality thrown in for good measure. Combine this with the floral, honeysuckle edge that I often find in chenin blanc, and a texture that is typically and paradoxically rich, viscous and wonderfully light, and you have one complex, unconventional wine that is a long way from chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.”
Eric Asimov, NY Times Wine Columnist in his article: Savennières, a Demanding Wine Worth the Work. May 21, 2010
Within Villaine’s statement lie the key to understanding terroir, as it describes a prolonged period of observing and working with a parcel of land without disturbing the natural layout. Like Biodynamics, terroir operates on holistic levels, taking all man-made and natural factors into account. Each spot on Earth has its own terroir, or uniqueness. Oftentimes it’s been stripped away or altered by humans, but it’s still there. From the perspective of grape-growing, terroir means the right grapes in the right spot, with responsible, prolonged human stewardship that over time has found a way to seamlessly work with the natural rhythms of nature.
Winemaker and Author Nicolas Joly is a madman for the Biodynamic cause, touting its merits frequently and railing loudly and publicly against its detractors. He produces his prized Chenin Blanc wines Biodynamically and constantly reaps accolades from reviewers for them. His books on Biodynamics go above and beyond explaining the factors at work in Biodynamics, oftentimes offering erudite observations on such esoteric subjects as solar flares and etheric forces, but its best to taste his wines if you can find them, as they’re the living representative of all that Biodynamics and terroir are about.
The nuance and ageability of the firm and acidic Chenin Blanc grape Joly produces is the perfect vehicle for Biodynamics to strut its stuff, oftentimes displaying a dizzying array of contradictory smells and tastes; salty and sweet, acidic, yet full-bodied…and yet, the appreciation of his wines have what could best be described as a “cultish” following.
A Nicolas Joly Wine Label
Demeter is the official certifying agent for Biodynamics, and to that end they’ve developed a rigid set of guidelines for the use and labeling of produce considered Biodynamic. In regard to Winemaking, there are currently several categories of certification that carry affiliated labels meant to separate themselves from commercially produced Wines: Organic, Made with Biodynamic grapes and Biodynamic Wine.
What’s the difference between Organic and Biodynamic?
In the 1940′s Baron Lord Northbourne a Professor of Agriculture at Oxford who attended the Steiner lectures of 1924 and consequentially practiced Biodynamics at his family’s estate in Kent, coined the term “organic” from Steiner’s referring to the farm as an “organism.” Ten years later an American named J.J. Rodale popularized the term in his publication Organic Gardening. By 2002, organic labeling had grown to the extent that the USDA ruled that a base market definition needed to be implemented, and proceeded to unveil the National Organic Program.
Demeter was founded in 1928 in Europe and in 1985 in the US. Their certification process goes beyond Organic farming and production by continuing to eliminate any non-organic matter throughout the entire process from production to distribution.
Image Courtesy of Paul Dolan Vineyards, Mendocino, Ca.
Organics allows the accepted practice of utilizing organic fertilizers and pesticides, while Biodynamics insists any fertility issues be resolved from within the farm system. This is achieved via integration of livestock, the planting of cover crops and legumes (in order to add nutrients to the soil,) rotating of crops, and application of compost applications via spraying.
Other pertinent differences between Organics and Biodynamics include: Biodynamics requiring fifty percent of livestock feed be grown directly on the farm, while Organics allows organic feed to be imported from anywhere in the world.
As the Farm is to be seen as one organism, Biodynamics recognizes the need for biodiversity, insisting ten percent of the total acreage be set aside for this purpose. Coincidentally, Biodynamics insists the entire property be certified, while Organics allows particular parcels or vineyards within a larger unit to become certified. Finally, Organics allows one standard for all product types across the board, while Biodynamic certification is product specific, insisting on minimal manipulation in order to allow the ingredients to speak for the product.
“Death is only a triumph of materiality over the living. To understand life profoundly, we must leave matter behind and focus on understanding the system that gives life to the Earth.”
- Nicolas Joly
In this third and final installment of Can Biodynamics Save Terroir, we delve deeper into the theories and practices behind Biodynamics in an attempt to glean the reasons why Biodynamic practitioners choose to practice this particular form of farming . This trilogy began in Napa and questioned the sector of Wine production there that has helped shape the current view the American public has regarding farming and winemaking in the United States.“To be dying is to be living, and to be living is dying. Death and life cannot be separated. They only have different names.”
- Soen Nakagawa, Zen Master
Currently, the winemaker’s of Napa, for the most part, have adopted a forward- thinking sustainable program, and as the longest standing AVA, or recognized wine area in America, it should be expected they do so. If Napa is to be considered the vanguard of wine production in the United States, it goes to reason they should be at the apex of global wine culture. As I previously pointed out, the measuring stick for Napa wine production has always been France. Robert Mondavi and his kind in particular suffered from a serious case of Francophilia, and correspondingly sought out French advice in all matters related to viticulture. Today, ironically, it’s the French that can be said to have adapted Biodynamics as the new standard.
Over the past several decades the French “houses of the holy” have come to realize they can recover their terroir by applying biodynamics to their centuries-old vineyards. In Nicolas Joly’s case, the vineyard land in question is nine-hundred years old, and consistently produces award-winning wines whose appeal is undeniable. The success, according to Joly, is Biodynamics.
Last week, I sent an e-mail off to Joly to let him know I’d included him in the previous articles. Although in France, Joly responded the next day with plenty of advice and encouragement. He also attached a copy of a document he’s written called, Recovering the Lost Art of Agriculture. Said document goes into the Biodynamic process and how it’s affected by the planets and earth.
Rather than convoluting the ideas and processes behind Biodynamics, the document simplifies things by pointing out truths that are self-evident in farming, such as understanding the simple fact that between spring (bud break), and fall, (branches, leaves, and grapes), the several tons of matter that have appeared in that six-month period have occurred primarily by 94% photosynthesis and 6% by the soil. So the task of the plant, or the vine, is to catch the energies to which they are connected (each kind is different) and convert them into matter.
According to Joly, Biodynamics differs radically from organics by harnessing the universal energies that usher the vines through the various stages of growth. The few grams per hectare of Biodynamic preparations that are applied don’t directly affect the plant on a physical level according to Joly, but on an energetic level. At the moment when energy becomes matter, Biodynamics is there to harness and crystallize those energies to the fullest, particularly at this point in the history of the planet, where the vitalizing energy of the Universe has been greatly diminished by cutting agriculture off from said energies by using herbicides and chemicals that poison the soil and the sap of the vine.
In conjunction with vineyard practices that encourage diversity, rather than uniformity, Joly has found the rhythm inherent in his 900 year-old plot by employing a detailed massal selection, wherein large quantities of buds are selected for propagation of vines. Oftentimes, winemakers will employ a clonal selection, where a single “perfect” mother vine is chosen, but Joly finds that the lack of diversity in this process can lead to a genetically inferior plant due to its homogeneity. The diversity in a mass selection provides a healthy heterogeneity that allows different aspects to contribute to the process when appropriate.
This heterogeneity makes a more complete whole when carefully scrutinized vines act in concert with one another to combat any problems that might arise. When Biodynamics are applied, the concert grows to include what Kepler referred to as the “music of the spheres”, that creator harmony of the universe that allows wine to connect to its place in a natural and original way.
Joly believes a “well raised” Biodynamically farmed wine needs zero manipulation in the cellar. The vines ability to connect to the positive universal energies should allow it to become fully itself in all its uniqueness. Cellar work is only needed to correct problems created by secondary effects of synthetic or chemical products, or if the place doesn’t fit the vines, or if there is a misunderstanding somewhere.
Most consumers are unaware of the fact that winemakers can choose from around 350 aromatic and genetic yeasts, the variety allowing wineries the ability to make a wine to please a particular sector of the global wine market while the true, un-manipulated taste of wine from healthy, Biodynamically farmed vineyards has been kept on the fringes of the wine world for the past several decades. What’s come to be accepted as “good” and “valuable” oftentimes is the creation of science and technology, a process that in the history of wine making – is somewhat of an anomaly.
I started off this trilogy with an anecdote from my days at the Culinary Institute of America’s Wine Education Program that involved a Sauvignon Blanc vinified in a concrete egg. The wine was phenomenal, but it was the excitement of working with unseen forces that the egg brought up for me. Fortunately, there were a bevy of Napa wineries practicing Biodynamics, although few were openly advertising it.
I’d heard Quintessa winery in Rutherford was working with Biodynamics, and as I’d led tourists through there on many an occasion and knew the staff personally, I sent an e-mail to the winemaker to see if I might interview him and possibly participate in some Biodynamic practices around the winery and vineyard.
A few days later I received a response saying I was welcome to help with making Biodynamic preparation #500 – cow dung stuffed into a cow horn and buried in a pit from the autumnal to the vernal equinox. I wrote back that I’d love to and noticed that the winemaker that I’d be working with was the same gentleman that introduced the concrete egg to my CIA class that day several years previous.
We spent a long afternoon in over a hundred-degree weather stuffing the horns with the help of trowels and proceeded to bury them in a deep pit out on a ridge on the estate’s vast property. Sweaty and exhausted in the aftermath, I couldn’t help but feel connected to the place and the process, knowing our horns would be dug up six months later, mixed with water to create a tea, and sprayed over the vines.
Somehow, the experience had shifted something in me where I felt connected to something indescribable, yet palpable. Perhaps it was the execution of the act in a frame of mind that was open to the wonder of the process? I used my mind’s eye to imagine what positive benefits the foul-smelling concoction I was working with might bring about, and visualizing that left me with indelible images of stardust and vines co-mingling.
Luke Frey was born outside Ukiah in Mendocino County in 1959. When he was eight, his father had him and his siblings, (of which there were twelve), plant grape vines on the family’s farm. In 1980 he bonded his winery and has been producing since then. Frey was the first certified organic winery, and in 1993 he was exposed to Biodynamics. By 1996, Frey became Demeter certified and Luke and his winery are now staples of the Biodynamic community.
The Summer 2010 Newsletter of the Josephine Porter Institute (a sort of Harvard for Biodynamics) entitled Applied Biodynamics featured the article Frey Vineyards: Cultivating Biodynamics in an Evolving Social Organism wherein the Author, Hunter Francis interviews Frey at his vineyards about his twenty years working with Biodynamics. In the article, Frey openly discusses his feeling about Biodynamics being a spiritual pursuit, stating that working with the preparations is tantamount to working with life forces. His words resonated deeply with me, reminding me of my day at Quintessa, and subsequent others at various vineyards since then, where just being around Biodynamic preparations awakens a sense of wonder. In his own words, Frey says,
“The first thing I realized in working with biodynamics, is that biodynamic agriculture is a spiritual practice, in my view. To recognize that, is essential in the work. I noticed how my thinking and perceptions were changing. I started to see the world through different eyes. And of course, if you really ponder it, that’s a prerequisite for any real change. It has to come from within. In a physical sense, the first thing I noticed was the change in the light and the characteristics of the soil with each passing year.”
Frey believes the benefits of Biodynamics are best appreciated qualitatively, rather than quantitatively, that when one looks into the natural world they see aspects of themselves they cannot deny, this “wake-up” call allows one to see directly into what he refers to as “the open secret of the natural world”, allowing one to see Biodynamics as an instrument for developing an evolving human consciousness.
He speculates Biodynamics will move into vegetables soon. Not just on a small-scale, as it is now, but on a mass scale, citing huge changes in the economic infrastructure and food quality as the major factors predicating this change. The lack of vitality that is present in commercial produce and processed foods lack the necessary ingredients to feed our bodies and minds.
Rudolf Steiner, the creator of Biodynamics, saw this point as a major stumbling block in humanity’s quest to evolve out of the culture that had just created the First World War. Roughly eighty years later things have devolved to the point that humanity finds itself at a crossroads. One direction continues down the path we’re currently on, where processed foods and greenhouse gasses proliferate, uranium continues to pour into the oceans, and social and behavioral problems spread through our children at alarming rates. The other road is Biodynamics and its worldview. It looks at nature from the universal, to the earthly, to the microscopic and sub-atomic, and charts the workings from that vantage point: It’s the invisible energy of the universe that Biodynamics works with.
In his 1918 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Physicist Max Planck stated, “Matter as such does not exist; all matter originates, and exists, solely by virtue of a force which induces particles to vibrate.” It’s this force that the Biodynamic preparations connect their plants (and people) to, in the process providing them with the energy necessary to foment social, cultural and political resilience.
One of the things that will be necessary for humans to survive is a totally new relationship with food. And it’s all going to have to do with quality. Quality food is a prerequisite for being able to make the transition we will go through.
Nicolas Joly wrote to me, “real progress is understanding how a macrocosm, an energetic world imprisons itself, separates from and isolates itself in matter; how each piece of the puzzle can help bring into being the link to a global image, an energetic whole, that is to say, a macrocosm that becomes a microcosm.” It sounded wonderful to me, but I thought to myself, “how exactly does this happen?”
How does the universe turn itself into genes, atoms…DNA? It all takes place at the mesocosmic level, in the earthly realm, with the help of gravity. Death is only the triumph of materiality over the living. Earth does not possess life; it receives it by belonging to a solar and stellar system. “All the world’s a stage” takes on a different and deeper meaning from this perspective, when the galactic impulses have been taken into account, e.g., gravity, solar attraction, materiality…
All kingdoms on the planet play their own unique part in the dance. Within this boundless matrix, the past present and future are available through the macro (large, or universal), micro (microscopic, sub-atomic), and meso (middle, or between the realms, earthly), realms. The mesocosmic, or earthly realm is what the majority of us apprehend, however, it’s important to realize that within this realm of the senses that we frequently, mistakenly, refer to as “reality”, all the other realms simultaneously co-exist.
This fact is vividly described by Zen Master Soen Nakagawa (1907-1984) in his biography, Endless Vow: The Zen Path of Soen Nakagawa:
“When we talk about the spiritual realm, we may feel that it is a place where we go after we die. Most people think that we live in the actual world while we are alive, and that after we take the last breath we somehow wander into a vague realm of the spirit. It is a great mistake to see two separate realms. Instead, where we live is in fact the spiritual realm, a realm of many billion world, which goes beyond three, four, or even infinite dimensions. Then the danger is that we might think that this realm is empty and boundless. Watch out! It is alive and kicking!”