by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte Rosé)
I started off this series by saying I’m not a fan of Biodynamics, and that certainly hasn’t changed. If Steiner was something of a nut (which he certainly was), he had a certain bizarre genius to him as well. And if he had some views about race (e.g., Germans were superior to Blacks, Jews, etc.), at least he wasn’t mean-spirited about it. I would rather be considered inferior (Steiner style), than vermin (Hitler style).
But in the end I think we need to be critical of Biodynamics. In the political realm, we’ve come to realize that setting policy based on ideology divorced of empiricism is a recipe for disaster. Yet those same people who would criticize our former president for his ideological proclivities for some reason praise Steiner for doing the same thing. If Steiner had developed his program based upon some sound data from observations in the real world, tested his program, and then having found it a success, brought it to the world’s attention, I wouldn’t have the same problem with him as I do. But as far as I can tell, he made up much of his system out of whole cloth, leaving it to others to see if his bizarre principles would hold up. Since then, the whole thing has taken on some of the qualities of a cult, where no questions need be asked, and whether it works is something to be taken on faith, rather than something to be proven up.
It is said that some of Biodynamics adherents produce wonderful wine grapes, and I do not doubt that that is true. Most, if not all, of Steiner’s prescriptions shouldn’t be at all harmful. A waste of time and effort, yes, but harmful, no. A buried cow’s horn doesn’t seem like it would do much to a vineyard, good or bad. Certainly, a farmer who practices Biodynamics along with utilizing good farming techniques is probably going to achieve good results. But that’s because he’s using good farming techniques, not because he’s following Biodynamics.
So, if we put to one side some of his crazier ideas (whether related to agriculture, race or the occult), and pay heed to some of his more general theories (such as avoiding excessively monocultural farms overly reliant on chemicals), then there is something to like in Steiner. But his views are best viewed as a generalized contribution to what is now largely accepted as good farming practice, rather than a step-by-step “how to” guide for farming.