Biodynamics’ dirty secret: ecofascism, karmic racism and the Nazis

Though shrouded in overtly-romanticised metaphysical and spiritual notions, biodynamics offers little in the form of practical, measurable benefit. Touted as progressive, tolerant, enlightened and ecologically-sound, its roots can be found in anthroposophy. Second, only to Waldorf schools, biodynamics is the most widespread example of applied anthroposophy. A worldview invoked by Rudolf Steiner in 1912, anthroposophy is patently racist, it’s origins found at the intersection of nationalism, right-wing populism, and esoteric spiritualism. Having found philosophical affinities with National Socialism, the 1930s saw biodynamics, a practical byproduct of Steiner’s karmic racism, exert a powerful influence on the ‘green wing’ of German fascism. Steiner’s racial and ecological concerns, centred around re-energising the mystical connection between soil and man, were arguably a byproduct of his concern with the wellbeing of what he considered to be the superior race. These racial concerns, compounded by his mystical outlook on soil and land, resonated firmly with the Third Reich’s infamous ‘Blood and Soil’ slogan. Facing increasing political polarisation, a resurgence of extreme right-wing populism in Europe, and a heightened need to tackle climate change, the wine industry must acknowledge the perils of pseudoscience and reflect on the political susceptibilities of romanticised esoteric environmentalism and reactionary ecology. In this piece, I explore the need for a move away from mysticism and a shift toward robust and rigorous ecological agricultural practice.

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Biodynamic farming: myths, quacks and pseudoscience

Earlier this year, I featured as a panel member for a Real Business of Wine webinar titled ‘Getting the Horn’. Throughout the webinar, the panel explored biodynamics with Monty Waldin, the world's leading expert on biodynamic wine. Whilst several of my peers did challenge the notion of biodynamics, I was hesitant to do so, feeling the forum was not the most appropriate of places in which to voice my somewhat fierce opposition to Steiner and his quackery. Shortly after the webinar I released an Instagram video briefly summarising my position, admittedly it wasn't terribly succinct, was a little provocative and did little to convince others as to why they should take a more active position against aspects of biodynamics. Here I hope to lay out my position more clearly, explaining why I so vehemently oppose individuals who profiteer from pseudoscience.

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Phosphorus in viticulture and winemaking: an exploration from soil to bottle

Besides that which is essential for photosynthesis, namely carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight, grapevines also require a range of nutrients to grow, survive and prosper. These nutrients are split into two groups depending on the scale of requirement, macro and micronutrient, the former being those required in larger amounts. Phosphorus is essential for plant growth. It is a component of cell membranes and DNA and plays a vital role in photosynthesis, the movement of sugars, and carbohydrate storage within the vine. Deficiency of phosphorus in vines can result in reduced vine vigour and yellowing of the interveinal area of basal leaves. In extreme cases, this may be followed by early defoliation of these leaves. Poor bud initiation and fruit set may also be observed. In this article, I will explore phosphorus in viticulture from soil to bottle.

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Soil and root microbiome: discovering the grapevines greatest weapon

Following my recent polemic against the claims of biodynamic winemaking, I spoke with Keith of Mise en abyme who asked me what I’d like to see emerge from the discussion around the legitimacy of biodynamics. My response? A more practical and evidence-based school of thought centred around achieving healthy soils and diverse, resilient ecosystems. Although understudied, it is widely accepted that microbiome is essential in upholding the fabric of life. Our gut, mouth and skin each host their own unique microbiome community whilst healthy soil microbiome is crucial for the growth and longevity of crops and wildlife. Nurturing this symbiotic relationship between this community of bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi and protozoa is a core tenet of biodynamics. However, a number of studies have shown biodynamic preparations to be ineffective in improving soil health metrics. In this article, I explore microbiome in more detail and discuss working, proven practises for strengthening and diversifying soil microbiome.

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Nitrogen in viticulture and winemaking: an exploration from soil to bottle

Besides that which is essential for photosynthesis, namely carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight, grapevines also require a range of nutrients in order to grow, survive and prosper. These nutrients are split into two groups depending on scale of requirement, macro and micronutrient, the former being those required in larger amounts. Nitrogen is the most abundant soil?derived macronutrient in the grapevine. It plays a major role in all processes and a significant amount of nitrogen is essential for normal vine growth. In viticulture a nitrogen deficiency may affect key metabolic functions and retard shoot development and bunch formation. In winemaking a shortage of yeast assimilable nitrogen can result in problematic fermentations. In this article I will explore nitrogen in viticulture from soil to bottle.

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Potassium in viticulture and winemaking: an exploration from soil to bottle

Besides that which is essential for photosynthesis, namely carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight, grapevines also require a range of nutrients in order to grow, survive and prosper. These nutrients are split into two groups depending on scale of requirement, macro and micronutrient, the former being those required in larger amounts. Potassium is the second most abundant mineral nutrient in plants and has a number of roles. It is associated with the movement of water, nutrients and carbohydrates whilst also helping to regulate stomata and supporting enzyme activation. A deficiency can reduce yields, fruit quality and increase susceptibility to disease. Too much can cause a finished wine to lose acidity. In this article I will explore potassium in viticulture from soil to bottle.

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Viticulture in Piedmont: optimism and adaptation in the face of a changing climate

In years gone by Piedmontese farmers could expect at best, two great vintages in a decade. The years spanning 1940 to late 1970 were challenging. But the climate is changing, Silvia Altare tells me the region faces more sudden, dramatic weather and a general shift toward less and less normality. Despite frost in late April 2017, Barolo saw the hottest summer of the last 150 years. Hail storms, having typically been common in summer, now crop up in Spring and Fall. Despite this, the vigneron remain both positive and optimistic. The Langhe people are resilient, over the years much has changed, now more than ever they demonstrate their hardy nature. With the help of some of the regions most lauded producers, I explore viticulture in Piedmont, discovering how they are working with the vine through a changing climate.

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Chasing 3MH thiols with Daniel Sorrell of Cloudy Bay

In 1770, during his voyage to New Zealand, Captain James Cook would discover a stretch of land spanning New Zealand's South Island, to the south of the Marlborough Sounds and north of Clifford Bay. Cook's discovery coincided with regional flooding, which washed large amounts of sediment into the sea. Noticing the water’s opaque appearance, Cook christened the area Cloudy Bay. Cloudy Bay's name was later officially altered to Te Koko-o-Kupe / Cloudy Bay, with the M?ori name a nod to the early explorer Kupe. 215 years later, seasoned winemaker David Hohnen, convinced of Cloudy Bay's potential to produce great wine, invested in the best land the region had to offer and established Cloudy Bay Winery. Now under the ownership of LVMH, many consider Cloudy Bay to be amongst the world's best Sauvignon Blanc, including wine writer, George Taber. Defined in part by mouthfeel, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc also boasts intense, concentrated fruits, namely grapefruit, passionfruit, and guava. Joining via Zoom, following the recent launch of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2020, winemaker Daniel Sorrel told how chasing one particular thiol, 3MH, has come to help shape these defining characteristics. In this article, I examine thiols in more detail and explore more closely how Cloudy Bay and others hunt 3MH.

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Le Clos Saint-Hilaire: a single hectare at the forefront of winegrowing

Behind a patchwork of buildings in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, a so-called 'commune déléguée' in the Vallée de la Marne, a single hectare of south-southeast facing Pinot Noir vines produce arguably one of the world's most vinous and critically-acclaimed Champagnes. Le Clos Saint-Hilaire, its name lent from the local church of Église Saint-Hilaire, belongs to 'super grower' Billecart-Salmon. Though the commune itself is classified premier cru, albeit amongst only two villages to have scored 99% in the Échelle des Crus classification framework, seventh-generation CEO, Mathieu Roland-Bilecart has his own views on the cru framework. Views which are certainly emboldened by this tiny parcel off the Boulevard du N. Having produced only five vintages since it's first as a standalone bottling in 1995, you'd be forgiven for underestimating the extent to which this outwardly humble site continues to shape the houses persistent and determined evolution. Pointing toward the vineyards scattering of pumpkins and wool-laden residents, Mathieu describes the site as his research and development facility. Shortly after this years harvest, Mathieu and I wondered the site discussing in more detail its extended importance.

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In pursuit of excellence: 130 years of La Rioja Alta

Since the first Phoenician settlers arrived in 11th century BC, Rioja has had a long and colourful winemaking tradition. As early as the late 13th century there is evidence of Rioja's wine being exported into other regions and from the 15th century on, the Rioja Alta was particularly well-known for wine growing. As is the case across most of Europe, viticulture in Rioja can be traced back to the Roman empire and continued there even during Moorish occupation. As a result of the phylloxera epidemic, during which the French were the first and hardest hit, immediate and insatiable demand for all the wine Rioja could produce swept across France. By 1890, the influx of French négociant and winemakers, who had brought with them extensive knowledge, techniques and experience, had brought about a period of unprecedented growth for the region's industry. That same year, five Riojan and Basque families founded the 'Sociedad Vinicola de La Rioja Alta' which would later, after merging with the Ardanza winery, become La Rioja Alta S.A. 130 years later, La Rioja Alta, as well as being the only winery in Rioja to make 3 Gran Reserva, is globally recognised for its age-worthy, quality-driven, and consistently overperforming wines. To celebrate this laudable anniversary, and to mark the release of the 2014 Viña Arana, I discussed some of the estate's most impactful changes in recent decades with La Rioja Alta winemaker, Julio Sáenz.

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