Monty Waldin's Biodynamic Wine

Monty Waldin‘s new book begins with a strong thesis in the Introduction that:
“…biodynamics remains the best tool with which to make terroir-driven wine of the highest quality while enhancing rather than depleting the vineyard it same from.”

Whether or not you fully buy into that conclusion, the book is an outstanding primer on biodynamic farming, the best I’ve read to date. Waldin begins with theory developed by Rudolf Steiner but avoids drifting off into ideology. The book is largely practical and specific. Waldin’s long experience with viticulture gives the book serious, hands on credibility.

He begins by describing how Rudolf Steiner presciently understood that the use of NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potash) fertilizers developed by his contemporary, Von Liebig, would eventually weaken plants and deplete the soil. Steiner’s answer to this process of degradation was simple:
a free, safe, unpatented and therefore universally available technology reliant on cows, some wild plants and a few handfuls of the world’s most abundant mineral [quartz].” (p.10)

Just to take one of Waldin’s points: He notes that people tend to scoff at burying cow horns filled with manure from the fall to the spring equinox to make the unusual humus (Biodynamic 500) that quickly enriches the soil. And he acknowledges that: To my knowledge, science has yet to explain why cow manure stuffed into cow horns and interred from autumn to spring transforms into dark, humus-rich material, which is pH Neutral and endowed with especially high levels of microbial life. (p. 13)

But he goes on to explain in detail how and why the “500” works according to Steiner and according to his own experience. In a recent interview with the Wine Anorak , Waldin underlined…The “trick” is that it works every time. I have never made good “horn manure” when burying the same manure in glass, plastic or metal containers. So go figure.
IMG_2823 (Photo of 500 humus by Eleanor Shannon)

The bulk of the book (pages 11-140) describes in detail:
– how and why to make the three sprayed treatments (500, 501, 508)
– how, why and when to dynamize them in water and administer them
– how to make and administer the six compost treatments (502-507)
– how to make various teas and other treatments
biodynamic spray
(photo of biodynamic spraying by Eleanor Shannon)

The big take away is that biodynamic farming entails a series of intricately designed series of techniques, but it is low cost and “…aims to make farmers as independent, as self-reliant and as self-sufficient as possible.” (p.9). Waldin contrasts this with American seed companies, who make “suicide” seeds, which are patented and become sterile after one year, forcing farmers to buy them again.

At the end of the book, Waldin dives into a clear-eyed explanation of how biodynamics takes into account celestial rhythms: lunar cycles, seasonal changes, planets passing by, etc. Again, naysayers ridicule this aspect of biodynamics, but one day Elisabetta Foradori reminded me that the Gran Sasso Lab in Italy, the world’s largest underground physics laboratory conducts experiments underground to avoid the effect of cosmic rays. “So the world’s top scientists have no doubt that the cosmos affects the Earth enough to build this lab. Why does it seem so odd that we work with cosmic effects in the vineyard?” she said.

For anyone seriously interested in understanding what biodynamic wine is, what theory and techniques lie behind it and how it differs from organic or conventional wine, I highly recommend this book.

September, 2016

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