Biodynamic Fake News

Burying cow horns to make Biodynamic Preparation 500 at Troon Vineyard

It’s not their fault, but you see it every week. Fine wine writers printing misconceptions and flat-out wrong information on biodynamics - yes, fake news.

It’s not their fault, it’s ours. Those of us who farm wine grapes biodynamically are not doing a good job of getting out the real story. That could be because the biodynamic movement is not a monolith, but a complicated web with divergent branches and diverse self-interests. That makes for a muddled message and creates an information issue biodynamic winegrowers have to confront. While there may be divergent opinions and methods within the biodynamic community, all share a common final goal.

Here are some random recent examples of the media muffing biodynamics. The authors and publications are irrelevant as inaccuracies like these are more the rule than the exception.

”And if you’ve heard of one thing to do with biodynamics, it is probably that cow horns filled with fermented cow manure are buried in the vineyards to encourage soil fertility." "Cow horns are buried throughout the vineyard."

Biodynamic winegrowers do not bury cow horns “filled with fermented cow manure…throughout the vineyard”. In this case, the reference is to the production of Biodynamic Preparation 500. To prepare BD 500, you place very fresh, raw organic cow manure in cow horns in the fall and bury them in a single pit in a specially selected site. There they ferment over the winter and the horns are dug up in the spring. The finished BD 500 is mixed with water and applied to your soils. It assists with the formation of humus, increases available phosphorous, soil mycorrhiza and the water and nutrient holding capacity of the soil. The goal of BP 500 is to regenerate the natural microbiome and raise the quality of your soils.

“Naturally occurring cycles like moon phases dictate when to harvest ”

Moon phases do not “dictate” when we harvest at Troon Vineyard. That the phases of the moon have an impact on the natural rhythms of agriculture is a time-tested (and scientifically proven) reality. Following the ascending and descending cycles of the moon is something any natural farmer tries to do. However, the operative word here is “tries”. It’s one thing to follow these cycles in your home garden, but it’s another thing on a commercial farm. We certainly try to follow the lunar cycles, but often the realities of Mother Nature means you have to move forward. When you have to prune fifty acres of vines by a specific date, and you can’t prune when it’s raining (due to disease pressure), you can only do your best to hit the right days. When the fruit is ready to harvest, but it’s not a fruit day, but it’s going to rain three inches tomorrow your choice is easy - you pick. Any positive attributes you gain by picking on a certain day will be more than negated by the next day’s rain. We try to follow these lunar cycles whenever possible as we are seeking every advantage, no matter how small, to add that extra bit of nuance and life to our wines. The biodynamic calendar identifies ideal days for certain types of vineyard work. You try to prune on fruit days and cultivate on root days. As our goal is exceptional fruit quality, doing work on certain days is a way to fine-tune the quality of our fruit. However, we do not seek viticultural management from the man-in-the-moon, we just want a little advice, and will make our decisions based on what experience, common sense and science have taught us.

”Special concoctions of herbs, minerals, and manure may also be planted in the soil to aid fertilization.”

“Herbs, minerals and manure” are not planted in the vineyard soil to help fertilization. A range of plants (BP 502 to 507 - yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion, valerian) are fermented then added to compost piles to aid in developing the right bacterial and fungal balance in the finished compost, which will then be applied to the vineyard - back to the microbiome again. It is important to note that while compost contains some beneficial minerals, it is not fertilizer. The point of biodynamic compost is to build the humus and microbiome of your soil. A healthy plant in healthy soil does not require additional chemical fertilization. This is the cornerstone of biodynamic practice. When we need to fertilize due to soils depleted by years of conventional agriculture or when growing a perennial crop like grapes, we add natural fertilizers like fish emulsion (think SNL’s Bass-O-Matic) and kelp. No biodynamic farmer would add raw manure to their field without fully composting it first. Besides the obvious health concerns, raw manure cannot do the job of properly made compost. Our compost is made from organic cow manure from our next door neighbor Noble Dairy, organic hay and our own pomace (grape skins and stems after pressing during harvest), which is then carefully composted for the better part of a year before being applied to our vineyard.

"there’s even a calendar for optimal wine-tasting days”

Then there is the currently fashionable calendar for “optimal wine-tasting days” - there’s even an app for that. However, the flower, leaf, root and fruit day thing is not part of Rudolf Steiner’s original agricultural lectures and was only added to the biodynamic culture in the 1950s by Maria Thun in Germany. Her concepts were built on research in her garden and, while her results have never been supported by independent research, there is strong anecdotal evidence that something is indeed at work here when it comes to the inner workings of plants. The base of these theories is that the moon’s gravity has an influence on the liquid in plants and soils much the same as it does on tides. A reasonable assumption. To me it is a stretch, at best, to apply this same theory to a glass of wine on your kitchen table. However, those same influences could affect the tasters themselves. Whatever the case, these concepts are a not a required part of Demeter Biodynamic certification, which is a statement in itself. Optimal wine-tasting days may have sprung from biodynamic ideas, but they are not part of biodynamic practice. However, it can be a useful excuse in a pinch if a customer is less than happy with your wine.

Biodynamics is a work-in-progress. When Rudolf Steiner gave his lectures in the early 1920s in Germany, he was living in a world in chaos, the same chaos that gave birth to the Nazis. World War I had just devastated Europe and, on the farm, the introduction of chemical, industrial agriculture terrified many people. It is in this climate that Steiner gave his agricultural lectures at the request of a group of concerned farmers. What is called biodynamics today was only outlined by Steiner himself in his lectures, and he died just a few years after giving them. Many of the practices considered essential practices of biodynamics today were layered on by those that came after him. While Steiner gave voice to the fears of that era, what we call biodynamics today is more the work of a movement than one person.

That work continues today and the growing number of winegrowers adopting biodynamics is having a tremendous impact on the movement’s future. Each year more is learned about biodynamics, and now modern agricultural science is moving towards the fundamental farming practices that define biodynamics - that the key to a healthy plant is healthy soils. Everything today is about the microbiome - in our guts and our soils. Biodynamic farmers have been giving their soils probiotics for decades. Science is just now catching up to us.

From what I have been able to read and understand (not always the same thing when reading Steiner) in Steiner’s books, he saw his concepts as only a beginning of an individual’s quest for spiritual and intellectual growth. While he did not approve of alcohol, I still think he would approve as winegrowers the world over push the pursuit of biodynamics forward. Today winegrowers are at at the forefront of connecting science and biodynamics. The winegrowing community is creating what I call practical biodynamics. Voodoo vintners we are not.

Who is to say what biodynamics will mean fifty years in the future? The only sure thing is that it will be as different from today’s practices as we are from the first practitioners in the 1920s. It will always be a work-in-progress as we will never understand everything. Mother Nature will always keep some secrets to herself.

Now that I think about it, it’s no wonder that writers struggle with understanding the practice of biodynamics, so do we. Agricultural knowledge is always evolving. There is much we don't know and much we will never know. Bringing science and biodynamics together will be the next chapter.

That’s a story worth telling well.

Some recommended reading on biodynamic winegrowing

Biodynamic Wine by Monty Waldin - certainly the most complete book available on the topic

Voodoo Vintners (in spite of the title) by Katherine Cole

Biodynamic Fake News

Burying cow horns to make Biodynamic Preparation 500 at Troon Vineyard

It’s not their fault, but you see it every week. Fine wine writers printing misconceptions and flat-out wrong information on biodynamics - yes, fake news.

It’s not their fault, it’s ours. Those of us who farm wine grapes biodynamically are not doing a good job of getting out the real story. That could be because the biodynamic movement is not a monolith, but a complicated web with divergent branches and diverse self-interests. That makes for a muddled message and creates an information issue biodynamic winegrowers have to confront. While there may be divergent opinions and methods within the biodynamic community, all share a common final goal.

Here are some random recent examples of the media muffing biodynamics. The authors and publications are irrelevant as inaccuracies like these are more the rule than the exception.

”And if you’ve heard of one thing to do with biodynamics, it is probably that cow horns filled with fermented cow manure are buried in the vineyards to encourage soil fertility." "Cow horns are buried throughout the vineyard."

Biodynamic winegrowers do not bury cow horns “filled with fermented cow manure…throughout the vineyard”. In this case, the reference is to the production of Biodynamic Preparation 500. To prepare BD 500, you place very fresh, raw organic cow manure in cow horns in the fall and bury them in a single pit in a specially selected site. There they ferment over the winter and the horns are dug up in the spring. The finished BD 500 is mixed with water and applied to your soils. It assists with the formation of humus, increases available phosphorous, soil mycorrhiza and the water and nutrient holding capacity of the soil. The goal of BP 500 is to regenerate the natural microbiome and raise the quality of your soils.

“Naturally occurring cycles like moon phases dictate when to harvest ”

Moon phases do not “dictate” when we harvest at Troon Vineyard. That the phases of the moon have an impact on the natural rhythms of agriculture is a time-tested (and scientifically proven) reality. Following the ascending and descending cycles of the moon is something any natural farmer tries to do. However, the operative word here is “tries”. It’s one thing to follow these cycles in your home garden, but it’s another thing on a commercial farm. We certainly try to follow the lunar cycles, but often the realities of Mother Nature means you have to move forward. When you have to prune fifty acres of vines by a specific date, and you can’t prune when it’s raining (due to disease pressure), you can only do your best to hit the right days. When the fruit is ready to harvest, but it’s not a fruit day, but it’s going to rain three inches tomorrow your choice is easy - you pick. Any positive attributes you gain by picking on a certain day will be more than negated by the next day’s rain. We try to follow these lunar cycles whenever possible as we are seeking every advantage, no matter how small, to add that extra bit of nuance and life to our wines. The biodynamic calendar identifies ideal days for certain types of vineyard work. You try to prune on fruit days and cultivate on root days. As our goal is exceptional fruit quality, doing work on certain days is a way to fine-tune the quality of our fruit. However, we do not seek viticultural management from the man-in-the-moon, we just want a little advice, and will make our decisions based on what experience, common sense and science have taught us.

”Special concoctions of herbs, minerals, and manure may also be planted in the soil to aid fertilization.”

“Herbs, minerals and manure” are not planted in the vineyard soil to help fertilization. A range of plants (BP 502 to 507 - yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion, valerian) are fermented then added to compost piles to aid in developing the right bacterial and fungal balance in the finished compost, which will then be applied to the vineyard - back to the microbiome again. It is important to note that while compost contains some beneficial minerals, it is not fertilizer. The point of biodynamic compost is to build the humus and microbiome of your soil. A healthy plant in healthy soil does not require additional chemical fertilization. This is the cornerstone of biodynamic practice. When we need to fertilize due to soils depleted by years of conventional agriculture or when growing a perennial crop like grapes, we add natural fertilizers like fish emulsion (think SNL’s Bass-O-Matic) and kelp. No biodynamic farmer would add raw manure to their field without fully composting it first. Besides the obvious health concerns, raw manure cannot do the job of properly made compost. Our compost is made from organic cow manure from our next door neighbor Noble Dairy, organic hay and our own pomace (grape skins and stems after pressing during harvest), which is then carefully composted for the better part of a year before being applied to our vineyard.

"there’s even a calendar for optimal wine-tasting days”

Then there is the currently fashionable calendar for “optimal wine-tasting days” - there’s even an app for that. However, the flower, leaf, root and fruit day thing is not part of Rudolf Steiner’s original agricultural lectures and was only added to the biodynamic culture in the 1950s by Maria Thun in Germany. Her concepts were built on research in her garden and, while her results have never been supported by independent research, there is strong anecdotal evidence that something is indeed at work here when it comes to the inner workings of plants. The base of these theories is that the moon’s gravity has an influence on the liquid in plants and soils much the same as it does on tides. A reasonable assumption. To me it is a stretch, at best, to apply this same theory to a glass of wine on your kitchen table. Whatever the case, these concepts are a not required part of Demeter Biodynamic certification, which is a statement in itself. Optimal wine-tasting days may have sprung from biodynamic ideas, but they are not part of biodynamic practice. However, it can be a useful excuse in a pinch if a customer is less than happy with your wine.

Biodynamics is a work-in-progress. When Rudolf Steiner gave his lectures in the early 1920s in Germany, he was living in a world in chaos, the same chaos that gave birth to the Nazis. World War I had just devastated Europe and, on the farm, the introduction of chemical, industrial agriculture terrified many people. It is in this climate that Steiner gave his agricultural lectures at the request of a group of concerned farmers. What is called biodynamics today was only outlined by Steiner himself in his lectures, and he died just a few years after giving them. Many of the practices considered essential practices of biodynamics today were layered on by those that came after him. While Steiner gave voice to the fears of that era, what we call biodynamics today is more the work of a movement than one person.

That work continues today and the growing number of winegrowers adopting biodynamics is having a tremendous impact on the movement’s future. Each year more is learned about biodynamics, and now modern agricultural science is moving towards the fundamental farming practices that define biodynamics - that the key to a healthy plant is healthy soils. Everything today is about the microbiome - in our guts and our soils. Biodynamic farmers have been giving their soils probiotics for decades. Science is just now catching up to us.

From what I have been able to read and understand (not always the same thing when reading Steiner) in Steiner’s books, he saw his concepts as only a beginning of an individual’s quest for spiritual and intellectual growth. While he did not approve of alcohol, I still think he would approve as winegrowers the world over push the pursuit of biodynamics forward. Today winegrowers are at at the forefront of connecting science and biodynamics. The winegrowing community is creating what I call practical biodynamics. Voodoo vintners we are not.

Who is to say what biodynamics will mean fifty years in the future? The only sure thing is that it will be as different from today’s practices as we are from the first practitioners in the 1920s. It will always be a work-in-progress as we will never understand everything. Mother Nature will always keep some secrets to herself.

Now that I think about it, it’s no wonder that writers struggle with understanding the practice of biodynamics, so do we. Agricultural knowledge is always evolving. There is much we don't know and much we will never know. Bringing science and biodynamics together will be the next chapter.

That’s a story worth telling well.

Some recommended reading on biodynamic winegrowing

Biodynamic Wine by Monty Waldin - certainly the most complete book available on the topic

Voodoo Vintners (in spite of the title) by Katherine Cole

Investing in a Stranger’s Future

Agriculture is cyclical. Season flows into season. Vines flower then a hundred or so days later you harvest their fruit. Animals and farmers live their life cycles together on land that sustains them both. Nature wraps us in the cycle of life.

In January we begin to think of pruning and worrying about frost. What happened last vintage is behind us and only the potential of the next fills your minds. After all, the wines in the cellar are committed to their course and it is only our role to shepherd them home. That vintage is over.

There are few things other than agriculture where you so firmly press the reset button on the first of January. Of course, we build on the experience bestowed upon us by Mother Nature each year, but that’s all nuance compared to the cycles of Nature, which make all the most important choices.

We are facing a lot of new hurdles at Troon Vineyard as we begin a ranch-wide replant designed both to correct the viticultural sins of the past and to proactively move forward by selecting better varieties and then planting them in better sites. To move forward you must be willing to break ties to the past. At Troon we’ve decided to race towards the future.

New plantings will be decidedly focused on the varieties made famous by the Rhône Valley, Languedoc and Provence. These vines have proven their proclivity for our Kubli Bench terroir. Now it’s our turn to take what we’ve learned and focus on creating some truly special wines - some of which may be a decade or more away.

To some it may seem odd to embark on a voyage knowing you will not arrive at the destination, but that is farming and winegrowing. There is never any end to the cycle of seasons and you are only part of a chain that passes the baton ever-forward in a never-ending relay race. Nothing fires my passion more than knowing that I can make a perfect baton pass to the next generation. If they can make great wines from the vines we plant, I will have done more than my job. That is my goal.

For the time remaining to me, I will become a small part of the life of this vineyard and hope that I am still around to taste at least the potential of the vines we plant over the next years. We each get our vintages and it is our responsibility to enjoy every one and to hope that our work today will be rewarded with wines we will never taste made by people we never knew. They may not know us, but the vines we plant today will speak for us in the wines they make.

Every glass of wine we drink from an old vineyard carries the voices of those that planted and worked it over the decades. Listen to us, we deserve your attention.

Investing in a Stranger’s Future

Agriculture is cyclical. Season flows into season. Vines flower then a hundred or so days later you harvest their fruit. Animals and farmers live their life cycles together on land that sustains them both. Nature wraps us in the cycle of life.

In January we begin to think of pruning and worrying about frost. What happened last vintage is behind us and only the potential of the next fills your minds. After all, the wines in the cellar are committed to their course and it is only our role to shepherd them home. That vintage is over.

There are few things other than agriculture where you so firmly press the reset button on the first of January. Of course, we build on the experience bestowed upon us by Mother Nature each year, but that’s all nuance compared to the cycles of Nature, which make all the most important choices.

We are facing a lot of new hurdles at Troon Vineyard as we begin a ranch-wide replant designed both to correct the viticultural sins of the past and to proactively move forward by selecting better varieties and then planting them in better sites. To move forward you must be willing to break ties to the past. At Troon we’ve decided to race towards the future.

New plantings will be decidedly focused on the varieties made famous by the Rhône Valley, Languedoc and Provence. These vines have proven their proclivity for our Kubli Bench terroir. Now it’s our turn to take what we’ve learned and focus on creating some truly special wines - some of which may be a decade or more away.

To some it may seem odd to embark on a voyage knowing you will not arrive at the destination, but that is farming and winegrowing. There is never any end to the cycle of seasons and you are only part of a chain that passes the baton ever-forward in a never-ending relay race. Nothing fires my passion more than knowing that I can make a perfect baton pass to the next generation. If they can make great wines from the vines we plant, I will have done more than my job. That is my goal.

For the time remaining to me, I will become a small part of the life of this vineyard and hope that I am still around to taste at least the potential of the vines we plant over the next years. We each get our vintages and it is our responsibility to enjoy every one and to hope that our work today will be rewarded with wines we will never taste made by people we never knew. They may not know us, but the vines we plant today will speak for us in the wines they make.

Every glass of wine we drink from an old vineyard carries the voices of those that planted and worked it over the decades. Listen to us, we deserve your attention.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album – Troon Vineyard in Oregon’s Applegate Valley

Mother Nature was very kind to us in 2018. Rain and cool weather are things you expect during harvest in Oregon, but not this year! All during harvest we were given warm, dry weather under beautiful blue skies. This perfect weather meant we could harvest each variety at the ideal moment. There was no pressure from the weather so our pace was almost leisurely compared to a normal vintage. It was a harvest to remember as will the wines!

Picking tinta roriz, this is our last vintage of this variety as these vines will be pulled and replanted next year.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Picking starts at dawn with the vines still in the shade of the Siskiyou Mountains, which are already brightly illuminated.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Some picure-perfect vermentino.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Banele and Jesus picking malbec as dawn breaks.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

The Applegate Valley during harvest.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

In a biodynamic vineyard, the leaves are fully turned color and falling off when it is time to pick the fruit. This is the natural cycle of a vine.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Vineyard manager Adan Cortes bundled up against the morning cold as he harvests vermentino.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Associate winemaker and biodynamic team leader Nate Wall fills cow horns to make biodynamic preparation 500. They will buried until next spring. Making BD 500 is something you do during harvest in the fall.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Banele, our harvest intern from South Africa, places the filled cow horns in pit to be buried until next spring. The BD 500 they will produce will be sprayed on our vineyards.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Grape pomace, fresh from the press, is added to our compost pile. All the leftovers from harvest are added to our biodynamic compost piles and returned to the vineyard.

Life Feels Good

Adding pomace to a new compost pile at Troon Vineyard in Oregon’s Applegate Valley.

It’s just after dawn, and we’re spreading fresh cow manure with pitchforks. Our biodynamic consultant, Andrew Beedy, looks at me and jokes, “see why people use chemical fertilizers?”

Andrew is, of course, correct. It would be so much easier to buy drums of fertilizers and spray away. However, as I stand on this pile of cow dung, I am firmly convinced we’ll get the last laugh.

At Troon Vineyard when we talk about compost, we’re not talking about a few buckets of manure to fill some cow horns to make BP 500. When it comes to composting, we’re talking some serious shit as we need to generate over 200 tons of finished biodynamic compost every year.

The raw materials are simple: fresh organic cow manure, organic hay and the organic/biodynamic pomace from our own fruit. Combine these basic ingredients and let nature take its course and you end up with a magical substance. Not that there’s any magic involved as bacteria do the lions share of the work. At a biodynamic winery, you are surrounded by ferments. Right now we are fermenting wine, compost and some buried cow horns to produce BP 500. Some of the smallest things in nature are doing all the heavy lifting at Troon Vineyard.

The transformation is quite amazing. First, the manure arrives from the organic dairy next store. Dump truck after dump truck arrives along with the flies that crave their cargo. Then our crew goes to work. Starting with a layer of hay, followed by a layer of manure, followed by another layer of hay and so on. Most of the work is by hand as when the front loader dumps a bucket of manure you spread it out with shovels and pitchforks. The bales of hay are broken up and spread by hand. During the harvest season, layers of pomace are alternated with the hay and manure. We build the piles into windrows about 130 feet long and five feet high. Then come the biodynamic preparations 502 yarrow, 503 chamomile, 504 stinging nettle, 505 oak bark, 506 dandelion, and 507 valerian. The first five are applied to specific parts of the pile while the 507 is sprayed onto the entire pile. Over the next six months, the pile will be turned several times, which means all the preparations are well mixed into the pile by the time composting is finished. Just a few weeks after the manure is delivered the flies that come with it disappear as the pile quickly transforms from something that draws flies into something that attracts earthworms. Now we’re talking.

While much is made of the very photogenic burying of the cow horns to make BD 500, and 500 is indeed essential and a foundation of biodynamics, you can’t avoid the fact that out of nine biodynamic preparations six are added to the compost pile. People may debate biodynamics, but no one who knows anything about agriculture questions the value of compost. However, biodynamic compost takes things to the next level. Study after study confirms that biodynamically treated compost is higher in every key nutritional value than standard compost. Every year we will be producing enough of this elixir to apply several tons per acre. Combined with our applications of BD 500 we expect to find dramatic improvements to the microbiome of our vineyard, which will lead directly to improvements in our wines. There is nothing you can do to your vineyard that is more important than this type of composting.

After six months, the raw manure, hay, and pomace transform. What started as smelly fly food becomes rich, dark humus. The smell and flies slowly disappear and in the end you end up with something that looks and smells more-or-less like high-end, organic potting soil - two hundred tons of potting soil.

Composting is such a great experience as you can readily see the results of your efforts. What goes in is very different from what comes out. There is a real sense of accomplishment, and investment in the future of your soils, vines, and wines.

Next spring we’ll be applying BD 500 and compost - both created on our farm. While we have farmed 100% biodynamically this year, we had to purchase the BD preparations and organic compost while we went through the long process of making our own. As excited as we were in our practice of biodynamics this year, applying our own preparations and compost will be a real milestone.

There’s life everywhere. In the compost, in the BD 500, in the vines, in the wines and in us. Life feels good.

Life Feels Good

Vineyard manager Adan Cortes, with Andrew Beedy’s son Levon along for the ride, sprays BD 507 Valerian onto a compost pile.

A New Culture at Troon (and poop jokes)

Banele, our harvest intern from South Africa positions the cow horns to be buried.

A New Culture at Troon (and poop jokes)

Assistant Winemaker Nate Wall fills horns.

It seems everyone either ridicules or worships the cow horns and the processes of biodynamics. Then there’s biodynamic cycles of the moon that are mistakenly confused with astrology - no, not related. You can’t blame the press for focusing on these aspects of biodynamics as they make for great photos and headlines. However, as wine writer Monty Walden recently noted, “Biodynamics is not farming by the moon.”

Biodynamics is farming by the earth.

At Troon Vineyard we recently completed one of the milestones for any biodynamic farmer. We buried our first cow horns on the estate to produce our own biodynamic preparation 500. The images of burying the cow horns may have become cliché, but for those of us who participated, it felt like a right-of-passage as we joined other biodynamic farmers around the world in what feels like a celebration to those involved. It is hard to imagine, but stuffing cow horns with fresh manure is a meaningful experience. After the horn’s ingredients ferment in our soils over the winter, we’ll take the newly created BD 500 and apply it to our vineyard soils to help build the natural microbiome that plants require to take their nutrition naturally from the soils. By letting the soil and the plants do the work we will end up with fruit that carries the energy and personality of our vineyard into our wines. Farming by the earth is the essence of terroir.

Biodynamics changes the soils, the vines, but equally importantly it changes the people who practice this discipline. Biodynamics is a structure and gives you a framework, which at the beginning you work within, but as you grow as a farmer you also go beyond. While everyone loves to focus on cow horns and moon cycles, and these are important aspects of biodynamics, these famous elements of this discipline are not the biggest changes at an estate that transforms into biodynamic agriculture. Perhaps the biggest changes happen to the people who take up this mission. Biodynamics not only transforms your soils, but your culture as a winery.

A big part of that change is that farming biodynamically is fun. You feel empowred what you are doing and each day is a new adventure. Even though it’s much harder work than conventional farming, the risks and the efforts reward you with not only better grapes, but a better you. Filling our horns was a group effort and laced with happy banter and camaraderie. Poop jokes were as abundant as the actual poop at this celebration. Everyone including the horns were full of it. Conventional farming makes sterile soils and wines. There is nothing sterile about the world of biodynamics.

We’ll be stuffing horns again next fall. If you don't mind dirty hands and some rather unsophisticated humor come join our celebration!

In biodynamic agriculture, we bury cow horns filled with fresh cow manure each fall. These ferment over the winter and next season will be applied to our soils to help build the microbiome. of our vineyard. In this video, Lindsay (harvest intern from Ireland) assistant winemaker Nate Wall and biodynamic consultant Andrew Beedy fill our horns at Troon Vineyard.

The Good Sh*t (Biodynamic Preparations At Troon Vineyard)

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), who founded the farming practices now known under the certification of Biodynamics, was largely full of sh*t.

For example, Steiner was all about making wild claims based on anonymous sources long before it became the new standard of presidential tweeting in the U.S.; just check out a handful of the claims he made in his The Submerged Continents of Atlantis and Lemuria:

“As to the sources of the information to be given here, I am for the present obliged to be silent. He who knows anything at all about such sources will understand why this must be so…”

“…it was only in the course of time that the forms of man and woman arose from an earlier, original form in which the human being was neither the one nor the other, but both at the same time.”

The Good Sh*t (Biodynamic Preparations At Troon Vineyard)

Working the good sh*t at Troon in Oregon

“Just as we have contrivances for transforming the latent force of coal into the power to propel our engines, so had the Atlanteans devices for heating by the use of plant-seeds in which the life-force was changed into a power applicable to technical purposes. In this way were propelled the air-ships of the Atlanteans, which soared a little above the earth. These air-ships sailed at a height rather below that of the mountains of Atlantean times, and they had steering appliances, by means of which they could be raised above these mountains.” 

So we’ve got, with literally no evidence, Steiner on the record challenging how humans evolved, and claiming that ancient Atlanteans had airplanes powered by seed oil. So if you’re not at least a little bit skeptical of the guy’s take on farming, then you have deep issues with how you handle facts, logic, and the scientific method.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that with Biodynamics he didn’t stumble upon something incredibly useful for coalescing several centuries-old, tried-and-true farming practices that turned out to be great for fine wine vineyards. But it does mean that we need to approach anything that Steiner wrote with healthy (and probably substantial) levels of skepticism. We’ve tackled this topic before on these virtual pages, giving equal “air time” to both prominent Pro and Con voices regarding BioD, and more or less ended up not that much farther from our starting point (or, at least, I didn’t).

And so it was with a sort of mixed fascination and trepidation that I recently observed firsthand Troon Vineyard‘s Biodynamic compost preparations (#502-507) in the gorgeous (but, at the time, quite smokey) Applegate Valley, to literally see “the good sh*t”…

The Good Sh*t (Biodynamic Preparations At Troon Vineyard)

I was in town at the time to take part in the 2018 Oregon Wine Experience wine competition, and took up an invitation to visit from my friend and Troon GM Craig Camp. 2018 will be Troon’s first 100% certified Biodynamic vintage, and the thinking behind it has nothing to do with smoking the other “good sh*t” big agricultural crop (marijuana) in Troon’s neck of the woods; the plan is that Biodynamic farming can help the resiliency of the vines, and therefore allow for more dry-farming, less water usage, and increasingly better and better vineyard fruit. Combined with six full-time vineyard staff, “you get a different level of care in the vineyard” according to Camp.

The Good Sh*t (Biodynamic Preparations At Troon Vineyard)

Troon’s assistant winemaker Nate Wall surveys the day’s Biodynamic prep efforts

Thankfully, Troon’s application of Biodynamics isn’t moon-phase-chasing, ganjas-smokin’ BS; they are measuring the impact both in terms of soil impacts, vine health, and resulting wine quality. Over seventy soil pits have been dug and analyzed on the property – along with genetic sequencing of the microorganisms contained therin – to get a microbiome baseline. Early results are promising (more on the liquid results of all of that work to come in later articles here), and I got to measure some of the vine health myself by tagging along with assistant winemaker Nate Wall to perform leaf pressure-bomb analysis (the TLDR summary of that excursion: things are looking very good).

The Good Sh*t (Biodynamic Preparations At Troon Vineyard)

Anyway, back to the literal good sh*t…

During my visit, Troon was working over (e.g., turning, moistening, and adding BioD preparations such as dandelion, Valerian, yarrow, chamomile, and nettle) some of the most appealing compost I’ve ever seen. While there are way too many references to things like “cosmic forces” in the BioD prep. directions, there’s also some scientific method to the madness of adding in these elements to make for effective compost. For example, oak bark (#505) is probably acting as an antiseptic; Valerian might stimulate phosphorus and earthworm activity (the latter being essential for composting); yarrow might interact with potassium and sulfur to aid in plant nutrient intake.

The Good Sh*t (Biodynamic Preparations At Troon Vineyard)

What really blew me away about the results of the compost was how incredible it smelled; or, I should say, didn’t smell. It was aromatic (think woodsy and slightly sweet), not stinky. Parts of it felt almost like potting soil. It just about screamed (in so much as earth can scream) healthy.

I mean, this was seriously, seriously good sh*t. I immediately wanted to steal some and throw it all over my yard, which I suppose is one of the higher compliments one can pay to an enormous pile of compost.

Cheers!

Grab The 1WineDude.com Tasting Guide and start getting more out of every glass of wine today!

Shop Wine Products at Amazon.com

Copyright © 2016. Originally at The Good Sh*t (Biodynamic Preparations At Troon Vineyard) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Vineyard Venom

When I first arrived at Troon Vineyard, the then vineyard manager reviewed the previous year’s vineyard applications. Other than the usual nastiness like Roundup, one product immediately grabbed my eye - Venom. I was not familiar with this product, but, with a name like Venom, I did not expect anything good. 

A trip to the manufacture’s website confirmed my worst fears. Venom proved just as nasty as it sounded, “This compound is toxic to honey bees. The persistence of residues and potential residual toxicity of dinotefuran in nectar and pollen suggest the possibility of chronic risk to honey bee larvae and the eventual instability of the hive.” for the complete manufacturer information sheet click here

That’s right, it kills honey bees. All of them.

There was no more Venom or anything like that used at Troon from then on. Today, now that we have converted to biodynamic agriculture, we use products with much gentler names and impacts on the environment. For example, now we use products with names like Regalia, an organically certified biofungicide that works by strengthening the plants own defenses rather than poisoning anything and everything whether good or bad. It does not seem to be a coincidence that conventional chemical agricultural products often have scary names as, indeed, they are dangerous to everything - people as well as bees.

Products like Regalia not only sound less threatening but are less dangerous in the long-term as conventional chemicals tend to create fungicide-resistant strains that then require even more powerful chemical applications to combat them. Organic products like Regalia are based on bacteria that are already in the environment, which trigger the plant's natural defense system. In other words, we are only encouraging the plant to does what it does naturally

“When treated with Regalia, a plant’s natural defense systems are activated to protect against attacking diseases. Research shows that plants treated with Regalia produce and accumulate elevated levels of specialized proteins and other compounds known to inhibit fungal and bacterial diseases. Regalia induces a plant to produce phytoalexins, cell strengtheners, antioxidants, phenolics and PR proteins, which are all known inhibitors of plant pathogens. Regalia provides synergistic properties between a plant’s natural ability to protect itself and the effectiveness of antifungal and antibacterial protection.“ Marrone Bio-Innovations

Humans consider themselves smarter than plants, but we’re not. When it comes to producing grapes, the vine understands more about producing beautiful ripe grapes than we’ll ever know. It is arrogant on our part to believe we can do better. That arrogance has led to the use of chemicals that destroy a vines natural ability to feed and defend itself and to weaker plants addicted to fertilizers and chemicals. A weak plant does not produce the kinds of grapes that produce great wines. The single most important thing for quality wine is a strong, healthy grapevine. Our job as winegrowers is to help the vine do its work, not to do its work for it. When it comes to growing grapes, we are the apprentice and the vine is the master craftsman. This is a good thing to remember in this era of cult wines and winemakers. It is the vine and the soil that create memorable wines, not people. People are quite capable of producing commercially successful beverage wine products, but only vines and vineyards can give you sublime, individual wines. In a well-farmed vineyard with healthy vines and good soils, the winemaker's role is more as a shepherd than artist or technician. If you are not humbled by nature you are not connected to it, don’t understand it and can’t transform that power into wines that are anything other than industrial.

Biodynamics finally clicks in your brain when you realize as a farmer you are not a general in charge of a battlefield, but just another cog in the gear that makes nature work. Arrogance and chemical interventions have led to disaster. Farmers who realize their place in nature produce better and healthier foods and wines. This is a mindset that can be achieved by farmers large and small. 

Now at Troon, instead of destroying honey bees we are building three aviaries with accompanying pollinator habitats. The bees deserve this respect as we are just two of the myriad of intertwined pieces that make a farm a whole. We owe them something for the past sins of our predecessors. It will be an honor to welcome them back home.

The Smell of Biodynamics

Troon vineyard foreman Adan Cortes applies biodynamic preparation 507 Valerian to our first compost pile. In the back, Levon, the son of our biodynamic consultant Andrew Beedy lends moral support. Photo by Andrew Beedy.

I remember the smells well and they always take me back to my childhood. That warm, earthy pungent smell can only come from one thing. I grew up in a small rural town in northern Illinois on the Wisconsin border . My grandfather and grandmother, Chester and Goldie Camp, were small dairy farmers, a type of farmer that rarely exists anymore. They were organic farmers, but did not know it.

The Smell of Biodynamics

My grandparents, Chester and Goldie Camp

I stayed with them often as a child, rising with my grandfather before dawn for the morning milking. I can remember looking up at him while he shaved as he lathered up with a brush swirled on a bar in a cup - yes, he shaved before milking. Then out to the barn for what, in those days, was the very hard physical job of milking. You carried the pails of milk to the tank one-by-one. I would wander among the cows while the men worked - avoiding their back-ends and hoofs due to the stern admonitions of my grandfather. The rich, warm aromas of the animals, the feed and, of course, the manure filled the barn while the twang of country music pushed by 50,000 watts from WJJD in Chicago tinnily played from an old and very dirty radio. After the morning’s work, my grandmother would have a huge country breakfast waiting with, of course, a glass of fresh milk, cream and all, straight from the milk tank. 

These memories came flowing back to me as Troon’s vineyard foreman, Adan Cortes, dumped the first load of cow manure onto our new biodynamic compost pile. Soon more will follow. We are lucky to have the Noble Family Organic Dairy as a next-door neighbor - an unlimited supply of organic manure from the thousands of happy, healthy cows they milk three times a day. 

Compost is the cornerstone of a biodynamic program. While organic regulations may be focused on what you can’t use, the Demeter Biodynamic Certification follows all the USDA Organic rules, but the discipline of biodynamics takes things further with the biodynamic preparations and the concept of the whole farm. Biodynamic compost is the main vehicle that brings health to your soils and therefor your vines. Strong vines can fight off threats while weak vines require chemicals to survive. Of the nine biodynamic preparations, only three are applied to directly to the vineyard - 500, 501, 508 - while the other six - 502 to 507 - are applied to the compost piles. We began our biodynamic compost program in earnest last week starting with manure from our neighbor organic farmer, Noble Dairy. The Noble family has been farming organically since 2004. We layered this rich manure with organic hay from another neighbor and the remains from last harvest’s grape pressings to create a pile about 150 feet long and five feet high. Then our vineyard foreman Adan Cortes applied the biodynamic preparations to the new pile. It was an exciting and emotional experience for all of us at Troon. Next week we are building a second pile and this fall will be creating four more based on our grape pomace from this year’s harvest. From now on nature’s circle will be unbroken with each vintage producing the compost to feed our vineyard soils for another year.

My grandparents were organic farmers and didn’t even know it. My grandmother prepared and canned organic vegetables from her organic garden. On Sundays, they ate free-range, organic chicken - that my grandfather killed the day before. Note my grandfather could only kill the chickens my grandmother had not named. They fed their dairy cattle organic hay in the winter and they grazed on organic grass in the summer. They were either blissfully unaware of the latest chemicals or could not afford them, or both. Michael Pollan wrote in his excellent book, In Defense of Food, don’t eat anything that your grandparents would not recognize as food. Certainly, good advice in my case.

When you grow grapes for wine you are growing food and Pollan’s recommendation can easily be rewritten to don’t drink wine that your grandparents would not recognize as wine - not that my grandparents ever had a sip of wine as far as I know. Pabst was my grandfather’s drink of choice.

The direct connection of memories of my grandparents to our building our first compost pile was a warm, emotional experience for me. Agriculture is a seasonal and circular experience, if you are not emotionally connected to the past you will always struggle. Emotions and good feelings very much describe the process of converting to biodynamics. You feel good about what you are doing. While we have practiced sustainable agriculture for years, this is different and you can feel it.

It feels right. Chester and Goldie would approve.