Nearly 200 growers, vintners, retailers, sommeliers and other tradespeople attended a workshop on biodynamic winemaking Dec. 2, prompting San Francisco Examiner wine blogger Annette Hanami to suggest the process is becoming mainstream.
"Ultimately, biodynamic wines are becoming mainstream because consumers demand it," the author wrote. "Biodynamic products are becoming less 'kooky' and more attractive than the scarier mass-produced alternatives."
Biodynamic farming is a method of organic production that the involves the use of fermented herbal and mineral "preparations" as compost additives and field sprays, and the use of an astronomical sowing and planting calendar.
With stores like Walmart now selling organic produce and products made with organic ingredients, being “sustainable” and “green” are no longer enough to distinguish a producer in a competitive global market, Hamini wrote.
Currently, there are 75 California wine producers who are certified biodynamic or in transition; the growth rate is 15 percent per year.
UC Cooperative Extension involvement in a biodynamic farming workshop Dec. 2 in Napa has been met with criticism from a local vintner who believes the farming system is a hoax, according to a story in the Napa Valley Register.
The article said Stu Smith, the co-owner of Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery, is “shocked and outraged” that UC Cooperative Extension is co-sponsoring a “Shortcourse in Biodynamic Winegrowing.”
Smith, who earned a master’s degree in enology and viticulture at UC Davis, said that UCCE should participate only if it’s a balanced and comparative event.
Cooper said she will discuss scientifically validated IPM techniques, and has no control over what other presenters say.
“It is our responsibility as UC farm advisors to represent the scientific community at a variety of venues, and to ensure that we are presenting information on scientifically validated processes," Cooper was quoted.
McGourty has conducted some research on biodynamic farming practices. Writer Paul Franson reported that, according to McGourty, such farming systems "are well documented to improve soil quality, grow productive crops, reduce the need for petrochemical inputs, recycle farm byproducts in a safe and effective way, and provide a gentler footprint on nature compared to some practices used by conventional growers.”
Franson also quoted assistant director of UC Ag and Natural Resources News and Information Outreach Pam Kan-Rice.
"The University of California doesn’t ‘promote’ any particular way of farming, it supports sustainable farming systems,” Kan-Rice was quoted.
After a hard life - which included multiple divorces, alcoholism, drug addiction, the loss of a young son and bankruptcy - specialty fertilizer producer Denise Ritchie is now finding gratification by rescuing dairy cows before slaughter and using manure to create biodynamic compost.
Ritchie's story was featured this week in a Los Angeles Times Column One article by Martha Groves. She and her husband Randy purchased a dairy cow at auction last August. The animal was christened Bu, ensconced at a friend's organic dairy farm near Fresno, and became the namesake for the Ritchies' "Bu's Blend Biodynamic Compost."
According to the Times article, Ritchie stumbled upon and was inspired by the biodynamic process, which mixes organic principles with cosmic spirituality. The Ritichies believe their compost emanates "energetic life forces to vitalize vegetables, plants, flowers, lawns, gardens, farms and our earth," according to their website. While much of mainstream agriculture is unconvinced about the value of biodynamic tenents, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Glenn McGourty sees their value.
"There are lessons for all of agriculture in some of the basic agronomy that biodynamic farmers practice," McGourty was quoted in the story.
Bu's Blend is sold in about 50 California nurseries, running about $20 for a 1.5 cubic foot bag, easily double the cost of other organic composts.
"You're healing your soil with this stuff," the story quoted Sarah Spitz, a KCRW producer and a graduate of the Los Angeles County UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program.The LA Times story says the Master Gardener became a customer of the fertilizer after studying various approaches to gardening and concluding that biodynamics "was the purest, healthiest and cleanest system." Every seed she has planted using Bu's Blend, she told Groves, has sprouted and grown "big and beautiful."
One of the reasons McGourty applied for the position, he explained in his written application, was because UC President Mark Yudof encouraged all UC faculty to reach out to K-12 education, "as the future depends on quality public schools in the state."
McGourty was also asked in the application about his knowledge of the Governor's budget and its impact to education.
"The present budget is abysmal," he responded. "We spend more on prisons than the combined budget of UC, CSU, and community college systems. Too many prisoners are high school drop outs. We cannot afford to have so many people outside of our economic mainstream. We need to have a school system that helps students who learn differently, are differently enabled and not simply focus on delivering a literal arts education for college-bound students. The immediate concern is that a challenging budget will negate many of the positive gains for K-12 education that were made in the previous two decades, such s classroom size reduction, tech education and electives that make school more appealing and interesting to students."
One of the topics of McGourty's research in his role with UCCE is biodynamic agricultural production, which was the focus of a ANR feature story.
Biodynamic farming is similar to organic production. As on organic farms, no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are used. The farm is viewed as its own ecosystem and typically supports a diverse mix of crops and livestock, which are considered complimentary. Biodynamic farmers use unique preparations and compost. Planting, cultural operations and harvesting are guided by celestial events.
“Some people scoff or roll their eyes,” McGourty said. “I am interested in looking objectively at what a group of dedicated farmers take very, very seriously. More importantly, they are getting some very good results in their winegrapes and wines.”