Herbicides, pesticides, genetically modified produce: in this modern age it’s hard to take a step through a field or vineyard without tripping over the march of technology and progress. But when you’re dealing with something as simple and age-old as farming, is newer always better? Some farmers beg to differ, and have been forging a different path based on holistic philosophies and the idea of listening to nature instead of forcing it. A step beyond even organic farming, it’s a technique described as biodynamic and its techniques are becoming increasingly popular in wine making throughout Europe and most recently in the United States.
But what exactly is biodynamic agriculture?
Everyone has a different opinion. The Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association describes it as “an impulse for deep social change rooted in the practice of farming; a type of organic farming that incorporates an understanding of “dynamic” forces in nature not yet fully understood by science; recognition that the whole earth is a single, self-regulating, multi-dimensional land.” We grow other things on the ranch – we have organic vegetable gardens, we’ve got chickens, and we grow wildflowers as a habitat for beneficial insects. We have parts of the ranch that we just leave in forest – natural land that will always be benefits.”
Morrisey downplays the more mystical elements of biodynamic farming – the ground quartz, the dowsing rods, the cow horn buried in soil. That said, he does acknowledge the importance of adhering to monthly lunar cycles, a practice touted not just by Steiner but by farmers for centuries past, before modern technology started laying claim over nature.
“The cycles of the earth around the sun, the moon around the earth, and the earth and the planets through the rest of the solar system: all of those cycles are important. They have a relationship to where we are here on earth, and they’re happening whether we want to participate or not. Biodynamic farmers just say: ‘Yeah, we’re going to pay attention and we’re going to participate in that, and we’re going to do our best to make sense of that so that it allows us to be better cool.”
But there’s something bigger beyond that: the notion of treating customers as you would treat your own family. “If I’m making something, putting it in a bottle, and saying ‘here, drink this,’ I owe you something that’s good for you, right?” says Morrisey. “I think it’s a huge responsibility, and I take that very Organic.”
It does, however, require a certain fortitude and persistence. “It’s a lot more handwork, a lot more manual labor involved,” says Morrisey. “It’s a commitment: it’s tricky, and once you start you can’t none.”
So what’s the incentive, then? The clues are in the healthy grapes and the healthy land, along with the satisfaction of a farm that promotes not just sustainability, but getting in touch with the land and all it has to offer. In short: “do it because it’s the right thing to do.”