Voodoo Vintners: Oregon's Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers Paperback – Jun 15 2011
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About the Author
Katherine Cole; Foreword by Hugh Johnson
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I'm a frequent visitor to Oregon wineries and have wondered exactly what "biodynamic" means. The book answers that in substantial detail -- not as a winegrowing manual, but from a readable, journalist's point of view: what is the difference from organic? what are the "preparations"? the role of the moon? the underlying beliefs? The author does a great job of presenting answers all around, without being tedious or overwhelming. It's the perfect introduction to those topics for interested wine aficionados. The author is not trying to convince anyone that biodynamic is better -- in fact, she is clearly skeptical of some aspects of it, which I appreciate -- and is instead just trying to explain it and tell its story.
One thing to note is that the book is *not* a guide to the wines themselves. It remains studiously neutral about the quality of the wines it discusses. In my opinion, some of the very best Oregon properties are biodynamic and make exquisite wine; yet there are also duds where I can only say things like "well, I like the idea." The author leaves aside such judgment. Instead, she tells the history of the biodynamic movement and its foundation in Rudolf Steiner's philosophy, skillfully woven with stories of individual wineries and the history of organic and biodynamic winegrowing.
In short, if you want a wine guide, this is not it (try John Haeger's Pacific Pinot Noir). Or if you want a manual for biodynamic farming or winemaking, it's definitely not that. But if you like reading about wine and winemakers, enjoy Oregon wine, and have ever wondered "what does biodynamic mean?" then it's the perfect book. Cheers!
of living and eating has touched off the move to trumpet the organic qualities of some foods. Wine as a drink
is supposed to represent the earth and climate like no other, so of course you would expect there to be
organic wine. You may have even heard of winemakers flaunting their "biodynamic" cred.
When my neighborhood winery advertized themselves as biodynamic, I didn't think too much about it. But Biodynamics
is about more than just avoiding toxic sprays. It specifies a range of herbal treatments for vines which
must be prepared in some really wacky ways. Think burying flowers in animal skulls for several months.
Cole does an excellent job researching the roots of biodynamics and presenting it in a balanced way. But what's
really wonderful about this book is the way she introduces us to the people of Oregon wine. Winemaking is relatively
new in Oregon, dating back to the 1970s. So the pioneers are still with us.
If you are an Oregonian, this is a special treat. For example, you can read about Moe Momtazi's hair-raising
escape from his native Iran. Then you can drive out to Maysara Vineyards and meet Moe himself and his
Here author Katherine Cole approaches the dodgy subject of biodynamism from a reporter's perspective, by interviewing Oregon viticulturists and winemakers engaged in the practice, and offering her opinions.
Her style is fun, young and whimsical. The book is written in a slightly more informal style than her professional wine reviews. The incomplete sentences threw me off at first, but then I just got used to them. Katherine is not a winegrower or winemaker, but she lives, breaths and works in the midst of it all in Oregon. The influences of both Burgundy and California are outlined as well.
The differences between organic viticulture, vinification and biodynamic winegrowing and winemaking are covered quite well. She illustrates how there is no absolute established dogma for any of the disciplines, except perhaps biodynamic Demeter certification.
Demeter is quirky, particularly the winemaking rules. “Though shalt not” almost everything. For example: A Demeter certified winemaker is not allowed to use a commercial yeast—well---unless you end up with a stuck fermentation—then it's okay. That's funny. Then why have the rule in the first place? Personally, I feel aligned with the biodynamic viticultural ideas, but there is no way I could tolerate some organization of British non-winemakers breathing down my neck telling me what I shall do (and tithing them to do it). Yes, it is almost like a religious organization. Winemaking and winegrowing techniques are evolving constantly, and should be encouraged to do so. We are learning more every day. I prefer to say “no” to limitations.
This is not a how-to book about biodynamics, rather an objective overview. For anyone interested in the practice, this is a good place to start. It is an enjoyable read for both professionals and wine lovers.
First off, the book is written in an odd style. The author seems to switch from journalist style writing (which I thought was her best style) to a more encyclopedic style (that left me nearly comatose) to a storybook style (which didn't really fit in with the theme of the text). At times she really discussed the past and the history of those Oregon growers who turned to BD. But often their past, while interesting, does nothing to shed light on their BD beliefs. It does in a few instances, but often the history of the people involved is rather extended.
The chapter on Steiner, while interesting, halts the book dead in its tracks. While understanding Steiner is important, I think much of this information could have been excluded and those interested could have looked into further reading in other texts. I gave the book to my partner (a wine lover, vegan, and lover of all foods organic, but not in the wine business) to read and she couldn't really get beyond the Steiner section. I told her to skip it and then she told me she enjoyed the rest.
The other problem is that while the author seems to really enjoy BD wines, and seems to want to promote them, she does end on a rather convincing chapter discrediting BD. When she mentions Sokol Blosser and their trials with BD, it is like saying to someone like me: see you can make stellar wine in just as organic a process without using BD practices. I do understand that it works and has worked for many other wineries, but I do like that Alex Sokol Blosser points out that BD is not super-organic or organic to the extreme as many put it. He states that his winery is just as organic and waste conscious (if not more so) than many BD practitioners.
Still, the book has merit. With wineries such as Bergstrom, Brick House, Beaux Freres, and others using BD practices and commanding $50 -$90 per bottle and garnering outstanding ratings by the press, one does have to wonder if there is merit to this practice.
Still, in the end, I felt very little changed on my opinion of BD - if the wine is good, then I don't really care how it was grown as long as the producer is environmentally conscious. I am still a fan of many BD producers, but I feel, after reading this book, that just being environmentally responsible and trying to grow mostly organic is preferable to conventional farming. If BD is what it takes to get you there, then so be it.
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