Biodynamics should be promoted, debate audience decides
- Friday 2 December 2011
Organic viticulture: 'shutting the farm gate'
Viticulturalist Richard Smart and biodynamic winemaker Monty Waldin went head-to-head at the Wine and Spirit Education Trust headquarters – Waldin supporting the motion and Smart opposing it.
Waldin made clear that he was not suggesting organic or biodynamic viticulture should be compulsory – ‘you should wear a seat belt not because the state tells you to but because it’s safer.’
Organic and biodynamic grape growing ‘needn’t be voodoo and black magic’, as Smart had earlier suggested, but was simply the process of ‘shutting the farm gate’, that is, making your operation as self-sufficient as possible.
It is far better to produce your own manure from your own livestock, for example, than to ‘raise an invoice for a sack of fertiliser that needs to be delivered by truck.’
He pointed out the inconsistencies in the scientific approach to viticulture: if science had all the answers, why could it not explain why horn manure or BD500, a preparation made from fermented cow dung, had been proved on analysis to contain more beneficial microbes than conventional manure?
Richard Smart, who stressed that he was an environmentalist, said he didn’t care if growers were organic or biodynamic, ‘but I do care if they disadvantage others who are equally earnest in their care for the environment.’
He said his argument had always been that carbon dioxide was the greatest danger to the environment, and organic or biodynamic farming did nothing to address that.
Making the case that the organic and biodynamic lobby was driven by ‘PR and misconception’ and ‘emotive’ he said many conventional farmers were ‘too frightened to stick their heads above the parapet for fear it would affect sales’.
He used the example of biodynamic vineyards he had seen in Martinborough that were ‘suffering nitrogen and water deficiency’ – an argument countered by Waldin, who pointed out ‘over-irrigation is a worldwide problem’.
Smart also pointed out inconsistencies: copper is ‘the most toxic thing you can put on a vineyard’, he said, yet it is permitted in organic viticulture.
Similarly, he drew on a University of California, Berkeley report that found people eat 1.5g of pesticide daily, but only 0.1mg of that is synthetic – the rest is naturally-occurring.
The audience, which included Gerard Basset MW, natural wines expert Isabelle Legeron MW, David Cox of Wines of New Zealand and other highly-qualified members of the UK trade, questioned both speakers closely, demanding of Smart why he considered the concept that soils could be dead or living ‘emotive’.
He countered that such terms were not rigorous and would not be used by a soil microbiologist.
The motion was carried, with 75% of the audience voting for, and a handful against.