Voodoo Vintners – a review

This a crude translation of the swedish original text that can be found here.

My skeptical attitude toward biodynamic farming is no secret. I am of the firm belief that superstition, blind faith and pseudoscience doesn’t contribute to the progress of the human race. But at the same time I’m fascinated by how seemingly wise, intelligent and otherwise analytical people without hesitation throw logic and plain common sense overboard when it comes to biodynamics, homeopathy and astrology. Therefore, I read a lot on the subject because I believe that one can not reject something without a sound knowlege about it.

British wine writers and bloggers recently tweeted a lot about the newly released book ”Voodoo Vintners’ by Katherine Cole and the title made ​​me immediately order a copy. The subtitle ”Oregon’s Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers’ says a lot about what the book is about. Not much is said about wine in the text, the few times it refers to specific wines, it is to show how many points they received and/or how much they cost. The reader doesn’t get much useful information about how the alternative farming might affect the style, character and taste. Perhaps not very surprising really.

Just as it says in the title the book mostly deals with the growers themselves. We meet a colorful gallery of passionate growers and their background that led them to engage in biodynamics. The proportion of married couples in their middle age who leave brilliant careers behind to seek a deeper meaning in life is clearly over-represented. We get vivid descriptions of the lush, picturesque estates which is full of life, singing birds and buzzing insects. The growers all seem to have ”vibrant and sparkling eyes,” ”silvery beard” ”boyish look”, ”warm, low sounding voice” and tells anecdotes about how they constructed eccentric agricultural machinery which they had given funny nicknames. It’s about passion, belief and to ”find ones way in life.” Large parts of the book is like reading a very long article in a lifestyle magazine. Somewhat tiring.

In the very beginning there is a very long story about a family fleeing from Iran and that eventually ends up in the newage-orientated Oregon and become vintners. Encountering biodynamics they are reminded of the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism familiar to them from their ancestors in the old country which in turn gives the ”logical” conclusion of burying cow horns filled with manure. But after reading the quite detailed section on Rudolf Steiner, the father of biodynamics, it suddenly seems quite reasonable. Steiner was, as a man of his time, very much into ancient religions and mysticism as well as a philosopher and a certified nut. The latter seems quite clear from the book and Katherine Cole isn’t shy about the fact that she is more than a little ambivalent towards Steiner.

Coles faltering is extremely annoying. It is very clear that she embraces biodynamics in general and the farmers in particular. While she displays doubts, criticisms and incriminating historical accounts that warms the heart of an old skeptic she suddenly flip-flops to uncritical reporting on completely absurd claims as facts. It’s the old dilemma of ”it seems totally weird but it works.” The problem is that there is no practice specific to biodynamic that is proven to work. Cole also makes the common mistake of confusing the effects of what is healthy organic cultivation and hard vineyard work (bio-) with mysticism, ”voodoo”, astrology and superstition (-dynamics).

It also shows very clearly in the book that BD is a religion or philosophy when the farmers themselves are talking about ”belief” and ”faith”. Even more clear is the religious theme when we meet the growers who are engaged in ”cherry picking”, just embracing the elements of the ”religion” that suit their own beliefs or pure comfort. This is a very common behavior in religious circles as well as in the case of biodynamics. The idea of remowing  important parts such as cosmic energy and the use of the lunar calendar from a complex anthroposophic philosophy and instead just buy pre-prepaired homeopathic preparations is quite remarkable. I can actually understand when someone ”buys the whole package” of this, admittedly confused, belief as it within carries its own form of logic. But if you for hours and whisks water clockwise, sometimes counterclockwise to give it energy, but don’t buy in to the whole idea, well then you are in my opinion either stupid for real or a hypocrite.

The book is a giddy blend of stories about wine growers, facts, analysis and historical ower views, without any apparent logic. However, it is well written and often entertaining. The sections on the biodynamic methods and the story of Rudolf Steiner are interesting and informative. The chapter where the skeptical and critical growers speak their minds are very refreshing and fun. A favourite quote is ”organic farming is an escape back to a time when we did not understand so much.”  You also get a good understanding of the development and the state of viticulture in Oregon. I was there ten years ago and met several of the farmers mentioned in the book and the book gave me a strong desire to return. Soon.

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Kategorier: Vin

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  1. Voodoo vintners « Öhmans Mat & Vin - 12 juli 2011

    […] You can find a crude translation of this review here. […]

  2. Best of the Blogs | Katherine Cole - 17 oktober 2013

    […] Öhman’s Food & Wine […]


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