Book Review: “BioDynamic Wine, Demystified” by Nicolas Joly

As the former employee of a BioDynamic winery, I’ve had dozens of opportunities to promote the theories of BioDynamic farming. Unfortunately, the vagaries of BioDynamics are founded upon some very challenging ideas. For this reason, and despite my rhetoric on the subject, I feel that the BioDynamic movement remains largely misunderstood. At worst, BioDynamics is labeled as mere superstition. And while this dismissal is entirely unfair, I will admit that the underlying principles of BioDynamics are indeed strange and esoteric. I will also admit that, honestly, I don’t even understand many of the theories that surround BioDynamics — some appear intuitive, while others seem outlandish.

With its roots in cosmic energies, BioDynamics must seem like a big step backwards to many, a movement away from the hard realities of scientific fact and investigation. Inevitably, any deep discussion of BioDynamics requires an explanation of such things as planetary cycles and constellatory alignments. At this point, once the conversation turns cosmic, most people begin to roll their eyes, which is why I rarely ever delved into the real, core principles of BioDynamic farming. Before long, my dumbed-down explanation of BioDynamics became: “BioDynamic farming is basically über-organic farming.” And that was it.

But even though this statement is both true and easy to grasp, there is clearly much more to BioDynamics than the simple tenets of organic farming. Unfortunately, I’m not going to launch into my own explanation here. After all, in spite my own reading and research, I am still largely baffled by much of the “science” behind BioDynamics. When it comes to this growing agricultural movement — even though I’ve definitely been sipping the Kool-Aid — I still only half get it. As a result, having recently finished “BioDynamic Wine, Demystified” by Nicolas Joly, I cannot say that the book’s title is entirely accurate.

Of course, I never expected “BioDynamic Wine, Demystified” to answer all of my BioDynamic questions. At just 150 pages, this essay could really only scratch the surface, with Joly himself deflecting many of the specific explanations to his bibliographical sources (another reason why I don’t dare offer my own take on the subject). Often, the book must be taken with a significant grain of salt, as many unfounded statements are offered as fact. Ultimately, too many of these statements may coalesce into doubts for the reader, spawning more and more questions along the way.

In all fairness, “BioDynamic Wine, Demystified” does deepen one’s understanding of BioDynamic farming, even though it fails to offer any satisfying explanations. Instead, it offers a philosophy of farming, complete with a heady world view. Nonetheless, practicing BioDynamics does appear to have its merits, especially considering its strict rules against pesticides and other chemicals (BioDynamic farming is far more regulated than any form of organic farming). I have also heard many first-hand accounts about the successful results of BioDynamic farming, so I realize that the empirical evidence does exist. However, the actual science behind BioDynamics remains a large gray area: I certainly acknowledge the theories and the results, but the cause-and-effect connection between the two is still shrouded in archaic farming traditions.

As it is, “BioDynamic Wine, Demystified” will not be the last book that I consult on this particular topic. I am still searching for any book that can align some truly scientific data with this uniquely metaphysical approach to farming. At this point, I suspect that such a text may not even exist. Until then, books such as these can only be as convincing as the actual science behind them.

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