Thursday, December 1, 2011

Voodoo Vintners Book Review

I recently read Alice Feiring’s Naked Wine and became intrigued by the idea of natural winemaking, which led to organic farming, which led to biodynamism. When I saw the book Voodoo Vintners: Oregon’s Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers (Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press, 2011), I had to read it.

Katherine Cole writes wine columns for the FOODday section of The Oregonian newspaper and MIX magazine. Voodoo Vintners, her book on biodynamic winegrowing, was published in June 2011 by Oregon State University Press. Katherine’s work has appeared in numerous national magazines. She holds degrees from Harvard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has studied with the International Sommelier Guild, and has taught journalism courses at Portland State University. Interact with her on Twitter:

Could cow horns, vortexes, and the words of a prophet named Rudolf Steiner hold the key to producing the most alluring wines in the world—and to saving the planet? In Voodoo Vintners, wine writer Katherine Cole reveals the mysteries of biodynamic winegrowing and explores its practice in Oregon vineyards. Cole’s story of biodynamic winegrowing starts on the back of a motorcycle in Persia and ends on a farm where the work is done by draft horses, chickens, and goats. Voodoo Vintners answers the call of oenophiles everywhere for more information about this “beyond organic” style of farming. Cole’s engaging narrative is a must-read for anyone interested in wine, sustainable agriculture, or the local food movement.

This book comes at a time that biodynamic winegrowing is becoming more discussed. It is an evenhanded look at both sides of this agricultural debate. It really made me ponder what aspects of biodynamism I could relate to, and what just sounded overly farfetched to be worthwhile. Her explanation of biodynamic farming is one I can really get behind:

“…you’re not just managing a crop. You’re not just managing a farm. You’re managing an ecosystem. It’s a giant, farm-sized organism, of which every bird, bee, and bug is an integral part. Everything -- from the stray deer to the stray dandelion seed – contributes to the dynamic circle of life.”

Then again, I must admit that this book was maddening at times, where Cole has built up biodynamic farming as the obvious answer to so many winemaking problems, only to deftly deflate that balloon by using a counterpoint suggested by a researcher, farmer, or scientist. Very well done – it really made me think. It’s also apparently not surprising that so many people are conflicted by the opposing forces of biodynamism.

Rudolf Steiner, the godfather of biodynamic farming, was a conflicted man, trying to integrate mathematics and the sciences with cosmic rhythms and forces. As Cole writes: “Biodynamic agriculture is a textbook example of this conflict: on the one hand, it’s practical horticulture. On the other, it’s faith-based farming."

An alternative view can be found at the blog Biodynamics is a Hoax -- it’s not often updated , but it’s always good to be exposed to other views.

Ultimately, it seems that, much like natural wine, biodynamic winegrowing is something that lies along a continuum, with individuals opting in to more or lesser degree of adherence. That’s pretty much where I find myself, especially so early in my study. It seems that the most beneficial aspect of biodynamic farming might be the time and attention the grower must give to the vineyard. The cosmic aspects I’m a little more skeptical of, though lunar planting has been adhered to for centuries, so I’m not closed off to it either.

At the end of the day, this book is a must-read.


Disclaimer: This book was sent to me for review purposes, courtesy of Oregon State University Press. I was not compensated in any other way for the review, was not obligated to give the book a positive review, and all opinions are my own. Some information in this review was taken from the company website.

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