Waldorfing Wine: The Ever-Gaining Ground of Biodynamics

Toward the end of his life, in 1924, the Austrian philosopher and educator Rudolf Steiner gave his famous Agriculture Course lectures. These he had written in response to a group of farmers concerned for the increasingly mechanized and agrochemical methods which were already changing the face of agriculture. Even this early, it was obvious to some people that, though industrialization in farming might maximize yields and bring big profits, it was inevitably detrimental both to taste and health, and not at all practical in the long run.

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Steiner’s eight lectures laid the foundation for a practice that his followers later coined as “biodynamic,” a way of thinking that has developed over the last 75 years from something regarded as esoteric and unfavorably mystical to a recognized and respected alternative to conventional farming methods. Over three hundred vintners worldwide have either converted or are in the process of converting to biodynamic practices, and somewhere around forty of these are in California alone.

The biodynamic principle is aligned with the network of ideas that Steiner used to form the tenets of Waldorf education; both are applications of the ideas behind Anthroposophy, a philosophy that aims to investigate the non-material world using natural science. Simply translated, the word means “spiritual science,” a term inherently contradictory. Steiner, fully aware of the slippery nature of this idea, addressed its difficulty directly in a lecture that he gave in April of 1923: “But just because our primary goal is toward practical application, I can give only broad outlines, something that is very unpopular these days. Few people are sufficiently aware that anything expressed in words can, at best, be only a hint, a mere indication of what is far more complex and multifarious in actual life.”

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