A calf’s head…bounced around alongside it.

An article in the dining section of SF (San Fransisco) Weekly gives a journalist’s perspective on biodynamic wine production. I found it indirectly from a link on the Waldorf Review facebook page.

People here in Gloucestershire still can’t accept what biodynamics is and yet it goes on around us – 50 acres of land are farmed biodynamically in the area, and the preparations and rituals used are the same in California and the world over.

I have already reblogged a vegan’s view of biodynamics, but this piece gives more (gruesome) detail about what the process really involves. Author Joe Eskanazi describes a family vineyard “steeped in the occult and bad science”.

I recommend reading the informative and interesting article which lifts the lid on a subject many wine merchants and their customers do not want to know about in detail.

He starts with a drive in the chief gardener’s truck;

“…with every bump in the road, a bovine nose protruded momentarily from the bed…The bull’s eyes stared serenely skyward while its majestic horns barely fit within the truck bed. A calf’s head, shorn of its jaw muscles, bounced around alongside it…the severed heads were a vital ingredient in Biodynamic Preparation No. 505.” (There is a picture to illustrate the point.)

He then moves to a winery in Sonoma County where nearly half the wines are biodynamic, yet the sellers do not disclose any details about the method of production, simply saying it is “ultra-organic”.

In an article openly critical of the astrology, alchemy, occult rituals, and use of dead animal parts intrinsic in biodynamic production, he says

“Clearly, Biodynamic wines’ sign is ascending – even if no one involved in making or selling them wants to volunteer information about the severed cows’ heads or a bevy of other animal and vegetable preparations that read like a shopping list for Shakespeare’s three weird sisters.”

The descriptions used by winemakers are “almost wilfully obtuse”.

(Ring any bells with other Steiner followers’ descriptions…?)

The founder of the vineyard says

” …drawing attention to its supernatural aspects, such as those severed cows’ heads freaks people out… Explaining the method of production for [Preparation No. 505] is particularly difficult in any public forum and is usually avoided by those representing Biodynamics.”

There is another very telling statement from the same grower about why it is best not to tell people about the anthroposophy in biodynamics;

“…the winemaker avoids explaining that Steiner felt Biodynamics was viable only because of cosmic forces from above, spirit beings living in the Earth and air, and his clairvoyant ability to simply know it was so. “One of the things you have to be careful about is overprojecting information to people before they’re ready,” Benziger says. “Look into history. There have always been initiates, and no one is willing to tell a novice secrets about the way the world works.”

So consumers are not fit to be told about why biodynamics *works*; we wouldn’t understand ; we are not initiates, not clairvoyant and not *ready*.

Yes, and that’s also why parents are not told about anthroposophy in Steiner schools. Only when we are ready to be assimilated into the cult are we fit to be honoured with the details.

There are fascinating snippets about Steiner and anthroposophy in general, including a comparison of biodynamic growers’ belief that it has prevented hurricanes with the “fundamentalist mindset” of those believe the 9/11 attacks were a result of god’s displeasure with certain members of society.

Also a note that some elements of biodynamics “cloak themselves in the vestiges of scientific validity — and fail.”Eskanazi looks at the suggestion that the phases of the moon may affect the growth of plants, and explains why “… while it may be logical, it’s not true.”

The alchemy is also dismissed.

Surprisingly criticism of biodynamics is not “rippling through the wine world” according to the article, despite the many winemakers who feel it is “wacky and a cult”. No-one wants to burn their bridges in such a big money industry.

I find it ironic in an age where people are more and more concerned about how the food they eat is produced, that biodynamic wine, a luxury item, is allowed to slip through the net and simply call itself the “Rolls Royce of organic farming” without consumers troubling themselves with the gory details.

We are prepared to pay more for food produced with high animal welfare standards – free range eggs for example, and worry about the use of leather and furs, but are generally not curious about how animals are used in this cosmic “voodoo” version of agriculture.

Well worth reading the whole article.



  1. Jim

    I think there are probably a number of factors contributing to the high profile BD has in the wine industry. Wine is unlike most other agricultural products in its individuality and enormous variation in style, quality and of course price. Even other products such as Evesham asparagus or Jersey new potatoes are not differentiated by individual farm ( or even plot within the farm ). So there has always been that pressure to find the unique – the terroir, the micro-climate, the particular clones of the grape varieties used. That includes the element of muck and mystery that BD lends itself to. And superstition does seem to thrive in situations where so much ( eg the weather ) is out of your control.
    There also seems to be a reaction against the flying winemakers of the 70s and 80s – the consultants who revived moribund wine districts with modern techniques which produced clean fresh wines but often with no distinctive character. So now we’re getting more emphasis on natural wines which again BD is seen by some as exemplifying.
    The impression I get from people in the wine trade is that they regard BD as rather loony but can’t deny that some of the producers do actually make very good wine. As indeed they did for decades before converting to BD. One merchant described the rituals of BD as being like those of someone afflicted with obsessive compulsive disorder – they are of no objective benefit but help the sufferer to cope. And of course if you don’t know what lies behind them the rituals and potions can just seem weird but harmless.

  2. Pete Karaiskos

    Thank you Helen. I’m sorry I missed this on TWR… So many Waldorf scandals, so little time. I may still post it for the photo if nothing else. Great comparison of BD winemakers and Waldorf school representatives. The truth hurts… so here, let us offer you a nice, refreshing lie. The concept is the same, whether you’re spending $20 on a bottle of wine or $200,000 on your child’s education – a few sacrifices that you won’t know about need to be made for the better good.

    I love Jim’s comparison to OCD. My former father-in-law was a famous biodynamic farmer – and he was absolutely obsessed with it. He would check his plants hourly. He would eat his own compost to demonstrate how wonderful it was. I don’t think anything special is going on – just some additional attention to the crops. I don’t think a water molecule knows if it has been stirred in a figure-8.

  3. Helen

    The article was written a few years ago but I don’t suppose much has changed since 2008 – bd wines are just as popular – if not more so.
    I’ve been wondering how organic/biodynamic the calf’s head has to be – does the animal have to have grazed on bd fields and do the horns have to be from animals specially bred, I wonder? Considering bd is supposed to be uber-organic one would assume they wouldn’t want to put any non-organic material in their soil. can’t find an answer to that question yet.

    • Pete Karaiskos

      I don’t know the answer to the cow horn issue – it may be similar to the issue of Waldorf schools not having enough parents who are aware of what they are actually doing. I’m guessing there aren’t enough bio-dynamic cows who would willingly give their horns to biodynamic farms. So, in the Waldorf tradition, some cows will be un-knowing participants from outside the movement and won’t know why their horns are being sacrificed until it’s too late (if ever). The cows are of no use to the movement… it’s the horns they are interested in. Once the horns are separated from the cows, who cares about the cows? The horns can be hollowed out – and then filled with manure and *that’s* where the process unfolds. A little manure goes a long way in the right hands. And with a little imagination, remarkable results transpire from that manure. Ask any happy Waldorf parent.

  4. Jim

    Well, one of the principles of BD is to treat the whole farm as a “living organism” which includes the livestock which produces manure ( and horns ) to go back to the soil, so I don’t think it can be correct to say “the cows are of no use to the movement”. Ruskin Mill, our local biodynamic enterprise, has a farm shop which sells meat products as well as vegetables though I’m not clear how much is produced on site.
    How that would work in a vineyard is anybody’s guess as high fertility is generally not desirable. Ah but wait a minute – that’s the reason for applying it in homeopathic dilutions – so it has no effect!
    But now I come to think of it the position of farm animals in BD is a little unclear. Everything we hear relates to them as supporting the soil rather than as producing meat. Anthroposophy does not enjoin vegetarianism but we don’t hear of BD beef, pork, eggs etc. I’m not aware of any rituals similar to those of BD applying to the raising of livestock, though I would guess that homeopathic ‘remedies’ are preferred ( as with some organic farmers ).

    • Pete Karaiskos

      Jim, maybe I missed with my parody of the Waldorf movement. “Cows” represent the “parents” – “horns” represent the “children”. I guess it would have been better if I started with “The problem is, there aren’t enough biodynamic cows to support the growth of all the biodynamic farms…” ;)

  5. Helen

    Just at the moment I think the Steiner movement would find it easier herding cats than the parents they would like to control, who are getting a bit bolshie, and realising they don’t have to accept what they are told.

    • Pete Karaiskos

      Yes, I like that one… especially the Waldorf products. Where else can you find a wooden keyboard? I don’t think it is kept up too regularly. I happen to know that Rudolf Waldorf, the administrator of Promise Hollow, sent an angry letter to the administrator of the Burning Badger school site chastising him for mocking Waldorf schools – and suggesting he might link to the Burning Badger site – you know… just to teach them a lesson.

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