Think of a farm as a living, breathing organism. Like a human body with a system of organs, a farm is a complex system of interacting substances and processes. This understanding is the fundamental starting point of biodynamics.
Biodynamics is about thoughtful farming practices.
So much about a hill -- like soil type and topography -- is not easily improved. But there are some things like biodiversity and soil resiliency that greatly impact farming outcomes and these can be enriched through thoughtful farming practices, like biodynamics.
Developed in 1924, biodynamics was the first of the organic agriculture movements. It treats soil fertility, plant growth, and livestock care as ecologically interrelated tasks.
How does all this relate to wine?
The quality of a wine is determined by the quality of the grapes. And the quality of the grapes is predicated on the quality of the hillside where they’re grown. So our goal, then, as it relates to Burnt Hill, is to grow the highest quality grapes on the best possible hillside. To achieve this, we must bring balance and health to the soil, plants, and animals that inhabit the farm.
So the next few years will be spent getting to know the rhythms of the land. We will till the earth, cultivate biodiverse cover crops, compost, and prepare the foundation for our vineyard. We begin this journey by focusing on overall soil health.
Here are my own personal experiences (and videos) from Floyd, Va.
Field Trip to Floyd, Va
On the weekend of October 27-29, my mom and I traveled to Floyd, Virginia, 40 miles southwest of Roanoke, in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley.
We spent a weekend at the Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics learning and training. Biodynamic practitioners from around the country – Oregon, California, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, and Maryland – gathered to share ideas about developing healthy biodynamic farms.
My mom and I were the rookies of the group, but we were welcomed with open arms. We received a personal invitation from our friend and long-time biodynamic viticulturist, Joseph Brinkley. I wrote a bit about Joseph a while back in this piece: Superb Wine Requires Smart Farming
On Friday we arrived at the picturesque JPI farm, tucked away in the rolling hills of Floyd. We were running a few minutes late, so when we arrived we hopped right into the afternoon lecture by Wali Via, a biodynamic practitioner who has farmed in western Oregon since 1985. He is past president of the Oregon Biodynamic Group, lecturer on sustainable agriculture and has been making and using the biodynamic preparations since 1976.
His lecture was titled Concepts Behind Developing a Farm Organism and he covered principles like crop rotations and biodiversity. He also shared philosophical thoughts like farming with “an attitude of gratitude” and some thoughts to ponder like, “Human beings have the unique ability to bring both vision and love to a farm. Without vision, no progress is made. Without love a farm is unsustainable – it becomes an endless list of chores.”
The one thought Wali shared that really stuck with me was “Biodynamics isn’t simply a method, or a list of practices. It’s about fostering a relationship with the land.” Good stuff!
After Wali’s lectures, we finished the day with a tour around the JPI farm with Pat Frazier, the president of the Board of Directors of the Josephine Porter Institute. Pat and her family have a biodynamic homestead, nursery, and family dairy in western Colorado. While touring the farm, she taught on looking through a biodynamic lens.
We also checked out the root cellar, where the cow horns are buried and uncovered some compost being stored in pots in the ground. Super cool!
That night my mom and I retired back to our Tiny House. If you’ve never stayed in a “tiny house,” I highly recommend it!
The next morning, we woke up early and set out for the JPI farm early. When we arrived we had light breakfast and settled in for our first lecture by Pat Frazier. Pat is an incredibly passionate Biodynamic practitioner.
Something she said that really stuck with me: “Intention is key.” We’re responsible for farming according to what we know. Based on our experience and observation, we must create our own intention. No one else can demand you align with their intentions.
After lunch, we had a hands-on preparations lesson with JPI's prep-master, Larry Mabe. We made several biodynamic preparations: BD #500 (horn manure), which stimulates germination, root growth, and humus formation. BD #503 (chamomile), which stabilizes nitrogen within compost, increases soil fertility and stimulates plant growth. BD #506 (dandelion), which stimulates relation between silica and potassium in the soil.
That evening we had a delicious feast and time of fellowship.
On Sunday morning, mom and I again woke up early to head to the JPI farm for a nourishing breakfast. Farm eggs, local apples, homemade toast, jam and a big cup of coffee. While we ate, we settled in for a lecture with Joseph Brinkley. Joseph is a viticulturist and biodynamic specialist who has managed the largest certified organic vineyards in the country. Prior to moving from Virginia back to California earlier in 2017, Joseph contributed to the initial plans on how to enliven Burnt Hill: Four ways we will achieve healthy soils and a balanced farm system.
Joseph’s lecture topic was: Practical Uses for Pfeiffer Field Spray. The particular application was developed in 1940’s by Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer who was a German soil scientist, leading advocate of biodynamic agriculture and student of Rudolf Steiner.
The Pfeiffer Field Spray contains the biodynamic agricultural preparations BD #500, #502, #503, #504, #505, #506, and #507, which give this product its unique effectiveness. It stimulates and attracts a full range of soil micro-flora and fauna beneficial to accelerate the breakdown of organic matter without tying down nitrogen and aids humus formation in organic materials already in the topsoil. One ounce of Preiffer can yield more than 5.6 billion colonies of beneficial organisms… A little bit goes a long way!
Following the final lecture, we all went outside and planted an oak tree before heading our own separate ways. The oak tree, considered by ancient cultures to be a cosmic storehouse of wisdom embodied within its towering strength, was symbolic of the lessons learned and relationships built; a great way to end the weekend!
We’re chasing a dream: to put Maryland wine on the map.
A bottle of wine – perhaps more than anything else on earth – reflects the time and place where it’s grown. A healthy farm is a key element in every great wine. For this reason, we are spending years getting to know the rhythms of the land, applying biodynamic preparations, cultivating cover crops and prepare the foundation for our vineyard. Only when we believe the ground is ready, will we plant our vines.
We’re excited to embark on this journey and look forward to sharing our story with you!