“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





05 February 2009



Hilliard Rains On Rudolph's Parade
Walks Straight In; Turns Music Down


I don’t know John Hilliard. Never met him. I’d never heard of his pretty vineyard in Lompoc, California. Never had his wine. Yet there he is, splattered all over the internet with a bitter philippic on biodynamics.

I don’t know what his star sign is, but I’ll bet John is a perfect example of it. He sounds like the sort of person who walks uninvited into your home, goes straight to the stereo, and turns your music down.

He puts the boot into silly old Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the hero of the biodynamicists, by suggesting he believed in “Lemuria and Atlantis, nine classes of supernatural beings, seven epochs of history, 12 constellations that correspond to 12 parts of the body, and four elements of human temperaments.

“He believed that the heart does not pump blood”, Hilliard continues, “and had a very un-Newtonian concept of the planets moving through the sky, not to mention that he pays attention to only seven planets ... but includes the moon ... my own mass affects the vine somewhere in the order of 60,000 times greater than the moon’s effects on the vine”.

“I ask what scientific truth has been credited to Steiner?” he rants. “It seems that Steiner’s foolishness has to wait to be exposed after the thrill and trendiness of biodynamics wears down, and the marketing edge that biodynamics offers is replaced with some new way to excite buyers.”

You get his drift.

I’ve attended a few intensive Steinerite gatherings. To do with vineyards, mainly. I’ve read his lectures, essays and books. I leave sniggering, but respectful.

I have shovelled the cement mixer full of properly fermented cowshit, and made a mulch heap that completely digested a whole sheep, including bones, horns and wool, in a couple of months. You shoulda seen what that mulch did to the bony buggered field to which it was applied.

I have buried horns full of bacteria from cows’ gizzards, and made a spray from burnt starlings.

And you know what?

The starlings stayed away. The vineyards improved.

Steinerites are like the Exclusive Brethren: even to the point of being a bunch of pious and sanctimonious shits.

But, just as I've never heard of a Bretho going broke, the Steiner lunies generally make better wine than anybody else, from Burgundy to Lysergic-Blissbombcentral.

Have you read the back of the tin of shitcan poison you last sprayed on your garden?

Since the vineyard in which I live began to replace the general petrochem regime with a few bio-D preps, by my modest birdism, I reckon the amount of local native birdlife - particularly the essential stuff at the end of the foodchain: the raptors, has constantly improved.

The insects have certainly come back in the skrillion. If you have no sick insects, you have no sick birds, see? And raptors scare the birds that eat grapes.

The vineyards are just schmick.

When we did the photography for McLaren Vale - Trott’s View, in 2000, with four top snappers working for a year, the only photo we got of local indigenous feathered fauna was a top knot sitting on a post.

Apart from far too many corellas, native birds were scarce.

Since so many of the McLaren Vale growers have cut back their rote petrochem, many going bio-D, the birds have returned.

I never taste wine on root days, because my palate's dodgy.

I always feel shitty on nodes.

I learned these patterns through the biodynamic calendar, which magically predicts the cycles of cattle chewing cud, or grazing, to within a day, years in advance.

And I am not alone.

For four years, in an annual three week blind tasting of three or four thousand wines, the winner and/or runner-up in my Top 100 were made by biodynamicists.

Hilliard’s impassioned bleat may be worth a giggle at the Sceptics’ Club, but it’s not what the vine gardens need.

I’d much prefer a molecule of Shakespeare.

Steiner was indeed a nut. But he didn't dream all this stuff up. He was a reluctant evangelist who condensed whole epochs of old wives’ gardening tales and had the guts to promote them.

A bit like another famous nut, Jesus Christ, he tried to get his converts to get on with whichever degree of his philosophy they could manage without ranting too much about it. He felt the results would do the talking.

Which, on my experience, they do indeed.

By their works ye shall know them.

I like the music of many great musicians I’ve worked with or know, and the poems of Coleridge. I could go on. But I don't have to go as far into the addictions of those poor buggers to savour their work.

Neither do I have to wonder too hard about what sort of agriculture Hilliard would be practising if he’d born in 1861; or what sort of philosophy Steiner would be pursuing if he was born in 1961.

A little passion and idiosyncracy, a little more attention to detail, a little deeper the disrespect of the rote norm, a little sharper the rejection of the flock dogma, the better off we'll all be, I reckon.

When an earthquake threatens, the animals disperse.



Marius. said...

Unfortunately, biodynamics is medieval primitivism at its uneducated worst. Even more unfortunate, it is swallowed by otherwise intelligent people.
The proponents of BD are by no means bad producers, and certainly do have many excellent viticultural techniques, but to attribute their success to forces unknown to science, is folly. Correlation does not equal causation.
Good marketing, mind you, as the public is mostly uncritical in this area.
I suspect that most of the public have no idea of the deeply ingrained absurdities that lie at the root of B.D, and if they did, may well think twice about purchasing.
Producers who do not feel compelled to use B.D formulations in the production of their wines should feel suitably put out that the B.D crowd is essentially saying;
"Our wines are just that little bit better, because we use magic"
B.D wines are doubtless made with passion and integrity, and it is these factors, not a homeopathic dilution of something that cannot possibly have any effect.
This is the 21st century.We are a scientifically aware species.
Time to leave such silliness behind.

Anonymous said...

The Murray Darling Basin of Australia, where all our cheap wine grows, has been driven by science for twenty years. Now it's all dead, apart from the gluttons who use too much water, who have average crops of below average plonk.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see Marius van der Lubbe have this discussion with Whitey in the front bar of The Exeter. I think the lubber would soon see the whitest light. Science meets passion. As White insinuated, there's not much science in Shakespeare.

This comment has been removed by the author.
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