This is a review of Monty Waldin’s Biodynamic Wine, published by Infinite Ideas on 4th July this year, and with an RRP of £30.00 (not to be confused with another book by the same author that has a very similar title, Biodynamic Wines, published in 2004). I read a review copy. It is a paperback, 234 x 156mm, and has 222 pages. The paper is a little coarse and the photographs are black and white, but the design is smart with clear chapter and section headings, and it feels good to hold.
After the introduction and a short chapter on the origins of biodynamics, we go straight into what effectively defines biodynamic agricultural practice: the nine biodynamic “preparations”. In what is by far the longest chapter, the preparation are described in detail, including instructions on how and when to make them, and with references to the original sources for the snippets of advice. This is then followed by shorter chapters on other subjects at the core of biodynamic agricultural: how to make compost incorporating the preparations, and how to dynamise liquids. Then we move onto the more optional parts of biodynamics: shortcut methods of composting, plant teas, decoctions, liquid manures, and oils. Finally in the main biodynamic-practice part of the book, there is a discussion of how the moon, planets and stars determine the best time for performing specific tasks. Then there is a discussion of the various types of biodynamic regulations and organic certification schemes, and (in appendices) a bit about Maria Thun’s advice on when best to taste wine, and how to learn more about biodynamics.
Do note that there are no profiles of particular biodynamic producers and their wines. I did not particularly miss that aspect, but other readers might find it disappointing as typical specialist wine books do tend to include that sort of thing. Details of what some producers really believe about biodynamics, and their actual biodynamic practices, might have been good, but I can easily live without a superficial round-up of producers giving their marketing spin on the subject.
Cards on the table here, with no mincing about the bush – I think biodynamics is complete tosh, but I have discussed the topic several times on my blog now, and see no reason to go over old ground to explain why. It is however a subject that I still find fascinating, and one that I am keen to continue to learn about. With that in mind I found Biodynamic Wine to be a very well-structured and clear exposition of the subject, and would certainly recommend it at that level. What I already knew about biodynamics was confirmed, and I also learned a lot from the book. The vast majority of it is unscientific nonsense that I would not want to endorse, but is as far as I know the book contains an accurate description of what people believe. I got the impression that Monty Waldin does not set out to proselytise, but rather set out the stall of biodynamics and let the reader decide, which he did well. I suspect that sceptics will come away from the book feeling even more sceptical, while believers will be further enthused and enthralled.
I have very few criticisms of the book, and all of them are rather superficial. For example, there were one or two sentences that could have done with some editing, and some turns of phrase were rather odd and lead me to believe that the author was a lot more familiar with viticulture than winemaking. And the last time I checked, contrary to what Monty wrote, I was convinced I found that the EU definition of organic wine did in fact have slightly tighter restrictions on wine production than non-organic wine. (If anyone is really interested I can redo my analysis of the regulations, but otherwise, even I am not feeling sufficiently motivated to double-check that sort of geeky detail.)
In summary, if you want to learn about biodynamic wine I strongly recommend this book. It takes a lot of effort to go directly to Steiner’s lectures and the work of his immediate followers, and no amount of reading magazine articles on the subject can in my opinion give a good feel for the subject.