September 28, 2005

Harvest is Here

After a dry and moderate summer, the grape harvest in the Willamette Valley is in full swing. I'm working at a local winery as many days as I can fit in without getting fired from my "real" job. So I'm more than a little busy. For once I have a good excuse for not updating my blog much, but stay tuned. I'll try to give updates on how things go, own continuing experiments in homebrewed wine.

September 23, 2005


Since I began making wine in 2001, it turns out that I’ve harvested my grapes on the exact day my beloved San Francisco Giants play their last game of baseball for the year.

In 2001, it was a limp last day of the regular season in early October, the Giants wrapping up a marginal season with a meaningless game. In 2002, it was the heartbreaking but inevitable last game of the World Series in late October, the night after the then Anaheim Angels staged a stunning comeback that made Game 7 a fait accompli. Only the beauty of a golden harvest kept my spirits up that day.

And on it goes. I call my philosophy of when to harvest grapes Giantdynamics, which has to be less controversial than the current debate raging over biodynamic agriculture and grape growing.

Biodynamics is based on the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the early 20th century. It is a hard concept to sum up, but essentially it is farming organically with a spiritual component of sometimes bizarre rituals and time-tested pagan farming practices including planting and harvesting by the phases of the moon.

Of course, modern science vs. traditional “organic” farming approaches already provides plenty of fodder for ideological debates. Should we use all kinds of synthetic fungicides and pesticides in the fields, or should we farm more naturally to create and sustain a beneficial ecosystem that might reduce or eliminate the need for synthetic products? Doesn’t sound like much when you sum it up, but the daggers fly whenever this topic comes up.

Add in a nice dose of Steiner’s anthroposophy to the mix and you’ve got intellectual meltdown on all sides. Witness the biodynamics thread current raging over on discussion forum.

Personally, I’m interested in biodynamics more for the results and what techniques might truly have a positive effect on grape quality. But I won’t rule out the more mystical elements of biodynamics, no matter how crazy they sometimes appear. One thing’s for sure – we never know as much about the world as we think we know. Stranger things in our world have turned out to be true than whether or not burying a cow’s horn full of manure under the proper phase of the moon will yield a healthy crop. Who would have thought the world could be round without everyone on the lower half falling off?

So I’m curious to see if someday we can know more about what parts of biodynamics really work, if not all of them, and why. While I may not immediately run out and practice biodynamics in absolute, more power to those that do, including some of the leading wine producers in the world.

Heck, I’m too busy practicing Giantdynamics, which suggests that harvest should take place a week from Sunday when the Giants likely wrap up another disappointing season with…hopefully a win.