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Beckmen on Biodynamics: Part 1

Posted: Jun 29, 2022

We often explain that bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing is, organ­ic and then some.” To be more spe­cif­ic, bio­dy­nam­ic agri­cul­ture is a sys­tem designed to raise fruit in a state of nature. The fruit is treat­ed by human hands rather than cor­rect­ed with chem­i­cal sprays. Vines are pro­tect­ed with plant-based reme­dies, not poi­son. Farm­ing deci­sions are made with regard to nature’s rhythms. Farm­ing like this isn’t meant to be the most pro­duc­tive way, but if you care most about the fla­vor of your fruit, we believe that it is the best way. This is why farm­ers that con­sid­er qual­i­ty, not yield, are so attract­ed to bio­dy­nam­ic wis­dom. This is how we became believers. 

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The consistent quality of fruit from the Purisima Mountain Vineyard is evidence that biodynamic agriculture is worth the effort.

Con­ven­tion­al farm­ing felt reac­tionary. You wait for some­thing to go wrong, and you fix it once it does. There is no sys­tem. Bio­dy­nam­ics are a sys­tem and one that pre­vents prob­lems by fos­ter­ing fer­tile, healthy vines through a reg­i­ment of nat­ur­al treatments. 

Steve Beck­men learned about bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing in the ear­ly 90s while vis­it­ing a friend in the Bay Area who was using the tech­niques on his back­yard hob­by farm. The farm was small but mighty. The plants were thriv­ing, but the com­plex, ardu­ous process of bio­dy­nam­ics seemed impos­si­ble to expand to the many acres of com­mer­cial vine­yards that Steve was farming. 

A few years lat­er, Steve met Châteauneuf-du-Pape pro­duc­er and bio­dy­nam­ic evan­ge­list Philippe Arme­nier. They would grow clos­er every year at a Cen­tral Coast fes­ti­val for Rhône wines and Rhône style pro­duc­ers. Back then, Beck­men Vine­yards was one of few Amer­i­can winer­ies that was even aware of bio­dy­nam­ics. Notic­ing that qual­i­ty-mind­ed pro­duc­ers were exper­i­ment­ing with these farm­ing tech­niques, Steve was intrigued. He want­ed to learn how he could make bio­dy­nam­ics work for his vine­yard, so he hired Arme­nier as a bio­dy­nam­ic con­sul­tant as he cau­tious­ly began the transition. 

Over the years, Phillippe’s pas­sion for bio­dy­nam­ics became infec­tious, and sev­er­al Amer­i­can pro­duc­ers began hir­ing him as a con­sul­tant, such as Opus One, Grigich Hills and Cayuse Vine­yards, among dozens of oth­ers. This ini­tial tight group of like-mind­ed pro­duc­ers got togeth­er to learn bio­dy­nam­ic phi­los­o­phy, prep mak­ing, and share sto­ries of suc­cess and fail­ure. Being on our own so far south of these oth­er pro­duc­ers, these group ses­sions allowed us to feel a part of a greater net­work and expand our knowl­edge of bio­dy­nam­ic farming.

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Biodynamics relies on a biodiverse farm and a reliable source of natural fertilizer.

Bio­dy­nam­ics at Beck­men began in 2002 by test­ing the new farm­ing prin­ci­ples on a young block of Syrah. This would go on to become our icon­ic Purisi­ma Moun­tain Vine­yard Block Six. In 2003, the block was thor­ough­ly farmed bio­dy­nam­i­cal­ly, and Steve noticed the results imme­di­ate­ly. The vines had a health­i­er look and a pow­er­ful ener­gy. 2003 Block Six Syrah is still a leg­endary vin­tage, and it was enough evi­dence to con­vince us that bio­dy­nam­ics were the best way forward.

Bio­dy­nam­ic con­ver­sion isn’t easy. In 2004, bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing was applied to 40 acres, and it would take two more years to apply it to all of the Purisi­ma Moun­tain Vine­yard. It would take anoth­er two years until the vine­yard was first cer­ti­fied in 2008. Philippe was there through­out the entire con­ver­sion. Phillippe was a bio­dy­nam­ic con­sul­tant for Beck­men Vine­yards for about 10 years in total. Over the course of a decade, he impart­ed a spe­cif­ic vision for agri­cul­ture on our win­ery: the idea of farm­ing as a holis­tic closed system.”

If bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing did­n’t work, we would­n’t do it. 

Every vin­tage, we strive to farm in a more holis­tic man­ner. A closed sys­tem is the bio­dy­nam­ic ide­al. Farm­ing like this means that you bring noth­ing exter­nal to the land. The fer­til­iz­er and vine­yard treat­ments are sourced from the farm itself. This pro­motes the idea of indi­vid­u­al­i­ty. There is no greater venue to express of a property’s sense of place (ter­roir) than a closed system.

The fer­til­iz­er and vine­yard treat­ments are sourced from the farm itself. In prac­tice, this is an enor­mous chal­lenge. The first leap of faith of bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing is to push aside the crutch of chem­i­cal fer­til­iz­ers. Doing so requires nat­ur­al fer­til­iz­er (manure), and lit­er­al­ly tons of it. Many bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ers source their dung from dairies, but the closed sys­tem farmer would have to house hun­dreds of cows on the farm itself rather than out­source the poop pro­duc­tion. While our ani­mal pop­u­la­tion has steadi­ly increased as we’ve attempt­ed to push fur­ther into closed sys­tem farm­ing, we don’t near­ly have a hun­dred cows. 

Instead, we con­vert our phys­i­cal com­post to com­post tea, allow­ing us to fer­til­ize over a hun­dred acres with only a few acres worth of manure from our cows, pigs, and chick­ens. Bio­dy­nam­ic teas and sprays are also pre­pared on the prop­er­ty from herbs that we farm our­selves or that grow nat­u­ral­ly. It took many years of steady improve­ment, but we are now real­iz­ing the ide­al of a closed sys­tem farm.

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We farm vineyards that you feel good spending time in.

Our vision is that of an inde­pen­dent farm with no exter­nal inputs. Our jour­ney towards becom­ing a closed sys­tem farm is a process that con­tin­ues every day. Every vin­tage we inch clos­er to real­iz­ing the dream of Purisi­ma Moun­tain Vine­yard becom­ing a total­ly self-con­tained ecosys­tem. The reward for our efforts are wines that are tru­ly of place. 

After this intro­duc­tion to our his­to­ry with bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing, future install­ments of Beck­men on Bio­dy­nam­ics will explore top­ics like Bio­dy­nam­ic Preps and Treat­ments, Home­opa­thy, and the Bio­dy­nam­ic Cal­en­dar in fur­ther detail. Sign up to get alerts on future install­ments of Beck­men on Biodynamics. 

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