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Why Steve Beckmen Chose Biodynamics

One of Beck­men Vine­yards’ defin­ing attrib­ut­es is its ded­i­ca­tion to bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing. Bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing is based off prin­ci­ples Rudolf Stein­er formed in the 1920’s, when farm­ers were start­ing to see a decline in seed fer­til­i­ty and crop vital­i­ty, when com­mer­cial fer­til­iz­ers and com­mer­cial farm­ing in gen­er­al were start­ing to trans­form the world of agriculture.

More akin to organ­ic farm­ing than tra­di­tion­al farm­ing – or what­ev­er you would call today’s form of mass pro­duced agri­cul­ture – bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing is only used by a small per­cent­age of grape grow­ers. Learn why Beck­men Vine­yards backs bio­dy­nam­ics, as I sit down with own­er, wine­mak­er, and vine­yard man­ag­er Steve Beckmen.

What made you decide to look into biodynamics?

I first got exposed in 1995, so not too long after we start­ed Beck­men Vine­yards. I was exposed to it by a col­lege friend, who was using it for his gar­den. I had a lot of con­ver­sa­tions with him over the next few years about it – I didn’t under­stand how I could use the phi­los­o­phy over the amount of acres we had to farm. It wasn’t until I met some­one else who was in the wine busi­ness who was suc­cess­ful with Bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing, who opened my eyes and explained how it could be done across a larg­er amount of acreage.

Who was this person?

Philippe Armu­nier, he used to run Domaine de Mar­coux in Chateauneuf-du-Pape for his fam­i­ly and is now a Bio­dy­nam­ic con­sul­tant in the US. I kept meet­ing with Philipe and think­ing about mak­ing a change. After he came by one day in 2002, we had a real­ly good con­ver­sa­tion and I just decid­ed to do it, to try it ini­tial­ly across the 17 acres of syrah in block six. It allowed us to try the bio­dy­nam­ic style of farm­ing next to our tra­di­tion­al farming.

You saw positive results?

We saw some things fair­ly imme­di­ate­ly: in the vine­yard, in the grapes and grape qual­i­ty. We iso­lat­ed that and start­ed bot­tling block six as an exper­i­men­tal thing. The wine was incred­i­bly suc­cess­ful, arguably one of the best syrahs we had made up to that date. Then I decid­ed to expand (bio­dy­nam­ics) the next year, in the begin­ning of the 2003 vin­tage. In 2004 we expand­ed to include areas that were more chal­leng­ing, with issues that we didn’t have in block 6. Over the next cou­ple of years we took the steps to be ful­ly equipped to do what we need­ed to do, across the whole vine­yard – 125 acres. It’s crazy and cool that Purisi­ma is now the fifth largest cer­ti­fied Deme­ter Bio­dy­nam­ic® vine­yard in California.

When you made the transition into biodynamics, did you have to change everything you did?

Obvi­ous­ly there’s a lot of things that change when you tran­si­tion, to fit with­in the prac­tice. If any­thing, it was new, right? So in those areas where we were doing it ini­tial­ly, it was total­ly dif­fer­ent. Com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent. Noth­ing was the same. It changes the way you approach farm­ing, the issues you have, and how you deal with them. It gives you a phi­los­o­phy to work with. The biggest change is we were no longer reac­tionary farm­ers; we are now proac­tive in our goal to cre­ate a bal­anced vine­yard, a bal­anced farm. Oth­er changes and dif­fer­ences were that you’re sched­ul­ing work and con­scious of when you’re sched­ul­ing work. There’s actu­al­ly more spray­ing involved in bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing because you’re doing more com­post tea sprays and bio­dy­nam­ic prep sprays.

How long did it take before you were 100% comfortable farming this way?

I was com­fort­able the whole time. I think it’s sim­i­lar to wine­mak­ing – you don’t ever stop learn­ing. I had (Philipe’s) help pret­ty strong­ly for the first 3 or 4 years. After that you just have to start mak­ing your own deci­sions, and see­ing things your own way because that per­son isn’t liv­ing it day-to-day like you are. My think­ing was to embrace it ful­ly, to take it to the fullest extent, and then dial it down or tai­lor it to the dif­fer­ent parts of the vine­yard and the issues we were deal­ing with in those dif­fer­ent areas.

What makes biodynamic farming different than organic farming?

Real­ly it’s as sim­ple as three things:

  1. Fol­low­ing the Bio­dy­nam­ic cal­en­dar for sow­ings and plantings.
  2. Using prepa­ra­tions BD 500 – 508.
  3. Not using any type of min­er­al fer­til­i­ty pro­grams. All of our fer­til­i­ty is done through nat­ur­al ways like com­post­ing and cov­er cropping.

What was the most challenging part in starting to farm biodynamically?

To do it, to try it. That is real­ly one of the biggest hur­dles. And then once you’re try­ing it, you’re see­ing it work, even though you can’t nec­es­sar­i­ly explain every­thing that is going on. In a way you have to embrace the unknown.

What is the biggest misconception that the general public has about biodynamics?

The biggest mis­con­cep­tion is that peo­ple don’t real­ly know what it is. The gen­er­al pub­lic just lacks an under­stand­ing of what bio­dy­nam­ics is.

Stay tuned as we dive deep­er into the world of bio­dy­nam­ic farm­ing: break­ing down the prin­ci­ples, learn­ing why farm­ing this way is bet­ter for the envi­ron­ment, and show­ing you how we apply these tech­niques at Purisi­ma Moun­tain Vineyard.

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