Biodynamic Experience

OUR 2 DAYS IN NAPA VALLEY gave us many special moments and the one outside of RAYMOND VINEYARD TASTING ROOM was exceptional.  Of course it had to do with organic farming, Biodynamic© to be specific.   I knew we might have a chance to go back to this fine exhibit in Rutherford (St. Helena, CA) during our Kitchens in the Vineyards Tour, and this time took copious notes.  And photos.

Biodynamic© agriculture is a form of alternative agriculture very similar to organic farming, but which includes various esoteric concepts drawn from the ideas of Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925). Initially developed in the 1920s, it was the first of the organic agriculture movements.  Each few steps, on the Raymond exhibit, the organic process is described in writing, on plaques, and in virtual plantings.  Here are some of the descriptions, interspersed with some of my photos.

Raymond Estate Soil  (A plastic column of earth describes each layer of the content of soil).  The photo below illustrates produce grown without compost and that planted with compost at the same time.  Nutrients in the soil mean everything, same as nutrients in the human body.IMG_0560

Act One The SoilIMG_0561

Soil is the source and destiny of all life.

What happens in the soil, the unseen, is more important than what you see. The unseen shapes the seen. The soil is in many ways the soul of the site. It’s alive, with billions of creatures in each handful. These creatures – worms, bacteria, funguses, molds, insects, and many others—feed primarily on decaying plants. A wise gardener or farmer feeds the life in the soil. The soil then feeds the crops. A vineyard or garden is only as good as its soil is healthy.

Biodynamic Preparations and Companion Planting conceptsIMG_0563

The use of the preparation is a requirement of the Biodynamic method. There are nine in all, made from herbs, mineral substances and animal manures, that are utilized in field sprays and compost inoculants applied in minute doses, much like homeopathic remedies are for humans. Timely applications revitalize the soil and stimulate root growth, enhance the development of microorganisms and humus formation, and aid in photosynthetic activity.

Chamomile, Horsetail, Valerian Nettles, Dandelion

Sheep and Goats

Our Alpine goats and Southdown sheep are rotated around the vineyard working as lawnmowers and weedwackers clearing the brush and weeds. In return, we collect their stale sweepings to enrich the compost piles, which will boost the health of our garden plants. But first, the chickens peck through the stable sweepings, looking for fly eggs and adding valuable chicken manure to the mix.  Do they love their lettuce, don’t have to call them twice!IMG_0573


Poultry plays an enormously important part in Nature’s Theater. Ducks gobble up crop-destroying slugs and snails, and give us meat and eggs in return. Chickens scratch for insect eggs and bugs, and a natural diet of living insects yields healthy eggs of wonderful flavor and rich, dark orange yolks. We provide a henhouse, but also give them a moveable cage so hens have access to a fresh plot of grass daily.  (Who does their hair?)IMG_0569

The unconscious Wisdom of the Beehive

Biodynamic farmers have long thought of a bee colony not as a collection of individual workers, drones, nursemaids, larvae, and a queen, but as a single organism with many discrete parts. This organism settles over the flowers on a farm, pollinating them and causing them to set seed, grow fruit, and produce vegetables. In fact, 30 percent of our food supply depends on bees for pollination.

Bees are vulnerable to a wide range of pesticides and harmful agricultural chemicals. On an organic or Biodynamic farm, bees find a safe home free from poisons. They not only pollinate our crops, but also support reproduction of wild plants on which the diverse biota of insects and other animals depend. A healthy population of bees is an indication of health in the entire ecosystem.

Beneficial InsectaryIMG_0579

On Earth there are over two million different species of insects. Most of them provide important services for the well-being of the planet. They pollinate three-quarters of the world’s food supply; they devour harmful pests, and they work hard as decomposers recycling decaying plants and animals. When a garden is in balance with nature it supports a large population of fees, beetles, flies, dragonflies, and spiders….which keep the garden clean, healthy and productive without the need for chemical pesticides. By cultivating plants that have white umbrella flowers (dill, carrot, cilantro, parsley, sweet alyssum and fennel), you can provide a steady supply of nectar and pollen for beneficial insects.

Wine and Herb Pairing GardenIMG_0581

The arrangement of herbs have been chosen to complement the flavors of white and red wines. You are welcome to nibble on the various leaves and tast their influence on the wine. How does the flavor of the herbs change the flavor of the wine? Which herbs go better with white and which go better with red wine?

According to the gardener on the vineyard property, Joe Papendick, the borage plant that I saw planted directly next to the grapevine was not there but for reseeding itself. Grapevines do not rely on pollination, however, insects and pollinators about the garden are beneficial for their well-being.

Joe told me about a resourceful sustainable farming expert, John Jeavons. His interview in the Bay Area in 2010 talks about his Biointensive Mini Farming techniques and the underlying principles he practices. Read more:


Raymond Vineyards traces its family roots to the origins of winemaking in America’s most fabled wine region. Embodying the spirit of the “Old Napa Valley”, the Raymond family worked side-by-side to build their winery from the ground-up. After arriving in the Napa Valley in 1933, marrying Martha Jane Beringer in 1936, and enjoying more than thirty-five years working in every facet of Beringer Winery, in 1970 Roy Raymond Sr., together with his sons Walter and Roy Jr., decided that it was their time to put their family name on the deep roots they’d laid in the Napa Valley.  Read more about the Raymond family and their origins here.

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