Alan York was a key figure in contemporary Biodynamics until his passing in 2014 aged 62.

Biodynamics: Four universal principles

In a series of videos posted on You Tube and filmed by Organic Wine Journal, Alan York defined four universal principles in Biodynamics:

1) Creating a closed system in reference to nutrients: Create as closely as possible a closed system of nutrients which means you become conscious of how you handle your natural resource base, organising it in such a way as to support the farm’s agricultural activity and the property as a whole. Become aware of the farm’s waste stream and capture this waste and transform it into a fertility stream. This means recycling waste water and organic matter for example. Organic matter is first composted and then spread on the farm as a fertility stream. York says at yields of around 3 tons/acre, high quality wine production does not overly deplete natural resources, making biodynamics a good fit for wine. In comparison, he says, bananas can crop at 20 tons/acre, making the avoidance of nutrient depletion using biodynamics a much harder proposition. York (echoing Steiner) says as agriculture is exploitative, no farming system can be perfectly balanced in terms of inputs and output. (For more on this idea, see self-sustaining living organism).

2) Creating biodiversity within the property: This means creating what is called a landscape ecology. This calls in question the sanity of monocultures which by simplifying nature into monoculture undermines the property’s ability to resist adversity. York stresses use of the term “a property” rather than “a vineyard” or “a vegetable garden”. Look at every opportunity the property gives you to diversify. In natural ecosystems outbrea­ks of disease or pests are naturally held in check. Just as creating monoculture takes time, so re-creating polyculture via landscape ecology also takes time.

3) The use of the biodynamic preparations: These nine preparations support and maintain life forces. Life comes from life (things that are never alive, like tractors, cannot bring forth life in the form of baby tractors). However, life loses vitality and loses the ability to bring forth life (when cows get old they become barren). The preps aren’t fertilizers in the technical sense, but they are supportive of life processes such as sprouting, growing, flowering and fruiting.

4) Promotion of a holistic system that focuses on the interaction of all living things: This runs counter to the atomistic system (which sees the physical world composed of atoms which combine to make molecules, and molecules combine with other molecules to make other entities – see the Haber Bosch process for example). Biodynamics tries to avoid acting against a specific problem which is the atomistic way, because when we do so, we produce unintended consequences. Instead, we try to work towards enhancing the robustness and health of the whole environment for the benefit of the whole ecology. The holistic system does not focus on a single thing whereas in the atomistic system the focus is on one crop, one pest, and so on.

Consultancy work: During his lifetime Alan York worked with wineries in various locations. California: Bobby and Jimmy Fetzer and other family members at their Home Ranch, in Redwood Valley, Mendocino County. The Frey family at their Home Ranch in Redwood Valley. Jimmy Fetzer’s Ceago Vinegarden in Redwood Valley. Bonterra in Hopland, Mendocino County. Jimmy Fetzer’s second iteration of Ceago, Ceago del Lago in Lake County. Montemaggiore in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley. Quivira in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley. Benziger Family Winery in Sonoma County. Chile: Emiliana. Oregon: Cowhorn.