‘So, what are your results?’ ‘Ask us again in about, oh, three to five years.’ Thus runs an imaginary, but typical, discussion during fieldwork. Fieldwork is part of a slow process. It takes time, often slowed further by issues of funding and, well, life. But even if Julia and I had all the funding we could wish for, and no other obligations or commitments, we’d still be telling people to give us a few years. That’s a slightly long-winded way of saying I’m not going to tell you what we learned during our fieldwork a few months ago. If you insisted that we had to have learned something, the best I could probably due is come up with something trite, perhaps about fermentation times with cultivated versus wild yeasts. That’s a specific fact I was told and chatted with someone about. What I can do, however, is pass on a few impressions. Well, actually, more like only one in this particular post.
Impressions, in a way, are where it all starts anyhow. Isaac Asimov once wrote words to the effect that ‘Eureka!’ wasn’t the most important phrase or word in science. Rather, ‘hmm… that’s interesting’ was. That’s very much my experience in doing research. Something grabs your attention, or niggles at the back of your mind, until you realise ‘hmm…. That’s interesting.’ So, what was interesting?
What struck both of us, I think, was getting to see the diversity of biodynamic grape growing in action. It is one thing to read Steiner, or books and articles about biodynamic farming. But that leaves you with a static, often unitary view. Sure, it is clear that people will understand and implement biodynamics in their own ways. Some will follow Steiner or Demeter strictly, others take them more as inspiration. It is another thing entirely to wander one morning with someone through their garden, and later snack on their vegetables while sipping their wine amongst the vines. The next day may bring a conversation on a hillside, about what plants are best to allow to grow between the vines, or whether saplings have any place in a vineyard. It is these moments that turn book learning into understanding, into a feel for what is going on. It isn’t a Eureka! moment. Rather, it’s more of a dawning, Asimov’s ‘this is interesting.’ You begin to get an idea of how deep feelings and beliefs run. In an interview in an office or tasting room, someone may well say (or imply) ‘well, this aspect of biodynamics is not so important to me.’ But it is only when you see how people behave in their vineyard do you begin to get an idea of how they live these ideals (or don’t, as the case may be). It’s when the planned questions slowly turn into conversation, or reminiscences, or you are given an impromptu tour of an old wine cellar, that you can glimpse the bigger picture. In Austria it is additionally interesting in that pretty much everyone we’ve talked to knows each other. You also start to get a hint for the dynamics and politics of biodynamics broadly conceived.
Don’t mistake this for a claim that we understand what’s going on. Nor even that we know all the right questions to ask. Rather, we – or at least I – have thought ‘this is interesting.’ I feel a bit like I’ve stepped through a door and discovered a new world. One that I knew about, but hadn’t yet set foot in. Now I’ve just waded ashore.
As to what it all means: ask me in three to five years.