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September 10 2011
By a country mile as the crow flies over a buried cow horn on the vernal equinox, Biodynamics is the subject I’m most interested in amongst a myriad of conversational issues that compete against each other in the wine business. Yet, I’ve never been able to square with Biodynamics – the benefits or the bunkum – until now.
When Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone winery and author of the blog Biodynamics is a Hoax said in a recent interview, “It’s a fight between religion and science. There’s no question about it. The people that are mostly Biodynamic supporters are post-modernist skeptics of science” I paused and took it in. Yet, I was also confused about the boundary lines that he drew.
We live in a complicated world. It seems too tidy to draw boxes and say that BioD detractors are pragmatic and progressive in matters of viticulture who resent the piety of Biodynamic practitioners whilst the BioD folks shrug their shoulders when asked how Biodynamics works, eschewing modern day viticultural practice, gazing at a moon chart.
Meanwhile, as we’re noodling on these neat assignments, let’s also throw in secondary dubiousness with Demeter as the arbiter of standards (and depositor of checks), mix in the Biodynamic father Rudolf Steiner as an alleged charlatan and add a dash of societal convention that relies on burden of proof for outcomes.
With this heady stew, we now have perfect assignments along with swirling sub-issues that force the interplay of capitalism, spirituality, philosophy and science that is nearly impossible to reconcile amongst even the most reasonable people.
The problem-solver in me needs to transcend partisan Biodynamic views. The facilitator in me wants to find common ground.
I want to know the truth about Biodynamics. Not necessarily THE TRUTH, but my own truth, a personal reconciliation even if it is: “There’s a lot in life we don’t understand and this is one of them.”
I’m okay with living in the space between so long as I’ve assigned value to the black of, “It’s a hoax” and the white of, “It’s religion.”
Why? Because unlike Smith’s assertion, there has to be more to Biodynamics than accepting the use of BioD practices as an article of faith.
Likewise, Biodynamics can’t be debunked as an article of faith, counter to science. If so, it presumes that the base of our collective human knowledge is at an end point. We know everything there is to know and so Biodynamics doesn’t fit because it’s not rooted with a base of empirical proof.
So, what if Biodynamics is neither religion nor science, but rather a hybrid of the two that isn’t fully understood?
After all, by its very definition, Biodynamics relates to: the study of the effects of dynamic processes, such as motion or acceleration, on living organisms.
That’s what I’ve been exploring. Undoubtedly, it’s not leading me to THE TRUTH, but it is leading me to a truth different than, “science” “hoax” and “religion.”
Katherine Cole’s new book Voodoo Vintners (see review) does an exceptional job of framing Biodynamics in a balanced manner, yet there’s one chapter that I found sticking with me long after finishing the book.
In Chapter Four titled, “Science … or Sci-Fi” Cole explores the emerging scientific realm of quantum mechanics – the idea that our bodies, minds and physical environment are a symbiotic elements of energy that interact and that our consciousness, our thoughts, can impact our world. Specifically, she cites a book called, The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe by Lynne McTaggert.
The framework for Cole’s mention is the notion of “intention” in the vineyard. The idea that, as she notes and deftly discredits in the paragraph, “The belief is that the preparations aren’t merely herbal treatments for plants; they’re carriers of the farmers’ intentions, which have been swirled into them through the powerful act of stirring. While it isn’t a requirement for Demeter certification, intention is that little bit of witchcraft that separates the most committed practitioners from the unbelievers.”
Yet, what energy forces and “intention” distills down to is not a rejection of science, but an embrace of the most cutting edge of science.
Randall Grahm, the founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard, is quoted from his blog in the book noting, “The world of wine exists in a non-Euclidean space, and certainly partakes of the quantum universe; there are great discontinuities in what we know or imagine we know.”
With that, I made a mental note to pick-up, The Field.
Later, I read Ideal Wine by David Darlington, which covers some of the some topical area with more insight into the scientific quantum mechanics link and Biodynamics, including Steiner’s founding of the philosophical area of anthroposophy, a pre-cursor philosophy to the more scientifically-rooted, legitimized quantum mechanics.
After I purchased The Field, I noted that it had a cover blurb that said, “The author and science featured in The Lost Symbol.”
The Lost Symbol is author Dan Brown’s follow-up after the wildly successful book, The DaVinci Code.
By now I’m deep into the proverbial rabbit’s hole. The Lost Symbol is a mediocre story, but an incredible mix of historical insight, cutting edge new science in quantum mechanics and its relation to modern day man’s role in seeking spirituality. And, unlike the DaVinci Code that took some liberties with the line between fact and fiction, Brown is quick to point out in the preface of The Lost Symbol that, “All rituals, science, artwork, and monuments in this novel are real.”
And Brown does, in fact, lean on the ideas in The Field and McTaggert’s subsequent book called, The Intention Experiment whilst the cottage industry of “decoding” The Lost Symbol books gives validation to the basis for the ideas presented.
For the two people that have read this far, all of this is pretty heady stuff and not easily explainable, which might partly account for the obfuscation in Biodynamics and wine. You have to be really, really intellectually curious to spend the time, but here’s where I’m at and here’s my recommendation if you want to follow a similar path:
Biodynamics isn’t about science vs. religion or “post-modernist skeptics of science” as Smith put it. The entire conversation is wrong. It IS about science that isn’t fully understood – quantum mechanics. In fact, there’s a growing body of evidence that science and religion are one and the same. This may be pseudoscience to some, but, regardless, the wine and Biodynamics conversation needs to be about whether you believe in the cutting edge of science or whether you need empirical proof in the here and now. Talking about anything else is bloviating with half-truths from ideological positions.
Further, anybody interested in wine and trying to understand Biodynamics from a wine perspective is wasting their time by reading about Biodynamics through the lense of the agricultural practices. Don’t spend any time on Nicolas Joly, or Monty Waldin, or any of the leaders in the field. You’ll never get past the weird preparations and the attempt at the explanation thereof.
Instead, any attempt at understanding Biodynamics needs to come through a view of the emerging science side. Get a notebook to take notes. Read The Lost Symbol first. Then, read a decoding book about The Lost Symbol. This acts as an accessible introduction to a number of ideas. Again, the ideas and facts are real, the story is fiction. From there, read The Field and skim The Intention Experiment. Then read Voodoo Vintners and Ideal Wine.
Once this has been completed, fill in the gaps with internet research on Steiner and some of his history with Theosophy and later Anthroposophy and then wade into Google and Amazon.com searching for, “Quantum physics, God, Consciousness.” Balance all of this with some quick searching on metaphysics to understand the delta and overlap between science, religion and philosophy.
If, after having done this, you haven’t completely confused the shit out of yourself, you’ll have gained a new enlightenment the least of which will be akin to Oliver Wendall Holmes quote, “Once the mind has been stretched by a new idea, it will never again return to its original size.”
As I mentioned earlier, when seeking a truth, I’m okay with “There’s a lot in life we don’t understand and this is one of them” and that’s where I come down on Biodynamics, but the conversation must not be framed in black and white terms. Everybody around Biodynamics – the proponents and the detractors are operating in the gray and there is no one particular truth, but, and this is a big but, we might not be too far away from a deeper understanding.
A Partial Journey in Exploring Biodynamics:
Other stuff to read:
The science behind The Lost Symbol
Space photo credit: Wired.com
August 24 2011
In the rolling hills of Tuscany the Frescobaldi family has been making wine for 30 generations and some 700 years. Yet, it was only in 1995, when the family aligned with the Mondavi’s, America’s first wine family, that a cross-continental collaboration was borne in Montalcino, an area within the Tuscan region famous for its Brunello, a 100% Sangiovese wine.
Luce della Vite, meaning “Light of the Vine,” is the resulting winery even as gyrations in the Mondavi family business have blunted the initial collaboration of the two families in jointly creating a world class winery. Now run exclusively by the Frescobaldi’s with investment from Michael Mondavi (and imported to the U.S. by Michael Mondavi’s Folio Wine Partners), their flagship wine, sourced from 29 DOCG certified acres, the 2006 Brunello di Montalcino, has been awarded a perfect 100-point score by James Suckling, former European Bureau Chief for Wine Spectator, now leading his own wine project at his eponymous web site.
This introduction would be apropos of nothing besides ornate wine writer affectations were it not necessary to create the milieu for what is an interesting convergence of issues in the wine world.
Encapsulated in this one wine, from an Italian wine family, formerly aligned with the scion of American wine and imported to the U.S. by his son and given a perfect 100-point score by a former critic with the Wine Spectator, many of the contemporary issues of the wine world can be examined and pondered…
• A 100-point score
Is there such a thing as a perfect wine? I’ll leave the question open-ended while noting that my own scoring only goes to 99. In the realm of subjectivity, can something like wine or art achieve perfection?
• The fallibility of wine criticism
Stephen Tanzer, another notable wine critic, gave the same wine 92 points. Wine Enthusiast scored it 93 points. Robert Parker’s Italian wine critic (and recently anointed California reviewer), Antonio Galloni, gave it a 90. While a 90, 92 or 93 is a good score, the difference between a 93 and a 100 certainly points to a margin spread that provides more questions than answers about the wine.
• Crossing the digital divide
Suckling, ex-Wine Spectator, is out of the paper magazine business and running his own web site with subscriptions, a business that is less than a year old. He has lived in Tuscany for a number of years and knows Brunello wines well. However, anointing 100-point wines isn’t something critics do lightly or without thought. So, when he declares that, “The 2006 vintage for Brunello di Montalcino is the new benchmark…” is he genuinely reviewing the vintage and the region’s most notable vintner or is this his attempt at market-making relevance akin to Robert Parker Jr.’s declaration of ’82 Bordeaux as “superb” when others weren’t as bullish?
• Critical scores affect on inelastic pricing
While so-called “cult” wines get a bad rap based on their stylistic profile, the reality is that prices are high because of scarcity – more people want to buy it then there is wine available to buy. Suckling’s 100-point score for the Luce Brunello is oft-repeated on numerous retailer web sites where the retail price has been raised from a suggested retail price of $89.99 to an average price of $127 based on Wine-Searcher.com data. Meanwhile, the 2005 Luce Brunello is being discounted and has an average price of $84 based on Wine-searcher.com data. It should be noted, that save for Suckling on the ’06, both wines were reviewed consistently with scores in the low 90s.
• A global style
It’s interesting to note that Suckling’s tasting note for the Brunello called it, “…A wine with soul.” Meanwhile Antonio Galloni noted, “The sheer concentration and depth of fruit are remarkable, but ultimately this comes across as a heavy, labored Brunello with limited finesse.”
So, which is it? Is it a soulful wine or one with limited finesse? The U.S. has the largest global appetite for Brunello with some reporting that upwards of 25% of all Brunelli produced is imported to the states. Given that, is the Luce Brunello made to appeal to more of a fruit-forward palate that is often found in the U.S., a style of wine that Wine Spectator and Suckling have lauded in the wake of Robert Parker, the so-called, global style?
I’ll save the full review of the wine for my Forbes.com column…in the meantime, I’m reminded that the conversations about the people, personalities, ideas and issues in the wine world are often as interesting as what’s in the glass and that’s certainly the case with the 2006 Luce della Vite Brunello di Montalcino, a 100-points for interest and conversational fodder and less for the actual wine. For me, that’s just perfect.
August 18 2011
All opinions are valid, but not all opinions are correct, particularly if they’re based on incomplete thought.
Lately, this is what I’ve been thinking about as our national media de-camps into political ideology which itself mirrors our politics. We’re in a period of time in which demagoguery has dangerously replaced the usual rhetoric.
It defies my comprehension how our political landscape has devolved to the point where winners and losers are assigned based on who gave what in the national debt negotiations. The net result is nobody wins and everybody loses, especially tax-paying Americans who have to suffer the fools that are our elected officials. Even more egregious, I fear we’re inured to this finger-pointing blame game as a new reality.
A respite for most people, the wine world isn’t immune to bickering partisanship. Consider: Critics. Points scoring. Parker. Biodynamics. Corporate wine. New World vs. Old World. Technology. Oaked Chardonnay. The three-tier system…
The wine world is no better than the national political conversation when it comes to taking sides and discarding rationale thought. On wine issues, opinion acts as an article of faith, facts be damned.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Recently, this site was named the most influential wine blog out of 3,000 drinks-related blogs. In spite of this, I don’t carry a burden of responsibility to use that supposed influence in any particular way. However, if I could do one thing in creating influence (of the outwardly positive sort) it would be this: Urge all wine enthusiasts engaged in wine conversation online or offline to be empathetic and look at a situation and an opinion (that may be counter to your own) from 360 degrees. Doing so doesn’t always lead to answers, but it does lead to pragmatic enlightenment.
And, we need more enlightened people (to say nothing of pragmatism). Somewhere along the road of “social” associating itself with “media,” people, regular people, have subsumed the bad habits of traditional media and our elected officials and forgotten the most fundamental rules of the human condition: “Treat others as you would have them treat you” and “Before judging a man, walk a mile in his shoes.”
Even worse, for all of the benefit that interactivity and social media has wrought for “conversation” and “dialogue” and the exchange of ideas, a whole lot of nothing has ever reached concurrence.
Can it be that social media might be good for citizen uprisings with attendant violence, but poor for aligned progress? Does ease of communication inspire our more savage instincts? God, the early returns aren’t great. Yet, what’s the point of the exchange of ideas and information if it’s not to come to a place of mutual understanding?
Instead, too often it seems, we’re all stuck in the mud and Exhibit A would be the recent online wine points score debate that is the same debate that has been going on in the same material fashion for the last decade. Yawn. Wake me when somebody comes up with something better. Then, there’s a real conversation to be had.
While my own naïve idealism isn’t enough to create a ripple in the pond, there are frameworks of change that can be adopted, even if incrementally.
Six Thinking Hats is as simple as it is beautiful and it offsets the fact that as we’ve perverted the Socratic method of thinking by combining its opposing viewpoint debate with feelings and emotions, losing dimensional thinking that leads to logical conclusions.
The Six Thinking Hats seeks to provide a holistic method of analyzing a situation or a problem. Where our current thought process is typically duotone, the Six Thinking Hats is a full color picture.
Think of a recent meeting at work. You were discussing a topic of some importance or consequence in outcome. Chances are good it was a mud puddle of confusion amongst varying viewpoints that went in circles for an hour before you adjourned with a weak-kneed action item. Or worse, interpersonal dynamics had the outcome yielding to the dominant ego in the room.
It’s hardly a recipe for success. And, it’s repeated millions of times daily in the exchange of information on a subject.
Yet, the Six Thinking Hats is not about who is right or who is wrong, it’s about the way forward. Instead of rewarding ego, the Six Thinking Hats rewards profundity of well-rounded thought – it requires an individual to look at all sides of an issue, moving away from habitual thinking styles that can run narrow and linear.
Represented by the metaphor of six differently colored hats, each hat represents a different aspect of thinking that can (and should) be used in the exchange of ideas to come to an essential truth. In a group setting, a group would each symbolically assume the role of one hat color at a time to examine an issue to agreement.
The hats are:
White hat: Facts and information. With this hat, the focus is on what is known and what is available to be known.
Red hat: Emotion, judgments, intuition. Gut reactions. With this hat, the focus is on instincts.
Black hat: Caution, faults, problems, issues. This hat focuses on why something might not work.
Yellow hat: Optimism, positivity, benefits and constructive. This hat focuses on the value and benefit of a decision.
Green hat: Creative, out-of-the-box and crazy alternatives. This hat focuses on innovative ideas.
Blue hat: Guiding, facilitating and managing the process. This hat acts as a calibrator for thinking about thinking.
As you can see, most people tend to skew towards one or two hats, but not all of the hats in totality. However, what a difference a conversation might be if a group of people were committed to looking at a subject with all six hats.
Perhaps Biodynamics wouldn’t be considered voodoo to a percentage of the population. Parker wouldn’t be a bogeyman. Corporate wine wouldn’t be a scourge… A level of common ground could be found in conversation amongst differing viewpoints…
I don’t presume that everybody is going to download the PDF linked below and really absorb the notion of the Six Thinking Hats, particularly in the realm of wine issues, but in the future I will be creating a thinking hat outline for topical issues that seem to be particularly rancorous in the online wine discussion – if for no other reason than to save us from ourselves on the next go around of debate about the 100-point system.
As a final thought, it should be noted that Six Hats Thinking is taught to pre-school and kindergarten students as a thinking tool-set for their pliable minds. Perhaps the kindergartener in all of us that plinks on the keyboard should pay heed to what four and five year olds can comprehend.
August 12 2011
It weighs in well over five lbs. measures nearly a foot in length and contains over 2500 pages.
Bed time reading? Only if you have the energy to wrestle the massive tome into bed.
While it’s odd to consider such a book in an age where reading the newspaper is quaint, magazines are building their proverbial bridge to cross the digital divide and e-book sales are skyrocketing at the expense of their paper-based brethren, I’m here to encourage you to not only buy a relic of the 20th century, but to buy a used 1980s version before it’s too late; they won’t be available forever.
The Bern’s Steakhouse wine list is the stuff of legend and a worthy addition the wine enthusiasts’ book collection.
Bern’s boasts the largest wine list of any restaurant in the world and not so coincidentally they have the largest private wine cellar in the U.S. A winner of Wine Spectator’s Grand Award every year since the award’s inception in 1981, they have earned their wine bona fides.
The wine list itself has grown in legend comparable to the cellar.
The story goes that as Bern Laxer’s wine cellar and wine list at his eponymous restaurant gained notoriety, the lists intended for patron perusal would frequently go missing by diners who wanted a souvenir of their meal (albeit a very large and unwieldy souvenir). Out the door these wine lists went covered by a dinner jacket or (in)discreetly tucked into a purse or satchel.
To combat the nicking, Proprietor Bern Laxer started publishing the wine list in book form and selling them complete with plenty of personally written wine region overviews, photos from travels and hand drawn maps.
Discontinued in its gargantuan form with the 1994 edition when the updating process became too cumbersome in an already cumbersome process, the handsome, large format leather-look books are entirely charming, comprehensive, personal in authorial style and, dare I say, a must have.
But, to repeat, you need to buy a used, vintage copy.
I only recently purchased my copy from Amazon.com. The 1984 edition came to me in nearly perfect shape for the absurdly reasonable price of $23 plus $4 in shipping and handling. The foldout maps are clever, the prose is folksy and to the point and the unpretentious historical perspective on the regions of the wine world and the great vintages dating to the mid-to-late 1800s is nearly impossible to find in other books.
It’s a tough sell these days to advocate buying a wine reference book. Who has the time to read a doorstop? These books are better used for occasional review and even then it’s better to know where to find the information then to have the book, or so goes conventional wisdom. Where do you even put it? It’s something else to collect dust…
Perhaps that perspective is valid, but there’s a lot to be said for looking at wine books, particularly vintage wine books, as equivalent to snatching up classic greatest hits of musicians in LP form – the recording as the artists intended it, a snapshot of a time and place that is entirely authentic.
You may want to buy a dictionary stand for it (another quaint relic of a bygone time) in order to have it at-hand and handsomely displayed near your wine, and you’ll have to sleuth out used versions on Amazon.com, eBay or your local used bookstore, but I can confirm definitively that having a copy of Bern’s Steakhouse Wine List from the 80s or 90s won’t be the most important wine book you own, but it will become your most treasured.
August 10 2011
I’m not even 40. Yet, every year (and since the recession more than once a year), I get a stroke of contemplative melancholy that lasts as little as a day and often longer than that.
It’s not depression, nor is it even a crisis in the, “Buy a two-door red car and a pair of hip jeans” kind of way, but, more importantly it’s about, “What the hell am I doing with my life?”
Sometimes it’s precipitated by the absolute inanity of work and office politics – people that would rather look good then be good or the office drone that views the world so narrowly and rigidly through her own rose-colored glasses that she can’t possibly empathize with another’s viewpoint.
I have a rough go of it sometimes with these white knucklers who cling so desperately to a false truth of right or wrong and perceived security.
Then, I go online for some mental respite and I hit the wine blogosphere and see the same goddamn conversation going on (and on…) about scores and points or Parker and suddenly what brings me joy turns into déjà vu all over again.
What this leads me to is a desire to channel my inner Buddhist and chuck the trappings of a material life, head out to a cabin in the woods with a laptop, a stash of wine and a vegetable garden in order to create something new, unique and powerful; something real: a piece of art as I know it, words on figurative paper. I want to create something that’s not a critique of something or somebody that has already created their own value, nor a piece of work that is dependent on somebody else’s expectations. Something that just…is…
Through this, I think I understand the affinity people feel for natural wine. In a world in which our inherent truth is a derivative of the expectations others have of us and, by proxy, the expectations we’ve subsumed for our own life, the rootedness, the anchor that we can find is in rejoicing in the simple beauty of something that is principally unadultered, a respite from the hair shirt that is life – wine that is barely shepherded from vine to glass and an idle idyll.
Or, this might be just me.