Thursday, February 03, 2005

Book review : Wine, from sky to earth (Joly)

The Heart of the Magic 8-ball Speaks!

I'm sorry anyone's had to suffer through that book as well, and I'm glad people are somewhat skeptical. I don't buy it either, especially after reading that poorly written piece.

I stand by my claim that biodynamics is nothing more than the Santeria of viticulture (actually, agriculture in general). And I agree with Jack in his previous email - I really can’t buy it either.
I'm even more amazed than ever that Joly can produce decent wine. If one were to contrast & compare his ramblings in his book and website with his critical acclaim, the conclusion that might well be drawn is that he's an idiot-savant.

His apologia starts in the first chapters with statements that biodynamics is a theory, and therefore not able to prove things like a regular mainstream science (presumably so he can be excused from having to provide any hard proof of his claims).

Let’s start: "A biodynamic wine is not always good, but it is always authentic." (emphasis in the original)...
What the hell does that mean? "Authentic" opposed to "false", "misleading", "fake", "counterfeit"? I think it's "counterfeit" that he’s implying.
(And wait, I thought making ‘good’ wine was what we were after?! Who would give a damn about a wine which was inferior…regardless of how it was produced, much less drink it. Really! What are we trying to do – celebrate failure & mediocrity?) And does it imply that the forces supposedly harnessed through the adoption of biodynamic agriculture are too inconsistent in their nature? I will happily cede the point that respecting the environment should be an overriding concern with all agriculture...but let's adopt a system that accomplishes better agriculture with better wines!

But I digress, back to the idea of ‘counterfeit’ wines; throughout the text he refers to the "label of origin" (AOC), and one gets the feeling that one of his main intentions is a defense of the appellation system - as used in France. Counterfeit in this sense might mean a pretender – a wine which didn’t show the individuality of the location & culture it was produced in. Perhaps it could be a winery or winemaker who was trying to make a wine similar to those of an adjoining AOC, or perhaps a style from another country altogether! My spin on that interpretation would first be that it smacks of protectionism. The AOC was created to freeze the French wine industry as it was in the 1930’s, but it allowed no room for evolution of peoples tastes. Their wine industry now wallows in it’s own product, due partly because consumers now care less about a prestigious sounding foreign label than they do about quality and taste.
If the wine is labeled correctly as to what blends are in the bottle, as well as it’s origins, then it’s not counterfeit. The idea of counterfeiting is that something is being passed off as something else (usually superior). If it’s labeled correctly there is no ‘counterfeiting’ for a clear lack of furtive action…

If someone is making wines of similar style, then tighten your belt & get ready to rumble, ‘cuz that’s what competition’s all about Baby!

I'll ask those protesting my denigration of biodynamics to please remember that
Coulee de Serrant was an acclaimed vineyard long before Joly's family purchased it. It was first planted in the 12th century, and for several hundred years many personages of note had visited it, reportedly including kings and influential clergy...long before biodynamics was ever even invented. (I think he's got a fantastic vineyard, but I also think it’s probably always been a fantastic vineyard. It would probably produce above average wines regardless of who was the winemaker there -regardless of applying biodynamics! Any attentive winemaker worth their salt using organic viticulture could probably do quite well there also...).

After starting into his book, I had a crazy notion to debunk it paragraph by paragraph...but I just don't have that kind of time (there are far too many flaws in his theory, and a lack of anything resembling the scientific method), and it would probably consume enough space for it's own blog. I gave that thought up by page 20. There's even too many errors to debunk it by chapter...

The work is loaded with anthropomorphism, poorly constructed arguments - sometimes premises are introduced and left hanging, while conclusions are drawn from them anyway. Non-sequitur statements are brought forth as ‘proof’ of the theory, then the author moves blithely onward without ever tying anything together.
The work presumes that a causal relationship between superior wines and biodynamics exists, yet disclaims that several times, and doesn't provide evidence for this in any way other than the anecdotal.

Specifics (or lack thereof):

  • Dynamization
    - a lot of noise is made about special stirring regimens that take an hour, [but not just any hour- a specially designated hour of the day is most effective according to Joly - though that specific time is never revealed], and consist solely of making a vortex – then reversing it. This specially ‘dynamized’ water supposedly has all sorts of magical properties imparted to it. (Being a person with an open mind, I’ll experiment using this technique with my next glass of Ovaltine®. I’ll report back later on any suspected benefits to my health.)

    Hand Stirring!

  • Incineration of pests – it is stated that this procedure “should follow a planetary calendar” and “the choice of firewood also may play a part because it also has a planetary influence”, and also that “the date of incineration is the key to effectiveness”. Wouldn’t you know it? He’s so busy typing this manifesto up that he forgot to include such vital information as the date, times, wood type, or even which planets…so it’s impossible to reproduce his efforts ~ unless you then hire him as a consultant! (pgs. 66-7)

  • Sympathetic magic“Horsetail fabricates two stalks, one after the other.” Then “on the second stalk it makes it’s leaves, which look like little needles, demonstrating well the influence of silica.”…Bullshit. Similar appearance doesn’t mean it’s constructed with the same composition. This is just sympathetic magic. (pg. 63)
  • More sympathy“the silvery back of a poplar leaf also manifests the action of light.” Why? Because it’s shiny & silvery? That is such lame reasoning. (pg. 18)
  • About dilutions - BioD relies on fantastically dilute solutions (e.g. D8, or 1/100,000,000 - that's 10 parts per billion!), and when coupled with materials that are essentially insoluble (like silica) really can't provide any application of the material whatsoever to the plants in question. (If silica were soluble, there probably wouldn't be much sand left on the beaches of the world, would there?) And why is Avogadro's number brought into the discussion? Also the comment that science can't accept the splitting of the atom (atom is the smallest division) is an outright falsehood - hasn't he ever heard of electrons, positrons, or neutrons? Quarks maybe??
  • On hair and silica - "Let us begin by observing the corpse of an animal that has just died. In a few weeks its simple elements will again be part of the earth. Thus the question to ask is: where are the energies which constructed this organism in such a sophisticated manner? Who took the calcium to sculpt the bone? Who took the silica to form the hair?" Hmmm...maybe my biology's rusty, but I don't recall hair containing any silica. Again this is based on sympathetic magic. His logic is "hair resembles the spikey form of silica crystals ergo it must be made of silica"!'s just as poorly thought out as the old wives tale about the Gooseneck Barnacle, which fall off the rocks to one day magically turn into real geese! That's about as likely as Pinnocchio turning into a real boy...[FWIW - hair composition is as follows: 50.65% C, 20.85% O, 17.14% N, 6.36% H, and 5.0% Sulfur...trace minerals do exists, but the claim that hair contains any relatively abundant amounts of silica is false, and demonstrates the lack of a decent science background on Joly's part]
  • There's more, but I've got a life to live, and God didn't put me on Earth just to spend my life following Joly around correcting his mistakes (apparently that would be a full time job, too!)

Joly can rely on people to use selective thinking when they evaluate the results of biodynamics; even though it may fail the results test time after time, it is such an arcane and intricate construction that he can claim it wasn’t done properly, while any positive results will be attributed to the system without thought. (“Well, you finally must’ve gotten it right!” would be the exclaim of true believers.)

If there IS anything of substance to biodynamic theory, it certainly isn’t to be found in Joly’s book.
And don’t even get me started on the “Cellar”, “Homeopathy” or “Planets” chapters, or why the choice of 'levity' as the opposite force to gravity was rather poor.

[True believers should read “
The Magus”, an 1801 manuscript by Francis Barret (available on Barnes & Noble). Most of the work is also of a philosophical nature presented-as-fact (as is Joly’s), and outlines much of what later is incorporated into biodynamics. Then again they should also read the Necronomicon, and, well...anything by H.P. Lovecraft...]


Ultimately, Joly's work is only a poorly written argument from authority, and falls along the line of: "I'm sucessful & acclaimed, therefore everything I do must be right & proper."

Go get yourself a Magic 8-ball. It's even wiser than Joly...

...why look! It's predicted the future of biodynamics at the top of the post!


Something for those who disagree with my viewpoint here (Australian Biodynamics Homepage)

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Blogger Tom said...


Is there anything in Joly's book about his background that might give us some idea how he could be persuaded not only have bought into BioD so completely, but what would compell him to become its apostle?

As you note, it's a lot of conjecture and philosophy. What possess him to go that route?

Also, does he ever note that BioD has it's detractors? And how does he handle them.

Good post.


February 03, 2005 5:55 PM  
Blogger Huge said...

Joly came to winemaking from a business career (banking) during the mid 70’s. In regard to his adoption of BioD, I haven’t read anything other than his own statements that he became aware that using chemical pesticides during that time had a very broad effect on all insect life in his vineyard. He states that he had read a book on BioD during that time (that title is not revealed), and wondered if he could practice what he’d read. He also says that he wasn’t a fan of the “green movement” [environmental movement?], but that the book fascinated him.
(BTW It was in 1972 that the US EPA had banned DDT, and the environmental movement was under full steam – for the good of all I think. However, the US EPA DDT ban was for domestic use [manufacture for export was still legal], & I think the hypocrisy of that ban was obvious to all environmentalists. Obviously it was politically advantageous to stop its use here, while the chemical manufacturers could still make money off of foreign markets willing to poison their own lands. FWIW, Joly doesn’t state that he was using DDT – but for all the press & awareness that particular issue brought to environmental issues it seems relevant here. Especially given the timeframe that he was travelling, and it’s historical signifigance.)
Joly had spent time in both the US & UK during the period of debate prior to DDT’s being banned, and undoubtedly had heard of the issue.
Perhaps also the shock of American & British cultures had some influence on his thinking. If he was in banking & finance, then he’d see mostly the big city industrial centers of those nations, not the pristine vistas he’d perhaps longed for.

And while it’s not stated, it becomes quite apparent that the focus of Joly’s education was not in the sciences. Any of them…

Does he note that there are BioD detractors? Yes. It’s in part of his apologia in the start of the book, and ressurected ad nauseum as snide pot-shots throughout the length of it. He continually makes statements (as Tuco points out in some of his comments) about how wineries are large industrial operations who have sold their souls to the chemical industries for increased production. And anyone who doesn’t follow the BioD system is labeled as a money-grubbing-sellout. To read the work, it’s clear that you’re either with him or ignorant & against him.

While accepted wisdom has been wrong in the past (Flat Earth, Eart as center of the Universe, etc) and may be wrong here again (viticulture & viniculture), the onus of proving that lies on Joly, and he simply doesn’t deliver.

Hope this helps place him in the right context.


February 04, 2005 9:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if you could care less about food or wine that tastes,looks,and smells as it should naturally, because it's a little funky from time to time... (as one should expect, because well,...fermented or aged fruit, milk, meat,ect. is by the very process of ageing a funky.) and only care about how lip smacking tasty something is, then try pounding down some twinkies and chaseing them with big gulps of pepsi.
it's damn good stuff! i don't care how it's made.

April 20, 2007 6:54 PM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

Anon -

The inference from your statement is that winemakers don't need to try to make good wine, they get carte blanc because it's a "natural product" despite the fact that all foods (other than those consumed directly-off-the-vine, so to speak) have some human manipulation (although I contend that the manipulation goes back to the planning stage as we have to determine where & what to plant, etc).

As such, we should therefore try to make the best of what we do, not have some half-assed cosmic theory to exculpate our half-assed attempts. If someone wants to try to make wine with unproved & untenable theories then go for it. But don't bother me about how "that's the way Nature intended it"...because Nature provided us with the capacity for rational thought, and intended for us to apply ourselves to the problems we encounter, not make excuses...

Wine should taste good...otherwise why bother with it at all? If you're looking for something with some acidity then we could substitute cranberry juice, or something else. But we don't - we search for that elusive complexity in wine instead.

This may be worthy of a response all it's own.


April 21, 2007 10:42 AM  
Anonymous viagra online said...

that is a long ride from sky to earth how you do it is so hard to do that trip.

May 06, 2010 8:15 AM  

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