Thursday, February 16, 2006

Kramer: a little wide of the mark

Dana Nigro penned an article about Wine Spectator columnist Matt Kramer's continued championing of "wines of conviction" - specifically Biodynamic (aka BioD) wines.
(Wine Spectator, 12/31/05~1/15/06 issue, pg 100)

He's a little wide of the mark on several points, in my opinion.

1. "...whether ritual aspects work is not really important."
So why bother with them if they don't matter? Why pay money for certification and esoteric vineyard additives, as well as consultants? I think those rituals ARE important to BioD And frankly, after you strip those rituals away, there isn't anything left to really differentiate it from organic viticulture...not to mention that those rituals would've gotten you burned at the stake just a few hundred years ago. (They were only traditional rituals in Steiner's mind, I doubt there's much evidence to support his practices historically...) And as I pointed out a few days ago in my review of Steiner's 'agriculture lectures', "the process [read here as ritual] - not the substance - is important", which is clearly at odds with Kramer's statement above.

2. All growers and winemakers are vulnerable to Nature's whims, not just BioD growers. A better point would've been for Kramer to point out that wines made without recourse to modern technologies have potential for greater monetary losses in bad vintages.

3. Low yields can be obtained by anyone, not just those who follow BioD. And I've read quite a bit of material on BioD, and nowhere does Steiner ever really set limits on yields - other than to advocate not overcropping or the use of fertilizers...both of which are ideals anyone can adopt without following BioD.

4. "...drinking wines [made with modern technologies] we become untethered...we and our wines become grotesque."
I'm not sure where to go with this, except to state that it's false. Does everyone who drinks Cognac become more erudite, affluent and sophisticated? Contrary to popular advertising, the answer is "No". You are what you are, period. Drinking a particular wine won't change you at any level, and would be entirely subjective anyway.

5. "You can taste courage."
Oh Bullshit. that statement is as ludicrous as Joly or Nossiter stating they can "taste authenticity" in wines. "Courage" receptors just ain't there, Kramer. What's more is that all he's really espousing is the power of image, suggestion and expectations. No wonder this piece didn't garner more than two columns in the Spectator.

6. A mere 3 wines are brought forth as examples.
Wouldn't (shouldn't) there be more correlation that just a few wines? How can someone present 3 bottles then claim it applies to wines made using those techniques? And a Sierra Foothills Cab for $41? - get real! When a Foothills Cab costs as much as a Napa Cab (which is already overpriced) you've gotta ask "Why?"...
Is that what BioD's going to do - raise the prices of all wines through the roof? Can't say I'm in favor of that, and the Foothills Cab was the only of the three that was under $100!

7. "...a religious and philosophical group..."
That phrase is a little eerie these days...I mean just what type of group are we talking about here?

The Reverend Jim Jones and his Peoples' Temple?
Or something a bit more in-the-news like millitant radical Islamists, or the 700 Club?

This article shows yet another reason to be wary of BioD - nationally syndicated wine critics espouse it's use with one breath while discounting it's myriad ritual formulae with another. Why bother with it then? It's a somewhat schizophrenic point of view in my opinion - emotionally he's saying 'use this system', while logically he's dismissing its' core beliefs and ritual.

What he should be saying is that he favors winemaking without much intervention, ferments without pitched yeasts, and minimal use of sulfites, all using grapes which were grown on vineyards with no herbicides/pesticides/fertilizer used and very low yields.

Look at that - I encapsulated it in one (run-on) sentence for him to use in the future!



Blogger caveman said...

Reading Tom's latest post about appelation america, it strikes me that it takes a certain amount of courage to make any wine which is not geared towards those narrowed tastes of that clique who score the wine these days. But this is a biz, isn,T it.

I am meeting with a bio-d winemaker on monday,more to come...

And btw, all of Kramer's wines of the year were under $50, and while the Deiss wine is expensive, it is exceptional, you should try the Schoenenbourg...very unique drink. And the exorbitant cost is due to low yields, not the bio-d.

February 17, 2006 10:16 AM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

Hi Caveman,

Perhaps, but I think most wineries have several different offerings, with many being "main-stream", while the other offerings are the "signature" wines of that vintner. Most, as you point out, are aware of the business needs but still wish to have their "own style" wines on the market. With the amount of press being paid to BioD, I don't think it's as much a risk as it is played to be.
Courage? I think that's another debate, as many of the critics find plenty of time to write about BioD producers...some even gush about them and their perceived "conviction", "courage", "commitment", etc. Seems like a good way for a starting vintner to get some press these days and establish a reputation.

(By the way I've always wondered why Benziger - for example - didn't make ALL their wines BioD ...I mean, if you truly believe that BioD is the appropriate way to make wine and respect the Earth, why only do that for a portion of your wines and not the entirety of your offerings? Yet another topic for discussion, but I think it points in the direction you bring up - it IS a business, isn't it? Why put all your eggs in one basket...)

Yes, one facet of the higher prices is due to the low yields, but I'd think that was due in large part to the low yields espoused by the BioD viticulture to start with. Though you can have low yields without going BioD, I don't see it as being consistent to be BioD and have higher yields (say in the 5~6 ton/acre range). It just seems antithetical to me, even though Steiner didn't set some amount as an upper limit on crop size...

Still, I can't/don't want to imagine what would happen to prices accross the board should a 1 ton/acre limit be imposed on winemaking.

Would like to hear some of their perceived "pro's" of the BioD viti-/viniculture experience from your meeting.


February 21, 2006 7:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Contrary to current popular belief, not all wines are made with critics in mind. Not even the majority of the wines created are made for a critic's palate.

True, some are made for that purpose, but many are made just to be the best they can be, and not for specific markets. I think that's true for most smaller producers, though the lure of creating a critically acclaimed wine is very great motivator.
Going to management with a plan to produce a "97~100 pt wine" can also get you pretty much anything you desire from the finance department of mid-size and larger wineries.


February 21, 2006 4:53 PM  

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