Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Here we go again! (BioD)

In today’s Press Democrat [5/3/06 Life & Travel, pgs D1, D7] we have yet another example of reporters trying to get a story out, but not bothering to get the facts straight.

“The Biodynamic Way”, penned by Virginia Boone, is an article which essentially can be reduced to an interview with Mike Benziger. (Which is kind of the point of BioD, being able to get more press and differentiate your products from the sea of other producers out there.)
The same mistakes are made again and again: it reports that the consultant Alan York touts the BioD products as not better, but “that they are more authentic”; it reports that the quartz preparation “both toughens leaves and boosts their ability to photosynthesize” – which is a wild claim & needs some evidence to support it considering that the quartz is insoluable in water, and has nothing to impart to the vine; and misleads readers by declaring at the start of the article that BioD is “the highest form of organic farming” - which is a supposition.

I've railed against the 'authentic' label many times (see [don’t make wines for high scores],
[wine is made in the vineyard] , [Authentic wines] , [how to practice biodynamics]) and really don't see anything new in this article to support their claim. And it's a pretty sly way to slam someone else's products by stating "we're not saying we're better...oh, but did we tell you about how they're lying to you?" - which is in effect what the BioD crowd does with the not-better-but-authentic differentiation they constantly offer to consumers.

Oh, please, stop it already!

An interesting quote from Benziger, in reference to the newer generation of wine drinkers is relayed thusly:
“They are very sensitive about being marketed to or sold to and they’re very sensitive about the truth…”
Interesting, isn’t it? Yet where is this “truth” he’s supposedly offering them, and what’s it based on? Pretty lofty words for someone who is doing just that - marketing to the same people he says are somewhat gun-shy to marketing crap. It seems to me that BioD is merely the tool by which they can then charge $80 for their “Tribute” Cab…


I’ll let you read the article, but it appears the manure’s heaped pretty high right now....

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6 Comments:

Blogger caveman said...

Hey Vini..

Nothing like waltzing round and round and round...I kinda like Benziger's Chardonnays, must be due to the bio-d....anyway, completly off-subject but I did a small intimate little tasting with Randy Ullom, winemaster from Kendall-Jackson, and he claimed that they acidify only in the rarest of occasions. Do you believe that?...how can a 14.5% Chardonnay have that much natural acidity...He also is pretty freaked by the Sharpshooter thing...says that it WILL eventually spell the end of California wine..Is it that serious? What will you do then?
Bill

May 03, 2006 6:00 PM  
Anonymous Dino said...

Vini,
How can you so cynical as to not love the idyllic description of the Benzinger vineyards with their insectivore insects (maybe they are the BioD answer to shooters), their chickens running everywhere, and “Coming soon, Sheep!” in Boone’s Press Democrat article. No marketing copywriter could have written that!

I have worked for thirty years in new product research and development for large industrial organizations and have had a central technical role in the invention and development of two commercially successful product lines. I can tell you that there are Brands, and then there are brands. Capital-B Brands have genuine and lasting bases for differentiation. Our somewhat cynical rule-of-thumb was -- a 50% improvement in performance or a 20% decrease in cost. I have had more than one marketer stop and say, “wait a minute, you’re telling me there IS a real difference?” In wine the genuine Brands include Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Rhine, the Rhone, the Loire, etc. In Contrast, the differentiation of small-b brands depends on a marketing organization making a reasonable estimation of the credulity of the target audience.

Quantitative information about BioD practices is hard to come by if you are not an initiate. Jaime Goode’s discussion of Biodynamic practices on his Wine Anorak site did give quantities for Preparation 500, the fermented cow dung. Sixty grams of fermented dung are applied per hectacre. Assuming meter spacing that amounts to 6 mg/vine/year assuming 100% absorption. I think we get about 3mg/day of E. coli in municipal water. So much for homeopathic doses. As my father, the town pharmacist, used to say when a physician prescribed an incorrect dose, “Should the instructions read, pour it down the sink or flush it down the toilet?”

Still I do not doubt the sincerity of many of the BioD practitioners. If you are already acknowledged to be one of the best wine makers in the world and your grapes are sourced from a Grand or Premier Cru vineyard you own, how do you make better wine? If you are a Bordelaise, you can’t rip out the Cab Frank and plant Pinot; if you are a Chablisiene (sp?), you can’t rip out the Chard and plan Riesling. If your neighbors don’t lynch you, the French government will certainly execute you for crimes against the state (and the AOC system). The wine you make is still a capital-B Brand. I’ll buy it. You are entitled to your eccentricities (lunacies?).

When ordinary wine makers and vineyards champion BioD, because your marketing department thinks it will improve you margin or marketshare, I’ll pass. There is a sucker born every minute.

While some silicates are (slightly) soluble in water, quartz per se isn’t. Can you get an explanation of the material science behind the “leaf toughening/” Silicate glass is quite brittle. Also, the biochemical role of silicon in photosynthesis. I took biochem in the sixties, perhaps something has changed.

I predict that shooters will be the end of BioD in Cali. When the vandals are at the gates, its time to stop with the rituals and breakout the insecticide

May 03, 2006 7:39 PM  
Blogger caveman said...

Dino,

Considering that most of these winemakers do not even mention bio-dynamics on their labels, one must look for another reason why they would attach themselves to such an eccentric agriculture practice than marketting.
DRC does not need help selling wine, neither does Joly. And yes, the wine made on these plots of land were good before bio-d. But they stay with it. Maybe it is a religious experience, maybe it just makes them feel good, Who knows? Maybe it works? Talk to some of these winemakers like I have, you will get a different take on the subject.

But are the science types working on a vine that is resistent to Pierces Disease? From what I understand, that is the problem with the sharpshooter...Just a thought before nuking every bug in site, which could bring on other problems.

Bill

May 04, 2006 5:41 AM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

Bill,
I'm not surprised by the lack of acid additions - if they're sourcing from the cooler regions the acid can be quite high naturally...even if it has the sugar to get to 14%.
(BTW, that's something I've tried to communicate in the past - obviously unsuccessfully)...

Dino,
I recoil at the BioD thing mostly because I see it as just that - barand marketing. And it's true also that they need something to differentiate themselves (you can't just start sourcing different fruit when you're a Chateau, now can you? (wink!)

All that notwithstanding, I do think some (if not the majority) of practicioners have faith in their "stuff" - I just am of the opinion that they're selectivly interpreting the supposed results.

Sharpshooters?
If they come north they'll have an impact for sure, but I think the industry would probably lobby for serious measures for it's eradication - but there's no way it'd be the end of the Califonia wine industry. I think he was being a bit overly dramatic...

PD resistant vines are under research, with several different avenues being looked at.
One possible response would be for a GM vine, but that'd be 5~10 years off I think...

Vini

May 04, 2006 7:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a big laugh once when a biodynamic winemaker consulted his calendar to explain why his wine did not taste "spicy" on that particular day. Nevertheless, it's unfair to label them as delusional. Look at the contributions the catholic monks made to winemaking. They still bless the vines and the harvest and all of that. Do you want to give the Christian Brothers a hard time? What about Kosher wines?
The BD guys don't call it a religion but they don't say it's science either. They just say there is "energy" and stuff like that and send their kids to Waldorf schools. Who cares? We have plenty of guys out there praying for a good harvest, or running the tractor in a "lucky" pattern, leave them be.
Judge the product first, then the winemaker.

May 10, 2006 10:44 PM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

At least the Catholics, Jews, etc, admit it's a religion and therefore subject to belief & faith.

BioD adherents seem to think that they can say it's a "science" of some type, and is independent of faith and belief - that's where they breakdown. If they come forward and say it's a faith-based belief system than I'd let them be. But for now they seem to think they are above the need to prove themselves, and for that reason they will get no quarter here.

Read my previous posts -I judge wines by how they taste be they BioD, organic, conventional, traditional - whatever.
If it tastes good to you, buy it & drink it. But I see no need to follow some tea-leaf reader blindly into the viticultural void!

Cheers,
Vini

May 11, 2006 12:45 AM  

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