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I have uncovered potentially serious evidence that could possibly refute the recent scientific evidence suggesting that drinking wine makes you smarter.
Specifically, I offer my recent experience reading Nicholas Joly’s essay-like treatise on the hot-potato topic of Biodynamic viticulture, Biodynamic Wine, Demystified
. If this is the demystified version, I’d hate to see it mystified.
I received Biodynamic Wine, Demystified as a gift, of sorts, from the lovely (I know it doesn’t sound particularly manly, but he is a lovely guy) Mike Benziger after a recent visit to his family’s gorgeous biodynamically-farmed Sonoma wine estate.
Frequent 1WineDude.com readers will recall that some of Mike’s comments in my video interview with him caused a bit of a stir and sparked lively comments-section discussion on the topic of soil profiles and biodynamics generally. Those discussions mirrored, in a way, the current love/hate tête-à-tête – ok, and the occasional heated exchange of invective barbs – between biodynamics’ supporters and detractors.
Supports generally describe Biodynamics as having favorable impacts on the vineyard, its grapes, and the resulting wine. for example, Mike Benziger, from the comments to our interview, speaking about why Benziger employ soil analysis and biodynamic farming:
“Commercially farmed soils around the world have become biologically very similar. The use of commercial fertilizers and pesticides over the last 50+ years, combined with aggressive cultivation has homogenized much of the soil life in the topsoils worldwide. Artificial inputs reduce or terminate soil microbiology and thus eliminate points of differentiation from site to site… Vines that grow only in the topsoil that is healthy or not, usually only express the varietal character and don’t express the sense of place that is associated with soils. When commercial fertilizers are overused, there’s no impetus for roots to stretch down deep, because the snack bar is right on top in the topsoil. To express a more complete sense of place, vines need to have deep roots that feed deep down into the regolith and parent material.”
And the counterpoint, from the comments of that same post, from an anonymous commenter who claims to also be a winemaker:
“No doubt that BD has a tremendous feel-good quality that prompts a certain amount of rationalizing. The problem I have with BD is that it is not benign. It makes claims of superiority without real evidence and presents a defense of “there are some things that science just can’t reveal” as a blanket retort. It’s disingenuous and bad for society in general… There are lots of us that make rational decisions about how to do what we do in the vineyard or cellar. But BD says that it doesn’t matter. That all the science that has served us well in the past, in any aspect of life, is wrong. And that rationality is wrong because there’s a way of looking at the universe to reveal a truer truth. You and I cannot see it, but someone can – he’s a clairvoyant named Rudolf Steiner… The wine industry is enough of a dinosaur already, we certainly don’t need a fairy tale to impede real progress. BD exists only in microcosm. Excess wealth and labor usually do produce good results.”
After reading Biodynamic Wine, Demystified, I’m no closer to understanding which viewpoint is right than I was before I’d even heard of the book. Uh-oh…
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Lately I’ve found myself at (what I’d consider to be) a lot of (what I would call) professional (or, at least, semi-professional) environments in which I am expected (or at least it seems that way) to taste wine in the hopes that I might critically evaluate it (but with fewer parenthetical interruptions if I do).
I’m rarely alone at those moments – I’m usually part of a small group of bloggers, traditional press, or some mixture thereof. But I am usually alone in at least one respect at those tastings: I’m the one asking for a spit bucket.
Or the one looking around for an open outside door, empty unused glass, drainage grate, or random patch of grass so that I can spit. More often than not, I feel as though I’ve got to explain myself, and/or am left wondering why a winery or event coordinator hasn’t thought to at least provide a plastic cup for spitting purposes.
More concerning to me is that the majority of my peers at these tastings don’t seem to feel the slightest need to spit.
Now, I’m not about to tell someone how they should evaluate wine, and I’m certainly in the "wine tasting is more subjective than objective" camp – but I’m baffled as to how someone can taste several wines without spitting and think that they can remain cogent enough to provide an ounce of objective viewpoint about it all later…
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Bart Araujo is an intense man.
It’s obvious when you meet him, if you’re paying enough attention. And you’d have plenty of opportunity to pay attention during a visit to his Araujo estate, which for me began not in the vineyard, but in the winery’s offices. We were standing in front of empty bottles of some of the best wines that this Calistoga property – the Eisele vineyard – has ever produced (some of which were made in basements during the `70s and `80s by dedicated hobbyists, and are obscure enough bottlings that you’ve likely never heard of them, even if you consider yourself a fervent wine geek.
Bart gave the same treatment to Jon Bonne recently, so I’m pretty sure that the brief history lesson in the final products from Eisele vineyard is S.O.P. for visiting press at Araujo.
The message? Context is everything.
One might, at first meeting, take Bart to be a bit too serious, which would be slightly off-the-mark. He jokes (albeit dryly). He smiles. He offers his time generously. But he is definitely… focused. “You have to reach for perfection,” he told me. “Of course, you’ll never quite achieve it, but aiming lower means sacrificing something. Otherwise, you might as well be making Coca-Cola.”
Given his obvious pride in the history of Araujo, including its wines and the heritage of its impeccably maintained Calistoga vineyard, one might also mistake Bart Araujo as smug. While his demeanor has been described by one Calistoga wine insider as possessing a good deal of the “Yes, I did” factor, that too is misleading – it would be more accurate to say that Bart Araujo’s demeanor reflects his knowledge of what the Eisele vineyard is capable of producing when it comes to fine wine. Which is to say, some of the best wines produced in all of the Napa Valley – putting them in the running for some of the best wines in the world.
“Yes, It did” is what Bart’s demeanor is actually saying.
Why are we spending so much time on Araujo’s proprietor? Because in this case, context really is everything, and to understand Araujo’s wines, you need to get inside Bart Araujo’s head, just a little. He is far from a distant figure of a landlord: he still helps to make the call on the final blend, and is familiar with even intimate details about what is happening in their biodynamic vineyards. Saying that Bart is involved in the production of Araujo’s wines is a bit like saying that Argentinosaurus was a slightly oversized dinosaur.
Or, put another way, it’s like saying that it was mildly surprising to the Araujo team when their 2007 estate Cabernet Sauvignon was given a 90-92 rating in The Wine Advocate…
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