An article in Drinks Business raises the organic biodynamic
approach to winemaking to a different level by quoting research? That shows…….
“Wines produced from organic or biodynamically produced grapes do taste
better, according to two separate studies analysing the scores of 200,000 wines
given by independent critics in both California and France.”
You have to read the whole article to be able to form an
opinion on what is contained therein
If you read the article nowhere will you see if the wines
were tasted blind, the rhetoric suggests they were not, which begs the question
are the judges all jumping on the same bandwagon? Organic and biodynamic is
increasingly part of the sales pitch in the food industry along with veganism
and the increasing pressure from climate change activists that we should eat
ever less meat among other ‘life’ choices they have chosen for us.
When couched as ‘saving the planet’ it is easy to express an
opinion that will go unchallenged so the movement gathers momentum regardless
of any side effects such as increased retail cost and bigger profits for the
manufacturers and even God forbid another valid and substantiated opinion.
The problem with the article is yet another example of
critics being the arbiters of taste. As with all tastings they are subjective,
so I find it hard to believe, unless they knew what they were tasting, to
believe the results. I defy anyone to taste two decent wines blind and state
categorically that one was organic or had its grapes picked under a full moon
and the other was not.
There have been enough examples of research to prove that
wine critics are no better than the general public at getting consistent
results when tasting wine blind and that means no clues to cost origin etc.,
taking that into account it beggars belief that they can add 4-6% increase in
rating figures for wines that are organic or/and biodynamic; the no rise in
percentage points for wines that are organically produced but do not mention
the fact on the label rather gives the game away re tasting blind, and the
latter biodynamic section seems to involve a lot of what can only be described
as witchcraft grafted onto organics.
“Cow horns are stuffed with manure compost and buried into
the ground all through the winter, then later excavated. “please………………..or……..
““Ideally, when I can, I try to harvest my grapes
during fruit days; in other words, days when the moon travels in front of a
constellation of fire from the zodiac calendar. For example, Lion, Aries or
Sagittarius. These are more propitious days for a more expressive wine.”
Fruit is picked when it is at its best, early morning for
freshness, before the rains come etc. Man or woman decides when that moment is,
it has nothing to do with where the moon is at any given time, other than by
pure coincidence; if you believe that you believe in Tarot cards, mediums,
lucky heather and rabbits feet and being able to cross the M1 blindfold during
the rush hour and live.
This article from the same publication has a group of wine
makers, all organic, wanting any wine that isn’t to have a label stating the
fact as though it is some sort pariah wine; well they would, wouldn’t they, it is
to their commercial advantage.
What they fail to say, as does the organic movement in
general is the vast majority of pesticides and fertilisers are from organic
organisms or derived from. The only thing that is wrong has been in certain
areas a gross overuse of the same products, yet even now organic producers are
allowed to use copper sulphites in certain cases, though to a lesser extent in
Europe, and still be organic.
The communities' own Steve Slatcher did a very good piece on
the subject a couple of years back:
I know two agronomists, one is a vineyard consultant the
other is working in the more general agriculture field and both believe much,
not all, of the organic movement is purely a marketing ploy, as many of the practices that are labelled organic have been
part of farming for years without the label.
As stated in Steve’s piece many are of the opinion that cheaper
wines are only possible because large scale producers use inordinate amounts of
pesticides and fertilisers, but that is no longer true as with farming in
general those amounts have through legislation been reduced dramatically over
recent years, it is not a claim that can be levelled at those producers any
more, as much as the organic movement would like to.
Another piece here…
... includes evidence that organic farming produces more Co2
which is not in line with organic thinking, yet again as the organic movement
starts to get more scrutiny there is now also evidence that just maybe Co2 is
not the evil it is made out to be, so we now have contradictory viewpoints.
Which is backed up by this….
Words in the context
of organic are used in a way that implies that nature is part of the winemaking
process; ’natural’ wine gives the impression it made itself, no human being was
involved in the process, that of course is nonsense, man is the reason wine
exists from the beginnings to now. 'Sustainable' is another hijacked word, there
is nothing sustainable about energy production using windmills, they are about
the least sustainable production method of them all but that word is attached
as a badge of ‘good credentials.’ We have to be very wary of a movement that
wants to be taken seriously on the strength of a green backed headline, there
is on all levels huge amounts of public money being pumped into green
technology which is hidden from public view. ‘What is good
for you’ is not to be taken at face value, but it is also very good for them the
producers; the truth is emerging on all fronts, but a juggernaut is not easy to
By coincidence as I was putting this together the Times
published an article about another research carried out by Jens Gaab whose main
job is a placebo researcher at Basel University, who says he is interested in context
effects, ‘if you reframe something’ what happens?
His study involved offering 150 people three different wines
and asking them to rate them.
All were 2013 Italian reds but that is where the similarity
ended. One was a £25 a bottle, one was £8 a bottle and one - La Pupille - £50 a
The first tasting was blind and all came out on an equal
footing re taste. Some were told the £50 bottle was £8 and the £8 was a fine £25 wine; the results then showed the £8 wine being judged the best of the
three. You can make of it what you will, similar tests have been done before
and with ‘experts,’ with the same results.
As Gaab says, wine companies are clever, they know that if
they make wine more expensive it tastes better- and they aim for that, because
it is a huge market.
Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at
Oxford said the findings fitted in with a growing body of research showing that
price feeds into perceptions of quality, including a study in 2008 that showed
increased activation in the brain's reward centres when people were told they
were drinking expensive wine.
All of this can be extrapolated into the 'organic is better' push we are seeing now. Organics make people believe they are making a choice
for the good and don’t mind paying for it, their comfort zone is expanded.
The Times wine critic, Jane MacQuitty defends the experts' stance by saying it takes years of practice and training to sort the wheat from
the chaff, yet studies with experts when tasting blind have proved to be little
different from the average wine drinker.
She then attacks the promotion of wine in heavy bottles back
label hype, overly ornate labelling, with gold medals galore, ah gold medals a
large part of the wine critic's folio of work.
She finishes with Caveat Emptor, let the buyer beware, and I
thought it was the critic's job to assist the general public in their decisions; obviously not.
On the matter of taste, again, the truth is not told, anyone
who grows their own veg will claim rightly that the produce tastes better. It
does; not because you are following organic practices, that part has
minimal effect, but because you are growing varieties that taste better but are
uneconomic for the commercial grower - yes they could grow them but no one
unless they were in a higher income bracket could afford them. Organic produce
from the same varieties that are grown commercially fetch a much higher retail
price and taste the same, taste is
incidental to the cause.
Much of the higher retail price, and that will apply to wine
as all other foods, is the extra labour involved in production: modern farming
has reduced labour costs, organics increases them.
For many organics is a lifestyle choice, it is also a choice
many cannot follow for financial reasons. If all goes organic many will
struggle to put food on the table. The average increase over standard
commercial farmed products is around 45%, some items are the same cost, but not
The advances in vineyard management and winery production
techniques has seen enormous strides made in the quality of wine production
from the humble supermarket red to the Cru-classed Château, but the organic
gravy train is to good to not jump on. As the article says, it puts retail
prices up as buyers perceive the statement that a wine is organic means a
better tasting product and worth the extra cost; that remains unproven but peer
pressure will ensure all follow that path, but not necessarily for the reasons
The trouble with the green lobby it is never enough, the
zealots would have everything going back to subsistence farming if they had
Organic wine production promotes a similar vision: horses
with ploughs in vineyards makes a wonderful-feelz advertising picture, any
addition to the quality of the wine is purely coincidental.
After all that what do I buy? What I like is the simple
answer, and that is a pretty broad church. If you take everything said that is
bad about wine we all might as well drink Yellow Tail and forget everything
else. That of course is not what it is about, but a more forensic and balanced
view on all we are fed is not going to do any harm, a little cynicism never did
any harm either, and the way to deal with all this bullshit is to buy what you
like, drink what you like and ignore almost everyone. As Arthur Daley would say, “The world is your lobster.”