Sunday, March 14, 2021

SOMETHING FOR THE WINE CELLAR: Organic tastes better? by Wiggia

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 stop.

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 bottle.

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 many.

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 stated.

The trouble with the green lobby it is never enough, the zealots would have everything going back to subsistence farming if they had their way.

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.”


Sackerson said...

Pricing effect on taste: reminds me of the Babycham story - producers orginally debated whether to cost it at 3d or 6d, the marketing men said make it 1/3d (one shilling and threepence) so the girl you buy it for will not feel undervalued.

Man Beach said...

Some years ago my wife and I visited the Jacobs Creek visitors centre in Australia and tried various wines. Our favourites turned out to be young Cab Sav and Chardonnay. Maybe we have untutoured palates, but if that's what we like, that's what we'll drink.

Man Beach said...

Some years ago my wife and I visited the Jacobs Creek visitors centre in Australia and tried various wines. Our favourites turned out to be young Cab Sav and Chardonnay. Maybe we have untutoured palates but if that's what we like, then that's what we'll drink.

wiggiatlarge said...

It is interesting about how this piece has been received, I posted it on a wine blog that I occasionally put up pieces, knowing full well what the bulk of the reaction would be and got it.

As with anything today the 'right' opinion is the only one that matters, conspiracy theories and the wrong sort of organisations etc were stated as to why I was wrong, none of which was true all info came from reputable sources, but none of that matters when you are woke.

CherryPie said...

I always maintain that a 'Good Wine' is one you like.

As you know, I have some favourites :-)