It’s not easy being green: a post about Bordeaux, carbon and biodynamics

Two relatively unrelated bits of reading got me going on the whole question of wine and the environment, yesterday. The first one was a  Decanter News item about the Bordeaux wine industry’s Carbon initiative, and the steps it was proposing to curb the region’s greenhouse gas emissions (thanks to Tim, from Winecast, for tweeting it). The second one is a post on Alder Yarrow’ Vinography blog reacting to a (hard-hitting? scathing? vicious?) article in SF Weekly denouncing biodynamics as “Voodoo on the Vine”.

In the Decanter article, I was surprised to see how little the Bordeaux industry seems to be questioning vineyard practices, in its assessment of its carbon footprint. Of the 200,000 tons of carbon produced, says the report (as quoted in the Decanter article): “45% came from production of materials such as glass and cork,12% through moving personnel around,10% on vinification processes, and 18% on transportation of wines.”

According to this assessment, sales trips would account for more carbon than the chemical components of viticulture (like herbicides, pesticides, etc.). I’m skeptical. One possible explanation is that Bordeaux would only be counting carbon, and not greenhouse gases as a whole: agriculture produces more methane and nitrous oxide (NO2) than carbon dioxide. I’m not sure. But the fact that reducing the use of fertilizers and pesticides is an afterthought in this whole assessment seems odd to me.

In the second case, I was a little depressed at seeing how the SF Weekly writer, Joe Eskenazi, described the “aggressive marketing” of biodynamic wines and the “kooky” reliance of biodynamic producers on supernatural explanations. Many of the examples he gives (like some of Rudolf Steiner‘s more esoterical beliefs) are quite striking and troubling – even though his disgust at seeing blood from cowheads is pretty ridiculous too. Eskenazi is clearly out to show that biodynamics is some kind of extremely weird sect, and to do that, he takes the most extreme examples he can find.

Funny enough, though, when I discussed biodynamics with most producers I’ve met, their goal was not to connect with astral forces so much as to reinforce the vines’ natural defences, helping vines dig deep into the soil to get more from the soil, and to get better juice by promoting the health and harmony of the vineyard’s ecosystem. Many will discuss the visible transformation of manure and compost left in cow horns under the ground over the winter, not in terms of the elemental connections of cows to the Earth forces, but because of the mineral qualities that in all likelihood emerge from this change in appearance, smell, texture – in other words, biochemical composition. And in the end, their point is the following: the vines are healthier, the wine is better, and natural life in all forms is teeming throughout the vineyards.

And that’s where I feel a lot closer to Alder Yarrow’s point of view, from his frustration about the “maddening, paradoxical mixture of scientifically sound farming practices and utterly ridiculous new-age mysticism” found in the realm of biodynamics, to the clear qualities he sees in the wines themselves:

Some of my favorite wines in the world; some of the best wines I have ever tasted in my life; some of the wineries that seem to consistently make some of the highest quality wines I have ever experienced are produced biodynamically, and I don’t believe this is a coincidence.

Again, maybe a lot of these discussions, whether in Bordeaux’ Bilan Carbone or in the louder and weirder side of biodynamics, are brought on by the fact that being “green” is “cool”. In other words, by an interest in marketing, image, market share, etc., rather than a primary interest in making great wine in a healthy environment. I wrote a first post on my concerns about the potential greenwashing of organic/biodynamic wines (now including some very interesting comments by one Ned Goodwin) back in the spring, a post that, in many ways, corresponds to Alder Yarrow’s take on biodynamics.

I’m still as concerned about the tendency to put marketing and sales arguments above environmental arguments. A recent report published in the magazine of the Champagne winegrowers professional association, is entitled “Carbon assessment: a selling point”, and insists on the fact that going green would be good for sales – and that it may become essential, eventually, to enter certain markets. And here I was, naively thinking that reducing one’s environmental impact was about the environment.

As Alder points out in his blog post about skepticism and biodynamics:

[while] some wine producers are moving to make biodynamic wine because they think it will sell better, there are many more producers who have been making wine biodynamically for years, even decades without ever telling anyone about it, least of all the people who buy their wine.

In my opinion, the same applies to green initiatives in the wine world in general. Let’s just hope that, over time, we see (or actually, don’t see) more of the latter and that the former stumble and fail because their focus is in the wrong place. A healthy environment and better wine should be the main motivation here.

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WBW 49: Bush Goes, Maison Blanche Stays

Although it is, for me, a part of everyday life, wine is also a celebratory drink. A well-chosen bottle can be a great part of special occasions.

For instance, asked dhonig, the soul behind the 2 Days per Bottle wine blog, as the theme for the 49th Wine Blogging Wednesday: what wine would best to toast the end of the George W. Bush era in American (and heck, world) politics?

Facetiously, I immediately thought of Shiraz, since, (more…)

WineCreator: A Roundup on Ronda

I finally found a minute to check back for reports on WineCreator, the ambitiously-named meeting of wine pundits and renowned winemakers that was held in Ronda, in Andalusia, a couple of weeks ago.

Last weekend, Jancis Robinson published, as promised, an overview of the conference, where she revealed an intriguing side of the whole operation. Apparently, this was more (less?) than (more…)

Got your nose insurance?

Château de la Garde owner Ilja Gort won’t take any chances with his wines and the nose that helps him put them together. He just got his nose insured for 5 million euros (about 8 million dollars, US or CDN). He says he got worried after reading a story about a man who had lost his sense of smell after a car accident.

If you ask me, I think he also saw how much media attention the story about the smell-less man got, and figured he could get a lot of visibility from that move. Which can probably help him pay his premiums.

Needless to say, the story quickly made the rounds of just about every newspaper from Albany, NY to India,  every wine blog and media web site.

The one who must be feeling bad about all this is Robert Paker, whose nose is insured for a paltry one million dollars. I’m just wondering if he’ll be calling  his insurance company to have the policy reviewed… I’m also wondering what Château de la Garde’s Parker scores are. I mean, for eight million, you should be making 90s at least, right?

Tasting Note: Château Chasse-Spleen 2005 white

I’ve had a lot of fun drinking well-cellared vintages of Chateau Chasse-Spleen’s relatively little known white, over the years. I remember a 1997, opened two or three years ago, and a 2000, opened last year, that had rich aromas, a nice golden color, with all the fun needed to chase away the “spleen” (the Beaudelaire version of the blues). Great value, since it comes with a very reasonable price tag (that holds true for the red third growth as well, in these times of overinflated Growths).

And ageing may well be key to seeing what this Claire Villars property can produce on the paler front. The 2005 I drank yesterday and today (more…)

Bordeaux through a straw

Decanter’s online news section reports that Bordeaux négociant Cordier Mestrezat has started selling Bordeaux in a fruit-juice-box-like TetraPak with a straw. The product, called Tandem, features a special straw with four holes, so that it feels more like drinking from the glass when you suck on it. It’s being tested in Belgian supermarkets, and should be introduced in France (where resistance is expected) and in Canada (aren’t we lucky) next year.

I’m not convinced.

I’ve argued in a previous post that we may be oversensitive to packaging, and that great wine will still taste as great coming out of a bag-in-a-box than out of a glass bottle. I maintain that there can be advantages to alternative packagings.

This feels different, however, because you’re deprived of a good part of the sensory experience, when you drink through a straw, no matter how high-tech said straw is. Forget color, forget aromas, you’re just getting a quick taste through a straw – a device that some of my friends used to get drunk quicker, when I was a teenager. As a marketing ploy, it certainly doesn’t convey an idea of quality, of a special experience surrounding wine.

The marketing intention seems to be (more…)

Published in: on September 17, 2007 at 9:44 am  Leave a Comment  

Cornas threatened by… Cornas?!?

I just read something unbelievable on a Vinography post by Alder Yarrow. Apparently, the mayor of Cornas has decided that he wants a 4 or 5-story building erected on a site called Les Mazards, in the middle of the top vineyard sites in this remarkable appellation. This decision would entail the construction of an access road through some of the best vineyards of Auguste Clape, one of Cornas’ most renowned producers. John Livingstone-Learmonth, probably the world’s greatest expert on the Rhône region, also rang the alarm about this situation.

Both suggest that a note can be dropped to the mayor of Cornas, Gilbert Garnier, to tell him a thing or two about this outrageous proposition. I’m certainly planning to put pen to paper and to send my thoughts to:

Monsieur Gilbert Garnier
Le Maire de Cornas
Mairie de Cornas
07130 Cornas
France

The situation is a useful reminder that the wine world’s greatest sites cannot be taken for granted, and that they are not immune from threats. A similar kind of fight has taken place in Margaux, in the Bordeaux region, against plans for a new highway that would have gone through this legendary appellation. Many excellent vineyards in lesser-known appellations will probably be ripped up as France and Europe try to resolve their overproduction (or is that underselling?) problem.

Local producers and wine-lovers have to rise up to protect and enhance such remarkable heritage which cannot be moved elsewhere. And the Syndicat des producteurs in Cornas is doing just that. So it’s certainly worth lending them a hand.