First as a distributor rep, and then as a retail wine buyer, I noticed that wine tastes different on different days. Early on, I associated this solely with the fact that wine does not taste good on hot days. reds being more sensitive to the temperature outside than whites. Then an old industry salt, Don Beatty, told me it was barometric pressure that effects how a wine tastes. At that time I was tasting
roughly six wines a day. OK, I could buy that… maybe. Still, some days, regardless of the moderate weather, my palate would just be seem off.
Later, I was buying wine and tasting seventy wines a day, (or more). I was my palate was super-tuned, and I was really confused by the fact that some days wine really just didn’t taste right. I had already learned to be very careful of the foods I was eating for lunch. I had learned that using mouthwash trashed the palate. Yet, the problem of having a palate that was ‘off’ occasionally persisted. Sometimes, wines would start tasting better by the end of the day… sometimes, they didn’t.
It wasn’t until talking to Jerred Wolff from Palm Bay Imports, perhaps one of the straight-up, most intelligent and knowledgeable guys in the wine biz, told me about root days being bad days to taste wine. Finally, this was something that might make sense. It all had to do with the phases of the moon. These cycles last two and a half days each, so mid-day, or mid-evening, so the story goes, your perception of how a wine tastes can change as the day changes, from say, a root day to a flower day.
Fruit Days: Wine tastes its best on fruit days.
Flower Days: are neutral in the taste of wine and not effect the wine negatively.
Leaf Days: Leaf days are neutral-negative days for tasting wine. Not the best.
Root Days: Wine will generally not taste good on root days.
While I can buy the concept of the moon, I have yet to put it to the test. If it’s not the phases of the moon, I can’t think of any other rational explanation.
Maria Thun has written a book (that I admit I haven’t yet purchased) on the subject, called When Wines Taste Best: A Bio-dynamic Calendar for Wine Drinkers. It’s on my to-do list.
I’ve been struggling with this post for a couple of weeks. I don’t want it to come off as trite, hence the delay in sending it out.
The death of James Gandolfini was pretty shocking. Here was a man who was highly respected, and by many, revered as a true artist. That he died at such an early age
made his life and his work more poignant. But the event of his death made me think: If James Gandolfini were a wine, how would he have been judged? Would he have been successful? Would anyone even have considered him? Here was a man who did not have beauty, was not fit, but he exuded such character, strength, sensitivity and nuance. Aren’t those all attributes we desire in a wine? Aren’t those the things that actually define a great wine?
It dawned on me that wines are judged the same way we consider models or a Miss America contestant. It’s a beauty contest, and wine critics with their score cards, are telling us this wine is better than that wine, when all it really does is confuse the issue of what a wine is really about.
Wines are like actors, or at least the characters they play, but the majority of our wine critics, and the wine buying public, for the most part, treat wines like models. And everybody knows, the supermodel is the best example of a person, right? (sarcasm is intended here.)
“To combat the constant dumbing down of wine, we’ve got to tell the stories of wine.”
But if we want real soul, and real character to mean something, and to really shine through, what do we as wine professionals do? To combat the constant dumbing down of wine, we’ve got to tell the stories of wine. I was telling my boss, “We’ve got all these really cool wines, and it’s our job to tell people about them.”
I have a new job, doing marketing for a small importer of Bordeaux and Burgundy. Despite representing some of the greatest domaines in Burgundy, and an incredible selection of Bordeaux, we have a challenge to relate how wonderful these wines are in virtually every vintage.
Although collectors should, they don’t tend to stock their cellars with the 2006, 2007 or 2008 vintages, all of which produced wonderful wines. Wines from these vintages show remarkable character, strength, quality, and they will age beautifully too. These are the vintages that the top sommeliers are purchasing for their restaurants. It is the producer’s name that is important, not so much the vintage.
But for some reason we, as American wine enthusiasts, have a hard time getting past our thing about vintages. Take 2007 vintage in Bordeaux for instance. With the exception of 1961, the 2007 vintage is better than any vintage between the years 1960 to 1981, yet most wine collectors have completely dismissed the vintage as not worthy.
But it’s really a more extreme problem than just of vintage. In my last position as a wine buyer, I was constantly amazed that if you offered two wines from the same producer, from the same year, and one got 97 points and another got 96 points, people would only want to purchase the 97 point wine – even if the 96 point wine was significantly less expensive. I guarantee that there is no qualitative difference between a 97 point wine and a 96 point wine – or even a 94 point wine for that matter. Additionally, if you blind taste 10 people on those two wines, it is a sure bet that half of the tasters will like the lesser, 96 point wine better.
What is this national mentality that makes people want only the best, and how could the best be determined when taste is so subjective, and the simple fact that wines can “show” wildly differently on separate occasions?
“You could go really hungry trying to sell wine without resorting pimping wine out with scores.”
As wine professionals, I realize we talk out of both sides of our face. On one hand, many of us have a remarkable fascination with wine and are quite dedicated to telling the hundreds of stories associated with them. On the other hand we’re also trying to put bread on our table, and we feel that we have to resort to using the scores (that we really often detest) to sell wine. We do it because in the time it takes to get your customers to blindly trust you, you could go really hungry without resorting to pimping wines by using scores.
Over the past three years, I wrote email blasts for The Wine Club. About a third of the wines I wrote about didn’t have any scores (or I didn’t include them.) I wrote them up with exaggerated enthusiasm, ala Robert Parker, in an attempt to build a following for our store, and the wines we championed. I thought it was important to build a reputation for being authority of wine ourselves. Quoting a score doesn’t make you an authority, does it?
So for three years I tirelessly wrote up wines – with no scores, just my enthusiasm. I found I could sell wines quite well up to about $25-$30. Above that price point, fagetabout-it.
In today’s wine world, is it necessary to score a wine in order to build a reputation as a wine authority? Certainly, it appears as though scores are required; which kind-of-sucks. I’ve really wrestled with this.
When I taste wine, I don’t taste points, I taste wine. But since Gerald Asher retired, (by far my favorite wine-writer) I can’t think of a successful critic that hasn’t resorted to giving wine points.
At this point it is tempting to digress into the problems revolving around scoring wine, and the inequities involved in the process. I hope we all understand those issues and frustrations well enough, to let it sit there stewing, without addressing them.
Scores or no scores:
I think the answer to my question in the opening paragraph is clear. It was in a sense rhetorical. Suffice it to say, (with all due respect to the late Mr. Gandolfini) that if he were a wine, very few members of the wine-buying public would ever gotten to experience Gandolfini’s fabulous character, strength, and nuance he would have projected. This happens every single day in the wine world, and it is the great shame of the wine industry.
I think understanding Biodynamics is most easily done by breaking it down into two basic parts: doing things at the right time, and feeding the
land, (thus feeding the plant, and by extension the grapes). Too much time is focused on what on the surface seems to be hocus-pocus elements, and the language of the process, rather than the reasons behind them, and I think that just confuses the how people perceive Biodynamics.
The first part is doing things at the right time. With biodynamics, the right time is determined by the moon. The moon exhibits tremendous forces on the earth, pulling and pushing our vast oceans (weighing 1.5 quintillion pounds) several feet in one direction or the other, every twenty four hours and fifty three minutes. Tides rise in rivers and lakes just as rhythmically.
Humans have been aware of moon phase harvesting since ancient times. As recently as 100 years ago, farmers understood the relationship that nature, their farms and their plants had with the moon. “What they didn’t have in education, they made up for in observation. says biodynamic farmer Dave Bos. “Today, we tend to discount what we observe. A lot of vineyard managers write work orders from their desks,” says Bos. “They don’t even go into the vineyard to see it what it looks like. I learn a lot more from walking the vineyard and observing.”
There is strong evidence that produce that is picked on the correct moon cycle will have a longer shelf life. Fruits and vegetables that are meant to be stored, like apples, cabbages, potatoes and onions are better picked during the waning moon, when water content is decreased. Conversely, fruits and vegetables that are to be eaten right away are best picked during a waxing moon. Tomatoes are best harvested during a full moon when the plant will naturally have a higher water content. None of this dictates that you need to pick at night – in case it needs to be said.
The route of the moon around the earth is egg-shaped, meaning at the two opposite points of the egg, the moon is farther away and has less pull than when it is in its closest proximity to earth. From down here on the ground, we are of course most aware of when the moon is ascending and when it is descending. The gross effect of the ascending and descending is the moon pushes for two weeks, then it pulls for two weeks. In the vineyard, this information can lead to timing when certain vine maintenance is performed, and the end results can save the farmer significant head aches.
For example: If you prune your vine on a descending moon, this will cause a later bud break. Pruning in Napa traditionally happens in February. An excellent description of pruning can be read here. However, if the vineyardist prunes late, and during a descending moon, bud break will be delayed, (hopefully) until after the frosts. Frost, of course, can decimate a vineyard’s potential crop in a single morning, so every day counts. Conversely, if you prune during an ascending moon, bud break will happen 3 (or more) days earlier. Those 3+ days of delayed bud break, coupled with up to two week delay in pruning can make a world of difference in crop set.
Planting is best done during the descending moon, because the descending moon has downward pressure, and it really positively effects the root system of the plant. Conversely, it is said the ascending moon positively effects the plant above ground – the moon is pulling during this cycle.
But those who study the moon have identified 3 major moon rhythms and 13 minor rhythms -many are so subtle, that Dave says he can’t observe some of them. The most obvious rhythm is the full moon. Dave says the full moon amplifies every thing in the vineyard. He says it turns up the volume. The ground is wetter during a full moon, even though there hasn’t been any rain. The new moon is the opposite of the full moon. It is a quite time, with more a neutral effect.
Further, Biodynamics indentifies four types of “days”, they name them: Fruit, Flower, Leaf and Root “days”. These “days” last two and half days each, so any given day can be split between say, a leaf day and a flower day. To know what kind of day it it, and what time it will change, you need to consult a Biodynamic Calendar. Biodynamic farmers use the knowledge to determine when to pick and when to plant various fruits and vegetables.
From Maria Thun’s Biodynamic calander that is available on Amazon.com
Leaf plants on Leaf days
The cabbage family, lettuce, spinach, lambs lettuce, endive, parsley, leafy herbs and fodder plants are categorized as leaf plants. Leaf days are suitable for sowing and tending these plants but not for harvesting and storage. For this … Fruit and Flower days are recommended. Leaf days occur, (among other times) on the full moon, and during this time their is more water in the air, in the ground, and in the plants. -this sentence is not from Thun.
Flower plants on Flower days
These days are favorable for sowing and tending all kinds of flower plants but also for cultivating and spraying 501 (a Biodynamic preparation) on oil-bearing plants such as linseed, rape, sunflower, etc…
Fruit plants on Fruit days
Plants which are cultivated for their fruit or seed belong to this category, including beans, peas, lentils, soya, maize, tomatoes, cucumber, pumpkin, courgettes, but also cereals for summer and winter crops…Fruit plants are best harvested in Fruit days. They store well and their seeds provide good plants for next year. When storing fruit, also remember to choose the time of the ascending moon.” (Maria & Matthias Thun, The North American Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar).
First as a distributor rep, and then as a retail wine buyer, I noticed that wine tastes different on different days. Early on, I associated this solely with the fact that wine does not taste good on hot days. Then an old industry salt, Don Beatty, told me it was barometric pressure that effects how a wine tastes. At that time I was tasting roughly six wines a day. Ok, I could buy that… maybe. Still, some days, regardless of the moderate weather, my palate would just be seem off. Later, I was buying wine and tasting seventy wines a day, or more. I was my palate was super-tuned, and I was really confused by the fact that some days wine really just didn’t taste right. It wasn’t until talking to Jared Wolff from Palm Bay Imports, perhaps one of the straight-out most intelligent and knowledgeable guys in the wine biz, told me about root days being bad days to taste wine. Finally, this was something that made sense. It all has to do with the phases of the moon.
Fruit Days: Wine tastes its best on fruit days
Flower Days: are neutral in the taste of wine and not effect the wine negatively
Leaf Days: Leaf days are neutral-negative days for tasting wine. Not the best.
Root Days: Wine will generally not taste good on root days
Maria Thun has written a book (that I admit I haven’t yet purchased) on the subject, called When Wines Taste Best: A Biodynamic Calendar for Wine Drinkers. It’s on my to-do list.
Next up: Biodynamics: Treat the Soil, Not the Symptom.