Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Biodynamics a short clarification of my views

This is a short response to a short twitter conversation that I had this morning:
Having posted several links to websites that openly question Biodynamic methodology and rationale that underpins it. I felt that it would be helpful to state where I stand.
If you break Biodynamics down it does indeed include all of the best things about organic viticulture. Increasing soil organic matter, dealing proactively with pest control issues, paying extra care and attention to the vineyard, increasing biodiversity in the vineyard and its surrounds. However there is a whole extra level of detail that biodynamics carries with it. It is here that I struggle. Rudolph Steiner was an interesting man who for all his many talents was not a farmer. Hence when he prepared his speeches on agriculture he shoehorned his existing belief structure into a methodology that was based around a traditional self contained organically famed small holdings routine.
As Caroline Gilby so neatly pointed out, it is possible that the position of the moon may have a microscopic affect on water in plants, it is not so reasonable to posit that the phases of the moon which relate more to shadow and light effects do so. Furthermore the biodynamic calendar is based on an astrological calendar. Many other people have denounced Astrology as a pseudoscience far more effectively than I'm able.

With regards to how biodynamics is presented to the public, I feel that the standard line of 'like organics but better' is misleading. However as with all things pertaining to the general understanding of the complexities of wine production the full story is far too complex to be written up as a short precis on a wine label.

There are elements of the philosophy that inspired Steiner that I believe are quite helpful. He based a lot of his work on the Goethean concept of non-reductive consideration of the system as a whole, wherein all elements of the system in a sense represent the greater whole. And that comprehension ad reductio merely seeks to promote a false sense of certainty as to the processes at play. There is no doubt that the advances made in understanding the principles of plant nutrition were taken and run with in the production and excessive use of fertilisers, and that this caused untold damage and to many a fragile ecosystem. However this is no excuse to run back to mysticism and spiritualism.

I'm quite happy for growers to explain to me that they're preparing some cow manure compost, indeed the actual finished compost is a thing of beauty, however to then try to explain that it has taken up astral forces by being buried in a cow horn over the winter. Well quite.

Then if you delve further into the founding texts you start to see references to the Etheric Jesus and his journey through the 7 layers of the earth to the core, and how the Astral forces need to be channelled into said Jesus so he can combat demons. It gets incredibly silly. That there is a core of wine producers who engage with this to various degrees is something I find a bit worrying.

But, and a largish but this is, there is almost certainly nothing harmful about BD (excepting the use of Bordeaux mixture which accumulates in the soil and is a broad spectrum anti insecticide/herbicide) and it does, mostly, promote good soil management, and other practices.

I jut get a bit annoyed hearing it referred to in such non-critical glowing terms.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Comfort Zones

Comfort zones are funny things, both cosseting and suffocating at the same time. I'd been working in restaurants for nearly six years when I left Le Bouchon Breton in the middle of last year, which being honest was about five and a half years more than I expected when I first agreed to work as a part time sommelier at Ashdown Park.
Don't get me wrong there have been some wonderful highs as well as some grindingly difficult moments.
I've been very lucky in that it turned out I was quite good at what I did, I made a lot of friends and was lucky enough to be taken on quite a few trip.
However this is all over. I have changed sides. For five years as a head sommelier I've been courted by suppliers, I could be difficult, arrogant, rude, coquettish, playful, helpful, irreverent, forgetful, it didn't really matter. The simple truth was that if a supplier wanted my money, then he had to work for it. I am now that person, I'll be smiling when people are rude to me, I'll be gently trying to suggest that maybe, just maybe the wines I need to sell might be better placed on their lists.
For years I had the pick of all the suppliers wines in London, if I wanted a wine, I could pretty much have it to work with. This is a wonderful privilege, all the more fun when you're spending someone else's money.
Now I have a much smaller pool of wines to work with, I'll have to be creative when people tell me that what they really want is a Sauvignon de Touraine, this is good. I'll be a much better placed to meet the winemakers and really discuss what they're doing around the world as I take them round the restaurants that list their wines, but along with this will come the trouble of persuading busy sommeliers and buyers to take half an hour out of their day to sit with me, taste some wines and hopefully offer up the requisite platitudes to the winemakers in question that will make them feel content about their trip over.
To add to the impending displacement I'm moving back to London in a day, admittedly I'm moving in with some friends, but it's still a case of two big changes coming back to back.
So with crossed fingers and a sense of adventure I'm starting to pack again..