Californian Wineries Go Organic En Masse – Chaos Ensues

Finding the right wine is complex, but can be good for both the pallet and the earthThe warning that global warming is impacting the planet has made many farmers switch their production methods, but few industries have been going through such profound change as the vineyards of California.

Hundreds, if not thousands of the wineries in this state are switching to sustainable viticulture practices. The organizations that assist the wineries have, during the last few years, been publishing numbers that indicate massive growth has been recorded. But wine lovers have a hard time to separate the greenwash from the real deal.

That is largely because most of the Californian wineries involved in transiting to sustainable practices are self-monitoring their efforts. Those that are certified are not always allowed to print this on their labels. So even though it can largely be assumed that the wine trade itself is getting greener, wine buyers will feel lost more than ever in determining what’s the right wine.

One way to circumvent all the confusion is to simply buy a biodynamic wine. It’s monitored by an outside organization called Demeter USA, which has a membership of around 65 Californian wineries and is incredibly strict. This method doesn’t fly though for people on a budget because the wines with the Demeter logo are very expensive. The grapes that go into biodynamic wines are more costly than regular and most organic grapes because the biodynamic crop needs a lot more attention whilst its yield is not necessarily higher.

But for people splashing out, biodynamic wines are great because they’re produced in the way you’d really want to think. Biodynamic viticulture gets most of its ideas from the sofist Rudolf Steiner, who held eight lectures in the 1920s about biodynamic ways of treating soil and plant life. The biodynamic procedure assumes there’s a lot more to growing organic grapes than simply refraining from the use of pesticides. Steiner’s nine preparations for fertilizing the soil dynamically and stimulating plant life are kept intact by the biodynamic wineries, as are his belief that harvest should be reaped according to the principles that control the cosmos. For instance, wine is only racked under a new moon because sediment is at its most compact at this time. The tidal pull of a full moon causes it to puff up, insiders say. If anything in your life ought to be this sacred it should be wine. The Demeter organization lays down the rules and checks up on its members.

Organic wines tend to be more affordable than their biodynamic counterparts and can be ascribed similar voodoo-like spiritualism, yet you’ll possibly never realize it. Even though there are organizations that certify organically grown grapes, the process is a lot less intricate. There are various levels of organic certification and in most cases it isn’t printed on the labels. For instance, the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) does not require its members to indicate on its bottles that they’re certified and maintains varying degrees of what’s organic. Its members are self-monitoring. The organization is massively popular, accounting currently for over 90 percent of vineyards in California.

If you asked anyone what the difference is between an organic and a biodynamic wine the chances that you’ll get a correct answer are low, mainly because of the massive growth and odd rules on what goes on labels.

Perhaps it’s best to just forget about what´s what and simply find out from the wine itself the old fashioned way. What in the wine trade is known as “sensitive crystallization” offers a reading of wine by crystallizing it.

What you do is the following: Mix your wine with a solution of copper chloride in a petri dish and put it in an oven at 95°C (~205°F) until the liquid has evaporated. The intricately formed crystal pattern at the bottom of the dish is what you’ll need to look at. Lightning bolt shaped lines indicate that the vines are young, scattered and unfocused. Denser and more organized patterns indicate maturity, coherence, robustness, the good stuff.

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  1. You know, I’m deeply concerned and involved in the climate science debate because I have been persuaded by the science. I remain constantly surprised at the anti-scientific denialism of our opponents in this debate.

    Angelique’s article here may not be about climate change but as an example of anti-scientific irrationality, one might think it would find a welcome place in the deniersphere.

    Biodynamic wines? Steiner? The ramblings of a German mystic do not good agricultural practice make. Biodynamics does not have a scientific basis; the guy just made it all up!

    At least The Zinquisition, at the link provided for “sensitive crystallisation”, were rather more skeptical. In fact if that link was supposed to offer support for the idea of sensitive crystallisation and biodynamics, I submit that Angelique didn’t read it thoroughly in the first place.

    I really do think that these things matter. Credulity in one area harms credibility in another. You guys want to get the message out on global warming? Then I humbly suggest staying on message. I am not going to be convinced that your message is guided by the science, when you fall for scams like sensitive crystallisation and, yes, biodynamics.

  2. Cam,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Your points are well taken. I am as horrified as you by the level of anti-scientific denialism in this debate – and you are correct that staying on message in this blog is crucial in combating that denialism.

    As the editor of the blog, I take full responsibility for its content – as I state in our “who we are” page, the buck stops with me. It’s good to hear comments like yours that help us all stay on message and for me to to a better job of editing the blog’s content.


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