Postmodern Polemic : Clark Smith and Arto Koskelo at the DWCC13

I mentioned in my summary of the 2013 DWCC that controversial winemaking consultant Clark Smith was one of the keynote speakers, pitted against Finnish wine personality Arto Koskelo, known to take a much more humanistic, and less scientific (here comes that same old dichotomy again…) view of wine.

Clark Smith had intrigued me for a few reasons, one being the frequency with which he cites the fact that he got into wine after dropping out of MIT (“declining program completion” according to Wikipedia) in 1971.  This made me wonder if he was one of those wannabe Einstein types who after 40 years still feels the need to emphasize that he was once accepted into MIT, but that his thinking style was too [fill-in-the-blank : alternative, evocative, innovative…] and thus was impelled or obliged to take his grey matter elsewhere.  In Clark’s case elsewhere was a wine shop in Oakland, and he’s been in the wine biz ever since.  He is best known for the founding of Vinovation, a consulting and “high tech services” company famous and contentious (at least in certain circles) for its reverse osmosis technologies.

This intrigue was compounded after an initial encounter at Thursday evening’s BYOB dinner where he, unprovoked, except, perhaps, by a bit of alcohol coursing through his veins (**I can’t confirm this, but given the quantity of open bottles at the event I think it is relatively safe to assume that there was at least a few molecules of good ol’ EtOH in his system), apologized “for all the shitty things I’ve done.” The explanation of what, exactly, he was referring to seems to be elaborated in this letter on his website, winecrimes.com, but it also makes me doubt the sincerity of the apology.  Or perhaps he was simply apologizing for his Cabernet, which tasted as though he had reverse-osmosed an entire packet of El Paso taco seasoning into the bottle (appropriate, then, that they put a link to this Rachel Ray recipe directly on the GrapeCraft website).

By Friday afternoon I was very much looking forward to hearing what Clark had to say, as I now had hands-on experience with his controversial nature.  After our brief meeting I was pretty sure I would disagree with a lot of what he had to say, but I thought at least he’d provide me with some juicy morsels to chew on.

There were a few curve balls thrown in, but I got my food for thought.

His talk bounced around haphazardly from biting comments directed toward the wine-blogger audience (telling them explicitly not to express their opinions, which, it seems, defeats the purpose of the blogger entirely – not the first time he has expressed contempt toward wine writers, see again his letter on www.winecrimes.com ) to the purported multiplicity of the natural wine movement and a lot of incomprehensible musings about ‘The Bad Marriage’ between winemakers and #winelovers, ie wine bloggers (perhaps this argument is better developed in his book – I have yet to read it but it is at the top of my Christmas list… or Clark, if you want to change my mind, I’d be happy to give you my address. In the meantime here’s some insight from Richard Siddle at Harpers.co.uk ).

All of this followed up with a tirade against the use of the word ‘manipulation‘ to describe winemaking (a word I have not, personally, noticed in excessive usage), that evoked the French disgust for even the word winemaking – preferring the much more passive élevage.  Clark’s argumentation, however, included what to many was a highly offensive metaphor (“calling a winemaker manipulative is like calling your wife a whore because she is sleeping with you”).  His point being that we can’t expect a winemaker to be up front about their methods and additives if we chastise them every time they do.

Personally, however, I think he has missed the point, focusing too much energy on this particular battle of semantics when maybe the effort should be focused on convincing writers and consumers that there is a place in this world for both ‘natural’ and ‘technical’ wines.

But what the writers are aware of is that all consumers are not created equal.  Some are far more interested in the STORY of the wine, and thus typically interested in a wine with less ‘technology’ added.  What Clark doesn’t seem to realize here is that these wine bloggers that he so happily chastises for their critique of “manipulation” are not writing for the people that will be buying the more ‘technical’ wines, searching simply for something that checks in above a certain quality-control threshold.  No, the bloggers are writing for the only people that are interested in reading about the story behind their wine.  And those story-searching people are, by nature, the ones that want a wine that approaches those made in a traditional, that is to say, non-technological, fashion.  Thus it is normal that wine writers be a bit critical of highly-interventionist winemaking techniques, as this is not what their readers want. However, he is absolutely right that for large-scale companies wanting to make a clean, technically-correct wine for the average consumer, the technology is great and sure, go ahead and put that QR code linking to a list of processes and additives on the bottle.  Clark, you tell me how many of those consumers, who will be contentedly sipping that bottle at their next barbecue, scan the code.

Finally, he claimed that his list of ‘intensity ratings’ are a more holistic method of rating wines (than what, I’m not exactly sure). Personally I don’t see how a point on a line of variance between two extremes is any more holistic that a point on a number line between 1-100, but he seems to think that his baroque vocabulary, employing personified wine-analysis scales such as ‘obviousness: generous……austere’, ‘allure: pretty…….sexy’ and ‘mood: cheerful……..dour’ constitute holism.  To me it just seems like dressed-up versions of any other one-dimensional rating system, with the added issue of being entirely abstract and thus inaccessible to consumers.

To quantify this approach, he talks about the “flavor space”, which then would be an appropriate subject to blog about, in his opinion.  But don’t worry – it is a ‘flavor space’ that covers a whopping 2-dimensions, thus computationally assured to not confound the problem of ‘sameness’ in the wine market.  And then he would like to implement a “personal sommelier app”, employing a Netflix-like approach to help match a person’s preferred flavor space to personalized wine suggestions.  Interesting idea, and certainly something sellable, but I’d like to see how it can combat ‘sameness’ when only the largest and most well-distributed wine companies would be able to have their wines in the database. Again, an interesting tool but probably not one that will attract the most devout wine aficionados, who are, again, the primary audience of most specialized wine blogs.

And then Arto took the stage.  The whole room took a deep breath and the tension flying around in the tweetisphere and tangling up the #DWCC web calmed momentarily. Arto focused his talk on the issue of modernity versus post-modernity, and claimed that the problem with the wine industry is that it is stuck in modernity, a dated paradigm tied up in the Scientific Revolution. This is linked to algorithmic-based analyses and a blind faith in the rationality of science (replacing an earlier blind faith in religion), except that this blind faith in reason locks us into a paradox (he didn’t directly broach the question of whether Clark’s “Postmodern Winemaking” is in fact appropriately titled, but the insinuation of doubt quickly became clear). And to Arto, it creates an opposition between reason and emotion, a disconnect particularly concerning in the wine world, where we attempt to analyze an object of pleasure by numerically breaking it into chemical components.*  For him, the disconnect takes the form of the ‘culture of experts’ who have ‘lost their flavor’ – critics operating without passion and pretending to do science with their [subjective] tasting notes.

2013-10-25 16.42.13 I particularly appreciated this image, in which Arto makes the comparison between anthropometrics, the pseudo-science of measuring physical characteristics in search of correlations to racial and psychological generalizations. It is a branch of the history of science that I have studied with particular depth as an example of science’s unwillingness to take responsibility for its subjectivities and thus I found it a striking analogy to the numerical system of wine notes and criticism, so heavily critiqued for their ‘dehumanization’ of wine.

 But with Google at our fingertips, the Modern Era is being forced to a close. The wine world will be forced to follow suit, and for Arto, this represents a great opportunity for wine bloggers to reinject that “flavor” into communication. This means striking an emotional chord in readers (something that is much more difficult to do when talking about reverse osmosis than native yeast and battonage, for instance).

So vive the Pathos, and lets try it. Personally I think that communication is just a starting point.  Let’s work to combine the reason and the emotion there, and then maybe we can find a way to see the two as slightly more compatible.

*In a side note, in a class last week taught by Josep Lluis Pérez, owner of Mas Martinet in Spain’s Priorat region, he drew a stark distinction between reason and emotion, telling us not to let emotion get in the way of our reasoning.  I was surprised to hear such a comment from a winemaker, as I personally believe that the wine world is one where we can best see how emotion can be a ‘plug-in’ that enhances and rounds out the tastelessness of pure reasoning.

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Postmodern Polemic : Clark Smith and Arto Koskelo at the DWCC13

  1. I first must thank you for a nicely thought through and balanced report on your experience at dwcc – nothing slap dash about it and clearly from the heart.
    That Arturo and I were portrayed by the organizers to be in discord made it difficult for the audience to notice that we were in more or less complete agreement. You were listening for contrast, not synergy; for bloodsport, not enlightenment. You were easy to entertain, but resistant to contribution, to change.
    The essence of the Postmodernism of Foucault and Rorty which we both sought to explore is to recognize the world view in which one is trapped. I did not call upon you not to write your opinions; indeed, one cannot do otherwise. But simple reportage is a high achievement, and absent some effort to distinguish opinion from actuality, much damage can result. Examples abound in your remarks above, so I hope I will not give offense if I clarify some bits here.
    I am, for example, no rationalist, but as self-confessed technologist and foil to Artu and, you have assumed I must be one. You might read “Biodynamics and the Limits of Rationalism,” Chapter 21 of Postmodern Winemaking, for a look at my actual views.
    I believe you have me more or less right in my loose apology at the BYOB. I have been privileged to delve deeply into wine’s surprising nature by probing with exotic filtrations, oxygen and such. I do not advocate for the use of these tools, but rather for an understanding of how they work and why well-intentioned practitioners might choose them. These tools are also instructive to winemakers to explore for themselves what they reveal about wine, if only on an experimental basis, like the frog they dissected in high school.
    In the area of regrets, I do wish we at Vinovation had delved further into the nature of ripeness before unleashing the notion of uncoupling maturity from brix, and I fear the mixed blessings of extended hangtime have resulted in much poor wine through misapplication of the ideas I had a hand in promulgating. But the poverty of peer discussion among winemakers operating in isolation is the principal culprit in the resulting “Frankenwines.”
    Winemaking is not a science; it is simply cooking – the ultimate slow food. These “manipulated” wines are merely clumsily prepared. Banning the new tools will not teach winemakers skill. An unintended consequence of the Natural Wine Movement’s tacit ban on open discussion has resulted, paradoxically, in perpetuating the very wines it despises.
    I told Robert MacIntosh I was the wrong man to present these ideas. Your predisposition to assume I am using RO on my sulfite-free Cab Franc (not Cab Sauv, hence the herbal side) makes it ineffective for me to present experimental styles as my own – they play much better blind or when they are assumed to be made by more enlightened souls.
    The point of making that wine was to demonstrate that sulfite-free Cabernet Franc is possible, even desirable. Apparently you disagree that this one was successful, but it was chosen as one of America’s top 100 wines by columnist Dan Berger. Sulfite-free Cabernet Franc can hardly stand up to a grocery store standard profile, but has great charms for those who appreciate them. You will have to decide for yourself whether you gave it due consideration, having apparently decided the wine had been “osmosed.”
    On the other hand, what have I to lose? I am from New Jersey, along with the obnoxiously playful Jon Stewart, the brilliant but petulant Bill Maher, and the irrepressible Gary Vaynerchuk. In Jersey, painted inescapably as scum by New Yorkers, we revel in raw truth, however inconvenient.
    I am quite used to being a sacrificial lamb in my advocacy for winemakers in general. Much of what needs be said is not really very nice, and winemakers generally cannot afford to alienate journalists by saying what they really think. Since I have already been “outed,” so to speak, as a wine technologist (whatever that is), writers might as well hear from me some inconvenient points of view for the first time. Later on, perhaps these thoughts heard again from some more gracious winemaker will stick a little better than they might have.
    Nobody else is going to tell you how insulting the word “manipulation” is, conjoining as it does the artisan and the scoundrel. This is what makes it so insulting for a Deep South aristocrat’s referring to a 60-year-old black man as “boy” so pernicious – that in effect, that man can never acquire the dignity of a grown up because he is black.
    We hear the “m” word from so many entirely gracious journalists who, like the Deep Southern gentleman, have no idea that they are giving offense. These gentlemen will imagine that employed within their exclusive enclave do no harm, honoring as they do a comfortable cultural mindset. In a parallel example, Gloria Steinem had to get on the militant feminist side simply to point out that the construction “Chairman” has built into it that a woman would not be suitable for that job.
    You argue correctly that your intended audience is not wine lovers at large, but that tiny segment of Natural Wine lovers. I put it to you that you have no idea of the impact well beyond this enclave. By its very nature, the call to do nothing, that powerful, silly myth that lauds enological inattention, suppresses commentary on what is or might actually be done. Time was, not so long ago, that winemakers delighted in explaining their techniques, theories and struggles.
    No more. I find the bashful silence of winemakers hiding behind the disingenuous claim to “do the minimum,” reminiscent of the post 911 absence of scrutiny which empowered the Bush Administration to wage pointless wars because the rest of us were afraid to question their views. If I have disdain for writers, it is because you too have made candor too expensive. With winemakers laying low, all that remains is your own shrill voices ringing down the now empty halls of discourse, carrying further than you know.
    I received just yesterday the following queer note from a colleague who had asked me what I thought of a particular new membrane method for cold stabilization, a necessary evil in most wineries, which I had endorsed as remarkably conservative of integrative structure and wonderfully energy efficient to boot. Here is his note, typical of hundreds I have received over the years:
    “It is interesting to hear about what this machine could do, and at the same time I had this fear develop inside me. The machine sounds less invasive than traditional cold settling, and being able to adjust your pH without adding any outside components sounds too good to be true!
    “I need to see the results, and if they are overwhelmingly positive then I will be in a conundrum. It is difficult for anyone to “come out of the closet” with anything that takes on a negative connotation. I know we should never be afraid to break barriers, especially for the good of quality, but when is it wise to approach the subject delicately?”
    Bloggers have stacked the deck. Your readers want what you have told them to want. You and they are, in fact, curiously tolerant of quite gross interventions, utterly new in the last century, such as electric pumps, lights, presses, forklifts, refrigeration, inert gas, stainless steel and sterile filtration. It is the more recent, the fashionably demonized but relatively trivial innovations, to which you have attached the creepiest possible names, such as metered air (“micro-oxidation”) and flavor-proof filters (“reverse osmosis”).
    Anything can be made to seem repulsive, like calling your breakfast “denatured chicken embryos.” It is the failure by both winemakers and the press to communicate about what these are, and instead to demonize them as weird interventions, appropriate only for industrial factory wines, that maintains the fiction of their significance.
    Be worthy. Question your prejudices. Consider your sources. Do your homework. I appreciate that you have my book on your reading list, and I hope you find it helpful. Do look me up if you have questions, or ask your local winemaker, or both.

  2. Thank you Clark, for your response and the opportunity to continue to flesh out these points. A thorough comment deserves a thorough response.

    When I receive it, I will absolutely begin with Chapter 21 of the Postmodern, as the question of Biodynamics and rationality is precisely one of the thought experiments that I find most intriguing in the wine world. I can assure you that a response to the chapter will appear on this very blog. As the subject interests you as well, and apparently plays a part in defining your wine-worldview, I suggest you read the beginning of this post, http://wp.me/p1JBUd-e7 which remains, for the moment, my most coherent description of my ideas on the subject.

    To clarify my thoughts on your Cab Franc :

    Quite honestly, it never even occurred to me to consider whether you’d used RO or not. I openly admit that the comment in my piece was purely a turn of phrase too cheeky to resist using (but sure, it is definitely possible that it reflected some unconscious preconceptions).

    For the SO2…

    As someone who has worked extensively with the organic and biodynamic producers in the Loire Valley – a bit of a hotbed these days for low/no added SO2 wines (and particularly those made from Cab Franc, of course), and who has discussed and tasted at length the merits and possibilities of SO2 minimization with Jacques Neoport, one of the pioneers of the low/no added sulfur movement back in the ‘70s, I am a huge proponent and fan of minimal sulfur wines. I am very much of the school of thought that with less SO2, the wine becomes a clearer mirror to reflect what went into it – the health of the grapes, the vinification techniques, and yes, (I warned you that I have been educated in France) the terroir. Some of my favorite wines in the world have no added SO2 – yours just didn’t happen to speak to me. But perhaps in it is actually a great revelation that, somewhat appropriately, the CA terroir gives notes of Mexican spices (hah). But personally, with tacos I prefer beer. That’s all.

    On Manipulation and “doing the minimum” :

    Clearly your aversion to this word is visceral, but I still think that the hostility is a bit misdirected. To pick up on your analogy, we did not win the Civil War by banning the word “boy”, or any other racial slur. In fact, the linguistic vestiges of slavery were so pervasive that eliminating them from common usage has been one of the most protracted aspects of the ongoing civil rights movement. And yes, the sting of just a simple word can often embody an enormous amount of pain and insult, but the disappearance of such usage is never the primary event. Something more fundamental must change first in order to change peoples’ vocabularies. Vocabularies are stubborn things.

    So what is this ‘something more fundamental’, then?

    It is exactly what you suggest. You will notice, as long as you don’t get too caught up in spitting out your ideas without taking account of who, exactly, is your audience (on this note, I feel obliged to mention that I do not necessarily consider myself a wine blogger, as such, as my subject is rarely the wine itself. I focus, rather, on the issues of how science is perceived in the context of wine, a niche that integrates my personal philosophy and training as a chemist-science philosopher/anthropologist/sociologist-enology-viticulture-marketing student), that we are not in disagreement here. I said in my post simply that I think your argument is a bit too focused on the semantics, and in fact the important missing component is education for writers and consumers (henceforth referred to has “*them*” for simplicity and precision) that there is room for both ‘natural’ and ‘technological’ wines. I know many French producers, for instance, who are devoted to their beliefs of laissez faire winemaking, and still others who preach the merits of their technological innovations, and they can all be successful.

    I find the supposed dichotomy of technology/naturalism very intriguing from a philosophical standpoint. It is a question, like with any new technology (but a bit more contentious given the conservative, historically-rooted nature of the wine industry, particularly in Europe), of fear of the incomprehensible. And the simple act of labeling something as “technology” persuades people that they have no chance of understand it.

    So let’s teach *them*.

    Teach *them*how invasive the allowed techniques can be – chaptalization with beet sugar, horizontal presses, classic tartaric stabilization, CMC… at which, as you suggest, we don’t even bat an eye (or, yes, perhaps people just aren’t aware that they are occurring). And help *them* to understand how many new technologies, such as this type of membrane method you speak of, as well as other forms of properly applied and thought out use of RO (to which I am by no means inherently opposed) can actually help us to be less interventionist, to leave less of a mark on our wines.

    With this task, I – a scientist-communicator with a long-held goal to bridge the rhetorical gab between scientists and the public – can and will help you.

    But in return, I ask you to stop disparaging wine writers (which, I notice, is one of the terms you use to describe yourself on your Twitter account – yet another of your vexing contradictions), at least as a single entity. First of all, all writers are not created equal, and secondly, among those that you group into your generalization as those who cause their readers to want what they tell them to want – what more do you expect from them? Wine writers are consumers first, every single one of them. And naturally, they tell their readers to like what they themselves enjoy, because their job is to promote their own tastes. And who doesn’t get satisfaction out of sharing something they love? This issue of the “bad marriage” is not a one sided affair. There are plenty of actors involved, and no single side can be to blame (just ask any marriage counselor).

  3. What a lovely, measured reply. We are now in just the sort of conversation I had hoped to invite. I hope others will join in as well, realizing my clubfooted wake-up call for the compliment it was to the DWCC group intelligence and ability to self-examine, a challenge I would never have attempted to the more hidebound segments of the critical fraternity.

    Biodynamics

    Thanks for the link. I will read it and respond over there. Like you, I find the advent of BD deliciously challenging to the blunt instruments of conventional scientific scrutiny, the subject of my next book. A holistic system with quite different aesthetic goals than conventional petroleum vitiviniculture resists both verification and debunking via our cherished statistical methodologies in ways that are both humorous and profound. For example, to belittle BD’s methodology due to its questionable origins in the decidedly madcap Rudolf Steiner is to reject the Darwinian notion that random mutations are the engine of evolution. If it survives, it works. An appetizing conversation.

    As valuable is the advent of BD in revealing how imperfect are our modern rational tools, of much greater consequence is the realization that professional scientists have been rendered into clerks, more concerned with verification than discovery. We scientists have become a nation of certifiers, expert witnesses, and procedural auditors.

    I will not here include a critique of the uselessness of inferential statistics, nor more than a mention of the prevailing influences of grant money, fashion and personalities on what gets studied and published. I do not wish to demean their efforts, but rather to call for humility and respect on all sides. Wine offers a wonderful playground for discovery, and you will find my Chapter 12, Winemaking’s Lunatic Heroes, a tasty exploration of the demented, ill-advised whackos we have to thank for most of the ground that gets broken in wine and elsewhere.

    Cab Franc

    Much as I like “cheeky” when it enlivens a discussion, in this case you can see that you have done just the opposite, and it is gracious of you to admit it. The use of the abstruse term “reverse osmosis” in place of, say, “water purification filter” is alienating enough without converting it to a verb, this harmless tool thence become an ominous-sounding, likely-reprehensible action. ‘Nuff said.

    This being my first BYOB (and hopefully not my last), I was expecting an endroit where interesting wines would receive attention and discussion rather than the boisterous cocktail party it turned out to be. Next rodeo I will bring more obvious, less instructive wines.

    The backstory about this one was the remarkable anti-oxidative power of sulfite-free wines. This one not only contains no detectable sulfites (by virtue of the oxygen treatment it received just after fermentation which depletes even the bound sulfites born of yeast metabolism), but had also been decanted and saturated with air four days before, and was showing quite a bit of reduction nevertheless.

    I should never have tried to make such a complex point in a “Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down” party environment. Now I know. Perhaps you will have the opportunity to taste again now that you know the properties I wished to illustrate.

    The wine (Two Jakes 2010 Roman Reserve Cabernet Franc), being grown in the sunny altitude of Lake County, is often remarked for having little or no pyrazines, its terroir being principally a bright white cherry fruit plus cinnamon and perhaps a touch of rosemary. This terroir is further from Mexico than Burgundy is from Barcelona. You may obtain much information about American terroirs at AppellationAmerica.com if you would wish to supplement your own speculations with the findings of a panel that has applied due study.

    Reduction is often mistaken for pyrazines and also tends to underline them aromatically. Add to this the complex microbiology and the disjointed nature that results in unsulfited wines when they are young, and your reactions are perfectly understandable. I only wish you had communicated them to me while we still had the wine in front of us.

    Manipulation

    I do not concur that a revolution in thought is ever accomplished without strife. My allusion to Gloria Steinem (I could also have cited militants like Malcolm X and Huey Long) was a critical first step in allowing women and blacks to recognize that change was necessary, that the status quo was unacceptable. The “N” word is still uttered, but never without knowledge of its inappropriateness. This was an important first step.

    Words matter. It is only later that the messages of pacifists like Martin Luther King and inclusionists like Ellen Degeneres and Bill Cosby can be appreciated. But let us not belabor further whether this change comes first or last. It is likely to be both.

    I could not agree more with the need for education. I believe this starts not with *them*, but with *us*. As speakers of plain English, Malcolm Gladwell and Stephen Pinker have as much to offer professional scientists as they do as translators for the layperson. I am delighted that you aspire in your writing, as I do, to bridge the gap too. In France, one is called upon not to flaunt ones scientific credentials, the honorific “docteur” being reserved for medical people and where Ben Franklin enjoyed a high scientific reputation despite only two childhood years of formal schooling. I look forward to a future where, at least in wine, there is little distinction between practitioners and the passionate following they engage.

    You are of course correct that there are many sides to the issue. I get into just as much trouble trying to persuade winemakers to come to the dance (see http://bit.ly/1hQBAnS). They do not want to be told how to handle their vexing PR issues, and nobody wants to be the first to “come clean.” Consider what happens to me. Due to my honesty about my practices, my wines are seen as highly interventionist, all reverse-osmosed and industrial.

    I am afraid writers will have to hold out the olive branch first. Winemakers have so much more at stake. We can only expect full disclosure to become trendy when the day arrives that consumers are buying the wines because of it, and demanding it from wineries. Such free exchange can only occur when winemakers are lauded rather than demonized for their candor.

    I will do my best to egg on my colleagues, and we can, I think, rely on their wish to be truly known and understood, but writers control access to the marketplace winemakers need to survive, so there has to be a major and visible shift before such conversations will begin appearing in public as they are beginning to in such events as the Postmodern Winemaking Symposium series I am staging across the U.S..

    At the risk of annoying you once again, I fear that I cannot accept your simple dichotomy between ‘natural’ and ‘technological’ wines. Laissez-faire winemaking does not exist. All wine is technological – even the Archbishop of Kakheti refers to his millennia-old qvevri technology. Yet all wine is natural – made almost entirely from grapes and yeast and without ingredients. The merger of these two ideas: the magic of nature and the hand of the skilled artisan, married together in thousands of different ways, is always the fulcrum of winegrowing. All employ artifice, spawning a vast universe of wine styles, these days mostly well made. No wine is made without considerable technological intervention, and the most fiddled-with wines are still by law fundamentally more natural than any beer.

    It is the writer’s very important place to discuss what is in the glass and yes, what they personally think of it. This vital function producers are in a poor position to do well – they know too much, are too close to their own products to place them in a larger context. To the extent that writers will ride shotgun in this way rather than trying to grab the wheel without a driver’s license, they will earn my praise. There are many such writers, and I assert that my remarks gave none of them offense.

    The most lengthy and important part of my talk you dismissed with a single disdainful word: “purported,” as in “the purported multiplicity of the natural wine movement.” This is all you had to say. I would have thought this discussion of the intricacies and disparities within the natural wine movement would have provided ample evidence of my awareness of its non-monolithic nature and, by extension, the quite varied agendas of the writers who seek to serve it.

    I believe just as you do that a new candor is the antidote to the communication shutdown. Perhaps some of your readers will take a look at the proposed scheme, which can be viewed at http://www.postmodernwinemaking.com/full-disclosure-winemaking-practices . This can begin with an awareness that the health-conscious and the environmentalist do not want the same things as the authenticist and the collector. In other words, that your dichotomy between natural and industrial simply does not carry water for any of these tribes.

    I won’t bore you and your readers with an explanation of the “Flavor Space” part of my talk. SOme other time perhaps. I told Robert it was no place for such a discussion, but he wanted me to talk about a technical solution we might all work together towards, his dream for the whole conference. Let’s leave it that once we are a bit more aligned, there is a fairly simple cooperative solution to putting consumers together with wines they are likely to enjoy, but it would require the sort of collaborative spirit which does not yet exist. I am sorry to have muddied the waters when we had bigger fish to fry and needed clarity above all things.

    All this being said, I like your agenda for teaching. Let’s do it. It will not do for me to make these arguments alone, painted as I am with the Dr. Evil brush. I appreciate your pledge to lend your voice, and I see that there is much common ground between us.

    I have done my best in the book’s first eleven chapters to lay out the postmodern revolution in winemaking thinking, beginning with a rejection of the solution model as a guide to winemaking excellence, and going on to the ramifications of macromolecular structure for vineyard work, élevage, uses of oak, soulfulness and longevity. The second section focuses on practitioners, and in the third, I explore the function and utility of several of the less understood recent innovations, with particular emphasis on what they have taught us about wine’s surprising nature, ending in section four with philosophical discussions. I hope you will find in these pages some explanations worth lifting and improving upon.

    As for becoming a nicer person, how I long for that day. But critics need to have critics, and shallow writing needs consequences for its creators as well as its subjects. You and I have pulled no punches here in teasing out the needed subtleties, and I earnestly hope I have kept throughout the respectful tone that you so richly deserve . In a good marriage, one can and must share one’s thoughts without excessive filtration, secure that they will be received as the caring expressions they are by a partner equally passionate for mutual understanding.

    Please do let me know when I have failed. I am sure you will join me in inviting other voices into these conversations.

  4. First of all – a book about rationalism and biodynamics?! Funny, as this is something I am working toward as well (TBD if the subject will be limited to BD, probably not, but possibly). I am intrigued to see what you come out with, and I rest assured that our opinions here as well, will cross paths and sometimes shake hands, but in many ways will stray as well. And as for your views on science – absolutely. And these are the questions that intrigue me more than anything. It is precisely for this reason that I have decided to go “back to the lab” starting in January, this time in the context of wine, to flesh out my ideas on the subject, to gain practical experience in order to have the credibility to stand up and support my ideas, and hopefully have impact in changing some of the problematic aspects with modern science.

    Writers

    Okay. I like where this has gone – now you say, straight out, that it is writers who will have to “hold out the olive branch first.” Now the point you were aiming for in the keynote is revealing itself more clearly. Perhaps if you frame your argument this way from the get-go at the next bloggers/writers/communicators conference you speak at, you will boost your chances of not alienating your audience, and maybe you’ll get a few more participants willing to engage you in long-form debate afterwards.

    Have you considered, for instance, why writers are reluctant to promote this candor you so ardently champion? I am certain that you have, but here’s a very real possibility to consider: fear. A lot of writers, consciously or not, are afraid that if they start clamoring for full-disclosure, they’re assenting to the use of these practices (bear with me here, I am not saying that they shouldn’t do so), and thus that the wines they love – made by that amiable ‘non-interventionist’ French vigneron without any added anything – will disappear forever.

    Technology has a reputation of facilitating the easy way out. We know that technology makes our lives easier, but winemaking isn’t “supposed to be” easy. Easy isn’t mysterious. It isn’t glamorous. But if the technology, the “easy-way-out” (again, I’m not saying that it is, just that this is the perception) is endorsed, the fear is that everyone will run to start using it and the fairy-tale vigneron will disappear into the abyss.

    I agree with you that this is an irrational fear. That (a) all French vignerons and any other winemaker are already using some kind of intervention (is this an acceptable stand-in for the “M”-word?), some just more than others, and (b) those winemakers who zealously object to certain “interventionist” practices (whatever that might mean according to the individuals’ own definition of “interventionist”) because they are counter to their real (as opposed to marketing-inspired) principles, will not change their minds just because the writers are allowing for a candid discussion to take place.

    But irrational fears can be real fears.

    I understand your sacrificial lamb perspective, that you portray yourself as the “bad guy” because people already see you that way, but there are emotions at play here, not only in regards to the example I just cited, but all across the board. So I am not sure how convincing you can be to these apprehensive writers if you keep playing the “bad guy” card. Take the reaction at DWCC as an example – I’m sure its not a huge surprise for you to hear that most of the discussions I heard after your keynote were not centered on peoples’ newfound urge to go out and write about the need for full disclosure. This urge for writers to offer up a peace offering got a bit lost amid your lack of peaceful offerings.

    Natural “vs.” Technological

    I was not, nor will I ever, use these terms to define or flesh out my own analysis. I use them in picking up on the current of how they are used publicly. This is precisely why I refer to it as a supposed dichotomy – because personally I don’t see it as a dichotomy at all, but rather a fascinatingly and endlessly nuanced relationship that simultaneously overlaps with itself and all that surrounds it, and has gaps within, between, and around it. However, the fact of the matter is that society (both in the wine world and at large) has an autopilot reaction to see these two things as opposed, black and white, without all of the confounding factors and intricacies that make it such an interesting question. A question that I found so intriguing that I devoted a year of study to it, in the context of wine, during my Watson Fellowship ( http://www.watsonfellowship.org/site/fellows/11_12bios.html#Aron ), and of which you read a portion of my final report* if you looked at the biodynamics discussion I sent you the link for.

    *The report is intentionally brief, as the Watson Foundation prefers that its fellows not be preoccupied during the year by working on a final product for their experience – thus the full analysis of these ideas, in book form or otherwise, is forthcoming… though this post is starting to become good testing ground for its relevance!

    You run the risk, also, of stoking the fires of fear and thus of defensive, unproductive exchanges in the way you refer to diminishing the “distinction between practitioners and the passionate following they engage.” This seems a worthy goal, but in wine, it is a delicate issue. Yes, education is good, but we can’t force it on people either. This is because part of the captivating magic of winemaking, the reason people become bewitched by wine in a way they rarely do by cakes or casseroles, is precisely the epistemological disconnect that in many ways keeps that mystery alive. With wine, few consumers would ever tell themselves, “oh, I could have made that.” Narrowing this knowledge gap, educating those who want to know is good. It is great. Its what I have promised to help you do. But killing the mystery is another story, and it’s the primary enemy of science and technology in the wine world. So be careful about the point to which you promote putting everyone on a level playing field. It is a noble goal, but one in which this same fear can lie behind knee-jerk reactions of people afraid to lose the enchantment of wine to the far-less-fun (to some) explanations of science.

    The natural wine movement

    Yes, it was intentional to gloss over it, as I found your 7-limbed dismemberment of the movement insufficient to capture its complexity. Yes, there is by all means diversity within the movement, but your system (or at least your presentation of it) implies, as Rémy Charest pointed out via twitter during the talk, a mutual exclusivity between the groups you define. Rather than distinct groups, such a diverse crowd as the “natural wine movement” would be better assessed with a more holistic fashion, as clear divisions are impossible to draw between your “health conscious”-ist and your “terroiriste.”

    Earlier this year I took part in running a study on the perceptions of “environmentally friendly” production methods – organic, biodynamic, ‘agriculture raisonnée’ (now under the label of TerraVitis) to name a few of the more official ones – in the Loire Valley. These all fall under the common usage of the term “natural wine movement” yet we found great diversity in the reasons for choosing such a production method. And yes – this diversity could often be found even within a single individual. Most producers had a multitude of motivations to “go natural”, including, among others, their concern for the environment, for the health of themselves, their families, or (less often), their consumers, for reasons of personal conviction, and simply because they saw it as a good marketing tool. Naturally, this lack of easy division runs into far more difficulties for analysis than does a cut-and-dried division like yours (and we too ran into precisely this challenge ourselves), but it is the reality of the situation. It is not simple, and dividing the movement up into groups that could be perceived as pitted against each other does not help. This is precisely the problem that science runs into when analyzing complex questions – the reductionism of the classic scientific approach forces us to make artificial distinctions that do not line up with reality, and we inevitably lose elements of the very complexity we are trying to understand. The fuzzy boundaries and overlaps between your categories make them confusing and undermine the image of the ‘non-monolithic’ movement that you are trying to achieve.

    I would say that I approve of your tone, and yes, I feel that we are communicating here without a need for filtration. I can’t say I’m ready to get married, but I am quite happy with a discourse-bound civil union.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s