Google+

wine

Looking at Steiner in the Rearview Mirror

Rudolf Steiner gave his agricultural lectures, the beginning of biodynamics, in 1924. There were eight lectures over thirteen days given to a group of over one hundred farmers. He died in 1925. During the last of the agricultural lectures he said, “I am in entire agreement with the strict resolve which has been made by our farmer friends here present, namely, that what has been given here to all those partaking in the Course shall remain for the present within the farmers' circle. They will enhance it and develop it by actual experiments and tests. The farmers' society — the “Experimental Circle” that has been formed — will fix the point of time when in its judgment the tests and experiments are far enough advanced to allow these things to be published."

Here are some discoveries that happened from 1924, when Steiner gave the agricultural lectures and the five years after his death in 1925:

1924 – Wolfgang Pauli: quantum Pauli exclusion principle

1924 – Edwin Hubble: the discovery that the Milky Way is just one of many galaxies

1925 – Erwin Schrödinger: Schrödinger equation (Quantum mechanics)

1925 – Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: Discovery of the composition of the Sun and that Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe

1927 – Werner Heisenberg: Uncertainty principle (Quantum mechanics)

1927 – Georges Lemaître: Theory of the Big Bang

1928 – Paul Dirac: Dirac equation (Quantum mechanics)

1929 – Edwin Hubble: Hubble's law of the expanding universe

1929 – Alexander Fleming: Penicillin, the first beta-lactam antibiotic

1929 – Lars Onsager's reciprocal relations, a potential fourth law of thermodynamics

1930 – Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar discovers his eponymous limit of the maximum mass of a white dwarf star

There was a lot Steiner and his compatriots did not know in 1924. What they did know was that the new chemical farming strategies that were taking over the world were destroying the land and our food. They may not have known why, but they knew something was wrong. At least they had the courage to seek a solution.

To take a frightening hypothetical, suppose you were diagnosed with cancer tomorrow. Would you want to be treated by a doctor with the knowledge that existed in 1920 or one armed with all the knowledge acquired in the last one hundred years? I think farmers should make the same argument when it comes to Steiner and biodynamics . We need to build on the wisdom of the past and it is our job to push that knowledge forward. We need not be held back by their ignorance nor condemn them for it - they knew what they knew and no more, just like us. Future generations will find us as ignorant as we find those that came before us.

Steiner clearly identified the problem and outlined an answer, but he was locked in a world that was not only in chaos after World War I, but in an era where modern science and new knowledge was exploding. His answer was to reach back and there was true wisdom in that when it came to farming. However, we must take Steiner’s world into consideration when evaluating his solutions. It is always wise to question the wisdom of your gurus. Much of what we call biodynamics today has little to do with Steiner. Names like Maria Thun, Herbert Koepf, Ehrenfried Pfeiffer and Manfred Klett established the liturgy of biodynamics. They took Steiner’s outline, then left it behind. We should do the same to them.

Steiner may not have known there were other galaxies or that the universe was expanding, but he did understand there were problems down on the farm. His ideas created a framework to build upon. He expected us to build on it, not leave his lectures frozen in time. Our job as biodynamic farmers is to continue the experiments as he requested until we find why biodynamics works, which it does. The problem right now is that we do not know the parts of biodynamics that work and those that don’t. Does every preparation work as he described? Of course not. Yet, there is something clearly working here and in the face of climate change we better figure out what works. There are no gnomes out there in the vineyard, but there are fungi and bacteria and in them we will find the real magic that makes biodynamics work. Are there Elemental Beings? Of course there are, they are just microscopic. 

The ultimate expression of biodynamics is when you go beyond it and craft the right solutions for your farm. Striving for Demeter certification is like a jazz musician practicing scales over and over again. It is only after they master their instrument that they can improvise and truly create something new. 

The next iteration of biodynamics is already in motion. People like Kevin Chambers at Koosah Farm and Ted Lemon at Littorai Wines are already moving beyond biodynamics to find new expressions of the preparations born of their direct experience on their farms. Practical biodynamics is being being taught to farmers (like us at Troon) by consultant Andrew Beedy, who was mentored by the famed Alan York. The practice of biodynamics has been and always will be evolving. 

What Steiner said in the agricultural lectures was meaningful, insightful and important in the maelstrom that was Europe in 1924. In the almost one hundred years since the lectures, we have learned a lot. It is our role as farmers to meld the insights of the past with the knowledge of today and to build a foundation for the future. That is the essence of biodynamics. Seeking truth and building a relationship with our planet and our place in the Universe is both a spiritual quest and a commercial one. Steiner is of the past, but biodynamics is of the future. What biodynamics will become is yet to be discovered. 

Steiner would have loved quantum physics. The uncertainty principle Is very biodynamic.


 

Becoming One with Wine

Uploaded by Craig Camp on 2018-03-27.

The world feels somehow different today at Troon Vineyard. I guess you can’t reinvent a vineyard without reinventing yourself. Reinventing and reinvigorating people and a vineyard at the same time is about the simplest way I can explain our transition to biodynamic farming. Everything just feels more alive.

Over the last week what was all planning, items on a Trello board, started to become real. New equipment, new ways of thinking and a new spirit all converged at Troon Vineyard this week. The first step was just a simple piece of string

Twine ties in a block of our vermentino

Twine ties in a block of our vermentino

After years of plastic ties in the vineyard, many of a particularly noxious green color, we have replaced them with hand-knotted pieces of twine. The contrast between the bilious green of the old ties and the warm, earth tones of the twine ties running down the rows tying the canes to the wires could not be more obvious or meaningful. A simple change that tells of significant changes to come, we are becoming entwined in nature.

A somewhat physically more prominent change was the arrival of our Clemens radius weeder or “weed knife”.  While a big financial investment, an efficient tool to control weeds is necessary if you are going to forgo chemicals like the seemingly ever-present Roundup. Many may debate about the evils of glyphosate, and all too many sustainable certifications allow it, but common sense tells us that chemicals like these are just not part of nature’s plan.  It’s hard to describe how well the Clemens does its job as it fluidly dances the blade around each vine almost in slow motion - we actually it is in slow motion as the tractor can only go two and a half miles an hour while doing this work.

Other new mechanical arrivals include the Clemens multi-clean undervine brush, which, as the name implies, literally whisks away suckers and weeds around the base of the vine. Then there is a tank-like Domries disc and a Domries tri-till cultivator. We now have the tools to do the job right.

Creating a vortex while stirring BD 500

Creating a vortex while stirring BD 500

Then there was the really good shit, literally, which arrived this week. Now living in Southern Oregon, that phrase tends to refer to other local agricultural products, in our case, it was actually shit. This was the famed BD 500, the cow manure aged in buried cow horns. For this first application we had to purchase some finished BD 500, but by next spring we’ll have buried and fermented our own. The finished preparation does not remind of the original state or aromatics of the raw materials as it looks and smells more like very rich potting soil. To prepare 500 for application requires stirring it a very particular way. Troon winemaker Steve Hall selected one of our oldest barrels (for the history of place it had experienced) then after adding the 500 to around forty gallons of water we begin the stirring process. Steve and I alternated during the hour long process. First you stir in one direction until you build a deep vortex then suddenly reverse direction going violently from order to disorder. You repeat this process over-and-over for the full hour. This was a uniquely satisfying  experience as you bond with the preparation that will become one with your soil. A very different experience than wearing haz-mat gear demanded by standard vineyard applications. Once prepared we poured the BD 500 into the sprayer and as the week came to a close our entire property had received this application. 

Just knowing that the first biodynamic preparation is in our soils gives me both a sense of peace and accomplishment. We are on an entirely new voyage with a new mission. Just as the vines are reborn each spring, this spring Troon Vineyard is reborn along with them. Soon the buds will break into a whole new world of winegrowing. 

Biodynamics will reinvigorate our soils and our vines, but it is also reinvigorating us. It is those combined energies that will be expressed in our wines. Wines full of energy are exciting wines and we could not be more excited about making them. Our desire to make special wines from what we know is a vineyard, a terroir, with exceptional potential is what started us on this voyage to begin with. 

We are at the starting line of a long struggle to achieve our goals. Now that we have taken our first steps we feel like a sprinter whose energy has just been released by the starting gun. 

The vines, the soil, the place, the wines and the people are all becoming one.

Alberto spraying BD 500 in a block of zinfandel

Alberto spraying BD 500 in a block of zinfandel

Selling Wine in Mason Jars

I’m holding a bottle of wine it's taken me almost sixty years to make. I pull the cork and pour a few ounces into a more-or-less clean Mason jar. It seems we are going back in time.

Decades ago, when I was building a new fine wine distribution company, I would take winemakers that are now wine legends - Angelo Gaja, Dominique Lafon, Josh Jensen, Tony Soter, Cathy Corison, Richard Sanford and others around Chicago, where we would pour samples of their wines into small plastic cups and try to convince buyers to give these newcomers a shot. Needless to say, those buyers never got a glimpse of the true greatness of these wines and winemakers out of those little plastic cups.

Fast forward from the 1980's to 2017 and selling great wine is a lot more glamorous, right? Sharing your wines with the sommelier at Castagna or Nostrana could not be more pleasurable - if you make good wine that is. Yet, all to often, we've not progressed beyond those pitiful little plastic cups.

In states that allow both distributors and retailers to sell wine and spirits, the profits from spirits make their cash flow work. These profits from quick, large-margin spirit sales are the lifeblood of large liquor stores, which give them the opportunity to build broad, but slower selling wine selections. In states like Oregon, where spirits sales are ridiculously limited to state controlled “liquor stores” that means amazing wine and spirits stores like K&L, Binny’s and Zacky's cannot exist. In state controlled Oregon, grocery stores have a significant advantage over wine-only shops as they have many other products to give them the cash flow required to support the inventory in their wine department - just like full-service liquor stores in other states.

This means that I spend a lot of time in Oregon selling wine to grocery store buyers. While tasting wines with buyers in the back room of a grocery store out of old Libby glasses may not have the panache of sampling your wines in Riedel on white tablecloths it's just as important to your sales. Also, most of these grocery store buyers are just as serious as any sommelier. They too are passionate to find wines that their customers will love. Also, like a sommelier, they are out on the front lines and if the customer does not like a wine they are just as likely to blame them as to blame the winery.

It's not a bad system. Or, at least it used to be not a bad system. Fine wine and corporations do not mix well and management at some important Oregon chains are taking their local buyers out of the game and sending them home with Mason jars of wine in their backpacks.

No longer can you taste your wines with these buyers. You go into the back room, among the storage shelves of dog food and canned goods and pour your samples into well used Mason jars or some other even less glamorous receptacle. You pour your wines into old jars or bottles as the buyers are no longer permitted to taste wines on the job. Which, as that is a big part of their job seems, well for lack of a better word, stupid.

We go to a lot of work to be sure our wines are presented and sold in the proper condition. Pouring them into a Mason jar that is then tossed into a backpack, that may spend time in a hot car or that then may not be tasted for days is not fair to us or the final consumer. Grocery chains should treat both their wine buyers and the wines they buy with more respect considering the significant profit they generate for these corporations.

Next time you buy a wine in a grocery store you don't enjoy, please don't blame the wine buyer. The wine they tasted from that Mason jar after it had sloshed around in their backpack while they rode home on their bike on one of those one-hundred degree days last week probably did not taste much like the bottle of wine you took home.

In thirty years we've graduated from plastic cups to Mason jars. A long way, baby, we've not come.

Blue Nose, Blue Blood

This time it was Blue Nose. It was always something, but it was always something special. There are places to buy things and there are places where it’s an adventure to buy things. One of those places is Osprey Seafood in the town of Napa. 

We brought home some fabulous Bluenose bass from New Zealand this time, but whatever we bring home from there is always delicious. Why? Why are some merchants so much better than others? The fish at Osprey is more-or-less the same price as Whole Foods just down the road, but it is always, always better. Certainly it is more expensive than the seafood offerings of Safeway, but food that is inedible is never cheap enough.

The “why” is simple. They care at Osprey. They care in a way you just don’t see behind the counter at a chain, even at the level of a Whole Foods. At the likes of Safeway it’s not an issue of excitement as they have little interest or knowledge in what they’re selling. 

It’s always amazing at Osprey as, in spite of the fact they deal with fish day in and day out, they’re excited about today’s special arrivals. It’s that ability to be excited that makes them go out of their way to have something to be excited about. 

What’s happened to that excitement in the wine industry? Cynical buyers, loaded with attitude, but with closed minds who have already decided what wines are the best by the time they’re twenty-five. Their counterpoints are ego driven, “lifestyle” wineries more interested in points than quality, which pump out over-oaked, high octane, insanely priced fruit bombs.  All of the above driven by someone else’s pointed opinion instead of their own. True enough there’s a lot to be not excited about.

However, once a month, I get a package that reminds me that there still exists, in the increasingly corporate wine world, merchants filled with passion, excitement and energy that is all their own. That package is the monthly shipment I get from the Kermit Lynch Wine Club, one of the privileges of living in California.

Each package is a voyage of discovery. Not that I do not know some of the wines that arrive, but each shipment is an inside look at the mind of the Kermit Lynch company. The energy and commitment in that collective mind is clear in the quality and distinctive personality of each bottle that arrives. 

For about $40 a month you get two bottles of interesting wine. While that should not be an unusual thing, it is, and the arrival of each package makes me think about the wines we make. As always, there is no greater compliment you can give a wine than it makes you think. Any wine that costs more than $10 a bottle should at the very least make you notice you are drinking it. 

Kermit Lynch, Osprey and merchants like them are the blue bloods, the royalty of the merchant class. While it is said you get what you pay for, it is more than that. There are many places to get above average, but there are few places where you can travel together as excited explorers sharing the energy that discovery brings to those that share in the adventure together. 

You’ll never get this experience at Cost Plus, Trader Joe’s, Costco or any chain operation. You’ll also not save any money by shopping at these chains unless you insist on buying overpriced, industrial wines that are only pretenders to the throne. Yes, if you want to buy Silver Oak these are your places. However, the Osprey’s and Kermit Lynch’s of the world are the ones offering true value. 

There’s a sucker born every minute. Don’t be a sucker. Buying smart means not buying hype. It also means not buying on price alone. Smart buyers buy based on price and the energy and effort the merchant puts into bringing them the very best.

A Kermit Lynch selection with an Osprey selection makes not only for a wonderful dinner, but money well spent.

Apple Wine

It did not have a hard drive. When I turned it on I placed one floppy after another into the one drive until about ten minutes later the computer was booted up. It offered a basic spreadsheet, word processor and that was about it. It was an Apple IIgs and it was 1986. I was hooked.

For most of the quarter century since then I loved technology, but wrestled with it trying to get done not only what it was supposed to do, but what I dreamed it would do. Most of those years it was like hot-wiring a car to get even basic things done. I made many an heroic effort to make things work the way the ads promised, yet it was always a struggle. I remember one night in a hotel in Florence ripping the phone wires out of the wall and directly connected them to my laptop to get my email over a brutally slow dial-up connection. Another long night was spent reloading the complete Microsoft Office Suite back on my computer at 4 a.m. - all 30 or so floppies taking several hours - so I could make a Powerpoint presentation in the morning after my hard drive unexplainably blew up. It was like only getting to taste Lafite as a barrel sample: sure it was good, but you knew damn well it was going to get a lot better.

I went through them all: Blackberrys, Treos, Windows this an that, Mac those and these and they only teased me with their potential and never lived up to their advertising. I was frustrated and addicted: until now. For the first time it my life everything is working. My all Apple tool chest includes a MacBook Pro, iPad and an iPhone all tied together with Gmail, Dropbox, Instapaper and Evernote. What has happened is that no longer do I have three devices, but one device with three different user interfaces. 

The fluid interaction of these three devices has totally changed the way I manage my wine information. The volumes of wine notes taken over thirty years are being scanned into Evernote, where they become searchable PDFs. The word searchable is the key as it means I can actually use them. No more do I have pockets full of loose notes from every wine I taste. Now I just take a quick photo with my iPhone, which I also put into Evernote, where I add my tasting notes. Articles of interest are clipped into Instapaper for reading when the time presents itself on my iPad. I am sure I am reading twice as much as before. This ability to collect and find all my wine information is not only changing my wine experience, but that of wine drinkers everywhere.

This ability to create your own personal wine encyclopedia reduces an individuals dependence on one or two wine media gatekeepers. It makes it easy to grab information from anywhere and everywhere to come up with your own opinion based on many voices instead of few. This is a very good thing for small wine producers or those of distinctive styles so overlooked or actively excluded from coverage by established wine media. Information is indeed power.

Apple wine is very user friendly. 

Tosca, Ithzak and The Adams Family

They were uplifting. They challenged me and inspired me, each in their own way. A diverse range of musical performances I saw over the last two weeks made me think. Can you give a higher compliment to art? I don’t think anything engages every sense that makes us the complex beings we are more than music. 

This artistic immersion began at the top with a performance of Tosca at the incomparable Met in New York, followed by a Nathan Lane romp through The Adams Family on Broadway and  completed by the inspired clarity of Itzhak Perlman in recital in San Francisco. As with most things that inspire me these performances made me think about wine.

Tosca gives you restrained, confident power and emotion. The slightly naughty vaudeville of The Adams Family is all fun and escape. The delicacy and transparency of the Perlman piano and violin duets challenges you to focus on pure art stripped to the bone. These experiences were enjoyable each in their own way and each has their own purpose. It would be pointless to compare them, but that’s exactly what is done with wine. The exactitude of the 100 point scale only denies the beauty of each vinous performance. 

It was easy for me to see the wines I love in these three performances: Tosca would be something like Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with its restrained yet powerful and balanced concentration; The Adams Family would be my daily pleasures Côtes du Rhône Villages and Beaujolais Villages from someone like Kermit Lynch; the delicate transparency (terroir) of the Perlman recital is Burgundy and Barolo/Barbaresco - right now I have Marcarini Barolo La Serra in mind. What is important about all of these wines is not how they rank against each other, but how they fit the moment, the meal and that they make you think. Think about the flavors, aromas and life. They are about pleasure, both mental and physical. Academic ranking makes them all sterile and lifeless.

I would no more think of ranking Tosca against The Adams Family than I would scoring La Tache against a Beaujolais Villages. Each has its place and time. It is simply boring and boorish to compare and contrast such wines. They are to be enjoyed in their moment and in their proper moment each is a 100 point wine. 

There is no more important word in wine than transparency, the ability to see through each aspect of its character and personality. Opulence and power are wine’s pop music - Lady Gaga vs. Puccini. While Lady Gaga may win the popularity contest it does not make her great art. Religion too easily achieved is not very spiritual. 

“Sometimes you just have to let art flow over you.”