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NorCal Wine Blog

On Biodynamic Wine Tasting Days and Bad Science

Late last summer, there was a bit of a buzz around the concept of biodynamic wine tasting days. The idea is that different aspects of wine are more or less prominent on certain types of days in the biodynamic calendar than others. "Fruit" days accentuate the flavors, "flower days" can bring out aromatics, "leaf" days see wines' vegetal characteristics emphasized and "root" days result tannins that are earthy or astringent, or so the theory goes.

A book, which I shall not mention or link here, was published around then espousing this view. A number of prominent wine web sites made mention of the concept generating said buzz. [And all of the most vaguely positive comments from those mentions were swept into the online marketing campaign for the book.] Two large UK supermarket chains, Tesco and Marks & Spencer, jumped on the bandwagon, saying they had conducted (non-blind) tests and concluded that there might be something to the concept. They decided to restrict their wine tastings to days that would show wines in a favorable light. I don't believe the tests were particularly scientific, but it generated a bit of attention for the stores.

Now, the 2010 London International Wine Fair, which started yesterday and runs through tomorrow, is making a big deal about the concept on its website. "For the first time in over a decade, the show falls on the near perfect combination of tasting days in the biodynamic calendar... the Top 100 will incorporate a biodynamic tasting booklet, allowing visitors the opportunity to compare their tasting notes across the three biodynamic days. Key biodynamic exhibitors will also be organising on-stand activity to highlight the influence of the calendar." This is all on the site's homepage by the way. Well over half of that page, and virtually all of the text, is dedicated to the idea of biodynamic tasting days.

To be fair, the site does mention that some people are skeptical. And the page itself does not whole-heartedly back either the skeptics or those pushing the concept. [The emphasis is clearly on those supporting the concept.] Rather, we are invited to attend all days of the fair, look at our tasting calendars and decided for ourselves whether we taste what those who espose biodynamic tasting days say we ought. That seems even-handed but is actually totally dreadful from a scientific perspective.

The tasting not blind and people are essentially being told what they should be perceiving. In such circumstances, people overwhelmingly taste and smell what they are told they should. That is the way the human brain works. For an experiment showing this phenomenon, check out this video from Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University. [I linked to this yesterday is well. I'm not pushing Mr. Ariely for any particular reason. However, he does excellent work and the video does a good job of illustrating my point. It's a coincidence that today's and yesterday's articles touch a bit on how perception can be manipulated by expectation. That said, buy his book. It's really good.]

Back to the LIWF. What that organization has set up is a circumstance in which a large number of people are having their perceptions colored without realizing it. The end result will likely be that a whole bunch of people are going to leave the fair convinced that the biodynamic tasting day theory has been proved true. A number of them will buy that book (the biodynamic tasting one, not the Dan Ariely one) and also tell their friends. The friends will then conduct non-scientific "experiments" at home and the cycle of bad science will continue while "knowledge" about the "truth" of biodynamic tasting spreads.

Having not conducted blind experiments in this area, nor seen the results of any such tests, I do not have a committed opinion about biodynamic tasting days one way or another. It is my nature to be skeptical so you can put me in that camp if you like. But, regardless of whether this theory, or any other, is true or not, I have great concerns about "bad" science being used to "prove"  ideas. There are already far too many people who think that truth is what they have been taught to believe, not what has been proven to be true.

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This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

 

Comments   

Wilf Krutzmann
#1 Wilf Krutzmann 2010-05-29 17:21
Fred, I am with you all the way on this one. The power of suggestion is amazing. I have a panel of 8 people and I review wines for my email newsletter. It never ceases to amaze me, when one of my tasters suggests they can taste such and such, then suddenly the other tasters agree with it. I did a blog entry on this whole bad day good day thing last May and here is a link to my archived page.
wwpress.blogspot.com/.../...
I have subscribed to your blog, interesting stuff!
Cheers,
Wilf
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