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Let the Wine 2.0 Enthusiast Beware

Sharing of information via the internet impacts the life of almost every human being on the planet, even those without computers. It has led to faster development of medicines and technologies. It enables more rapid and effective response to natural disasters. It gives voice to protestors in totalitarian countries. And it empowers consumers to find the very best Pinot Grigio.

CellarTracker has been chief among the wine-focused web sites that give power to the people. With nearly 100,000 users, almost 1.25 million consumer-generated wine reviews and Google-search cred that puts it among the top search results for many wines, it is a go-to site for people wondering whether they should buy this wine or that one. Unfortunately, even in America, not all consumers are created equal. To be blunt, some of them are idiots. I was reminded of this today while perusing CellarTracker's consumer review database to get a pulse on how its users perceived the quality of a handful of small Sonoma County wineries.

There were two reviews in particular that caused my eyebrows to raise and my mood to darken. They were conflicting reviews for exactly the same wine posted just four days apart. Here they are:
1. Strawberry, crushed berries, spice, and some vanilla on the nose. Big body with plenty of spice, fruit *and* structure. Delicious, especially on day 2. 98 points.
2. Crushed berries, spice, vanilla. Big, juicy wine with decent structure. 87 points.

On Bordeaux, Robert Parker and Bloggers

The topic of Bordeaux en primeur is hot right now. The current stir started with an article in Decanter. The article is about Americans (finally) realizing that buying futures in Bordeaux wine isn’t always a good idea, even in excellent years. The article seems to have been prompted, at least in part, by U.S. wine resellers that are wondering what they are going to do with all the 2008 and 2009 Bordeaux they’ve committed to buy, since they can’t get rid of their ’05, ’06, and ’07.  “The conviction that en primeur in a great vintage is always worth buying has been shaken and probably destroyed,” said Michael Glasby of Premier Cru in the pull-quote that launched a thousand tweets.

Wine Bloggers Anonymous

"At last!," you say. Finally, a 12-step program to get me, them our yourself out of Zinfandel-stained pajamas, away from the keyboard and on to something more productive. Whatever that may be... Well, no. Wine Bloggers Anonymous is not a support group. It's simply a reality.

Despite the smiling pictures and optimistic bios on their blog sites, wine bloggers are largely ignored by the world around them. Tom Johnson posted an entertaining and informative article about the sad state of wine blogs today on PalattePress. He pointed out, among other things, that wine blogs are not only light years away from drawing the traffic that political and entertainment blogs get, they aren't even getting substantial attention from serious wine enthusiasts.

Terroir to Go

“Terroir” is a French word that refers to the unique character of a particular vineyard site. Many wine experts believe that microclimates, soil composition and the way it drains, slope, altitude, amount and angle of sunlight, along with co-habitating flora, fauna and even microbes have an impact on grapes and the flavors of the wine made from them.

Old World wine producers and those in the New World with expensive, single-vineyard wines are big proponents of terroir. Since no two places can be exactly identical, the concept lends each maker’s wine unique character which, it is said, cannot be reproduced. Of course, they add, terroir is only discernible in wines that are properly made from grapes grown on special sites. Some wine producers scoff at the concept of terroir which they portray as a marketing ploy created to separate consumers from ever greater amounts of money per bottle. Terroir defenders scoff right back asserting that the only wineries that don’t believe in terroir are those that don’t have it.

In America, where people are taught to believe all men are created equal, the concept of terroir rankles some people. Gerald Riggs, president of the newly formed Terroir to Go Corp., may be the leader of that pack. “The idea that a wine made in the U.S.A. can’t be as good as one from France or Italy, just because it’s grapes were born here, is un-American and just plain goofy,” he states flatly. “To prove that and to give growers here or anywhere the ability to let grapes be anything they want them to be, regardless of where they grow up, we’ve created a line of products and services that enables vineyard owners to create any terroir they want.”

“I got the idea from Star Trek,” he added. “I figure, if they can ‘Terra Form’ an entire planet with just one missile, we should be able to form that terroir stuff with enough hard work and technology. So, that’s what we’re going to do.” Mr. Riggs appeared slightly startled when NorCal Wine pointed out that Star Trek is actually a work of science fiction  set far into an imaginary future. However, he insisted “that doesn’t change anything because Terroir to Go CAN change anything. Yes we can!” Though his products have not yet reached the market, we are impressed by his confidence.

Terroir to Go plans a range of products differentiated by scale. For small growers, they suggest starting with the entry-level “Palate by Pallet.” “The stuff that allegedly makes a difference is really pretty tiny,” according to Riggs. “We’re talking trace minerals, microscopic bacterium, bugs, stuff like that. You can get a lot of that junk on a pallet.” Apparently the actual amount of product required depends not only on the size of the vineyard to be converted, but also the terroir one wishes to reproduce. The company’s literature indicates that though some New World terroir, alleged by many wine pundits to be simple, doesn’t take much tinkering to recreate, the “special formulation” of some French vineyards may be a bunch of manure.

While the Palate by Pallet approach is fine for small vineyards of seven acres or less, larger projects require transformation on a grander scale. Terroir to Go claims to be ready for customers of any size. “If you want to make top-notch German Riesling in Houston, Texas, we can do it,” Riggs claims. “We’ve got big helicopters, earth movers and even a pretty good-sized aircraft carrier. That thing holds a ton of stuff and makes a great base of operations. What with the economic downturn and the scaling down of the Russian military over the past few years, you can get some amazing surplus deals on eBay.”

Terroir to Go say they have a number of projects in moving forward with undisclosed beta customers but others are running behind schedule. For example, the plan to assist a Wisconsin farmer with turning his dairy farm into a world-class source of Australian-style Shiraz seems to be caught up in “red tape.” A stymied Riggs complained, “those NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Committee] boys are just dragging their feet. It’s really frustrating. It’s not like this is rocket surgery.”

But rockets may be used in some Terroir to Go projects. “It’s not practical to do cloud seeding by plane in several different locations on a daily basis,” Riggs admitted regretfully. “So we’ve gone for a centralized approach. We did a bunch of research, mostly pouring over historical tapes from the case files of James Bond, and determined that we could do the job by firing missiles from just a single remote tropical island. It was expensive to set up, but the volcano is pretty neat and it’s a good source of minerals too.”

We asked Mr. Riggs if he was aware of emerging reports about mysterious holes and trenches appearing in a wide range of high end vineyards from Barolo to Napa Valley along with strangely dramatic drops in water tables. He shrugged and then began to discuss his next project which involves partnering with Doctor Who to assess the feasibility of reproducing specific vintages from the past. “Imagine,” he exclaimed. “Every year could be the year of the century, rather than just every third year like the magazines say.”

For more information on Terroir to Go Corp. and it’s products, write to Mr. Riggs directly at:
Terroir to Go Corporation
Attn: Jerry Riggs
1 Secret Lair Business Park
Smoking Island, Pacific Ocean

Terroir to Go Corporation has not yet launched their communications satellite, but we will attempt to forward emails sent in care of This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. once TTG gets their online presence established.

The resemblance of any of the foregoing to actual people, products or companies is both coincidental and sad. No animals were harmed in the writing of this article. Star Trek, James Bond and Doctor Who are trademarks of really big companies and they reserve all rights.


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2009 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

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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Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

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