Define dogma

It’s been my experience that whenever someone starts a conversation with the words, “you should,” the listener will soon be standing in a morass.

You can almost bet that the person who says, “you should,” will be strident. It’s sad, especially when you realize that the most strident opinions often don’t come from the ones who do the work—they know better.

“You should” really means that the opinion-maker thinks too much and probably doesn’t do enough. That’s why it is such a joy to listen to grape growers and winemakers talk about reality, and that’s why the 2009 vintage on the East Coast puts to shame those who would cling to dogma—nature has no use for exact formulas.

Five words have been in the wine industry spotlight lately; they pop up on wine blogs, in wine opinion pieces in print, in discussions at wine tastings, at seminars and conferences, and even—sad to say—at some dinner tables. The words are:


How many of us know the definition of each word?

No fewer than 8 definitions apply to the word organic. Here’s the one that seems to suit grape growing best.

organic as an adjective: belonging to a family of compounds characterized by chains or rings of carbon atoms that are linked to atoms of hydrogen and sometimes oxygen, nitrogen, and other elements.

organic as a noun is a substance, especially a fertilizer or pesticide that presumably meets the adjectival form.

Once you understand the definition, the methods for “organic” viticulture are made clear to you.

Only one official definition seems to apply to the word biodynamic.

Biodynamic: a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms emphasizing balancing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants, animals as a closed, self-nourishing system.

The extension of biodynamic farming from simply organic and taken from Rudolf Steiner’s spiritualistic musings ties the word and its practice to the occult. (It should be noted that Steiner abstained from consuming alcohol, a fact that makes it seem silly to associate his name with grape growing practices but then, people do eat raisins.)

After removing the two definitions that apply to music and one definition that applies to card playing, the word natural still has 12 definitions, with the highest number of permutations of the word summed in this phrase: relating to nature.

Today, there is a wine growing and production school of thought that calls itself Natural. After listening to some of its proponents, it became clear that they don’t care to entertain completely the meaning of “relating to nature.” This is one of the movements that seems to really be all in the mind, even when it attracts people who actually do the work. The contradictions are so great it renders the concept weak at best. For an understanding of it, take a look at the discussion on Alder Yarrow’s blog—link below.

Green enjoys 13 definitions, five of which refer to the wine industry—three for grape growing and two for the environment.

When the word green is used in conversations about wine, unless it specifically addresses the color of leaves in the vineyard, it mainly refers to environmental considerations. It is a difficult concept to pin down if only for the intensity of calculation necessary to take into consideration every single environmental impact made by farming vineyards, producing wine, packaging and distributing wine, and promoting a business (how is the electricity for a business computer generated?).

In other words, to be a green company depends on the shade of green one seeks and/or accepts.

The word sustain enjoys less definition and more synonyms or alternative words like “maintain, nourish, suffer, continue, prolong, protract, and uphold.”

Sustain is a wide concept. In fact, those who practice sustainability in the wine business could very well be talking solely about how to keep their business afloat in this terrible economic climate. That desire does not necessarily include the concepts of organic, biodynamic, green or otherwise. To sustain a business takes what it takes.

Likewise, nature doesn’t care whether or not a grape grower farms organically. What nature delivers is what nature chooses to deliver. This fact was brought home on the East Coast, in the 2009 (anti) growing season. It was a bonanza year for all the mildews known to grape farming (not to mention the Japanese beetles whose populations have been exponential in the East for about six years).

Some producers and farmers say they kept up with their organic methods—some gave up. Even those who kept up are forced to admit that the levels of copper and other organic materials required as sprays in 2009 were excessive and could be damaging to the balance of the soil (copper is an organic material that is not easily washed away from the soil).

Tell you the truth, I haven’t the slightest idea where I intended to take this blog entry.  I’m a firm believer in as natural a farming as is possible, in the truest sense of the word. I grow much of my own produce—even in winter, as I have a greenhouse. Petro-chemicals do not get near my produce—usually. There have been times of stress that forced me to relent, which is why I don’t fault a grape grower faced with large scale destruction who does what needs doing.

I suppose what I really wanted to say is that I abhor dogma. I abhor it even more when it comes from the keystrokes of thinkers rather than of doers; thinkers should get off their asses and go find out what it is to do the job, the way those invested in grapes and wine are forced to find out.

Natural wine
(Anyone reading this blog on a site other than Vinofictions are made aware that it has been used without permission–a violation of my copyright.)

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
September 2009. All rights reserved.

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