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05.20.2007

Whenever You Can, Blame The Consultants

It's hard to blame people for acting like people, but our tendencies as a species sometimes blow me away. Find me someone in a situation they're unhappy with, and I'll show you a person looking for a scapegoat. I suppose some evolutionary psychologist could tell me why it is that we always want to blame somebody, anybody, for the state of the world, but for now I'm left chuckling and half-horrified as always.

I like to make a big deal out of the difficulties that France is facing at the moment. I've called it a crisis of epic proportions, which I believe it is. (The world awaits to see whether the new President of France thinks so, too. If he doesn't things are going to get ugly). But there is at least one person who thinks it's worse off than I do. Nicolas Joly, shame_on_you.jpgarguably the living patron saint of the Biodynamic wine movement has just had his own Sartre-like moment, and proclaimed the death of the AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée). And he's not talking about the governmental system. He's talking about the dirt. When he says the appellations are dead, he really means it -- as if they've been taken out behind the barn and shot.

And of course, there's someone to blame: the wine consultants.

As a consultant (though not of wine) myself, I cackle with glee at the idiocy of such a remark. Why? Because consultants are paid to do one thing only -- what other people tell them to do. Criticizing the "flying winemakers" for ruining wine is like yelling at your caterer for ruining your wedding after no one ate that special lobster and clams dish you insisted on them serving.

Joly claims that it was consultants who first recommended the application of herbicides to the vineyards of France, which, in his opinion, have killed the soul of the soil. He also names a litany of other complaints, from the use of commercial yeasts to chemical fertilizers to synthetic sap treatments (anyone out there know what the heck this is?). All the fault of those damn consultants.

Joly must be kept up at night by this list, then, that has only a few things on it that aren't also allowed in France.

Why is it that Joly finds the need to bash a group of people who are so knowledgeable about wine that other people pay them for advice. A cynical person might suggest that he is grandstanding in furtherance of his own agenda, one that stands directly opposed to the type of advice proffered by such consultants.

I'm of the opinion, however, that Joly is acting consistently with how he always acts: like a human being who believes his own stories -- something that we all do. But we also make two consistent mistakes as well. We either assume that other people believe our stories just as much as we do, or worse, we proselytize those stories upon the world, insisting with our particularly human brand of naiveté that we speak the truth.

Read the whole story.

Comments (7)

Brian Miller wrote:
05.21.07 at 12:22 AM

I guess I don't have a good enough palette-the consultant led wines I've tried still tast nothing like California wines (Ch. L'Arrivet Haut Brion is a Michel Rolland wine, and I loved it)

Arthur wrote:
05.21.07 at 9:29 AM

The reason why any company in any industry hires consultants is that they want advice and guidance on making a more marketable product and then selling more of it.

I raised a skeptical eyebrow at "Mondovino" BUT it is totally realistic to expect some similarities among the wines made under the advice of a single consultant.


At the same time, there are so many elements and steps in the process of wine making that it is impossible for all of them to identical - even under the guidance of a single consultant.

Jerry D. Murray wrote:
05.22.07 at 10:24 AM

I beleive many are confusing 'winemaking consultants' with 'agricultural consultants'. Vinography has frequently been the sounding board for critisisms of winemaking consultants and the homogenazation of wine. What Mr Joly is talking about are the agricultural consultants that encouraged the use and reliance on all things synthetic. Don't be fooled, the same thing was happening here in the USA at the same time ( 60's-80's ). The results of this 'better living through chemistry' approach is that the soils have been stripped of thier vitality and, according to Joly, thier individuality. Terrior is dead, not because some consultant tells a winery to use alot of new oak and extract, but because the things that make a sight unique are no longer there. The problem is not unique to the french, american viticulture has for years assumed a similiar stance. We are starting to see a woldwide revolution in the way grapes are raised. Like Joly many of us wine growers are begining to abandon the 'better living through chemistry' mentality. The real crux of the issue is that many, Joly being one of the loudest, people beleive that Biodynamics is the only way to fix the problem. This puts a unique spin on 'terrior' in that if all vineyards are 'dead' and therefore incapable of expressing 'terrior' then only Biodynamic wines are truely authentic. I for one don't believe Biodynamics is the only approach or that is has all of the answers. I will agree with Joly however in saying that 'dead' or polluted vineyards ( due to chemical farming ) are not going to produce wines that live up to a vineyards full potential. The winemaking consultants are another problem altogether.

Jerry D. Murray wrote:
05.22.07 at 5:56 PM

The readers of Vinography devote a fair bit of time to the lambasting of 'wine consultants' and in my opinion rightfully so. However, in this case, Joly ( a consultant in his own right ) is not talking about 'flying' winemakers he is talking about 'agricultural' consultants. In the 60's, 70's and 80's there was a tremendous amount of money and energy put into converting farmers into believers of the 'better living through chemistry' gospel. It wasn't just grapes and it wasn't just France. We saw the same thing with Brazilian soybean growers, American corn growers as well as nearly every crop and region imaginable. These so called experts ( Ph.D.'s many of them ) arrived in a farmers field and told him about a way to manage pests and disease cheaper and more effectively. Of course, without any counter viewpoint, growers went along... they were experts. So for 30-40 years we lived in an age of 'conventional' farming where every problem had a simple and inexpensive solution...at least for a while.

Then came along a few people not with new ideas but old ideas, very old ideas. They began to beleive that 'conventional agriculture' was poisoning the land and killing the very things that make places unqiue and individual. Joly is one such person and speaks about agricultural consultants not winemaking consultants in terms of killing 'terrior'. These old ideas are the foundations for todays organic and biodynamic farmers.

Joly is a biodynamic consultant. He claims that modern farming has killed the soil and therefore renders it incapable of expressing terrior. His solution? Biodynamic farming. Now here is the crux; if biodynamic farming is the only way to create a living soil capable expressing terrior then biodynamic farmed vines are the ONLY ones capable of giving us authentic expressions of terrior.

Though I agree with Joly in my own disdain and distrust of conventional agriculture, I do not believe Biodynamics is the only way of bringing soils back to life. Nor do I beleive that only biodynamic wines are capable of expressing 'terrior'. Most people converting to biodynamics start by hiring a consultant. I have heard consultants describe taking up biodynamics without their help as "being a child crawling around in the dark, feeling things but not knowing what they are". In terms of agriculture it seems that more importance is given to the consultant when it should be more about what they are saying and the responsibility of the grower for following the advice.

As far as winemaking consultants, they are far less the villans, worldwide, then the pushers of 'new and improved' chemicals for agriculture. They may cover up 'terrior' but they are not destroying it.

Joe wrote:
05.22.07 at 6:07 PM

Consultants - the bane of Dilbert, and now Joly. Consultants recommended herbicide? You don't think a farmer thought of that one first? I suppose there was never a farmer who figured out that fertilizer gives him higher yields, so he found a consultant? But please don't lump Joly in with the 'consultants', after all, I am sure he never charges farmers a fee to come to one of his 'seminars'...

Arthur wrote:
05.22.07 at 6:16 PM

Aahhh.... touch!

Bertrand wrote:
05.23.07 at 3:06 AM

Hi Alder!
Joly speaks about the times (1950-1970) when an industrialist utopia reigned in France : coops were sprouting everywhere and winery owners dreamed of big immaculate vats, new machinery and chemical sprayings in the vineyard, with the goal being an intensive viticulture producing for the masses.
This era is mostly over now (in the minds at least) but the consequences are still there, deep in the soil, and it will take time to cure them. Plus, by inertia, many vignerons keep spraying excessively and producing big volumes.But on the whole, I think that the whole sector has taken a different direction now.
On the vinification side, Joly says that this industrialist mentality still endures, that's why the biotech tools found in the 90s' sell so well including in France.
Today, I would say that the consultants push for a minimum use of chemicals in the vineyard (be it for marketing reasons or for a genuine awareness of the results), and on the additives side, consultants are not systematically pushers : take Michel Rolland for example : He says that the estates who use enological-tannin additions are estates who didn't work their vineyards correctly, or didn't plant the right variety.
There is hope : Consultants can learn and adapt.

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