Nicolas Joly on appellations, life forces and electromagnetic fields

“The concept of taste linked to a certain place has been totally destroyed by technology,” Nicolas Joly told a standing-room-only audience yesterday. Joly, author of two books on Biodynamic winegrape cultivation, owns the Coulée de Serrant in the Loire where he is “nature’s assistant” (according to his business card.)

Back in New York for another edition of Return to Terroir, a roving show of Biodynamic wine producers, Joly leveled criticism at the appellation system (as he did three years ago at the event). He decried the system that has a tasting by committee, which tolerates wines with “technological” intervention, such as herbicides, pesticides and commercial yeasts and enzymes, which can boost over 350 aromas in wine when they are young. “The concept of appellation has lost its meaning,” he said.

He also fired a salvo at the wine media for not drawing any attention to these issues. “I regret that there is not one wine guide in the world that does not tell which wines have been made with commercial yeast,” he said. (It’s worth noting that, in fact, blogs and a growing number of wine books have discussed the subject.)

Next in his sights were herbicide producers and sales people whose products, he said, cause the plants to get sick but do not let the disease actually run its course, since they have another product to sell you for that ailment. He also pointed the finger at them for trying to demonize copper, allowed in Biodynamics to treat some vine maladies, saying copper at a low level (“one or two kilograms per hectare”) is safe. “Yes, in excess, it’s bad, just as too much oxygen in the air would be!”

As he talked about life energies, he got more positive. “Earth doesn’t produce growth; earth receives growth” from the sun and the moon, he said. He elaborated, saying that if he covered the earth in black plastic, there would be no life. “Earth receives life.” And it costs nothing: “Life comes free, if you catch the forces.”

He decried “technological” wines that are made in the winery saying that 98% of wine comes from photosynthesis. “If the work in the vineyard is well done, you have nothing to do in the cellar.”

He suggested that when deciding if a wine is good, there are several moving parts, akin to a music: playing a stratavarius in the subway would not be an ideal performance. So consider the musician, the instrument, and the acoustics, he advised. Biodynamics can turn a vineyard into a beautiful instrument, but not always if the soil and varieties are not matched right, he said.

In closing, Joly expressed concern about the prevalence of electromagnetic fields, particularly cell phones. “We are enormously changing the forces of life with satellites! Gigahertz are everywhere!” He fears they disturb cosmic energy and could reverse the earth’s polarity. “That is climate change.” He added that stainless steel vats capture and conduct too much of “electromagnetic pollution” and thus he does not use them.

He then dismissed us saying that we haddn’t come to listen to him and that we should all go taste some wine.

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20 Responses to “Nicolas Joly on appellations, life forces and electromagnetic fields”

  1. Amazing amounts of BS as usual from Joly …

  2. Even if these people make good wines it’s really hard to take them seriously. Personally, I’m quite fond of EM radiation in the visible range.

  3. I agree with the last sentence… And hopefully I’ll be drinking some great flavoured wine!

  4. Actually, stainless steel vats would be the most effective method of screening the GHz radiation from cell phones, satellites and other anthropogenic sources. Though we are considering 1-10 cm wavelengths, so skin depth and “accidental” antenna should be considered. I doubt it really makes a difference, but if he wanted to keep GHz out he has the wrong idea.

    Ultimately, this sort of charlatanism is harmless and the good intentions usually lead to a positive finished wine. But it always amazes me that the level of science education amongst the upper classes is so weak. You’d think more folks would recognize that Joly throws around words like polarity, resonance and force without any sense of meaning.

  5. Doug, Glenn and Cabfrancophile – I presented his remarks here without comment. If you’d like to offer some counterpoints to his points, please feel free.

    Cesar – Yes, there were many terrific wines in the tasting room!

  6. […] Return to Terroir was established by Nicolas Joly, a French winegrower who owns the estate Coulée de Serrant in the Loire Valley. He is an especially passionate advocate of biodynamic wine production. Return to Terroir was just in NYC, and you can get a sneak preview of Nicolas Joly’s approach in this post over at Dr. Vino. […]

  7. You’ve won a prize! Yes, you have the opportunity to spend an entire day with the winemaker of your choice! Who will you pick? The affable science geek trained at UC Davis or the genial, expansive, self-deprecating, funny and fascinating Nicolas Joly? No decision here.

  8. One of my greatest fears is to be around a bunch of people texting and talking on their smart phones in a Charles Shaw tasting room – killing my brain and my taste buds at one time! But then why would I be there in the first place? It’s a nightmare.

  9. Good lord, Dr. Vino, where does one start?

    — What does Joly mean that herbicides “cause the plants to get sick but do not let the disease actually run its course”? Which plants? Which herbicides?

    — Copper sulfate is very toxic and does not break down in the environment. See for example: . To compare it to oxygen is absurd.

    — Radiation from cell phones has been demonstrated safe. It is at too low a level to break chemical bonds and hence can do nothing more than heat. If Joly is concerned about cellphone radiation he should be much more concerned about the radiation from the “growth producing” sun, UV rays from which are a form of ionizing radiation that break chemical bonds and cause skin cancer.

    — Cellphones have nothing to do with satellites, wine, grape vines or (for heaven’s sake) the polarity of the earth!

    Joly may well be a skilled winemaker, but I think one owes it to one’s audience to point out his general clownishness.

  10. Love Nicolas as a person. There is so much there to foster conversation. I just wish he would add the human element to nature by working a little bit in the cellar. Nature alone does not guide the wine to a healthy conclusion before bottling.

  11. One wine drinker’s take on Monsieur Joly and his wines, tasted at the Astor Center on Feb. 26:

  12. I think you can critized and analize all you like, and even though there’s a lot of mystic stuff and craziness that we don’t understand or can explain (yet?), the bottom line is that biodynamics works! All other things being equal, it produces better quality grapes, from healthier vines, on healthier soil, doesn’t pollute the environment, etc, and some of the best wines in the world are made using biodynamics, even though they keep a low profile – no doubt they don’t want to be associated with the mystic crazy stuff. Domaine de la Romanee Conti, for example.

  13. I appreciate Mr Joly’s discourse, although he can go on tangents that make little sense at times. He was one of the first winemaker to educate about biodynamics back in the early 90’s teaching to an empty room, and it’s fantastic to hear that his talk his week was to standing room only. Biodynamics are here to stay and one of the greatest change in winemaking of the last quarter century and some of the greatest estates in the world work according to its principles. Now, if only his wines were as good as his rhetoric. I’ve been burned way too many times with unbalanced, overripe and oxidized wines from La Coulee de Serrant and I so miss the wines produced by his Mom in the 70’s and early 80’s. La Coulee de Serrant is one of the greatest terroir in France and I really wish the wines produced there today reflected of this fact.

  14. lots of controversial and combative statements from Mr. Joly. While I don’t agree with everything he says, I will second the comments made by Douglas. I’ll take Nicholas Joly over 10 UC-Davis Chemists, any day of the week.

  15. The evidence I’m aware of is that a generally organic program (lutte raisonée) with good mulching and without the use of powerful herbicides and pesticides tends to produce healthier soils and vines, and perhaps better wines.

    But the additional stuff particular to biodynamics — the preparations, the astrology, the moon-stuff, the cow horns and so on — are scientifically baseless and completely useless.

  16. […] Nicolas Joly’s talk wasn’t the only thing packed on Monday; the tasting itself at Return to Terroir, NYC edition, was really crowded in the latter half. […]

  17. Making wines with minimal chemical interference is always preferable. Unfortunately, his message is lost when he begins to talk about electromagnetic interference. He becomes just another “tin foil hat dude” who is not taken seriously by anyone.

  18. Nicolas Joly,

    You are right on.
    As a researcher in this area for 19 years, it is certain EMF will be counted the hazard of the century.

    And then, the future of medicine, ironically.

    My question to you is, what is the impact on wines? Their flavour, nutrients and teh rest?
    And why don’t know introduce the world’s first EMF-Safe wine?

    Let me know, we’d be delighted to collaborate.

    EMF Guy

  19. Now this is my kind of crazy. Whether he’s technically correct or way off the mark his comments are testament to his obsession with letting wine be wine. I wish I had been there!

  20. What about the palate destroying effects of smoking a cigar? If he is concerned about poison he should not be smoking.


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