Back in December I mentioned this producer, a partnership really, and had a bottle of one of their wines with Christmas dinner. However, since it was Christmas, I had better things to do than to take good notes or write up very much about it. So tonight it’s another of their wines, somewhat more modest in price than the Nuits-Saint-Georges I enjoyed in December, but good for my purposes. It’s the Marchand & Burch French Collection Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2009.
This is just the sort of wine that I like to cover in this blog. First off, it’s Pinot Noir, and I help make a half decent Pinot Noir, so while I’m not an expert, I’m certainly an interested party. Second, it’s from a producer I’ve had enough times before to know that I like their wines in general, which gives me great hope that I’ll like this one specifically. And finally, I’ll get to rant a bit, which is always fun (for me).
Marchand & Burch is an international partnership between Pascal Marchand and Jeff Burch. Marchand is a Burgundian winemaker from Montreal, who has worked with Chateau de Chorey Les Beaune, Comte Armand, and Domaine de la Vougeraie. He is a self-described “Biodynamic Ambassador”. Burch is the owner of Howard Park Wines and MadFish Wines of Western Australia. They apparently met in Burgundy and eventually formed this partnership, producing wines in both Burgundy and Western Australia. Their range includes a number of single vineyard Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, and it appears that they produced at least a couple of vintages of Shiraz in Australia in 2007 and 2008, but it’s not clear if they still do.
Before I go any further, I must first address Biodynamics, which is described by its proponents as a holistic method of organic agriculture. According to presentation notes on the Marchand & Burch site, it differs from what is commonly thought of as organic farming because “it recognises that there is a growth force or energy force which is related to the cosmic rhythms.” It operates on a cycle that mirrors the movements of the moon and planets, and relies on herbal treatments of soil and fertilizer to enhance their influence.
The stated aim in the presentation of the Marchand & Burch use of Biodynamic practices is to get more colloidal humus into the soil, which makes it healthier, which in turn makes for healthier vines and better quality grapes and moves toward sustainable vineyards. I think many people would agree that is a laudable goal.The presentation ends by saying that “Biodynamic practice is empirical, as it is based on experiment, practical experience and observation, without regard to science or theory.”
As Rudolf Carnap said in The Unity of Science, “Science is a system of statements based on direct experience and controlled by experimental verification.” (Hat tip to TMBG.) So Biodynamic practice is claiming to be what is essentially science, but without regard to science. In fact, it is much closer to a religion, and likely one that predates monotheism. The presentation is littered with terms such as “cosmic rhythms”, “livingness” (is that even a word?), “Biological wholeness”, “cosmic influences”, and “life giving vortices”. They energize their water (by stirring, or running through concrete moulds) which they believe results in “giving the water a pulse.” If they have an electrocardiogram to go along with that claim, I’d love to see it.
Biodynamic practice is not science, and in many ways is much more of a cult. The key is in this line: ”Bio-dynamic practices are not implemented best, by delegating or contracting out; to people that don’t have a sense of commitment or at least an open mind.” So it’s not just that you perform what is required of the practice – you have to be committed. You have to believe. Whereas with say, actual science, you don’t have to believe at all. In a vacuum, a believer and an non-believer fall at the same rate, regardless of their commitment to gravity.
However, it is true that some people applying this non-scientific approach can have positive results in terms of healthier vines and better quality grapes. So does that mean that Biodynamic practices work, even if they don’t satisfy people such as myself who are more scientific than spiritual? The way to determine that is through scientific research, with controlled experimentation and careful analysis of the results. Are the healthier vines and better grapes because cow horns act as antennae for focusing cosmic forces, or is it that people who can afford to take the time and to employ the people to do such things are doing a better job at managing their vineyards? To dismiss the numerous anecdotes of improvements out of hand would be as unscientific as to take them as fact, and I hold out hope that someday perhaps we’ll know if there is even the slightest kernel of truth to what I suspect is the pseudo-science of Biodynamic practices.
At the end of the day though, what matters most to me about a wine is how it is in the glass. While stories about the vineyard or how the wine is made can certainly add to the enjoyment, if a wine isn’t good then nothing else matters. And to paraphrase someone who knows more about Marchand & Burch than I do, I don’t need a(nother) religion. Fortunately for me, and the reason I am happy to buy and drink Marchand & Burch wines, this is a good wine, indeed very good. And while I really needed to get that Biodynamic stuff out of my system, I now need to talk a little about this wine generally.
Marchand & Burch make a number of wines in Burgundy, and this is their Bourgogne (red). It’s Pinot Noir, and the label says Wine of Côte d’Or, which pins it down to the limestone and marl area south of Dijon which is made up of Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune. While the region is home to some of the most prestigious wines and appellations of the world, this wine is not specific to any one vineyard or village, which could mean it is either from an undistinguished plot or a mix of grapes from within the area as a whole. For some people, that could make this a lesser wine, and indeed it does command a much lower price than the other Marchand & Burch Burgundian Pinot Noirs. As for me, I go with what’s in the glass.
It’s clear, medium minus ruby color with quick, thick legs. It has a clean, intense nose, with a developing character and serious perfume. There are notes of raspberries, black cherries, licorice, black pepper, and some herby characters. A hint of symplocarpus foetidus*. The palate is dry, with medium plus intensity, medium plus acidity, medium fine tannins, medium alcohol, and medium plus length. It has flavours of black pepper, cherry, dark chocolate, star anise, and a Black Forest gateau finish.
This is a very good quality wine, with intensity and complexity that other wines of more prestigious regions, villages and vineyards would envy. At its price, I would do well to buy a case each year and eventually have access to a range of vintages, but first I’m going to need to sort out some local cellaring. This is certainly not the first time (this month even) that I’ve taken issue with the philosophy of a winery but am happy to recommend their wine, and it almost certainly will not be the last. While I am happy to pass judgement on both winery and wine, they’re not the same. A winery I love can certainly make a bad wine and a winery that I think has a completely wrongheaded philosophy can absolutely make a very good wine.
*symplocarpus foetidus – Eastern Skunk Cabbage, a common plant along the banks of the stream behind the house where I grew up. Unfortunately, it’s an example of a useless tasting note, very evocative to me personally, and maybe a dozen other people, but meaningless to the rest of the world. But really, I get it all the time, on Pinot Noir especially, and hate that I can’t write it, well except on my own blog.