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Voodoo on the Vine 

The origins of the increasingly popular Biodynamic wine are steeped in the occult and bad science.

Wednesday, Nov 19 2008
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Bonny Doon's Randall Graham doesn't need a consultant — he hired Biodynamics expert Corderey as his full-time viticulturist. Corderey, a brusque, strapping Frenchman who rolls his own cigarettes, has turned Graham on to the power of sensitive crystallizations. Originally developed by Steiner disciple Ehrenfried Pfeiffer in the 1930s, crystallization is a process in which a dab of material – in this case, wine — is mixed into a copper chloride solution in a Petri dish. It is left in a small oven to evaporate overnight, leaving a residue of intricately formed crystal patterns. Corderey claims the crystals are the tangible mark of the "life forces" within the wines. Boltlike veins of crystals indicate that the vines are young and unfocused, like a child with a short attention span. Denser and more organized patterns indicate maturity and age. He glances up from his computer. "You know," he says with a smile, "I also crystallize people."

Corderey had a co-worker spend the day with a vial of wine in her pocket. He then crystallized the wine from the vial and compared it to a control sample. He would not reveal what he divined from the crystals, but said that he stunned the co-worker by pinpointing "exactly where she was in life." When SF Weekly suggested that someone could merely take a sip of wine, spit it out, and have Corderey crystallize that, he nodded — that could work, too.

"You see this?" he said, gesturing toward a choppy swirl magnified many times on his computer screen. Beneath the crystallization, a label read "2007 Albarino exposed to AC/DC Highway to Hell." Corderey had played the 1979 rock anthem to a glass of wine. He then played Native American music to another glass — resulting in a much smoother, more organized crystallization. "You can see the connection — these people work with nature and not against it."

Not far away, winemaker Graham was attempting to "form a vortex" in a vat of wine by furiously churning it with an oar-sized pole. Doing so would impart "life energy" into the vino. But, try as he might, he just couldn't stir rapidly enough. He confides that one of his fellow Biodynamic winemakers claims, like Steiner, to visit the spirit world. But for Graham, more earthly matters called, namely selling his product. "It would be nice to impart some life force into this wine, but I really need to go impart some life force into my company," he says. "I've got to get on the phone to my distributors and pound the shit out of them."

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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