Respectful Insolence

I want to apologize to Abel Pharmboy in advance on this one. This is the second time in less than three months that I’ve invaded his territory to a certain extent in Your Friday Dose of Woo, specifically his The Friday Fermentable feature. Last time around, I couldn’t believe it when I encountered some serious farm woo particularly common in wineries known as biodynamics, which involved burying various animal parts (among other things) on the farm in order to promote its life force. Who said that the best woo is found only in medicine?

Certainly not me. At least, not anymore.

This time around, you may be wondering, what sort of woo is going on down on the farm? Trust me, it’s some serious, tasty woo. I realize that I use the term “tasty” a lot when referring to woo, but in this case it’s appropriate, as you’ll see, because we’re talking winery woo again.

There does certainly seem to be something about wineries that inspires oodles and oodles of woo. Maybe it’s because making good wine is difficult and depends on so many factors, both within and outside of the winemaker’s control, that it’s easy to succumb to magical thinking. At least that’s my best guess, not being a winemaker myself. And, boy, oh boy, does the Summerhill Pyramid Winery and Sunset Bistro show a lot of magical thinking, at least on its website.

“Pyramid Winery,” you wonder?

Oh, yes, a pyramid winery! Besides its use of organic farming, which may or may not be woo depending on whether it uses biodynamics, get a load of how the Summerhill Pyramid Winery built its winery:

The site was carefully chosen. First a check of interfering energies was exhausted (i.e. underground streams, electric current exposure, gas line interference, etc.). Then the earth under the pyramid was compacted to 100%. Then a surveyor lined up the square base to coincide with exact True North as it is here in Kelowna. The area was then checked by an astronomer who lines up the foundation to the North Star precisely. It is interesting to note that much excitement took place when we aligned the site because the astronomer’s news that almost to the day, 1997 was “the year of the Great Pyramid”.

The Summerhill Pyramid incorporates a unique “fused frame” concept tying the four hips together with the four bases and the capstone into one solid piece. The density of the concrete is the highest and heaviest ever used in North America being 42 mpa, stronger than tunnels or bridges. Fiberglass rebar used in underwater construction was used in place of steel. By not using ferrous metals, the structure will not reorient back to magnetic north.

That’s right. The Summerhill Winery ages its wines in a specially constructed pyramid, designed as an 8% miniature of the Great Pyramid and aligned with the True North, the better to allow the wine to be infused with “pyramid power.”

i-28f691b314fabe7a16a221969505fc02-dsc_0011.jpg

So what are the benefits of aging wine in a pyramid. What do you think? Surely, the proprietor of this winery, one Mr. Stephen Cipes, wouldn’t have gone to all this trouble if he didn’t expect a profound advantage in his wine. According to the woo-meisters:

The 14 year experiment is an overwhelming success! The conclusion… There is a definite and profound effect on liquids placed in sacred geometry! Three years of conclusive taste test comparisons in the 900 ft² pyramid led to the building of our new Pyramid that is a 4 story high 3249 ft² 8% replica of the Great Pyramid.

Every day at 2 o’clock, for three years, we toured the smaller pyramid with the general public. We did taste comparisons of the same wine, bottled on the same day, and served at the same temperature. One was stored in the pyramid for 30-90 days and the other never having being put in the pyramid. The results were overwhelming. The tasters chose the pyramid-aged wine almost unanimously every day as being smoother and having a better aroma! These experiments boosted our convictions that indeed, a precisely constructed pyramid (that was oriented to true north versus magnetic north, and that was constructed without the use of ferrous metals so that it would not be reoriented to magnetic north) becomes a chamber for the “clarification” of liquids. For instance, a bad tasting wine, or juice, would become more foul tasting. The chamber seems to bring out flaws as well as exaggerating the qualities.

That certainly sounds perfectly scientific to me. Well, sort of, if you can forget about the probable lack of blinding in this taste test and the utter scientific implausibility that sitting wine in a pyramid would somehow “clarify” liquids, whatever that means. There’s also the issue of where the other wine was aged. There are so many factors to consider that, to me, even if the taste test were properly blinded, the only real control that would be valid would be to age the “control” wine in a building identical to the pyramid, except either it’s not oriented to the true north or perhaps it’s built in the form of a cube using the same materials and construction techniques. And perish forbid the nasty, cynical comment of one visitor who said, “Blind taste tests over pyramid aged versus warehouse aged wines ‘proved’ that the pyramid aged wines were better. I’m still skeptical as none of the wines we tasted were particularly outstanding, especially for their price tags.” (Bad, nasty skeptic!) Of course, our friendly woo proprietors have an perfectly scientific and reasonable explanation for this supposed observation that the pyramid somehow intensifies good wine and bad:

We humans are made mostly of liquid and seem to be affected by the chamber as well. We can actually feel our own “life force energy” strengthen within the Pyramid!

Many experiments have been documented in replica pyramids. For instance, it is well established that rather than rotting, milk turns to yogurt, meat petrifies and razor blades will become sharper in the pyramid (this has been patented). A timed photography experiment, conducted outdoors in an open frame pyramid, revealed that a plant growing inside the pyramid, grew in a clockwise motion, while a twin sister plant nearby, but not in a pyramid, grew “helter skelter”.

Wow. Oddly enough, I was unaware of such compelling “well-established” scientific data. I did some literature searches, but, even more oddly, I couldn’t find anything in the scientific literature about such amazing observations. The only thing I could find is that the TV show Mythbusters has examined claims that pyramids could sharpen razor blades and do all sorts of other amazing things and utterly failed to find any evidence to support them. But, lest you disbelieve that great power descends upon the pyramid, the better to infuse the wine with its essence and make it spectacular, check out this incontrovertible evidence. Check out the story behind this evidence from one Laurie Giles:

On Friday, October 18th, 2002 I noticed that there harvest moon visible before dusk. It was beautiful. During a family dinner, at the Summerhill Estates Winery bistro, conversation eventually turned to the gorgeous moon that evening. My niece suggested that I take a picture of the moon perched on top of the pyramid. After dinner I went outside with my brother in law and I decided to take the picture.

The moon was so bright that I had to hide most of it behind the tip of the pyramid. I took the picture with my Minolta Dimage VII 5.2 mega pixel camera. You cannot imagine my suprise when I downloaded this image to my computer. I was stunned. I have never altered this picture file. I cannot explain it and have not had this happen on my other pictures, before or after.

And here’s the image:

i-fd6146b35d32e77738c545b6047cfd44-pyramid-media.jpg

It certainly convinces me. What about you? Maybe I’ll build a pyramid in office and put my partially finished grant applications and manuscripts in it when I’m not working on them, the better to be published in Cell and take that next step in my ability to get funding, to lead a P01 or a SPORE. Hey, given what it does to wine, I can’t fail, rotten NIH funding situation or no rotten NIH funding situation! In fact, maybe I’ll put my laptop in a pyramid, the better to improve my grant applications, manuscripts, and my blogging! Heck, maybe it’ll improve my blogging so much that I’ll rocket up to Instapundit- or Kos-level traffic instantly! After all, the pyramid uses tachyons (oh, yes, more tachyon woo!):

The pyramid effectiveness may also be explained using Einstein’s concept of Tachyons and Tardyons. Tachyons are particles of invisible energy that move faster than the speed of light (that means it is faster than 186,282 miles per second). Tardyons behave in the opposite way, moving below or at the speed of light. This brings about the theory of negative space-time. [Negative space-time is 180 degrees from positive space-time. In positive space-time living organisms change from life to deterioration. In negative space-time, life moves from deterioration to rejuvenation. It is said that the pyramid serves as the interface between positive and negative space-time. It serves as a bridge between matter and anti-matter and becomes the gate or the instrument through which two realities meet and interact. In a precise chamber with perfect geometry such as a pyramid, a dome, or a true Roman arch, (many of the finest “champagne” houses of Europe age their bottles today in ancient Roman arch cellars actually built by the Romans!), the two energies come together at the same rate of speed! If the pyramid can serve as the meeting place for positive and negative space-time, then it would not only be the oldest, largest. and most mysterious instrument invented by the mind of man, it would also be the most useful. If the ancient builders could put together an instrument in which matter and antimatter could interact, they did indeed have all the energy they could ever need. Some scholars have speculated that the builders could not have possibly constructed the large pyramids by moving the huge boulders into place by primitive methods, but that they had some means of levitating stone. (Levitation is said to happen in negative space-time). Other studies on pyramids have claimed that the Great Pyramid was used to elevate human consciousness to other levels of existence.

Tachyon energy being infused into the wine? No wonder it’s so great!

But you know the thing that really makes me think that there might just be something to this whole pyramid thing. This link to the Summerhill Winery had been sitting in my Folder of Woo for several weeks now, and it was only yesterday that I decided that it would be the one this week. It just so happens that I had forgotten last week to peruse The Amazing Randi’s weekly newsletter. In looking for some good skeptical commentary on pyramids while writing this, I headed over first to The Skeptic’s Dictionary to check out its entry on Pyramidiocy. Then I headed over to SkepticWiki and checked out its entry on pyramid power. Then I headed over to The Amazing Randi’s website and searched for “pyramid.”

Guess what?

The Amazing Randi himself had written about the Summerhill Winery just this week! Well, actually, by the time you read this, it will have turned into last week (must be the tachyons), but I was amazed at the coincidence. You have to believe me; I had not seen this Randi column before I set my sights on the Summerhill Winery. Given that, I can only think of two possible explanations for my having serendipitously decided to focus on it so close in time to the master himself. It could either be the power of the Summerhill pyramid itself at work here, using its power to draw me to it. Alternatively, could it have been sympathetic magic? Could it have been The Secret at work?

If given the choice, I’d prefer to believe in pyramid power, thank you very much. It’s far more plausible than The Secret.

Comments

  1. #1 Scott Belyea
    May 18, 2007

    Then a surveyor lined up the square base to coincide with exact True North as it is here in Kelowna. The area was then checked by an astronomer who lines up the foundation to the North Star precisely.

    A minor but indicative point is that “exact True North” and “lines up … the North Star precisely” are not the same thing.

  2. #2 coturnix
    May 18, 2007

    The question is: does the farmer really believe it, or is he carving a niche for himself among the gullible?

  3. #3 SteveM
    May 18, 2007

    The photograph is clearly the result of a slow shutter speed and camera motion. No “pyramid power” at all. Mostlikely the camara was held reasonably stationary for most of the time the shutter was open and then just before it closed was moved away leaving just the streak from the bright moon.

  4. #4 AnnR
    May 18, 2007

    Heck, most people feel better after sampling a little vino.
    What’s so odd about that?

    Some of these folks may have sampled a bit too much with all this mumbo-jumbo, but they can suffer for that in the morning.

    Didn’t need an MD or a double blind trial to know that!

  5. #5 LK Tucker
    May 18, 2007

    There may be an explanation for why people have these bizarre beliefs.

    A similar set of beliefs appears in long term users of Qi Gong and Kundalini. Users begin to believe they can levitate, walk through solid objects unharmed, and that they possess superhuman or supernatural powers.

    The answer is that performing both exercises creates the “special circumstances” for exposure from Subliminal Distraction. That is the name for a little known problem with the physiology of sight that was discovered when it caused mental breaks for office workers in the 1960′s. The cubicle was designed to deal with the problem.

    The thought processing problems and delusional beliefs of these long-term exercise users forms a model for schizophrenia.

    This problem is from the field of Design and is unknown in any area of mental health services. VisionAndPsychosis.Net is a psychology project about the phenomenon.

    http://VisionAndPsychosis.Net

  6. #6 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    May 18, 2007

    The site was carefully chosen. First a check of interfering energies was exhausted (i.e. underground streams, electric current exposure, gas line interference, etc.). Then the earth under the pyramid was compacted to 100%. Then a surveyor lined up the square base to coincide with exact True North as it is here in Kelowna. The area was then checked by an astronomer who lines up the foundation to the North Star precisely.

    This takes Terroir to a whole new level.

  7. #7 qetzal
    May 18, 2007

    Well, actually, by the time you read this, it will have turned into last week….

    Only for you poor saps living in positive space-time. For those of us who have used our interfacial pyramids to cross the bridge to negative space-time, Randi’s piece is now a week in the future.
    ;-)

  8. #8 factician
    May 18, 2007

    One of my favorite wineries (Robert Sinskey) uses biodynamics. We visited the winery once, and they have a big display explaining the “science of life forces”. It made me rather sad. Here they are, stark raving mad, but making very tasty wine.

    Ah well, I try not to think about it when I open a bottle of their wine (though I do tend to tell people that I serve it to).

  9. #9 TheBrummell
    May 18, 2007

    They’re in Kelowna? I should have guessed…

    Last summer I had a great day doing a one-day wineries tour through the Okanagan valley. I highly recommend it. There is a tremendous density of really great wineries in that area, most of which are not stark raving mad. The non-biodynamic, non-crazy wineries make some very, very good wine, all without pyramids or crystals or whatever. But don’t tell the Pyramidists, they won’t believe it.

  10. #10 baryogenesis
    May 18, 2007

    Orac- I too had an amazing coincidence re.Randi. Last week I was rebuilding a friend’s back porch and while working was telling him about the amusing time I had reading through some of the Million $ Challenge applications. He had hired a tree remover over the weekend (while I was not there) who had asked for my phone# – the tree remover wanted to hire someone to do carpentry work at his house. He phoned me; I begged off (“too busy”,etc) for I really didn’t like his “phone manner”. Later, I returned to Randi’s site and recognized his name from my call-display. Needless to say, my friend and I were stunned and had a good laugh! He said the fellow had gone on and on about the bible,etc….

  11. #11 Eamon Knight
    May 18, 2007

    By not using ferrous metals, the structure will not reorient back to magnetic north.

    WTF is that supposed to mean? (“nothing”, I know). I have this image of a multi-tonne concrete pyramid slowly skewing itself round in the ground as it “reorients back to magnetic north”.

    “Tardyons”? That would be either:
    1) Particles that make the Tardis fly.
    2) The antiparticle of the “cluon” (you may have to think about that for a minute).

  12. #12 speedwell
    May 18, 2007

    qetzal, don’t forget to comment on this post in about an hour. If you;re a few minutes early, so much the better.

  13. #13 llewelly
    May 18, 2007

    Then a surveyor lined up the square base to coincide with exact True North as it is here in Kelowna. The area was then checked by an astronomer who lines up the foundation to the North Star precisely.

    A minor but indicative point is that “exact True North” and “lines up … the North Star precisely” are not the same thing.

    It just means the foundation and the square base are just a bit offset, making it a crooked pyramid.

  14. #14 Salad Is Slaughter
    May 18, 2007

    It’s not just the wine world embracing biodynamic woo. One of my favorite chefs has (unfortunately) gotten in to biodynamic farming. (Story here)

    After digging up the BS buried in cow horns, they make a liquid mixture of the stuff and spray it on the crops. My first question when I read the article on the restaurant blog was, “don’t you risk e. coli contamination?” Anyone know if they’re putting their customers at risk? After the whole contaminated spinach scare, this non-biologist has to wonder.

  15. #15 Infophile
    May 18, 2007

    “Tardyons”? That would be either:
    1) Particles that make the Tardis fly.
    2) The antiparticle of the “cluon” (you may have to think about that for a minute).

    To be fair to them, they didn’t come up with the word. I can’t find out where it first showed up, but I’ve seen it in various places, including some Science Fiction.

  16. #16 AncientTechie
    May 18, 2007

    Wouldn’t earth compacted to 100% be as dense as a collapsed star?

  17. #17 Brett Hall
    May 18, 2007

    Then a surveyor lined up the square base to coincide with exact True North as it is here in Kelowna. The area was then checked by an astronomer who lines up the foundation to the North Star precisely.

    A minor but indicative point is that “exact True North” and “lines up … the North Star precisely” are not the same thing.

    It just means the foundation and the square base are just a bit offset, making it a crooked pyramid.

    Hmmm, I didn’t see any mention of a large motor to slowly turn the pyramid as the Earth precesses and the position of the north star slowly changes over the years. I hope they’re saving their data from their taste-test experiments so they can track how the mis-alignment of the pyramid affects the quality of their wines.

  18. #18 Justin Moretti
    May 18, 2007

    Wine appreciation is so full of gullible tossers, this isn’t even off the beaten track really. Anyone who claims with any enthusiasm (and they do!) that they can taste the flavour of ‘pencil shavings’ in their wine deserves to have Pyramid Wine Woo shoved down their throats. Is begging for it, in fact.

  19. #19 DuWayne
    May 18, 2007

    Actually, according to Terry Pratchett, pyramids don’t sharpen razor blades, they bring them back to a time when they were sharper – unfortunately, this same phenominon has rather unpleasant results on the area surrounding pyramids. You see, pyramids actually suck all of the new time out of surrounding locals, requiring the surounding area to survive on recycled time.

  20. #20 Bob O'H
    May 18, 2007

    If I understand this correctly, it means that DaveScot is made of Tardyons.

    Bob

  21. #21 Elf M. Sternberg
    May 18, 2007

    According to wikipedia (grain of salt) “tardyon” is a neologism, possibly sarcastic, to contrast with “tachyon.” It basically means “any particle that travels slower than light.”

    That’s some serious woo when you can use a three-syllable word for “stuff.”

  22. #22 Booker
    May 18, 2007

    Yes, there is serious woo to be found in farming. I know a British Columbia farmer who claims to farm using “Tai Chi” principles (I was afraid to ask him what he actually meant by that, as my woo detector was flashing red).

    BC’s largest crop, by far, is the famous BC Bud. I’m sure it produces a bumper crop of woo all on its own.

  23. #23 Abel Pharmboy
    May 18, 2007

    No need to apologize – you cover the woo so I don’t have to.

    At first I was going to say that, assuming the pyramid-aged wine really was superior in a blind-tasting panel, is whether the pyramid structure has better control of temperature, light, and minimization of vibration than where the other wine was stored – all factors that influence wine aging. However, the stuff was only in there for 30-90 days and not for the entire duration of time since bottling.

    Someone is just trying to sell an angle, so to speak.

  24. #24 Inquisitive Raven
    May 18, 2007

    (Pointedly ignoring the tardyon puns) Tardyons are just slower than light particles, i.e. mundane matter. I first heard about them from a guy named Tom LeCompte, a physicist at a place some of you might’ve heard of; it’s called Fermilab. Actually, and Orac would probably appreciate this, they should probably be called “bradyons.” Think tachycardia vs. bradycardia here. :shrugs: Hey, I didn’t come up with the terminology.

  25. #25 qubit
    May 18, 2007

    Eamon –

    No, please… no more gluon jokes. Too many in the run-up to my 20th century physics final. (Typical example: What’s a gluon? It’s what you use when you don’t have a strap-on.)

    Elf -

    The thing is, they couldn’t even get the antiquated term right (tardyons/bradyons never go the speed of light). It is possible to meaningfully discuss tachyons, luxons (massless particles / particles that always move at the speed of light), and tardyons/bradyons, but that distinction is usually reserved for speculative particle physics, introduction of the energy-momentum and 4-velocity vectors in special relativity, and late-night drunken bullshit sessions among physics majors.

    Raven -

    I’ve actually more frequently heard/read the term bradyon myself. Maybe it’s an astro thing? After all, if oxygen is a metal to us, we can call particles whatever we damn well please. I wonder if the term tardyon might relate to the concept of retarded potentials and fields?

    As for the “negative space-time” woo… who knew I was tapping into immortality every time I calculated proper time?

  26. #26 fusilier
    May 18, 2007

    Of COURSE the pyramid makes good things better, and bad things worse. This has been known for millenia. Heck, I read about it in gradeschool, back in the mid’50s, when Homer Price encountered the fellow selling eversomuchmoreso.

    see http://www.amazon.com/Homer-Price-Robert-McCloskey/dp/0670377295

    fusilier
    James 2:24

  27. #27 Maronan
    May 19, 2007

    If that picture is evidence that pyramids focus negative space around them, then I must have travelled directly to and through negative space myself!

    Stupid cheap crappy camera with really long shutter time.

  28. #28 Sastra
    May 19, 2007

    Many people who endorse woo seem to recognize — despite their constant mantra of “scientific studies show” — that their favorite form of woo is not really endorsed by mainstream science. If pyramids truly do channel these kinds of powers and energies, such evidence would have revolutionized physics and chemistry, and garnered more than a few Nobel prizes. Yet physicists at Fermilab and researchers at Cal Tech are completely ignorant about forces these good people think they know all about.

    Their reaction? A shrug. They’re just so much more open-minded, sophisticated, and spiritual than so-called “experts.” They’re not bothered or puzzled. They’re very comfortable knowing about these things just through their own experience and trusting the wisdom of the ancients. They’re humility snobs.

    Woo is the ultimate form of pretentiousness. Doesn’t surprise me that it’s sometimes goes quite well with a glass of wine.

  29. #29 Alex
    May 21, 2007

    My entire understanding of physics comes from having read A Brief History of Time without understanding it, but wouldn’t providing a ‘bridge between matter and anti-matter’ result in a rather large explosion?

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