Eco-dynamic Scale

Eco-dynamic Scale or ES Score
Digital Age Methodology
The Eco-dynamic Scale or ES Score is a four-tier, eco-dynamic evaluation with a 23 point guideline assigned to each tier for a total of 92 points out of 100 possible points.  A panel of vineyardists and winemakers and at least one university expert will assess the qualities objectively and scientifically. The remaining 8 points are determined by a second panel of experts employing as much objectivity as humanly possible.  For instance, color and clarity, as it reflects quality, is probably best determined by the human eye. 
An ES Score is by its very design a long, thoughtful, if not meticulous process, as any consequential and meaningful assessment of a scientific study or the serious evaluation of an art form.  The Academy Awards are not granted by a single opinion arrived at in minutes, but rather months-long evaluations and considerations rendered by thousands of people, all experts and practiced in the cinema arts.  An ES Score is not determined to fit the release date of a certain wine or any commercial needs whatsoever.  Although one of the primary purposes of Eco-dynamic Scoring is to influence fine wine growing and making and to encourage the dissemination and application of knowledge gained by such scoring.
The second panel is constructed as a “blind” tasting, and objectivity will be the goal although the human element is to be valued and incorporated.  It is possible for a wine to have scored very high leading into the second panel’s final evaluation, but the panel members perceive a serious or even disqualifying flaw, which is often unpredictable from the stand point of the winemaker.  The wine, in that instance, will simply be left “unrated.”  As in most science and certainly the arts, the human factor, as objectively rendered as possible, is the final arbiter.    
The Standards
The first two essential standards in the Eco-Dynamic Scale, below-ground and above-ground, make up 46 points in total.  For the most part they are outside of man’s direct control except for conspicuous issues such as global warming, mainly man-induced, affecting “premium growing regions.”
The other two criteria also making up 46 points in total -- the-vineyard and the-winery -- exist within the control of farming and viticultural decision-making by land owners, proprietors, viticulturalists, vineyard consultants, farmers and wine makers.
The first two-tiers will be science-determined.  There is a great deal of unanimity within the world scientific community of what constitutes high-performance soils, soil health, geology and topography for fine wine production. Tier 1 would require adequate soil tests and evaluations to make a determination of vineyard supremacy.  The same generally could be said of Tier 2, except supporting data is more generally available and many vineyards may not need actual on-site testing and evaluation.
Tiers 3 and 4 include vine growing and wine making practices that for the most part are within the decision-making hands of viticulturalists and oenologists as well as proprietors.  It must be noted and understood that such decisions are often the result of market and marketing forces that don’t necessarily lead to the best results for the production of fine wine.  These tiers have also been areas where knowledge has been circumscribed by self-serving interests.  It will be the goal of this four-tier system to present ALL the facts and studies available and let the chips fall where they may.
(1) Soils, Geology, and Topography
Soil test report may be required to accurately evaluate varying soil types and balance within a vineyard.  A valid report ideally includes samples derived from each soil horizon within one meter.  The soil test results should have the following properties -- 1) Plant available nutrients in the soils data demonstrating: Primary Soil Macronutrients – low N, low K, moderate P.   Secondary Soil Macronutrients: high Ca, moderate Mg, low S.  Trace amounts of important soil micronutrients – Zn, Mn, Fe, Zn, B and Mo.  Plant-accessible calcium from the weathering of native calcite or added agricultural calcite lime.  Also to be considered are 1) nutrient cycling to prevent nitrogen leaching, 2) holding water for plant use, 3) filtering contaminants and 4) withstanding erosion. Well-aggregated soil with good tilth, porosity, and bulk density allowing for a more active root system that can achieve deeper penetration.  Plants then have better access to water deeper in the soil profile and make better use of the available moisture and nutrients and  opportunities to take up those nutrients.  Terrain and diverse variable topography.   Hillside and adequate sunlight for optimal photosynthesis.
(2) Premium Growing Areas, Meteorlogical & Microclimates
Premium Growing Area is the base line.  Above-the-ground climate and meteorological conditions which define scientifically Premium Growing Areas for Vitis Vinifera.  A range of diurnal temperature or high daytime and low nighttime temperature variation assuring optimum net photosynthesis, low humidity and atmospheric precipitation which do not require excess fungicide applications.  Note: According to Prof. Hallock of Cal Poly State University and other scientists only the California Central Coast, close to the Pacific Ocean, is a Premium Vine Growing area in California and probably the entire United States.
(3) Vineyard Size, Sustainability, Rootstocks/Own Root, Planting Density, Spacing, Trellis Systems & Design, Vine Age, Irrigation Practices, Fertilizer Management, Fungicide Use
Vine plant density, rootstock and hybrid vine plants, sustainability practices, fertilization management, calcium & magnesium levels, nutrient and micronutrient minimums, no inappropriate overuse of pesticides, insecticides, or fungicides.
(4) The Estate Winemaking Methodology, Oak Barrel Usage and Dependency, Production Scale, Manipulation and Masking of Terroir
The fourth area encompasses how the estate wine is in fact created, oak-barrel usage, time in barrel or other storage, scale of production, and whether the wine is manipulation-free – a “Natural Wine” -- free of chemical additives, artificial flavors, artificial colors..  No added sugars, only native yeasts, no foreign bacteria, no chemical intrusion at all.  No adjustments for acidity.  No additives for color, not even “natural” color.  No manipulation or additives for mouth-feel, structure, etc.  No external flavor additives, including those derived from new oak barrels, staves, chips, or liquid extract.  No heavy manipulation, such as centrifuge (must, wine clarification), micro-oxygenation (tannin removal, etc.), reverse osmosis (filtration), cryoextraction (freezing grapes), spinning cone (alcohol and “off” smells removal), etc.  Minimal or no added sulfites. Is the wine fined or filtered, terroir-revealing and not compromised by short cuts and time constraints?  Year to year variations in evidence -- reflecting true terroir.  In some cases a wine chemical analysis may be required.
Why an objective wine evaluation system is needed.
There are two worlds of wine and wine understanding.  One is centuries old and vineyard centric; the other is a few decades old and based on subjective number ratings (from 0 to 100) by usually self-appointed “experts.”   The latter has dominated the wine market in this country in recent years and seems designed for convenience.  For a wine merchant, it is more efficient to quote a simple rating to a customer than to spend time and actually explain the wine, its derivation and intrinsic values. 
It is difficult to apprise, let alone rationalize, number ratings or scores as presently commercially instituted.  There is no quality of rationality.  In any consistent or plausible “test” one knows that a 94, for instance, was a result of failed answers to questions or it would have been a perfect score.  Wine rating numbers, as presently advanced, have no such dialectic attached; it always seems an improvisation based on special but unexplained powers of the rater.  It is also not instructive.  If one misses a couple of test questions that person would learn to correct them so he or she would improve in the next “test.”  Not so with wine number ratings; there is never any instructive learning associated with such one-dimensional, subjective numbers.  
With an Eco-Dynamic Scale a grape grower/winemaker in Virginia, for instance, would possess a basic tool to help him in a true evaluation of his vineyard and its attributes as well as his winemaking potential and challenges.  The Scale would light a pathway to superior winemaking within the context of his distinct appellation and vineyard dynamics.
On the other hand, the number ratings -- far too prevalent in the wine world -- always appear shallow and barely researched and serving some shrouded economic purpose.  There is a plethora of such ratings, and they are no use to that winemaker in Virginia or anywhere else.  It must be said, though, that wine rating numbers still translate, in most quarters, into economic benefits, if not windfalls. 
Where is the Vineyard?
No matter how many of the most notable thinkers on the subject such as André Tchelistcheff who was the “dean of American winemakers” (and the mentor of industry giants such as Robert Mondavi and Louis Martini) say about the vineyard as central to greatness, it is fundamentally ignored.
André Tchelistcheff, like all of the renowned thinkers regarding wine, declared: “Wine begins in the vineyard, and always, always, we must come back to the vineyard.”  Yes, you see such words constantly, in books on wine, on winery websites, on labels, in articles – everywhere.  Endless lip service is given to this essential understanding... even as it is almost totally ignored.
Vineyard greatness can be scientifically explained and demonstrated.  It is what the study of wine history inevitably concludes.  Karen MacNeil in “The Wine Bible” speaks for her fellow wine historians and experts and in the beginning of her book sums it up: “The beginning of the twenty-first century may come to be known as the Era of the Vineyard, a time when the spotlight is once again on the grapes and the land.”
There are analogies in all the arts. 
Let’s take music.  First and foremost, we hail the initial creation... notes on the paper, like the vines in the earth. The conductor, the music maker, as well as the wine maker understands that the composition in its completeness can never be more profound than the composer or the vineyard.  They also know that absent skills and dedication they can disappoint and subvert the original creation. They fundamentally appreciate without the craft and proficiency of their orchestra members and cellar mates, pleasing the patron or the palate will never be fully possible.
The vexing problem today is that most wine is made and presented -- to further this analogy -- as if the composer didn’t exist. Most certainly the initial creator is barely mentioned, almost never in the number rating system. Worse yet, usually the conductor and even the winemaker are hardly known and seem irrelevant to commerce. The wine writer and critic and casual observer grant their fleeting opinions upon all wines and seem obsessed on bestowing numbers rather than help us to understand the essence and joy of creation. Oh, Mozart is a 94, Vivaldi an 89, and yes Beethoven’s Violin Concerto is a 92... well, at least in this tasting.
Can you imagine a thoughtful lover of music ignoring the composer? Can you even begin to think of any serious music aficionado who does not become absorbed by the composer and seeks to understand his genius and his soul?  Would you even contemplate learning about music and not the composer?  Not for a moment.  But this is almost always the case with wine today. 
With wine, the vineyard-composer seems irrelevant and a distraction to the opinion maker who is busy pontificating on how HE feels about the wine.
Eco-Dynamic Scale or ES Score will change all that, and it is sorely needed.
The Eco-Dynamic Scale is a Living Document
It is inevitable that an evaluation system based on science, scholarship and research will be questioned and even doubted.  Science itself is ever-evolving and so will the Eco-Dynamic Scale.  Presently the scale is based on thousands of years of viticultural and an oenological body of knowledge and empirical evidence.