Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine


shinnstar

From Barbara Shinn:

We began harvesting the whites on September 28th and harvested the last of the reds on November 5th. Harvest was an average of 7 days later than most vintages after a cool dry summer. Yields were higher than average in all varieties, so a longer hang time was necessary to gain full maturity.

The last two days of harvest we picked Petit Verdot and a small lot co-ferment of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Throughout harvest the fruit was healthy and the natural yeast culture on berries was more developed than we have ever experienced. Our ferments are own-yeasted and robust, some of which have finished but many whites and reds are still fermenting. We use no sulfites at crush, and no yeast nutrients, tartaric acid or other additives.


read more
Al Bechthold

Al Bechthold

Bechthold Vineyards is the oldest continuously-farmed vineyard in Lodi, originally planted in 1886. It’s only 25 acres, but the grapes are highly prized by clients like Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon, Abe Schoener of Scholium Project and Turley Wine Cellars. Kevin Phillips of Michael-David Winery continues to farm this plot organically. Here’s his tribute to Al Bechthold, owner of the vineyard, who passed away earlier this year.

The year started off on a sad note with the passing of Al Bechthold, the longtime co-owner (along with his wife Wanda Bechthold) and caretaker of this special old vine vineyard. Al passed away from natural causes early last winter and will be missed by all. It was strange for me to go through a season without the watchful eyes and curious inquiries of Al, who passed the torch to me in 2007, but always maintained a steady presence in the continuation of my improvement efforts in regards to this special block.

I met Al in the summer of 2003, my first full year of employment with my family’s winery, Michael-David Winery. I was farming my family’s original piece of ground (Woodbridge Road Vineyard) that they had homesteaded in the 1860’s. This block was directly west of Al and Wanda’s Old Vine Cinsault Vineyard, so I started running into Al a lot in the course of my own family farming endeavors.

Our winery had just started gaining traction and volume that year and we were in the midst of a tremendous amount of change and growth. This propelled me into a new additional role at the winery — grower relations — and Al was one of the first growers I contracted to buy grapes from in 2004. His vineyard had just undergone DNA analysis at UC Davis and was reintroduced as Cinsault from what had previously been known as Black Malvaise. We had a small Rhone wine program (Incognito Red) and these grapes were purchased with that specific brand in mind. For the next 4 years I shared this vineyard with Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon and we tucked these grapes into Incognito Red, as well as blended them into a few other programs.

In the fall of 2007, Al asked me to take over the operations of the vineyard. He told me I had always been a good neighbor, a good buyer and, most importantly, a good friend. Humbled but appreciative, I accepted the mandate, took over the farming and gave Al and Wanda a long-term lease for their vineyard. I vowed to follow his general farming ideology for this block — organic and dry-farmed — but was not encumbered with any other direction or recipe on what or how to do it.

The years since have been a tremendous learning experience that continues to this day. I have learned to go from being a reactive farmer (as many of us still are, and are often forced to be) into a deliberate, calculated planner that thinks far in advance, tries to mitigate problems before they become problems and looks at the entire vineyard ecosystem when making farming decisions. Aggressive canopy management, composts, cover-crops, beneficial-insect releases, no dust farming, post-harvest irrigations, etc. are just a few of the many strategies employed to help protect the life and health of this special vineyard.

Today, the vineyard continues to flourish and thrive and over 18 wineries source grapes from this little 25 acre corner of Lodi. Bechthold Cinsault has become synonymous with the resurgence of old vine vineyards and forgotten varietals forging a new place for themselves. Yields have averaged a very consistent 3 ton/acre since 2008 — not bad for an 1886 planted vineyard — and the overall health of the vineyard is on the road of continuous improvement.

Out of the deepest respect and admiration for Al and Wanda Bechthold and in tribute to them, I am fighting to preserve and promote the legacy of their vineyard and the appreciation I have for a guy who gave the neighbor kid a chance way back in 2007.

— Kevin Phillips


read more

Isabelle Legeron is in NYC and will be signing copies go her new book, Natural Wine, at Chambers Street Wines. Afterwards, there will be a six-course dinner at Contra, paired with natural wines, for $180.

For more info, go to Chambers Street Wines.


read more

Last weekend in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, historical supper club Edible History hosted a 15th Century Italian feast featuring organic wine pairings for each course. When recreating meals from the past, finding the right wines can be tricky. Since the biodynamic process is the most similar to the way wine would have been produced in the Middle Ages, it was a natural fit for the meal.

The dinner began with an Orvieto Secco, Sergio Mottura from 2012 as diners enjoyed an herb soup or Minestra of Greens, made with swiss chard, parsley, dill and mint in a homemade beef broth, followed by tuna poached in olive oil and rosemary, as well as braised leeks. One of the oldest Italian white wines, this Orvieto is made from a blend of Procanico, Verdello and Grechetto grapes that are grown exclusively on Sergio Mottura’s vineyard in the Civitella d’Agliano commune.

The first course was followed by a whole roast suckling pig, stuffed with gruyere, comte, chestnuts and eggs, and paired with a Selvato Rosso, an Aglianico and Primitive blend from the Colli della Murgia estate in Apulia. The light body of this red was a delightful match for the heaviness of the roast, subtly melding the savory flavors together.

It was customary in 15th Century Italy to follow a large roast with a porridge, so diners tucked into Zanzarelli, curdled egg in chicken broth with breadcrumbs, pecorino and saffron, as well as handmade squash torteloni served with butter, parmesan and nutmeg. A Colpasso Nero d’Avola was served with this course, as the most famous wine of Sicily, it was appropriate to pay tribute to this humble Italian grape. Made using the ripasso method, where a portion of the grapes are picked early and dried in order to have a more intense concentrated flavor, the Nero d’Avola brought some depth to this carb heavy portion of the meal and was the perfect note to end on as some very full diners headed home.

For more information about upcoming dinners visit www.ediblehistorynyc.com.


read more

crushing

If at any point during the harvest one finds oneself in the unlikely situation of having nothing to do, there are always containers to be cleaned, loose grapes to be swept up, floors to be hosed, or, most importantly, caps to be punched down. For the uninitiated, let me explain.

Red grapes, unlike whites, sit on their skins in fermenters for several days until the fermentation process stops. While the grapes are fermenting, the CO2 in the juice is pushing the grapes up to the surface and out of the juice, forming a “cap.” The grapes on the surface have to be pushed, or punched, back down into the liquid, thus rehydrating the surface grapes as well as releasing the CO2. This also helps to intensify the color of the final product.

Some winegrowers use large flat paddles to push it down, some use their feet, and some just their hands. The Coturri method is the latter. On punching days, you return home with your entire body the color of merlot, but it’s a tremendously satisfying and sensual experience. Imagine being up to your armpits in warm, bubbly liquid, knowing that this somewhat primitive process is so very critical to the end product. After each punchdown you test the sugar levels. When the levels show that fermentation has stopped, it’s time to press and then transfer the juice to the barrels.

I originally thought I would only put in few days at the winery. But I found myself heading back up Highway 101 to Glen Ellen day after day. There’s an incredible sense of accomplishment that comes from helping crush eight half-ton containers of grapes, or walking through a vineyard that has no more hanging fruit, thanks to you. The exhaustion that hits at the end of the day feels well earned. Then there’s the education. Nothing like having daylong access to people you respect, who have been making wonderful wines for a very long time and who are more than willing to share their knowledge with a neophyte city slicker.

hardesty arrives

I wanted to know everything. But what struck me most was the camaraderie that develops from working side by side with a small team over long hours every day. The process works beautifully, without the shouting of orders or a meticulous game plan. If you’ve finished what you’re doing, you unhesitatingly jump in and help someone who needs help, and that’s how it all gets done. I had the pleasure of being part of a group of the nicest, most hard-working people around. Oh, and did I mention the awesome lunches?

Then, near the end of my stay, two tons of choice syrah dropped in my lap. A vineyard had just been sold and the grapes were mine if I wanted them. No sooner had I said yes than they were picked and delivered to us for crushing. These grapes were some of the most beautiful I’ve ever laid eyes on. Stay tuned for a rosé next spring, and a red in 2016. Now that’s what I call a bonus for a job well — or at least enthusiastically — done.


read more

que syrah

Ever since I changed careers and got into the wine business, I’ve wanted to do a harvest. Over the years I had gotten to know a number of winegrowers, many of whom offered me the opportunity to help out, even though they already had plenty of help, and probably thought I’d screw things up or slow things down. Harvesters are usually very experienced, and very fast. When the time comes and the grapes are ready, it’s like a fire alarm has gone off, and bang — the fruit must be picked. Nature isn’t exact, so it’s hard to predict when that alarm will sound. So, if I were going to get in on the action, when and where would I go?

This year I finally decided to just jump in. I called my friend Tony Coturri, the pioneer biodynamic/organic winegrower in Glen Ellen, California. I got the “job,” and reported for duty the third week in September. The timing was perfect, as the alarm had just sounded.

I was handed a pair of shears, and before I knew it we’d loaded fifty empty boxes onto a truck and were headed off toward the Zinfandel. It didn’t seem like a huge vineyard, so I decided we could, and would, get it all done quickly.

I was so wrong.

It was hot, and there were a lot of clusters on those vines. After about four solid hours without enough water breaks, I was completely shot. We had only done about one quarter of the vineyard, far below my predictions. But apparently, seeing as how there were only three of us, it was considered a good start. I returned home that evening barely able to move. What had I been thinking?

picking

Nevertheless, I returned the next day for more punishment. This time, however, I came armed with a large container of water. Chad Hardesty, another organic winegrower (Hardesty Cellars), showed up with four tons of chardonnay grapes, so the lesson for the day was to be on crushing and pressing. This is a long, arduous process of filling small baskets from half-ton containers, and then feeding the grapes — one basket at a time — into a portable crusher. Since we were working with whites, the crushed grapes were immediately fed, bucket by small bucket, into the press. At least there were six of us working at this point, but it still took all day, and the pressing wasn’t finished until evening.


read more

Offending_Back_label

People like to think wine is made from just grapes — but that’s hardly the case. A small number of winemakers have put more information on their bottles, but our friend Fabio Bartolomei at Vinos Ambiz has raised disclosure to an art form. Most of it lists what he did not do, letting people know what is happening at most modern wineries. He recently answered some of the feedback he received on Facebook. Some of the comments:

“If you have to spend the money on a label like this maybe the wine ain’t so good. I only drink natural wine but this is kind of douche”

Sarah, I hardly spent any money at all on this label! I wrote it myself on a Word file and the printer is a friend who gave me a very good rate. In any case I don’t see any connection between the cost of a label (pretty or awful) with the wine inside. What’s one thing got to do with the other?

“It’s what I would call over-egging the cake”

Yes, you’re right, but until the legislation changes and makes ingredient listing obligatory, then there’s no harm in exaggerating, is there. It’s a bit like the “Critical Bike” people who demand more facilities for cycling in cities, by riding through town naked! There’s no actual need to go naked, but it helps draw attention to the problem they’re trying to solve! :)

“no pesticides, no insecticides, etc. What I would also like to know is whether they treat their workers fairly.”

Suzanne, I don’t have any workers, except for myself, and I exploit myself brutally and mercilessly. I often force myself to work 12 or 14 hours/day and don’t pay myself any overtime. I regularly make myself work on Saturdays, Sundays, holidays and over vacations, again with no overtime. In fact I don’t even pay myself regular wages, though I do faithfully pay my social security contributions to the Spanish government. But, seriously, I do manage about 3 ha of vineyards all by myself, and in addition I buy in grapes from local organic growers.

See the full post here.


read more

From Dan Rinke:

2014 has been another interesting year. We had a colder than normal winter, but a drier than normal, warmer spring. This all led to a bud break that was a full month earlier than usual. The warm weather did not stop with spring and it continued into the summer and then fall. It seems like this is the never-ending summer. As typical with Oregon, we get hot days with cold night time temperatures. I actually noticed several days this summer that were in the low 90s during the day, and the night time temps were still in the upper 40s.

Harvest started out fast and a month early and has not slowed down at all. The fruit and resulting wines will have plenty of concentration with great acidity, thanks to our cool night time temperatures. We started harvest on September 15th and will go well into October. We have a real healthy yield with picture-perfect fruit. I am certain that 2014 will be considered to be one of the top vintages of the decade with the balance and concentration that make wines that will continue to age gracefully for years to come.


read more