Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine


Daniele Ricci — Piedmont

Ricci in field lo

The pile of grape skins sitting in the middle of a field provides the first clue that Daniele Ricci is no ordinary winemaker. When asked about it, he remarked “what comes from the ground, returns to the ground.” The skins are fertilizer for next year’s vines and we have on display, in vivid detail, full-circle, ultra-natural winemaking.

Carlo Daniele Ricci is a third generation winemaker, making wines under the label Azienda Agricola Ricci in the town of Costa Vescovato, a little-tread corner of southeast Piedmont. Not even an hour from Milan, the province of Alessandria is easily bypassed by the wine consuming hoards in search of Barolo and Barbaresco to the west. This is timorasso country. “Huh?” you ask. “Timo-who?” It turns out that the signature white grape of the region is one that nearly vanished into the dustbin of history, until being revived by another area winemaker, Walter Massa, in the past two decades. The grape is an aromatic white varietal with good acidity that ages well, yet somehow proved easily forgotten. Ricci, along with Massa and a handful of others, are working to build a new audience for timorasso, though few can rival Ricci’s natural, long skin-contact wines.

Ricci grape skins in field lo

We met Ricci in his winery, just off the town’s main square, and it’s readily apparent he eschews technology in the winemaking process. His wines are unfiltered with long maceration times of up to 90 days. He uses a pneumatic press and does not believe in batonage. He climbed up on a ladder to show us wine fermenting in wood, pushing down on the slats to reveal grape skins and gurgling liquid fully alive. Some of these wines will age for years in bottle — one current release, the 2004 San Leto, is ten years old. About the only thing Ricci will do is add minimal sulfur, about 60 mg/hectoliter.

Ricci Vats

Ricci is equally non-interventionist in the fields, where his philosophy is to follow the rhythm of nature. “Quality of life has no price,” he says, showing us the healthy vines now hibernating for the winter. In the spring and summer, herbs and greens grow beneath the vines, imparting herbaceous notes in the grapes. Ricci considers himself a farmer first, and even grows an ancient variety of wheat low in gluten.

Down in the valley where he has a two room agriturismo, for friends and family, we settle into chairs to taste wines alongside a three year old prosciutto. First is a 100% timorasso, the 2009 Il Giallo di Costa. With 90 days of skin contact, the wine proves very intense with a long finish, and is definitely built for aging. In comparison, the delicious 2007 Il Giallo di Costa, which has some sherry-like characteristics, is a blend of cortese, favorita and timorasso. By contrast, Terre di Timorasso, aged twelve months in stainless on the lees, showcases the brightness and acidity of the grape with a more approachable style and medium body that would be versatile to work with a range of foods, from seafood to chicken.

Ricci vineyard lo

The 2004 San Leto Riserva, named for the vineyard where the grapes are grown, is killer. 100% timorasso, the wine sees 2-3 days of skin maceration before aging for 18 months in 500-liter oak and acacia barrels and an additional 12 months in bottle. The ’04 is rich and oxidized with a racy perfuminess. Alas, this riserva San Leto, identified by its blue label, is not made every year. The next release will be a 2006, possibly followed by a 2010.

Ricci San Leto lo

Far off the beaten path, Ricci has succeeded in creating a sustainable model for winemaking that leaves him, perhaps, less famous but instead a true steward of the earth. If you make it to his corner of the world, there’s even a place to stay.


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From The Press Democrat:

Volker Eisele, the outspoken architect of a landmark farmland protection policy in Napa County that became widely emulated as a model for staunching unwanted development, died Friday at his ranch home near St. Helena from complications related to a stroke. He was 77.

The German-born Eisele was an organic wine grape grower before the concept was popular. As a community activist and leader in the agricultural industry he fearlessly took on established orthodoxy, often in blunt style. He will be remembered most for engineering Measure J, a controversial land use policy that was enacted by voters in 1990 over heavy opposition from pro-development forces.


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On Forbes, Organic Wine Journal Editor Adam Morganstern names 5 Biodynamic champagnes you can enjoy all year long. See the list here.


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London’s largest artisan wine fair is returning to the Old Truman Brewery (Spitalfields) on 17 & 18 May 2015. All wines showcased are organic or biodynamic with low intervention in the cellar, and many are totally natural – pure fermented grape juice.

Be sure to save the date so you can pop along and sample tasty wonders alongside a delicious range of other artisan food and drinks. Ticket sales and trade registrations will open at the end of January 2015.


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Natural Wine Catastrophe

This post is about the bad things which have happened to me recently. Specifically, it’s about how my wines have turned into vinegar this year! Just a few weeks ago I had yet another lot go bad on me (this time about 2000 liters of Garnacha from Sierra de Gredos), which I poured down the drain.

Needless to say I’ve been thinking a lot about the possible causes of this series of acetic events. Why so many instances this year (4 different lots) when I’ve been making wine in the same way for 12 years, and only one lot ever turned into vinegar in all that time (back in 2008 I think)?

Well, I won’t bore you with all my thoughts and theories and ramblings over the past few weeks … I’ll just come straight out with what I think has happened:

– (1) The major difference between what I’m doing now, and what I was doing back in the ‘old days’ is that nowadays I’m making a lot more wine, and a lot more different types of wines. I used to just make about two or three thousand bottles of Airén plus 2 barricas of Tempranillo crianza. But now I’m making about 12,000 bottles of at least 10 different wines plus assorted mini-experiments. This must be a significant factor somehow. I obviously can’t just carry on doing the same things as I was doing before

– (2) I don’t have so much time to look after each wine and do what has to be done at the right time as I did before, due to a number of different circumstances

– (3) I still don’t have airtight pneumatic lids for all my tanks. Maybe if there is a source of contamination somewhere in the bodega, it’s easier for the vinegar bacteria (“acetobacter”) to get into the tanks if they’re not sealed properly?

The fact is that all my containers and assorted equipment and machinery is not the result of careful planning based on expected needs. It is in fact the complete opposite! Everything I own was bought incrementally year after year whenever I happened to have some spare cash available. Thus some years I bought a stainless steel tank, including hermetic seal, and some years I could only afford the tank but not the lid.

– (4) I don’t have enough stainless steel tanks (with or without hermetic lids); I have to use open top plastic containers, open top oak barrels (which I opened up myself), and ceramic amphorae, which are difficult to close off in an airtight manner. So I will have to think about that little problem too.

So, conclusions:

1. I’m going to invest in airtight lids for all my tanks, even though it will be hideously expensive. Though perhaps not as expensive as pouring thousands of litres of vinegary wine down the drain!

2. I’m going to become even cleaner and more hygienic than usual. Not sure how, but I’ll think of what can be done in that area, over the course of the year.

C’est la vie. And the bright side?

Well, I can’t think of anything positive about this at the moment. I’m really angry and upset and depressed :( But I’m sure I’ll get over it! Any helpful suggestions would be most welcome.

Actually, there is one thing that is helping to cheer me up, even though it’s got nothing to do with the lessons to be learned from the above. It’s that I’ve just received an order for a mixed pallet of wines (mostly Garnacha) from … wait for it … from France! Amazing! I still can’t quite believe it! Coals to Newcastle and Grenache to France, what? :)

The importer is Thierry Puzelat, a well-known winemaker based in the Loire, who has also started to distribute other wines. I can’t wait to find out where my wines end up, hopefully some interesting wine bars in Paris :)

I strongly suspect this will be my last post this year, so on that happy note … Merry Christmas, everyone, and I hope you all drink some interesting wines over the holidays :)


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Poster Wine The Green Revolution

Wine The Green Revolution, a documentary on biodynamic winemaking, can now be viewed in its entirety online. The cost is $3.99 and can be watched here.


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From the LA Times: Drought revives ‘forgotten art’ at wineries: Farming without irrigation

“It’s like a forgotten art,” said Frank Leeds, head of vineyard operations for Frog’s Leap Winery in Rutherford, a leading dry farm and organic wine producer in Napa Valley. “There’s very few guys that dry farm and less guys that actively dry farm. It’s easier, I’m sure, to turn on the tap.”


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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.


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