After the first roundtable discussion concerning terroir and biodynamics in the vineyards, Return To Terroir’s Los Angeles Tasting featured a second distinguished group of winemakers to talk about terroir and biodynamics in the cellar. Moderator Anthony Dias Blue introduced the audience to “party guy of all time” Ales Kristancic of Slovenia’s Movia Winery, Julian Castagna of Australia’s Castagna Vineyard, “our mentor” Nicolas Joly of France’s Clos De La Coulée de Serrant and Tony Coturri of Sonoma’s Coturri Winery.
Once you’ve done biodynamics in the vineyard, what’s the difference in biodynamic winemaking?
Tony Coturri: Terroir is a new idea in California. A lot of people would like to like it; a lot of people, when they taste it, don’t like it. It’s the next stage of winemaking in California. We’ve gone through the varietals, we’ve gone through the blends, we’re going through the mixed vineyards. Now we’re getting to the essence of what it’s all about. Terroir is one of the strongest things that speak in your wine, and one of the easiest things to lose in the winemaking process.
I’ve never added anything to my wine; no yeast, no nutrients. When you taste wines from Coturri you have crushed grapes that are fermented, pressed, put in a barrel, then bottled. I think that’s the essence of what biodynamics is all about. All the work is done in the vineyard. I consider myself a custodian. There’s no magic in the winery; there’s magic in the vineyard. If grapes are properly grown, then the balance is there, the acidity is there, and the alcohol is there. All you have to do is take care of it.
Americans like to tweak things. They want to get the screwdriver out and try something different. When it comes down to it, the wine makes itself.
Julian Castagna: I mostly agree, but I think sometimes a little tweaking doesn’t hurt. If you spend time getting the vineyard right, you don’t need to add yeast. I happen not to agree about sulfites. I’ve seen so many bad wines without them added; not because they were made badly but because they were kept badly. And keeping badly is a fact of life. So I choose to add sulfur. It’s minimal. But for me, I consider the addition of sulfur a proper part of winemaking.
I also reserve the right to add acid. I live in Australia. We’re going to have our harvest six weeks early this year. So these are things I think require a small amount of innovation. I try not to add acid, but I’m not going to make a bad wine. I think wine is about balance. I want the honesty of the fruit, and use what little skills I have to try and keep to that honesty. Not to change it, but to keep to it.
TC: Do you put it on the label when you acidify?
JC: I don’t even put what grape variety it is. It’s none of their business.
Ales Kristancic: We find wine in nature. You can’t find beer or Coca-Cola. But we can find wine and it can be stopped by nature before it becomes vinegar. All the wine producers in this world must understand why the wine can happen without us.
It’s not only a question of taste. The wine world is going in a direction which is the same as other beverages; where they believe that you create the beverage by mixing things together to create a taste. Wine is an expression of the terroir; of what happens in nature. Some wines we don’t like or understand, but if the wine is original we can never say it is bad.
I think it’s better if we don’t add sulfur, but there are different ways of thinking. However, we must not interfere with the process of how the juice becomes wine. In that case it’s very bad to use sulfur. It stops the process. Just a drop kills yeasts and bacteria and you start to have a cemetery in the wine. There’s a bad smell. You have to leave.
Nicolas Joly: I don’t want to interfere in my cellar, but we have to admit the craziness of the weather may force us, on some occasions, to retune the wine. So I think we should have some sort of flexibility. I don’t think sulfur is a “first fight.” If you sell your wine from November to February, and not too far away, you don’t need sulfur, but in some cases you do need it. I think the real fight is farming. If you trust your vines, trusting is also a force. I think you can come up with interesting wines. The more you have differences from one vintage to another the more the winegrower has properly done his job.
Are there things you would do differently if you were not farming biodynamically?
NJ: If you are not farming biodynamically, you have to be in your winery every hour. You have been breaking the music. The melody is not there.
JC: We’ve never been anything else but biodynamic. I have no understanding of anything else. I pick fruit. I let it ferment. I press the juice, put it in barrels, then put it in bottles. I’m not a scientist. I detest the term winemaker. I’m not a winemaker. I grow fruit that I allow, that I help, become wine.
Yes, I have an opinion, and that opinion is based on lots of years of tasting things I like. I chose land and I chose varietals to express those likes and dislikes. It’s not something that I create. It’s something that happens because the vineyard speaks. I can wreck it very easily, numb its voice very easily. Allow it to speak and what you get is true wine.
One of the things that astounded me when I first saw a lot of biodynamic wines together, even though there were ones I didn’t like, they all had life, they all had energy, they all had a spirit.
In Australia, everything tastes the same. It’s starting to happen in the great French chateaus as well. That’s really scary for me.
In Australia there’s a lot less emphasis on appellation.
JC: Because they teach us we’re winemakers. We’re gods. They teach us it’s impossible to make wines using indigenous yeast. What they want is control. But you still have your palate. You still have your nose. Which is why I reserve the right to fiddle.
TC: That’s the way the game works. If they all taste the same then they’re all right, and we’re wrong. That’s what I’ve been up against my whole career.
Is there any predictability to how biodynamic wines will age?
TC: It depends on the vintage and the varietals. There are certain varietals you don’t expect to age, and then some can go for 50 years.
AK: I think that biodynamic grapes have a much longer life. You expect something which is alive and changing. If we speak about real wines, then I believe that there is only one way; we have to capture something in the bottle that is still a little alive.
We must accept that if you want the wine to be clear in the glass, it doesn’t have to be clear in the bottle. If we can accept that there is sediment in the bottle – that’s the way. Then we really can reduce sulfites and make everything the best.