Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

Hatzidakis Winery - Santorini, Greece

Hatzidakis Winery – Santorini, Greece

In the varied world of winemaking there are gorgeous French châteaux and sprawling Napa estates – and then there is Hatzidakis, a small Santorini winery consisting of a simple trailer and sparse vegetation. Other than a picturesque view of Pyrgos Kallistis in the background, a visitor might start to wonder where they made the wrong turn.

Fortunately, there is more below the surface – literally. The majority of the winery is underground in a cave. And not only is Hatzidakis making some of the best wines in Santorini, they are also organic.

The underground winery at Hatzidakis.

The underground winery.

After heading through a wooden door next to the trailer, steep stairs lead down to the winemaking cave and the subterranean tasting room – one of the more adventurous paths to taste wines in the age of accessibility. There are now plans underway for a new winery and tasting room.

Kostas Stamou - Agronomist

Kostas Stamou – Agronomist

We tasted wines with Kostas Stamou, Agronomist for Hatzidakis. The winery, like most in Santorini, favors using indigenous grapes. Assyrtiko makes up the majority of their output, but they also have a 100% Aidani, a 100% Mavrotragano (one of the two main red grapes on the island) and two dessert wines – the standard Vinsanto and a Voudomato.

Haridimos Hatzidakis

Haridimos Hatzidakis

Haridimos Hatzidakis founded the winery in 1996 and has been committed to organic winemaking from the very beginning. He started with this original property, replanting the abandoned vineyard with Aidani, and now farms 10 hectares of vineyards around Santorini.

Hatzidakis Vineyards

Hatzidakis Vineyards

Low yields in a vineyard lead to quality grapes, but the amount of space between plantings at Hatzidakis is at the extreme. There isn’t a lot of water to go around and this is what the soil can support without intervention.

Santorini Vines

Santorini Vines

In Santorini, vines are grown in a circular basket pattern (“koulara”) that protect the grapes from the strong wind and heat.

Pyrgos Kallistis

The view of Pyrgos Kallistis.

To learn more about Hatzidakis, visit them online at

All photos by Adam Morganstern.

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Dan Rinke Johan Vineyards

Dan Rinke – Winemaker, Johan VIneyards

“Why would you go to school to learn how to make wine? You should learn how to grow grapes.”

After working for restaurants, wine stores and distributors, Dan Rinke developed an interest in organic/biodynamic wines and enrolled in winemaking courses at Fresno State in California. He attended a dinner with Michel Chapoutier and spoke about his intentions. “Why would you go to school to learn how to make wine? You should learn how to grow grapes,” said the famous Rhone producer. Dan soon switched his major to viticulture.

He worked as an assistant winemaker while in school and then answered an ad placed by Dag Johan Sundby – a Norwegian who after traveling the world, and serving as a UN rifleman on the Israeli/Lebanese border, decided he wanted to open a winery in Oregon. Dan says both he and Johan consider it advantageous to be new players in the established wine scene. “We’re a small winery with nothing to live up up to. We can be adventurous and try new things.”

Johan was completely open to Dan’s desire to transition their vineyards to organic and then go further and practice Biodynamics. Their vineyard was certified Biodynamic in 2010 and the winery was certified in 2011. They are producing around 3000 cases annually and sell the excess grapes from their 63 acres to other Biodynamic wine producers. Dan would like to see them double their own wine output in the future, but says selling grapes to other wineries will always be part of their business. They’re even looking into keg wine sales; Oregon is about to pass a growler law for wine sales at restaurants and stores.

They are producing two brands; Johan Vineyards is the flagship label and Farmland is their more affordable line. Their next goal is trying to create their own AVA. Johan Vineyards donate a portion of their proceeds to help lobby for small family farms and help other small producers.

The Johan Vineyards 2009 Nils Reserve came from a hot vintage in the Willamette Valley. “We harvested about two weeks after everyone else.” Great acidity with low alcohol and fruit-friendly. “It’s filtered, which I don’t normally do unless it really needs it.” About 70 cases were made and bottles retail for $45. “Nils” is a family name, which they trade off with “Johan” every generation.

Learn more about Johan Vineyards at

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We found a number of great organic tequilas for our recent Huffington Post article, and we were especially impressed with Tequila Alquimia produced by Dr. Adolfo Murillo, an optometrist from Oxnard, California. We spoke with him find out more about his fantastic tequila.

How does a doctor from California wind up in the tequila business?

I’ve been in private practice for 28 years, and have a BA in Biological Sciences. I never imagined that I would be returning to my family ranch in Jalisco, Mexico. But 18 years ago I became the third generation to take over, and the first to grow agave.

From the beginning we used the ranch as an outdoor laboratory to study our organic protocols and then used it as a classroom to teach other growers our organic methods. Not just for agave, but for different crops for different states. We taught farmers how to match our methods to their own soils and crops.

We have avocado growers using our methods, as well as citrus, strawberries garlic and chile farmers. All of our teaching is for free. Once they learn our methods, and see the results, they turn around and teach others. I can only do so much myself, but if I can recruit others we start to really see more and more acreage going organic throughout Mexico.

What made organic so important to you?

I thought about the way my grandfather used to farm. He had great respect for the earth and grew crops that other people weren’t able to grow. He did it all using the most natural methods possible. Using his natural methods and my scientific methods we have the best combination of organic and modern techniques.

Agriculture in Mexico is very chemical intensive. They rely heavily on toxic pesticides and herbicides. All those chemicals will grow crops, but do it artificially. It kills off all the activity in the soil. We take soil samples from our ranch and analyze them in our lab. We see the affects in our plants. They are better able to defend themselves since we eliminated toxic pesticides.

Our plants are so healthy.The average weight of our agave is much higher than those throughout the state if Jalisco. In a really good harvest theirs will weight maybe 60-80 pounds. Our record setter weighted in 304 pounds. So we have the size, but what about the quality? The sugar content is a good indicator. Average in a good harvest is low to mid 20s (measured in Brix). We’re averaging about 42. Our agave develops a better root system. It brings up traces and elements that make our tequila more complex.

Ever thought of being the first Biodynamic tequila?

Absolutely. A lot of what they do is what we do in our fields. I have memories of my grandmother who taught me the affect of the moon when you plant, when you harvest. We planned our planting around the cycles of the moon, bringing into use my grandmother’s beliefs. It may seem hocus-pocus, but once we saw the affects of everything we do in our fields, I don’t know if you can argue against it.

How hard was is to get U.S. certification?

Our products had to be certified by USDA, so we follow their regulations and it is a long and expensive process. We have to go back and submit years of documentation, show them everything we do in the fields. As a usual practice they don’t leave the country, but they did send inspectors down to our ranch, to do a physical inspection. They also inspect the distillery, to make sure once our agave gets there it is not contaminated by any other non-organic product. At our first inspection we passed with flying colors, and exceeded the requirements.

How long have you been farming agave?

18 years. The first few crops we sold to other producers. By the fourth harvest, as we improved our soil, our yields were superior. It was getting too good to sell to other companies. We decided to complete the cycle, create the Tequila Alquimia brand according to our own specifications. My wife and daughters helped me to design the labels and bottles, which are made from recycled glass. A local family makes the bottles for us. Almost 4 years ago we imported our first tequila, and we received USDA certification 3 years ago.

Organic and quality go hand in hand. Some folks don’t realize the sheer volumes of chemicals that go into producing crops in Mexico. This is part of our education process. If you grow agave with chemicals, they can grab their essential nutrients on the surface of the soil. They have no incentive to go down deep. We appeal to both markets; folks that want a high quality tequila and those who appreciate organic practices.

When I went to optometry school in Berkeley, we’d go up to Napa Valley and do wine tasting tours. As students, it was hard to turn down free wine. I became enamored of having a house on the hill, surrounded by vineyards. I came close. A house on the hill in Jalisco, surrounded by tequila.

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I just returned from Neustadt an der Weinstraße, Germany where I participated in the judging of the MUNDUSvini BioFach International Organic Wine Awards. There were 555 wines from 18 countries entered in the event, with the majority hailing from Italy, followed by Spain and Germany. The 42 judges came from 17 countries.

Divided into groups, each section tasted over 100 of the wines over a two day period. After filling out tasting notes on each wine, they were scored on a 100 point scale and capable of winning Grand Gold, Gold or Silver medals.

Judging Wines at the Saalbau

In addition to meeting some great wine people from around the world, we had a wonderful at dinner Hofgut Ruppertsberg, a restaurant that grows their own organic produce and raises many of their animals, and toured the nearby Weingut A. Christmann, a member of the VDP association.

The awards will be handed out at BioFach 2011 (World Organic Trade Fair) which is held in Nürnberg this February. Many thanks to all our gracious hosts, and organizers Susanne Denzer and Daniela Mattern.

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Terry Theise is a leading U.S. importer of German and Austrian wines, and a James Beard Award winner. In his new book, Reading Between the Wines, he delves into his passion for wine and the aspects of winegrowing he considers most important. In the first part of my interview with him, we discuss his thoughts on organic and biodynamic practices.

The practices you admire in your book are also at the root or organic and biodynamic winegrowing. Do those labels turn off you off?

No. It’s only when they are wielded as doctrine that I get a little skeptical. To my way of thinking, doctrine is always dangerous and the only defensible and sustainable doctrine is to eschew doctrine altogether. You see a lot of hate being made right now by people who are waging sort of an organic jihad against wines that they deem to be impure and unnatural. To me the question is far more interesting, intricate and complex to be reduced to those kind of bullet points.

I’m in enormous sympathy with people who employ organics and especially biodynamics. I’m agnostic about the practices themselves, but i have an enormous degree of admiration for the people who do it. I like what it is they feel they are getting at.

Do you think certification is important?

Organic is a brand, and its a very attractive brand to people who wish to consume in a certain way and who wish to make political and ethical decisions as consumers. I see growers who don’t like being pinned down, because they realize how complicated viticulture is. And as soon as it’s reduced to a purity test it raises their hackles.

Then there are the type that do work organically and don’t say anything about it. In some cases they are just really modest, the virtue is its own reward. In other cases they are temperamental lone-wolves, not interested in joining associations. Then there are others who just hate doing paperwork and don’t want to fill in the forms. I finally arrived at the decision – if they’re not willing to certify then they are not entitled to the brand. If they like to wrap themselves in the feel-good aspect of organics then fill out the fucking forms, man.

What do you see in the future for organic and biodynamic wines?

I think there’s going to be more and more of it. Particularly in the places where I work, as there is a generational transfer going on right now and young vintners are very much pushing in green directions. All of which i encourage and applaud. I feel that as a long time partner and friend and fellow wine lover that I want to provide all kinds of loving support for every move they make in an organic direction. But I don’t want to shame them for the moves they don’t feel they can make.

It would be arrogant of me to dictate to a Mosel producer “why aren’t you organic?” when their production costs are already eleven times higher than someone working in flat vineyards in the Pfalz, and they have locally humid microclimates that make it nearly impossible to get a commercial crop without using fungicides sometime during the season. They just can’t go out there every four days and spray with copper unless the consumer is willing to endure a price increase for the wine.

I have a couple of producers in my portfolio who in the past several years have completed the transition to organic and biodynamic, and whose prices have risen accordingly and understandably. Their sales, however, have not. At least not among my customers. So unless these wines are bad, which I don’t think they are, I’m looking at a phenomenon where a lot of people are strutting their green credentials, and telling everyone who asks how much they want organic wines, but I also have evidence they’re not willing to pay the upcharge.

I’m a little less confident about biodynamics, because I think at some point – and this is just me holding a wet finger to the wind, no scientific basis – there is going to a Steiner backlash. I’m not talking about the scientific community or internet boards. I think even among the practitioners of biodynamics there’s going to be a generalized backlash against some of the mysticism of the whole thing. But to me that is immaterial. I don’t think it’s going to make the earth any less healthy or the wines worse. It’s going to be part of a very sensible debate about some extremely provocative and unprovable ideas.

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As part of the Wellington On A Plate festival, Urlar Vineyards is sponsoring a Biodynamic and Organic Food and Wine Degustation.

Feast on the flavours of organically grown Highland cow and pig matched with biodynamic wines of Urlar. Travis Clive-Griffin of Bar Salute and Angus Thomson of Urlar Vineyard join forces to present a wonderfully biodynamic six course degustation.

More info.

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The other week we reviewed 100 Perfect Pairings: Small Plates to Enjoy with Wines You Love and the author, Jill Silverman Hough, wanted to share some recipes with our readers that would be great for summer. First up is her Cold Peach and Mango Soup Shooters which she pairs with a Gewürztraminer.

Cold Peach and Mango Soup Shooters
Pair with Gewürztraminer
From “100 Perfect Pairings: Small Plates to Enjoy with Wines You Love” by Jill Silverman Hough (Wiley, 2010)

This soup is just charmingly fun. It’s pretty, it’s tasty, and it’s easy to make. A gulp or two, served in a little glass, makes for a quick, refreshing treat.

For best results, make it in the summer when fresh peaches are in season. In a pinch, you can use frozen fruit, but make sure it’s unsweetened.

Serve the shooters at a standing-and-eating sort of party or as an amuse-bouche between courses. You can also serve the soup as a first course, which would be a great way to kick off a summery dinner party. If that’s your plan, double the recipe for six one-cup servings.

Makes 12 shooters (1/4 cup each)

  • 2 limes
  • 1 ripe freestone (the flesh doesn’t cling to the pit) yellow peach, pitted and cut into chunks
  • 1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and cut into chunks
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, or more to taste
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 12 fresh cilantro leaves

Zest the limes. Set the zest aside. Juice the limes to yield 3 tablespoons of juice. In a blender or food processor, combine the lime juice, peach, mango, buttermilk, orange juice, salt, and cayenne and process until very smooth, scraping down the jar or bowl as necessary (you may have to do this in batches). Transfer the soup to a container and chill for at least 2 hours. (You can prepare the soup up to 3 days in advance, storing it covered in the refrigerator.)

Taste, ideally with your wine, and add more lime juice and/or salt if you like. Serve the soup chilled, each serving garnished with a cilantro leaf and some of the lime zest.

Food and Wine Tip:

If your fruit is particularly sweet, you might notice that the soup makes your wine seem a little sour. To fix this, just add more lime juice, a teaspoon or two at a time, until the soup and the wine nicely complement each other.

Copyright Jill Silverman Hough. All rights reserved.

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You’ve finally learned which dishes go well with a Chardonnay, Riesling or Zinfandel, so where do you go from there? Evan Goldstein is out to raise your food & wine IQ even further with Daring Pairings – A Master Sommelier Matches Distinctive Wines with Recipes from His Favorite Chefs. The book presents in-depth profiles of 36 lesser-known, but widely available, varietals and gives guidelines on what to eat with them.

You’ve never heard of Xinomarvo? No problem. You’ll soon know it means “acid black” and while you’d love it with shellfish it shouldn’t go near anything with hot chili peppers. Goldstein’s strength is providing a lot of information without being overwhelming. Readers can breeze through basic rules, such as “acidic wines lessen the perception of salt,” or go more in-depth about the two different styles of Chenin Blanc. The layout makes it easy to jump around and find something that captures your attention, it’s not necessary to read the book in order.

Each wine also contains its “Daring Paring” – a recipe from a top chef. The dishes are practical and accessible, meant to showcase the wine match, not make you wish you had gone to culinary school. Dan Barber’s Roast Rack of Lamb with Creamy Rice Parsnips is something you’re actually capable of eating tonight with a glass of Tempranillo – you won’t have to stare at the photo just dreaming about it. Charlie Trotter’s Salad of Cornish Game Hen with Shiitake Mushroom Vinaigrette, served with a Gamay, and Kate Zuckerman’s Sherry-Roasted Figs with Crispy Streusel and Cremé Fraîche, served with Sémillon, are among the other delicious choices.

Daring Pairingsis available online at

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