Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

For centuries, most people saw wine as a way to enjoy a good meal or relax. Sam Ward saw it as a way to influence government. He arrived in Washington D.C. in 1859, with several cases of fine wine, and managed to secretly draw salaries simultaneously from the U.S. State Department and the country of Paraguay to resolve issues between them. He quickly saw the potential of delicious foods, dinner parties, and the information gathered from them, as a way to wield power. By 1875 the press was referring to him as “King of the Lobby.”

Sam Ward came from a distinguished New York family, was the brother of Julia Ward Howe (author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic) and was the best friend with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Author Kathryn Allamong Jacob traces his rise to becoming the “most influential lobbyist of the Gilded Age.”

King of the Lobby: The Life and Times of Sam Ward, Man-About-Washington in the Gilded Ageis available online at

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The Bere Bio Road Show reached New York yesterday, promoting 17 organic and biodynamic wineries from Italy. The majority of producers were from Tuscany, with other regions, such as Piedmont and Abruzzi, represented as well. This event not only showcases the growing interest in organic wines, but also the realization among winemakers that banding together, and letting people know how their wines are produced, is a benefit to business.

Ettore Ciancico of La Salceta

Claudio Pierino of Cascina San Lazzaro

Maria Fagiuoli of Montenidoli


Stefania Pepe
Piera Martellozzo
La Selva
Cascina San Lazzaro
Tenuta San Pietro
Fattoria La Traiana
Badia a Coltibuono
La Salceta
Sorelle Palazzi
Casa Wallace
Tenuta Selvadolce
Orsi-Vigneto San Vito

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There’s been a lot of buzz online recently about an academic paper done by two students; Magali A. Delmas of UCLA and Laura E. Grant of UCSB titled Eco-labeling Strategies and Price-Premium: The Wine Industry Puzzle. The study looks at eco-certification and eco-labeling as two separate business strategies, and they found that wineries that are certified organic, but don’t let you know on their label, command higher prices. Wineries that certify, and put that information on the bottle, actually see a price decline. The lesson for wineries – go organic but don’t tell anyone about it.

We’ve dealt with this problem since we started the Organic Wine Journal. There are many fantastic certified organic and biodynamic wines out there, but you have to know the names yourself because you won’t find it anywhere on their labels. This leads to confusion not only among wine drinkers, but also with sommeliers, servers and the workers at your local wine store. Thankfully, the balance is shifting, and organic and biodynamic wines are being perceived as higher quality in general, but until the top winemakers come out of the cellar, so to speak, the findings of this study don’t surprise us.

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Twenty years after Philippe Drouhin first began introducing organic practices to the vineyards making up the family company’s domaine (estate), Maison Joseph Drouhin (MJD), the highly regarded producer of Burgundy wines, has been awarded organic certification for all grapes grown within its vineyards beginning with the 2009 vintage. Announcement of the certification was made by Frédéric Drouhin, chief executive officer and president of Joseph Drouhin.

Although the Drouhin vineyards have been organic for years, official regulations require a three- year “conversion” period during which the rules of organic production are applied and verified in the vineyards. The certification process began in August 2006 with a lengthy application to Ecocert, one of several registered companies documenting organic production.

While 2009 is the official vintage year for organic certification, Philippe Drouhin, one of the four siblings running MJD and the one in charge of the company’s 73-hectare (182.5-acre) estate, including 38 hectares (just under 93 acres) of Chablis, now known as Chablis Drouhin Vaudon, began introducing organic practices back in 1990, shortly after joining the family firm. His father, Robert, had already returned to “culture raisonnée,” more traditional viticultural practices, in the late ’70s, but, as he says, “Philippe went further than I.”

Since he took over, Philippe has moved away from all but the most simple and natural treatments of the vine toward a non-interventionist approach and, beginning in 1997, has instituted many of the practices of biodynamie. Considered a leader in the field by fellow Burgundians, Philippe’s credo – and that of the entire family and company – is to bring natural responses to natural problems. Some vineyards are plowed by horses in the steepest areas; grass grows between vines to keep down weeds, fertilization is with natural compost; and treatments are done with herb infusions.

While many wine marketers trumpet organic and “green” credentials with seals, stickers, neckers and brochures, Maison Joseph Drouhin, in its principled and understated way, will confine its achievement only to press releases and web site information. Consumers may be assured, however, that beginning with the 2009 vintage, wines from Joseph Drouhin vineyards, most bearing the words “propriété de famille” on the label, are officially organic – as they actually have been for the past 20 years.

Known and appreciated for their elegant, refined style, the wines of Joseph Drouhin are imported into the U.S. and distributed nationally by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., based in New York City, whose mission as an importer is to maintain loyalty to all that is special about family-owned and
-operated wineries.

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After tasting 622 wines from 19 different countries, an international jury awarded 5 organic wines Grand Gold medals at BioFach 2010 in Nürnberg, Germany. These MUNDUSvini BioFach International Organic Wine awards went to:

  • 2008 Lieserer Rosenlay Riesling Spätlese Feinherb, Weingut Hubertushof GbR, Lieser (Mosel), Germany
  • 2008 Stülb Gelber Muscateller edelsüß, Weingut Stülb, Zell (Mosel), Germany
  • 2003 San Michele a Torri Vinsanto Colli del’Etruria Centrale DOC, Fattoria San Michele a Torri s.r.l., Scandicci, Italy
  • 2006 Vougeot 1er Cru Clos Blanc de Vougeot Monopole, Domaine de la Vougeraie, Premeaux Prissey, France
  • 2006 Welschriesling Trockenbeerenauslese, Bio Weingärtnerei Artner, Göttlesbronn, Austria

In all, 220 organic wines were awarded medals, including 70 Gold and 145 Silver. Italy received the most medals with 63. Germany netted 41 awards, France received 26 and Austria won 17.

A complete list of winners can be found here.

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Winemaker Heather Munden wishes she could just snap her fingers and turn her vineyards organic. The reality is a little harder. “Our first goal is to take 10 acres next to the winery and start with that,” she says. To do the whole thing at once is a little scary for people with no background in organics. If all goes well, we could have the entire homesite certified within five years.”

Like many of their California counterparts, St. Francis Winery & Vineyards has incorporated green practices into their business: a solar electrical system, energy-efficient lighting, electric carts and recycling. They’ve also brought more thoughtful methods to their growing process, using waste water for irrigation, starting a composting program and improving vineyard health with leaf removal and cover crops. So with all this dedication, why isn’t the next step of going organic a sure thing?

It’s a situation being playing out in wineries around the world. A younger generation of winemakers, raised on the idea that organic foods are better, are coming into established wineries and questioning whether organic grapes would make better wine as well. According to Munden, there are the usual economic concerns and internal politics, but it’s also a matter of education. “There is always fear of the unknown. What is organic? What is required of me? It’s not just the vineyard manager and tasting staff. The CFO has to understand and agree to it. What are the costs? We’re a business and we need to make money.”

Coming from a culinary background, where organic ingredients were the norm, Munden made some immediate changes when she became the newest winemaker at St. Francis three years ago. “We used some harsher chemicals in the past, and have backed off a lot of those. We’ve gotten rid of the majority of our sprays, and we’re spraying less with what we do use. We spent a lot more time in the vineyard. Canopy management. Leaf removal. More dry farming. Those changes have been huge.”

Munden then proposed farming ten acres of their home vineyards organically. “I just called it a ‘project’ so people wouldn’t get too worried.” She is working this year to improve soil health, add compost, plant cover crops and release beneficial insects into the soil. “It’s more physical. If I stop using Roundup I need more manual labor to remove weeds. Pulling weeds is difficult just in my own garden.”

Should the first 10 acres prove a success, they will extend these practices onto their entire homesite vineyard, which is 120 acres. “You need to learn to swim before you jump in the deep end. It’s all right if I lose some grapes here and there, but if I wipe out an entire vineyard because I went organic, I’m out of a job.” Munden also plans to apply for certification. “The piece of paper itself isn’t important, but it makes us more conscientious of what we’re doing and shows we’re committed.”

Munden’s colleagues have been supportive of her organic leanings, especially when they see the research she has put into it. Assistant Winemaker, Katie Madigan, was immediately on board, while Tom Mackey, Director of Winemaking, needed a little more convincing. “When Tom and I first talked he said ‘you don’t know enough.’ So I did my homework and wrote up a proposal and then he was like ‘yeah, let’s do this.'”

St. Francis has a supportive community awaiting them for organic advice and problem solving. Domaine Carneros, their sister winery, received their certification in 2008, and many of Munden’s friends already consult on organic vineyard management. It may be years down the road, but Munden thinks there may be an organic future for St. Francis’s other vineyards as well.

“It would be great if I could get my other growers to go organic. I’m going to start bringing one of my consultants when I do my grower tastings, talk to all of them and walk them through the process. The next step is to introduce sustainability, then after that talk organics to them. When you have 4th and 5th generation growers on their land, introducing something new takes encouragement. But some people surprise you and want to jump on board immediately.”

Visit St. Francis Winery & Vineyards online.

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We like their organic and biodynamic practices, but we’ve recently learned of another reason to appreciate Napa Valley’s Ehlers Estate. One hundred percent of their proceeds go to the Leducq Foundation, a non-profit foundation dedicated to funding international cardiovascular research.

As a passionate philanthropist and a longtime sufferer from heart disease, Jean Leducq, and his wife Sylviane, established the Leducq Foundation to help fund cardiovascular research in 1996. The foundation was created with the idea that the fight against cardiovascular disease is international in scope. By forging and funding scientific alliances that transcend national borders, it efficiently uses its resources to support innovative cardiovascular research, while promoting international cooperation. No other foundation focuses in this area, and very few make international collaboration a cornerstone of the granting process.

Early on, the foundation was able to benefit from the help of eminent leaders in cardiology and cardiovascular surgery, who, in an inaugural meeting held in Paris in 1999, helped to define the mission, objectives and guidelines of the foundation. The Leducq Foundation awarded its first research grants in both Europe and the United States later that same year. 

As part of its endowment, the Leducq Foundation holds Ehlers Estate in trust, with all proceeds from the sale of Ehlers Estate wines supporting the foundation’s philanthropic mission.

They say a glass of red wine a day is good for your heart. In the case of Ehlers Estate that would seem to be twice as true.

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Yorkville Cellars has posted a video tour of their vineyards. Get a tour of their beautiful Mendocino property, courtesy of “Shadow” the dog.

For more videos from Yorkville Cellars, check out their youtube channel.

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