Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine



The Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute released a new annual study they’ve started conducting about American wine consumption. Here are their findings for 2014 as relates to organic wine:

Though the Organic Trade Association reports that 41% of American consumers are now buying organic food, this number is not as high with organic beverages. That could explain why only 16% of this sample said they look for organic wine as part of their decision-making process. Listing “sustainable” on the label only was important to 10% and “biodynamic” to 6%. Other research indicates that many Americans assume that most wine is organic anyway and therefore don’t look for these cues, and some consumers confuse the term “biodynamic” with “genetically modified,” which can be a deterrent to purchase.

We’re emailing for the full report, but some quick thoughts until then. It’s not surprising that more people look for organic food than wine. For many, the simple word combination of “organic” and “wine” still conjures up the idea of a wine with something missing, like diet soda. It’s the first year of the study so we’ll see how that 16% figure changes over time.

The more interesting thing, of course, is the claim that “many Americans assume that most wine is organic anyway.” We’ll be delving into that once we get the full study. The authors of the report are professors Dr. Liz Thach, MW, Dr. Janeen Olsen and Dr. Tom Aktin.


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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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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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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


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