Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

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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Isabelle Legeron is in NYC and will be signing copies go her new book, Natural Wine, at Chambers Street Wines. Afterwards, there will be a six-course dinner at Contra, paired with natural wines, for $180.

For more info, go to Chambers Street Wines.

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People like to think wine is made from just grapes — but that’s hardly the case. A small number of winemakers have put more information on their bottles, but our friend Fabio Bartolomei at Vinos Ambiz has raised disclosure to an art form. Most of it lists what he did not do, letting people know what is happening at most modern wineries. He recently answered some of the feedback he received on Facebook. Some of the comments:

“If you have to spend the money on a label like this maybe the wine ain’t so good. I only drink natural wine but this is kind of douche”

Sarah, I hardly spent any money at all on this label! I wrote it myself on a Word file and the printer is a friend who gave me a very good rate. In any case I don’t see any connection between the cost of a label (pretty or awful) with the wine inside. What’s one thing got to do with the other?

“It’s what I would call over-egging the cake”

Yes, you’re right, but until the legislation changes and makes ingredient listing obligatory, then there’s no harm in exaggerating, is there. It’s a bit like the “Critical Bike” people who demand more facilities for cycling in cities, by riding through town naked! There’s no actual need to go naked, but it helps draw attention to the problem they’re trying to solve! :)

“no pesticides, no insecticides, etc. What I would also like to know is whether they treat their workers fairly.”

Suzanne, I don’t have any workers, except for myself, and I exploit myself brutally and mercilessly. I often force myself to work 12 or 14 hours/day and don’t pay myself any overtime. I regularly make myself work on Saturdays, Sundays, holidays and over vacations, again with no overtime. In fact I don’t even pay myself regular wages, though I do faithfully pay my social security contributions to the Spanish government. But, seriously, I do manage about 3 ha of vineyards all by myself, and in addition I buy in grapes from local organic growers.

See the full post here.

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From Dan Rinke:

2014 has been another interesting year. We had a colder than normal winter, but a drier than normal, warmer spring. This all led to a bud break that was a full month earlier than usual. The warm weather did not stop with spring and it continued into the summer and then fall. It seems like this is the never-ending summer. As typical with Oregon, we get hot days with cold night time temperatures. I actually noticed several days this summer that were in the low 90s during the day, and the night time temps were still in the upper 40s.

Harvest started out fast and a month early and has not slowed down at all. The fruit and resulting wines will have plenty of concentration with great acidity, thanks to our cool night time temperatures. We started harvest on September 15th and will go well into October. We have a real healthy yield with picture-perfect fruit. I am certain that 2014 will be considered to be one of the top vintages of the decade with the balance and concentration that make wines that will continue to age gracefully for years to come.

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Debby Zygielbaum reports from Robert Sinskey Vineyards:

Harvest started off for us with some shake, rattle and roll — we’d been picking for less than a week when the earthquake hit. The epicenter is a mile south of one of our vineyards and the fault runs north through two more of them. USGS has come out twice to do some mapping! Things were knocked about in our shops and we’ve lost some vines due to the cracking along the fault line, but we fared much better than some.

Fault line in the vineyard.

Fault line in the vineyard.

Overall, harvest has gone well – a dry, but decent, growing season allowed for good fruit set during bloom and flavor development during harvest. We had just enough water to get us through the season. Yields have been on the high side of average and wines have been pressing off quite tasty. Mildew pressure was incredibly high this year but we were up to the challenge, our vineyards sailing through relatively clean.

Canopies shredded by the hail storm.

Canopies shredded by the hail storm.

For about a month, it felt a lot like last year: the weather was amenable, the fruit was beautiful, and we were picking regularly. By the time the freak hail storm hit, all our Pinots and whites where in the cellar. The Bordeaux varieties weathered the storm, but their canopies got pretty shredded. It definitely slowed down ripening and we’re currently waiting for the numbers to come back into balance. The heat wave forecast for this weekend should help with that.

Can’t stop the harvest – earthquake, rain, hail, heat waves, whatever — we just keep on picking.

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Check out five great organic spirits for fall, including a great pumpkin spiced vodka. OWJ’s editor does a roundup on Forbes.

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