Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

Most families drive more than one car, and watch more than one television, so why not have more than one organic winery? Suzanne Hagins and Chris Condos have upped the stakes in the his and hers market with their own labels, each dedicated to organically grown grapes. Suzanne founded Lutea in 2004, where she is the owner and winemaker, and husband Chris founded Horse & Plow in 2008 to make his own wines. They both source their grapes from small vineyards in California’s North Coast.

Horse & Plow Filigreen Farm Pinot Gris 2008

Nose of green apple. Really nice acidity with a little brininess and some faint citrus notes. More pronounced butter and oak as it opens up. Very easy and friendly wine. Great with a meaty white fish.

Lutea Los Carneros Pinot Noir 2007

Made from grapes from Robert Sinskey Vineyard and is also biodynamic. Nice aged color with a tinge of orange brick. Classic Pinot Noir nose with toasty oak and strawberry. Very light body, almost no perceptible tannin. Matches well with Salmon.

Lutea Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2007

A stronger nose of cooked strawberries, oak and a little banana. More full bodied. Even though it has less alcohol than the previous Pinot Noir, it feels hotter in the mouth. Fruit is strong but not complex. Another good match for a hearty fish dish.

Lutea Sonoma County Four Barrel Pinot Noir 2007

Blended from three different Sonoma vineyards. Toast and oak on the nose, and a hint of cured meat. A very California style Pinot Noir and a sure crowd pleaser. Grilled chicken or a good local goat’s milk cheese would pair perfectly.

Lutea Russian River Valley Reserve Pinot Noir 2006

We’ll like this even better with a little more age. Pronounced tannins and good acidity. Very earthy and bold. Grill up a nice steak with it.

Horse & Plow Alexander Valley Grenache 2008

Really nice earthy nose. Great acidity with balanced tannins. Hint of sour cherry. A short finish now, but that should improve with some age. Drink with flat bread pizza or a pasta with a light red sauce.

Visit Lutea and Horse & Plow online.

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We were fed up with wine. It’s a bold statement for two people who are as passionate about wine as myself and Jonathan Russo, our OWJ publisher. But on a recent cold night, that’s why the two of us found ourselves at Resto, in New York’s Gramercy neighborhood, where we were about to have a beer experience like no other.

Resto is not your average Belgian mussels and frites joint. In fact, it so thoroughly changed my perception of Belgian cuisine that I have been telling anyone within earshot that they need to grab a seat at the bar, put your stomachs in their hands and enjoy the ride.

Several days before our meal, I called and asked owner Christian Pappinacholas if he had any beer that was made with natural yeasts or in a manner that would deem them worth reviewing. This is a common ploy I use to get Jonathan to pay for the meals. Little did I know, however, that owner Christian has an armada of “natural” beer. This is a tough job people but someone has to do it.

We started with something called Deus. Christian explained that it was a beer from Flanders made in the Methode Champenoise – the Champagne Method for those playing along at home, which simple means the secondary fermentation happens in the bottle. It was made with natural yeast and had a wonderful hazelnut aroma and was slightly spicy. It was a great way to start our decent into oblivion… I mean, tour of fine Belgian beers.

Up next was t’Gaverhopke Singing Blonde. This beauty had a whopping 9.8 % alcohol content and was very fruity on the nose, nicely balanced and was slightly sweet. By now, our blood alcohol level was quickly rising so we were very happy when our Chicory Salad arrived, complete with crispy pigs’ears, yellow beans, soft egg and a warm guanciale vinaigrette.

How a proper critic takes notes on beer.

With things heating up and a mad scientist look in Christian’s eyes, we moved on to an ale that was 100% organic, 10.5% alcohol and was called Piraat or “Pirate.” This was crazy, and I mean crazy in a good way. It smelled like bananas on the nose but was finely balanced between being rich, bitter and just extraordinarily tasty. This was the highlight of the night – or so said my scribbled notes when I recovered the next day – see the photo. This beer paired perfectly with the house made pappardelle, made with a warm porky ragu. Yes, I said porky.

Next up, we drank Orval which was another 100% organic beer made by Trappist monks in Luxembourg. It had a very floral and sweet nose that smelled like baked bread. Christian explained that the beer was made with brettanomyces (wild yeasts) that gave this beer a very unique and complex taste. With this naturally delicious beer, Christian rolled out their killer frites plate, complete with 10 different dipping sauces for the fries. It was just in time because my giddiness and dizziness was extremely happy to meet a plate of fried potatoes complete with their own sauces.

As a sidenote to the Orval, Christian opened a bottle of Westmalle Trappast ale and told us that Westmalle was the benchmark ale for all Trappast ales in Belgium. It was a stinker, full of skunk-like hops and very bitter notes but when you drank it, there was a very clean and sleek taste that just seemed to cleanse your palate and make you want more. I love drinks like this when eating rich food so it made perfect sense to have at towards the end of this killer meal.

Finally, Christian went above and beyond and opened a bottle of geuze from a producer called Cantillon. For those not familiar with geuze, it’s essentially a cross between beer and wine which is made from blending lambics that are 1 year old with ones that are 2-3 years old. This particular bottle was from 2005 and was called Iris. Jonathan noted that it smelled like “sour pumpkins” and I thought it smelled like an attic or more appropriately, like my Grandmother’s attic. It was musty, funky, dirty, and entirely unique. We were told that it was fermented from 100% barley and aged in oak casks and that this particular property had spiders that lived among the grounds to keep it free of certain pests. In a sense, this was the closest thing to biodynamic beer I would ever have.

As for the taste…? Honestly, I can’t remember. By this point, I was so thoroughly full and, um, happy, that anything else was just icing on an already sudsy, salty, fried delicious cake. I guess this means I’ll be going back to Resto in the near future and making sure to order the Cantillon first before things get too out of hand.

The Cantillon and the damage done.

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The bottle was weird. There, I said it. The glass was clear, the wine was a deep garnet and the cork was synthetic green. The label showed a caricature of two (presumably) French dudes stomping grapes and strumming a Picasso-like guitar. On the back label, the words “Gypsy Melody” were written at the top followed by the appellation of this wine: Vin de Pays de l’Herault. I had never heard of a table wine from l’Herault. This was not promising, and yet I was oddly drawn to this bottle from the day it was delivered from our friends at the Organic Wine Company. So, on a particularly warm winter night in January, I decided that a funky red wine from a strange appellation with a weird label in a white wine bottle would be my drink of choice. How’s that for preconceived notions?

The rest of this story is a love affair, I assure you. From the minute I poured this wine into my glass my disposition changed. I’ve been on streak of some bad wines lately but I just approached this wine with cautious optimism. In the glass, that garnet color seemed even deeper and reminded me a bit of that cherry syrup you put over shaved ice on a hot summer day. I like shaved ice – that’s a compliment. On the nose, there were hints of strawberries and some deep fruit, but since this wine is 13% alcohol there was not a ton of heat coming off of it. The subtly of the nose threw me off a bit from such a vibrant color.

With my first sip, it seemed someone had just dropped a ton of fruit into my glass. It was startling. Intense, jammy flavors of ripe cherry and strawberry coated my palate without the faintest hint of being over-oaked. I did not expect that strong and lively a combination of flavors from something that smelled so simple and restrained. There was something mysterious yet playful about this wine, perhaps influenced by its “Gypsy Melody” name. I was smelling one thing and tasting another. I loved it for what it was. A really fun, playful and lively table wine from a region I had never heard of before.

I did a little research and found that the appellation of vin de pays l’herault was the same place in the south of France (the Languedoc to be exact) where the famous Mas de Daumas Gassac came from. I love Languedoc wines so it was fitting that I loved this one as well. Honestly, I can’t even tell you grapes are in there. Maybe some cabernet franc, some grenache, heck, even a bit of gamay (hence the strawberries) but really, I don’t care. I’d buy cases of this wine and bring it to parties just to show off the funky label and weird clear glass bottle. I’m ok with all that now. There, I said it.

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The Pleasure of Peasant Wines

When it comes to food and wine, “peasant” hardly means low class any more. To me it means small stone farmhouses in the south of France with honest, rustic dishes to match. You know exactly what’s in your glass and what’s on your plate. A good peasant wine will be a truthful representative of its terroir.

Our friends at The Organic Wine Company sent us some wines we thought would be fine examples of peasant wines. The family of Veronique Raskin, the driving force behind the company, has owned the property of Chateau Bousquette for over 200 years and they have been growing their grapes organically since 1975.

We brought these bottles to the Angelica KItchen, the legendary vegan restaurant in New York’s East Village, where they have a cross-section of Asian and American inspired food with bold flavors, but also honest and simple to keep with our peasant theme.

We started with two wines from Chateau Bousquette. First was their Rosé from the St. Chinian AOC in the South of France. It had a wonderful pink color in the glass, showing hints of orange. The nose was a classic Rosé profile showing some light berry and quince notes. In the mouth, the main flavor component is candied fruit and orange peel that was balanced perfectly with a hefty amount of tannin and acidity. The nice balance of acidity, fruit and a lovely roundness to this wine paired perfectly with the tempeh rueben sandwich that was full of tangy, rich, tart and crunchy flavors.

Up next was the Chateau Bousquette Cuvée Tradition. This is a full bodied blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mouvedre and Carignan also from the same St. Chinian AOC. If the Rose made us think of that quintessential peasant village in the summer, the Cuvee Tradition took us straight to the late fall. This wine showed a deep red color in the glass and had wonderful earthy notes with a touch of sulfur that was framed by some candied cherries. This was a big wine in the mouth with a good deal of tannic structure, acidity and fruit that was pleasantly balanced. While no one note stood out, this wine would be well served by a nice hearty stew of locally raised meat and organic veggies. We enjoyed this wine with a dish full of Asian soba noodles, vegetables and wonderfully aromatic broth.

Our last offering from was the 2007 Chateau Veronique; named after Veronique, of course. It is a similar blend of Carignan, Grenache, and Syrah but where the previous wine showed big bold flavors and elements, this wine baffled us a bit. The ruby red color held a nose that was somewhat subdued, showing faint hints of cherry and blackberry and some wet earth. In the mouth, however, there was a very pleasant balance of fruit, acidity and oak that showed no overwhelming characteristic but rather a very pleasing balance of flavors and elements. We all noted that this was the type of wine that would be served alongside many family meals in that peasant farmhouse that had been conjured up in our minds.

Even though our night of drinking was in the confines of an asian-influenced vegan restaurant in the East Village, we felt transported to a more rustic time and place. In this age of over manipulated, mass-produced wines, with little or no unique characteristics, there was no denying that the wines of Chateau Bousquette and Chateau Veronique did their part to distinguish themselves. These are quintessential peasant wines that deserve simple, rustic peasant fare.

The wines for this review were sent to us from the Organic Wine Company.

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We’re getting into late August which means grapes all over the Northern Hemisphere are ripening, weather forecasts are being watched more closely, and we here at the Organic Wine Journal are taking a breather.  Between baseball games and late summer getaways, we’ve been tasting lots of incredible organic, natural, and biodynamic wines while taking copious notes for you, our loyal readers.  We’re also hard at work behind the scenes acquiring new and interesting content for our site in the near future.

So enjoy your roses, bubbles, crisp whites or slightly chilled reds and we’ll see you in a few weeks with many new features, reviews, and announcements.  Until then, we’ll be the guys sneaking a screw top bottle full of Gruner Veltliner into the baseball game and pairing it with every piece of junk food under the sun.


Greg, Adam, & Jonathan

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teteMemorial Day Weekend means grills will be fired up, beer will be put on ice, processed foods will be in high demand and, for the most part, wine will be an afterthought. Somehow a decanter of garnet colored wine doesn’t seem to fit in with images of sandals, beach chairs and Hebrew National hot dogs.

Most likely, I’ll be cracking open some Dale’s Pale Ale or Brooklyn Brewery Summer Ale myself. But if I need some wine, there’s really only one making the trip to the beach with me this weekend… Beaujolais.

I love Beaujolais when the weather gets warmer because it’s one of the few dry red wines that actually tastes better with a decent chill to it. You can stick it right in your cooler full of ice and beer and there’s no worrying about it getting too cold. I’m not condoning making ice pops out of it, but few wines are better on a warm summer night.

My top pick for the holiday weekend is from one of the few producers in the Cru Beaujolais region who actually bottles his own wine. Michele Tete is the man behind the Domaine du Clos du Fief estate in the Julienas AOC in Beaujolais. According to Joe Dresner, who imports the wine into the U.S., he doesn’t make any claims to organic viticulture, but his methods are so old-fashioned he could easily qualify for certification.

Made from the Gamay grape, this wine has a light purple color reminiscent of the chuggable Beaujolais Nouveau fruit bombs that come out on the 3rd Thursday of every November. But don’t be fooled. Once you get a whiff of this wine, you know it’s miles ahead. There are aromas of strawberries and banana, a tell-tale sign tthis wine undergoes a bit of carbonic maceration. This is a process where whole bunches of grapes are deprived of oxygen. They then begin to implode, and the fermentation process starts within the grape itself. This often produces a scent of bananas which, when combined with the strawberry character of the Gamay grape, gives you some bubblegum on the nose. Like I said, it’s a summer wine, not something you pop in your cellar for a few years.

On the palette, this wine just cruises down your throat. At 13% alcohol and minimum tannin structure, this wine would pair well with light summer foods like simple cheeses, poached salmon, and, yes, even a hot dog – provided you don’t load it up with mustard, kraut, chili and cheese. In that case, do yourself a favor and grab a beer.

What strikes me about this wine, though, is that for all it’s levity and fun there is a bit of funk that comes through on the finish that to me represents the terroir where it comes from. Who knows if that’s the case, but it’s always nice to have a bit of funk to balance out the sweet and fruity aspects of a wine in my opinion.

If you’re like me, there will come a point this weekend when beer will begin to bore, but you’re not ready to dive head first into your white wine collection. Go get yourself a bottle of Cru Beaujolais. If you want to get your hands on Michele Tete’s Julienas, it’s available at Bottle Rocket Wines in New York for $22.

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Greg with Dominque Derain shortly before the rooster calls began.

Greg with Dominque Derain shortly before the rooster calls began.

There was a moment during the Jenny & Francois tasting and dinner last night that I had an epiphany about natural wine makers;  they are all certifiably crazy.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m surrounded by crazy people in daily life, but after hearing from Christian Binner that he tastes everything he sprays on his crops and then watching Dominique Derain howl like a rooster, I realized I was in very special company.  The other half of this epiphany, however, was that because they are such free spirited individuals, the wines they craft are expressions of their personalities and are a tribute to the pioneering spirit of making wines naturally.  After thanking Jenny Lefcourt for inviting us to the tasting, and saying a quick hello to the producers we had previously interviewed, I dove right into the tasting.

The first standout for me was Christian Binner and his wines from Alsace.  In particular, the Cremant d’Alsace was an excellent way to cleanse my palette and get into the tasting.  This bubbly is made from 70% Riesling, 10% Pinot Gris (to give it it’s “bite” according to Christian) and 20% Auxerrois.  It has a wonderfully aromatic nose with very little yeasty or toasty notes that you typically get from Cremant when made in other regions in France.  In fact, I got a hit of raisins or dried fruit that made me think of other Pinot Gris or Tokay I’ve had recently from Alsace.  In the mouth it is extremely lean and incredibly light, but with very fine bubbles and a racy minerality that is present, but not overpowering. This wine just tasted clean, fresh and alive.

According to Christian, the fine bubbles comes from the fact it spends 3 years on the lees (natural yeast that dies off during fermentation).  What I found interesting though is that unlike conventional producers, Binner does not use sugar to cause a secondary fermentation which gives the wine it’s bubbles (also known as the “Methode Champenoise”).  What he uses, instead, is the free run grape juice of the following vintage which still has it’s natural sugar had has not begun the fermentation process.  When I asked which grapes he uses for the juice, he simply took a deep breath and said “Well…it really depends on how we feel when we pick the grapes.”  Clearly, it’s a an arduous and logistically difficult task, but my guess is that Christian relies on a little bit of intuition, a little bit of timing and a whole lot of luck.  Whatever the combination, this Cremant is wonderful and as interesting and alive as the man who makes it.

Setting out in search of something a bit meatier, I came across Alain Rochard of Le Loup Blanc in the the Languedoc region of southern France.  Alain is a interesting guy who splits his time between Montreal (where he owns Bistro Continental) and Minervois where he owns Le Loup Blanc. I didn’t even need to make it past the first wine to know that what I was drinking was a wine right up my alley.  The wine, Le Regal du Loup, had a great nose of black fruits and spice and was dark and brooding in the glass with hints of something lighter thrown in the mix.  It reminded me of a southern Rhone wine (specifically Chateauneuf du Pape) and when I said this to Alain, he got extremely excited, took my hand and said “Thank you!  Those are some of my favorite wines and to be compared to them is an honor”  When I tasted it, there was a wonderful balance to this wine with just the right amount of acid, tannin, fruit and kick (yes…”kick” is a technical term).  It is a blend of 50% Carignan, 30% Grenache, and 20% Syrah (hence the “kick”)  Alain called this wine the “perfect table wine” and said it would be great with “some roasted duck with a berry sauce”  Personally, a burger and fries would have done just fine for me.

As the tasting continued, the food began to arrive and somewhere, one of the wine makers was caught drinking a Budweiser while another imitated a pig, I knew that Jenny and Francois had assembled a portfolio of more than just some wonderful wine.  They had assembled a group of crazy French citizens with a passion for making some crazy good wine.

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M. Chapoutier Belleruche

Not too long ago I didn’t really know the difference between Grenache and Genache. I was blissfully unaware that one was a dominant grape in some of the world’s top blends and the other was the blending of dark chocolate and heavy cream. Now don’t get me wrong, I knew both were delicious, but I didn’t have the ability to articulate their differences until I discovered the Rhone Valley and all of that changed.

In my opinion, wines from the Rhone rank as some of the most unique, interesting and awe inspiring wines on the planet. Bordeaux gets all the hype, Burgundy gets all the folklore, and Champagne gets all of the bubbles, but the Rhone makes some of the most balanced and complex wines that I have tasted in recent years. Just take Chateauneuf du Pape. Here you have an appellation where up to 13 different grapes are permitted in the wine and vineyard yields are kept to about half of what is permitted in Bordeaux. That means that quality and concentration are high, but finesse is the name of the game. And finesse ultimately makes a wine that is way more interesting to drink than a full throttle, in your face, gun slinging wine that comes out of the bottle screaming of oak and wearing its certain high rating, from a certain wine critic, on it’s sleeve.

Armed with a nicely appointed gift card from Bottlerocket Wines and Spirits in New York, and a mission to get more “finesse” wines for my collection, it wasn’t long before I recognized the M. Chapoutier logo on a bottle of wine hiding on a lower shelf in their “Green Wine” section. The Chapoutier estate has long been synonymous with great wines made in the Rhone valley and a commitment to expressing terrior through their biodynamic approach. This particular bottling called “Belleruche” was from the Cote du Rhone appellation so I knew that there would be a decent amount of Grenache in the bottle, and by now I knew that meant it wouldn’t come out looking like chocolate syrup. What I found, however, was such a wonderfully pure expression of “finesse.” This wine did not let my love of the Rhone Valley down.

In the glass, this blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah is a beautiful garnet color with just a touch of brick. It’s light but not so light that you can see right through it. The nose is not overpowering but scents of strawberries, raspberries, and a bit of spice blend together and are lifted out of the glass with a decent amount of alcohol (14%). When I finally got around to tasting this wine, I was absolutely floored with how perfectly balanced this wine was right out of the bottle. Seriously, I’m not one of those guys who gets all giddy from wine (you know who are, don’t be ashamed), but I was overjoyed to be tasting a wine 1 minute out of the bottle that didn’t make me say “well…maybe with a little time it will open up.” It was just that balanced.

It has a wonderful roundness in the mouth but the oak and tannins are integrated perfectly and framed by the exact amount of acid I would want in this wine. Grenache can sometimes be a bit too high acid for my liking but I believe the blend of 20% syrah and the fact that this is a biodynamic bad boy from one of my favorite regions just had everything right going for it. I couldn’t put it down and quite frankly, I was fearful that it was just going to go downhill from here so as any responsible wine drinker would do, I made sure to drink half the bottle so as not to miss out on the opportunity to drink it at its peak. I was pleased to see, however, that several hours later this wine still tasted fresh, balanced and wonderful so my excuse for drinking half the bottle went out the window.

Maybe I’m getting older and my palette for big ass-kicking wines has subsided a bit, or maybe it’s that as I discovered the wonders of biodynamics, I realized just how pleasurable a subtle wine is when made in the right conditions. But what do I know? I sometimes still order chocolate Grenache cake without any qualms.

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