by Jonathan Russo
on Nov 3, 2008
What could the global financial panic of 2008 have to do with organic and biodynamic winemaking? Could the high technology trading floors of Wall Street and the Bourse de Paris be more distant from the lovely vineyards of Burgundy and Sonoma? What connection is there between a screaming panic-struck options trader and a farmer behind a horse tilling a vineyard in the Loire? Are there any lessons to be learned from the simultaneous crashing of worlds, the equity, bond and commodity markets? I think there are several lessons to be learned in the 2008 financial panic that would be good for us all to reflect on.
It is clear that man-made complexity can result in unintended consequences and unforeseen calamities. The huge amount of ultra complex derivatives and syndicated financial instruments resulted in a contagion that no one foresaw. Computer geeks and their “quant” trading strategies produced a Franken-trade of fiscal failure that cascaded unchecked around the globe. Way out on a limb leverage, and it’s distribution around the global banking system, caused and exacerbated the panic that has everyone on edge from Reykjavik to Shanghai. Simple loans and their repayment schedules were subjected to torturous mathematical modeling and then sold in tiny pieces so that no one knew what the underlying agreement was.
That, my fellow drinkers of organic wine, is exactly how poisons are used to tweak and alter nature’s way in the growing of conventional grapes. From the outset, conventional vineyards are sprayed and or injected with any one of a hundred chemical treatments to render the soil “ready” for the season. The goal is to eliminate all the variable life forces that interfere in the path for maximum yields. The undisputable fact that these pesticides and herbicides will end up in your glass of wine is of no concern.
Once this poisoned grape has been bitten into, there is no going back. Continuous chemical treatments are required and additional applications of poisons are essential, as the underlying life forces of the vine have been destroyed. This complexity snowballs and the farmer becomes more of a chemist and his most trusted consultant the representative from the chemical company.
This complex unnatural farming dynamic has the potential to collapse one day just as Lehman Brothers did. Piling pesticide on herbicide on fungicide to battle nature is exactly the same as piling derivatives on top of CMO’S and then swapping them.
We have the potential to create Franken-farming that will rise up and strike the earth and us in the middle of the night.
So, just as we are now in the rebalancing phase of our collective response to over consumption and we are all returning to “values and simplicity” perhaps it would be a good time to acknowledge and then thank all the organic and biodynamic grape growers and wine makers. We can just raise a glass of our favorite wine that they made and praise them for keeping it simple and healing rather than harming our soils and our earth.
by Jonathan Russo
on Oct 2, 2008
Ceracasi rappresntante in Italia per l’ Organic Wine Journal.
Questa pesona avra’ due incarichi.
Il primo incarico: scrivere, produrre e trovare aritcoli e storie a proposito il mondo del vino organico e biologico in Italia, profili di aziende vinicole e persone conivolte in questo campo.
Abbiamo bisogno di storie di successi e difficolta’ riguardo il movimento del vino organico in Italia.
Esempi di questi aricoli possono essere trovati sull’ Organicwinejournal.com
Il Secono incarico: vendere pubblicita’ sul sito.
I clienti per questo sito sono produttori di vino, agriturismo e esportatori di vini.
La conoscenza dell’ inglese parlato e scritto e’ essenziale. Contattateci sul sito:
We’re looking for a representative in Italy for The Organic Wine Journal. This person will have two roles.
The first is to write and find articles and stories about the world of organic and biological wine in Italy including profiles of wine makers and others involved in this field. We need stories of the successes and difficulties regarding the biological wine movement in Italy. Examples of these types of articles can be found on this site.
The second task consists of selling advertising on the site. The clients for this are wine producers, agriturismo in Italia, and wine exporters.
Fluency in writing and speaking English is essential. Contact us at this site: email@example.com
by Jonathan Russo
on Sep 22, 2008
Weingut Michlits, a certified Demeter biodynamic wine estate, crafts wines that are lovely and interesting to drink. They are also a little quirky and offbeat, going beyond terroir and, in the case of the red, into lesser-known grape varietals.
For a wonderful liquid summer wine repast, try the 2006 Frizzante. It is made from 100% estate grown organic Pinot Noir grapes, with bubbles a little under a champagne level, but noticeable and refreshing. The pale, straw color does not have the depth of a rosé from Provence, but there are complex flavors and lots of citrus. The nose has a hint of fruit and flowers like violets. You know it’s a rosé and it’s summer.
At 11% alcohol, Frizzante is a wonderful wine to drink at a picnic in the country or on a terrace overlooking the sea. Pairs very well with fruit, cheese and bread. Definitely a good choice for a responsible summer tonic.
On the other hand, the Weingut Michlits Blaufrankisch is completely different. This varietal grown throughout Eastern Europe traces its roots back to the 10th century when it was thought to be a Gamay clone. Subsequent DNA analysis has shown this not to be the case. Blaufrankisch is a late ripening grape, rich in tannins. True to its type, our 2006 had a deep ruby color, lots if spice, and smooth tannins. The body was full yet the fruit restrained, so that it was not a fruit bomb loaded with sugars. There was old world quietness, a studied restraint to the wine. One could imagine Freud having a glass in a mahogany paneled study in downtown Vienna. The wine opened up immediately and lost a bit of its aroma after being in the glass for 20 minutes. It became smooth without being dull but its spicy bite diminished.
It is always fun to drink uncommon varietals; they educate your palette and extend your taste range. Try this wine with a stew or a roast chicken.
Congratulations to Prescott Wines Inc. in New York for finding these lovely biodynamic beauties and bringing them to America.
by Jonathan Russo
on Aug 19, 2008
So many of the environmental warnings we receive seem abstract. Aside from the strange weather most of us are experiencing or if you happen to be breathing the air in China, the continual degradation of the environment often passes insidiously unnoticed. You don’t die immediately from pesticide infused vegetables or Bisphenol-A in your plastic water bottles. Sea levels rise in centimeters per decade and the loose ice sheets are thousands of miles away.
Clearly, we have a less than in-your-face relationship with the toxicity in our environment… until it literally, as happened to me, stings us in the face.
Other than food and wine, my great passion is sailing. I do it as often as I can. For twenty years, a great friend and I have headed off on a weeklong sailing trip to the lands and islands north and east. One of the greatest pleasures of these trips is swimming in the bays and harbors where we anchor. Not this year. The waters are filled with toxic stinging jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) that have multiplied beyond anyone’s imagination. Yes, in years past there were jellyfish here and there, or a bloom for a week or so, but now there are billions of them stretched out for over a hundred miles of our sailing grounds.
The causes are multi-faceted: the collapse of predators like sea turtles wiped out by beachfront development; over-fishing, causing a vacuum for the jellyfish to fill; pollution runoff from farms and cities increasing the nitrogen in the water; not to mention global warming which gives the jellies a hyper-reproductive green light and a warm feeling all over.
The New York Times just did a front page story on the ecological and economic havoc that the jellyfish bloom is having all over the world. Swimmers are actually dying from new and rare jellyfish attacks.
So the eco-crisis has hit me where it hurts, it has made my world smaller and less fun. On a global level it’s a small thing versus the expanding Sahara, California wildfires, or the Australian drought, but it’s real to me.
The lesson I learned, the musings I had while drinking Mas de Gourgonnier, Mouries Provence, a long-time favorite organic rosé (the wine’s hue is an art form in itself), at dinner in each new harbor was this: It is the sum of all tiny acts that create either health or death. When one person drinks non-pesticide, herbicide and fungicide laden wine, it will not help or heal the earth. But, if every wine drinker acknowledges their personal responsibility to stop harming the planet and follows suit, it will make a difference.
A primitive life form, the jellyfish, has now shown us that if we don’t respect the earth’s soils and waters and stop polluting them, we can and will be stung globally in toxic profusion. There will be nowhere to swim. Drink only organic and biodynamic wines please. Save the planet and yourself.
by Jonathan Russo
on Jul 28, 2008
The relentless re-conquest of the New York City’s frontier continues. To someone who pioneered SoHo in 1973, and Tribeca two years later, visiting the relentless energy being showered on outer Brooklyn is very familiar; forsaken industrial neighborhoods, blighted with vehicular based industries and amenities, are given a dose of pedestrian reclamation. SoHo 1973 pre-Dean and Deluca, is now Bushwick 2008 post-Robertas.
Patrick Martins, ex capo of Slow Food U.S.A., and now co-founder of Heritage Foods U.S.A. has become an acolyte of Roberta’s. He has taken a shine to the place calling it “more than a restaurant, it’s a movement.” Thus, when the Heritage Foods staff of Sara and Heather invited me out for a meal at Roberta’s I was quick to say yes.
But first the wine. Roberta’s does not yet have a sprits license so it was BYOOW time. We had another task to do before Roberta’s that brought us to South Street Seaport, so a stop at Pasanella and Son wine store was in order. The charismatic owner and his helpful staff helped us identify several organic wines that were potential pairs with pizza.
Roberta’s has the feel of a reclaimed industrial space. An open kitchen with pizza oven greets you when you walk in the door. Walking thru the long open space takes you to a garden out back that must be sat in to be believed. It is enclosed by a cement wall that separates it from the a parking lot. Ala Beirut, the garden also boasts a 1964 Mercedes 160 in need of a total restoration. Bushwick and Roberta’s clientele are young, just like SoHo’s was before the Armani Exchanges arrived. So in the sprit of youth and exploration we ordered a lot of great food and opened our organic wines.
First off was a 2004 Cantina Zaccagnini Riserva Montepulciano D’abruzzo from Wines Unlimited Inc. I thought it was very fruity and ripe, ripe, ripe; super dry and tart on the tongue. It tasted of deep leather and violets, a real nectar of ruby red fruit. Brandon Hoy, one of Roberta’s owners, thought this Italian red to have nice acidity, and to be refreshing like lemonade; he “really liked this wine.” Tristian Steinberg, who is a restaurant and stage designer and designed Roberta’s, was also positive – “tastes great with lots of forward grape flavor very refreshing, hints of herbs.” Patrick Martins rounded out the favorable reviews – “feels like it’s high in anti-oxidants like blackberries and blueberries very full bodied even though it’s low tannins…good acidity.”
The food kept coming. Innovative pizzas and salads and savory dishes like, salads with Gorgonzola cheese, hen of the woods mushrooms and a skirt steak. We opened our second bottle – an Adanti Nispero Rosso Dell’ Umbria. 85% Sangiovese and 15% Merlot. Imported by Summa Vitis Inc. a Matthew Fioretti selection. I thought this one was light and a little sweet with high notes of ripe fruit, not very complex; would not clash or overpower food and would go well with cheese and fruit. Brandon on the other hand was far more complementary – “ a nice spicy wine with good character a long finish, lots of interest, I would drink it late at night.” Tristian thought it “smooth, round good acid and a little smoky hints of plum and pomegranate.” Patrick was sure it would go well with hot dogs, BBQ and smoked sausage; it was round in flavor if not very complex.
We tried some more wines that night but with the conversation and lots of others joining us at the table recording the proceedings became futile. If you want a culinary, community and real-estate adventure go buy as many bottles of organic wine as you can and take the L train to the Morgan Street stop and go try Roberta’s.
by Jonathan Russo
on Jun 23, 2008
Summer has arrived on our island in the Mid-Atlantic. All at once it is warm enough for houseguests, sailing and white wine. I wanted to try some whites from organic wine pioneer importer Paul Chartrand. Fortunately, I had a built-in tasting panel, as my longtime friend Erica Cantley was visiting (with her new husband Tom). Erica has been in the restaurant and wine trade as a maitre d’ with Daniel Boulud, a wine tour guide in Italy with bicycle tours of Tuscany and Umbria, a food writer in New York, and now as a restaurant consultant in Philadelphia. Years ago we went on a food and wine walk with her in the Umbrian hill town of Spoleto, and the chorus of shopkeepers who called out her name con gusto “L’Erica” still rings in my ears.
Our other guest taster was OWJ writer Meryl Rosofsky. This was a celebration for Meryl as she just finished her Masters in Food Studies from NYU and can now concentrate on writing full time. Meryl presented a paper in New Orleans about the role of food in the recovery efforts after Katrina. Like Erica, she has led wine tours by bicycle in Italy and her fluency in both French and Italian allows her to interact with the world’s great wine personages in their lingua franca.
The last taster was my wife Deborah, who has a very critical palette. She tends not to romanticize food and wine and cuts to the true chase of tastes and flavors as she experiences them.
Our first toast to an organic, ethical and healthy summer was a Prosecco, Perlage Riva Moretta. This is a single vineyard Prosecco from the Nardi family of Valdobbiadene, a DOC area in the Veneto region of Italy. The family has been growing grapes since before 1900 but they went fully organic in the early 1980’s. We tasted a bottle of the 2007 release. It retails for around $17.
Publisher: This is creamy and smooth Prosecco. The mouth feel of the wine is more like a still wine with ultra fine carbonation rather than a bubbles-first Prosecco. The fruit came through with notes of apple and lemon, the latter taste giving it a very refreshing quality. Lots of minerals adds to the smooth finish. Well chilled this would drink very well with a soft cheese or crudite as a summer aperitif or after dinner treat.
Meryl: Toasty, pleasing aroma. Not a lot of initial bubbles and low effervescence. A little sweet, well balanced however with enough acidity to complement food. Nice overall, but not my favorite Valdobbiadene Prosecco.
Erica: Well balanced and dry, almost chalky. Good acid and creamy bubbles but they die fast. Notes of grapefruit. Would drink well with misto fritto on a summer night.
Deborah: A bit overly creamy initially, a bit sweet with minimal bubbles. Would go well as an after dinner drink where its sweetness would be an asset.
Next into the glass was a 2006 Viognier from the Provencial village of Bonnieux in the Luberon region of Vaucluse, on the northern edge of Provence. Built on the ruins of a Roman Villa, Chateau La Canorgue practices organic and biodynamic farming. Syrah, Mourvedre and Carignan are the red grapes grown on the estate and Viognier and Chardonnay are the whites. All the Viognier are hand picked, fermented, and aged “sur lie” on the yeasts. We drank this white with our salad course. Retails for around $17.
Publisher: Very fruity and clean, crisp flavor of ripe peach. A hard smooth finish. Leaves lots of the fruit on the tongue. Plenty of acid keeps it fresh and interesting. A great summer wine to go with salads or seafood.
Meryl: Super clean and elegant. A delicious wine. Would pair beautifully with fish and seafood. Stands up to food without overpowering it. Just lovely.
Erica: Medium bodied and well balanced, good acid notes of candied citron and gentle herbs.
Deborah: Delicious, and full bodied. Easy to drink. Understated and refrains from making bold statements, would go well with a wide variety of foods
The last pour was a popular favorite for a summer white, a 2007 Pinot Grigio from the Veneto. This one of course from organically grown grapes. Estate bottled by Perlage in Soligo, Italy. Retails for around $14. We drank this with a seafood pasta in a tomato herb sauce.
Publisher: True Terroir, not your boring mass-produced Pinot Grigio. Good mineralization and complex fruit make this very tasty and refreshing. Little aftertaste or lingering deep flavors.
Meryl: Light and lovely, crisp and refreshing. Food friendly. Not a ton of flavors but a little more character than your typical Pinot Grigio. Good acidity.
Erica: Lemony acid with a slightly nutty aftertaste. Easy to enjoy with light food.
Deborah: High mineral content with interesting flavors, more fun than most Pinot Grigios. Complemented our seafood pasta nicely.
So it went, a summer night of drinking the delicious handiwork of dedicated organic and biodynamic growers, vintners, importers and retailers. A sustainable thank you to all involved.
by Jonathan Russo
on Jun 9, 2008
Spring in New York. The energy in the reawakened city materializes on the streets and in the restaurants. Nowhere is this as visible as in downtown’s newest neighborhoods; places like the lower east side, where generations of immigrants lined the streets to conduct commerce and socialize (be sure to visit the Tenement Museum,). Storied blocks like Hester, Ludlow, Essex and Orchard now teem with a youthful, crackling, trendy buzz. The vibe is still chain store free and it is nice to see a New York that is not an endless repetition of banks, chain pharmacies and Starbucks. The lower east side is still a place where an individual’s dreams of food and drink can be pursued.
I found a BYOOW (bring your own organic wine) place called Georgia’s East Side BBQ for an OWJ wine tasting. The feel is fun, casual and relaxed. Georgia’s is very small, only four tables and seats about 20. Service in a place this size is rather personal, as it seems more like a family get together than a formal restaurant experience.
The core OWJ tasting panel was comprised of our editor-in-chief Adam Morganstern, Steven Hall (food, chef and restaurant public relations man extraordinaire), and myself. Steven has a solid list of top chefs and restaurateurs that he has promoted for over twenty years and a Wikipedic knowledge of the industry. This man is a walking buzz factory in the Warholian sense of the term factory. Our food delivery facilitator Chelsea and general manager Maria helped out too. Chelsea loves wine and tries to do things organically so she was delighted when we asked her for her opinion. Maria also gave us her thoughts.
I brought two wines from Austria: a 2007 Pinot Noir from the Michlits Estate and a 2006 Zweigelt, both imprted by Prescott Wines (www.prescottwines.com). They are biodynamic and Demeter Certified, so the wine’s makers are doing this the hard way. Zweigelt is a hybrid, 20th century grape grown almost exclusively in Austria.
Steven thought the Pinot was smooth, with blackberry sensations and balanced tannins and it’s easy drinking nature would go well with fatty fish or chicken. A good bistro wine by the glass. Adam agreed it was a good everyday wine, though did not find it a very terroir-driven Pinot. I found it had nice spice notes, with cherries on the palate. It would go well with an omelet and fries at a sidewalk café in Europe. Chelsea said it was really delicious, and added she might prefer this wine with a slight chill.
The Zweigelt was very smooth and rich, bursting with fruit flavors. This unique grape had an interesting mouthfeel and went great with the BBQ. Steve found it very food-friendly; crisp with a rich berry flavor. Adam called it a “third date wine.” Chelsea loved its high pitch, richness and boldness. Maria thought it had a nice acidic balance; very peppery, yet agreeable.
The Zweigelt, and other organic and biodynamic wines, can be purchased around the corner from Georgia’s at September Wines and Spirits, 100 Stanton Street. $17.00. The food was great. This place does a very good BBQ with excellent traditional sides, so if you want to eat BYOOW downtown, this is the place to go.
by Jonathan Russo
on May 28, 2008
One of my favorite travel experiences came back to me the other day when a friend e-mailed me photos she took at the Boqueria market in Barcelona, Spain. Aisle after aisle of fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, meats, cheese and fish. For an eater of local and sustainable food, this is one of the Meccas for slow food ingredients. The images of artfully arrayed, non-processed foods brought a smile to my face and peace to my soul.
When I was last there, many years ago, I became separated from my wife. Somehow, I lost her and simultaneously found myself sitting at one of the restaurant counters around the perimeter and decided to have what everyone else was eating. The food looked invitingly fresh and delicious. Everyone was also drinking cava so I just had to have one too. Ordinarily, I don’t drink at lunch, but there was celebration in the air. As I was happily eating and drinking cava, my wife found me, and the next thing I heard were the words, “Do you know what you’re drinking?” Startled and laughing I answered, “Yes, cava. It’s a Spanish type of champagne.” Ten years later, whenever we see a bottle of cava, we do a rendition of that interchange and it still provokes laughter.
Ten years later, there is really good news to go with that laughter – a certified organic cava. It’s Can Vendrell Cava Brut Reserva and it’s simply delicious. The Spanish, long-time respecters of their ancient soil, have decided that a refreshing drink can also be an ethical one. Organic Vintners imports it, and has made it part of their Organic Wine Journal White Wine package.
So, yes, I do know what I am doing. Once again I’m enjoying local fresh food and pairing it with some cava, but this time it will be organic.
Here are some recent photos of the Boqueria market, courtesy of Katherine Birch.