Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine



Already certified organic, Domaine Le Fay d’Homme is in the midst of converting to biodynamics. Making wines for over 27 years, fifth generation winemaker Vincent Caillé is an enthusiastic spokesman for the region’s wines, yet his wines don’t always fall into the traditional Muscadet box. His plantings are 80% Melon de Bourgogne, 10% Folle Blanche (Gros Plant) and 10% various red varietals, all spread over four towns with three different terroirs.

We started off with the fresh 2012 Gros Plant du Pays Nantais then jumped into 2012 Muscadet, which had nice minerality and a long finish. Things got interesting with the 2012 Vieille Vignes from 60 year old vines; though young it drank like a much older wine, already round, with a balanced minerality – and great aging potential. The 2010 Clos de la Fevrie, which Caillé deservedly calls “Grand Muscadet,” underwent a long fermentation and spent 15 months on lees. It drank beautifully, with supple, deep flavors and richness. The 2009 Monnieres Saint Fiacre, from vines on gneiss, yielded a high acid yet elegant wine after 39 months of lees contact.

www.lefaydhomme.com


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9th-generation winemaker Pierre-Marie

9th-generation winemaker Pierre-Marie

Luneau Papin in Le Landreau (Muscadet) is in the process of converting to organic. As of now, 25 hectares out of 40 have been converted with the rest in process – they have already ceased using pesticides on all their lands. For 9th-generation winemaker Pierre-Marie, with his colleagues in the Loire already at the forefront of organic winemaking, this is a giant step for a storied domaine whose name arose from the joining of two area winemaking families. With 35 different cuvees, the domaine makes a wide variety of wines, using common local grapes like Folle Blanche (used in Gros Plant) and Melon de Bourgogne, as well as Chardonnay, Gamay and Merlot in some blends.

Wines tasted came from vines ranging from 25 – 75 years old, and many displayed minerality and good depth of flavor. A quartet of four 2012 vintages started the tasting – 2012 Folle Blanche showed nice richness for such a young wine, while the 2012 Domaine Pierre de la Grange, made with grapes from 45-year old vines, was delicious and easy to drink, delivering nice minerality and some complexity. Both 100% Melon, Clos des Allées showed good minerality and acid, while Les Pierres Blanches was very pure and almost saline; the fruit from 55-year old vines.

The Terre de Pierre wines from Butte de la Roche, which has a unique soil comprised of elements like magnesium, were powerful and rich – and age-worthy. The 2010 Terre de Pierre spent 18 months on lees, yielding a full, rich, stony wine; the 2008 more full-bodied with prominent acidity. The winery holds back a good number of wines to age, unusual for Muscadet. Some to seek out include 1999 Le L’D’or, which is getting very elegant in its not-so-old age, and the 2003 Excelsior from that year’s infamous hot summer which remarkably has kept its freshness.

Domaine Pierre Luneau Papin Website


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Coulee de Serrant

Coulee de Serrant

Nicholas Joly is as close to a living legend as the Loire Valley gets, especially in terms of organic and biodynamic wine. He holds court in a rambling old château in Savennières, hidden behind ancient stone walls, vineyards covering the hill behind the study. He does not live here but, instead, resides in the 12th Century monastery behind the hill.

Nicolas Joly and his daughter Virginie

Nicolas Joly and his daughter Virginie

Joly is an evangelist for natural winemaking and the moment you meet him, he will challenge your ideas on the subject. Sure, people may not use pesticides, even follow biodynamics in the fields, he says about his fellow winemakers in the Loire and elsewhere, but when they go into the cellars there are almost no restrictions. That, he warns, is when the funny stuff happens – like re-yeasting, which he alleges is a common practice.

If you let him (and face it, you have little choice) he will talk about his new passion – truth in wine labels. He lists ingredients used to fine wines or additives being used and says “consumers should know.” It truly is horrifying and you can’t help but agree with him. This will go on for a while and then he might be called away to the phone. He’ll point to the wines, three carafes lined up on a tray, and simply say, “help yourself.”

All Joly’s wines are hand-harvested in four or five passes as they reach botrytis stage, and have been farmed biodynamically for the past thirty years. Compost comes from 10 cows and 2 bulls, plus a herd of Ouessant sheep that winter in the vineyards.

The three wines tasted were 2011 Le Vieux Clos, 2011 Clos de la Bergerie and the 2011 Coulée de Serrant, the last his very own appellation. The wines were open for seven days and showed exceptionally well – he posits that Chenin picked at this late stage gets better after it is opened. The Clos de la Bergerie especially shined, a very rich, very refined Chenin that clearly benefited from being open so long.

Website: www.coulee-de-serrant.com


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Domaine Louis Métaireau Grand Mouton

Domaine Louis Métaireau Grand Mouton

The Grand Mouton vineyard occupies a slope of the Maine River overlooking St. Fiacre, with its ancient church perched high atop a hill. Behind it is the Sèvre River, the other component of the famed Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine sub-appellation. The domaine’s vines range in age from 30+ years to a parcel planted in 1937. To protect the vines, they are tended organically and everything is harvested by hand, a rarity in an area where 98% of all grapes are machine harvested. Today, the stewards of the domaine are Marie-Luce Metaireau and Jean-Francois Guilbaud.

Marie-Luce Metaireau and Jean-Francois Guilbaud

Marie-Luce Metaireau and Jean-Francois Guilbaud

We were welcomed to their kitchen table for a tasting. The wines (all 100% Melon) stay 6 to 8 months on lees, un-racked, living in cement casks lined with glass not unlike a bottle. The winery produces three labels – Grand Mouton, Carte Noire and Cuvee 1. In the Grand Mouton wines, the storied terroir will always shine through with the most mineral expression. The 2012 had minerality balanced with an already burgeoning elegance, while the 2011 had higher acidity and more prominent minerality on display. In contrast, the 2011 Petit Mouton (from the estate’s youngest vines, which are about 30 year old) was fresh, austere and perfect for oysters.

Carte Noire tended to be more fruit forward and rounder than Grand Mouton as it is picked later in the harvest. We tasted four Cuvee 1 vintages – the 2011 showing beautiful balance and elegance, while 2010 led with fruit. The 2005 Cuvee 1 was exceptional, a rich nose, very complex with an acid finish bringing together the full power of the wine.

Website: www.muscadet-grandmouton.com


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The 200-year-old Wine Cave at Domaine Bernard Baudry.

The 200-year-old Wine Cave at Domaine Bernard Baudry.

The wine cellar at Baudry is an impressive sight; a 200-year-old cave carved into the side of the hill in Cravant-les-Côteaux, just west of Chinon. Hailing from a family of winemakers, Bernard Baudry studied in Beaune and worked as a wine consultant in Tours before launching his own winery in 1975. His son Matthieu joined him in 2000 and today they oversee 30 hectares, all farmed organically with no irrigation. When I ask Matthieu about being organic, he says simply that his father didn’t have the money to buy chemicals and so they never started.

Matthieu Baudry

Matthieu Baudry

Their grapes are hand-picked and aren’t pressed. Grapes are vinified separately, expressing the terroir of the plot they grow on. This being Chinon, reds dominate. Their Cabernet Franc on the gravel soil of the La Vienne River Valley becomes fruity and soft, but is richer with more tannins on the hillsides above the winery.

Baudry vineyards

The wines run from light bodied, Les Granges, to full bodied ones like Les Clos Guillot. Le Domaine 2011 may not have been from great terroir, according to Matthieu, but it had a nice minerality and will benefit from aging a few years. Les Grezeaux 2011 comes from the best vineyard site, a mix of gravel and clay, with a resulting power that sets it up for cellaring. The 2010 Les Clos Guillot ratcheted up the intensity with an aromatic nose, high acidity and long finish, and already refined though just a few years old.

By turns, the 2011 La Croix Boissée revealed itself to be chalky from the limestone soil, acidic with a hint of salinity. Try this one in five years to fully appreciate it. Or just seek out a 2003 – surprisingly fresh for that infamously hot vintage.

Learn more about Domaine Bernard Baudry.


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Jacky Blot – Loire

Winemaker Jacky Blot

Winemaker Jacky Blot

Michael Tulipan did a recent tour of the Loire, visiting a number of wineries that were all small, family-owned and practicing organics or biodynamics. Here’s the first is the series in the series.

You cannot taste wines with Jacky Blot until you know exactly where they came from. So you clamber into his vintage – what shall we call it? Jeep? Jitney? Let’s go with jalopy – the kind of vehicle low and heavy enough not to get caught in the vineyard muck, but where you feel every rut in the seat of your pants.

On a sunny day, after a period of ceaseless rain in Montlouis, he takes us for a loop around the most recent vineyard acquisition, Clos de Mosny, a prized plot surrounded by imposing stone walls. Jacky stops occasionally along the way at various plots, always pointing out nearby rows of vines that have been sprayed, where the soil looks hard and dead. His plots, by comparison, are bristling with life – the tell-tale grasses and vegetation of the organic way.

Clos de Mosny

Clos de Mosny

Some of these vineyards are up to 100 years old and still yield excellent grapes. Jacky is proud of all this, but we really must taste some wines. For starters, if you can find his sparkling Triple Zero – triple as no chaptalization, no sugar added, no dosage used in making it – it’s a must try. The 2011 is bone dry, a true palate memory eraser. With this, the marathon commences, starting with whites from Domaine De La Taille Aux Loups. The 2011 Remus proves very dry and full bodied while the 2011 Remus Plus takes that body and ups the dryness to desert bone dry. From the new vineyard, the 2011 Clos de Mosny (the first vintage and monopole) is already very good with a wonderful elegance. Alas, only 30 barrels of it exist.

Jacky Blot Wine Barrels

Suddenly, we are in Vouvray and drinking a racy 2011 Clos de la Bretonniere from old vines. For fun, we compare a 2008 Remus with a 1996, which is termed ‘entry level.’ If this is entry level, everyone else doesn’t stand a chance. Seventeen years brings the nose of a demi-sec but with a dry finish. It’s a big, vibrant wine and proof well-made wine, no matter what the supposed quality level, can live on and on.

Then we move on to the reds from Blot’s other label, Domaine de Butte. Highlights are the* 2011 Mi Pente, a dense red with supple tannins, and the 2011 Perrieres, grown on clay, big and robust. We end with the sweet wines. The 2009 Moelleux* is fresh and well-balanced with 50 grams of residual sugar. The 2009 Cuvee Romulus floors us, a richly delicious wine, sweet, balanced and lush.

Visit the Jacky Blot website.

See more of Michael Tulipan’s writing at The Savvy Explorer.


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Wieninger Goes Biodynamic

Vienna may have 300 wine growers, but few are as passionate and forward-thinking as Fritz Wieninger. Overseeing the family winery started by his father in the 1960s, Fritz has not only grown its output and reputation but also reoriented it to the future by converting to biodynamic practices. The 2011 vintage is the first to feature biodynamic wines, currently numbering eight different bottlings.

Sipping wine with Fritz next door to the family heuriger, now run by his brother, we talk about the struggles of making wine in Vienna and the responsibility of winemakers to future generations. After a stint in Napa Valley, he took over the winery in 1987 and, in 1999, picked up land at the highly regarded Nussberg vineyard. In the intervening years, Fritz became a champion of the city’s wines and its typical white wine, Gemischter Satz, a field blend of various grape varietals grown together. But his biggest leap was to biodynamics, a process he began in 2008.

When I ask what precipitated the change, he mentions his three children, saying he grew concerned for the future and that it was “my duty to do something.” He had noticed the downward spiral of ever worse results from spraying, reaching as he calls it a “dead end” in 2005. “And at the end of the day it’s better for the quality of the wine,” he concluded.

A tasting of the 2011 vintage yields a good overview of the potential of Viennese wine. Lying on both sides of the Danube, his two sites, Bisamberg and Nussberg, are vastly different though part of the same city. Near the winery north of the Danube, Bisamberg has sandy, loess soil while Nussberg, one-third of his lands, which he refers to as the “better site,” sits on limestone.

With an able assist from his young son Max opening our bottles, the tasting included several biodynamic wines, including two 2011 Gruner Veltliners from Herrenholz and Nussberg. The Herrenholz, grown on sandy soil in Bisamberg, was fresh and high in acid while the Nussberg showed nice minerality with potential to age for years. Rosengartl in Nussberg represents Wieninger’s top cru and his 2011 Alte Reben showed a high acidity upfront with excellent structure. The 2011 Nussberg Riesling finds the perfect terroir in this vineyard, producing a balanced wine with a hint of honey and stone fruit.

While his own vineyards are 100% biodynamic, Fritz also rents some land tilled in the traditional fashion so his Gemischter Satz is not yet biodynamic. But with an eye to the future, his goal is to soon change that, as well introduce organic principles to his fellow winemakers. The next act for Vienna’s wine ambassador may be a challenge but if anyone is up for it, it’s Fritz Wieninger.

Michael Tulipan is the Editor of TheSavvyExplorer.com, a travel guide for sophisticated independent travelers on a budget.


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Umathum

A visit to Umathum starts in the vineyards behind the winery in the town of Frauenkirchen in Austria’s Burgenland region. Second generation winemaker Josef Umathum takes you through his facility and out back to explain how the rows are tended. We pass his father carrying a basket of verdant snap peas. “Bio,” he says, using a European term not needing translation, “For soup.” He offers one and I take it in my hand, then pop it in my mouth. It tastes green and alive, with a pleasing crunch. “Bio” indeed, evoking a winery certified biodynamic since 2006 and insecticide-free since the 1980s.

Snap peas are nice, but we were there to see vineyards and the integration of biodynamic practices. With the dry summer approaching, the greenery growing between the vines has been plowed down, forming a moisture barrier for the soil. A landscape architect by trade, Josef scoops up the dark brown, nutrient-rich soil with evident pride.

Back inside the soaring cathedral-like wine cellar, we peer at the barrel where cow manure, buried in the ground in a horn over the winter then dug up, known as Preparation 500, is stirred into a large volume of water for an hour to be spread at the start of the growing season. “From death back to life,” Josef says, the side of the barrel adorned with markings depicting the cycle of the moon, planets and various herbal treatments for the vines.

Umathum’s vineyards sit on the plains of Burgenland, tucked between a shallow lake called the Neusiedler See and the Hungarian border. The area is famous for its sweet wines, though reds are what Umathum is known for, with 85% of their production comprised of Blaufrankisch, Zweigelt and St. Laurent. For our tasting, we started with a delicious rose redolent of fresh berries called Rosa 2011, made by the saignée method of bleeding off some juice after short skin contact. Then we dove straight into the reds as Josef poured a 2011 Zweigelt, an entry level red for the winery but from an excellent vintage in Burgenland. Although very young, it had nice fruit and good intensity, far beyond your typical basic wine and emblematic of the year’s quality. To show the wine’s potential, we sampled the same entry-level Zweigelt from 1999, another great vintage, that was impossibly fresh and vibrant for its age, fantastic for what is the winery’s basic wine.

We moved on to two single vineyard Zweigelts from the Ried Hallebühl, the highest point east of the lake, known for producing elegant wines. Both wines incorporate some stems for additional backbone. The 2007 displayed minerality and a great structure, perfect for aging, while the 1997, another terrific vintage, mirrored the previous ’99 in its freshness, seeming younger than the 2007.

The two Blaufrankischs tasted were both from Kirschgarten, a terraced vineyard in Jois that dates back to 1214. Josef took over this prized but abandoned parcel and replanted it in 2001, though local authorities initially balked at the venture. Only old photos and the word of an elderly local resident convinced officials that the hill was indeed historically a vineyard, allowing planting to proceed. The 2003 vintage was infamous throughout Europe for its intense heat wave yet Josef’s first vintage on the hill proved vibrant with great structure and power, well suited for long term aging. The 2008, by contrast a challenging but ultimately rewarding year, was a big wine with many years to go.

Only 1% of Umathum’s production is dessert wines and, for the finale, we sampled three. While the wines are generally designated BA (beerenauslese) or TBA (trockenbeerenauslese), the 2009 only reached auslese status. This blend of chardonnay and scheurebe, only 8% ABV, had prominent notes of pineapple and was fresh with appealing level of sweetness. The 2011 Beerenauslese, also a blend of chardonnay and scheurebe, was more concentrated, with notes of apple. Best of all was the 2010 Trockenbeerenauslese, 100% scheurebe, displaying terrific balance thanks to good acidity.

If you visit the winery, don’t leave without one of the delicious stone fruit or nut oils made from tomato seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and apricot pits, or a vinegar made from peaches growing in the vineyards.

Michael Tulipan is the Editor of TheSavvyExplorer.com, a travel guide for sophisticated independent travelers on a budget.


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