Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine



The “Grey House” Garden

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On the very same historic day that the White House planted its first vegetable garden, I received my first organic seeds in the mail. It was a day that was a long time coming. Finally (!) our government appears to be recognizing the irrefutable link between food and our environment, our health and our community systems. Finally (!) I get to plant my first garden, something that I’ve dreamed about ever since I was a kid and later became a chef (now finally a possibility since I’ve moved out of the city). Oregon Trail Shell Peas, Dinosaur Kale, Palermo Bush Bean, Zefa Fino Florence Fennel, Cocozelle Bush Zucchini… just typing these words sends my heart racing and mouth watering!

But wait.

Will the First Lady’s symbolic message really be absorbed by a nation that has long supported (and literally been consumed by) cheap, industrialized foods? Will my beloved vegetables ever even reach my mouth? (I should admit that I have never grown anything from seed before and can hardly keep the poor plant in my office alive.)

I will remain hopeful. Spring is here, after all, and this is the perfect time to believe in renewal, both for our nation and for the bare 14×14-foot plot of dirt outside my kitchen window. I’m perfectly aware that I probably have wispy fennel fronds clouding my vision, but I feel invigorated, like a taking gulp of fresh stream water after a winter of drinking sludge.

Our garden might be a puny postage stamp by White House standards, but the vegetables will be just as delicious. That is, if they grow. (If you have any advice, Michelle, I’m all ears.) Only time will tell if this little plot of dirt will lead to the luscious bounty I’ve been fantasizing about, or if our nation’s policies will start to reflect the symbolic spirit of the first White House Garden.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Stating The Obvious

The other night we were drinking a simply delicious biodynamic wine from Taburno, a region within Campagnia. The grape type is the ancient “Falanghina.” The vintage was 2005. There was a golden hue in the glass and deep pool of light seemed to radiate from within. The wine had a little forward effervesce and then a cool smooth finish, not unlike other biodynamic wines that are still alive because they have not been euthanized by sulfites. The taste of grapes came through and the wine was uncomplicated by “hints” of this berry or that fruit, although a little fresh citrus was delightful. This nectar from Campagnia was lush yet uncomplicated, refreshing and pleasing. It wasn’t expensive, around $14.00 even with the high Euro. High praise to all involved in making, shipping and retailing a Biodynamic non-sulfite wine that is delicious and affordable… a lesson to all others who claim it cannot be done! The producer is Agricola Del Monte- Ponte, Italy and it is grown and made on the Ocone estate, the importer in the U.S is Polaner Selections.

After a glass or two we were thinking, doesn’t it drive you crazy when you see something clearly, can’t do anything about it and then it all comes crashing down, everyone else is totally surprised? The last few weeks have been particularly rich in “I saw that coming” revelations. Take Starbucks coffee for example. For years I have witnessed the proliferation of Starbucks everywhere; the ten stores in my neighborhood, the airport stores and on the jets themselves. For years I thought this brand is diluting itself into parody. Now Starbucks see this, admits it and is doing a whole new corporate re-focus on making the brand “special” again.

The mortgage mess, how stupid did you have to be not to see that giving no documentation loans to borrowers after years of unprecedented housing price appreciation and then letting them take out more equity loans against those houses would result in default and disaster? Clearly, very stupid as a few thousand people at Country Wide and Bear Stearns just found out the hard way.

After a decade of denying that global warming was happening, something clear to anyone used to feet upon feet of snow in his or her childhood facing barren winters, we are getting a real dose of reality. Antarctic ice sheets larger than Manhattan are breaking off into the sea and larger ice sheets are coming loose and are sure to follow. Shrinking polar caps and rising sea levels…can’t say we weren’t warned.

And now for the week’s finale, pesticides have been found in conventional wine…da. This weeks breaking news (see OWJ accompanying story) is the smoking gun we have been waiting for. Did anyone really think that you could pour billions of pounds of toxic, poisonous pesticides and herbicides onto vines and into the ground and have them NOT SHOW UP IN THE WINE! Where would they go but into the vine the grape and the wine itself? Would they miraculously disappear, would they evaporate or self dissolve? Of course not, they would end up doing exactly what they were supposed to do…poison lower level life forms, until they go to us. The same day, if you can believe it, the BBC’s web site has an article linking pesticides to Parkinson’s disease. Read it yourself. It’s scary and conclusive.

In response to the pesticide revelations we have the ghost of “there is no link between smoking and lung cancer” public relations shills telling us that ‘the concentrations of poison in wine is like an “eyedropper in a swimming pool”. Yea right, go feed that to your infant, go poison yourself.

Do I feel smarter or smug that I knew there were too many Starbucks, too many fraudulent home loans, too many greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and now too many poisons in conventional wine? No, actually I am angry and sad. It was not that hard to see, it’s just that there were powerful forces that didn’t want us to look too hard at the truth. Yet when reality intrudes those forces seems so small, so impotent. The Starbucks stock price is in the toilet, the mortgage mess threatens to sink the economy, some rich guys beachfront home will disappear and someone will get a horrible disease from drinking pesticide laden wine.

It’s time for everyone in the wine world to wake up and go Organic and Biodynamic now. The smoking gun has fired its shot.


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Our New Web Site

The Organic Wine Journal is about to grow a new shoot… our web site. There’s been a lot of progress since our debut. We’ve written numerous articles and reviews, we’ve launched our Organic Winemaking Adventure with Tony Coturri that takes place in the fall. Wine journalists now seek us out for our comments; we are cited and noted in more and more places thirsty for news and information about organic wine.

We have our first sponsors, Chartrand Imports and The Biodynamic Farming Association. These courageous folks are helping us toward our own goal of sustainability. We have hired energetic staff (aka Nicki Sizemore) who can set up publicity, marketing, and event coordination with anyone wanting to participate in the organic wine world.

Our mission remains clear. We want to be the town crier and clearinghouse for organic, biodynamic and sustainable growers, vintners, distributors, retailers, restaurants, and wine bars. Not to mention organic grape growing regions and states. Toward that end we are going to step up our information outreach program. We need reports from the field about harvests, bottlings and tastings. We need to hear from everyone with something to contribute about saving the planet one glass at a time. We would love to hear from you bloggers about what tastes are on your palette.

One of the ways we know are on the right track is that Gourmet Magazine, the bible of good eating, tell us so. In their February issue, the champion of sustainability and artisnal authenticity, Ruth Reichl, writes a wonderful letter from the editor column about…the new Gourmet web site. She extols the virtues of being on line, saying, “The digital world is an amazing place, an infinite sphere that can simultaneously give you all the latest up-to-the-minute news while also stretching back in time.” Yes, Ruth, we at OWJ agree completely. We want a biodynamic grower in Argentina to read about what an organic vintner is doing in New Zealand. We want instantaneous information to go from South Africa to New York to the Rhone Valley; a worldwide loop.

We hope you like our new site. It is always going to be a work in progress. Like a fine organic wine, it will refine itself over time. It will evolve into a more mature and complex site with age. But it is ready to read now, so please enjoy.


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Craving Green

Just when my stomach starts growling this time of year for the vibrant green flavors of spring, I’m glumly reminded that there are still weeks to wait until the first asparagus spear, fava bean pod, or itsy bitsy pea makes its way into New York’s farmer’s markets. Spring may have officially arrived, but, in the kitchen, winter stubbornly persists.

This is a tough time for me to find inspiration behind the stove. I’m through with Brussels sprouts, sick of squash, and can’t bear another stew. However, I’ve discovered just the thing to get me through these long weeks before the spring harvest appears in the market-parsley pesto.

Made just like its basil counterpart (but with fresh parsley instead), a dollop of parsley pesto adds a gust of fresh life to nearly any dish: steaming soups, simple frittatas, cheesy paninis, roasted fish, or tangles of pasta. Made with garlic, lemon juice, toasted pine nuts, Parmigiano Reggiano and extra virgin olive oil, the thin emerald paste makes me nearly forget about my longing for the flavors of spring. That is, until the asparagus finally arrives.

Parsley Pesto

This is more of a method than a recipe; tweak it to your liking.

  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 bunch clean organic parsley, stems cut off where the leaves start (discard the bottom stems)
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus more if desired
  • Small handful freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts or walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil

With the motor running, drop the garlic clove into the feed tube of a food processor and chop finely. Turn off the motor and add the parsley, lemon juice, Parmigiano Reggiano, pine nuts or walnuts, water and a large pinch of salt and pepper. Process until everything is finely chopped, then drizzle in extra virgin olive oil until the pesto becomes smooth and slightly creamy. Take a taste, and add more lemon juice, salt, pepper or olive oil if desired. The pesto will keep covered and refrigerated for one week.


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No More Wine Word Processing

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The mess involved in launching a new website is quickly reflected on your computer desktop. A million file icons spread out all over and you can barely remember what they’re all for, which you really needed and which you meant to delete. Somewhere in the middle, you remember that all the programming in the world is no substitute for content – so you try writing an article – but in the background are all those files reminding you of the chaos underneath. Sure, you can stretch out Microsoft Word to cover everything (not a pretty sight in itself) but it’s only slightly effective, like throwing a blanket over a pile of garbage.

The solution? If you’re thinking it’s time to clean up the desktop, you’re in a different world than me. One project’s mess will soon be replaced by another. Instead, I’ve found another savior. It’s called WriteRoom.

WriteRoom is the simplest of word processors. It fills your entire screen with the background color you choose and then you just type words in this beautiful ethereal space of nothingness. There’s no formatting or styles. No menus of endless options for you to play with. All the other programs have disappeared, leaving just you and your writing.

It used to be interesting to see all the new features Microsoft Word would come out with. Wow, I can add chapter titles now… who cares if I’m only writing one page. Chapter titles are fun, I think I’ll play with that for half an hour. Then I’ll check out that footnote function.

Somewhere along the line, many of us lost track of writing vs. formatting. All the functionality in the world doesn’t mean you actually have a place you enjoy creating. WriteRoom is the computer equivalent of that favorite notebook you used to have. The one that just made you want to take out a pen start writing.

It’s not a selfish program either; it plays well with others. You can take text from other programs (such as your email or even another word processor) transfer it to WriteRoom to work on, and then transfer it back seamlessly. Or you can start in WriteRoom and then export it where you need to.

So, my first blog has nothing to with wine, but everything to do about how I will be writing about wine from now on.

This is a “writing” program. Start using it and you’ll realize the phrase “word processor” has been annoying you for years.

WriteRoom is availble from Hog Bay Sofware.


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The Luxury Of Ethics

The other day I attended a seminar by the Luxury Marketing Council on marketing “wellness.” The speakers were a panel of spa, yoga and nutrition professionals. They all said business was booming. Wealthy, upscale people want to eat well, have spa and yoga retreat vacations and anoint themselves from head to toe with the finest and healthiest of products made from natural sources. Allied businesses, like yoga wear and plastic surgery, were way up too. There is a luxury fever spreading around the world from Moscow to Manhattan and everywhere in between.

I listened carefully to the panel, and the audience questions, and not once did I hear the word “responsibility.” I kept thinking, here we have an acknowledged sophisticated group of marketers selling to hyper-wealthy people, with incomes and assets hundreds of times the norm. Don’t they have a responsibility and ethical imperative to help people spend their money to purchase luxury goods and services that heal not only themselves but the earth and mankind as well?

Take, for example, my favorite “luxury item”: organic and biodynamic wine. There are two parallel tracks a consumer has in choosing this luxury item. Track one, you purchase a conventional wine. First, it was probably grown in an agri-business model with ruinous doses of pesticides and herbicides that render the earth sterile and toxic. Benign insects, earthworms, birds and plants died in the process. The field workers and their families are exposed to dangerous cancer-causing toxic chemicals. These agri-chemicals get into the bloodstream of the earth via the water table as well as the bloodstream of the workers. Traces of these show up in the wine itself.

Track two, you buy organic or biodynamic wine. The grower is probably a small independent family farm intimately connected with the land and its stewardship. The grapes must be grown carefully with a great skill since they are free of chemicals. The entire vineyard is alive with worms, insects, birds and surrounding plant life. The workers are unharmed while they perform their vineyard tasks. You drink a poison-free product that nourishes your own body.

What a luxury to “do the right thing.” What a luxury to know that glass or bottle of wine did as little harm to the planet as possible. What a wonderful luxury to know that others in the chain of life from worm to worker need not be stressed or die so you may enjoy your wine. True enjoyment comes from knowing that you are helping to heal the planet. That to me is the luxury of ethics and the ethics of luxury. Something we all can tell the marketers of luxury goods and services we think is the key to true luxury.


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Bring Your Own Organic Wine

The best thing about restaurants which allow you to bring your own wine is that you can open your favorite organic and biodynamic selections. The Organic Wine Journal staff had a boys-night-out recently at the restaurant Tartine in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. It’s a small, intimate setting where diners sit very close to each other while being served elegant bistro-style meals.

Tartine has no spirits license, so patrons are free to bring their own bottles without a corkage fee. We took advantage of this to have two delicious organic wines from Sky Saddle Wines. Their winery is in Santa Rosa, California, and they source most of their organic and biodynamic grapes from nearby vineyards. Owners Matthew and Kate Wilson are committed to sustainable, organic and biodynamic farming; restoring marshland as a watershed for farming, using Demeter certified fruit and aging in French oak barrels from renewable forests.

We drank the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sanel Valley Vineyards, with our salads and appetizers. It wasn’t possible to decant it for the hour that Kate had suggested, though we let it sit for as long as we could. Rich with fruit and complex berries, it was a very individualistic wine; unlike the fruit-bomb Cabs made for the masses. This tasted more like wine and less like a marketing product. It had good tannins and hints of leather and smoke, though not enough to compete with the food. As it continued to open up the smoothness came forward, and so did more flavors of licorice and spice.

Our entrées were all steak dishes, so it was time to taste the 2003 Twin Oaks Vineyard Sonoma County Zinfandel. Steak, fries and Zin: that’s a nice night out in New York. The Zinfandel, like the Cabernet Sauvignon, wasn’t made with Robert Parker’s spirit looking over anyone’s shoulder. The overripe, sweet, hit-me-with-a-brick-style wine typical of California Zinfandels was not present in this bottle. Instead, we had a restrained, earthy, lush wine in our glasses. It’s cliché to label all individually made wines as having “terroir,” but that is the word for this one. It drank smoothly with all the raw fun of an earthy Zinfandel.

What could be better than great food, great conversation and delicious wines made without destroying the earth or poisoning its inhabitants? We suggest you find restaurants near you and try it for yourselves.

Our thanks to Sky Saddle and Tartine for making a great evening.

Visit Sky Saddle Wines online at www.skysaddle.com.


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Roman Holiday

Italians may lead the world in design and style, but they have fallen behind the organic and biodynamic wine bar curve. Rome is my favorite European city, and while attending the first annual Rome Film Festival I jumped at the chance to imbibe a few glasses of organic vino at one of the city’s beautiful wine bars.

I started with my longtime favorite, L’Enoteca Antica near the Spanish Steps, for a glass or two and a light dinner. Its long high-ceilinged room opens to a side street and is filled with wonderful antiques; my eye caught a marble wine cooler that could have been an Etruscan fountain tub. Old portraits fill the walls and dark wood and cracked marble form the bar and counter.

Did they have any organic wines by the glass? None that I could find. The “proprietario” came to help, reaching to a high shelf and dusting off a bottle he thought might be biodynamic. It was Castel de Paolis, I Quattro Mor from Lazio and made by a “politco” on his family’s farm. A blend of 60% Sangiovese and 40% Syrah, it was absolutely delicious; rich, full, lovely, soft and round. The blending was flawless and gave the wine a suppleness and fruitiness that made every sip a pleasure. The only thing negative was that it may have been too well made; giving it a bit of that California perfection and not enough individuality and terroir. Learn more about it at www.casteldepaolis.it.

I discussed organic wines with the “proprietario,” and while he knew their benefits, he said his patrons, a mix of locals and tourists, had not come round to specifically requesting them. When I pointed out that Italy was leading the way in biodynamic winemaking, he agreed, but said this had not filtered down to the wine bar world yet.

He was right. After searching another six of the city’s more popular wine bars, none featured organic wines. Two of them, in the hipper Trastevere section, had never even heard of biodynamic wine.

The solution to this is twofold and easily fixable. First, wine drinkers must be vocal in asking for organic wines. Italians are masters at adapting to trends and customers. They took up the use of the Internet and web sites long before other Europeans. If wine drinkers make it “sexy” to engage in “responsible hedonism,” Italians will jump aboard the bandwagon.

Secondly, the numerous and wonderful Italian growers, vintners and distributors must put pressure on wine bars to feature their products. Italy is a place of traditional business relationships; it is not a culture of revolutionary marketing ideas, especially in an industry as old as winemaking. However, with all the fabulous organic and biodynamic wine being made from Alto-Aldige to Sicily, it should be easy to rewrite the old relationships and get these fantastic vintages into wine bars.


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