Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

Voodoo Vintners

Whether you’re a biodynamic wine enthusiast or a skeptic who thinks it’s something only dirty hippies and Sting are into, you’ll learn something new from Voodoo Vintners: Oregon’s Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers (Oregon State University Press/Corvallis). Renowned wine writer Katherine Cole paints a picture of biodynamicism as a spiritual, “beyond organic” style of farming, practiced by “off-the-wall characters making wines in an unconventional way.”

Beginning with an in-depth look at the history of biodynamic winemaking and Rudolf Steiner, the so-called father of biodynamics (BD) Cole unpacks its origins, weaving the tale of a practice that can be traced from Paleolithic times to modern-day vineyards.

Though she leaves room for skepticism, she admits, “As someone who drives a stick shift when she’s not getting around on foot or by bike, I feel camaraderie with anyone who prefers to take the more arduous path to arrive at his or her destination. It may not be the most efficient way to get there, but it is, in my experience, always the most pleasurable.”

While the final, drinkable product may turn out beautifully (though sometimes not), the process of creating biodynamic wine can be a little, well, unusual, by most people’s standards. Take, for example, the various preparations using in BD winemaking—or preps, as they’re commonly called. First introduced by Austrian scholar Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s, preps are used as homeopathic treatments for the plants.

Prep 500, to name one, is a cow horn packed with the manure of lactating bovines and buried two-and-a-half to five feet underground for the winter and dug up in the spring. Tiny portions of the manure are then added to half-buckets of water that is stirred ritualistically and then prayed on the soil in late spring and autumn to encourage root growth. Prep 501 entails burying a cow horn packed with ground quartz for the summer. It’s dug up in late autumn and saved until spring, when a small amount of the quartz is stirred into a whole bucket of water that is sprayed over the plants to promote photosynthesis and ripening.

As she goes throughout the book, Cole describes the various other preps and their place in biodynamic winemaking. There’s also the moon to take into consideration. The lunar cycle, not to mention the movements of the stars and planets, is one of the pillars of biodynamic farming. There is also an emphasis on using raw materials from your property and protecting the environment, understanding that when you protect nature, it will protect your crops. Many winemakers do, in fact, report healthier vines after switching to biodynamic methods.

One such winegrower is Doug Tunnell, of Brick House Vineyards in Newberg, OR, which he runs with his wife, Melissa Mills. After purchasing the property two decades ago and converting it from a hazelnut and walnut orchard to a pinot noir, chardonnay, and gamay noir vineyard, he decided to transition to organic agriculture. He also began collecting a “chemical history” of the land, interviewing sprayers who had applied substances that sounded “like a chapter out of Silent Spring.” He decided to try biodynamic farming in 2000, after noticing the plants start to droop and lose character. He was drawn to the holistic, nourishing biodynamic approach, and found that it improved the health of his vineyard. “If you have healthy soil, you will have healthy plants. And if you have healthy plants, you will have better fruit. And if you have better fruit, you will have better wine. And if you have better wine, you will have better customers and happier people.” Brick House Vineyards has been a Demeter-certified biodynamic property since 2005.

Ultimately, Cole leaves it up to the reader to decide how they feel about biodynamic winemaking. Through careful research and meaningful recollections of time spent on various Oregon vineyards, Cole dispels the notion that BD is merely a trend. The winemakers she interacts with, both those who vineyards are Demeter-certified, organic, or neither, are deeply committed to this style of winemaking. Still others who either dabble in biodynamics or remain skeptical insist that the only thing that matters is a good wine, and they’ll do what it takes to make that possible.

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Maybe you need something a little stronger than wine, or perhaps you’re looking for your new signature cocktail. Or maybe you’re hosting a party and haven’t stocked your home bar since that Millennium Party in 1999. Look no further than Mardee Haidin Regan’s The Bartender’s Best Friend: A Complete Guide To Cocktails, Martinis and Mixed Drinks for inspiration.

This comprehensive book serves as a guide to the classics and to new favorites. In addition to the requisite old standards and new-fangled concoctions, you’ll find helpful suggestions for what to stock at home and what to have on hand when entertaining. There’s also advice on pouring techniques and tips on how to tell how many drinks are in various sizes of bottles.

A small sampling of the cocktails you’ll find in this book:

  • Americano (with Campari, sweet vermouth and club soda)
  • Beam Me Up Scotty (with Kahlua, crème de banane and Bailey’s)
  • Fresh Ginger Mojito (with mint leaves, lime juice, fresh ginger, spiced rum, ginger ale, and candied ginger)
  • Italian Champagne Cocktail (with prosecco, Campari, a sugar cube, and an orange twist)
  • New Orleans Milk Punch (with bourbon, dark crème de cacao, milk and nutmeg or cinnamon)
  • Satan’s Whiskers* (with gin, dry vermouth, sweet vermouth, Grand Marnier, orange juice, and orange bitters)
  • Third Rail Cocktail (with dark rum, applejack, brandy, and absinthe)
  • Windex (with vodka, blue curacao, and triple sec)

And now you officially have no excuse: make sure you’ve got all the Apocalypse fixings (page 66) ready for your 2012 party.

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Salad is often looked at as what we eat before a meal, or perhaps as a main course when we’re trying to be healthy. Patricia Wells, a journalist, author and cooking teacher based in France, asks us to reconsider the salad as a viable entree in her new book, Salad as a Meal: Healthy Main-Dish Salads for Every Season (William Morrow/Harper Collins). By including recipes for dishes often served with salad, such as soups, eggs, breads, and extras like hummus and marinated olives, Wells makes a case for putting salad in the spotlight of your next meal.

The personal anecdotes accompanying the recipes make you want to catch a flight to Provence and take one of Wells’ cooking classes, and gorgeous photos plus suggestions for wine pairings really bring the dishes to life. A few standouts:

• Provence on a Plate: Eggplant, tomatoes, goat cheese, and tapenade
• Cilantro-Flecked Heirloom Tomato Soup
• Zucchini Blossom Frittata with Goat Cheese and Mint
• Summer Salad: Green beans, toasted nuts, and cured olives
• Lobster Salad with Green Beans, Apple, and Avocado
• Sardines Tartines with Herb Spread, Tomatoes, and Mixed Greens
• Ginger and Sesame Chicken Salad with Glass Noodles

Just one word of caution: reading about Wells’ dining experiences, complete with Parisian haunts and her Provencal herb garden, may cause life envy.

Though this is a book about salad, one thing worth noting is the frequent use of meat and cheese. While vegetarians may feel slightly put off, others may consider the copiousness of bacon within these pages a very, very good thing. One other thing to be aware of—a few of the recipes call for equipment most home cooks may not have, such as a deep fryer. While it’s easy enough to go online for suggestions on makeshift alternatives, it’s probably better to figure that out before it’s time to submerge the falafel in hot oil.

In general, though, the recipes are straightforward and engaging. Whether you’re pulling greens from your backyard garden or foraging for goat cheese at your local Trader Joe’s, you’ll be sure to find something that speaks to you in Salad as a Meal.

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Jill Silverman Hough’s 100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes To Enjoy With The Wines You Love picks up where her last book left off, expanding from small plates to full entrees. Like the previous effort, her book is divided into chapters for 12 popular grapes (well 11, plus one for Rosé) and recipes that match. There’s just enough information for you to learn the basics of pairing for each wine, without feeling like your headed into textbook territory.

That’s preferred, because with Hough’s books you’re here for the food – you’re more likely to pick the dishes you want to make first and then choose the proper wine instead of the other way around. Appetizing titles like Tipsy Tri-Tip will grab your interest when you find out it’s not only marinated in it’s match of Zinfandel but whiskey as well. On the lighter side is an appealing Chanterelle and Gruyere Bread Pudding to pair with your Chardonnay. There’s also a healthy dose of staples, Roast Chicken and Potatoes and Garlic Rosemary with Lamb Chops, to give a solid base to understanding which wines go well with them and why.

Overall, a great book for those who like to cook and want deeper understanding of why you can’t go wrong adding more richness to a dish matched with Viognier. 100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes To Enjoy With The Wines You Love is available at Visit Jill’s website at

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Katherine Cole’s new book, Voodoo Vintners: Oregon’s Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers, explores the rise of biodynamic practices in Oregon wineries.

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Our friend Monty Waldin has just published his new book, Monty Waldin’s Biodynamic Wine Guide 2011.

This is the most comprehensive guide to biodynamic wine ever written. Author Monty Waldin began writing and broadcasting about biodynamic wine back in 1995 when biodynamics was deeply unfashionable and Waldin was seen as a maverick. Now biodynamics has become the most talked-about trend in contemporary wine because so many of the world’s top vineyards are going biodynamic and staying biodynamic because the technique helps them make more individual-tasting, better quality wines. Waldin explains clearly and concisely how biodynamic wine is grown and how it differs from both organic and conventional wine. In addition over 1,500 wineries worldwide are profiled which are either fully biodynamic, part-biodynamic and part-organic, or just organic. This book will appeal to wine lovers curious about biodynamics and to wine professionals needing hard facts about what biodynamics is, and which wineries are doing it.

The book is available online at

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Perfect Pairings, A Master Sommelier’s Practical Advice for Partnering Wine with Food – Evan Goldstein

We were very impressed with Evan Goldstein’s latest offering, Daring Pairings, so we decided to take a look back at his first book. Perfect Pairings focuses on 12 of the most common wine varietals – so you can now find out which foods to match with your Cabernet Sauvignons and Rieslings. With less grapes to focus on, Goldstein is able to go more in depth about the variety of styles each varietal can be found in, and offers different recipes for them.  You’d want to try the Pork Loin Glazed with Pomegranate and Orange with a ripe, fruit-forward Pinot Noir, but Lamb Shish Kebabs go better with a Pinot Noir that is more aged and developed.

All the recipes in the book are from his mom – but when your mom happens to be famed chef Joyce Goldstein that isn’t a bad thing. Having these two books in your collection will ensure you always have something to serve with whatever wine you’re drinking.

Purchase Perfect Pairingsonline.

100 Perfect Pairings, Small Plates To Enjoy With The Foods You Love – Jill Silverman Hough

With all these books on wine and food pairing, and with almost the same titles, how do you choose which one is right for you? Jill Silverman Hough’s 100 Perfect Pairings has the same down to earth style as Goldstein’s, she tells you in the first sentence the book isn’t meant for “wine and food geeks,” and she covers 11 of the same 12 grapes in his book [ if you like Sangiovese go with Goldstein, if you want to match food with a Rosé then hers is a better bet]. She also provides the basics for matching foods for each varietal, though Goldstein goes a little more in depth.

The main difference between them is that Hough’s book is more recipe oriented, while Goldstein’s is more wine focussed.  Flipping through Goldstein’s book you’re more likely to choose the wine you want to learn about, then pick something to make with it. With Hough’s you’re going to find the dish you want to make first, then get the right wine. The food is perfect for small plates, and great to plan a wine party around, but can be expanded to make a full meal if you prefer. Your guests will rave over your Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus with Tarragon Aioli, served with a Sauvignon Blanc, and Chicken Sandwichettes with Raisin Jam and Pickled Onions, with a good Merlot.

Purchase 100 Perfect Pairingsonline.

The Sommelier Prep Course, An Introduction to the Wines, Beers and Spirits of the World – Michael Gibson

If you’re ready for the next step in your wine education, The Sommelier Prep Course may be what your looking for. Michael Gibson has been the lead instructor for wines and spirits at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale, Arizona for the past six years and wanted to write a textbook that could be used for intro classes. In that vein, the book covers the history and different aspects of winemaking, and the wine wine regions of the world, well enough to give you the solid fundamentals, but not exhaust you with information better left to more in-depth studies. It’s not for the casual reader, but if you’re thinking of becoming a sommelier, or just want to know what they do, this is a great way to start.

One small criticism: we would, of course, prefer more background on organic and biodynamic wines. Right now they rate a page worth of information, and what’s there is a little misleading. Organic wines can be manipulated in the winery the same way conventional wines can and still be labeled Organic.

Purchase The Sommelier Prep Courseonline.

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You’ve finally learned which dishes go well with a Chardonnay, Riesling or Zinfandel, so where do you go from there? Evan Goldstein is out to raise your food & wine IQ even further with Daring Pairings – A Master Sommelier Matches Distinctive Wines with Recipes from His Favorite Chefs. The book presents in-depth profiles of 36 lesser-known, but widely available, varietals and gives guidelines on what to eat with them.

You’ve never heard of Xinomarvo? No problem. You’ll soon know it means “acid black” and while you’d love it with shellfish it shouldn’t go near anything with hot chili peppers. Goldstein’s strength is providing a lot of information without being overwhelming. Readers can breeze through basic rules, such as “acidic wines lessen the perception of salt,” or go more in-depth about the two different styles of Chenin Blanc. The layout makes it easy to jump around and find something that captures your attention, it’s not necessary to read the book in order.

Each wine also contains its “Daring Paring” – a recipe from a top chef. The dishes are practical and accessible, meant to showcase the wine match, not make you wish you had gone to culinary school. Dan Barber’s Roast Rack of Lamb with Creamy Rice Parsnips is something you’re actually capable of eating tonight with a glass of Tempranillo – you won’t have to stare at the photo just dreaming about it. Charlie Trotter’s Salad of Cornish Game Hen with Shiitake Mushroom Vinaigrette, served with a Gamay, and Kate Zuckerman’s Sherry-Roasted Figs with Crispy Streusel and Cremé Fraîche, served with Sémillon, are among the other delicious choices.

Daring Pairingsis available online at

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