Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine



From Wine-Searcher:

Pioneering Burgundy winemaker Anne-Claude Leflaive has died at her Burgundy home at the age of 59. The celebrated Puligny-Montrachet producer leaves an indelible print on Domaine Leflaive, having converted its vineyards to biodynamic practices during her tenure.

Anne-Claude joined the family business in 1990, before taking sole responsibility for the domaine in 1993. Within four years she had converted the cultivation of Domaine Leflaive’s 24 hectares (60 acres) of vineyard, including Le Montrachet, one of the world’s greatest Chardonnay vineyards, to biodynamics. Her initiative made her one of the earliest exponents of the practice.


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“Everywhere.” That’s what the sales rep told me when I asked where their best organic wines were at the March 18th David Bowler portfolio tasting. Bowler is known for supporting organic and biodynamic wines, and recently acquired all of Nicolas Joly’s wines — so recently, that all they had to taste that day was three bottles leftover from the decision meeting. Lucky for me, I got there early and was able to try them.

Savenierres ‘Les Vieux Clos’ 2013 is extremely mineral driven with chalk and slate notes dominant, notes of apricot were also found on the palate with a zippy finish. Savenierres Close Coulée de Serrant 2013 is a completely different wine, bright and fresh on the nose with prominent notes of rich, tallegio cheese on the palate. Finally, Savenierres Close de la Coulée de Serrant 2012 is bright with lemon zest notes on the nose and a creamy, lengthy, almost Burgundian chardonnay finish. Pretty impressive.

Moving on, it was time to take advantage of the beginning of rosé season and try a few gorgeous examples. Bandol Rosé from Domaine de la Tour du Bon that was light, fresh and tasted of fresh peach juice and clementines. There’s a reason this wine is summer in a glass.

My favorite, by far, was Champagne Tarlant. The Tarlant family has been making Champagne since 1687 and the vineyards have been passed down from generation to generation ever since. Melanie Tarlant was behind the table during my visit and was as bubbly and fun as the Champagne. Not only did she promise to send me her t-shirt (which read “F**k Number 5, I love Champagne”) but also told me which of her grandmother’s favorite vineyards each wine came from.

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Two bubblies that stood out from this tasting were Champagne La Vigne d’Or Brut Nature 2003 that is made completely from Pinot Meunier and had a surprising creaminess. The other is a champagne Melanie says is made from the “forgotten grapes of Champagne: blanc, arbanne and meslier. The Tarlants call it BAM! The wine has bright acid, lemon and lime on the palate with lots of bubbles.


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Cascina degli Ulivi

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Some organic winemakers evolved as the movement gained recognition, while others come from families that never used pesticides for financial or philosophical reasons. But few have had the experience Stefano Bellotti of Cascina degli Ulivi recounts. It was the early Eighties and Stefano had gone from organic to biodynamic, but this was decidedly out of fashion with the winemaking set, then enthralled with all the new technologies being introduced. He was producing 50,000 bottle at the time when the floor fell out beneath him. Some negative press, including poor reviews in Gambero Rosso, had vaporized his customer base. Nearly a decade’s worth of effort building his name wiped out with a swipe of the pen.

Stefano works land that has been in his family since 1936, when his grandfather bought the farm. His grandfather may have had no idea about organic practices, but worked the land for years in this fashion, including planting the first vines. By the time Stefano was 18, only an acre of vineyards remained and the steadfast lad decided to revitalize the holdings. The year was 1977 and it never occurred to him to use pesticides. An encounter with Luigi Brezza led him to convert to biodynamic practices, and the market responded positively — until that bout of bad press brought him to his knees.

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Luckily for wine drinkers, Stefano persisted and rebuilt his reputation, with an assist from the German market. Today he sells over 110,000 bottles all over the world and is widely respected as one of the top biodynamic winemakers on the planet. He resurrected the farm side of the property as well, to balance out the crops and also supply an agriturismo and restaurant he opened in 1998. His holdings today amount to 22 hectares of vineyards, 10 hectares of crops that include ancient varieties of grains and cereals, 1 hectare of vegetables and 1,000 fruit trees along with cows and chickens. He even planted almond trees to help combat phylloxera.

Located near Alessandria in eastern Piedmont, the pastoral agriturismo is set amidst vineyards, rolling fields and wandering farm animals. A rustic building offers 4 duplex rooms and a restaurant mainly supplied by the farm — over 80% of the goods are grown and raised on the grounds. You will find homemade yogurt, jams and delicious rustic bread among other treats. And don’t miss the house-cured 3-year-old prosciutto.

During dinner one night, we tasted 10 wines alongside a degustation menu (antipasti, pasta, secondo and dessert) costing €28. Wines by the glass are a reasonable €4 – €6 and the full range is available to taste, thankfully with your room a mere steps away.

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A 2007 Filagnotti Cortese from Gavi grapes was a rich, fruit-forward wine that showed very well with some age. The 2009 Montemarino is Cortese aged in acacia barrels, a complex wine that needed the extra years to integrate its flavors, while a 2009 A Demua, a blend of Riesling, Timorasso, Moscatello, Verdea and a few others, sees 2 years of skin and 2 years in bottle, making for a deliciously funky oxidized style wine. We tried two Nibios side by side, a 2006 Terre Bianche and a 2007 Terre Rosse. The ’06, grown on limestone from vines aged 10-40 years was more elegant and showed great balance. The ’07, grown on red clay, was earthy, more full-bodied and quite intense. By contrast, a 2006 Mounbé (85% Barbera with Dolcetto and Ancellotto) with evident tannins still had years to go. We finished with a floral 2008 Passito, made from the moscat grape, which sees 1 week of skin contact and 10 months of fermentation. The resulting wine is all about balance, not too sweet with notes of honey.

I have met few winemakers as passionate as Bellotti in their respect for the rhythms of nature and their stewardship of the land. He never set out to be an evangelist but even through the lean years, he persisted in executing his vision. The proof is evident in everything he does and these wines, not of all which are imported into the U.S., are worth searching out.

Website: www.cascinadegliulivi.it/eng/index.php


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The Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute released a new annual study they’ve started conducting about American wine consumption. Here are their findings for 2014 as relates to organic wine:

Though the Organic Trade Association reports that 41% of American consumers are now buying organic food, this number is not as high with organic beverages. That could explain why only 16% of this sample said they look for organic wine as part of their decision-making process. Listing “sustainable” on the label only was important to 10% and “biodynamic” to 6%. Other research indicates that many Americans assume that most wine is organic anyway and therefore don’t look for these cues, and some consumers confuse the term “biodynamic” with “genetically modified,” which can be a deterrent to purchase.

We’re emailing for the full report, but some quick thoughts until then. It’s not surprising that more people look for organic food than wine. For many, the simple word combination of “organic” and “wine” still conjures up the idea of a wine with something missing, like diet soda. It’s the first year of the study so we’ll see how that 16% figure changes over time.

The more interesting thing, of course, is the claim that “many Americans assume that most wine is organic anyway.” We’ll be delving into that once we get the full study. The authors of the report are professors Dr. Liz Thach, MW, Dr. Janeen Olsen and Dr. Tom Aktin.


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Daniele Ricci — Piedmont

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The pile of grape skins sitting in the middle of a field provides the first clue that Daniele Ricci is no ordinary winemaker. When asked about it, he remarked “what comes from the ground, returns to the ground.” The skins are fertilizer for next year’s vines and we have on display, in vivid detail, full-circle, ultra-natural winemaking.

Carlo Daniele Ricci is a third generation winemaker, making wines under the label Azienda Agricola Ricci in the town of Costa Vescovato, a little-tread corner of southeast Piedmont. Not even an hour from Milan, the province of Alessandria is easily bypassed by the wine consuming hoards in search of Barolo and Barbaresco to the west. This is timorasso country. “Huh?” you ask. “Timo-who?” It turns out that the signature white grape of the region is one that nearly vanished into the dustbin of history, until being revived by another area winemaker, Walter Massa, in the past two decades. The grape is an aromatic white varietal with good acidity that ages well, yet somehow proved easily forgotten. Ricci, along with Massa and a handful of others, are working to build a new audience for timorasso, though few can rival Ricci’s natural, long skin-contact wines.

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We met Ricci in his winery, just off the town’s main square, and it’s readily apparent he eschews technology in the winemaking process. His wines are unfiltered with long maceration times of up to 90 days. He uses a pneumatic press and does not believe in batonage. He climbed up on a ladder to show us wine fermenting in wood, pushing down on the slats to reveal grape skins and gurgling liquid fully alive. Some of these wines will age for years in bottle — one current release, the 2004 San Leto, is ten years old. About the only thing Ricci will do is add minimal sulfur, about 60 mg/hectoliter.

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Ricci is equally non-interventionist in the fields, where his philosophy is to follow the rhythm of nature. “Quality of life has no price,” he says, showing us the healthy vines now hibernating for the winter. In the spring and summer, herbs and greens grow beneath the vines, imparting herbaceous notes in the grapes. Ricci considers himself a farmer first, and even grows an ancient variety of wheat low in gluten.

Down in the valley where he has a two room agriturismo, for friends and family, we settle into chairs to taste wines alongside a three year old prosciutto. First is a 100% timorasso, the 2009 Il Giallo di Costa. With 90 days of skin contact, the wine proves very intense with a long finish, and is definitely built for aging. In comparison, the delicious 2007 Il Giallo di Costa, which has some sherry-like characteristics, is a blend of cortese, favorita and timorasso. By contrast, Terre di Timorasso, aged twelve months in stainless on the lees, showcases the brightness and acidity of the grape with a more approachable style and medium body that would be versatile to work with a range of foods, from seafood to chicken.

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The 2004 San Leto Riserva, named for the vineyard where the grapes are grown, is killer. 100% timorasso, the wine sees 2-3 days of skin maceration before aging for 18 months in 500-liter oak and acacia barrels and an additional 12 months in bottle. The ’04 is rich and oxidized with a racy perfuminess. Alas, this riserva San Leto, identified by its blue label, is not made every year. The next release will be a 2006, possibly followed by a 2010.

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Far off the beaten path, Ricci has succeeded in creating a sustainable model for winemaking that leaves him, perhaps, less famous but instead a true steward of the earth. If you make it to his corner of the world, there’s even a place to stay.


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From The Press Democrat:

Volker Eisele, the outspoken architect of a landmark farmland protection policy in Napa County that became widely emulated as a model for staunching unwanted development, died Friday at his ranch home near St. Helena from complications related to a stroke. He was 77.

The German-born Eisele was an organic wine grape grower before the concept was popular. As a community activist and leader in the agricultural industry he fearlessly took on established orthodoxy, often in blunt style. He will be remembered most for engineering Measure J, a controversial land use policy that was enacted by voters in 1990 over heavy opposition from pro-development forces.


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On Forbes, Organic Wine Journal Editor Adam Morganstern names 5 Biodynamic champagnes you can enjoy all year long. See the list here.


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Natural Wine Catastrophe

This post is about the bad things which have happened to me recently. Specifically, it’s about how my wines have turned into vinegar this year! Just a few weeks ago I had yet another lot go bad on me (this time about 2000 liters of Garnacha from Sierra de Gredos), which I poured down the drain.

Needless to say I’ve been thinking a lot about the possible causes of this series of acetic events. Why so many instances this year (4 different lots) when I’ve been making wine in the same way for 12 years, and only one lot ever turned into vinegar in all that time (back in 2008 I think)?

Well, I won’t bore you with all my thoughts and theories and ramblings over the past few weeks … I’ll just come straight out with what I think has happened:

– (1) The major difference between what I’m doing now, and what I was doing back in the ‘old days’ is that nowadays I’m making a lot more wine, and a lot more different types of wines. I used to just make about two or three thousand bottles of Airén plus 2 barricas of Tempranillo crianza. But now I’m making about 12,000 bottles of at least 10 different wines plus assorted mini-experiments. This must be a significant factor somehow. I obviously can’t just carry on doing the same things as I was doing before

– (2) I don’t have so much time to look after each wine and do what has to be done at the right time as I did before, due to a number of different circumstances

– (3) I still don’t have airtight pneumatic lids for all my tanks. Maybe if there is a source of contamination somewhere in the bodega, it’s easier for the vinegar bacteria (“acetobacter”) to get into the tanks if they’re not sealed properly?

The fact is that all my containers and assorted equipment and machinery is not the result of careful planning based on expected needs. It is in fact the complete opposite! Everything I own was bought incrementally year after year whenever I happened to have some spare cash available. Thus some years I bought a stainless steel tank, including hermetic seal, and some years I could only afford the tank but not the lid.

– (4) I don’t have enough stainless steel tanks (with or without hermetic lids); I have to use open top plastic containers, open top oak barrels (which I opened up myself), and ceramic amphorae, which are difficult to close off in an airtight manner. So I will have to think about that little problem too.

So, conclusions:

1. I’m going to invest in airtight lids for all my tanks, even though it will be hideously expensive. Though perhaps not as expensive as pouring thousands of litres of vinegary wine down the drain!

2. I’m going to become even cleaner and more hygienic than usual. Not sure how, but I’ll think of what can be done in that area, over the course of the year.

C’est la vie. And the bright side?

Well, I can’t think of anything positive about this at the moment. I’m really angry and upset and depressed :( But I’m sure I’ll get over it! Any helpful suggestions would be most welcome.

Actually, there is one thing that is helping to cheer me up, even though it’s got nothing to do with the lessons to be learned from the above. It’s that I’ve just received an order for a mixed pallet of wines (mostly Garnacha) from … wait for it … from France! Amazing! I still can’t quite believe it! Coals to Newcastle and Grenache to France, what? :)

The importer is Thierry Puzelat, a well-known winemaker based in the Loire, who has also started to distribute other wines. I can’t wait to find out where my wines end up, hopefully some interesting wine bars in Paris :)

I strongly suspect this will be my last post this year, so on that happy note … Merry Christmas, everyone, and I hope you all drink some interesting wines over the holidays :)


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