Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine



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Ever since I changed careers and got into the wine business, I’ve wanted to do a harvest. Over the years I had gotten to know a number of winegrowers, many of whom offered me the opportunity to help out, even though they already had plenty of help, and probably thought I’d screw things up or slow things down. Harvesters are usually very experienced, and very fast. When the time comes and the grapes are ready, it’s like a fire alarm has gone off, and bang — the fruit must be picked. Nature isn’t exact, so it’s hard to predict when that alarm will sound. So, if I were going to get in on the action, when and where would I go?

This year I finally decided to just jump in. I called my friend Tony Coturri, the pioneer biodynamic/organic winegrower in Glen Ellen, California. I got the “job,” and reported for duty the third week in September. The timing was perfect, as the alarm had just sounded.

I was handed a pair of shears, and before I knew it we’d loaded fifty empty boxes onto a truck and were headed off toward the Zinfandel. It didn’t seem like a huge vineyard, so I decided we could, and would, get it all done quickly.

I was so wrong.

It was hot, and there were a lot of clusters on those vines. After about four solid hours without enough water breaks, I was completely shot. We had only done about one quarter of the vineyard, far below my predictions. But apparently, seeing as how there were only three of us, it was considered a good start. I returned home that evening barely able to move. What had I been thinking?

picking

Nevertheless, I returned the next day for more punishment. This time, however, I came armed with a large container of water. Chad Hardesty, another organic winegrower (Hardesty Cellars), showed up with four tons of chardonnay grapes, so the lesson for the day was to be on crushing and pressing. This is a long, arduous process of filling small baskets from half-ton containers, and then feeding the grapes — one basket at a time — into a portable crusher. Since we were working with whites, the crushed grapes were immediately fed, bucket by small bucket, into the press. At least there were six of us working at this point, but it still took all day, and the pressing wasn’t finished until evening.


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People like to think wine is made from just grapes — but that’s hardly the case. A small number of winemakers have put more information on their bottles, but our friend Fabio Bartolomei at Vinos Ambiz has raised disclosure to an art form. Most of it lists what he did not do, letting people know what is happening at most modern wineries. He recently answered some of the feedback he received on Facebook. Some of the comments:

“If you have to spend the money on a label like this maybe the wine ain’t so good. I only drink natural wine but this is kind of douche”

Sarah, I hardly spent any money at all on this label! I wrote it myself on a Word file and the printer is a friend who gave me a very good rate. In any case I don’t see any connection between the cost of a label (pretty or awful) with the wine inside. What’s one thing got to do with the other?

“It’s what I would call over-egging the cake”

Yes, you’re right, but until the legislation changes and makes ingredient listing obligatory, then there’s no harm in exaggerating, is there. It’s a bit like the “Critical Bike” people who demand more facilities for cycling in cities, by riding through town naked! There’s no actual need to go naked, but it helps draw attention to the problem they’re trying to solve! :)

“no pesticides, no insecticides, etc. What I would also like to know is whether they treat their workers fairly.”

Suzanne, I don’t have any workers, except for myself, and I exploit myself brutally and mercilessly. I often force myself to work 12 or 14 hours/day and don’t pay myself any overtime. I regularly make myself work on Saturdays, Sundays, holidays and over vacations, again with no overtime. In fact I don’t even pay myself regular wages, though I do faithfully pay my social security contributions to the Spanish government. But, seriously, I do manage about 3 ha of vineyards all by myself, and in addition I buy in grapes from local organic growers.

See the full post here.


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From Dan Rinke:

2014 has been another interesting year. We had a colder than normal winter, but a drier than normal, warmer spring. This all led to a bud break that was a full month earlier than usual. The warm weather did not stop with spring and it continued into the summer and then fall. It seems like this is the never-ending summer. As typical with Oregon, we get hot days with cold night time temperatures. I actually noticed several days this summer that were in the low 90s during the day, and the night time temps were still in the upper 40s.

Harvest started out fast and a month early and has not slowed down at all. The fruit and resulting wines will have plenty of concentration with great acidity, thanks to our cool night time temperatures. We started harvest on September 15th and will go well into October. We have a real healthy yield with picture-perfect fruit. I am certain that 2014 will be considered to be one of the top vintages of the decade with the balance and concentration that make wines that will continue to age gracefully for years to come.


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Debby Zygielbaum reports from Robert Sinskey Vineyards:

Harvest started off for us with some shake, rattle and roll — we’d been picking for less than a week when the earthquake hit. The epicenter is a mile south of one of our vineyards and the fault runs north through two more of them. USGS has come out twice to do some mapping! Things were knocked about in our shops and we’ve lost some vines due to the cracking along the fault line, but we fared much better than some.

Fault line in the vineyard.

Fault line in the vineyard.

Overall, harvest has gone well – a dry, but decent, growing season allowed for good fruit set during bloom and flavor development during harvest. We had just enough water to get us through the season. Yields have been on the high side of average and wines have been pressing off quite tasty. Mildew pressure was incredibly high this year but we were up to the challenge, our vineyards sailing through relatively clean.

Canopies shredded by the hail storm.

Canopies shredded by the hail storm.

For about a month, it felt a lot like last year: the weather was amenable, the fruit was beautiful, and we were picking regularly. By the time the freak hail storm hit, all our Pinots and whites where in the cellar. The Bordeaux varieties weathered the storm, but their canopies got pretty shredded. It definitely slowed down ripening and we’re currently waiting for the numbers to come back into balance. The heat wave forecast for this weekend should help with that.

Can’t stop the harvest – earthquake, rain, hail, heat waves, whatever — we just keep on picking.


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Spiced_Pumpkin_Finalsmall

Check out five great organic spirits for fall, including a great pumpkin spiced vodka. OWJ’s editor does a roundup on Forbes.


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Phillip Coturri

Phillip Coturri

From Phil:

I’m taking a deep breath as a front moved through last night, dropping a quarter inch of rain. We harvested our last zin yesterday not wanting them to get washed. The harvest has been early and steady. The last major heat spike during the Labor Day weekend really got things going. We have harvested about 50% of the 1200 tons we do annually. What’s left is Cabernet and Rhones.

The growing season started early with bud break around mid March. Bloom was early, starting late April. For the third year of drought, the rains we did have came a few weeks prior to bud break and through March, filling the soil profile and setting the stage for great full canopies.

The fruit harvested so far has great flavors, complete ripeness with out shrivel. The zins were some of the best I’ve seen in years. A moderate crop small clusters about 25-35% less than last year. Tannin structure in the Cabs is well balanced, softer than 2013 due to the full canopies. Flavors across the board are huge. The vines lignified in mid-August, sugars came up early September and are holding nicely as flavors are developing. My job is to get fruit ripe, and if I can hold it on the vine for a couple weeks we can get it sexy ripe. Next week is going to be full of Cabernet.


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From Perlage:

The organic agriculture wins also this rainy vintage: the grapes are healthy and have a generous gradation.

This year’s harvest of Perlage takes place in two steps because of high humidity and low temperatures. This innovative technique used for the first time in Perlage and for the first time also in the DOCG territory shows how experience and professionalism can survive the more difficult vintages.

The first step is the collection of bunches with very thin skin that have some compromised grapes, while we leave those still perfectly healthy on the rows, waiting for the sugar ripeness and therefore achieve the ideal stage to be collected in the second step.

“With the introduction of this harvest technique, for the first time adopted in the vineyards of the Perlage winery, we are confident of being able to ensure thehighest quality this year, helped no doubt by the high suitability of the hills. Moreover the organic treatments, instead of the conventional ones, act both low and high temperatures, so they have protected the vines from downy mildew.” (Ivo Nardi, owner of Perlage).

The hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene are an ideal location for growing grapes, between the sea and the Alps and have a mild and temperate climate. The sunny exposure, favored because of their location from east to west, the ventilation of the slopes and the good rainfall, help to maintain healthy grapes and now allow us to wait time for the perfect ripening.


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Bill Powers, who founded Badger Mountain Vineyard in Washington, passed away this morning at his home in Kennewick, we’ve learned from Paul Chartrand of Chartrand Imports. Badger Mountain became the first certified organic winery in Washington in 1990 and has received numerous honors for his work, including the Wine Grape Grower of the Year and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. Our condolences to his family and co-workers at Badger Mountain.

Learn more about Bill Powers at www.badgermtnvineyard.com.


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