Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine



Château Pontet-Canet

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Importer Duclot la Vinicole recently hosted a vertical tasting of ten vintages of biodynamic Bordeaux prodcuer Château Pontet-Canet. The estate has been family-owned since 1959 with second-generation winemaker Alfred Tesseron at the helm. The property has 200 acres of vines and uses approximately a 50/50 split between new French oak and cement vats for aging.

The winery is also known for replacing mechanical engines with horses — about half the estate is farmed using horsepower, with a goal of 100% in the near future. "A horse never puts his foot in the same place,” says Tesseron. The family trains their vines into arches so the horses can pass through without harming them. The winery had their first green harvest in 1990, a fully biodynamic vineyard in 2005 and the entire winery was certified in 2010.

The vertical tasting included wines before and after the organic practices began. While subtle, the wines after the change have bright and fresh qualities that weren’t present prior.

The following three stood out in terms of balance and complexity of flavor:

Château Pontet-Canet Paulliac 2007

A very limited production wine, due to summer rot and humidity — it isn’t available outside of Pontet-Canet’s cellar. On the nose, there are notes of shaved dark chocolate and red currants. On the palate, the wine is lush with red currants and a lengthy finish.

Château Pontet-Canet Paulliac 2009

The deepest of the wines I tried, the nose is delicate and pretty with blackberries and prunes. On the palate the wine tastes spearmint, milk chocolate and more blackberries.

Château Pontet-Canet Paulliac 2010

My personal favorite of the group, 2010 is gorgeous, velvety, deep and bright. On the nose I found shortbread cookies, violets and strawberries. On the palate there are more strawberries, strawberry leaf, cassis and spices.

Website: pontet-canet.com


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Mike Benziger

From The Press Democrat:

Benziger Family Winery, founded more than 30 years ago by a pioneering Sonoma Valley wine family who helped bring green farming practices into the mainstream, is being sold to one of the world’s largest producers of low-priced wines.

The Wine Group, the world’s third-largest wine company with such budget brands as Franzia, Almaden and Corbett Canyon, announced Monday it has purchased the winery in Glen Ellen and its nearby sister winery, Imagery.

Financial terms were not disclosed, though industry estimates ranged from less than $90 million to slightly more than $100 million.

The article also states that part of the deal includes the winery’s green practices will be maintained. Over at Wine-Searcher, W. Blake Gray sees this may be a sign of biodynamics moving into the mainstream.

This might be a good time to invest in cow horns.


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London Raw

The annual RAW natural wine fair, held in London’s East End each May, is quickly turning into a force of nature. This year, over 4,000 people attended the two day tasting event, showing that interest in organic, biodynamic and natural wines continues to build among mainstream wine aficionados.

To show at RAW, winemakers must meet several criteria: being certified organic or biodynamic, hand harvesting their grapes, not adding yeast except in secondary fermentation for sparkling wines, avoiding any heavy manipulation and keeping added sulfur levels below 70 mg/L. Plenty of highly regarded names were represented — Movia, Radikon, Champagne Larmandier-Bernier, Frank Cornelissen, Coturri, Eric Texier and Cascina degli Ulivi, along with a bevy of producers, mainly from Europe.

Sasha Radikon pouring

While I did retaste many favorites such as Lunar from Movia and some great 2008 Radikons (Ribolla, Oslavje and Jakot), a few regions and wineries did stand out. Several wineries showed well from Emilia Romagna, including Podere Pradarolo, Cinque Campe and Casé, putting the spotlight on this lesser known region as one to watch. An innovative winery from Slovakia, Strekov 1075, specializes in skin contact — its standout was Nigori, a cloudy Welschriesling named for a style of sake. Equally surprising was the first Polish wine I’d ever tried — my wife is Polish so we’ve long been on the hunt for Polish wine — from Dom Bliskowice, a young winery from Wisla in southern Poland. Their collection of 2012 and 2013 Rieslings showed some potential and we’ll keep our eyes on them.

Famed producer Emidio Pepe, from Abruzzo, presented six wines ranging from 2012 all the way back to 1983. Known for their reds, the 2012 Pecorino Colli Aprutini IGT started off the tasting and showed very well. Then it was on to the reds, with the star, of course, being the 1983 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a full-bodied wine, a bit bloody with olive notes, mature but still showing great vibrancy. Truly stunning.

Strekov

Another winery, little known outside its region and not yet distributed in the US, Laurent Bannwarth from Alsace impressed as well. Highlights included a very good 2013 Riesling Coeu de Bild, a minerally 2013 Gewurtztraminer and a rich 2009 Pinot Gris “Patience.” Each wine showed deep dedication to tradition and none had added sulfites. US distributors should jump on this winery.

In London, RAW is held at the Old Truman Brewery in the East End, which allowed for a large open tasting room and fairly good traffic flow. While there were a few challenges with the space. It gets extremely warm, bathrooms are in short supply, and spit buckets are not on the tables — awkward cardboard receptacles in the middle of the aisle encouraging more drinking than tasting. Overall the venue handled the crowds well.

Emidio Pepe

While I did hear a few people approach tables asking for orange wines as if they were trinkets to be collected, the crowd struck me as extremely engaged and that bodes well for the continuing growth of natural wines worldwide. On to Germany for the first RAW Berlin on November 29.
More info on RAW events can be found at www.rawfair.com.


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In Punch, Alice Feiring discusses the future of Natural Wine.


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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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