Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine



maison-chapoutier-vitabella

From the winery:

“When we say that every year is different and that each vintage has its own specificities, nothing can be more true than in 2014 …We now look forward for the results with much curiosity and apprehension. On the first day of the harvest, we already talk about an atypical vintage.”

“January 1st, 2014: In the south, we wished an Happy New Year on the sunny terraces. This already presaged a mild winter. We were not wrong, after 15 days of relative cold mid-December. January and February were soft with mild temperatures. The pruning began on January 18th (at the time of Steinerian crystallization) under a rarely observed sun in our northern sector.
March: As we see the first flowers of apricots blooming along the Rhone a month earlier than usual, we wondered what it would be in the vineyards. First bets went for an early vintage: 2003, anyone? Vines show their first tears. Then budding happens around March 20th, confirming that we were three weeks in advance. From north to south, it was the same. April, May: Let the season starts! Plants grow, flowers appear and despite a small episode of cold temperatures, everything went well; we can even observe that 2014 could bring a great volume of grapes. In Châteauneuf du Pape, we will wait after the fruit set to say Hallelujah! In the South, the grapes looked promising but Grenache is the variety that may be able to deprive us of a large part of its harvest because of coulure… but this time, everything was allright. And the fruit set was going very well. May, June: There is a lack of water, no spring rain, we began to worry about water stress. Vines grow, grapes are developping nicely, it’s hot, dry, it’s paradise …. But we remain vigilant as such tranquility during the vegetative stage is unusual. The vineyard is beautiful, healthy and everything goes well. Too well?

During the month of June, we are concerned: It’s too hot and there is a lack of water. From north to south, from Ampuis to Latour de France in Roussillon, we monitored in order that our vines do not stress. Considering it could be like in 2003, we shifted vacation dates and we asked everyone to be available on August 18th, just in case … For some appellations we wondered if we should not set up an exceptional irrigation plan. At Latour de France, some plots are under water stress, but also young vines are suffering in Châteauneuf. On Mirabel, our wine estate in Ardèche, basalt and limestone reminded us how hard they are with plots showing some symptoms of water stress. We decided not to produce our famous “Coufis”, our “vin de paille” Viognier de l’Ardèche, due to concerns about the stress of the vines. We knew that we had to remain vigilant. Early July, we saw early scalding symptoms on Mirabel, Tain l’Hermitage and Ampuis. Then, we softened the effects of this heat with comfrey, chamomile or yarrow teas. Rains started on July 14th from north to south and it was the beginning of the time for the vintner to accompany his vines. As rains continued alternating with sunny days, we set up a biodynamic treatment planning: rhubarb, buckthorn and clay to dry the vines. On July 25th, part of the team was leaving for vacation. On Saturday, July 26th, we did not even have time to pack our bags that a hailstorm started around 2:00 PM. “Emergency” treatments with clay were immediately used. On Monday morning, we finished all the plots and then followed a week of rain. For August, it was announced that it would rain nearly twice as usual at the same period of time. And it’s true. Grapes grow … and continue to grow. We topped vines. On August 15th, started mildew with a rare energy. We were on high alert. We pruned to clean up the environment. But heat and rain brought our “tiny enemies”. Pressure still went up a notch. So we decided to go for prevention, some grapes were eliminated and consequently we cleaned up the vineyard, thinking that we should continue because we were still far from maturity.

Elders have always said that September “made” the vintage. As an example, August 1989 remains the coldest ever but September made it a legendary vintage. From north to south, we pruned, we removed the leaves. At Latour de France, people looked at us with curiosity: “Are they really removing the leaves?”. Usually dry, sometimes too dry, this season was wet and natives were
unprepared. So, for us, Rhone northerners at heart, we applied in Roussillon the same methods as in Tain l’Hermitage. There was no time to lose: it had to mature, especially since the harvest was promising. On August 25th, the beautiful weather started again. A beautiful and warm sunshine. Early September, 30 degrees during the day. Our prophylaxis work shows results The vineyard is healthy and the grapes ripen at their own pace, with an exceptional sun. We are not anymore ahead of schedule but, on the hill of Hermitage, we can admire the beautiful golden color of the Marsanne grapes and smell the nice aromas of the grapes in our vineyards of Méal and Chante Alouette. In the Clos, at Saint-Joseph, we can imagine the power that will come out of these berries whose skin becomes thinner. We turn, we return, we observe, we monitor and tonight we enjoy a break. We are blessed by this weather and we want it to last because there are still three weeks to go. Tonight, we hope that everything will finish with a happy end. Our vigilance and responsiveness made us getting out of a complex situation. Monday, September 8th, 2014, let’s start! We start this surprising vintage with the grapes of our white Méal, degrees around 14.5 ° are expected. This is the beginning of the last stage, we are ready and serene thanks to the work that we have put in place for obtaining healthy grapes. This vintage 2014 is really surprising!


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Chambers Street Wines, which features many organic and biodynamic selections, has been named the Best Independent Retailer in the World by Jancis Robinson’s website. Read the full story at Harpers.co.uk.


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winemag

Wine Enthusiast has released the nominees for their 2014 Wine Star Awards and two people we consider part of the Organic Wine Journal family are up for Sommelier Of The Year.

Pascaline Lepeltier, sommelier at Rouge Tomate in New York, is known for her organic, biodynamic and natural wine selections. And Kelli White, sommelier at Press in Napa, has written articles and appeared on our tasting panels in the past.

Congratulations to both!


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The Cleveland

We profiled NYC restaurant The Cleveland when they first opened last year and The New York Times has finally caught up to us. Eric Asimov writes about ‘10 of New York City’s Most Surprising Wine Lists:’

This intimate restaurant with a lovely garden ought to be nirvana for wine geeks. It specializes in natural wines, which are grown and made with the least possible amount of additives and technology, but the Cleveland is not particularly dogmatic about it. You’ll find bottles from across Europe and the United States. Noteworthy bottles include the 2008 Pierre Frick riesling from the grand cru vineyard of Vorbourg in Alsace for $75; the 2013 Sicilian catarratto from Marco de Bartoli for $42; and a rarity, a 2010 Chiroubles from the enigmatic Jean-Marc Brignot, for $75. Personally, I’d like to drink through the entire list.


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Bugey

In France, the little known wine region of Bugey is well off the beaten track. I have passed through it frequently, usually on the way to more famous wine destinations, always making a mental note to stop and explore. When I finally did so this year I immediately wished I had done it sooner.

Once part of Eastern Burgundy, Bugey is in the l’Ain department of France and is usually only mentioned briefly as a footnote in wine books, either to neighboring Jura to the North or more usually to Savoie to the East. Indeed, this wine region only finally achieved its Appellation Contrôlée status in 2009. That was a long time coming.

Yet before the devastations by phylloxera and two World Wars, Bugey was an important wine producer, when it had 7,000 hectares of vines planted. Today, Bugey is a much slimmer 500 hectares, consisting of small vineyards scattered widely amongst 63 villages. Most wine growing here is undertaken by small family concerns that rely on cellar door sales. Production is tiny, at just four million bottles per year, and consumption remains mostly local. Little wonder that Bugey wines are, unfortunately, rarely seen outside the region.

Improving quality has been the goal in Bugey since the mid-1950s and today there are some superb wines available, at prices that put Bugey’s better known neighbors to shame. The appellation itself is an intricate one, covering a wide variety of grapes, sub-zones and wine styles. White, red, rosé and sparkling wines are all made in dry and sweeter styles. This is a welcome diversity, as there is a wine to suit every occasion, but it works against the creation of a cohesive Bugey identity.

Sitting at the confluence of Burgundy, Jura and Savoie, Bugey has a rich mix of cooler climate grape varieties to choose from. In white, Burgundy has contributed Chardonnay and  Aligoté, while Altesse (here called Rousette), Jaquére, Mondeuse Blanche and Molette are the mainstays inherited from Savoie. Look harder and you can find Viognier and Rousanne from the Rhône, plus a little Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. For the reds, Gamay was brought from Beaujolais to replant vineyards after World War I, Pinot Noir hints at an older Burgundian past and Mondeuse Noir hails from Savoie. Poulsard from the Jura also puts in an appearance. Sometimes these grapes are used to make single variety wines, at other times blends.

Bugey’s quiet charm lies in its quality, variety and small scale. The best wines convey a sense of terroir redolent of the beautifully unspoiled limestone hills, pretty villages and the clean mountain air. Naturally, they also make an ideal match for the regional cuisine.

Pellerin Bugey map

There are some ambitious winegrowers in Bugey and 68 hectares are now organically farmed. An outstanding example is Jean-Christophe Pellerin, the owner of Domaine Pellerin, which is in the south-eastern sub-region of Bugey known as Montagnieu, which follows the North bank of the Rhône as it loops away from the Alps. This is a sun-trap; the vines have a south and south-west aspect, the river acts as a moderating influence and the hills radiate summer heat. Pellerin is a fifth-generation vigneron, who now farms his five hectares of vines Biodynamically. Pellerin converted from organic to Demeter-certified status between 2009 and 2012 and remains, so far, the only commercial BD producer in Bugey.

The domaine may be considered small at 5 hectares, but that is the average size in this region. Pellerin follows the teachings of Rudolph Steiner and viticulturist Pierre Masson and, as usual, pays close attention to the vines while following the rhythms of the sun and moon. His vineyards resemble a garden rather than a farm and I was impressed that other local winegrowers consult him for advice. He is held in high regard by his peers, a rather different experience to BD pioneers in some other wine regions that were once viewed with disdain. Perhaps that is a measure of how seriously Biodynamics is now taken, or perhaps it represents the open-mindedness of the Bugiste vignerons.

The Pellerin vineyards swarm with life and vitality; bees, butterflies and birds. A great deal of diverse plant life happily coexists between the rows of densely planted vines. He told me that his vines had reacted very quickly to the biodynamic preparations used to stimulate the natural defences of the plant against insects and fungal diseases. Occasionally however, Wild Boar present him with a destructive problem on a different scale as they are rather partial to grapes!

Pellerin grows Aligoté, Chardonnay, Rousanne, Viognier and Altesse in white, with Pinot Noir, Gamay and Mondeuse in red. This allows him to make a dozen different wines and produce around 25,000 bottles per year.

A variety of dynamised BD preparations are used according to the lunar calendar. In addition to manure (500) and silica (501), Yarrow (502) and Horsetail (508) are effective against fungal diseases, while Valerian (507) is used after hailstorms. Blackthorn Bark, Comfrey and Meadowsweet are deployed to improve the availability of mineral trace elements in the soil.

Jean-Christophe also follows the practices of Eric Petiot in the use of homeopathic amounts of essential oils such as orange, chinese lemon, oregano and eucalyptus. This has also led to a significant reduction in the need for copper (sprayed as Bordeaux Mixture) which is traditionally used against outbreaks of fungal diseases.

A machine is used for harvesting rather than hand picking the grapes, which seems counter to the natural ethos. However, while Pellerin accepts that this can compress the soil it has the advantage in that it allows him to be able to harvest the grapes quickly on the appropriate lunar calendar day – picking during a fruit day is optimal for any biodynamic practitioner and would be difficult to achieve otherwise.

In the winery, Pellerin uses a mixture of large old oak casks, terracotta, cement and stainless steel tanks. New oak is absent – that would obliterate terroir and the fresh quality of these lighter style wines. Pellerin is also keen to keep the amount of sulphur in the wine making process to the minimum necessary to preserve the wines, usually at just 40 mg/litre for the whites and 20 mg/litre for the reds. Compare this with EU law that allows up to 210 mg/l for white and I60 mg/l for red! (As an aside, the Demeter limits are 90 mg/l and 70 mg/l respectively.) Even here the sulphur used comes from a naturally occurring source in Italy. The wines are bottled without filtering – so decanting the reds is wise as a sediment is likely.

If you’re in search of tremendous value wines of high quality then my advice is to spend some time in Bugey and discover them for yourself. Start at Domaine Pellerin. Don’t just pass through this region, enjoy all Bugey has to offer: unspoilt scenery, lakes and rivers, extensive woodlands and spectacular mountain views, quiet pretty villages, local cuisine – and a warm welcome. I can’t wait to go back and discover more.

Pellerin wines

Domaine Pellerin: a case for Tasting  – Cellar door prices from €4 – €12

Whites

Constellation 2013 11.5%

A bend of Aligoté, Altesse and Chardonnay grown on gravelly river soils. Dry white wine. High acidity conveys freshness, yet buttery and long. A good foil for a fondue made from the local Ramequin cheese.

Chardonnay 2013 12%

100% Chardonnay from limestone hillside soils. Dry style. Lemony freshness, mountain plant aromas and pronounced minerality. Incisive and a little riper. Local Trout from one of Bugey’s lakes would suit.

Chardonnay “Harmonie” 2009 13%

A BD conversion wine. Yellow colour, dry style white. Muscat-like floral nose, lots of lees ageing and battonage. Result is pure fruit flavours: apricot and peach with an attractive lingering herbal (fennel)? note. Much fuller but not fat, instead sleek. For me the best and most distinctive of his Chardonnay, an exciting wine. Perhaps this has a little Viognier or Rousanne in it?  This deserves a roasted Bresse Chicken, no less.

Chardonnay “Platine” 2009 11.5%

A totally different Chardonnay from gravel soils on flat land. Floral nose, with orange peel and biscuit notes. Rounded, hint of oxidation  – is that because of the low sulphur at this age? Reminded a little of Château Musar white (a compliment). A wine that would match Quenelle de Brochet sauce Nantua admirably.

Reds

Métisse 2011 12%

A blend of Gamay, Pinot Noir and Mondeuse. Smoky nose and small red fruits – redcurrant, strawberry flavours before a long finish featuring plenty of Mondeuse spiciness. Terrific blend, ideal charcuterie partner.

Pinot Noir 2011. 12%

Superb Pinot perfume, all violets and cherries. Very smooth texture, light character and slightly reductive, but just enough to add another dimension of complexity.

Gamay “Chatiere” 2009 11.5%

Hillside Gamay, so limestone soil, touch of reduction on the nose, very dry, plenty of unusual tannic backbone. Richly fruited, a Morgon-like gamay that has potential for further development. Out-performs many Cru Beaujolais, a terrific wine. Seems like Gamay can thrive when not grown on Granite. Food? Back to the Fondue.

Mondeuse 2011 11%

My favourite red in the Pellerin range. Dark, brooding, powerful and spicy.  Will improve and develop over another 3-5 years. Real power that belies the light alcohol, very complete.  Sold Out!

Pinot Noir “Seduction” 2009 11.5%

Secondary flavours beginning to show – earth, autumn leaves, hint of black truffle. Real Pinot silky mouthfeel and grace. Does what it says on the label. As Burgundian in style as a Premier Cru from the Côte d’Or.

Bubbles

Bugey Brut 2011 12%

Traditional Method fizz made from Chardonnay, Aligoté and Altesse. Fresh, vif, vibrant, bone dry. Nicely focused, No dosage, the natural 7g/l residual sugar balances high acids well. Sherbet Lemons and a bready note. Apéritif or seafood.

Grand Prestige Demi-Sec 2009 12%

Traditional Method made from Chardonnay and Aligoté. Rounder and fuller, an off-dry style rather than medium sweet. No dosage, 16 g/l residual sugar. Apples and grassy-tinged flavours, flashy acidity. Something sweet like the local Praline tarts would be good, or try a local cheese such as Tome de Belley, with its blue mould rind.

Classic Rosé Demi-Sec 2012 8%

Méthode Ancestrale, so the second fermentation bubbles are induced in bottle by cooling and rewarming. 100% Gamay, attractive pale red colour, with masses of bright red fruit, frothy pinkish mousse, perfect as an apéritif or with a light dessert (say Eton Mess).  Blue cheese a good alternative – Blue de Gex isn’t that far away. Second fermentation is undertaken for Pellerin further south in the Diois, where Clairette de Die is made. This Ancestrale style is like the Bugey Cerdon made to the north of the Bugey appellation, individual and delicious. Beaujolais producers should really take note, this is a style worth developing commercially and would soon reduce the Beaujolais lake— Jean-Paul Brun Domaine des Terres Dorées already is!

 

Domaine Pellerin

Jean-Christophe Pellerin

Perrozan-Le-Pont de Lagnieu

01150

Saint-Sorlin-en-Bugey

L’Ain

France

Tasting room open Saturdays, or by appointment

 


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Grgich Hills Earthquake

Michael Eckstein, Associate Winemaker at Grgich Hills with damaged barrels of Zinfandel.

Our best wishes go out to all people, and all wineries, affected by the earthquake in Napa. Here is a roundup of what we’ve learned about some of our organic winemakers.

Frog’s Leap

On Twitter, Frog’s Leap posted:

Thankfully, we had minor damage & will reopen Monday. RT @TIME: The largest earthquake to hit Napa Valley in 25 years http://ti.me/1mDNfUW

Robert Sinskey

On Twitter, Robert Sinskey posted:

Robert Sinskey Vineyards made it through the earthquake largely unscathed! We are OPEN FOR BUSINESS! Come visit us!

Grgich Hills

On Facebook, Grgich Hills posted:

Thank you to everyone for your phone calls, emails and texts! We are all safe and sound, with minimal earthquake damage to a few barrels. Come on by our Tasting Room – we are opening up now for tasting only, no tours or stomping just to be on the safe side.

Domaine Carneros

The Los Angeles Times spoke with T.J. Evans at Domaine Carneros:

T.J. Evans, winemaker at Domaine Carneros in Napa, said a 3,000- and 6,000-gallon tank filled with sparking wine showed signs of minor damage after swaying from their concrete moorings.

Power was out briefly, leaving no way for coolant to calm the hot fermentation of the wine. The winery’s barrels, however, were undisturbed.

“We’re extraordinarily lucky,” Evans said. “We have a little survivor’s guilt.”

Tres Sabores

Tres Sabores on Twitter:

#napaearthquake an experience to be virtually launched out of bed. TS ppl safe tgdns but not good for rest/retail friends + wishes friends


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Cà de Noci Tre Dame 2013

A few days ago I had the chance to meet up with a good friend at Maialino, a terrific restaurant and wine bar on Gramercy Park. I got there first, and had just ordered a glass of a Valle d’Oste rosé when he blew in and said, “Let’s do bubbles.” That sounded good, so he chose one that was new to me, the Cà de Noci Tre Dame from Emilio-Romagna. The choice was genius.

Cà de Noci, named after an adjacent walnut forest, is run by brothers Alberto and Giovani Masini. They started in 1993 with Lambrusco, the region’s traditional grape, then decided to plant other native varietals, that had long been abandoned by the region, in 2001. Around that time they also started to farm organically, with very low yields, and to make the wines with minimal intervention. In the cellar there is no fining or filtration, and no sulfites are added.

The Tre Dame is a blend of Sgavetti and Termamira. It’s an extremely vivacious frizzante, thanks to a second fermentation in the bottle, a technique that is unusual in a region of mass-produced wines. Don’t look for any hint of sweetness in this savory fizz, though the cherry and currant fruit is amazingly lively and fresh. Because of the acidity and bubbles it works great with fatty foods, dry sausages and fancy pizzas. You can also enjoy a glass or three thanks to the 11.5% alcohol. Break the budget for this one because it’ll cost you around $35, but it’s worth every cent. Just give it a little chill and you’re good to go.


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Luca Roagna

Luca Roagna

Barbaresco occupies an outsized reputation in the wine world, relative to its modest size. The town occupies a narrow outcropping, surrounded by vine-covered hills undulating off into the distance. Only one main road gives access to the town center, leading directly to a thousand-year-old tower standing guard over the vineyards. Beside it stands a medieval church, while nearby a fine trattoria called Antica Torre dishes out Piemontese specialties like the delicious egg yolk pasta tamarin.

The Rocca Family

The Rocca Family

Organic wine is taken seriously in Barbaresco. Producers following organic practices include Punset, Cascina delle Rose, Moccagatta, Bruno Rocca and Roagna. The two Barbaresco producers we visited on a recent trip, Bruno Rocca and Roagna, exemplified the two ends of the winemaking spectrum, modern vs classic, and provided the perfect overview of the region’s winemaking.

Bruno Rocca’s holdings include 15 hectares, mostly in and around Barbaresco as well as land in Neive and Treiso. Bruno’s parents moved the family out of the town to Rabajá in the late 1950s and purchased their first vineyard. Prior to 1978, they sold grapes rather than produce their own wines, but Bruno was determined to create his own label. Today, they are practicing organic and produce ten different wines, from Chardonnay to Barbera d’Asti to Barbaresco DOCG. To match the growth of the company, the cellar has expanded over the years and reflects their modern approach to winemaking.

Unfortunately the limited production chardonnay was sold out long before we arrived for a tasting, so we started with a 2011 Barbera d’Asti from vines replanted in 2000, a lean wine with a good acidity. The 2011 Barbera d’Alba was a big wine, richer with more fruit and rounder than the Asti. A 2010 Barbaresco, described as entry level and approachable, displayed a warm earthiness, though the tannins overwhelmed at this stage. The 2009 Barbaresco Coppa Rossa married grapes from their Neive and Treiso vineyards, which give structure and elegance to a wine that can age for years to come.

Afterwards, we took a quick tour through the spiffy five-year-old winery, which is now outfitted with solar panels providing more than 90% of its energy needs. We descended through three levels, ending up in a large expanse populated with barrels aging Barbaresco. The facility is impressive, as are the strides the Rocca family has made as it moves into the second generation of winemaking.

Roagna Vineyards

Roagna Vineyards

Upon greeting us, Luca Roagna says “you can only understand the wines if you see the vineyards,” so we pile into his car for a quick ride up and over the hill. Roagna has four sites with varying terroir, from limestone and clay to blue marl to sand and we quickly see his dedication to organic winemaking. All the vines are old and native to the area. He believes in biodiversity and a quick comparison of his vines, blanketed in uncut grass, to neighboring rows laid out in bare earth shows, in stark relief, the value of organic practices. Everything Roagna does is as natural as possible, including adding very little sulfur and only utilizing natural yeasts.

Back in his cellar, we experience the opposite of the Rocca estate. While Rocca maintains a pristine facility, Roagna’s cellar reflects the old school winemaking he is known for. We started with a 2008 Barolo Pira from old vines planted in 1937 that displayed good acidity. A tannic, masculine 2008 Pajé revealed delicious dried dark fruit over time, while a 2004 Pajé was vibrant and tasted younger than its ten years. A 2008 Asili was very approachable while an elegant 2008 Montefico was more fruit forward and exuberant. After spending twelve years in barrel, the recently released 1998 Riserva Pajé is already drinking extremely well.

The Rocca Estate

The Rocca Estate

With each wine, Luca aims to achieve a pure expression of nebbiolo. His respect for tradition remains evident in both the vineyards and what’s in the bottle, underscoring Roagna’s well-deserved reputation for excellence.


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