Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

Our Wine Rkatsiteli 2010

I first I stumbled upon the grape Rkatsiteli years ago at a New York State wine fair in Watkins Glen. It was made by the mega Finger Lakes winery Dr. Konstantin Frank, and I loved it instantly. As for the grape, all I knew was that it came from eastern Europe, it was very old and that Dr. Frank was one of the only wineries around making wines from it. I carried Dr. Frank’s Rkatsiteli in my shop each year, while supplies lasted, and those who were courageous enough to take my word for it shared my enthusiasm.

Flash forward several years later, and along came Our Wine Rkatsiteli into my life. Now we’re not only in love but engaged. This is an Rkatsiteli of a different color, literally. While Dr. Frank’s is white, slightly fruity, fresh and crisp, Our Wine is a classic amber (orange) Georgian wine, and is savory, smoky, leafy, resiny, deep and full bodied. Night and day, as it were.

The wine is made as it has been since as far back as 8000 B.C. – so they’ve had time to work out the kinks. First and foremost the grapes are farmed biodynamically. While the American version is fermented in stainless steel, in Georgia it’s fermented in qvervri, or clay pots, similar to amphorae but without handles. The qvervri is lined with a thin layer of beeswax, and the grapes are put inside with skins, stems, seeds and all, crushed, and then sealed and buried in the ground. Combining all of the parts in fermentation gives the wine enough stability to make preservatives unnecessary. This is natural winemaking at its most natural. The grapes can remain in the qvervri for years, but the Our Wine is fermented for just six months, and then bottled without filtration.

Our Home is made with 90% rkatsiteli, along with 10% mtsvane and khikhvi. If fruit-driven wines are your thing, forget you read this review. When I say savory, I mean savory. It has wonderful acidity, a long tannic finish, and is the perfect partner to creamy sauce-based dishes, fatty fish and hearty meat dishes like pork ribs. This wine makes the price cut at $20, so be brave, buy a bottle, and enjoy a taste of true antiquity. If you like this wine, there’s more where that came from. Pheasant’s Tears is another excellent Georgian winery, and the winemaker is an American (Jonathan Wurdman). His wines are superb. Only small quantities are made and imported, so grab them when you can.

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Already certified organic, Domaine Le Fay d’Homme is in the midst of converting to biodynamics. Making wines for over 27 years, fifth generation winemaker Vincent Caillé is an enthusiastic spokesman for the region’s wines, yet his wines don’t always fall into the traditional Muscadet box. His plantings are 80% Melon de Bourgogne, 10% Folle Blanche (Gros Plant) and 10% various red varietals, all spread over four towns with three different terroirs.

We started off with the fresh 2012 Gros Plant du Pays Nantais then jumped into 2012 Muscadet, which had nice minerality and a long finish. Things got interesting with the 2012 Vieille Vignes from 60 year old vines; though young it drank like a much older wine, already round, with a balanced minerality – and great aging potential. The 2010 Clos de la Fevrie, which Caillé deservedly calls “Grand Muscadet,” underwent a long fermentation and spent 15 months on lees. It drank beautifully, with supple, deep flavors and richness. The 2009 Monnieres Saint Fiacre, from vines on gneiss, yielded a high acid yet elegant wine after 39 months of lees contact.

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Congratulations to Cava producer Recaredo for being accepted into La Renaissance des Appellations, the group of superstar biodynamic winemakers led by Nicolas Joly. All members are certified organic and biodynamic and are chosen by a unanimous vote from the tasting committee, which includes Joly, Olivier Humbrecht, Anne Claude Leflaive and David Leclapart among others.

Recaredo website.

La Renaissance des Appellations website.

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Many Italian producers are moving towards sustainable, organic and biodynamic viticulture practices, but the panorama of who is doing what is still very fragmented and dispersed. That is one reason that I found the group I Dolomitici so refreshing.

At Vinitaly in 2012, I met the owner of Azienda Agricola Vilar di Spagnolli Luigi. He was fascinating to talk to and the only person I have ever encountered at the event who looked like he had just come in from the farm, with dirt still under his fingernails. He was from the Trentino region in Northern Italy.

We spoke for a long time about his winemaking philosophy and the group that he is part of, I Dolomitici. They are 11 producers united by friendship, solidarity, and a common vision of agriculture in the Trentino. Their desire is to promote the region’s diversity and originality with respect for nature and ethical concerns. I Liberi Viticoltori Trentini is composed of the following wineries: Castel Noarna, Cesconi, Dalzocchio, Elisabetta Foradori, Eugenio Rosi, Fanti, Francesco Poli, Gino Pedrotti, Maso Furli, Molino dei Lessi and Vilar.

They are all either organically certified or moving in that direction. Additionally, most of them are also looking to become biodynamic in the near future. They mostly harvest by hand and make sure that their soils are as healthy as possible by companion planting other crops in their vineyards. They believe in an integrated system of agriculture and do not believe in the use of pesticides, artificial fertilizers and other chemical products. They feel the old fashioned ways that grapes were traditionally grown in their region keep the vineyards in their own natural balance.

In the group, Dalzocchio was certified organic since 2001 while Foradori has been biodynamic since 2002. Castel Noarna, Gino Pedrottti, Vilar, Francesco Poli and Cesconi are organic and are all moving toward biodynamic viticulture. Maso Furli and Molino dei Lessi are also organic and awaiting certification, while Fanti is moving in the same direction. Eugenio Rosi also believes in these practices and only uses ambient yeast in his wines.

These 11 producers also produced a wine together called Ciso, made from an indigenous grape variety that only grows in a small plot of land that the group collectively farms – just 727 plants that grow on their own rootstocks in a 100-year-old vineyard. In between the rows of vines are corn, tobacco, wheat, squash and beans.

The grape variety is called Lambrusco a Foglia Fastagliata. The first bottle of this wine was released in 2010. The name Ciso comes from the name of the farmer who gave them the vines to cultivate together. In 2010, they only made 3000 bottles and 150 magnums of this wine. While getting a bottle of the wine may be complicated, the philosophy of the group is quite easy to understand.

They look to make wines that are authentic and express the Trentino terroir where the grapes grow; they harvest mature grapes that are able to transmit a sense of what the particular vintage was like; they look to vinify the wine in such a way that the wine expresses specifics of the vintage; and they want to produce a healthy wine that is both an expression of the terroir in Trentino, the grape variety, the vintage and the winemakers’ philosophy.

The group tries to use as few sulfites as possible as they want the wines to be as healthy as it can be. Of course, the amount they use will depend on the vintage and the grape variety.

A number of the producers make a wine using the Nosiola grape that is indigenous to Trentino. This is a white grape that can be used to make still or sweet wine or a passito. Vino Santo made from Nosiola is a big tradition in this region.

Spagnolli told me that Nosiola is an aromatic and acidic grape filled with fruit and floral aromas and flavors. This grape ripens in mid to late October. Nosiola is susceptible to humidity. While this can be a disaster for a still white wine, it is perfect for drying the grapes used in a passito-style dessert wine, also made in the area. The name Nosiola is said to come from the Italian word for hazelnut, Nocciola.

A number of producers in the group make wines using Nosiola including:

  • Vilàr, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT Nosiola, 2012
  • Cesconi, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT Nosiola, 2011
  • Gino Pedrotti, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT Nosiola 2012
  • Castel Noarna, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT Nosiola 2011
  • Foradori, Fontanasanta – Nosiola Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT 2011
  • Giuseppe Fanti, Nosiola Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT 2011
  • Francesco Poli, Trentino DOC Vino Santo, 2001

Definitely a wine to try, Nosiola pairs well with a variety of foods and can also be used as an aperitif.

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Starting today, the Organic Wine Journal will be covering the wide and diverse world of organic spirits. There’s a new breed of handcrafted vodkas, gins, tequilas and others being made that reflect the same commitment to quality and practices as organic wines. Tune in each Friday for a new organic spirit review with our host Tony Sachs.

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This wine is like “a powerful hug from a really sexy lady.” Watch Victoria’s review of the Erbaluna Barbera d’Alba Superiore La Rosina 2010.

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Are you a sommelier who really knows their Languedoc-Roussillon wines? Want to win a trip to the region to meet some great winemakers? Then enter the Sud De France Sommelier Competition. There’ll be an exam and blind tasting – and then the final three candidates will compete in front of a live audience.

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9th-generation winemaker Pierre-Marie

9th-generation winemaker Pierre-Marie

Luneau Papin in Le Landreau (Muscadet) is in the process of converting to organic. As of now, 25 hectares out of 40 have been converted with the rest in process – they have already ceased using pesticides on all their lands. For 9th-generation winemaker Pierre-Marie, with his colleagues in the Loire already at the forefront of organic winemaking, this is a giant step for a storied domaine whose name arose from the joining of two area winemaking families. With 35 different cuvees, the domaine makes a wide variety of wines, using common local grapes like Folle Blanche (used in Gros Plant) and Melon de Bourgogne, as well as Chardonnay, Gamay and Merlot in some blends.

Wines tasted came from vines ranging from 25 – 75 years old, and many displayed minerality and good depth of flavor. A quartet of four 2012 vintages started the tasting – 2012 Folle Blanche showed nice richness for such a young wine, while the 2012 Domaine Pierre de la Grange, made with grapes from 45-year old vines, was delicious and easy to drink, delivering nice minerality and some complexity. Both 100% Melon, Clos des Allées showed good minerality and acid, while Les Pierres Blanches was very pure and almost saline; the fruit from 55-year old vines.

The Terre de Pierre wines from Butte de la Roche, which has a unique soil comprised of elements like magnesium, were powerful and rich – and age-worthy. The 2010 Terre de Pierre spent 18 months on lees, yielding a full, rich, stony wine; the 2008 more full-bodied with prominent acidity. The winery holds back a good number of wines to age, unusual for Muscadet. Some to seek out include 1999 Le L’D’or, which is getting very elegant in its not-so-old age, and the 2003 Excelsior from that year’s infamous hot summer which remarkably has kept its freshness.

Domaine Pierre Luneau Papin Website

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