Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine



During the 14 years I was in retail, I could never find the time to get out and visit other wine shops. So with my new found liberation, I’m making up for lost time. On one of my first sojourns this beauty spoke to me – and it said all of the right things.

Domaine Barou is located in the VDP des Collines Rhodaniennes, which is a sub appellation of the Comtes des Rhodaniens. Did that help? How about it’s in the Northern Rhone, near St Joseph and the Ardeche. That’s as close as I’m going to get you. Emmanuel and Marie-Agnes Barou have been farming organically for almost 40 years (1975), and their vineyards are certified organic (Ecocert). The Cuvee des Vernes is 100% syrah from 30 year-old vines. After a brief cold maceration, and then an 18 day fermentation, it ages in five year old oak for nine months. Nothing nasty is done during that whole time, and a little bit of sulfur comes in at bottling.

The result is a $14 bottle of joy. Right away you smell the garrigue and spices, and then you’re treated to black cherries – then that same spice on the palate. The tannins are round, the mouth is full and the finish is long. And you can easily have a glass or even two, because the alcohol is sitting at 13%.

So get out there and hunt this one down, and now that you know where Domaine Barou is, you can visit them as well. Besides their wines, they’ll sell you their organically grown cherries (June), or their apricots (July) or their peaches (August and September.)


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From Beverage Media:

According to Michael Degen, Executive Director Messe Düsseldorf GmbH and Director of ProWein, “The numbers of organic producers have grown substantially over the years and this year some 250 exhibitors declare to have a specific focus on the category.” ProWein will feature a special section in Hall 6 titled “World of Organic Wine” featuring participants from Switzerland, South Africa, Bulgaria, Australia, France and Italy. Additionally there will be a “Top 100” tasting zone of award winning international organic wines. And of course many other producers in Hall 6 and other halls will be offering organic, sustainable and biodynamically produced wines as part of their portfolio, including a wide array from Wines of Chile.

The biodynamic sub-category has grabbed a lot of attention with passionate proponents adopting the controversial production system devised and introduced in Austria by Rudolph Steiner. The primary certification organization, Demeter, will have a booth at the trade fair along with seminars on the program. Also in attendance will be Ecovin, Respekt, Fepeco (Spain) and CCE (Croatia). Demeter is celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2014 with a variety of seminars and special tastings listed on the ProWein website.


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Olivier Cousin Trial

Jim’s Loire has a 3 part write-up about Olivier Cousin’s day in court:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


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Outside of central Boston, beyond the new cocktailians and craft beer bars in Cambridge, the Red Line ends at Davis Square, home of Tufts University. In the past year, several cocktail saloons and organic wine bars have popped up here, including Spoke Wine Bar. As the name suggests, Spoke offers bespoke small plates, from Chef John DaSilva, in a casual speakeasy setting with an extensive organic wine list, handpicked from small wineries by the owner, Felisha Foster. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to speak with Foster about her impressive career, love of Boston, and of course, organic wine.

Falling into wine (her own words) fifteen years ago Foster has worked on the retail side, as a distributor and an importer, and most recently spent five years working as a buyer at Dave’s Fresh Pasta, a local favorite. At Dave’s she earned a reputation for building the Davis Square wine palate by choosing wines from small European wineries, but recently discovered that the retail side was no longer for her. After an epiphany on a motorcycle trip out west, Foster decided she was ready for something else.

“The space popped up right next to Dave’s, so it just kind of made sense because I knew the community already had a built-in clientele,” said Foster. “I really wanted to take the plunge.” In fall of 2012, Spoke opened its doors, with Foster stationed at her spot at the front door, warmly greeting patrons into the dimly lit cozy space. The wine list, which rotates frequently, features wines listed in order from “Light to Full-Bodied,” with knowledgeable sommeliers at the ready. During my visit, I tried a Filipa Pato 2012 Chenin Blanc from Portugal. While not certified organic, the Pato is like many of the wines Foster chooses, practicing organic production, but feel they are too small to make the leap to get certified.

“I’m interested in portfolios and the problem with the whole organic thing is that a lot of the people that I deal with are not going to get certified,” Foster said, “They’re like, ‘My family’s been doing this for eight generations, why would we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a stamp on the back of our label for something that we’ve been doing forever?’”

She is drawn to these smaller importers and portfolios less by the fact that they are organic, but for the quality their smaller production yields. “I’m drawn to the way those wines taste because they have more of a sense of place – they don’t taste commercial,” she said.

Foster, who works with distributors like Dressner and Kermit Lynch, handle many wines including some that are biodynamic and sulfite-free. Her regular clientele have learned to trust her opinion and relationship with the wines over the little green label. Like the producers Foster works with, she maintains a close relationship in the Davis community – evident by her proximity to the bar – she lives four minutes away. And the feeling is mutual, “I just love the area and the community – we’ve been very well-received.”

Spoke is located in Somerville, MA at 89 Holland St.

Website: www.spokewinebar.com


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Organic and biodynamic wines now come from all parts of Italy, as these practices are beginning to seriously take hold in the country. One of the Sicilian wineries that has adhered to these practices for the past 20 years is Manfredi Guccione from Palermo. The winery is located at 500 meters above sea level in the hills of Contrada Cerasa, near the city of Monreale; an area in Sicily where people from Albania migrated generations ago, and where a local language is still spoken that is akin to Albanese. The area’s grapes were usually sold for blending wines, because of their high sugar content.

In 2005, Guccione decided to change the way he grew his grapes and cut yields drastically. He used both ancient Sicilian winery and natural winemaking techniques to produce his wines. They use field blends for their wines, rather than planting clones or genetically modified plants.

Harvests are done by hand and fermentation takes place using ambient yeasts. They add nothing to the wines, nor do they filter them, preferring to leave them in the most natural state possible. Additionally, they have lowered the amount of sulfur they use. This natural approach continues through bottling and packaging, putting on the labels by hand and using beeswax to seal the bottles.

Their motto in Sicilian is “Stu Vinu fa respirare l’anima,“ loosely translated to ”this wine helps the soul to breathe."

The winery was certified organic in 1996, relatively early in the history of natural winemaking in Italy. They are moving towards becoming a biodynamic winery as well.

The winery only produces mono-varietal wines, focusing on indigenous varieties such as Trebbiano, Catarratto, Perricone, Nerello Mascalese and Nero d’Avola. They choose to make only mono-varietals because they feel they reflect the perfect terroir of the area and the precise microclimate that they are blessed with.

I was introduced to the winery during Vinitaly 2013. They participated in the event as part of the Vivit group of organic, biodynamic wines – a separate section in the fair. The 2014 edition of Vinitaly will have a much larger number of “natural wines” from all over the world.

The winery has clay soils, and a particular microclimate with large thermal excursions of temperature. They produce 21.000 bottles annually, divided among eight wines. The wines are sold in a number of European countries such as France, Spain, Germany, England, Norway and Sweden, as well as in Japan, the US and Australia.

The family was truly lovely and I enjoyed the wines immensely, a good reason to go back to Palermo and Monreale to visit the winery and the amazing Monreale Cathedral.

Tasting Notes

Lolik 2011

100% Trebbiano that spends four months in 3 hl tonneaux, and then in stainless steel tanks for five months before being released. This was a beautiful white wine with floral notes and minerality. Perfect for light summer fare.They also make another version of Trebbiano called Veruzza that is only aged in stainless steel.

Gibril 2011

This is made from 100% Nerello Mascalese. It matures in 4 hl tonneaux. It was a gorgeous red wine with fresh red fruit aromas and flavors, as well as rich, chewy tannins. This grape variety grows well at higher altitudes. Many will recognize it from the wines of Mt. Etna, where it is often blended with Nerello Cappuccio. Some say that it is genetically related to the Sangiovese grape from Tuscany.

Arturo di Lanzeria 2011

This wine is made from 100% Perricone. This wine is refined in 4 hl tonneaux as well. The wine was deep ruby red in color with lovely red fruits, some oak and lots of spice. It also had chewy tannins and a hint of minerality. It also has considerable minerality for a red wine grape. Perricone is another Sicilian grape that is often used in blends. It too is supposedly related to Sangiovese. 



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Coulee de Serrant

Coulee de Serrant

Nicholas Joly is as close to a living legend as the Loire Valley gets, especially in terms of organic and biodynamic wine. He holds court in a rambling old château in Savennières, hidden behind ancient stone walls, vineyards covering the hill behind the study. He does not live here but, instead, resides in the 12th Century monastery behind the hill.

Nicolas Joly and his daughter Virginie

Nicolas Joly and his daughter Virginie

Joly is an evangelist for natural winemaking and the moment you meet him, he will challenge your ideas on the subject. Sure, people may not use pesticides, even follow biodynamics in the fields, he says about his fellow winemakers in the Loire and elsewhere, but when they go into the cellars there are almost no restrictions. That, he warns, is when the funny stuff happens – like re-yeasting, which he alleges is a common practice.

If you let him (and face it, you have little choice) he will talk about his new passion – truth in wine labels. He lists ingredients used to fine wines or additives being used and says “consumers should know.” It truly is horrifying and you can’t help but agree with him. This will go on for a while and then he might be called away to the phone. He’ll point to the wines, three carafes lined up on a tray, and simply say, “help yourself.”

All Joly’s wines are hand-harvested in four or five passes as they reach botrytis stage, and have been farmed biodynamically for the past thirty years. Compost comes from 10 cows and 2 bulls, plus a herd of Ouessant sheep that winter in the vineyards.

The three wines tasted were 2011 Le Vieux Clos, 2011 Clos de la Bergerie and the 2011 Coulée de Serrant, the last his very own appellation. The wines were open for seven days and showed exceptionally well – he posits that Chenin picked at this late stage gets better after it is opened. The Clos de la Bergerie especially shined, a very rich, very refined Chenin that clearly benefited from being open so long.

Website: www.coulee-de-serrant.com


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From Dr. Vino:

Frédéric Niger Van Herck, a partner and the winemaker at Domaine de l’Ecu, posted the news that their “Expression de Granite” 2012, one of three bottlings that express the different soil types, has been denied the approval of the tasting committee. Here what he said on FB:

News of the day: Granite 2012 has just been rejected by the AOC tasting committee–and unanimously, no less… Promised for next year, full-on chemistry, mechanical harvesting, commercial yeasts, full use of enzymes, and sulphur galore… It should pass that way.

The worst thing is that everything is sold out and have nothing left… When will these official tastings end that turn the beautiful into standardized products? [my translation]

Long live the French wine!

He elaborated that the panel of five tasters judged his wine to be oxidized, adding “what a bunch of…”


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Le Bon Petit Diable

When I was in Angers in the Loire Valley a couple of weeks ago, I attended La Levee de Loire, an all-biodynamic, all-Loire Valley tasting that blew my mind. Pound for pound, it was one of the best tastings I have ever attended, and I’ve been to a few. After tasting for a couple of hours, I had to rush to catch a train to Paris, but on my way out I was grabbed by Joel Menard, who, with his wife Christine, have been farming biodynamically and making wines at Domaine des Sablonnettes in the Coteaux de Layon for over 20 years. I got to know Joel here in the States because I sold his wines at my shop, and he even hosted a tasting for my customers, thanks to the folks at Jenny & Francois Selections.

I told Joel that I had stopped by his table, but no one had been there (probably out for a smoke), and that I had to catch a train. But he wasn’t going to let me go anywhere until I tasted through all of his new releases back inside the exposition. So back inside I went to taste. The wines were all wonderful. It was such fun to see the pride on his face as I rolled my eyes with delight after each sip. To pick just one to recommend is impossible, but if I were to suggest the best introduction to their wines it would be Le Bon Petit Diable. It’s 100% Cabernet Franc that sees no wood and sits in steel tanks for about 6 months before bottling with just a touch of S02. It is a light, vibrant, gulper that cries for a slight chill before enjoying this fresh glass of raspberries and lemon zest with your favorite vegetarian or chicken dish. And you’ll like it even more knowing you can have it for about $18.


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