by Sam Smith
on Jan 14, 2014
We recently had the pleasure of meeting with Sam Smith of Samuel Smith Brewery at Top Hops in New York City. He was kind enough to write this piece to introduce his brewery to Organic Wine Journal readers.
Samuel Smith’s is a small independent brewery based in Tadcaster in the county of Yorkshire in the North of England. We brew at Yorkshire’s oldest brewery, established in 1758. This extraordinary heritage is reflected in our use of traditional brewing methods, such as utilizing the classic Yorkshire stone square system of fermentation and delivering beer with a team of shire horses.
Beer delivered by Shire horses.
Our range of beers is regarded as one of the finest in the world, encompassing the classic British brewing styles. We are pioneers in organic brewing, with a broad range now encompassing 7 organically certifed beers and 1 organic cider. The brewery first started brewing organic beers in the mid 1990s, when the organic movement was still very much in its infancy. The quality of the beers, and the increasing interest in knowing where our food and drink comes from, has led to continually increased sales ever since then.
Stone square fermentation.
The brewery has to search far and wide to find good enough organic ingredients, with good organic hops being particularly hard to source. The hop plant can be very susceptible to mildew, thus finding hops of sufficient quality that have not been chemically treated can be a real challenge. Fortunately the brewery has some great partners as hop merchants who help us track down what they need.
Unlike many other breweries, all of Samuel Smith’s beers are brewed solely from natural ingredients. They are also all certified as vegan friendly and grown free from the use of artificial pesticides, fertilizers, growth agents or GM, which are becoming ever more prevalent in what we consume.
The staple organic beers are the Organic Pale Ale and the Pure Brewed Organic Lager. More recent additions to the range are the four organic fruit beers: raspberry, strawberry, cherry and apricot. These delicious beers are brewed from organic malt and hops and then blended with organic fruit. The brewery believes these to be the only organic fruit beers in the world – these unique beers are bursting with fresh fruit flavor and are quite delicious accompaniments to brunch.
The most recent addition to the Samuel Smith’s organic range is the Organic Chocolate Stout. The brewery has a reputation for brewing some of the finest stouts in the world, so we decided to develop an organic stout and thought it would make for a delicious beer if it could be brewed with organic cocoa. The result is an extraordinary beer which combines delicious milk chocolate flavors with a dry roasted malt body. The label on the bottle carries a picture of a cocoa bean and the latin term for the cocoa plant – ‘Theobroma Cacao’ – translated as ‘food of the gods’. After drinking the beer, we believe this phrase to be fully accurate.
As well as beer, the brewery has made cider for many years and more recently decided to start producing an organic cider. We source organic apples, which are then fermented to produce a brilliant medium dry cider which appeals to a broad range of drinkers. According to the ‘dirty dozen’ on organic.org, apples are one of the food stuffs we eat which is most contaminated by pesticide residues. This is why it is important to drink organic cider.
Having tasted all these beers it becomes apparent how exciting and fun it can be to appreciate good beer. Like fine wines, they combine different flavor profiles, which makes for a delicious drinking experience. Furthermore, like fine wines, these fine beers should be paired with food to enhance a meal. It could even be argued that tasting good beer is more exciting than tasting good wine, since the diversity in flavor can be so much more broad.
Improbabile would be the Italian way to describe being a successful female wineaker in Puglia. Throw in being an Australian, and the fact that the winery is literally an industiral garage, and you have an interesting recipe for some of the best organic wine in the region.
Winemaker Lisa Gilbee went to her first wine tasting at 9. She loved everything about it, particularly the concentrated musty aromas that permeated the room. She knew then that she wanted to make wine. She left her native Australia for Italy in 1994 and landed in Puglia’s lesser-known winemaking region of Manduria. Seven years ago she started her winery Morella, named after her husband, Gaetano Morella.
Four years ago she applied for a building permit. Italian bureaucracy being what it is, the permit has just been approved, to which Lisa laughingly says, “The good news is that in that time we learned a lot about what we need. The bad news is that loans got tighter.” The building, which will include a home for her family, will be in the country amid their vines, a field of young ones (40 years old) on one side, and the old vines (80 years old) on the other. Lisa was lucky enough to purchase the old vine section from an elderly couple who tended the vines themselves until they passed away – 8 months apart from each other.
Everything Lisa does is natural. She holds herself to very high standards and employs a biodynamic “coach,” Ukrainian Alex Podolinsky, whom she knew from Australia. Before going biodynamic, as she puts it, “I stopped using the ‘icides’ – pesticides, herbicides, fungicides.” For her region this was radical, because most of the growers were in the sway of the chemical salesmen who promised increased yield. Naturally, this resulted in poor quality wine, mostly sold in bulk to other winemakers.
By choice, Morella is neither certified as organic or biodynamic. It’s not even DOC. Lisa follows her own farming practices and believes that her fans will trust that she’s done the right thing.
Despite the dreary, rainy day of our visit, Morella’s fields, even in their post-harvest state, glowed. The land and its plants radiated vitality, beauty and health. No wonder Lisa’s dream is to build her winery and home for her family amidst these vineyards.
Morella grows 4 varietals: Primitivo, Negroamaro, Malbec and Fiano. From these grapes, 6 wines are made: 4 red and 2 white.
Lisa describes her garage as a “lego winery.” Hand plunging, slow open fermentation and a basket press are her building blocks. The basket press – an old-fashioned cage with pistons that squashes the grapes – extracts 60% by volume and the grapes can only be pressed once with this method. Industrial presses yield 80%, the remainder of volume being stems and leaves. What’s left from her pressing is sold to distilleries.
The juice is then put into 300 liter barrels, mostly to segregate one varietal from another, but also to allow for micro-oxygenation and settling. The latter is essential because the wine will not be filtered. After 12–18 months, the wine is moved to either stainless steel or cement tanks for another 2–6 months. Then it is hand-bottled. She said, “It’s refreshing as an Australian to have wines with natural acidity. In Australia we have to add acid.”
Her final thought; “It’s old fashioned wine making with attention to cleanliness. If you have good vineyards, you don’t have to do much in the winery.”
The winery’s production is 20,000 bottles. 2000 are white. Most is sold in Switzerland, followed by England. A few palettes find their way to the U.S. so do yourself a favor and look for them. They are imported by Piedmont Wine Imports.
Morella Primitivo Negroamaro, 2010
Albero Damiano, the Maitre d’Hotel at Palazzo Indelli in the seaside town of Monopoli, tasted the wine and weighed in with the following – “Stupendous!” It’s not necessary to serve with this with meat, it would also work well with vegetables and fish. "Personally, I like wine that tastes of ripe fruit, which this does. Chocolate finish. Serve with figs, almonds, or biscotti.”
We agree with the expert. It’s elegant and sophisticated. Should be savored with a special meal, and if your meal isn’t special, this will make it so. This is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape-style wine.
Morella Old Vines Primitivo, 2010
Gorgeous wine. Full of ripe fruit, currants and berries, but not a hint of sweetness. Medium body. You can almost taste the gnarl in the vine. Legs linger on the glass leaving patterns like an historic leaded window. Deep ruby red (not as black as the Primitivo Negroamaro blend). Settles in after 10 minutes and becomes noticeably rounder and even more luscious. Albero Damiano added, "the ultimo Primitivo for typical Puglian food, like orrchiette with broccoli rabe, sausage and mushrooms.”
Learn more about Morella at www.morellavini.com
by Organic Wine Journal
on Jan 3, 2014
We posted a link yesterday to an editorial in the New York Times about a winemaker in Burgundy being prosecuted because he is refusing to use Pyrevert to help combat a contagious bacterial disease in the region.
While it doesn’t directly say it, a reading of the editorial implies that use of Pyrevert might threaten the organic status of the vineyards. Lisa Bell, who works with Natural Merchants, has pointed out to us that Pyrevert is a plant-based pesticide, and is allowed under organic rules.
The core issue remains – should a winemaker be forced to spray his vineyards with something he feels is dangerous and ineffective? This is also a reminder that ‘organic’ is simply whatever governments choose to call it, and that each winemaker has their own standards for how they want to tend to their vineyards.
We’ll be covering this issue more in-depth shortly.
by Organic Wine Journal
on Jan 2, 2014
From an editorial in the New York Times:
A study in February that found pesticide residues in 90 percent of the French wines tested created an uproar. Pesticide residues were even found in organic wines, indicating contamination from neighboring vineyards or other sources. French vines are susceptible to a contagious bacterial disease, flavescence dorée, transmitted by a leafhopper. Treatment with pesticides is required by French law in several winegrowing regions, including Burgundy.
One organic producer in Burgundy has now been charged with breaking the law for refusing to use Pyrevert, a pyrethrin pesticide. He says there is no evidence that his vines are infected, and argues that Pyrevert, a neurotoxin, is nonspecific to leafhoppers and kills beneficial insects as well. He faces six months of prison time and a fine of 30,000 euros, or about $41,000. Another organic grower was fined 1 euro after he agreed to use pesticides.
by Organic Wine Journal
on Dec 31, 2013
From all of us at Organic Wine Journal, we want to wish our readers a Happy New Year. This year has ended with some great things for us. Our video reviews with Victoria Levin have been a great success, and bow we’ve also added Andy Besch, who owned West Side Wines for 14 years, to our team as well.
2014 will see regular reviews from both Victoria and Andy, and we also have some new reviewers coming our way, stay tuned. We will also start covering the wide world of organic spirits and beers – there are some very exciting things going on there.
Behind the scenes we’ve been working on our city guides and winery listings, and will start having regular updates. We want to thank all of you for making the Organic Wine Journal the leading website for organic, biodynamic and natural wines.
by Andy Besch
on Dec 24, 2013
Visions of bubblies dancing in your head? Not to worry — you don’t have to spend a lot to get a lot. One of my all-time favorites is the Cremant D’Alsace from Domaine Barmes-Buecher. Francois (Barmes) and Genevieve (Buecher) started their winery in 1985 with land that had been in the family since the 17th century, and in 1998 they were certified biodynamic.
In 2011 Francois died suddenly, so his children Sophie and Maxime had to jump in to help make the wines with Genevieve. All of their wines are spectacular, but I chose the Cremant because it comes in at just under my $20 price limit. It’s a blend of Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. No enzymes or yeasts are introduced, no sugar is added (zero dosage) and it is not fined. The result is an elegant sparkler bursting with citrus (orange and lime), pear and floral qualities. Why not save a few bucks by skipping the champagne and kicking back with this amazing farmer fizz? A total class act.
by Andy Besch
on Dec 18, 2013
Just about an hour drive from Madrid lies the wine region of San Martin de Valdeiglesias, where cousins Juan and Santiago Bulnes grow their grapes and make their wines at Bernabelelva. The Navaherreros Garnacha is their entry-level red and it’s a knockout.
They farm biodynamically and harvest the Grenache grapes from several different sites. They then vinify them separately in either steel, concrete or neutral oak – depending on what’s best for those particular grapes. The result is a sumptuous, full-bodied, red with remarkable liveliness on the finish. This wine is really alive, a genuine crowd pleaser, and for around $14 you can afford to satisfy quite a crowd.
With your glass full of sweet cherry, raspberry and nutmeg, how about a paella or maybe a rich, warming beef stew? No paella? No problem. Fire up a spicy loaded pizza and you’re in business. Cheers.