Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine



Umani Ronchi

Umani Ronchi is one of the most famous producers in Le Marche and in Abruzzo. The winery has been in the Bianchi-Bernetti family for almost fifty years. Gino Umani Ronchi established the winery at Cupramontana in 1957 in the heart of the production area of Verdicchio Classico. Roberto Bianchi and his son-in-law, Massimo Bernetti, joined the company a few years later.

Michele Bernetti began working with his father, Massimo and his uncle, Stefano in his teens, but officially joined the winery after University and a stint in London working for their importer. He is currently the CEO and the third generation of his family to run Umani Ronchi. I caught up with Michele during the recent edition of OperaWine, a tasting of the top 100 Italian wines organized by the Wine Spectator and Vinitaly/Veronafiere.

Umani Ronchi is very active in two areas in Le Marche that produce beautiful wines – Castelli di Jesi and Rosso Conero, where Verdicchio and Montepulciano grow, respectively. They also own an estate in Abruzzo in the Colline Teramane DOCG area. Umani Ronchi sees it mission is to promote the wines of these two regions. The winery promotes quality wines from both its indigenous and international varieties and has more than 200 hectares under vine.

Montepulciano, the grape variety, is not to be confused with Montepulciano the town in Tuscany, or their wines Vino Nobile di Montepulciano made with Sangiovese grapes. The grape variety Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a late ripening one that is widely grown in Abruzzo. The Umani Ronchi family makes a wine called Montipagano from 100% organically grown Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes.

The grapes are planted on soil with a good mix of sand, clay, and stones. The vineyard has a Southwest exposure and it is located at about 200 meters above sea level. The plant density in the vineyard runs from 1600 plants per hectare to 5000 plants per hectare.

Montipagano, is the name of the village where the estate is located. The Umani Ronchi family chose this particular area because they felt that the grapes from here where a great combination of elegance and structure. They bought their winery in 2001. Montipagano is a round and fruity wine as you would expect from Montepulciano with its soft plushy tannins. These wines tend to be drunk young and are sold at a great price/quality ratio.

Speaking with Michele, he said that the winery firmly believes in organic farming and certification. They are moving towards getting more of their vineyards certified, but it all takes a long time. We also discussed which certification entity they would use. Michele said that they tend to use local certifying bodies, because it is easier for them to come and check on the vines and the progress being made in the winery.

The fact that such a large and important winery such as Umani Ronchi has converted at least one of their properties to organic farming is a sign of just how far Italian wineries are moving towards natural wines. Some years ago it was quite hard to find organically grown vineyards in Italy and even harder to find organically produced wines.

This year’s fair in Verona, Vinitaly, had two separate sections devoted to organically produced wines, a first in Italy but likely something we will see more of in the years to come.

www.umanironchi.com


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Tony Sachs has two criteria for a good gin… does it make a good martini, and does it make a good gin and tonic? See how the Green Mountain Organic Gin holds up.


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Cantina De Luca-500px

Calabria brings to mind many things but organic winemaking has never been one of them. But a winery that I met at Vinitaly has been thinking about those issues for over 20 years. In fact, this winery, Azienda Vinicola di De Luca Vincenzo is one of only two or three organic wineries in that region.

Cantina De Luca began producing wines in 1994. They are located in the province of Crotone in the town of Melissa. They work in the Ciro and Ciro Classico areas of Calabria. Wines from Ciro and Ciro Classico are typically made with Gaglioppo, a grape thought to be of Greek origins.

The core of the Ciro production is located in the towns of Cirò and Cirò Marina. These two ancient towns are located near the Ionic coast and benefit from wonderful sun and cooling breezes. They are not completely flat areas, but instead have gentle rolling hills. The soil is a mix of clay, sand and calcareous deposits.

The winery was founded by Abramo De Luca and is located at 300 meters above sea level. The vineyards have a wonderful microclimate with noticeable thermal excursion that allows the grapes to mature to full phenolic maturity, not an easy feat in the hot climate of Calabria. The winemaker is Giuseppe Liotti.

I tried a number of their wines, including a white, a rose and two reds. The white was called Donna Cristina and was made from Greco Bianco, a grape brought to Calabria during the period of the Magna Grecia. It works well in times of drought – perfect for this region. The wine was floral with citrus and stone aromas and flavors. It was rich and full-bodied.

We also tried to a rose, Donna Antonietta, made from Gaglioppo, the signature variety from Calabria. It had aromas and flavors of cherry and strawberry and an earthy, marine quality to it otherwise known as sapidity. Gaglioppo, they told me, is hard to work in an organic fashion because the grape bunches are so close together.

I also tried their Donna Caterina Ciro DOC made with Gaglioppo. This was a beautiful expression of the gaglioppo grape with a cherry, strawberry, pepper, tobacco nose and similar palate. The wine macerates on its skins for 10 days and then spends two years in wood, followed by 4-6 months in the bottle before being released into the market.

The final wine I tasted was called Melissa Ciro Superiore DOC and was also made from the Gaglioppo grape. This wine had more of a toasty, oaky aroma and flavor to it with the classic spice and vanilla notes and flavors associated with barrique aging.


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Hella Bitter

With all the organic spirits we’ve been reviewing at the Organic Wine Journal lately, it was only a matter of time before we had to start resourcing some bitters to take our cocktails to the next level. As luck would have it, we randomly ran into the guys from Hella Bitters – three friends who co-founded the company in 2010 and make their products in New York City.

They make two different types of bitters – a citrus and an aromatic – and sell them in stores like Whole Foods and Crate & Barrel, as well as on their website: www.hellabitters.com. If you’re ready to have your home bar go from good to extraordinary, this is what you need to arm yourself with.

Are they organic? – well, not yet. We’re talking to them about that. But they’re carefully sourcing all their ingredients, and we all know where that road leads. We’re going to be doing some cocktails with these guys in the future, but in the meantime, here’s some photos from our visit to their bitter-making lair.

The Hella Bitter Team at their facility.

Jomaree Pinkard – “Coach”

 

Eduardo Simeon – “Mission Control”

 

Tobin Ludwig – “Tastemaster”

 

Man-size cinnamon sticks.

 

The team is constantly experimenting with new recipes.

 

A new blend to try out.

 

Rose hips. No idea what they are, but they look pretty.

 

Two super-secret test batches of bacon bitters – one in whiskey. I’ve pre-ordered the entire run of that, so you can have the one on the left.

 

The wood that puts the bitter in bitters.

 

Tobin prepares a new batch to test.

The heavily guarded R&D board. They said it was ok to share it, but not the full Wi-Fi password in the bottom right.

 

Test batches and ingredients.

 

Eduardo on top of the two tanks.

 


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When Scott Holliday visited Chateau Tour Grise in the Loire Valley just before harvest time two years ago, it had been raining for weeks, leaving the grapes to soak up water. Everyone feared a catastrophe — “You could see it on everyone’s face – just weary from the battle.” But instead of a wasted season of diluted wine, the final result was stunning. Resembling a Rosé, Holliday remembers, “It was simple little sandwich wine but I enjoyed that more than any other wine I’d tasted all year long.”

It’s personal experiences like these that Holliday likes to incorporate into the wine list at Rendezvous in Cambridge, where he serves as co-wine director with Nicole Bernier. They have many Italian and Spanish wines to match the mediterranean cuisine, but France makes up the majority of selections, reflecting Holliday’s belief that this is the best country to start a wine education with. “The French are very comfortable with hierarchy and structure,“ he says. A Burgundy or Bordeaux often represent their regions consistently, so it is easier ”to explore wine within these categories.”

Since joining Rendezvous in 2008, Holliday has shifted the wine list towards organic and biodynamic wines. While offering organic selections from several larger producers, he strives to support smaller winemakers as well. “I’ve worked in small independent restaurants, and there’s a certain kinship between what we do and what they do. I relate to them on a very visceral level.”

While supporting the practices, Holliday does not indicate which bottles are organic or biodynamic on the menu. Instead, he prefers to discuss the wines in person with his customers, so they can make their own informed decision. "I feel like there are more people drinking, but I think the baseline knowledge has gone down. There are all these people who we have the opportunity to educate and to encourage.”

One of his favorite customer interactions came last year, when Holliday explained the biodynamic process to a young graduate student. She was very taken by it, and came back repeatedly over the next year saying, “I want the wine that was made with the moon.” Holliday reflects, “She got it. Maybe not in all its technical aspects, but certainly in the poetry behind it.”

Rendezvous
502 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge
(617) 576-1900
www.rendezvouscentralsquare.com


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Vinos Ambiz Table at the Real Wine Fair

Vinos Ambiz Table at the Real Wine Fair.

Winemaker Fabio Bartolomei from Spain’s Vinos Ambiz traveled to London to present his wines at the Real Wine Fair 2014. Here’s his experience:

I’m just back in Madrid after an intense 4 days in London, 2 days of which were taken up by the REAL Wine Fair itself, and 2 days of which were for me!

My main mission: to boldly seek out an importer for my wines in the UK.

Sunday was the day the fair was open to the public, and the forecast was that it would be busy. And it was! I have to say that I’ve never had to work so hard at a fair in all the years I’ve been exhibiting at wine fairs.

The time just flew from 10:00 to 18:00. I did nothing but speak and pour wine, and I had sore feet and a sore throat! Usually, at wine fairs, I prepare a sign that says “I`ll be back!” and I go off and taste as many wines as I can and chat about wine stuff! But this time… I didn’t even have time to prepare the sign!

I suspect that something viral or ‘word-of-mouth’ happened, as the first thing that many people said to me was “I’ve been recommended to come taste your wines by….”. It was awesome, thinking about it. It’s really the best and most sincere compliment that can be given to a wine producer. It has encouraged me no end, and has reconfirmed my belief that I should listen to myself, my heart and my intuition. I generally do, but there are moments when I’m assailed by doubts. The memory of that day will help to keep me on the right path. The path of low-intervention, terroir-expressing wines! :)

The next day, the Monday, was a trade day, and I was also quite busy, though not as much as the Sunday. And in fact I had a volunteer helper: Leila, a friend who I was out with the day before, and she asked me directly “Can I be you wine bitch tomorrow?” I was shocked and speechless for a few seconds! Because, not living in the UK, I’m not really sure these days what’s politically correct or socially acceptable to say or not anymore, but if she said it then I guess it must be OK!

Fabio Bartolomei and his wine b$#@$ Leila.

So, thanks to her, I was able to escape from my table a few times and taste some other wines, but not nearly as much as I would have liked to. Apart from restaurant and wine shop people, I also got some growers coming round to taste my wines, which is quite unusual for me (unless they knew me previously from some other occasion). I could tell they were growers because they were silent and didn’t ask any of the usual questions. They would just hold out their glasses, sniff, taste and look each other in the eye silently, and then go away!

So I don’t know what to think about that! But I think I’m going to take it as a compliment, because they must have had some kind of recommendation from someone, and they actually took the time to get away from their table. Unfortunately I don’t actually know what they thought of my wines, as they were so taciturn!

And then lastly, to round it all off, was the Georgian banquet, or Georgian supra, as it’s called. This is a wonderful way of having a dinner or banquet. Basically, instead of just one or two main courses, there was a constant flow of small dishes of different things.

But the main distinguishing element of a Georgian dinner, is the custom of giving toasts to all the guests. Every so often during the meal, you hear the ting, ting, ting of a knife on a glass and that’s the signal that the toastmaster is about to give a toast. I think this is a great custom, and we should adopt it here in Western Europe too. It has the effect of bringing all the guests at the different tables, together and of uniting everybody in a way. I found, at any rate.

Yet another distinguishing feature of Georgian banquets, is the singing. This time there is no ting ting ting on the glass, but every so often you hear the melancholic, minor key, sad, sad singing of two or more voices. You may or may not like it, but I’m a sucker for it, and it actually really did bring a tear to my eye. What with all that Georgian wine flowing too, and me being like the way I am! Of course I have no idea what the words in Georgian mean, but I’m imagining deep tragedies and laments, and yearnings; maybe from the Persian invasions of a few thousand years ago! I don’t know.

The next day, I was to fly back to Madrid – but in the afternoon. I decided a few years ago, that life was too short, not only to drink bad wine, but also to take early morning (or even morning) flights!

Which gave me time to go to the Doodle Bar, in the TestBed1 space/project/thing, which is in danger of being “redeveloped”. I hope my little contribution helps.

And then it really was time to go home. But wow, what a weekend, what a refreshing, illuminating, and encouraging few days. Just what body and soul needs, maybe just a few times a year :)


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From British Airways’s High Life – Isabelle Legeron chooses the ten best places for natural wine in London.


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Luyt Carignan Trequilemu 2011

South American wines have enjoyed quite a run in the United States, thanks to their reasonable prices and their boringly even quality. They aren’t terrible, but they aren’t, for the most part, the least bit special. So when one comes along that truly breaks the mold, it really stands out.

Louis-Antoine Luyt is a winemaker who saw an opportunity in the sea of completely ordinary wines he tasted in Chile. Bored with living in France, he arrived there as a 22 year old, got a job as a dishwasher and worked his way up to wine buyer. After studying winemaking in a class, he decided to go back to France to learn more. He studied in Beaune and worked five harvests under the tutelage of Mathieu Lapierre (the son of the legendary Marcel Lapierre) in Morgon, and then returned to Chile determined to make extraordinary wines. He found a number of small vineyards with very old vines (some as old as 300 years), but their grapes were either being sold off to huge wineries or being made into so-so wines by the locals for their own consumption. So he took over the vineyards and employed Lapierre’s techniques, converting to organic farming, plowing with horses, and staying away from irrigation. Now he makes arguably the most interesting and complex Chlean wines out there.

In the winery, Luyt uses only natural yeasts and minimal sulfur. The wines undergo carbonic maceration and they are all remarkably low in alcohol. The result is Chilean wine that can stand up to the finest red wines anywhere in the world. The Carignan Trequilemu is made from 70 year-old vines, and is a rich, dark, earthy beauty that’s amazingly vibrant and alive. 12.9% alcohol levels are a big reason why.

We sneak slightly over the $20 a bottle criteria with this one, but for a couple of bucks more you’ll get a whole new take on Chilean wines. I remember all too well my reaction to Luyt’s wines when I first sampled them, and I know you’ll enjoy that same revelatory experience. The label, inspired by the Santiago transit system, is a standout, too. You can’t miss it in a retail environment.


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