Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine



Organic wines would be much more widespread in Italy if legislation and organizing entities were more unified, producers say. In my talks with wine producer over the years, certain themes keep popping up: the expense of certification and the length of the time needed to be certified, but the confusing number of certifying entities is perhaps the most prominent reason winemakers choose to forgo the process. Each one has different standards, and it is not always clear where those practices fit in with EU and US regulations.

At this year’s Vinitaly wine fair in Verona, there were two different areas for wines that are organically certified, sustainably farmed or biodynamic – a good sign of the confusion within the Italian wine community. One of them, FederBio, is an organizing entity while the other, Vivit, hosted a plethora of wineries using diverse certifications. Vivit has been part of the Vinitaly fair for three years and was by far the more crowded pavilion this year.

FederBio itself is made up of a large number of certifiers – Bios, Ccpb EcoGruppo, Icea, Qcertificazini, Sidel, and Suolo and Salute, among others. The group claims land used for organic vineyards, and those in the process of converting, increased 15.8% in 2013. The number of wineries participating also increased 16.5%. Clearly there is a desire to produce more organic wines. Italy is already the third largest producer of organically grown grapes in Europe after Spain and France.

There was also a third area at the fair dedicated to more “natural practices,” called Free Wine, made up of wineries that were reducing the amount of sulfites added to their wines.

For many years there have also been two well-known wine fairs that coincide with Vinitaly – Vin Natur and Vini Veri. It was only three years ago that Vinitaly decide to host an area dedicated to more natural wine practices. Vin Natur showcases Italian and foreign natural wines. Vini Veri defines itself not as either organic or biodynamic, but have strict rules about chemical use, mandate using indigenous grape varietals and insist on hand harvesting.

Italian wineries would benefit from more clear guidelines on how to become organic – the demand is already there. Italy is already the second largest exporter of organic wines into the Unites States, and as Americans continue to look for organically produced wines, Italy’s organic winemaking has incentive to thrive and grow.


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I recently sat down at Bin 71 (my favorite neighborhood wine bar) with Sam Coturri to taste through his father Phil’s new vintages. Just as background, Phil Coturri is the premier organic/biodynamic viticulturist in Northern California and has been farming this way for over 35 years. Through his vineyard management company, Enterprise Vineyards, he works with a number of major organic wineries such as Oakville Ranch, Kamen Estate, and Amapola Creek. He is also the brother of Tony Coturri, the legendary biodynamic Sonoma winegrower.

The winery name is a combination of its street address and the fact that this specific vineyard was once a citrus grove. In 1978, a hard frost wiped out the lemon trees, except for two which Phil tried to save. I mention this because it’s known by viticulturists that if a place is good for growing citrus, it’s also good for growing Syrah, so that’s what Phil did. The vines for this wine were planted in 2002, and the vineyard is certified biodynamic. It’s also a part of one of California’s newest AVAs — The Moon Mountain District.

The 2010 crop was relatively small because of the cool year, but the grapes were very ripe and bold. The wine went through a long slow fermentation and then aged for 22 months in neutral oak. The result is quite simply one damn good red wine. Its bacon and pancetta nose is reminiscent of the Northern Rhone. It’s full-bodied and round, but in no way jammy. The minerals in it are alive and well, giving the wine a beautiful lift. You’ll like the finish, too — long and soft.

I’m breaking the under $20 rule here (it’s usually more like $40), but it’s well worth treating yourself. You’ll also have to do some hunting around because only 65 cases were made, but the search is part of the fun.


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Trentino’s Ferrari Winery has just purchased a 50% stake of Bisol, the prosecco superiore producer from the Veneto. According to Ferrari’s Alessandro Lunelli, “What we are trying to do is showcase the variety in Italian sparkling wine. Some people may have seen us as competitors but we see Prosecco DOCG and Trento DOC classico as completely different wines. One is made using the traditional method while the other uses the Charmat method. Not much will change at Bisol, we are just giving them access to our distribution system and our high levels of technology,” he added.

Gianluca and Desiderio Bisol will continue their work with the company in their current positions, continuing the family tradition that is now in its twenty-first generation.

“’This investment in Bisol is consistent with our plan to create a group made up of Italian drinking excellence,“ says Matteo Lunelli, CEO of the Lunelli Group. ”We’ve deliberated whether to enter the world of prosecco for a long time and we’ve found the ideal company in Bisol: a historic and prestigious brand with huge potential for growth, managed by a family we greatly esteem. Back in 1952 our grandfather, Bruno Lunelli, started to work alongside Giulio Ferrari and would continue to do so for years. And, as advocates of continuity, today we’ll do the same and work enthusiastically alongside the Bisol family.”

In addition to this new family venture, Alessandro has a strategy for sustainability. “We have been in the process of converting to organic winemaking for the past year. We are currently hand harvesting, using low yields, mechanically pruning and using green manure on 120 hectares of our property.” They are involved in a project with 500 families that farm the land that is called “sustainable mountain agriculture.”

The Lunelli group is composed of Ferrari sparkling white wine, but also includes the Lunelli wines, a true expression of the Trentino region, Segnana Grappa, a historical brand of Italian distillates, the Umbrian wines of Tenuta Castelbuono, the Tuscan wines of Tenuta Podernovo and Surgiva water – one of the lightest waters in the world.

The grapes at Castelbuono in Umbria are certified organic and starting in 2014, the wines will be as well. The wines made at Tenuta Podernovo are also certified organic and are part of the Colli Pisani denomination.

Ferrari was founded in 1902 by Giulio Ferrari and their name is synonymous with sparkling wine in Italy. Made in the Metodo Classico style from chardonnay, Ferrari was among the first wineries to bring sparking wine into every Italian household. Giulio had studied at the School of Viticulture in Montpellier and dreamt of making an Italian equivalent to Champagne. They produce some 4.5 million bottles a year.

Giulio Ferrari didn’t have any children and chose a friend and local merchant Bruno Lunelli as successor for his winery, who took over in 1952. The company was run by Bruno’s three sons, Gino, Mauro and Franco, starting from 1969 until 2005, and then Bruno’s grandchildren, Marcello, Matteo and Camilla took the reins of the firm. They have a team of eight winemakers, led by Marcello Lunelli, and four agronomists.

Ferrari is also active in arenas related to the Italian lifestyle. This year they have instituted their own Ferrari Award – given to a newspaper or magazine, published outside of Italy, which calls attention to the ‘Italian Art of Living’ in an original fashion. The prize consists of 1,000 bottles of Ferrari Brut for each of the three awards they hand out.


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Domaine Le Fay d’Homme

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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, 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: geniss, orthogneiss and gabbro.

We started off with the 2012 Gros Plant du Pays Nantais, a bright, fresh and lively white with an acidic tang made with folle blanche grape (grown on gneiss with silex) that in Caillé’s hands transcends the most acidic local versions. The wine is made under the domain’s La Part du Colibri label,along with a couple of reds, and is a terrific warm weather quaffer.

We jumped into Muscadet with the 2012 Le Fay d’Homme, which had nice minerality and a long finish. The signature Muscadet of the domaine, this wine is made from Melon de Bourgogne 35+ year old vines planted on gneiss and aged in traditional glass lined cement tanks, offering a classic expression. The 2012 may have been a stingy vintage with low yields and small production but it produced some great quality juice.

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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 vines are planted in gabbro, black volcanic stone. While wines from gabbro grown-vines can be austere in their youth, they age well for ten or more years – we got a peak at its potential when tasting the 2009 as well.

The 2010 Clos de la Fevrie (from orthogeniss), which Caillé deservedly calls “Grand Muscadet,” underwent a long fermentation and spent 15 months on lees. It drank beautifully, with supple, deep flavors, power and richness. The 2009 Monnieres Saint Fiacre, from vines on gneiss, yielded a high acid yet elegant wine after 39 months of lees contact. We couldn’t help but marvel at how these wines must evolve with age. As we talked about Muscadet’s aging potential, we were surprised by a bottle of a 2003 Le Fay d’Homme Muscadet, a rare and delicious treat we enjoyed over dinner with the winemaker and his daughter. Despite the hot vintage, the wine showed very well and was big enough to stand up to dishes beyond the typical seafood pairings.

Caillé also makes a couple of very good sparkling wines: the dry X Bulles and the moscato-like demi-sec Z Bulles, both made according to méthode ancestrale – a very traditional way of making sparkling wine where it is bottled before all the residual sugar is fermented into alcohol, without dosage and often riddling.

Humble, passionate and very personable, Caillé may not be one of the most widely known producers in Muscadet, but he is one to watch and his wines are worth seeking out.

www.lefaydhomme.com


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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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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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