Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

From Bon Appetit:

Eventually, she landed at Louis/Dressner, the importer that helped introduce natural wine to the U.S., with Tarlow as a top client. She and he got along, and often ended up going to the same tastings and fairs on both sides of the Atlantic, so when Tarlow decided to open Reynard—a restaurant as big as all his previous places combined—he asked her to helm the wine program. According to Campbell, the transition was easy, and not just because she and Tarlow had similar drinking habits.

“There’s the idea [with Tarlow] that everyone should be rising together. At other restaurant groups you feel like it’s much clearer that somebody needs to get rich here, instead of like, How can we keep this whole thing going for a while for everybody?”

That ethos permeates pretty much every undertaking at the Tarlow restaurants, Pollyannaish as it may sound (and with the caveat that meals there are hardly cheap). In the wine department, this means that when the Wythe Hotel, Reynard’s mothership, hosts weddings, Campbell has to go to bat for natural wine—and if a bride can’t find anything in her price range that she likes, Campbell’s willing to pour a fancier natural wine, charge less, and take a hit on the difference.

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Jacky Blot – Loire

Winemaker Jacky Blot

Winemaker Jacky Blot

Michael Tulipan did a recent tour of the Loire, visiting a number of wineries that were all small, family-owned and practicing organics or biodynamics. Here’s the first is the series in the series.

You cannot taste wines with Jacky Blot until you know exactly where they came from. So you clamber into his vintage – what shall we call it? Jeep? Jitney? Let’s go with jalopy – the kind of vehicle low and heavy enough not to get caught in the vineyard muck, but where you feel every rut in the seat of your pants.

On a sunny day, after a period of ceaseless rain in Montlouis, he takes us for a loop around the most recent vineyard acquisition, Clos de Mosny, a prized plot surrounded by imposing stone walls. Jacky stops occasionally along the way at various plots, always pointing out nearby rows of vines that have been sprayed, where the soil looks hard and dead. His plots, by comparison, are bristling with life – the tell-tale grasses and vegetation of the organic way.

Clos de Mosny

Clos de Mosny

Some of these vineyards are up to 100 years old and still yield excellent grapes. Jacky is proud of all this, but we really must taste some wines. For starters, if you can find his sparkling Triple Zero – triple as no chaptalization, no sugar added, no dosage used in making it – it’s a must try. The 2011 is bone dry, a true palate memory eraser. With this, the marathon commences, starting with whites from Domaine De La Taille Aux Loups. The 2011 Remus proves very dry and full bodied while the 2011 Remus Plus takes that body and ups the dryness to desert bone dry. From the new vineyard, the 2011 Clos de Mosny (the first vintage and monopole) is already very good with a wonderful elegance. Alas, only 30 barrels of it exist.

Jacky Blot Wine Barrels

Suddenly, we are in Vouvray and drinking a racy 2011 Clos de la Bretonniere from old vines. For fun, we compare a 2008 Remus with a 1996, which is termed ‘entry level.’ If this is entry level, everyone else doesn’t stand a chance. Seventeen years brings the nose of a demi-sec but with a dry finish. It’s a big, vibrant wine and proof well-made wine, no matter what the supposed quality level, can live on and on.

Then we move on to the reds from Blot’s other label, Domaine de Butte. Highlights are the* 2011 Mi Pente, a dense red with supple tannins, and the 2011 Perrieres, grown on clay, big and robust. We end with the sweet wines. The 2009 Moelleux* is fresh and well-balanced with 50 grams of residual sugar. The 2009 Cuvee Romulus floors us, a richly delicious wine, sweet, balanced and lush.

Visit the Jacky Blot website.

See more of Michael Tulipan’s writing at The Savvy Explorer.

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Eric Asimov discusses his love for Savennières – though admits you might not like it yourself. And who makes some famous Savennières? Biodynamic master Nicolas Joly:

Hovering over the appellation is the best known, most expensive and most baffling domaine, Nicolas Joly, among whose holdings is Savennières’s most hallowed terroir, the Clos de la Coulée de Serrant. Mr. Joly may be best known nowadays as the guru of biodynamic viticulture. Biodynamics has come to be widely accepted (though fervently dismissed as well), but Mr. Joly holds other beliefs that may be equally or even more controversial.

For example, while all wine producers wish to harvest ripe grapes, what constitutes ripe is subjective. Mr. Joly seeks grapes that have begun to shrivel and, he hopes, develop botrytis, the noble rot that is an essential component of wonderful sweet wines but not always desirable in dry wines. Fermented until dry, the Joly wines are typically high in alcohol, 15 percent or more as against the more typical 13 to 14.5 percent. Mr. Joly also recommends the extreme measure of decanting his wines two days in advance.

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Over at Palate Press Remy Charest has written an interesting piece on Clark Smith:

This is a writer who extolls the virtue of biodynamics “because of its impenetrability to conventional scientific investigatory practices”, but then goes on, on the very next page, to denounce “natural wine nonsense” and criticize the proponents of natural wine (notably Alice Feiring) for not providing a clear definition of what natural wine is.

He also insists that “a complex natural ecology” is essential in providing “distinctive and soulful character” to wine (and other foods), yet will advocate that bringing a wine’s alcohol content down by 3% or using cultured yeasts and other additives is a way to create a wine that better expresses terroir.

One example of this is the “Faux Chablis” he makes under his own Winesmith label. To create this Napa Valley chardonnay, Smith takes Napa chardonnay grapes at what he deems to be optimal maturity… and then takes out a significant amount of alcohol to bring out the “lemon oil” character that, he claims, is the true signature of Napa terroir in chardonnay grapes.

To me – and many others – this kind of statement is an obvious contradiction. If chardonnay grown in Napa results in high alcohol at maturity, then high alcohol is a signature of terroir. If that results in an unbalanced wine, then doesn’t that mean that the grape is simply not suited to the place? Wouldn’t it make more sense to plant fiano or roussanne in Napa Valley, grapes that would likely yield a better balance of acid and alcohol and flavour at maturity, in the valley’s climate?

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The City of Brotherly Love is discovering natural wines. From

“We have a tremendous amount of talented chefs, but I think the ambition of what’s available to drink is not matching the ambition and quality of the food,” said Fields. “We’re just now beginning to develop a more sophisticated group of wine buyers.”

One of these individuals, Jason Malumed, became so busy linking up nonregistered natural-wine importers eager to enter the PLCB system and sell in Philly that it led to the foundation of his own distributorship, Chalkboard Wine + Spirits.

He represents six importers, bringing about 400 natural-focused wines to the market. “The wines will definitely take some more effort to sell to diners, as they are not big brand names,” he said. “But once they put the wine in their mouth, that is all it takes.”

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Regular readers of Wine Alchemy will know that I am a particular follower of Caiarossa, a Super-Tuscan biodynamic red wine that was first made in 2003. I have followed every vintage release closely since then, as it seems to me that this is a wine that, while always excellent, has improved each year as the vines have become older (they are now ten years of age) and the influence of biodynamic vineyard practices deepens. In addition, while Caiarossa is always a blend, mostly of a number of bordeaux grape varieties with Tuscan sangiovese, the proportions of these grapes in the final blend have varied markedly with each release; reflecting the terroir and the specific vintage conditions encountered each year on the Tuscan coast.

Each new release of Caiarossa is therefore unique and has become something of a special occasion at BD Mansions. What seems an emerging theme is the rise in importance of cabernet franc to become the lead grape, now displacing merlot from that role, and the current 2009 follows this, being a blend of 25% cabernet franc, 21% merlot and 18% cabernet sauvignon. Sangiovese is increased in 2009 to 19%. Supporting balance is achieved with 8% petit verdot, 6% syrah and 3% grenache, these latter three grapes being used in much smaller quantities than previously.

Rather than simply write a review of Caiarossa 2009, I really wanted to drink it paired with food, as perhaps most wines should be, and as Italian red wines really demand. But what food to pair it with? It would be easy to call in the usual suspects but I had decided to set myself a few criteria.

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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.

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.

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.

Samuel Smith Organic Chocolate Stout

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, 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.

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Lisa Gilbee

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.

Morella Wienry

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.

Tasting Notes

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

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