Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

Milos Winery summer

While standing on slopes of vineyards carved out of a mountainside, you wonder how Miloš Winery produces any wine at all — let alone some of the best organic wines in Croatia. Terraces march up the face of the mountain, leveling off just enough to allow a jeep to bounce its way halfway up. From this height, you admire an amphitheater of Plavac Mali grapes swaying in the ocean breezes. It is bone dry here in the summer, but the grapes draw moisture from the limestone-rich soil, which is adept at holding humidity. Below you, the lone road traversing the Pelješac Peninsula wends out of sight around a bend and sparkling blue seas extend in every direction.

The Plavac Mali grape is revered in this part of the world, the long lost relative or perhaps even forefather, of the much more famous Zinfandel. No matter the exact origins, the grape stands on its own — though too often a tannic bomb best cellared for years, if not decades. The sun is relentless here, making for big wines that can easily spin out of control. Only the cool ocean breezes can rein in this monster — or a storied winemakers like Frano Milos, whose family has lived in these parts for nearly 500 years.

Miloš wines have been made for generations, though only after the fall of Communism did they have the ability to be sold under the family name. Indeed, Frano’s was the first Croatian winery to launch as a private business in those early days of the new republic. From the start, he eschewed modern techniques for tradition and he continues to work in what can only be described as “the old ways.” Certified organic, the wines are made with minimal intervention, including no added yeast and only a small amount of sulfur added just before fermentation. The wines also age much longer than is the norm. As Frano’s son Ivan told us during our tasting, the goal of his father’s winemaking is to “achieve elegance.”

Milos winery

You can taste both the entry level Plavac and the Stagnum range, made with Plavac Mali grapes from vines over thirty years old. We started with a 2013 Stagnum Rose which was intense, with a good balance of acidity and minerality. The 2010 Plavac, billed as an entry wine, but far more than that, was the opposite of tannin bombs you find elsewhere. The alcohol level sat at a reasonable 13.6% and the resulting wine was softer and more enjoyable than other Plavacs we tried in the region. The 2006 Stagnum, a current release no less, was herbaceous and savory with a hint of spice followed by dry finish. 2003 Stagnum, by turns, was intense with good tannins and showed the potential for greatness, but would benefit from at least another five years of aging. Incredibly, this wine was aged for 3 ½ years in barrel and another 6 ½ years in bottle before being released. We finished with two very good sweet wines, a 2007 Stagnum Semi-Sweet and the 2007 Stagnum Dessert Wine. The former was more fruit forward than sweet, while the latter had a balanced sweetness, raisin-y with great structure.

If you should find your way to the paradise that is the Croatian Coast, do drop in on the family and taste some wines. Admire the stunning photos Frano takes, which adorn the old winery’s walls. And before you leave, pick up some tea full of Mediterranean herbs like sage, germander, rosemary, heather, bindweed and St. John’s Wort that grow on the surrounding lands.

Miloš Winery

Boljenovići 15, Ston, Croatia

read more

At Wine FTW, Louise Hurren interviews Randall Grahm about his new Popelouchum Project:

“The whole notion behind the initiative is really predicated on the idea that the New World has really been hopelessly imitative of the Old – we haven’t yet discovered our unique and distinctive voice. My idea is that growing varietal blocks of grapes is quite limiting – we’ll never find the degree of congruence that the Old World has discovered with their centuries of iteration – but maybe by growing completely heterogeneous blocks, every vine genetically distinct from the other, we can produce a wine of real complexity, and allow the soil characteristics of the wine, rather than the varietal characteristics, to emerge. It’s my hope that I’ll be able to produce a wine from our Popelouchum Estate in San Juan Bautista, reflective of the great quality of terroir I know it to possess. Secondarily, we might find certain vines that are particularly well suited to the site, or which have utterly unique (and favourable) characteristics.”

read more


Randall Grahm is seeking $350,000 in funding for his Popelouchum Vineyard project on Indiegogo.

In his own words (and be grateful Indiegogo doesn’t have the capability for footnotes):

We aim to create a truly unique, superior and nuanced wine, a “Grahm Cru,” an expression of the unique terroirs of our Popelouchum Estate in San Juan Bautista. We plan to do this by adopting a very unusual methodology – the breeding of 10,000 new grape varieties, each genetically distinctive from one another – and blending them into a unique cuvée that the world has not tasted heretofore. In so doing, we might also discover individual vines that are more congruent to our site as well as those that might have greater global utility – disease or drought tolerance – in a changing climate. We plan to employ biodynamic practice and use other techniques – some new-fangled (the use of biochar), some old-fangled (dry-farming), to grow grapes in a more deeply and truly sustainable fashion.

Read about the full project on the site. Some quick notes, though… the grapes will be grown biodynamically, and he also plans to have the vineyard certified organic. Perks include dinner at the vineyard and the chance to name one of the grape varieties.

read more

Domaine de Saint Pierre is a 6ha organic property with vineyards located in both Arbois and Cotes de Jura. The winery produces reds, whites and pet-nat created by owner and winemaker Fabrice Dodane. Savagnin de Voile 2008 is a bright and zippy white, mineral driven with medium acidity. Aromas of golden delicious apple skin, lime zest, hazelnuts and musk prepare you for more hazelnut on the palate, smoky oak, vanilla and orchid. A gorgeous expression of Arbois, and Jura in general.

read more

Château Pontet-Canet


Importer Duclot la Vinicole recently hosted a vertical tasting of ten vintages of biodynamic Bordeaux prodcuer Château Pontet-Canet. The estate has been family-owned since 1959 with second-generation winemaker Alfred Tesseron at the helm. The property has 200 acres of vines and uses approximately a 50/50 split between new French oak and cement vats for aging.

The winery is also known for replacing mechanical engines with horses — about half the estate is farmed using horsepower, with a goal of 100% in the near future. "A horse never puts his foot in the same place,” says Tesseron. The family trains their vines into arches so the horses can pass through without harming them. The winery had their first green harvest in 1990, a fully biodynamic vineyard in 2005 and the entire winery was certified in 2010.

The vertical tasting included wines before and after the organic practices began. While subtle, the wines after the change have bright and fresh qualities that weren’t present prior.

The following three stood out in terms of balance and complexity of flavor:

Château Pontet-Canet Paulliac 2007

A very limited production wine, due to summer rot and humidity — it isn’t available outside of Pontet-Canet’s cellar. On the nose, there are notes of shaved dark chocolate and red currants. On the palate, the wine is lush with red currants and a lengthy finish.

Château Pontet-Canet Paulliac 2009

The deepest of the wines I tried, the nose is delicate and pretty with blackberries and prunes. On the palate the wine tastes spearmint, milk chocolate and more blackberries.

Château Pontet-Canet Paulliac 2010

My personal favorite of the group, 2010 is gorgeous, velvety, deep and bright. On the nose I found shortbread cookies, violets and strawberries. On the palate there are more strawberries, strawberry leaf, cassis and spices.


read more

Mike Benziger

From The Press Democrat:

Benziger Family Winery, founded more than 30 years ago by a pioneering Sonoma Valley wine family who helped bring green farming practices into the mainstream, is being sold to one of the world’s largest producers of low-priced wines.

The Wine Group, the world’s third-largest wine company with such budget brands as Franzia, Almaden and Corbett Canyon, announced Monday it has purchased the winery in Glen Ellen and its nearby sister winery, Imagery.

Financial terms were not disclosed, though industry estimates ranged from less than $90 million to slightly more than $100 million.

The article also states that part of the deal includes the winery’s green practices will be maintained. Over at Wine-Searcher, W. Blake Gray sees this may be a sign of biodynamics moving into the mainstream.

This might be a good time to invest in cow horns.

read more

London Raw

The annual RAW natural wine fair, held in London’s East End each May, is quickly turning into a force of nature. This year, over 4,000 people attended the two day tasting event, showing that interest in organic, biodynamic and natural wines continues to build among mainstream wine aficionados.

To show at RAW, winemakers must meet several criteria: being certified organic or biodynamic, hand harvesting their grapes, not adding yeast except in secondary fermentation for sparkling wines, avoiding any heavy manipulation and keeping added sulfur levels below 70 mg/L. Plenty of highly regarded names were represented — Movia, Radikon, Champagne Larmandier-Bernier, Frank Cornelissen, Coturri, Eric Texier and Cascina degli Ulivi, along with a bevy of producers, mainly from Europe.

Sasha Radikon pouring

While I did retaste many favorites such as Lunar from Movia and some great 2008 Radikons (Ribolla, Oslavje and Jakot), a few regions and wineries did stand out. Several wineries showed well from Emilia Romagna, including Podere Pradarolo, Cinque Campe and Casé, putting the spotlight on this lesser known region as one to watch. An innovative winery from Slovakia, Strekov 1075, specializes in skin contact — its standout was Nigori, a cloudy Welschriesling named for a style of sake. Equally surprising was the first Polish wine I’d ever tried — my wife is Polish so we’ve long been on the hunt for Polish wine — from Dom Bliskowice, a young winery from Wisla in southern Poland. Their collection of 2012 and 2013 Rieslings showed some potential and we’ll keep our eyes on them.

Famed producer Emidio Pepe, from Abruzzo, presented six wines ranging from 2012 all the way back to 1983. Known for their reds, the 2012 Pecorino Colli Aprutini IGT started off the tasting and showed very well. Then it was on to the reds, with the star, of course, being the 1983 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a full-bodied wine, a bit bloody with olive notes, mature but still showing great vibrancy. Truly stunning.


Another winery, little known outside its region and not yet distributed in the US, Laurent Bannwarth from Alsace impressed as well. Highlights included a very good 2013 Riesling Coeu de Bild, a minerally 2013 Gewurtztraminer and a rich 2009 Pinot Gris “Patience.” Each wine showed deep dedication to tradition and none had added sulfites. US distributors should jump on this winery.

In London, RAW is held at the Old Truman Brewery in the East End, which allowed for a large open tasting room and fairly good traffic flow. While there were a few challenges with the space. It gets extremely warm, bathrooms are in short supply, and spit buckets are not on the tables — awkward cardboard receptacles in the middle of the aisle encouraging more drinking than tasting. Overall the venue handled the crowds well.

Emidio Pepe

While I did hear a few people approach tables asking for orange wines as if they were trinkets to be collected, the crowd struck me as extremely engaged and that bodes well for the continuing growth of natural wines worldwide. On to Germany for the first RAW Berlin on November 29.
More info on RAW events can be found at

read more

In Punch, Alice Feiring discusses the future of Natural Wine.

read more