Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

Organic winemaker Emmanuel Giboulot has been fined €500 (around $685) for refusing to spray his vineyards, located in the Côte D’Or region, against insects spreading the disease flavescence dorée.

From The Guardian:

Scores of Giboulot’s supporters, including Green MEP Sandrine Bélier, had gathered outside the court in Dijon to hear the verdict. The judge ruled in line with the prosecution’s demand that he should receive a fine of €1,000, with €500 suspended. Giboulot, 51, announced that he would appeal, and said after the hearing: “I still don’t feel guilty. It’s intolerable today to be forced to hide and to be frightened for taking a stand.”

The case has aroused strong feelings in France among the winegrower’s supporters and opponents in the wine industry. An online petition criticising the potential penal sentence gathered more than half a million signatures.

Giboulot refused to comply with the official instructions on crop spraying on the ground that the insecticide caused collateral damage among pollinating insects, including bees.

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Root – Art in the Age from Organic Wine Journal on Vimeo.

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The Campolucci Vineyards of Mannucci Droandi.

Mannucci Droandi is a winery in the Valdarno area of Tuscany near the town of Montevarchi. The Valdarno is an ancient wine making region and is part of the province of Arezzo. Wine has been part of Arezzo’s history for centuries. The people living in this part of the peninsula were the mysterious Etruscans. An official registry from the 15th Century indicates that wines from the Valdarno di Sopra (on the hills) were considered to be of superior quality while the wines from around the piano di Arezzo (in the valley) sold for a lesser price. In fact, in 1716 Cosimo III de ’Medici announced ‘ a “Bando” designating four areas dedicated to the production of quality wine, – Chianti, Pomino, Carmigmano and Vald’Arno di Sopra.

The Mannucci Droandi family has been farming their land for many years, but used to sell their grapes until the 1990s, when they began making their own wines. The owner Roberto Giulio Droandi and his wife Maria Grazia Mammuccini run the estate They have two properties: the first is the Campolucci that has 6.5 hectares and is located on the eastern slopes of the Chianti Mountains at about 250 meters above sea level. The family has owned this property since 1929 and its alluvial, sandy and silt soils are organically certified.
The second property is called Ceppeto, and is surrounded by dense woodland. This property is on the western side of the Chianti Mountains at 450 meters above sea level. The soils are a mix of clay and stones and are also organically certified.

Mannucci Droandi has been practicing organic viticulture since 2000. They use what is known as “sovescio,” or composting between their rows and have an integrated pest management regime. They believe in a balanced ecosystem on their farm. Hunting is not allowed on their property and they told me they have numerous hare, wild boar and other animals that move throughout their land. Roberto told me that his winery is a “happy island unto itself.”

The Ceppeto Vineyards of Mannucci Droandi.

I visited with Roberto and his wife on a very rainy night in November. They were lovely and fascinating to speak with and the wines were exquisite. Roberto reminded me of both a gentleman farmer as well as an explorer.

The winery has been a hub for a project with the Consiglio per la Ricerca e la Sperimentazione in Agricoltura; they are working to bring back extinct and nearly extinct Tuscan varieties. Because of legislation and market forces, Tuscany, and the rest of Italy, now have many fewer varietals. Roberto said he used to have field blends throughout his lands and, at one point, grubbed them up. He is now quite sorry he did that. He also found numerous grapes growing on his land that are unique.

The study with the university is to see how some of these older varieties can grow today. According to the University, the change in viticulture is a negative consequence of specialization, and is harmful for the genetic patrimony of the vine. Some of the grape varieties that were growing did well on the property while others did not. L’Orpicchio was one that did not do well while others such as barsaglina, pugnitello and foglia tonda did.

The winery makes interesting Chianti such as Chianti Colli Aretini, a blend of Sangiovese 90%, Canaiolo 5% and ancient Tuscan red grapes 5%, as well as a Chianti Classico, thanks to their privileged location between Arezzo and the Chianti Classico area.

They also make mono-varietal wines from the rare varietals. The Barsaglina comes from three hectares of alluvial, medium-textured soil located 250 meters above sea level. They work the land by short-spurred cordon training, summer trimming, bunch thinning and leaf removal and harvesting in stages. The wine is made from 100% Barsaglina – a Tuscan grape variety originally from the province of Massa Carrara.

They also made a 100% Foglia Tonda, a Tuscan grape variety originally from the province of Siena. They use the same viticulture techniques with this variety as the Barsaglina. In the cellar, the grapes are de-stemmed and gently crushed and then fermented in small vats (10–15 hectoliters), with prolonged maceration (20 days) and pumping-over alternated with delestage; a two-step “rack-and-return” process in which fermenting red wine juice is separated from the grape solids by racking and then returned to the fermenting vat to re-soak the solids. This step is then repeated daily. The wine is aged for eight months in French oak barrels used for the 2nd and 3rd time and then in the bottle for three months.

They also made a 100% Pugnitello, a Tuscan red grape variety also originally from the province of Siena. The selected grapes macerate for 25 days in 10-hectoliter barrels used for the 2nd and 3rd time and then age in the bottle for 6 months.

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“We talk so much about sustainable agriculture and the foods that we’re putting into our bodies,“ says Lauren Friel, wine director at the Cambridge restaurant Oleana and its sister restaurant Sharma. ”To not extend that to wine is a really big gap in the conversation."

The decision to create an exclusively organic wine list emerged naturally from the restaurant’s organic menu. Chef Ana Sortun’s locally sourced ingredients,
which primarily come from her husband’s farm, have contributed to Oleana’s success over the past decade, and represent the restaurant’s dedication to sustainable practices.

What started out as an environmental decision for Friel, however, soon grew into a personal preference. To her, the presence of the terroir is much more striking in organic and biodynamic wines. "The wines are more expressive, period.”

Oleana’s Mediterranean cuisine requires wines that do not overpower the subtle tastes of their menu. To find this balance, Friel seeks out wines that have high acid and low alcohol, preferring wines from cooler climates with thinner-skinned grapes, “more kind of nuanced wines.” She says organic wines perfectly fit the bill because “they do tend to be lower in alcohol and higher in natural acidity, and nobody’s using really aggressive oak treatments.”

The wine list at Oleana features a wide variety of grapes and regions, taking risks that Friel does not believe would be possible if Boston were a larger city. "If Boston had that larger reputation, it would feel the pressure to have big ticket wines all the time.” Flying just under the radar, Friel is able to provide bottles from smaller natural producers, many of which she finds through the importer, Selector Naturale, owned by Matteo Mollo.

Mollo, who according to Friel “hunts down wines on his own, in little restaurants and villages throughout Italy,” provides wines from grapes that no one is using, from obscure regions like Friel’s current favorite, Boca. ”They are feminine, elegant, pure and unique – they’re just gorgeous.” Their growing place on the market has facilitated Friel’s ability to add more wines from Boca to the wine menu. “They just sing with our food."

The Cambridge community seems to agree. Guests at Oleana are enthusiastic about Oleana’s all-organic wine list, which Friel attributes to the way Oleana educates its staff, and to their higher-learning location. “We have the advantage of being in an intellectual city. We have Harvard and MIT right down the street, so we have adventurous people looking to try these things.”

When these graduate students and professors frequently ask Friel ‘What’s your favorite wine?’ she struggles to find a response. “You have wines being made by one person, and you know about their families and about their dogs and children and about their lineage… it’s like picking your favorite child.” Friel concludes that the beauty in representing so many organic wines from smaller producers is that “it’s not just a beverage, it’s a story.”

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Our Wine Rkatsiteli 2010

I first I stumbled upon the grape Rkatsiteli years ago at a New York State wine fair in Watkins Glen. It was made by the mega Finger Lakes winery Dr. Konstantin Frank, and I loved it instantly. As for the grape, all I knew was that it came from eastern Europe, it was very old and that Dr. Frank was one of the only wineries around making wines from it. I carried Dr. Frank’s Rkatsiteli in my shop each year, while supplies lasted, and those who were courageous enough to take my word for it shared my enthusiasm.

Flash forward several years later, and along came Our Wine Rkatsiteli into my life. Now we’re not only in love but engaged. This is an Rkatsiteli of a different color, literally. While Dr. Frank’s is white, slightly fruity, fresh and crisp, Our Wine is a classic amber (orange) Georgian wine, and is savory, smoky, leafy, resiny, deep and full bodied. Night and day, as it were.

The wine is made as it has been since as far back as 8000 B.C. – so they’ve had time to work out the kinks. First and foremost the grapes are farmed biodynamically. While the American version is fermented in stainless steel, in Georgia it’s fermented in qvervri, or clay pots, similar to amphorae but without handles. The qvervri is lined with a thin layer of beeswax, and the grapes are put inside with skins, stems, seeds and all, crushed, and then sealed and buried in the ground. Combining all of the parts in fermentation gives the wine enough stability to make preservatives unnecessary. This is natural winemaking at its most natural. The grapes can remain in the qvervri for years, but the Our Wine is fermented for just six months, and then bottled without filtration.

Our Home is made with 90% rkatsiteli, along with 10% mtsvane and khikhvi. If fruit-driven wines are your thing, forget you read this review. When I say savory, I mean savory. It has wonderful acidity, a long tannic finish, and is the perfect partner to creamy sauce-based dishes, fatty fish and hearty meat dishes like pork ribs. This wine makes the price cut at $20, so be brave, buy a bottle, and enjoy a taste of true antiquity. If you like this wine, there’s more where that came from. Pheasant’s Tears is another excellent Georgian winery, and the winemaker is an American (Jonathan Wurdman). His wines are superb. Only small quantities are made and imported, so grab them when you can.

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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’s wines, 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.

We started off with the fresh 2012 Gros Plant du Pays Nantais then jumped into 2012 Muscadet, which had nice minerality and a long finish. 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 2010 Clos de la Fevrie, which Caillé deservedly calls “Grand Muscadet,” underwent a long fermentation and spent 15 months on lees. It drank beautifully, with supple, deep flavors and richness. The 2009 Monnieres Saint Fiacre, from vines on gneiss, yielded a high acid yet elegant wine after 39 months of lees contact.

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Why does this wine make Victoria crave a Pastrami sandwich? Watch the review of the Phillipe Bornard Cotes-du-Jura Chardonnay Les Gaudrettes 2009 and find out.

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