Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine


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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A handcrafted corn vodka from the heartland. They use their leftover corn cobs to produce energy, but is the vodka worth the effort? Watch Tony’s review and find out.


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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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While selling my wine shop, I came across a number of wines that I just couldn’t let myself hand over to the new owner. They were simply too good to be left behind, so they came home with me. One of them was Philippe Tessier’s Cheverny Blanc. It had been another “love at first taste” for me, and one that I turned a lot of folks onto over the years. It’s one of the fabulous wines from the Cheverny appellation of the Loire Valley, a region I love. The Cheverny white is always a cepage dominated by sauvignon blanc and rounded off by a small percentage of chardonnay.

Domaine Tessier was started in 1961 by Roger Tessier and his son Philippe. In 1981 Philippe took over, and has been overseeing the 23 hectares ever since. The wines have been certified organic (ECOCERT) since 1998. Philippe’s winegrowing practices epitomize the natural wine philosophy. “We practice and promote small farm viticulture. A wine should be the expression of the place from which it comes. It should reflect the climactic conditions of the year, as well as a little of the vigneron who produces it, while respecting the life of the soil and the environment. It must give pleasure, but it must also be sound and healthy, alive and digestible…..it should be natural wine.” That pretty much covers it.

The Cheverny Blanc is 80% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Chardonnay and 5% Arbois. It’s neither filtered nor fined, and is fermented with natural yeasts. No sulfites are added, and it’s vegan and vegetarian friendly. It has all of the wonderful qualities of a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc, but slightly rounded off with a touch of chardonnay. I’m thinking mussels, sole or a creamy chicken dish. At around $14, this is one of the great wine values. If your wine shop doesn’t know it or carry it, go find another wine shop. Or stop by my house.


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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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