Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

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.

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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… 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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Cantina De Luca-500px

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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I have always been a believer in the versatility of rosés, and while they are not wines for the ages (with the exception of the serious ones from appellations like Tavel) they shouldn’t be dismissed as frivolous summer quaffs. I enjoy them all year — they’re especially good with Thanksgiving dinner — and I especially like them with a couple of years aging. That said, I discovered this Sicilian rosé a couple of years ago, and immediately added it to the 40 others that I sold.

The Di Giovannas have been making wine since 1860 (newcomers) and all five of their vineyards have been certified organic since 1997 (Suolo e Salute srl). The brothers Di Giovanna, Gunther and Klaus, oversee all the winemaking and winegrowing. This rosato is 100% Nerello Mascalese. The juice is macerated for about 12 hours — this is no light, pink, watery rosé — and then fermented on the lees in stainless steel for three months. It’s then filtered and fined, giving it some softness without taking away from its relatively full body.

Try this with grilled fish or even a lamb burger, because its reasonable 13.5% alcohol level belies its heft. About $15 will get you a bottle. Even in a world of a gazillion rosés, this one should make your cut.

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It’s two Philippe Bornards at once. Watch Victoria’s reviews of Philippe Bornard
Trousseau 2010 & Ploussard 2009.

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