Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

Debby Zygielbaum reports from Robert Sinskey Vineyards:

Harvest started off for us with some shake, rattle and roll — we’d been picking for less than a week when the earthquake hit. The epicenter is a mile south of one of our vineyards and the fault runs north through two more of them. USGS has come out twice to do some mapping! Things were knocked about in our shops and we’ve lost some vines due to the cracking along the fault line, but we fared much better than some.

Fault line in the vineyard.

Fault line in the vineyard.

Overall, harvest has gone well – a dry, but decent, growing season allowed for good fruit set during bloom and flavor development during harvest. We had just enough water to get us through the season. Yields have been on the high side of average and wines have been pressing off quite tasty. Mildew pressure was incredibly high this year but we were up to the challenge, our vineyards sailing through relatively clean.

Canopies shredded by the hail storm.

Canopies shredded by the hail storm.

For about a month, it felt a lot like last year: the weather was amenable, the fruit was beautiful, and we were picking regularly. By the time the freak hail storm hit, all our Pinots and whites where in the cellar. The Bordeaux varieties weathered the storm, but their canopies got pretty shredded. It definitely slowed down ripening and we’re currently waiting for the numbers to come back into balance. The heat wave forecast for this weekend should help with that.

Can’t stop the harvest – earthquake, rain, hail, heat waves, whatever — we just keep on picking.

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Check out five great organic spirits for fall, including a great pumpkin spiced vodka. OWJ’s editor does a roundup on Forbes.

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Phillip Coturri

Phillip Coturri

From Phil:

I’m taking a deep breath as a front moved through last night, dropping a quarter inch of rain. We harvested our last zin yesterday not wanting them to get washed. The harvest has been early and steady. The last major heat spike during the Labor Day weekend really got things going. We have harvested about 50% of the 1200 tons we do annually. What’s left is Cabernet and Rhones.

The growing season started early with bud break around mid March. Bloom was early, starting late April. For the third year of drought, the rains we did have came a few weeks prior to bud break and through March, filling the soil profile and setting the stage for great full canopies.

The fruit harvested so far has great flavors, complete ripeness with out shrivel. The zins were some of the best I’ve seen in years. A moderate crop small clusters about 25-35% less than last year. Tannin structure in the Cabs is well balanced, softer than 2013 due to the full canopies. Flavors across the board are huge. The vines lignified in mid-August, sugars came up early September and are holding nicely as flavors are developing. My job is to get fruit ripe, and if I can hold it on the vine for a couple weeks we can get it sexy ripe. Next week is going to be full of Cabernet.

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From Perlage:

The organic agriculture wins also this rainy vintage: the grapes are healthy and have a generous gradation.

This year’s harvest of Perlage takes place in two steps because of high humidity and low temperatures. This innovative technique used for the first time in Perlage and for the first time also in the DOCG territory shows how experience and professionalism can survive the more difficult vintages.

The first step is the collection of bunches with very thin skin that have some compromised grapes, while we leave those still perfectly healthy on the rows, waiting for the sugar ripeness and therefore achieve the ideal stage to be collected in the second step.

“With the introduction of this harvest technique, for the first time adopted in the vineyards of the Perlage winery, we are confident of being able to ensure thehighest quality this year, helped no doubt by the high suitability of the hills. Moreover the organic treatments, instead of the conventional ones, act both low and high temperatures, so they have protected the vines from downy mildew.” (Ivo Nardi, owner of Perlage).

The hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene are an ideal location for growing grapes, between the sea and the Alps and have a mild and temperate climate. The sunny exposure, favored because of their location from east to west, the ventilation of the slopes and the good rainfall, help to maintain healthy grapes and now allow us to wait time for the perfect ripening.

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Bill Powers, who founded Badger Mountain Vineyard in Washington, passed away this morning at his home in Kennewick, we’ve learned from Paul Chartrand of Chartrand Imports. Badger Mountain became the first certified organic winery in Washington in 1990 and has received numerous honors for his work, including the Wine Grape Grower of the Year and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. Our condolences to his family and co-workers at Badger Mountain.

Learn more about Bill Powers at

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From the winery:

“When we say that every year is different and that each vintage has its own specificities, nothing can be more true than in 2014 …We now look forward for the results with much curiosity and apprehension. On the first day of the harvest, we already talk about an atypical vintage.”

“January 1st, 2014: In the south, we wished an Happy New Year on the sunny terraces. This already presaged a mild winter. We were not wrong, after 15 days of relative cold mid-December. January and February were soft with mild temperatures. The pruning began on January 18th (at the time of Steinerian crystallization) under a rarely observed sun in our northern sector.
March: As we see the first flowers of apricots blooming along the Rhone a month earlier than usual, we wondered what it would be in the vineyards. First bets went for an early vintage: 2003, anyone? Vines show their first tears. Then budding happens around March 20th, confirming that we were three weeks in advance. From north to south, it was the same. April, May: Let the season starts! Plants grow, flowers appear and despite a small episode of cold temperatures, everything went well; we can even observe that 2014 could bring a great volume of grapes. In Châteauneuf du Pape, we will wait after the fruit set to say Hallelujah! In the South, the grapes looked promising but Grenache is the variety that may be able to deprive us of a large part of its harvest because of coulure… but this time, everything was allright. And the fruit set was going very well. May, June: There is a lack of water, no spring rain, we began to worry about water stress. Vines grow, grapes are developping nicely, it’s hot, dry, it’s paradise …. But we remain vigilant as such tranquility during the vegetative stage is unusual. The vineyard is beautiful, healthy and everything goes well. Too well?

During the month of June, we are concerned: It’s too hot and there is a lack of water. From north to south, from Ampuis to Latour de France in Roussillon, we monitored in order that our vines do not stress. Considering it could be like in 2003, we shifted vacation dates and we asked everyone to be available on August 18th, just in case … For some appellations we wondered if we should not set up an exceptional irrigation plan. At Latour de France, some plots are under water stress, but also young vines are suffering in Châteauneuf. On Mirabel, our wine estate in Ardèche, basalt and limestone reminded us how hard they are with plots showing some symptoms of water stress. We decided not to produce our famous “Coufis”, our “vin de paille” Viognier de l’Ardèche, due to concerns about the stress of the vines. We knew that we had to remain vigilant. Early July, we saw early scalding symptoms on Mirabel, Tain l’Hermitage and Ampuis. Then, we softened the effects of this heat with comfrey, chamomile or yarrow teas. Rains started on July 14th from north to south and it was the beginning of the time for the vintner to accompany his vines. As rains continued alternating with sunny days, we set up a biodynamic treatment planning: rhubarb, buckthorn and clay to dry the vines. On July 25th, part of the team was leaving for vacation. On Saturday, July 26th, we did not even have time to pack our bags that a hailstorm started around 2:00 PM. “Emergency” treatments with clay were immediately used. On Monday morning, we finished all the plots and then followed a week of rain. For August, it was announced that it would rain nearly twice as usual at the same period of time. And it’s true. Grapes grow … and continue to grow. We topped vines. On August 15th, started mildew with a rare energy. We were on high alert. We pruned to clean up the environment. But heat and rain brought our “tiny enemies”. Pressure still went up a notch. So we decided to go for prevention, some grapes were eliminated and consequently we cleaned up the vineyard, thinking that we should continue because we were still far from maturity.

Elders have always said that September “made” the vintage. As an example, August 1989 remains the coldest ever but September made it a legendary vintage. From north to south, we pruned, we removed the leaves. At Latour de France, people looked at us with curiosity: “Are they really removing the leaves?”. Usually dry, sometimes too dry, this season was wet and natives were
unprepared. So, for us, Rhone northerners at heart, we applied in Roussillon the same methods as in Tain l’Hermitage. There was no time to lose: it had to mature, especially since the harvest was promising. On August 25th, the beautiful weather started again. A beautiful and warm sunshine. Early September, 30 degrees during the day. Our prophylaxis work shows results The vineyard is healthy and the grapes ripen at their own pace, with an exceptional sun. We are not anymore ahead of schedule but, on the hill of Hermitage, we can admire the beautiful golden color of the Marsanne grapes and smell the nice aromas of the grapes in our vineyards of Méal and Chante Alouette. In the Clos, at Saint-Joseph, we can imagine the power that will come out of these berries whose skin becomes thinner. We turn, we return, we observe, we monitor and tonight we enjoy a break. We are blessed by this weather and we want it to last because there are still three weeks to go. Tonight, we hope that everything will finish with a happy end. Our vigilance and responsiveness made us getting out of a complex situation. Monday, September 8th, 2014, let’s start! We start this surprising vintage with the grapes of our white Méal, degrees around 14.5 ° are expected. This is the beginning of the last stage, we are ready and serene thanks to the work that we have put in place for obtaining healthy grapes. This vintage 2014 is really surprising!

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From Jenny & Francois:

Dear Winelovers,

Come protest Global Warming with the Jenny & François team! We are passionate about this subject for many reasons, but as people of the wine industry who work closely with winemakers around the world, we have to acknowledge the effect of global warming on grape growing. On Sunday September 21st, we will join the People’s Climate March at 11 AM on 77th St. and Central Park West to march as a group of wine lovers who want to take back the terroir and bring awareness to this growing problem. Check out the website here:

Research shows that if climate change patterns progress as expected with higher temperature and droughts, grape-growing regions will shrink by nearly 80 percent by the year 2100. We don’t want to be in the raisin business! Please come by for an hour or two and walk with us – we’ll be the ones holding the banner that says “Winelovers Unite: Take Back the Terroir!”

We’d love to see a giant group of wine drinkers, industry or not, walking with us on Sunday the 21st to continue the battle against global warming. Please send us an e-mail at if you can make it so we know how many to expect. We look forward to marching with you!

In Vino Veritas,

The J&F Team

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Chambers Street Wines, which features many organic and biodynamic selections, has been named the Best Independent Retailer in the World by Jancis Robinson’s website. Read the full story at

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