Millésime Bio 2010

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Organic wines from Egypt? This is what I bumped into at the Millésime Bio 2010 in Montpellier, France. Held this year on January 25 – 27 at the parc d\’exposition in Montpellier, it is the only trade show worldwide exclusively dedicated to organic winemaking. Now in its 17th year, the event has grown from a small local trade show, organized by winegrowers of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, to global participation with 489 exhibitors and 2700 visitors.

While about 80% of the winemakers were from France, thirteen other countries were also represented. Spain and Italy were in the lead, though there were some more surprising finds like the Egyptian International Beverage Company (EGYBEV) which grows a nice Jardin du Nil blanc and Jardin du Nil rouge on terraces along the Nile River; exactly what people were doing in that region five thousand years ago in the time of the Pharaohs.

Champagne

The first day of tasting I concentrated on white wines, starting with champagnes. At the booth of André & Jacques Beaufort I had my first eye opener. Their champagnes are handcrafted with a complete devotion to a natural wine making process. The 1996 Brut Millésime Grand Cru, made from 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay, was extraordinary, simply out of this world. A fantastic nose with an elegant aroma of honey and yellow fruit, a big wine but with a tension between delicacy and boldness.

Alsace

Beautiful rolling hills, ascending from the banks of the Rhine River, make for wonderful, unique white wines. Alsace has alternated between French and German rule throughout history, and this is reflected in its winemaking styles. German winemaking is based more on the concept of varietals whereas the French tend to favor the concept of terroir. Fortunately, both have found common ground with organics and biodynamics.

I tasted the portfolio of Eugène Meyer, a winemaker from the town of Bergholtz and a great advocate for organic and biodynamic wines. The winery was established in 1620 and is now certified organic and biodynamic by Ecocert and Demeter. Their Rieslings, Muscats, Pinot Blancs, Gewürztraminers, Edelzwickers, and Sylvaners all showed the distinctive characteristics of their respective grape varieties, all produced with great mastery.

The wines of Domaine Marcel Deiss, in the Alsatian town of are more reflective of soil, climate, and micro-climate of their vineyards. Most wines are field blends of different varietals. By old world standards this is a relatively new winery, founded after World War II, although the family Deiss has been involved in winemaking since they settled in Bergheim in 1744. Domaine Marcel Deiss became certified by Ecocert and Demeter in 1998. All the wines I tasted showed stunning complexity and intense minerality. My favorite was the 2008 Grand Cru Schoenenburg; full bodied with an incredible long finish.

Loire

Contrary to most winemakers in France, Philippe Delesvaux cannot look back on a family history of winemaking. He studied agriculture, then moved from Paris to the Loire to work on a farm. It was still possible then to find unexploited land there, with great terroir for planting vines. In other prominent wine regions, such as Burgundy or Bordeaux, the great terroirs have already been planted many centuries ago, and remain in the hands of family wineries or big estates.

His exposure to the wines of the Loire ended with such a fascination that he decided to establish his own winery in 1983, and received biodynamic certification by Ecocert in 2000. This has been great news for the Chenin Blancs lovers of this world. The Philippe Delesvaux Coteaux du Layon Sélection des Grains Nobles 2008 is a 100% Chenin Blanc produced from botrytised grapes, finished in barrique, with an earthy, musty bouquet. It still comes across as crisp and lightly fruity due to a good backbone of acidity.

Germany

Weingut Zaehringer is owned by winemaker Paulin Koepfer, who is also president of the Baden chapter of Ecovin, the association of organic wine producing domaines in Germany. Since 1844 the estate has been making wine in the Markgraeflerland, located in southern Germany across the Rhine River from Alsace. This region benefits from lots of sunshine, a good terroir, and a mild climate that favors varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinots.

I tasted the entire portfolio of the Zaehringer wines; a beautiful sparkling wine, the Chardonnay, the 2008 Gutedel, and of course the Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Fruehburgunder (there is not really a translation for this varietal, one could call it a Premature Pinot Noir). They all showed the earthiness, boldness, terroir, and elegance only detectable in natural, handcrafted wines.

Languedoc

Moving onto the reds, I started with Domaine Pierre Clavel from the Languedoc region. Pierre Clavel is the owner and winemaker, and his domaine became certified organic in 2007. Since 1992 he\’s made his top quality Copa Santa, a very special wine from grapes planted on the terroir of La Méjanelle. It\’s a blend of Syrah from older vines, Syrah from newer vines, Grenache and Mourvèdre. The 2007 Copa Santa was gorgeous with a lot of sensuality and spirituality.Velvety in the mouth, prominent tannins, a beautiful body and a long finish.

Irouléguy

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I was overjoyed to stumble across Domaine Ilarria. I\’ve been hooked on their wine since the first time I had a glass of their Irouléguy at a restaurant on the Basque of southwest France. The bouquet was stunning; lots of cassis, blackberry and a touch of chocolate. This wine was wild, earthy, mysterious with a luscious mouthfeel. Tasting the wine again, the Irouléguy Rouge 2007, a blend of 70% Tannat, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, tasted just like what I remembered. Now I understood what makes this wine so appealing to me. It is the harmony of the complex soil on the steep slopes, the mountain climate of the Basque Pyrénées, and a winemaking culture staying true to organic production principles since the first vines were planted in the eleventh century.

Spain
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The Bodega Dionisos, from the Castilla-La Manche region in Spain, pursues the philosophy of making wines respectful of cosmic rhythms. Karina de Nova, the German-born hostess, explained that in view of the harsh conditions in the region – difficult soil and very dry climate – traditional wine making techniques combined with observing the lunar calendar produce the best results.

I tasted their portfolio: four wines made in the classic organic tradition and three produced following the lunar calendar. The latter three were the 2006 Pagos del Conuco, a 100% Tempranillo, the 2004 Vinum Vitae, also a 100% Tempranillo aged 12 lunar cycles in barrique, and the 2003 Ego Primus, a blend of 70% Tempranillo, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Shiraz. These wines showed more fierceness, and boldness than their organic counterparts. My favorite was the Ego Primus. This wine had a gorgeous spicy bouquet, lots of tannins, a powerful body and a lasting finish.

South Africa
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One of the newly established wineries present at the Millésime Bio was the Lazanou organic vineyard from the Wellington Valley in South Africa. This winery was founded in 2006 and is fairly small, with just 5 hectares. Jo Lazarus and Candice Stephanou, the charming owners, pursued organic winemaking and planted varietals conducive to the soils and microclimate conditions of their terroir.

I tasted the 2009 Unwooded White Wine, a blend of 59% Chardonnay, 39% Chenin Blanc, and 2% Viognier. The nose was beautiful, heavy with honey, the body full without being overpowering and the finish was long and memorable. The 2008 Unwooded Chenin Blanc was absolutely wonderful with a gorgeous fruity nose, lots of minerality, a good structure and a perfect balance of acidity and a hint of sweetness. This wine won first prize for best organic wine in South Africa. The two reds, one 2008 made from 79% Syrah and 21% Mourvèdre, and the other one a 2008 100% Syrah were also very nice and promising, considering their youth. I particularly liked the Syrah with a typical smoky bouquet, lots of tannin, density, and a long finish.

California

Frey Vineyards of Mendocino County, California was the sole American exhibitor. The winery was established in 1980 by the Frey family, who pioneered organic winemaking in the United States. In 1996 Frey Vineyards was the first American winery to become certified by Demeter USA for biodynamic wines. The wines they presented were very young. The Organic Zinfandel 2008 had just been bottled after being aged in french oak. The bouquet carried lots of black fruit notes; the wine was smooth, juicy on the palate and almost ready to drink. This was a typical New World wine, a blend from grapes from five organic vineyards, among them grapes sourced from outside their estate.

There are many winemakers in the United States, who just produce the wines and leave the agriculture part of growing the vines and harvesting the grapes to others. In my view this is a distinctive difference with old world wines where traditionally the vineyard and the cellar is in the same hand, and terroir plays an important part in the philosophy of winemaking. Paul Frey, the winemaker, held a workshop explaining the sophisticated technical process of preserving and stabilizing the wines without adding sulfites. During fermentation small amounts of naturally occurring sulfites appear but this is usually not sufficient for preserving the wine, hence other methods of preservation need to be applied.

Bordeaux

At the Château Beauséjour table, a heated discussion arose on the subject of how to preserve wines. Gérard Dupuy, the owner, defended the European tradition of allowing a limited amount of added sulfites in organic and biodynamic wines. He explained the challenge for small wineries wanting to become organic of having to bow to rules that require certain technical procedures. Château Beauséjour is in Puisseguin in the Saint Emilion region of Bordeaux, and has always refused to use chemical treatments on the soil and vines since Alain Dupuy, Gérard\’s father, adopted a winemaking procedure respectful of protecting nature in 1947. For fermentation autochthonous yeast strains for many centuries adapted to the environment are used. The vineyards are planted with 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. I loved the wines; they were clearly children of the terroir with a typical Merlot bouquet, a hearty soul reflecting the chalky soil, a substantial body and a lingering finish.

A Great Event

My days at the Millésime Bio in Montpellier were well spent and I enjoyed every minute of it. My tasting experience leaves me with the conviction that the organic wine lovers have a lot to look forward to. More and more people are realizing how wonderful it is to produce and consume tasty, sensual wines that are in harmony with their surrounding ecosystem. I am looking forward to the 18th Millésime Bio next February to again please my taste buds with even more fantastic organic and biodynamic wines.


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