I had the awesome opportunity to attend an organic/Biodynamic wine tasting at the Atlanta Botannical Garden on Tuesday (thank you to Eric and Michael at Empire!). It was a gorgeous setting with some fabulous wines...and it provides a reason to talk about Organic and Biodynamic wines, which I get asked about all the time.
I've mentioned it before, but to dispel any ambiguity -- I LOVE organic and Biodynamic wine (and food for that matter). Perhaps it's because I was raised by a hippie mom (I knew what macrobiotic meant by the time I was like 5) or maybe it's because I'm an earth sign, but actually, I think it's because the wines taste amazing and they do so without polluting my body or the environment.
Now before I get started on talking about organic and Biodynamic wines, I should define what they heck they are. I'll try be brief, but it's a little complicated...
Organic farming is about keeping soil healthy and controlling vineyard issues by using naturally occurring stuff to fight off maladies. For example, organic farming means you use compost instead of chemical fertilizer, and introduce natural predators into the vineyard to eat pests that eat grapes (spiders, hawks to eat rodents). Any sprays are made from ingredients that occur in nature, not that are made in a lab. It's back to basics farming. There are three ways a wine can be labeled if it's organically farmed (in the US, definitions from The Daily Green):
- 100% Organic has the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) seal. This wine can contain only naturally occurring sulfites (or sulfur dioxide, an antimicrobial substance) in less than 100 parts per million.
- Organic has the USDA organic seal and indicates the wine has 95% organically grown ingredients (the other 5% must not be available organically). The wine has the same sulfite requirements as 100% organic.
- Made with Organic Grapes or Made with Organic Ingredients means the wine contains at least 70% organic ingredients. It can have artificial sulfites added, but it may not contain more than 100 ppm. (It does not have the USDA organic seal.)
This labeling is hotly contested mostly because the USDA has decided that the use of sulfites (which are organic) to preserve wine prevents them from being organic, even though they are farmed that way. I think the issue is elegantly addressed by The Organic Wine Company, a great resource,
I'll let you decide what you think on that subject.“an organic wine is defined as "a wine made from organically grown grapes without any added sulfites". By this unfortunate restriction, the vast majority of what you and I have been calling organic wines can now only be referred to as "wines made from organic grapes" (or organically grown grapes), since they are allowed to contain up to 100 ppm of added sulfites...the truth is that wines without added sulfites are very few in number and very unstable in quality, giving the public a negative perception Organic Wines in general (Organically Grown I mean!)! The wine industry has the dubious honor of being the only one that cannot call its product "organic" even though it is made with more than 95% of organic components.”
Biodynamic viticulture is a little out there, but whatever they're doing they're doing right because Biodynamic wines really are outstanding. Again, to quote The Organic Wine Company:
"...The great 20th century philosopher Rudolf Steiner is the originator of this approach. He taught that growth was influenced by a flow of energy radiating from the moon, stars and planets. According to Steiner, the position of the moon and the stars within certain constellations influenced the growth of leaves, roots, flowers, and fruit. Biodynamic farmers plant their crops accordingly. They employ various methods for nourishing the soil, as do organic grape growers. However, biodynamic growers put a greater emphasis on the vines and since they believe that plants respond to all the various forces of nature, they also time their activities in accordance with the cycles of the moon, planets and stars."
So these are the different philosophies. There are differences, but both are adamantly against the pesticide movement that's been afoot for the last 100 years.
Amen, I say.
If I may dork out for a second, archaeologists believe wine was first made from grapes as early as 6000 B.C. (ironically, in Iran, which now essentially bans the stuff). I may be going out on a limb here, but I don't think there were chemical pesticides back then. For millennia, wine has been made with nary a chemical in sight...and it's been pretty fabulous. In fact, it's evolved to where it is today without this crazy ass chemical warfare on the vines we see today. I will concede that new pests and vineyard nastiness have evolved (mold, fungus, etc), but when there are wines in the market that have proven they can make kick-ass wine without poisons, I get my back up in arguments against organic and Biodynamic wine.
You may be wondering why, if it's just basic farming (and seems cheap), all wineries don't just become organic. Pretty simple. The green god. Cash money. It's expensive to convert vineyards back to a more natural state. Sadly, it's cheaper to use polluting chemicals than to farm organically. That said, once you destroy the land with chemicals the cost of cleaning up groundwater and restoring vineyard soils is pretty high too, but like politicians, business folks tend to be short-sighted.
Getting back to the tasting, I enjoyed it but I have to say I was a little disappointed because it didn't feature any European wines. Germany, Spain, Portugal, and certain parts of France are making great strides in organics/Biodynamics, and it would have been nice to experience the wines from those producers. That said, the event was a nice look into some of the producers in the New World (meaning anything except Europe) who are forward thinking.
I'll list the Biodyamic and organic wines here, since people are always asking me for producers, and I'll highlight the few that I found outstanding. What I won't do -- list wines that call themselves "sustainable." Beware of that term. There really is no set definition and more often than not, it's just large companies trying to bandwagon onto our shifting sentiment that we don't want to drink things that have been sprayed with poison. Most "sustainable" companies do things like introduce hawks into the vineyards, but most still use pesticides and they are much less concerned with soil and vine health. Last I checked, Wal-Mart says it's sustainable too, but it's responsible for more waste than any other company in the world. All relative, I guess.
Ok, ok, the wines...here are 6 highlights and then the list:
1. Robert Sinskey. No one mentions Biodynamic and organic American producers, without mentioning Sinskey. This guy is a pioneer and his shop proves that every vineyard, when farmed purely, can make outstanding wines. I tried 5, each were great but my three favorites follow.
The 2009 Abraxas ($34) is a blend of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Blanc. It smells like a gardenia and an herb garden, and has a round, refreshing character that tastes kind of like Italian parsley, a tobacco leaf, and a honeysuckle. This is unequivocally a halibut or shellfish wine.
2007 Three Amigos ($56) is a beautiful light ruby color. I didn't need to stick the beak in too far to get a big hit of cherry, red raspberry, and spice. This is a classic Cali Pinot. It was pretty silky, but with good acidity and red cherry, red raspberry, cinnamon and blueberry flavors. All yum.
2005 Marcien Red ($65). The story goes that Robert Sinskey decided to grow Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot in the cool Carneros region where everyone grows Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and all his neighbors called him a martian. Traditionally those grapes are grown in the hotter part of Napa. Beam me up, Robert. This tastes like a Bordeaux. An excellent balance of blackberry, black raspberry, and black plum is balanced with coffee and cinnamon flavors. This is more like a Bordeaux than a Napa wine. If this is wine on mars, I'm volunteering for the space station.
2. I love Tablas Creek so much and have already done an extensive post on their Chateauneuf-du-Pape style blend, Esprit de Beaucastel. Tablas Creek adopted the traditions of the Rhone Valley, arguably the hottest hotbed for organic agriculture in France and they've got amazing wines to prove it. The 2008 Cotes-de-Tablas ($24) was light and fruity with lots of super-ripe cherry flavors. It had a slightly bitter finish, but was pretty delicious and lightly acidic to give it a little sizzle. Tablas Creek rarely lets me down.
3. I am so excited to recommend an Australian wine. I feel like Australia is out of style-- like it's the acid-washed jeans of the wine world. Well, I don't think acid-washed jeans are coming back (then again, I didn't think florescent colors would either but I see them all the time and am horrified), but I think Australia is coming back and Yalumba is part of the reason. Not all their wines are organic, but the Organic Viognier ($16) is and it needs to go on your list for fabulous summer wine. It's really restrained -- it doesn't beat you over the head with aromas or flavors like many other Viogniers do but still has lovely floral and ripe peach flavors. It's got great acid, which is rare for a Viognier. Big thumbs up.
4. McFadden from Mendocino County in California is organically farmed. Totally new to me. I've never even heard of them. They remind me of my favorite Mendocino producer (whom I can't get in Atlanta), Navarro Vineyards. The 2006 Pinot was awesome. It smelled like red cherries and dusty country road. It kind of tasted like that too with just the slight hint of some barnyard and hay in it. Mendocino makes Pinot like no other region in California, and I think it's amazing.
6. Last but not least, DeLoach showed their Nova Zinfandel. DeLoach has gone biodynamic and this Zin seems to really like that. A huge wine from the rarely used Lake County appellation, this is all the spicy, raspberry briar patch, vanilla, coconut goodness you expect in a Zin. Delicious.
As promised, here's a list of the other Organic an Biodynamic Wines featured. I'm also attaching a few links on these farming/winemaking practices and ideas of more wines you can buy (I will always tell you in my post if the wine is organic or Biodynamic, FYI!):
- Bonny Doon Wines: Le Cigare Blanc, Vin Gris de Cigare, Ca' del Solo Albarino
- Bonterra Wines: I only tried the Sauvignon Blanc and was very impressed.
- Pacific Rim: Their Wallula Vineyard Riesling 2007 is farmed organically. I absolutely love dry Riesling (if you've only had sweet, try this -- great with lighter foods or for sipping).
- Rubicon Estate: CASK -- Farmed organically.
Here are some links on Biodynamic wines:
The Daily Green
Wine Anorak ( A great wine blog, FYI -- here is a list of Biodynamic wines from around the world on this site)
Demeter, the Biodynamic Certification Agency
And on Organic Wines:
The Organic Wine Company
Organic Wine Journal