Whether you’re a casual tippler or a total wine snob, chances are you’ve heard of a winemaking term called biodynamics. You usually get one of two responses when you mention biodynamics to a room full of oenophiles. One group of people will snicker and say, “You don’t believe in that voodoo, do you?” and the other group will proclaim, “It’s about time!” So which is it? Well, the proof may just be in the glass.
Biodynamics is a rigorous form of organic agriculture that envisions a vineyard as a single organism—soil, vines, livestock, birds, insects—everything combines to produce a healthy, self-sustaining environment without the use of artificial additives. The idea was first proposed back in 1924 by an Austrian scientist named Rudolf Steiner in reaction to the damaging industrial farming methods of the day, including the overuse of toxic chemicals.
Steiner took the idea of organic agriculture a step further, and reintegrated ancient agricultural methods such as an astrological planting calendar based on moon cycles, as well as various fertilizing and pest-control preparations—like stuffing manure into cow horns, burying them for a season and then spraying the decomposed remains over the land in the spring.
Despite the ongoing (but thankfully diminishing) taboo against “organic” wines, more and more winemakers are turning to biodynamic practices because they believe that the grapes they produce and the wines they make from them are of an altogether higher quality than conventionally produced wines. If you look at a list of biodynamic wineries, you’ll find that many are among the most highly regarded not only in the U.S., but also the world. In fact, you’ve probably even had some biodynamic wine without knowing it.
We’ll be tasting biodynamic wines from all over the world and bringing you our notes in the coming months, starting with these three from California, Chile and New Zealand.
Quartz Reef 2010 Bendigo Central Otago Pinot Noir
Though a native of Austria (like Rudolf Steiner himself), Rudi Bauer has become one of New Zealand’s best known winemakers. Bauer has made wine all over the world, including at New Zealand’s Mission Vineyard in Hawkes Bay and at Rippon Vineyard, at Simi Winery in Sonoma, and at Meo Camuzet in Burgundy, among others. He founded Quartz Reef back in 1996 when the South Island’s Central Otago was known as a region for fruit-growing and produce rather than wines. Since then he’s worked tirelessly as a proponent of biodynamic winemaking, and the care, precision and holistic philosophy he espouses in his two vineyards come through in wines that are at once vibrant yet elegant.
The 2010 Bendigo Central Otago Pinot Noir is one such wine. Displaying the bracing, vivacious quality of grapes from adolescent vines, this wine is nonetheless full-bodied with flavors of red and dark berries, fine tannins and a dash each of chocolate and baking spices. That’s not to say it is overly fruity or alcoholic, but rather its juiciness and ripe berries subside into a lasting yet refined finish thanks to delicate tannins knit together through aging in French oak barrels (30% new). Try it with grilled lamb chops or a tender Steward Island salmon filet.
Coyam 2008 Colchagua Valley Red Blend
Blending Syrah (38%), Cabernet Sauvignon (21%), Carmenere (21%), Merlot (17%), Petit Verdot (2%) and Mourvedre (1%), the Coyam 2008 Red Blend from the esteemed Emiliana Organic Vineyards winery in Chile’s Colchagua valley is at once both typically Chilean yet iconoclastic. It represents truly Chilean traits of intense flavors, a full finish and food friendliness—not to mention the quirky blend includes both Rhone and mainstream Bordeaux varietals plus Chile’s signature grape, the Carmenere—but is one of only a handful of wines produced biodynamically in Chile. In fact, Rafael and José Guilisasti, the owners of Emiliana, were among the first wine producers in Chile to turn first to organic then biodynamic winemaking back in the 1990’s, and have been making benchmark wines ever since.
This particular wine, which was served aboard LAN’s Business Premier in 2011, was aged for 13 months in 80% French oak and 20% American. Its deep purply-red color hints at the flavors that will enliven the palate including cassis, plum and black cherry, as well as some spicy wood notes of cedar and oak with a hint of mellow vanilla. Before drinking, let it aerate for a short while, otherwise, it will be tart notes of cranberry and green tannins to pucker your tongue. Enjoy with traditional Chilean dishes like a rich shepherd’s pie-style pastel de choclo with corn and savory meat filling.
2011 Envolve Winery Sonoma Mountain Rosé
Envolve Winery is a joint venture among childhood friends Mike Benziger, Ben Flajnik and Danny Fay. You might recognize Flajnik as the most recent Bachelor (though he’s got plenty of winemaking bonafides as well), while Benziger comes from a Sonoma family famous for pioneering biodynamic practices in the vineyard, and Fay has honed his wine business skills all over the world including Bordeaux and Australia. Their commitment, passion and playfulness all show through in their wines, including this luscious yet crisp rosé.
The grapes came from the biodynamically farmed Dragonsleaf Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain, whose 50 acres are predominantly planted to Rhone varietals including Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault. Warm days and cool nights mean the fruit reaches prime ripeness while maintaining a fresh acidity. This particular wine is produced from 92% Syrah and 8% Grenache. The grapes were whole-cluster pressed in a balloon press, then fermented using only indigenous vineyard yeasts.
The result is a wine “shocking pink” in color that teases the nose with promises of ripe summer strawberries and tart raspberry. Upon tasting it, the first thing to note is a tingly hint of acid mellowing to fruit notes and a long finish, making this a great wine to chill and enjoy on its own or with light summer dishes including salads and simply grilled fish.
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