Fabulous French Biodynamic Wines and some Exquisite Pairings #Winophiles

Livienière 2011 Les Planels a biodynamic French Wine

biodynamic

adjective

bio·​dy·​nam·​ic | \ˌbī-(ˌ)ō-di-ˈna-mik,

-dī-\

Definition of biodynamic 

1 : of or relating to a system of farming that follows a sustainable, holistic approach which uses only organic, usually locally-sourced materials for fertilizing and soil conditioning, views the farm as a closed, diversified ecosystem, and often bases farming activities on lunar cycles Followers of biodynamic viticulture not only abstain from the use of chemicals, but also take a more holistic approach, viewing their environment—the soil, plants and animals—as a working unity that should be as self-sustaining as possible.— Alison Napjus biodynamic practices

2 : grown by or utilizing biodynamic farming biodynamic vegetables a biodynamic vineyard

Merriam Webster definition https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/biodynamic

Biodynamics and me

I grew up with a Mother Earth News on the coffee table, the Farmers Almanac from my dad’s shelf was referred to for the garden.  I do Yoga and believe in chakras.  You will find a stone or crystal in my pocket most days and essential oils in my drawer.  I have a dear friend who has a house in Hawaii, she and a friend put out gifts for Pele during the last expansion of Kilauea and I am sure that it protected her home.  Yet somehow, when I speak with winemakers or vineyard owners about biodynamics, the skeptic comes out in me.  I will talk with them about how it is probably the attention to detail in the vineyard that causes the results to be so good.  And they ARE good, of that I am sure. 

Michael and I had a discussion about this recently.  I value his perspective, as he tends to be analytical with these things.  We talked about the preparations, with cow manure in a cow horn buried in the ground.  Sounds like a “potion” right?  But you are creating something with the biology in the ground, the micro-organisms on the site.  That’s science.  We discussed the leaf days, which I have been really hesitant to buy into, but they are based on moon cycles.  I’m a woman, I believe in moon cycles.  Again…there is some science behind it.

Finally we came around to the founder, Rudolph Steiner, and I think I found my answer.  I don’t have enough depth of knowledge on him and I am skeptical of one guy coming up with all the answers.  (ie, I love Bikram Yoga. Bikram Choudhury, the founder of this style yoga…not so much)

What I will tell you, is that I have yet to meet a biodynamic wine that I didn’t like,  and when it comes to the people I have met on vineyards who are growing biodynamically, they are some of my very favorite people in the industry.  You can check out a couple of interviews we have done with Jason Haas of Tablas Creek and Rudy Marchesi of Montinore.

 But for now, lets get on to a quick explanation of biodynamics and then move on to the wines!

Biodynamics

As the definition at the top says, this is about a holistic approach to farming that looks at the farm as a self-sustaining system.  It takes organic a step further.  These farms work without chemicals and adhere to a lunar calendar. 

Biodynamics in Winemaking

Rudy Marchesi reminded me in our interview

…biodynamic practices were established as agricultural practices.  …Biodynamic winemaking is an extension of the thought process. 

Rudy Marchesi, in our interview July 2018.

Biodynamic practices have been adapted to growing wine grapes and processing wine.  Demeter International is the most recognized organization for official biodynamic certification.  https://www.demeter-usa.org/

Certification is difficult, can be expensive and must be renewed annually. Biodyvin is another organization in Europe that certifies vineyards http://www.biodyvin.com/en/home.html

You can find certification logos on bottles in different forms.

Biodynamic logos on labels
Biodynamic logos on labels

Finding Biodynamic wine

It’s tough!  If you are not out in wine country it can be hard to find!  In Las Vegas I could not find any biodynamic French wines at the “to be unnamed” wine store that claims to be “total” on the wines is carries.  The manager told me that 100% of the people buying wine do not care about biodynamics. After a sharp glance from me, he updated his statement to “only 1 out of 100 customers care”.  I did admonish him, that as people in the industry, it was our job to educate people on this subject.

So I searched and finally purchased wine online to be shipped to me.  I was lucky to have Jeremy at wine.com who was willing to do the research and provide me with multiple links to wines they had available to choose from.  I settled on the Château Maris Les Planels Old Vine Syrah La Liviniere Minervois 2011 and the Domaine Fouassier Sancerre Les Chailloux 2016.

The bottles arrived and I found them to be without Demeter labels.  But I had researched and each of the wineries said they grew biodynamically! Well they are.  My love/hate relationship with certifications comes out here.  Running a winery is a busy all-encompassing business.  Certification means extra time and money that many wineries may not have.  Also, it depends on when they were certified!  I checked my Tablas Creek bottles.  They were certified in October of 2017, so it won’t be until the 2018’s are released that they will be able to put the Demeter logo on their label.

They have a great piece on their blog about attending the International Biodynamic Wine Conference that makes for great reading.  https://tablascreek.typepad.com/tablas/2018/05/consumers-dont-really-understand-the-difference-between-organic-and-biodynamic.html

So…while I won’t show you Demeter logos on the bottles I tasted, I will tell you about the vineyards and their biodynamic practices.  And then…we will get to the delicious pairings.

Domaine Fouassier Sancerre Les Chailloux 2016

Domaine Fouassier 2016 Les Chailloux Sancerre
Domaine Fouassier 2016 Les Chailloux Sancerre

Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, Loire, France  $29.99

About Domaine Fouassier

This domaine has been in the Fouassier family for 10 generations, with Benoit and Paul Fouassier at them helm. The domaine is 59 hectares of mostly Sauvignon Blanc.  Wines are vinified by parcel here to showcase the individuality of the sites.  They have members of Biodyvin since 2009.

Biodynamics to them means enchancing the soil and the plant, applying preparations at precise times and working the soils through ploughing and hoeing. 

“A wine domaine, just like any other agricultural concern, is considered to be a living entity. The soils that we work are not just there to support the vine but are a living environment and a source of energy for the plant, just as much as the air it breathes.

Biodynamics in Wine Growing from the Domaine Fouassier website http://www.fouassier.fr/la_biodynamie-en.html

The wine

The 2016 Les Chailloux is 100% Sauvignon Blanc comes from a vineyard with vines between 10 and 35 years old.  It spends 12 months in stainless steel.  The soil on this vineyard is clay, chalk and limestone and you get the minerality immediately on the nose.  Alcohol on this is 12.7%. 

The Pairing – Cod with Lemon Purée

Les Chailloux Sancerre with cod and lemon purée
Domaine Fouassier 2016 Les Chailloux Sancerre with cod and lemon purée

On their site they suggested pairing with oysters, fish & chips or cod with lemon purée.  I went with the 3rd as I knew I had cod in the freezer, and searched for a recipe online for the lemon purée.  I found a recipe for Sea bass with Meyer lemon purée and zucchini salad on farm to plate and did a riff on it.  http://www.farmonplate.com/2013/09/15/sea-bass-with-meyer-lemon-puree-and-zucchini-salad/

My lemon puree came out looking decidedly different than theirs, but regardless, it was delicious and it was an absolutely perfect pairing with this wine.  The notes of mineral in the wine reflected in the cod, the lemon notes of the purée mirroring the wine.  It was truly blissful. 

Butter poached cod and lemon purée with Zucchini and lemon salad
Butter poached cod and lemon purée with Zucchini and lemon salad

Michael noted that after enjoying the pairing and then just sipping on the wine, that the wine was enhanced by the lingering flavors on his palate from the food.

This is a dish I will work to perfect.  This is one of those “Flavor Match” pairings.  You can learn more about different strategies of pairings with our Pairing with Bubbles – Gloria Ferrer And The Amazing Sarah Tracey http://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/pairing-with-bubbles-gloria-ferrer-and-the-amazing-sarah-tracey/

Château Maris Les Planels Old Vine Syrah La Liviniere Minervois 2011

Chateau Maris Cru La Livinière 2011 Les Planels
Chateau Maris Cru La Livinière 2011 Les Planels

Syrah/Shiraz from Minervois, Languedoc-Roussillon, France $31.99

About Château Maris

Wine spectator says that “Château Maris is one of the five most environmentally friendly wineries in the world.”

Robert Eden and Kevin Parker bought this vineyard in 1997 with the idea of growing grapes and making wine, in harmony with nature. They knew they wanted to go chemical free, and decided to do a test with biodynamics. They set up two compost piles and treated one with a biodynamic preparation, while the other went without. Testing later, they found the compost treated with the biodynamic treatment had far more living organisms than the one without…and the path was set.

They have been Ecocert since 2002, and Biovin since 2004. In 2008 they became Demeter Certified and in 2016 set up as a BCorp. You can read more about their biodynamic philosophy here at http://www.chateaumaris.com/gb/about/a-biodynamic-philosophy/

The wine

This Syrah comes from a 3 hectare parcel with soil of clay-limestone and clay-sandstone. It sits at 14.5% alcohol. Tasting notes on this wine noted, tar and smoke on the nose with notes of black currants and black licorice.

The first thing I got on the nose was smoke, for Michael it was blueberries. When I dipped my nose back in I could find a little tar, but it was savory. There were nice tannins. This wine was big, but not too big, kind of a gentle giant. This wine did not feel like a 2011. It’s aging is really graceful. It has probably mellowed, but still is vibrant.

The Pairing – bacon wrapped tenderloin fillets

Chateau Maris 2011 Le Planels pairing
Château Maris 2011 Le Planels pairing with bacon wrapped tenderloin fillet, fennel and apple salad and potatoes with Herbs de Provençe

I again went to the tasting notes and pulled from these for my pairing. I picked up a couple bacon wrapped tenderloin fillets and encrusted them with cumin and black pepper (both spices often found on the nose of syrah). These got seared on both sides and went into the oven to finish. While they were cooking I took some red currant jam, added fresh blackberries, a bit of worchestershire sauce and a bit of anise seeds and slowly cooked it down, to drizzle on top.

We did baby potatoes in butter and herbs de Provençe and a baby greens salad topped with fennel and green apple in a lemon vinaigrette with just a touch of lavender.

Bacon wrapped tenderloin fillet encrusted in black pepper and cumin, with a blackberry and red currant sauce, fennel and apple salad and potatoes with Herbs de Provençe
Bacon wrapped tenderloin fillet encrusted in black pepper and cumin, with a blackberry and red currant sauce, fennel and apple salad and potatoes with Herbs de Provençe

The pairings all worked pretty well. The fennel in the salad pulling up those black licorice notes (although I would have lightened up on the amount of lemon). The umami from the tenderloins with the berry sauce went beautifully. This was a delicious and very comfortable pairing.

The wrap up – is it worth it to search out Biodynamic Wines?

That’s a pretty easy yes. Here’s my take on why. When I’m searching for a new wine the possibility exists that I may not like it. Even with scores etc…it’s often hard to be sure of the quality of the wine you are getting. I have never been disappointed with a Biodynamic wine. There may be many reasons for this, the farming is one, the attention to detail demanded by this type of farming is another and quite honestly the vineyard that is determined to do this is committed with time and resources to doing this and that may be one of the biggest reasons that it works so well.

Will it be difficult to find biodynamic wines? Probably to start, but if all of you go out and start asking about biodynamic wines in your local wine shops and restaurants, the market will follow! Businesses will add items that they hear people consistently asking for. So do us all a favor and start asking!

The French #Winophiles

The French #Winophiles are a group of wine writers that gather monthly to together, tackle a subject on French Wine. I am privileged and honored to be a part of this lovely group. This month, the topic was biodynamic French wines. You have seen my take on this, now you can read on, to see biodynamic French wines from a variety of points of view! There will be so many different wines and pairings! And…you can join us on twitter on Saturday morning January 19th as we spend an hour chatting about the wines we tasted and biodynamics and the impact on the wines (as well as the impact on the planet!). Gwendolyn from Wine Predator will be leading the discussion at 8 am PST or 11 am EST.

More great pieces from the French #Winophiles on Biodynamic French Wine

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Biodynamics at Montinore Estate

In our conversation with Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estates, we asked him about biodynamics. The winery was Certified biodynamic in 2008. Rudy had set this process up while he was still working for the Montinore Estate as an employee.

The Motivation & learning

Pheloxera was what originally motivated him to look at biodynamics. They had so much vine loss and he was looking at how to combat this, instead of just ripping everything out. So he started studying soil microbiology.

When he started out, he was more into organic farming. I would imagine his own garden informed this. But working with the wholesale importer on the east coast, he just kept finding that the biodynamic wines he sold in the French Portfolio, were the wines he liked the best.

At the time there were only a few books available and only two places in the US that had training. He found a tiny college in NY state teaching a course. This was just 1 class per month for 5 months and then a 5 day intensive. He took this information and tried it out and had tremendous results right away.

…biodynamic practices were established as agricultural practices.  …Biodynamic winemaking is an extension of the thought process. 

Rudy Marchesi, in our interview July 2018.

Biodynamics the practical and the mystical

I expressed my skepticism regarding some of the practices. I have never been one to believe in “leaf days”,

Rudy told me a story about his home garden. He always planted fall vegetables. Two weeks before the recent solar eclipse in 2017, he planted his fall endives. He planted a second row on the day before the eclipse. He had read that you shouldn’t plant anything for a few days around an eclipse, but he needed to get them in. The first row was beautiful. The second row only had 15% germination.

Rudy says that big events are significant. They don’t pick on black out days. They have to prune from January 1st to March 20th and it’s all got to be done. So they don’t take days off, blackout, leaf day or not. With racking and tasting they just watch to see if it makes a big difference.

80% of wine making is done in the vineyard anyway. It’s all about the quality of the fruit you get.  I think that’s why, it’s perceptible but not understood, why biodynamic wines have that certain something that’s….  you put them in your mouth, they’re lively they’re interesting, they’re there, they have a presence. What is it? You can’t measure it.  There is so much in life we can’t measure anyway you know, so it’s some sort of life force that we are creating in the vineyard in the farm to begin with.  That translates through the vineyard to the fruit and to the bottle.  And that’s what I think it is.  You can’t measure that.  You can taste it!

Rudy Marchesi, in our interview July 2018.
Vines at Montinore Estate

There is more to come…

We will have more with Rudy…he took us to the cellar after this to do some barrel tastings which were delicious and fascinating. In the meantime feel free to check out the rest of our conversation with him:

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Tablas Creek Vineyard, Paso Robles, Biodynamics and more

Tablas Creek Vineyard Spring 2015

While on the Central Coast in April we were lucky enough to meet with Jason Haas, General Manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles. Jason graciously took time out of his busy schedule to spend a couple of hours with Michael and I in the vineyard and the winery.

Tablas Creek Vineyard is the collaborative effort between the Perrin Family of Chateau du Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape in France’s Rhone Valley and the Haas Family. Vineyard Brands, the wine import company founded by Robert Haas had been the exclusive importer for Beaucastel wines. In 1989 they founded Tablas Creek Vineyard in the west side of Paso Robles to grow Rhone varieties. In this part of the interview we talk about Biodynamics and the Tablas approach, the similarities and differences between the Tablas Creek wines and the Chateau du Beaucastel wines and the Tablas Creek Wine Library.

More on Tablas Creek Vineyard to Come

This is part two of our series, we will release additional segments where we discuss native yeast fermentations, the use of Foudres (1200 gallon barrels), as well as aging wines. We do a walk through the vineyard to look at the new acreage as well as Scuffy Hill where they grow their field blend. We look at the soil, the biodiversity in the fields and then explore the winery and it’s barrel rooms, before Jason talks us through how they create their blends. There is also Part 1 on the drought, dry farming and head pruning if you missed that.  So stick with us…there is lots more to come.

 

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A harvest vineyard walk at Tablas Creek Vineyards

Tablas Creek Wine Walk

We gathered in the shade just outside the Tablas Creek tasting room.  You could tell why we were here by our sturdy shoes.  Yes it was almost 100 degrees, but we were wine lovers ready to brave the elements to find out more about this wonderful winery with a vineyard walk and tasting.

Levi Glenn, the Tablas Creek Viticulturist gave us some basics on the winery history before we got started.  The Perrin and Haas families joined to find vineyard land here in California to grow the Rhone varieties that the Perrins’ have long grown at Chateau de Beaucastel in France’s Rhone Valley.  The Tablas Creek property is on the same latitude, the climate and soil are both similar and when they bought this 102 acre property in 1989 they began the process of bringing the traditional Rhone varieties grown on the Perrins’ estate to this country.  The cuttings from France had to go through a three year process to be sure that they were virus free.  In order to have enough vines to actually make wine, they started a nursery, bench-grafting vines to plant on the estate and enough to sell to other vineyards.  While they no longer have the nursery, they partner with NovaVine in Sonoma to create Tablas Creek clones from grafted vines and bud wood.  Many wineries are now raising Tablas Creek clones to create their Rhone style wines.

They grow sustainably, organically and use biodynamic practices.  There is a compost tea that they use to fertilize the vines and they plant sections of the vineyard with insectaries to encourage beneficial insects.

We headed down the drive then past the head-pruned Mourvedre by the gate and continued down to the lambing barn and barnyard.  Levi talked about the animals, they have 2 donkeys and 5 alpacas that guard the herd of 40 sheep. The sheep are primarily used to mow down the cover crops.  Over the season they can cover 30-40 acres of vineyard.  In addition they fertilize as they mow.  Once the vineyards are growing the sheep have to be moved elsewhere and still need to be fed.  Typically they grow legumes as cover crops to add nitrogen back into the soil.  They had some vines that were showing a little too much vigor so instead they planted barley as their cover crop.  This works beautifully as they can then harvest the barley to use as feed for the herd.

While here they poured us a cool and refreshing glass of the 2012 Vermentino, one of only 2 non Rhone varieties grown on the estate.  This was the wine that got me hooked on Tablas Creek when I recieved it as a gift from a friend.  Enjoying this wine as the sun came dappled through the poplars, we took in the animals, the view of the cutting shed and the beautifully ripening Grenache.

Refreshed, it was time to move on up the long hill to the top where Chef Jeff Scott waiting under the oak trees.  The vineyard views are beautiful.  At the top of the hill you have a view of the las tablas creek area including Halter Ranch next door.  Reveling in the shade they poured us glasses of the 2011 Estate Rose, a blend of Mourvedre, Grenache and Counoise. We enjoyed the view and Chef brought out a tray of figs topped with goat cheese to pair.

We headed back down the hill to the  head pruned Roussanne block.  We believe these are the only head-pruned Roussanne vines in the state. The 2009 Roussane is a gorgeous golden color.  Rousanne is often very difficult to grow (NovaVine calls it “the princess”).  This is the backbone to the Esprit du Beaucastel Blanc their flagship white wine adding richness, weight  and honey with a nice salinity on the backend.  Chateau du Beaucastel makes their Roussanne Vielles Vignes which is considered one of the greatest white wines in France. “Roux” is the French word for “russet” which describes the color of the grapes when ripe and gives us the base for the name “Roussanne”.  This is the latest ripening white Rhone varieties that are grown at Tablas Creek.  The vines respond highly to sunlight and bunches that get sun on the western side will ripen faster than those on the eastern side.  This is also a wine that will age well, case in point we were drinking a 2009 and it was rich and stunning.  After Levi gave us the run down on the grape, Chef Jeff pulled out the pairing.  This was a crostini with fresh ricotta and thyme roasted golden beets topped with a piece of candied bacon.  Beets and bacon pair well and both were gorgeous with the wine.

Across from the Roussanne there are scattered fruit trees including some Quince.  Levi supplied me with a quick recipe for quince paste.

As we had walked down I noticed a large rack with netting and asked Levi when they netted before harvest.  He said that they no longer net.  There are so many vineyards locally that the birds no longer descend and feast, but rather just stop in here and there for a snack which is not an issue.  They still have air cannons when needed.

We headed back up the hill to the head trained Tannat.  This is the other non Rhone variety grown on property.  Levi said that it has been called Tablas Creek Zin, as it is so rich, deep and flavorful.  This grape thrives in the Tablas Creek climate and soils.  Levi says that it takes almost no work and produces consistently good fruit.  Tannat is found most notably in the Basque country on the Spanish border.  Growing this at Tablas Creek was actually a little bit of an accident.  The Perrins’ French nurseryman included cuttings when he packed up the Rhone varieties in 1990 even though it was not requested.  His instincts told him that this grape would do well in Paso Robles and I for one would like to thank him!  The berries have very thick skins which add to the tannins in the wine.  It is fermented open top to allow more oxygen to soften the tannins and then is aged in small barrels again to introduce more oxygen.  In 2010 most of the 248 acres of Tannat planted in California came from Tablas Creek cuttings.  This wine is beautifully balanced with acid, fruit and tannin.  Chef Jeff Scott then had to figure out a way to do a cold red wine pairing out in the vineyard!  He succeeded overwhelmingly with this small bite, which still makes my mouth water whenever I think of it (and I think of it often!).  He prepared Rillettes in the style of the south of France. The pork is slow cooked for 6 hours in it’s own fat then sits in olive oil, thyme and garlic to soak up some more goodness.  This is placed on crostini topped with caramelized onions, drizzled with a pommerey mustard aioli and sprinkled with fleur de sel and black pepper. The fat in the rillettes paired with the acid and tannins in the wine were perfect.  We enjoyed the wine, watched the sun set, had some great conversations and suddenly turned around to find that only 1/3 of the group was left!  We headed back down to the winery and tasting room in the slowly dimming light, sated and fulfilled.  There’s really nothing like being part of the Tablas Creek family.  The staff was incredible and the other wine club members we met share our love for great wine and fascinating wine facts.  Levi was extremely patient as we all pummeled him with questions, answering and enlightening us.  All in all it was a glorious evening.