If you are familiar with biodynamics, the first thing that will come to mind when you hear the word is often cowhorns. Bill Steele and his wife Barb, run their property biodynamically and own it right up front with their name, Cowhorn Wine.
The truth about those cowhorns
If you are not familiar with biodynamics, one of the most commonly discussed practices involves cowhorns. Cowhorns are filled with manure and buried in the ground, where they perculate over the winter and come out in the spring filled with all sorts of good microbes. This is then made into a solution (Preparation 500) which is sprayed in the vineyard to encourage all those good microbes to flourish in the soils.
Visiting Cowhorn Wines
Last July we had an opportunity to spend the morning with Bill Steele at his biodynamic vineyard in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley AVA. Bill walked us through the vineyard. It’s set in a valley and feels like it’s own world. The sound of birds in the trees that surround and dot the property, the buzz of bees as they wake up in the lavender patch, the sound of the water trickling over rocks from the pond…all are enough to make you want to move in and never leave.
The decision to go biodynamic
Bill and his wife Barb were living a homeopathic lifestyle, both of them working in the financial sector. They were ready to make a lifestyle change and get back to the land and found this property. As they explored options for farming techniques for their vineyard, Barb met with some biodynamic farmers in Sonoma. It was more than just the farming techniques, this was a group of like minded people who were open and willing to share. Barb felt they had found friends. These were people who held the same reverence for the earth and they were an inclusive group.
Receiving help and paying it forward
They had help getting started from Brickhouse in the Willamette and from Benzinger in Sonoma. Now as Troon (another vineyard in the Applegate Valley) works toward becoming biodynamic, they can pay it forward, helping as they were helped.
And they were lucky. When they purchase the property it had been untouched for 15 years, so they started their biodynamic vineyard from a relatively clean slate. Troon has a harder road to hoe. Their vineyard had been managed conventionally for a period of time and the journey to biodynamic will take longer, as they restore the vineyard to a semblance of normalcy in soil.
Why Demeter Certification?
I asked Bill about why he felt Demeter Certification was important. I know wineries that are farming in a biodynamic style but have found the certification to be difficult due to time and expense. For him, it is important because as he says “Wine travels”. With his asparagus, it will be sold close by and people can get out and see how he is growing. With wine, if you are sitting on the other coast and want to support biodynamic vineyards by having a bottle in a restaurant, or picking up one at the store, the Demeter certification is the only way you can be sure of what you are getting in the bottle.
Biodynamics in the winery
I had seen on their website that they were certified as a Biodynamic farm & Winery. I don’t often hear about the winery side of biodynamics and asked Bill about this.
There’s over 200 additions that wineries can put into our wines without disclosing. The only one that we can read about is sulfites. So at Cowhorn, as the winemaker I can guarantee you that there are no additives in there….I actually make my own sulfites. What I do is, I take distilled water and pure SO2 gas, and I diffuse the gas through the water to a certain concentration. The reason for that most folks will use something called “potassium metabisulfite”. I don’t really know exactly what’s in it, but what I wanted was the purest wine that I could have. So what’s in my wines is: organic grapes Demeter certified, a little bit of distilled water and a little bit of SO2 gas, and that’s it.
Bill Steel July 2019
I asked Bill what the most important thing about biodynamics was to him.
I think the thing that is most important to me is that 365 days a year I can have people on the property. My friends kids, my nieces, my nephews, the dogs, people bring dogs here everyday. There is no hazmat suit here, so it’s a safe environment.
Bill Steele July 2019
Quite honestly, I’ve asked this same question to other biodynamic growers and the answer is the same.
The truth about industrial agriculture
Perhaps we don’t think about the hazmat suits that are so often found in agriculture. We prefer to think of bucolic farms and quite honestly, agriculture prefers that we have that image in our minds. But it’s there. Industrial agriculture, which is probably where your lunch came from is filled with chemicals in fertilizers and pesticides. The people who work these farms pay a price with their health. They typically don’t get paid much and rarely have insurance. There is a reason that these farms use migrant workers. You see photos in ads of beautiful produce on the vine, not the chemical sprayers and then the people doing the backbreaking work of picking and breathing in the chemicals left behind.
So choosing biodynamics, or even organic or sustainable foods and wines, makes a difference. Perhaps for you, the choice is just for your own health. But there is a bigger picture, with many more facets. We will continue to explore these through vineyards and wineries…but it carries over to so much more in our world today.
If you want to get out and see this beautiful vineyard for yourself… you will find them in Southern Oregon, outside the city of Jacksonville at 1665 Eastside Road, Jacksonville, OR 97530.
Hmm…is that allowed? National Zinfandel Day is celebrated in the US and is supported by ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers). While the majority of Zinfandel is grown in California, where it arrived around 1850, it can be found around the world. You’ll hear about Primitivo in Italy. Is it the same as Zinfandel? Well, they both are clones of Tribidrag from Croatia that migrated and evolved in their new locations.
Zinfandel from Australia
Lowe Wines – David Lowe
Our Zin for Zinfandel day is from Lowe Wines in Mudgee Australia. We spent an afternoon with David Lowe at the winery when we visited Australia. He is fascinating to speak with about many things, but we tried to keep our conversation to wine.
In Australia, Zinfandel is not one of their top grapes, but you will find it doing well in the Barossa Valley, Riverina, McClaren Vale & Mudgee. So how did David Lowe get into wine and then into Zinfandel? After deciding to be a winemaker at 15, David at one point went to work for a wine company and was exposed to wines from around the world. He even met Robert Mondavi. With his boss he tasted, the 20 top rated wines in the world at that time, 9 of which were biodynamic or organic. That had him hooked. In the 2000’s the biodynamic conference in Australia really gave him the information he needed to take his property that direction. 20 years later, they are still constantly improving on their biodynamic/organic property.
David fell for the wines of Sonoma and Dry Creek. The best Zins in California come from Lodi, Paso Robles, Amador County or Sonoma. He met Fred Peterson of Peterson Winery, who became a mentor for him.
David’s Mentor – Fred Peterson
Fred Peterson began as a viticulturalist developing vineyards in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek in 1983. In ’87 he launched his winery. His philosophy is Zero Manipulation. He is an iconoclast and farms with low tech and high attention. His style leans toward old world style and he is well respected in California.
Fred came to Lowe and suggested that they plant Zinfandel. Like California, they found quartz soil here, which is common to gold mining areas. This quartz soil holds minerals and is well drained, good for grapes. When Fred suggested planting Zin, he told them to “treat it badly”.
Head pruned/bush trained vines
Zin can often have huge bunches that can get to over 3 pounds. They can be massive and have great difficulty with humidity causing mold and disease late in the season. To keep the bunches smaller, they head pruned. This keeps the vines low to the ground in kind of a bonsai style. The bunches and berries stay smaller, with tougher skins and a greater skin to juice ratio. This also allows for better airflow in the vine, keeping the humidity issues down.
Planting density and spacing for tractors
In planting density they went 10 by 10 feet (or 3 x 3 meters). Some of this has to do with tractors. Newer regions, plant vineyards to fit the tractors. In the old world, the vineyards came first, so you will see tractors built to fit the vineyards. Here the 10 x 10 spacing with the bush vines allows them to mix up their tractor drives. It’s not just one row that you are constantly driving back and forth between the trellis’. Here they can mix it up, driving 8 different paths between the vines (think like cutting a pie!)
Zinfandel in the Lowe Vineyard
The vineyards for the Zin sit near the cellar door at 500 meters (1640 feet). We walked the block that is in front of the winery. It was early spring and we were just a little past bud break, with the knarled vines, just tipped with green.
This region, sitting on the western side of the Great Dividing Range, starts it’s season a little later than the more coastal areas. While in Shoalhaven, Southern Highlands and driving through the Hunter Valley, we saw lots more green on the vines. Here the higher altitude and the location inland, keep the bud-break a little later.
They have a map for a wine walk that takes you around the biodiverse property, through the fruit orchard, past the compost and bird habitat through the vineyard blocks and nut orchard. We strolled taking in the space. Cloud covered but still dry, the skies were overcast while the brown dirt in the fields belied the fact that it was spring. Just in front of the winery there were planter boxes filled with vegetables and greens. The patio had a trellis’ roof covered in vines. There were tables and games in a stand of stone pines down the drive for picnicers.
The Zin House
We did not have time to visit the Zin House, the farmhouse restaurant on property run by David’s wife Kim Currie. This is local food, centered around their biodynamic garden, served with Lowe wines as well as other local wines. Alexander, Kim and David’s son, oversees the cellar and wine selection for the restaurant. We met him the following day as he stopped in while we were speaking with Sam at Vinifera Wines. This is a small community and the comradery between businesses is wonderful to see.
Lowe Wine Zinfandel Style
The style of Zin they make a Lowe is more elegant. It is not the big jammy Zins (you remember Tobin James). These are lighter and more elegant. They are hand-harvested from 5 head trained blocks around winery from biodynamic fruit. They ferment in was lined concrete fermenters. The label says they are “naturally brewed with indigenous yeast from the vineyard”. These age in 4500 L American oak casks for 2 years and are unfiltered and unfined. This wine does sit at 15.2% abv.
2016 Lowe Zinfandel
I remember David speaking of loving the smell of Christmas Cake in Zinfandel. At the time, my translation of that was “fruit cake”. I remember my mother making fruit cake when I was a child. All those bright died colored squares of some kind of fruit. The blue pieces scared me a little. But Christmas Cake….well that conjures pictures of the party at Fezziwig’s! There’s a little more depth just thinking of that cake. It’s not one that I have actually tasted, but I know the smell now, from dipping my nose in that glass. (Confession…we are early decorators for the holidays and I smelled and sipped this wine in a tree lit room…for research, of course).
The nose on this wine is big. It is dried fruits, like raisins and currants all plumped up in brandy and spices. Yep, Christmas Cake. The nose is almost syrupy.
After a whiff, I looked at the glass on the table, backlit by the tree and could see the ruby color with the light shining through. I think after that nose, I was surprised that the light came through. Then I swished it in my mouth. Here came the elegance. The mouth feel was vibrant and medium weight and those red tones certainly indicated a level of acidity. The tannins were lightly chewy and smoothed out gradually. When I stuck my nose back in I found a bit of mint behind all those plump raisins and some cooked berries with baking spices.
Michael had made some homemade chili early that day, and we curled up on the couch with this wine, the chili, the tree and a little late night TV. I closed my eyes briefly and did a little virtual revisit to Mudgee. Here’s a bit for you.
A virtual stroll at Lowe Wines
We visited Mudgee while we were in Australia for the Wine Media Conference in October on #OurAussieWineAdventure. For more information on the region you can visit the following sites
More often than not, when we travel to wine country we find ourselves drawn to biodynamic vineyards. So it should be no surprise that when Michael and I went through the cellar to choose a couple of bottles to celebrate our Anniversary, we each chose a bottle and then realized that both were biodynamic. So what is it that pulls us this direction?
I have heard at least one winemaker speak about “finding his people”, when he discovered biodynamics, and when we meet these people, we usually feel the same. What draws these people to this method? I’ve read articles and spoken with people in vineyards and in wineries and I’m digging deeper on my understanding of “biodynamics”. There is alot here to unpack. Today, we will start with some of the basics.
Biodynamics – as per Merriam Webster
“: 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
Biodynamics as we speak of it today, came from a series of lectures given by Dr. Rudolf Steiner in 1924. He was a philosopher and scientist, which really gives you insights into where his studies were going. Influenced by Goethe and he was the founder of “anthroposophy” which was a spiritual movement. He believed in the link between science and spiritualism.
There is a rabbit hole here. I could (and I expect I will) do quite a bit more digging on Mr. Steiner and not all of it will make me happy. But, his work in agriculture looked at the farm as one unit and looked at a farm’s health in this way, much like holistic/homeopathic medicine, where you look at the whole patient and not just one symptom. That I can wrap my head around.
The Farmers Almanac & The Gardeners Labyrinth
I was feeling a little concerned about my research, when I came across hawkwakawaka and her brilliant sketches. (WakawakaWineReviews.com) This filled in some gaps for me, and I highly recommend taking a look at her breakdown of biodynamics. It is easy to understand and her sketches make it quite entertaining.
I grew up planting the garden depending on the cycles of the moon as listed in the farmer almanac, as did many of the people my family knew. I took it as traditional farming, but it’s influence, as I learned from Elaine’s sketches, comes from Thomas Hill’s “The Gardeners Labyrinth”(I’ve included a link to a beautiful photo of a page on archive.com). The Farmer’s Almanac was first published in 1792 and is still published annually today. It gives annual schedules for planting according to the lunar cycles.
Stick with me here…this just makes sense. Calendars are a man made created thing. For early farmers the calendar was the seasons and the cycles of the moon.
Biodiversity and the Demeter Association
The Demeter Association, that certifies biodynamic farms, set a farm standard, that requires biodiversity. This to me is simple sustainable farming. Biodiversity as opposed to monoculture is just common sense. Any ecosystem is affected when you remove an element, the wolves at Yosemite for instance.
In addition there are requirements for soil managment, animal welfare, as well as the use of preparations (yes, this is where the cowhorns and cow poop come in), and the calendar with fruit, flower, leaf & root days which indicates when certain tasks should be done. We won’t dive that deep today, but we will later. These are things I find interesting and fascinating and I want to know more about them.
Biodynamic wines and the people behind them
My first exposure to biodynamics came through Tablas Creek in Paso Robles. I had an opportunity to speak with Jason Haas about the practice as they used it there. Their influence, of course, came from the Perrins at Chateau de Beaucastel in the Rhône where they have been using this practice for a while. Jill Barth just did a fantastic interview with Marc Perrin about this on Forbes. But surprisingly, the wines we chose today, were not Tablas…(I keep track of the vintage calendar closely, and many of the bottles in our cellar are still resting and aging).
Oregon and biodynamics
On our last couple of trips to Oregon, we spoke with many winemakers who are farming biodynamically. This was where the two bottles that Michael and I chose hailed from.
Johan Vineyard and Winery
I first discovered Johan when I came across an online seminar on Oregon wines. The experts on the panel spoke on wineries to watch in Oregon and the woman who mentioned Johan, was emphatic that they were doing some amazing things and were to be watched. We determined that we would stop in on our next visit to the area.
We dropped into the tasting room and were lucky enough to meet Jack, who walked us through the wines and so much more. On our last visit we set up an early morning visit to talk with Jack and walk the property in the Van Duzer Corridor AVA. The vineyard and the winery are certified biodynamic here. Their Pét Nat is a favorite of mine.
Johan 2018 Pétillant Naturel Melon
Pét Nat or Pétillant Naturel, is a sparkling wine made in the “method anscestral”. In this method, the wine is bottled before the first fermentation is complete so the carbon dioxide from the end of the fermentation is trapped in the bottle. This makes the wine light and fizzy and the alcohol is relatively low. Unfined and unfiltered, you get a little bit of funk here that rounds the wine and makes it warm and comfy. Often people say that Pét Nats are like cider and this one does have that style of aromas and mouthfeel.
Well, the name of this winery is definitely a giveaway as to it’s thoughts on biodynamics. Cowhorn is in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley. Bill & Barbara Steele founded the vineyard in 2002. As they researched growing techniques they met some biodynamic growers and found a group of people they could get on board with.
Bill spent a morning with us this past summer, showing us around the beautiful property, talking about their biodiversity and the biodynamic techniques they use. (Our background photo for this post is the lavender garden on their vineyard.) The vineyard sits at about 1,550 feet in soils best suited to Rhône varieties, so that is what you will find planted here. The soils are alluvial, from when the Applegate river came through the entire area. He also walked us through their wines in their beautiful Living Building certified tasting room.
Cowhorn 2015 Sentience
The Sentience is a Syrah. For this vintage the Sentience came from 10 tons of Syrah harvested on September 29th and 30th (2015). This wine sits at 13.7% abv and is a deep purple that smells of black fruits, herbs and eucalyptus.
So, Michael and I lean toward biodynamic wines. Why is that?
Back to Nature
Perhaps it is the idea of a more natural way of growing, getting back to the earth. Across the board the winemakers and growers we have spoken with say that the most important thing about biodynamics to them is the fact that the vineyards are safe. The animals, children and people who come to the property or live there, can safely wander through the vines without concern for dangerous chemicals.
Like minded people
Perhaps it is the people…I have yet to meet a biodynamic winemaker or grower that I didn’t like. These are practical people who have a reverence for the earth and a passion for keeping it safe while growing something amazing.
Maybe it’s the wine? I have heard it said that biodynamic wines feel more lively in your mouth and for my personal experience I find that to be true. There is something energetic in the way the wine feels in your mouth. I don’t have science to back that, yet.
There is so much more to explore. We will get into the history, as well as the preparations and the science behind them. There are so many great people to speak with and we look forward to sharing our conversations as we continue to explore biodynamics in wine.
You can look forward to a deeper into our conversations with Jack at Johan and Bill at Cowhorn, as well as other winemakers we spoke with like Sarah Hedges at Hedges Family Wine on Red Mountain in Washington’s Yakima Valley or Rod Windrim at Krinklewood Vineyard around the globe in Australia’s Hunter Valley of New South Wales. We find more and more vineyards either growing biodynamically or leaning that way and we will continue to bring you interviews and insights from these individuals.
If you have found biodynamic wineries that you love please share them with us in the comments!
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
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!
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
…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/
You can find certification logos on bottles in different forms.
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.
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.
Sancerre Les Chailloux 2016
Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, Loire, France $29.99
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.
to them means enchancing the soil and the plant, applying preparations at
precise times and working the soils through ploughing and hoeing.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
Château Maris Les Planels Old Vine Syrah La Liviniere Minervois 2011
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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.