Posts Tagged ‘Viticulture’

At the roots of organic wine ...

At the roots of organic wine …

 

“Do you offer organic wine?” It’s a question I hear frequently while on the wine trail.

Wine retailers, once cautious about the idea are suddenly eager to stock organic wine. A smattering of selections has burgeoned in recent years, crowding store displays. Once on the fringe, brands featuring words like nature, earth and the prefix “eco” now edge closer to the wine mainstream as consumer interest intensifies. But the simple question remains: which wines labeled as organic are really worth a look?

Not many, it turns out. Wine brands marketed as organic are seldom worth bringing home again. It’s unusual to find a drinkable red — with Organic splashed across the front label — which begs another taste.

For supporters of organic consumption, there’s a bright side; one you’ll find useful if you support some notion of organic farming and expect well-made wine to boot.

The far more exciting end of organic viticulture is the juice made from organically farmed grapes — from France, Italy and Spain, as well as from domestic producers — where organic may be barely noticeable on labels. It’s wine sold on the merits of taste and authenticity first. Validating these wines requires reading fine print, or decoding unfamiliar symbols. Quite a few estates feature organic production without fanfare or gaudy marketing campaigns. The challenge is finding them.

In the 1980s, the fledging category began to appear in stores, with wines from California among the first examples available in mass distribution. Initially the concept raised a murmur of excitement, in part because organics were considered healthier options than conventional versions. People bought organic wine as they did food, mostly to avoid a perceived surplus of chemical herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and other additives thought to be common in conventionally made wine. From the outset, however, customers encountered unstable, highly variable bottles. Many of the wines were hard to identify from the varietals listed on the labels. Opening the early organic bottles was like spinning a roulette wheel — one bottle stinky and cloudy, another one browning, dull, others grapey but odd examples. Moreover, the wines were expensive for the times. Organic wine seemed more an experiment than a reliable new category. Consumers had every right to worry about chemical additives in winemaking, but it remained that bottles had to taste as good, or better than conventional versions.

 

Read on …

 

 

Sonoma's old vines.

Sonoma’s old vines.

 

In Sonoma’s Bedrock Vineyard, I’m surrounded by 124-year-old twisted vines with the arthritic look of stumpy bonsai trees.
The mad mix includes a couple of dozen varieties. Bedrock winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson points out familiar zinfandel, little-known bastardo, nearly extinct castets and some grapes no one’s yet identified.

He makes a pretty delicious red that contains almost all of them.

“Old vine field blends are the only California wines that aren’t ersatz,” he says. “They’re unique. What’s magical is the sum of the parts.”

His dozen or so red and white cuvees from historic vineyards are among the state’s most fascinating wines, high on bold personality, with warmth, intensity, perfumed aromas and layers of flavor. Tasting them, I’m drinking California wine history.

While Sonoma has the largest concentration of old vineyards in the state, they’re in danger of disappearing.

Twain-Peterson, 32, is one of the people on a mission to save them.

In old tan shorts, grey shirt, and a three-day beard, he tours me around this vineyard he owns with his family, filling me in on its backstory. The founders, in 1854, were “Fightin’ Joe” Hooker and two-time shipwreck survivor and banker William “Tecumseh” Sherman, who later became famous Civil War generals.

After root-louse phylloxera wiped out the vines in the 1880s, mining magnate Sen. George Hearst, father of newspaperman William Randolph Hearst, splashed out part of his fortune from the Comstock
Read on …

Also read:

The Complete Guide: Wines of the Southern Hemisphere is an amazing gift. To have this book for my wine library is a tremendous resource; and, making the time to read it delivered even more gifts.

 

wine

 

Written by Mike Desimone & Jeff Jenssen, two very savvy World Wine Guys who are wine, spirits, food, and travel writers, have gone around the world and are now sharing those adventures. Their gathered stories are warm and very informative, sharing much of what they learned in this very thorough book. Representing each region well, they also present it in such a way that the only thing left to satisfy is your own personal curiosity through adventures you need to start planning….

Much of the Southern Hemisphere has escaped me because I’ve never physically made it over the equator. I’ve been to the South Pacific, to the Caribbean, Canada, most of the US states (40+ states), and to Europe… but not gone over the equator.

My favorite section was Chile. Perhaps it’s because I was part of the Wines of Chile Blogger Tasting led by Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer, and enjoying those wine immensely. It was very enlightening about this wine grape growing country, with the book connecting me on a much deeper level with that recent wine exposure.
Read on …

Biodynamic Farming Methods.

Biodynamic Farming Methods.

 

Some of the Côte d’Or’s most illustrious producers are going down the biodynamic route. Are they eccentric or far-sighted?

 

At sunset, a Burgundy winegrower is spraying his vines. The moon is in the descendant and according to the biodynamic calendar, that’s the ideal time to apply the spray. Biodynamic farming is a practice tinged with esotericism, yet some of the region’s most prestigious wine estates have picked up on the trend.

The spray that Didier Montchavet is using on his small patch of vines located between Pommard and Beaune is made from water and cow manure fermented in a cow horn and buried under the soil over winter.

Known as 500, this is one of the most important preparations used by followers of biodynamic agriculture. Other additions include silica mixed with rainwater – also packed in a cow horn and buried in the soil – which is called by its function title, 501. And it’s not just cows’ horns that are used to mature many of the preparations; other body parts from animals, including skulls and stags’ bladders, are an integral part of the process.

Herbal teas – including 504, made from stinging nettles, and 508, produced from the common horsetail plant – are used to “dynamize” a vineyard’s compost. These preparations were first developed in the 1920s by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, and although they might seem a bit loopy to many observers, they have been embraced by winegrowers in France and Italy, and as far away as Chile and New Zealand

Steiner adherents also carry out their work according to the position of the stars and the constellations of the zodiac. “There are some very esoteric things in Steiner’s writings, like how to see the influence of Mars in a plant, which is something that I can’t do,” admits Montchovet.

Some biodynamic winemakers follow a calendar created by another pioneer of the movement, Maria Thun, who died earlier this year at the age of 89. She turned Steiner’s ideas on sowing, pruning and harvesting by lunar and cosmic rhythms into reality, producing an annual calendar for biodynamic farmers after years of research on her farm in Germany. 

Hardcore enthusiasts religiously follow… read on

After an exhilarating first day at the Cape Wine 2012, Professor Alain Deloire from the Department of Viticulture and Oenology at the University of Stellenbosch, kicked off a fascinating seminar on “A passion for old vines”.

The beautiful and charm of old vines. (Image courtesy of Martin Redmond)

On a academic level an old vine could be defined as an old woody structure consisting of roots, a trunk and arms. The aspect that distinguished it as an old vine however, is the fact that such a vine is “full of memory”.

On a genetic level, the old organs on such a vine, are not only able to annually give birth to new leafs and berries, but miraculously also pass on its “memory” to these new organs.

It is this “memory’ that makes old vines so precious. In a sense, old vines will after years of being cultivated in a specific site, become at home that environment. They will adapt themselves to a specific climate, soil and people. This will then be stored in their “memory”.

European producers and even consumers have been aware of this for centuries and because of this a strong relationship exists between the perceived quality of a wine and the age of the vines. Older vines are simply seen as producing better quality wine and are equally true for both red and white varieties. This quality aspect is founded on the fact that an old vine has an established root system.

The European producers are also in the habit of isolating buds containing the “memory” when and where ever old vines are discovered. This genetic material are then used to transfer the “stored” memory to new vines.

In a country where vineyards are being planted for production “runs” off between 20 and 25 years only, such an approach to old vines asked for a serious mind-shift.

Can this be to tall an order and to big a dilemma for an industry so focused on just keeping the boat afloat on an ever changing global economic ocean?