From the peculiar practices of moonlight composting with cow horns in the vineyard to drinking wine only on fruit days in the lunar calendar, BinWise recently explored the new domestic trends in biodynamic and natural wines proliferating on restaurant menus nationwide.
So let’s go into the vineyard to explore the burgeoning non-traditional trends from a viticultural standpoint and define the vine-to-wine biodynamic, natural, organic and “salmon-safe” grape-growing story that restaurant consumers are clamouring for.
It’s all about the terroir.
Adherents of mainstream vineyard techniques believe that too much tampering can rob the wine of it’s most tantalizing promise – terroir – the French word for the taste of a vineyard.
- Biodynamic – There are over 600 biodynamic producers in the world. In France and Europe “Bio” wines are commanding premium prices. A majority of prominent producers around the world – from California to Chablis and South Africa to Alsace – are farming biodynamically to meet the growing consumer demand.
- Organic – Growing green means consumers are spending more green – U.S. sales of certified organic wine and those made with organic grapes hit $80 million last year according to the Organic Trade Association. Today, wine enthusiasts buy nearly twice as much organic wine as they did a decade ago.
- Natural wines – These trendy orange and unfiltered natural wines forgo man-made processes and leaves matters up to nature to take its course, even in the vineyard. Unlike Biodynamics which has a clear set of principles and regulations, there aren’t clear criteria for what makes a natural wine. Regardless, proponents of the technique laud it for being a true reflection of the terroir, despite, or perhaps because of, the weeds.
- LIVE (Low Input Viticulture & Enology) provides education and certification for vineyards using international standards of sustainable viticulture practices in wine grape production. They promote responsible, sustainable vineyard and winery practices throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Alternative winemaking styles reflect sense of place
The phenomenal farm-to-table trend embraced by discerning consumers–knowing the ingredients in the food they eat and where it was grown–is rapidly reshaping traditional mainstream viticultural techniques.
Like the famous episode of “Portlandia” where the stars question if the chicken is grown “locally, organically and free-range” to an absurd degree, wine drinkers now want to know not only where the grapes came from but how they are grown, planted and farmed.
To cultivate wine with the ultimate expression of “terroir”, biodynamic and organic farmers treat the farm or vineyard as a self-sustaining ecosystem. They use natural predators instead of pesticides, save seeds, use compost for fertilizer and grow crops that are appropriate for the local environment. This means that winemakers must study the soil and carefully decide which varietals will best express the vineyards terroir without the use of conventional pesticides. Sustainability of vineyard practices is the mantra that underpins each viticultural decision.
For proponents of the Live Certification program like Allen Holstein, vineyard manager at Oregon’s famed sparkling wine house, Argyle, LIVE program objectives enable him to promote sustainable farming practices that maintain biological diversity. Holstein manages Argyle’s five vineyards by using environmental practices that reduce reliance on synthetic chemicals and fertilizers.
As Jason Lett, the son of Eyrie winery founder David Lett (a.k.a. Papa Pinot, Oregon’s original biodynamic wine growing pioneer) relates about the reflection of place in the taste of his wines:
Our customers buy our wines because they reflect a sense of place, the terrior. From the beginning, our wines have been made exclusively from grapes grown without the use of insecticides, herbicides or systemic fungicides. The vines are grown on their own roots, and are not irrigated. While we are hands-on in the vineyard, winery manipulations are restrained to preserve the varietal flavors and expression of terroir.”
The success of Eyrie, who recently celebrated their 50 year anniversary and routinely sells out of their vintages, would indicate that there is something to tasting the terrior with the help of biodynamics.
Four Graces Winery, took the sense of place in taste question one step further with a direct comparison of two similar but distinct farming practices that resulted in the creation of two very different wines.
They chose two 20-acre sections side by side and with nearly identical characteristics of soil, light, altitude and other environmental aspects. Then they farmed them, starting with identical stocks, using two different sets of practices: The North Blocks are farmed following sustainable practices, and the South Blocks are farmed following biodynamic practices, both in Willakenzie Soil.
In 2008 they selected four barrels sourced from each section, and aged them in French Oak for 18 months. The results of their grand experiment were finally available, although, agonizingly for consumers, only 900 bottles of each wine were produced. And how did the wines turn out?
“Well, they’re quite distinct from each other. Everything about these wines is the same, except for the farming practices – and that turns out to make a significant difference,” is the claim on their website – See more at: https://www.thefourgraces.com/Vineyards/Sustainable-Farming#sthash.fX7aihqe.dpuf
Do Biodynamic practices really influence the sense of terroir in a wine? Or are there other factors at play? Tell us what you think.
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