Confused by what the difference is between natural, organic, and biodynamic wine? Well, you are not alone. The growing trend toward natural, organic, and biodynamic wines has created a marketplace in which an informed consumer stands a much better chance of buying a product that fulfills their desire to live a “greener lifestyle”.
In my opinion, the best way to feel confident that you are purchasing a natural, organic, or biodynamically produced wine is to buy it from a producer you trust. Before you decide on which production practices best suit your needs let’s look at an overview of each method. You must keep in mind that there is no clear-cut distinction between practices and there is often an overlap between terms describing them; the qualities are not interchangeable between methods.
Organic wines are separated into two categories in the U.S. The first is wine certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture using strict regulations. The U.S.D.A. guidelines require the grapes to be grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers and all ingredients added to the wines must be certified organic. No sulfites may be added to these wines. Only wines that meet these strict rules may display the U.S.D.A. certified organic seal. The second category contains wines made from grapes that were grown using organic farming methods. Wines in this category were made using organically grown grapes and may or may not have been made following organic winemaking methods.
Biodynamic wine is made using the principles of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. I think of biodynamic practices as embracing a holistic approach toward viticulture. It observes farming methods based on a specific astronomic calendar. An example of this would be only harvesting grapes on days designated as “Fruit” days or only pruning on “Root” days. Biodynamic farming isn’t only dependent upon the calendar but is similar to organic in that it only allows for the use of organic fertilizers and bans the use of any type of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, or any synthetic chemical intervention in the vineyard. Biodynamic wines are, however, permitted to contain sulfites. It is these small differences that can cause confusion when comparing whether a wine is organic, biodynamic or both. A wine designated as organic doesn’t mean it is also biodynamic or a biodynamic is always organic.
Natural wine or low-intervention wine, as it is often called, is fermented spontaneously by its native yeasts. As the name implies they are, for the most part, unmanipulated and never filtered or fined. By not filtering these wines they appear cloudy because of the solids left suspended in them. Due to the minimal amount of intervention by the winemaker these wines have limited stability and should be treated accordingly. If a winemaker doesn’t want to go through the regulatory process of having their wine certified as organic they can just skip the process and label it as “Natural”.
This is why I strongly suggest when you are looking for a wine to purchase in this segment of the market it is always a good idea to buy from a producer you know and trust.
Finger Lakes Riesling
World-famous vintners Paul Hobbs of California and Johannes Selbach of the Mosel valley in Germany have recently announced their partnership in the acquisition of a 65-acre property in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York. The new vineyards will be on the southeastern slopes of Seneca Lake overlooking Watkins Glen and will be producing Riesling, the signature grape and wine of the region. The first vines are not expected to be planted until next year, which means that we will have to wait patiently to compare these winemakers style and quality to that of the established FLX producers. I envision this venture providing only positive benefits for the region by drawing curious visitors to the lakes. Once in the area the tourists will soon discover the abundance of world-class wineries that populate the shores of the Finger Lakes. Just like the music fan that goes to a festival to see a star headliner only to find that they like the lesser-known artists even more, I believe this will shine a bright spotlight on these talented winemakers and showcase their exceptional wines.
It is Day 6 and our trip is nearing it’s conclusion but not before we take part in a wine blending lesson at the Franciscan Winery followed by lunch at the Culinary Institute of America. During the drive on Highway 12 I noticed rose bushes at the end of the rows in many of the vineyards and I was told the reason is they are effected by the Phylloxera louse before the vines get infested thus providing an early warning alert to the presence of this dreaded pest, in essence they are the “Canary in the coal mine” for wine country. We arrived at the Franciscan Winery and were immediately taken with the beauty of the winery and an it’s neatly manicured grounds. Inside the main building we divide into four teams and begin to blend our wine under the watchful eye of Fred, our instructor. Our 45 minute assignment is to blend a wine, set a price that we think the wine would sell for, design and make a label, bottle, cork and label our wine then make presentation to the group stating why our wine should be judged the winner. After sampling each blend and laughing a lot, we realized we were all winners that day. Our next destination is St. Helena and the Culinary Institute of America for lunch and a brief history lesson of this magnificent building that had served as the Christian Brothers Winery for so many years until an earthquake left it unstable, only to be saved from demolition by the C.I.A. for future generations. Everyone was seated for lunch around a very large table in a cavernous room on the 2nd floor directly across from the bustling teaching kitchens of the Academy. During our meal an Executive Chef from the school conducted a presentation on the preparation of a Galette, which by no coincidence just happened to be our dessert . Upon returning to the hotel we pack our bags for the trip home tomorrow, then we got ready for our last night together with our friends at the “Wine Maker’s Dinner”. At dinner that evening we would laugh, eat and drink as we enjoyed a superb meal of Beef Short Ribs prepared by Chef Andrew Wilson of the Carneros Bistro and wine pairings by Highway 12 Winery. The one consistent message I got throughout Sonoma and Napa Valley was that California winemakers are expecting the 2012 vintage to be exceptional and that it will be a year that we will remember. The evening winds to a close and we all say our goodnights knowing that tomorrow we will be saying our goodbyes.
Rose Bushes In The Vineyards
Fountain At The Franciscan Winery
The Bottles Of Wine We Blended At The Franciscan Winery
Golden Gate Brigde on a sunny day.
Today we will be moving to the Lodge of Sonoma in Sonoma and if I had any doubt we were leaving San Francisco today our departure was confirmed when we passed the bellman in the hall with our luggage as we returned from breakfast. As I sat looking out the coach window we drove down familiar streets passing by many of the sights Julie had pointed out just days before. The trip out of the city is punctuated with the crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge under a sunny blue sky, a much different view of it than the one I had from below in the fog. The landscape quickly begins to change from a modern urban plan to one of sprawling suburban streets and then finally to the rural agricultural setting of Napa Valley and Sonoma County that we are seeking. Land prices here have skyrocketed over the years to the point that today prime vineyard land is going for about $250,000 an acre leaving little room to grow any crop other than grapes because doing so would be economically infeasible.
Before checking into the hotel we will be visiting the Benziger Family Winery where we will learn how they practice Bio-Dynamics in the production of their wines. Nathaniel, a 30 year employee explains how Bio-Dynamic agriculture takes the idea of co-existing with the land to a higher level. They use beneficial insects, bats and owls to control pests while bottling and racking with the correct phase of the moon just to name a few of their environmentally compatible techniques. Existing in harmony with the land is paramount in this farming discipline and it is best expressed in the belief that wines produced using this method are not necessary better wines but wines that more accurately reflects the true character of the property. This can be tasted in the Benziger wines as the complex flavors imparted by the deep root penetration of the vines into the different soil layers or the different tastes due to the amount of sunlight exposure the vines recieve. With less sunlight the fruit will develop with more of a herbaceous flavor but if the light is increased a palate of red fruit and cherries will be prominent. After a wine tasting we gather in the wine cave for a gourmet lunch which used vegetables grown on property.
Our next stop was for a wine tasting at Sebastiani Winery, the most recognizable winery in Sonoma that pioneered the modern wine industry in the area. After the tasting we are walked through their production facilities allowing us to get a close look at the presses and the fermentation tanks. That evening we met the hotel’s sommelier Chris Sawyer at his wine education class. Chris was very knowledgable and entertaining as he took us through a tasting of four examples of Merlot produced locally. Later we enjoyed dinner at the Caneros Bistro with our new friends Kevin and Lucy:-). The emphasis in California cooking is on fresh whole foods that are organically grown. This was certainly the case for the Carneros Bistro whose gardens were just outside the restaurants windows.
When my wife and I were contemplating a vacation destination earlier this year we examined all the usual suspects and each was met with an overwhelming lack of enthusiasm. As we pondered the question my wife suggested a totally different type of vacation than we normally take and immediately we were intrigued by the idea of trying something new. That is how our Tauck tour of San Francisco, Sonoma and the Napa Valley came to be and how sometimes when fate deals you a hand it turns out to be all aces! I am not going to do what your crazy Uncle Fred did when he used his Kodak Carousel slide projector to show two hours of photos documenting his trip through the Mid-West culminating with the money shot of Aunt Mable posing with the “World’s Biggest Ball of String” in De Kalb, Iowa. No, there will be none of that because we were lucky enough to have Julie, one of Tauck’s very best directors, who made our time together more like traveling with a good friend that knew the area very well and wanted to make sure that you were enjoying yourself while getting to experience everything the area had to offer. Our driver Mark handled the coach with a calm ease that came from his understated confidence in his superb driving skills which provided a relaxing environment for his guests. The one other unknown in the equation is who will be your traveling companions and on this trip we were blessed to be accompanied by twenty of the most warm and friendly people we could have imagined and for this we are extremely grateful.
In the following posts I will try to share some of the highlights of our trip but it will be impossible to relate the true experience of the journey because as they say ” You would’ve
The Garden Court Restaurant, The Palace Hotel San Francisco, CA
had to been there”. I hope that this series of posts will prove to my friend and fellow blogger Jeff a.k.a. “the drunken cyclist” that wine bloggers are capable of addressing the broad subject of wine and life:-).
We arrived at San Francisco International Airport and were greeted by our limo driver (Yes I did say limo) who took us to the Palace Hotel on New Montgomery St. in the heart of the Union Square District. A Welcome Reception and Dinner was held that evening where we all enjoyed plenty of wine and a good meal while getting acquainted with our newest friends. To be continued!!!!