Organic, Natural, or Biodynamic?

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.

White Russian

If you have visited this blog you know I am a big fan of the Georgian wine grape Saperavi. I have written about it often here and in print publications, websites, and online magazines. There’s another ancient Georgian white grape that is extremely widespread in that region whose wine I have also become fascinated with and that is Rkatsiteli. Rkatsiteli is a pale-skinned cold-hardy Vitis vinifera wine grape that can trace its origins as far back as Saperavi and like Saperavi it is considered to be one of the oldest wine-producing grapes in the world. Rkatsiteli is widely planted in the Caucasus Region, the area that connects Europe and Asia. While its acreage is considerable it is far less than it occupied during the Soviet-era when quantity was valued for the mass production of wine. The main reasons for the popularity of Rkatsiteli in that part of the world are that it has a strong resistance to cold temperatures while retaining a good level of acidity in hot growing conditions and versatility in the cellar where it can be made into anything from table wine to sparkling wine and everything in between. Rkatsiteli can be found outside of the Caucasus in China and the United States. You can find it being grown as Rkatsiteli in the northeastern U.S., mainly in the Finger Lakes Region of New York and also in Virginia. In China, it is being grown and produced as Baiyu.

Rkatsiteli is made in many styles and types of wine but it usually displays a light body and high acidity. Since Rkatsiteli is made into such a wide variety of wine by a diverse community of winemakers and cultures I will focus on the Rkatsiteli wine made on the East Coast of the United States where it is taking on the characteristics of each unique terroir it encounters. 

Like Saperavi, Rkatsiteli was first planted in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York by the legendary Dr. Konstantin Frank where it continues to be grown and made into a classic style of Rkatsiteli by his family at the Dr. Frank Winery in Hammondsport on Keuka Lake. When you taste Dr. Frank Rkatsiteli 2019 the first thing you will notice is Rkatsiteli’s signature acidity and a lean body upfront but the flavors tropical fruit and pear come out on the finish. This wine is a nice light-bodied white wine now but will improve with time in the bottle.

McGregor Vineyard is one of the two vineyards that grow Rkatsiteli in the Finger Lakes. McGregor is most recognized for its iconic Saperavi blend Black Russian Red but their Rkatsiteli is one of their most popular and exclusive wines with only 41 cases produced in 2019. McGregor Rkatsiteli 2019 is a light wine perfect to drink at a festive gathering or on a picnic with friends because it has refreshing acidity and a long finish filled with fruit flavors.

Horton Vineyards in Gordonville, Virginia began growing Rkatsiteli after losing vines to the bitter Winter of 1996. Horton Vineyards Rkatsiteli 2017 displays aromas of nectarines and Meyer lemon that when combined with its prominent minerality and acidity renders a fresh-tasting wine that you can enjoy alone or pair with lighter fare. 

As fall gives way to winter and our tastes turn to more full-bodied reds don’t forget about Rkatsiteli. My suggestion to you is to buy a couple of bottles to save for next summer because it will be here before you can say Rkatsiteli.           

They Shoot Horses Don’t They?

Well, if they do they would be missing out on all the hidden value this economically priced Cabernet Sauvignon from the Horse Heaven Hills A.V.A of Washington has to offer.

Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon has been a workhorse vintage after vintage when it comes to providing value in a varietal category that can easily become overpriced due to the hype that often surrounds some well-known producers.

Photo Courtesy: Columbia Crest

This is a bold Cab that opens with oak on the nose and follows with flavors of dark fruit and vanilla that are complemented by supple tannins in a lingering finish. Vintages of this wine have received critical acclaim from the likes of Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. Its malolactic fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels then the wine is blended immediately after fermentation. It is aged in new and older French and American oak barrels for 12 months.

Year after year, vintage after vintage and grape variety after grape variety Washington State has moved its wine quality and value forward without fail. Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon has taken its place in the wine market as an enjoyable Cab that can be easily found and purchased for $15 or less.

Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon 2017