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.

Till We Meet Again

Isabella Grapes Photo Courtesy: Double-A Vineyards

In my last post, I explored the idea that you didn’t need to try wine from far away places to experience something new. There are plenty of grape varieties that were commonly found on kitchen tables and being made into everyday wines have fallen out of favor for a myriad of reasons can provide an interesting distraction from the predictable narrative of today’s offerings.

Isabella is a Vitis labrusca grape that was once prized for it’s ability to produce fruit that was marketable as table grapes, juice, and grapes for winemaking. Isabella is a large round grape with dark purple skin and a green-yellow flesh that is easily separated from its skin.

In many European countries, Isabella is still banned from being grown and it is illegal to make wine from its grapes. The importation of Isabella vines from North America was widely blamed for the phylloxera plague that ravaged vineyards across Europe in the mid-1800s. Despite it being outlawed in many European countries Isabella can still be found in vineyards and being made into various styles of wine, especially in Italy where the sweet dessert wine Fragolino is very popular. Isabella’s reputation as a desperado has necessitated it being known by more than fifty aliases. Those names range from Alexander and Fragola to Moschostaphylo and Kerkyraios but no matter what name you have known Isabella by it always displays that trademark “foxy” flavor that Vitis labrusca grapes are known for.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Today’s forecast for Western Pennsylvania was for sunshine and

Smoke from West Coast wildfires hazes Western Pennsylvania skies.

mild temperatures. The prospect of an extended period of sunshine and mild weather after a summer that set record high temps and a moderate drought was a welcome prospect. When I was outside doing some work around the house I suddenly noticed that while the temperature was in the ’70s the sky was not blue even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Later, a meteorologist on the local news gave me the explanation for the gray overcast conditions that had overspread the region. The reason was smoke from the wildfires on the West Coast. He said the smoke had risen and was swept eastward to the point that it was passing over the area at 30,000 feet. At that altitude, it didn’t affect our air quality but did filter out some sunlight leading to lower temperatures at the surface.

The smoke from the fires proved to be a curiosity for me but for the wine industry on the West Coast, it is presenting the possibility of being a disaster. The vineyards and wineries not directly impacted by the flames are subject to having their unharvested grapes damaged by “Smoke Taint”. Smoke taint is when grapes are exposed to smoke in the vineyard. Smoke in the vineyard doesn’t necessarily mean that the grapes will be damaged by contact with it. The grapes aren’t harmed by smokey soot settling on them but are injured because the smoke can be absorbed through their skin and goes directly into the grape’s sugars. It then gives the glycosides a smokey aroma, think what your clothes and hair smell like after you stood too close to a campfire. With that is in mind, growers aren’t finding much smoke damage from the wildfires, in fact, many are hopeful that any harm will be manageable. With the testing labs experiencing substantial backlogs of grapes for testing a definitive answer to the extent of the problem remains unknown. We will have to wait for the final judgment on the wine quality from the 2020 vintage in the affected regions.  

The Sun Also Rises

Campo Viejo Rioja Garnacha 2017

When you think of wine grapes grown in Rioja, Spain you naturally think of Tempranillo. While Tempranillo is the predominant grape by far in acreage planted in Rioja, Garnacha plays a crucial supporting role in most of the wonderful Tempranillo-Garnacha Rioja blends coming out of that wine region. This enjoyable red grape is called Garnacha in Spain and Grenache in France. Celebrity chef Curtis Stone presented a candid view of Rioja on his television show “Field Trip with Curtis Stone” which airs on the PBS Create TV channel. Stone visits artisanal producers of food and wine around the world to get inspiration for new dishes at his Beverly Hills restaurant “Maude”. During his visit to Rioja, he was invited to supper at the home of a winemaker where he is treated to wine from the host’s 100-year-old Garnacha vineyard. Check your local listings for this insightful glimpse into some of the most storied food and wine regions on Earth.

Campo Viejo Rioja Garnacha 2017 received a 90 pts rating from James Suckling and has also been well reviewed by many other notable wine critics. This is a great introductory Rioja with subtle oak notes, good acidity, and structure at a value price. On the palate, it is smooth and soft with dynamic fruit flavors. Don’t overlook this varietal just because of all the luscious Tempranillo- Garnacha blends that Rioja offers. Please be open to exploring wine from Rioja because you will be pleasantly surprised by what you will find in your glass. 

Here’s a fun fact if you are curious about the exact location where this wine is made checkout the longitude and latitude coordinates on the top of the label.

Longitude & Latitude Coordinates

Link to Field Trip with Curtis Stone below

 

http://www.fieldtripwithcurtisstone.com 

 

Invitation to my The Vintner Project Article

I am happy to announce that I am the newest contributor to The

Photo courtesy The Vintner Project

Vintner Project. http://vintnerproject.com The Vintner Project is an effort to make the sometimes confusing world of wine more approachable to consumers globally by offering a personal look at wineries, their wine, and the people that make them unique. It is a diversified collection of voices and points of view that bring all the wine regions and winemakers stories together so readers can explore and learn about segments of the winemaking community that might not be covered by the mainstream media.

Founded in 2018 by Nelson Gerena and Kiril Kirilow, The Vintner Project has developed into a dynamic cutting edge media outlet

The Vintner Project founders Nelson Gerena and Kiril Kirilow Photo courtesy vintnerproject.com

for news and insightful content for wine lovers worldwide.

Check out my article about the intriguing Austrian red wine grape Zweigelt and the versatile wine it makes. See why Zweigelt is often called the “Ultimate picnic wine”. Click here to go to my profile and my article vintnerproject.com/learn/zweigelt-austrias-little-known-signature-red-grape/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Article in Michigan Uncorked

I would like to invite you to view my article about Saperavi in the Spring 2020 issue of Michigan Uncorked. An online version of the magazine can be accessed by going to http://michiganuncorked.com and clicking on the Spring issue link on the home page to read the free flip-page edition (I’m on page 6 + 7) or use this link to go directly to the front cover of the magazine http://online.fliphtml5.com/hllky/gjob/#=6This is an edited version of an article that appears in the Spring 2020 issue of the American Wine Society Wine Journal.

Thanks to Michigan Uncorked’s Editor-in-Chief Jim Rink for the opportunity to share my story with the readers of Michigan Uncorked. I hope you enjoy the article and it provides you a bit of relief from the uncertainty and stressful times we are experiencing. Be prudent and stay safe! 

 

 

 

Smoke & Mirrors

Robert Mondavi “invented” Fumé Blanc because he wanted to

Robert Mondavi Winery Fume Blanc

distinguish the high-quality Sauvignon Blanc he was making in the French-style from the other California Sauvignon Blanc that was widely viewed as ordinary “run of the mill” sweet wines. Mondavi realized that changing the name wouldn’t be enough to change people’s idea of California Sauvignon Blanc so he decided to age it in oak barrels. His bold move to rename his dry-fermented barrel-aged wine Fumé Blanc quickly paid off as demand for this “new” wine grew in California and across the United States. Mondavi’s decision not to trademark the name was a stroke of brilliance on his part because more people could use the name and by doing so increase its name recognition and acceptance worldwide. The name Fumé Blanc is commonly associated with oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc made in the United States since the late1960’s. Robert Mondavi never intended to imply that Fumé Blanc was a specific style or method of making wine but only a name for his wine. There is nothing that dictates Fumé Blanc must be oak-aged. You can find Fumé Blanc that is not aged in oak and that is perfectly acceptable because under current U.S. law the terms “Sauvignon Blanc” and “Fumé Blanc” are synonymous. 

If you are curious I suggest you try Fumé Blanc from the winery

Robert Mondavi Winery Fume Blanc

that started it all, the Robert Mondavi Winery. 2017 Fumé Blanc Napa Valley from Robert Mondavi Winery has aromas of peach, citrus and of course, smoke followed by crisp acidity and flavors of pear, citrus, and vanilla/buttery oak. 

The wine world is full of interesting stories like this and others where you may find yourself asking is it “Lemberger” or “Blaufränkisch”? Don’t even get me started with the marketing genius behind the “Syrah” or “Shiraz” campaign.LOL My advice is to ignore the marketing hype and drink what you like no matter what is printed on the label.  

Winemaker Interview: Jerry Pompa

Pittsburgh born and raised winemaker Jerry Pompa started his wine journey at his childhood home in the close-knit neighborhood of Morningside. After earning multiple degrees including an MS in Comp. Sci. at the University of Pittsburgh Jerry made his home in the Pittsburgh area. While building a successful career and raising a loving and supportive family his passion for winemaking only grew stronger. Jerry’s path to becoming a winemaker is very similar in many respects not only to winemakers here in Western Pennsylvania but around the world. His first exposure to winemaking was when his father brought home a bucket of wine grape juice from a supplier in the “Strip District” of Pittsburgh. Today Jerry returns to that same part of the city to procure his supply of wine grapes with the same goal every year of making the best wine he can possibly make. After thirty years of making wine, countless events, seminars, and shows that saw Jerry become one of the co-founders of the American Wine Society’s Pittsburgh-East Chapter no one can tell Jerry Pompa’s story better than Jerry himself. The following is my interview with him in his own words.

How did you get started making wine?

The short version is that about 30 years ago, my Father who owned a small Italian groceria on Larimer Ave in East Liberty, would go to the Strip (we called it the Yards then) and one of his suppliers gave  him a bucket of juice and told him…” put it in your basement and in the spring it will be wine”…so he gave it to me and said the same. I figured there may be a bit more to it so I did some research, bought a kit (carboy, yeast, hoses, etc) and made my first Cabernet.  Really not knowing anything about it I joined the American Wine Society, entered that first wine in a competition, won a 2nd pace ribbon and was therefore encouraged to continue.
I have made wine since. The first 10 years or so from juice but now from grapes. Again, the rest continues as a long story.

Winemaker Jerry Pompa Photo Courtesy: Jerry Pompa

How would you describe your winemaking style?

Primarily “big” reds are what I make. I have made whites and in fact this year I am making a Rosé (like everyone else) using a saignee method from a red Sangiovese I am making. Other style comments would be dry, tannic, and intended to be good food wines.  Consistency drinkable wine is another goal, maybe not style but each year I am trying to make the best wine possible.

 

 Who and what influenced your style of winemaking?

I suppose a lot of personal taste.  Doing it for so long and visiting so many wineries around the world I have learned a lot and still learning. But all of those experiences have certainly influenced my style. I have a strong Italian heritage, again growing up in an Italian Groceria started by my Grandfather in 1905 (which I worked in from – I claim – before I could stand on my own until the business was sold in 1990) I have been around food and wine all of my life. So again we make wines to go with food. That is the biggest influence.
Other people that have influenced me are Eric Miller, Rick, and Ron Lanza, Ron Casertano, “the Winemaker’s Podcast” and many more.

Photo Courtesy: Jerry Pompa

What are your favorite varietals to work with?

For the past 10 years or so I have a group of very close friends who help out with the winemaking. Together we decide on the varietals for the particular year but generally, my favorite to make are Cabernet blends.  We also make Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Super Tuscans, and others.  Again all “big” reds. But my favorite is Cab because of its ability to show so much fruit, integrate the oak, age well, have a beautiful nose and taste, go well with food, etc.

What are your favorite wines, regions, and producers?

I wish I knew more about French wines but in life, there is only so much time. My focus has been on California, Italy, and Australia for the most part. I enjoy wines from everywhere, red, white, dry, sweet, etc. I really consider it food on its own and have taught my children (now all drinking age 😉 the same.  It is all about how it accompanies a meal.
It is so hard to specifically name producers since I try so many and tend not to just buy from the same.  Windy Oaks from Santa Cruz makes an amazing set of Pinot Noir, Wooden Valley (the Lanza brothers) from whom we recently buy our grapes does a fantastic job with Petite Sirah, Sangio, Cabernet, and really anything they grow. Gregg Hobbs (no relation to Paul in California) from Australia does a fantastic Shiraz.  Domain Huet makes an amazing Chenin Blanc, Antinori wines of any kind from Italy are excellent. Really there is not any one  or two from a producer or region.

 

Do you have any tips for someone just getting into winemaking as a hobby or as a profession?

Wow, now that is a question. Those are 2 very different questions.  As a hobby, I have plenty to say.  As a profession, I would love to do it myself but without the large fortune, I would never be able to make a small fortune.
Actually, I don’t like to say that I make “homemade” wines. Yes, I make wines at home but really people have a preconceived notion that a “homemade” wine will taste “bad, strong, vin
egary, etc” and often they are right. I instead prefer to say I make “Handmade” wines. I am doing exactly what a professional would do except on a smaller scale and I don’t sell it. But the tips are first to buy the best fruit you can afford (actually spend more than what you can afford) since wine is mostly made in the vineyards. Winemakers can stylistically change a few things, enhance some characteristics, but mostly they can either guide the grapes into a very nice wine or screw it up. Most of the work is in cleanliness, sterilization, good process control (e.g. with regards to yeast nutrition, oxygen management, temperatures, bacteria, etc). I have taken many classes (some at Penn State Enology), gone to both amateur and professional conferences, and read many many books to learn the proper process and techniques and am adjusting and learning more every vintage.

Jerry with his “Crew” Photo Courtesy: Jerry Pompa

What wines are you working on now and what are your expectations for them?

Our 2019 wines are an 87% Sangiovese/13% Merlot (and a small experiment Rosé from the same) and an 80% Barbera/20% Primativo (Zinfandel).  The 2018 vintage, still aging, is a Cabernet blend and a Petite Sirah.  Expectations are high otherwise why do it ;-). Seriously so far they are coming along very well.

The interview continues after photos. Please scroll down.

 

Can you share what you’re planning next as a winemaker?

Well, as far as what I plan next as a winemaker is not much different than now. So, for now, because of a very busy day job, I will continue to make wine as an amateur but one day I will work in “the industry”. Not sure if that will be making wine myself and selling it, or working as a winemaker for one of the urban wineries, or working for some company in the wine industry one way or another. This all very much depends on my day-job for now. As an amateur, my next step is to finish the 2019 vintage and start planning for the 2020 vintage.  The plan is to improve in some way each year.

What are some of your most memorable experiences as a winemaker?

Most memorable experiences… I have fond memories of the classes I have taken, the people I have met at conferences, the camaraderie in making wine with my close friends. As far as a single event, although I don’t spend much time competing in wine competitions, I did win best of show twice at a regional conference. If you are not familiar with best of show, they take all of the best wines (first place winners) and then judge them and select one over-all “best of show”.

Photo Courtesy: Jerry Pompa

 

You can follow Jerry on Instagram @jerrypompa

Wine Me Dine Me

The Bogle family has farmed in the Clarksburg region of California’s Sacramento River Delta for six generations dating back to the late 1800s. Bogle has over 1800 acres of estate-grown grapes and sources grapes from some of the best-growing regions throughout the state of California. Their wines are often described as “Value wines” or “Everyday wines” but don’t be fooled because they are widely available and have a price point in the low teens if not lower. These wines are well made considering the size of Bogle’s production. Bogle Chardonnay is barrel fermented on the lees and hand-stirred once a month while the reds are aged in small oak barrels. These methods are rare in wineries the size of Bogle. If you are looking for quality wine at an affordable price that you can pair with your weeknight dinner and is always a reliable choice when you’re “out on the town” take a close look at the menu of Bogle wines. A good place to start is with Bogle Merlot. This is a very drinkable Merlot with notes of oak and slightly rounded edges because of its lower acidity and tannins, dry but not overly dry. Enjoyable flavor.  

Bohemian Rhapsody

If you like Sauvignon Blanc but sometimes want a wine with a little more body and complexity then you should try Grüner Veltliner. Grüner Veltliner is the signature grape of Austria and has evolved almost entirely as the result of natural hybridization over time in the region. It is a white Vitis vinifera grape also called Grûner Mushateller but is better known by the colloquial name “Grūner”. Grüner Veltliner is a versatile grape that can be made into a wide variety of wines ranging from light and easy-drinking to rich and packed with varietal character. Grüner vines have medium-sized leaves with 5-7 lobes. It’s grape clusters are medium to very large conical clusters of medium density with round or oval greenish-yellow berries. These vines have adapted perfectly to the wet mineral-rich loess and loam soils of the lower vineyard sites near the Danube River. The lots higher up the hill are planted with Riesling. The rocky soils of these sites force the Riesling to struggle to survive but result in a wine that has concentrated flavors and complex taste profile. This farming practice utilizes the attributes of the land and yields the best grapes possible from the prevailing conditions. Although the largest plantings of Grüne Veltliner are in Austria and surrounding countries it has been dispersed throughout many of the wine regions of the world. While most Austrian Grüners are dry, full-bodied and acidic with flavors of citrus fruit, spice, and white pepper you can easily find others that are weightier with a more structured body that requires years to reach maturity in the bottle.

If you haven’t tasted Grüne Veltliner and you’re curious about where to start I would suggest trying a few from Austria first then expand your search to

The United States and Italy to find good Grūner at very reasonable prices. Here are a

South Shore Wine Company Gruner Veltliner 2015

Gruner Veltliner 2018 Photo Courtesy: Fero Vineyards & Winery

few to get you started on your journey.

AUSTRIA: Singing Grūner Veltliner 2017 Niederösterreich, Austria or Domane Krems Grüner Veltliner 2018 Kremstal, Austria 

ITALY: Eisacktaler Kellerei Cantina Valle Isarco Grüner Veltliner 2018 Alto Adige, Italy

 

The United States of America: Grüner Veltliner Fero Vineyards & Winery

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania,  Grûner Veltliner South Shore Wine Company North East, Pennsylvania or Grüner Veltliner Hosmer Winery Ovid, New York (FLX)

Hosmer Estate Winery 2017 Gruner Veltliner