Biodynamic and Organic Wine

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a winemakers dinner at one of our local fine dining establishments: Casual Elegance. Now, you'd have to know Lake Arrowhead...we are a small community tucked away in the Southern California mountains. When we get premiere winemakers showing up, it's a big deal (at least for those of us who are really into wine). So this dinner was a special occasion, as we had both of the winemaker/owners of Ampelos Cellars attending this dinner. Peter and Rebecca Work are two of the leading proponents of Biodynamic and Organic viticulture in California. I had met Peter a few years ago (before they were certified as Biodynamic) and spent about two or three hours in his winemaking warehouse learning about Biodynamic practices. This was my first time meeting Rebecca (she was attending a trade show in New York when I  ventured up to their warehouse in Lompoc). This night, I sat next to Rebecca, and listened to both Peter and Rebecca explain the  basics of Biodynamic farming .

Ampelos Vineyards
Now I don't claim to be a farmer, but as a Sommelier, I do believe that great wines are made in the vineyard, and I've got to believe that if you grow any type of food, you want to first assure that your produce is the best it can be. Some growers add fertilizer and pesticides to enrich the soil and control pests. There is valid scientific research to show that these man-made additives eventually destroy the soil. Organic farming is mainly concerned about healthy sustainable soil. Growers shun the use of man-made compounds, using natural compost, which in turn encourages living organisms to enrich the soil. Also "cover crops" are used to encourage beneficial bugs, such as ladybugs, which eat other pests that can affect wine growth. Biodynamic farming adds another element above Organic. Biodynamic farming sees the vineyard as a large living organism that is affected by the cosmos. The earth and moon, and their position in the signs of the zodiac, are thought to create "cosmic rhythms" that affect the vines, grapes, and ultimately the bottling, to time you should drink the wine. Now if this all sounds "new age"...think again. Biodynamic farming dates back to the 1920's with the theories of Rudolf Steiner. Interestingly, some well known winemakers in Europe adopted Biodynamic practices when they saw their revered Burgundy vineyards deteriorating. The soil was so depleted of nutrients something had to be done. Nicolas Joly was probably the biggest proponent, and it spread from there. Here in California, the practice is spreading, but is still less than 1% of the vineyards.

Ampelos wine bottles
Organic and Biodynamic wines are grown in the vineyard, but the attention to detail in the winery also affect the ultimate product. When I visited Ampelos (and Dragonette Cellars - who share the winemaking facility), they avoided using sulfur to clean their equipment. Instead, they used ozonated water. Both wineries gently handled their grapes. They limited the filtering and fining of their wines, letting the grapes speak for themselves, and express their terrior. While talking with Rebecca, at the winemaker dinner, I asked about additives that some wineries are using, and learned about a preservative known as DMDC (di-methyl di-carbonate). Rebecca believes this might be an additive that leads to some of the "wine headaches" that some people experience. I'm still exploring this. Needless to say, Ampelos doesn't use this man-made additive. Every time I am able to spend time talking with winemakers, I learn something new. It is a fascinating business they are in.

I know this is a overly simplified explanation of Biodynamic and organic, so I recommend you attend a winemakers dinner, and ask questions about vineyard and winemaking practices. So, what is the bottom line...can you taste the difference between a Biodynamic or organic wine, and any other wine? I must admit that I am still a bit skeptical about the cosmic influences, but the use of natural compounds, and the restriction of man-made chemicals can only be a good thing. The environment is less impacted, the ecosystem is sustainable....and, the wines are excellent.

4 comments:

  1. I am always interested in reading more about, and visiting, organic/biodynamic wineries. Are you aware of a list of certified organic/biodynamic wineries? Thanks!

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  2. The only certification I am aware of is the Demeter Association. Their website lists all those that are certified. You can check it out at: http://www.demeter-usa.org/. There is also an older list (from 2008) that is in pdf format: http://www.winealchemy.com/The%20Biodynamic%20Directory%20July%2008.pdf

    Organic products are a much larger category and falls under the National Organic Program. Their website is: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/nop

    Also, a friend of mine writes about, and sells organic wines, their her website: http://organicwineexchange.com/

    I hope this helps. Let me know if you find some favorites, and share with the rest of us.

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