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Friday, July 31, 2009

A wine consumer's precise guide: taking it green

Green Wines Today In California over 5% of the state’s total plantings of wine grapes (over 12,000 acres) are now certified organic by third party organizations like California Certified Organic Farms (CCOF). In a recent study of organic growers in Napa Valley, I found that percentage to be closer to +7%. Some industry analysts have it that over 90% of vineyards on the West Coast are now farmed sustainably, with or without any certification. The days of routine, rampant use of chemicals, it seems, are long gone, and practices like cover cropping to establish organic mulching and foster beneficial insects, and canopy management to minimize mildewing and other diseases, have become pretty much standard practice in the U.S. and around the world. All this is good news, but the fact of the matter is that the most prestigious organic growers -- like Napa Valley’s Frog’s Leap and Rubicon, Chapoutier and Ostertag in France, and Alois Lageder in Italy -- have never aspired to “save the world” agendas. They grow green for their own reasons; and the reasons you should drink their wines are ultimately the same as that of any other wine: because they are among the finest, most distinctive wines in the world, precisely because they are made from clean, healthy vines bearing the most expressive grapes.

Are Organic Wines More Expensive? According to the findings of Mark Neal of Jack Neal & Son, who over the past twenty years has steadily converted his vineyards to become the largest grower of certified organic grapes in Napa Valley (over 1,900 acres), it is a myth that farming organically costs more than farming conventionally (with chemicals) or sustainably (synthetic products applied only when necessary). The cost of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides more than offset the cost of the increased labor organic farming requires. If anything, the reason why many of the finest organic and Biodynamic wines seem pricey is because it is no coincidence that many green conscious producers are also among the best producers, working ultra-premium properties and applying handcraft techniques. Be as it may, there are perfectly fine, delicious organic wines to be found in virtually all price categories, from $10-$20 to $200-up, and from all over the world.

THE BASIC CATEGORIES Buying organic wines can be problematic, since certifications vary, and not all producers bottle their wines with any sort of organic indication on their labels. So for the concerned consumer’s information, here are the definitions of the basic types of organic wines to be found in your specialty stores and restaurants, followed by a list of some of the finest wines of their type that I have tasted over the past six months. Wines Made From Organic Grapes These are wines made from grapes farmed completely without the use of pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers, soil fumigants, or other chemicals. In the U.S. certified organic grapes must meet standards established by the USDA’s National Organic Program NOP. In California even stricter standards are set by CCOF; stipulating requirements such as no bio-engineering or iodizing radiation, and encouraging the use of composting, cover cropping and beneficial insects. In France, and 79 other countries other than the U.S., an estimated 70% of the organic certification is administered by ECOCERT. In Italy, organically grown wines are labeled with the designation Viticoltura Biologica; and in Spain, Agricultura Ecologica. In Oregon, organically grown wines come with the seals of Oregon Tilth; in Washington St. the seals will say WSDA Certified Organic. In New Zealand, the leading certififying organization is Bio-Gro, and in Australia it is Australian Certified Organic.

Organic Wines In the U.S., Organic Wines must not only be made from 100% organically grown grapes, they must also be vinified totally without the use of added sulfites. The NOP specifies that even naturally occurring sulfites (found in every wine, organic or not) must be under 10 parts per million in an Organic Wine. Wines Made From Biodynamic Grapes Biodynamic wines are not only farmed organically, they must meet even higher standards of sustainability by following specified preparations that help connect the “dynamic” relationship between everything in the universe, biological and spiritual. Most of these principles are based upon the homeopathic farming methods established by an Austrian philosopher named Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s; and today, certified internationally by Demeter International (in the U.S., governed by the Demeter USA; and in France, by Biodyvin). While some of the specific preparations utilized (but never followed blindly) in Biodynamic viticulture seem strange (like the burying of manure stuffed cow horns in the vineyard, and teas mixing teas in water in a fashion to create a "vortex"), contemporary proponents are very comfortable with most of the practicalities, which produce bottom line results; such as use of on-site produced compost to enrich soil, horsetail to suppress mildew, horn silica to enhance leaf photosynthesis, the emphasis on ecosystem diversity, incorporation of animal life, and even cultivation according to “natural” cycles (i.e. solar and lunar calendars).

Biodynamic Wines Biodynamic Wines must be made from Biodynamic Grapes, while meeting higher standards of vinification defined primarily by use of natural (rather than cultured) yeasts, zero additives (like sugar, tannin and acid “adjustments,” and bacteria to start malolactic fermentation), limited use of added sulfites (for dry wines, less than 100 parts per million), and discouragement of oxygenation. Vegan Wines Wines meeting vegan standards must be vinified without the use of animal products; particularly filtering and fining agents such as egg whites, casein (a milk protein used to soften wine), gelatin (removes bitter phenolics) and isinglass (derived from fish swimbladders). Instead, vegan wines are typically clarified by non-animal products like bentonite clay.

EXCEPTIONAL ORGANIC & BIODYNAMIC WINES Look for the following certified organic or Biodynamic wines (many of these available online), in which you will also find the intense, exciting expressions of terroir and grape possible when wines are grown and vinified as such: Whites Frog’s Leap, Rutherford/Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc (California; organic grapes) Ceago, Clear Lake Sauvignon Blanc (California; Biodynamic) Quivira, Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc (California; Biodynamic) Saracina, Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc (California; organic grapes) Patianna, Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc (California; Biodynamic) Source-Napa, Gamble Vineyard Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc (California; organic grapes) Holmes, Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand; organic grapes) Pircas Negras, Torrontés (Argentina; organic grapes, vegan) Paul Dolan, Mendocino Chardonnay (California; organic grapes) Del Bondio, Napa Valley Chardonnay (California; organic grapes) Sky Saddle, Harms Vineyard Napa Valley Chardonnay (California; Biodynamic) Porter-Bass, Russian River Valley Chardonnay (California; Biodynamic) King Estate, Domaine Pinot Gris (Oregon; organic grapes) Domaine Leflaive, Macon-Verze (France; Biodynamic) Pierre Morey, Meursault (France; Biodynamic) Domaine Vacheron, Sancerre (Loire River, France; organic grapes) Francois Chidaine, Montlouis Clos du Breuil (Loire River, France; organic grapes) Nicolas Joly, Savennierès Les Clos Sacres (Loire River, France; Biodynamic) Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau, Vouvray (Loire River, France; Biodynamic) Domaine Ostertag, Pinot Blanc Barriques (Alsace, France; Biodynamic) Zind-Humbrecht, Pinot Gris (Alsace, France; Biodynamic) Alois Lageder, Benefizium Porer Pinot Grigio (Alto-Adige, Italy; Biodynamic) Meinklang, Grüner Veltliner (Austria; Biodynamic) Dirling, Riesling Grand Cru-Spiegel (Alsace, France; Biodynamic) Marc Kreydenweiss, Gewurztraminer (Alsace, France; Biodynamic) Ca’ del Solo, Muscat (California; Biodynamic)

Reds Paul Dolan, Mendocino Zinfandel (California; organic grapes) Quivira, Wine Creek Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel (California; Biodynamic) Tres Sabores, Napa Valley Zinfandel (California; organic grapes) Ceágo, Redwood Valley Camp Masuit Merlot (California; Biodynamic) Neal Family Vineyards, Rutherford/Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (California; organic grapes) Freemark Abbey, Sycamore Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (California; Biodynamic) Tres Sabores, Perspective Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon (California; organic grapes) Casa Barranca, Arts & Crafts Red (Central Coast, California; organic wine) Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Marcien (California; Biodynamic) Quintessa, Napa Valley (California; Biodynamic) Rubicon Estate, Napa Valley (California; organic grapes) Clos Roche Blanche, Touraine Cabernet (Loire Valley, France; organic grapes) Nuevo Mundo, Cabernet/Carmènére Reserva (Maipo Valley, Chile; organic grapes, vegan) Pircas Negras, Malbec (Famatina Valley, Argentina; organic, vegan) Organic Vintners, Mendocino Pinot Noir (California; organic grapes; vegan) Casa Barranca, Laetitia Vineyard Arroyo Grande Valley Pinot Noir (California; organic grapes) Alma Rosa, La Encantada Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir (California; organic) Sokol Blosser, Dundee Hills Pinot Noir (Oregon; organic grapes) Cooper Mountain, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Reserve (Oregon; Biodynamic) Maysara, Jamsheed McMinnville/Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (Oregon; Biodynamic) Alois Lageder, Krafuss Pinot Noir (Italy; organic grapes) Joseph Drouhin, Chorey-Les-Beaune (France; organic grapes) Marcel Deiss, Burlenberg (Alsace; Pinot Noir; Biodynamic) Weingut Michlits, Pinot Noir (Burgenland/Osterreich, Austria; Biodynamic) Kawarau Estate, Central Otago Pinot Noir (New Zealand; organic grapes) San Vito, Chianti (Toscana, Italy; organic grapes, vegan) Badia a Coltibuono, Chianti Classico Riserva (Italy; organic grapes) Meinklang, Zweigelt (Austria; Biodynamic) Organic Vintners, Tinto (La Mancha, Spain; organic grapes, vegan) Bodegas Iranzo, Vertvs Tempranillo (Spain; organic grapes) Mas Estela, Quindals (Emporda, Spain; organic grapes) M. Chapoutier, Crozes Hermitage Les Meysonnieres (Rhone Valley, France; Biodynamic) Gemtree, Tadpole McLaren Vale Shiraz (Australia; organic grapes) Ventura, Syrah (Lontué Valley, Chile; organic, vegan) Beckmen Vineyards, Santa Ynez Valley Purisima (California; Biodynamic) Domaine de Villaneuve, Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Rhone Valley, France; organic grapes) Marc Kreydenweiss, Perrieres (Costieres de Nimes/Rhone Valley, France; Biodynamic) Rose Elizabeth ROSE, Napa Valley Pinot Noir Rose (California; organic grapes) Sparkling Pizzolato, Prosecco (Italy; organic grapes) Jeriko Estate, Mendocino Brut (California; organic grapes) Domaine Carneros, Brut (California; organic grapes)

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