"Buy my book about the Roussillon region on Amazon UK in colour paperback and eBook or black & white version, and Amazon USA: colour paperback and eBook or black & white. Also available in the US from Barnes & Noble in hardcover, paperback or eBook. For other countries, tap on the link below above the cover image." Richard Mark James

12 December 2006

Red Heart wine is good for you, says Sainsbury's

UK supermarket Sainsbury's has taken a bold step by launching Red Heart, an Australian Cabernet Sauvignon - Petit Verdot selling at £4.99, claiming it has an antioxidant level 32% higher than other red wines. These antioxidants derive from polyphenols in red grape skins and pips and might help our bodies combat cell damage, heart disease etc. When drunk in moderation of course: excessive alcohol will probably cause your liver to pack up. Red Heart is quite risky on two fronts then: the anti-alcohol element could slam JS for promoting drinking, and new research keeps appearing about possible health benefits of red wine, which seems to be based on lab experiments. Writer, publisher of Wineanorak.com and scientist-author Jamie Goode believes their claims are rubbish: read his blog for more details on antioxidants, wine and health etc. Still, in a climate of binge-drinking and governments getting very heavy around the world, it's commendable that potential benefits of moderate red wine drinking should be communicated, as long as scientific evidence can back it up. Their press release emphasises, of course, that "Sainsbury's supports sensible drinking..." and includes the www.drinkaware.co.uk website. Another good one is Alcohol in Moderation. I look forward to seeing more research on antioxidants in red wine and their actual effect on the human body. Would be good to know if it really does have a place in a healthy balanced diet! Not that mine is very... 

01 December 2006

Austria: Mittelburgenland, 2006 vintage, festive breaks

Mittelburgenland is Austria's first red wine region to adopt appellation or DAC status - bizarrely they decided to use the Latin words Districtus Austriae Controllatus, although perhaps easier to grasp than in German - for wines made from and typical of the Blaufränkisch grape variety, from the 2005 vintage. Where's that you may well ask? It's a small area in the far east bordering Hungary. Outside of Austria, you have to question whether this will help wine lovers understand Austrian wines better. The same could be said for the other DAC appellation, Weinviertel for Grüner Veltliner. However, they are trying to associate origin and actual taste by limiting it to each region's main variety. Mittelburgenland is a smaller part of Burgenland where Blaufränkisch makes up over half the vineyard area. As I've always argued, if terroir shapes unique character in wines, it has to be on a measurable scale to have any meaning. By basing the DAC on the variety that growers agree suits the area's climate etc best, it might be a good idea and send out a clearer message, with a little explanation and tasting of course. To read the full release on the their website, click here.
Some other Austrian wine tit-bits that have come my way:
The 2006 vintage is looking very promising, according to growers in all of Austria's wine regions, with good ripeness and sugar levels coupled with balanced acidity. The downside is a reduced crop of flagship variety Grüner Veltliner. More info here.
If you're thinking of going to Austria for Christmas or New Year, there are a few wineries with a restaurant and accommodation that are doing festive slap-up meal packages. Saziani Neumeister is one of them, based in Straden in southeast Styria. Talking of which, Weingut Polz is another estate worth visiting in the region; their excellent Sauvignon Blanc has been attracting a lot of attention recently in various magazines.

Roussillon: "Finding Fenouillèdes country..."

"Finding Fenouillèdes country, wild wine touring..." Around Calce, Estagel, Tautavel, Caudiès de Fenouillèdes, St-Paul de Fenouillet, Lesquerde, Maury, Caramany, Rasiguères, Latour de France, Bélesta, Vingrau...
This article was published in English and French on the wine travel website www.winetourisminfrance.com in December 2006.

Whichever map angle you approach the Fenouillèdes region from, you’ll quickly be invaded by the primal beauty of the unforgiving terrain that cradles its vineyards. Draped across a dramatically wild, elevated valley landscape bridging Corbières and French Catalonia, you can kick off a wine route on its eastern side coming from Perpignan airport, around the villages of Calce, Estagel and Tautavel; or from the west between Caudiès de Fenouillèdes and St-Paul de Fenouillet. The latter choice is recommended, if you’re travelling down from Carcassonne via Limoux and Couiza then winding your way through the scary Gorges de Galamus. Between St-Paul and Estagel, dotted along and south of the D117 valley road, the villages and wines of Lesquerde, Maury, Caramany, Rasiguères and Latour de France all grab your attention.

Fennel or hay?
You might assume the word Fenouillèdes came from the French (or Occitan: historically most of this region wasn’t part of Catalonia) for fennel (fenouil), which apparently does grow wild round these parts. But according to the handy site histoireduroussillon.free.fr, the Romans called the area Pagus Fenioletensis meaning ‘hay country,’ although there is a connection between the two words. Either way, it’s the grapes that excel in this corner of the Roussillon; and winegrowers at a number of up-and-coming (and firmly established), high quality estates are keen to spread the word.
In the past, the area was known mainly as a producer of thick fortified red ‘Vins Doux Naturels’ based on Grenache. Many still make these unique wines, some of which are superb such as the Maury AOC crafted by Mas Karolina, Domaine Jorel (both in St-Paul), or, in Maury itself, traditional super-aged styles from la Coume du Roy, who still have a little of their incredibly treacly 1880 vintage! But there’s a limited market nowadays for this kind of strong, tannic and sweet wine. Hence why a fresh generation of newcomers, sons/daughters who’ve gone back into family vineyards and former co-operative growers who’ve established their own domaines, are producing exciting reds (and unusual whites and rosés) in line with today’s wine drinking tastes.

Serious Grenache

In fact, Richard Case of Domaine Pertuisane (Maury) cites Grenache as the pull of the area: “Unparalleled anywhere in France... the best three places to grow it are Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Priorat and Maury.” One hectare of old vine Grenache or Carignan is also relatively cheap here at around 10-15,000 euros. Compare that to at least €300,000 in CNDP. Quite a bit of Syrah has been planted, which seems to give very good results if matched to the right sites and soils, such as around Rasiguères, Bélesta and Vingrau.
Many growers cherish their old Carignan above all: Gérard Gauby called it “one of the great varieties of the future.” And let’s not forget majestic Mourvèdre, the mainstay of a rich complex blend, championed by some and abandoned by others. You must get out into the vineyards to fully appreciate how difficult it is to work these vines and why grape yields are generally very low. For example, when you tread uneasily on the dry schist and stone ‘soils’ at Domaine des Soulanes between Tautavel and Maury; hard to believe anything grows here at all. Owner Daniel Laffite said he wears out two pairs of boots a year!

Worth visiting and tasting

In addition to those mentioned above, other names to keep an eye out for as you tour around the region include the following, listed by village.
Calce – pretty little lost village, home to the biodynamic Gauby family (their 2003 Muntada red is particularly impressive) and Domaine Matassa (try the intense whites from Viognier-Muscat and Grenache Gris-Macabeu).
Vingrau – spectacularly set vineyards circled by limestone cliffs and hills. Domaine de l’Edre: Jacques Castany, long time grower, and Pascal Dieunidou vinified their first vintage in 2002. Look out for the 2004 Dom de l’Edre red and 2005 white. Talking of whites, about half of Domaine des Chênes’ production is white: try their atypical oak-aged 2003 les Sorbiers CdR from old vine Grenache Blanc and Macabeu.
Tautavel (where you’ll also find the Centre européen de Préhistoire, kind of history of mankind museum) – Domaine des Soulanes: 2004 Sarrat del Mas Côtes du Roussillon Villages; Domaine Fontanel: 1997 Rivesaltes Ambré.
Estagel – Domaine Hylari: Côtes du Roussillon Villages 2004 and Rivesaltes Tuilé VDN; Domaine des Schistes: 2003 La Coumeille CdRV; Domaine les Tourdelles: 2004 Cuvée Pierre Damien CdRV.
Latour de France – the old castle tower was a border outpost until ‘northern Catalonia’ became part of France in 1659. Domaine de la Balmière: 2005 Latour de France CdRV, Muscat sec and rosé; Domaine Rivaton: 2005 Latour de France CdRV.
Rasiguères – Domaine Jouret et Fils: 2004 Cuvée les 3 Soeurs CdRV; also home of Trémoine, one of the Roussillon’s most serious rosés.
Bélesta - Clos de l’Oum: 2004 Numéro Uno CdRV. The local co-op also makes some decent wines.
Vignerons de Caramany: 2004 CdRV.
Maury – Clos de l’Origine set up by former Bandol grower/winemaker Marc Barriot, who’s aiming for super-organic status: 2004 Vin de Pays rouge with 40% Mourvèdre and no sulphur dioxide. Domaine Serrelongue: young enthusiastic Julien Fournier’s 2004 Saveur de Vigne CdRV among others; Domaine Terre Rousse: 2005 CdRV looks very promising; Domaine Duran: 2005 Dom du Vieux Cépage; Mas de Lavail (with on site gîte/chambres d’hôte): 2003 la Désirade CdRV; Domaine Semper: old family estate making a full range of styles; Château Saint Roch: 2003 Kerbuccio CdRV; Domaine Pouderoux: 2003 Terre Brune CdRV; and Dom la Pertuisane’s 2004 VdP from 90% Grenache and Carignan, both very low yielding.
St-Paul de Fenouillet – Domaine de la Fou: 2004 Ricochet CdRV. Interesting to note that the Grier family of South Africa’s Villiera estate has recently purchased 22 ha of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan nearby.
Caudiès – Domaine de Majas: 2003 les Hauts de Majas CdR and good Cabernet Sauvignon vin de pays.

Mad Cathare fortresses

Facing the Pyrenees to the south and dangerously perched up on the Corbières foothills, you just have to drive (or hike) up to Château de Peyrepertuse and/or Château de Quéribus. The former is found to the northeast of St-Paul and the latter by taking the D19 road from Maury. Best to visit them when the sometimes ferocious wind isn’t blowing its heart out…

All rights Richard Mark James / WineTourisminFrance 2006

Restaurants and what’s on
The area isn’t exactly awash with places to eat and stay. Jean Pla – who’s involved in promotional activities carried out by the producers’ association, Fenouillèdes Selection – and his wife have opened a ‘resto-cave’ in Maury called Le Pichenouille. This compact establishment offers well-priced menus, winegrower dinner/tastings and you can pick your wine straight off the shelves from a wide choice of local bottles. They’re also setting up a company offering guided tours etc. 33 avenue Jean Jaurès, 66460 Maury. Tel: +33 (0)4 68 59 02 18 or mobile: 06 07 69 54 78. (ED. update - they sold it a few years ago).
The Auberge du Cellier (1 rue de Sainte Eugénie, 66720 Montner - Tel: 04 68 29 09 78 - Fax: 04 68 29 10 61) is fancier and describes its cooking as “neo-Catalan.” Tasty refined menus from 29 to 65 €uros, wines by the glass from 5 € and top Roussillon bottles priced from 15 to 300 €. They also offer six double rooms at 45 to 56 € and organise vineyard walks etc: www.aubergeducellier.com
Le Petit Gris just outside Tautavel has a large terrace outside with peaceful 360° views; fuel up with their hearty grillade catalane. Tel: 04 68 29 42 42.

Regular local events include the Fenouillèdes wine fair in May. More info including all the producers’ contact details can be found at vins-fenouilledes.com and vinsduroussillon.com

Fitou splits from Languedoc

This story was posted on www.decanter.com on 1/12/2006.

The entire Fitou appellation and its producers have left the CIVL, the regional association of Languedoc wineries. When revealing export marketing budgets at the CIVL’s AGM in Narbonne, Fitou’s letter of resignation was also conspicuously on the agenda.

The move towards a single, united wine trade federation called Inter-Sud - combining CIVL, CIVR (Roussillon), Inter-Oc (vin de pays d’Oc) and ANIVIT (vins de pays & table) - has been too slow for some members. The concept of managing and promoting the whole region as ‘South of France’ was agreed a year ago and the Inter-Sud charter signed in June this year. Jean-Marc Astruc, Fitou winegrowers’ president, commented: “If we want to do this, we have to do it quickly. Everyone is talking about unity but people are dragging their feet.” Katie Jones, export manager at Mont Tauch, the progressive co-operative based in Tuchan and major player in Fitou production, added: “we’re committed to South of France, it’s a fantastic idea. The CIVL was just one level too much…”
“The reason why Fitou left is because what we were paying in was too much compared to what we got out of it,” clarified Astruc. “The administrative structure was too expensive and Fitou wasn’t very visible,” he added. “South of France is simple, clear and easier for the consumer. There’s no point in paying to complicate.” Philippe Coste, CIVL president, endorsed reducing the timescale: “we must make this happen over the next year, especially with the Languedoc regional AOC; how can we if we’re still each doing our own thing?”

25 November 2006

South of France earmarks €7 million for export

An edited version of this news item was posted on www.decanter.com on 25/11/2006.

Ambitious plans were announced by Languedoc wine producers at their recent AGM in Narbonne. In an unprecedented move to boost export sales, around half of the overall €15 million budget has been allocated to key European, North American and Far East markets. The total pot consolidates funds from the CIVL (Languedoc wineries’ association), CIVR (Roussillon) and Inter-Oc (vin de pays) into the new Inter-Sud super-body, which will promote all the region’s wines as South of France/Sud de France. These joint funds have been matched by the Languedoc-Roussillon regional parliament thus doubling the projected budget, which will be spent on PR, supermarket promotions, on-trade events and trade & consumer wine shows. The export share has also been split 50-50 between ‘mature’ – the UK, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark – and ‘developing’ markets – the US, Japan and Canada. Currently 35% of Languedoc appellation wines are exported and 57% of vin de pays d’Oc.

Progress towards creating one united wine trade federation in the South has been gathering momentum since the InterSud constitution was signed in June. However, legal and administrative fine detail appears to be slowing down the process, despite, on the whole, vocal support throughout the region. Government representative Eugène Julien described all the existing organisations as “a luxury” re-emphasising the need for “one cohesive body, very quickly too.” A further setback could be the delay in Paris ratifying the new cross-regional Languedoc AOC, which forms an essential part of marketing strategy and has been agreed by the INAO (national body controlling appellations). An unnamed commentator mentioned “rumours in the corridors of the Ministry” of possible problems ahead. Another unsettling development is the shock resignation of Fitou from the CIVL in October: it’s not yet clear whether they intend to be part of InterSud.

03 October 2006

Institute of Masters of Wine holds endowment auctions

The IMW received an endowment fund last year from two generous donors (£200,000), on condition that MWs themselves raise matching funds by donations and volunteering lots for auction. Hence their London auction on 30th October at 6pm at Christie’s (8 King Street) and New York auction on 1st November at 5.30pm at Christie’s (Rockerfeller Plaza). Siobhan Turner, director of the IMW, commented: "The money will be invested to provide an income for scholarships, bursaries and other special projects that the Institute could not otherwise fund from its general revenue." Lots include one bottle of 1982 Le Pin (which apparently is one more than Le Pin has) and a sumptuous trip for four to Bordeaux, including dinner and overnight at Ch. d’Yquem, lunch at Palmer, dinner at Le Pin... Click on these highlighted links to view the London and New York catalogues (PDF files). You don't need to pre-register to attend the auctions but do if you want to make an absentee bid. Click on the logo above to visit the IMW's website.

27 September 2006

Rioja rocks

The Rioja wine people have been heartened by the findings of a recent survey conducted in three of its top export markets - the UK, Germany and USA - carried out by AC Nielsen. The study, which targeted 35 to 50 year old men and women, focused on "regular wine drinkers" in London, Manchester and Nottingham, i.e. those who consume at least one bottle of wine per week (average spend per bottle £5.27). In the UK, where shipments came to more than 2½ million cases last year, 'brand Rioja' has one of the highest recall rates amongst all wine producing regions, coming in 7th after Australia, California and Bordeaux. Among those questioned, 54% who “know Rioja” consume it, and of this group, 29% are regular drinkers. The reasons why included: they like the taste more than other options such as “full bodied, affordability and consistent quality.”
Hence the launch of their 'Rethink Rioja' campaign featuring lots of promotions and tastings. 'Dine with Rioja for £10' will run in The Daily Telegraph from 8th October into November; from 23 - 29 October independent wine shops will be participating in a Rioja week; tastings and daily seminars in the wine theatre from 22 – 26 November at the BBC Good Food Show, NEC Birmingham (www.bbcgoodfoodshow.com) stand number J51. And on 30th November, there's Decanter Magazine's Rioja tasting at Lloyd’s of London; tickets priced at £20, see their website: www.decanter.com. Rioja producers have also launched a 'lifestyle' website for UK: www.winesfromrioja.co.uk, which has full details of these events, where to buy Rioja and tips for travelling in the region. Further information from the Rioja Wine Information Centre, 58 Grosvenor Street, London WIK 3JB; tel 020 7409 0494 or rioja@spearcommunications.co.uk
Tasting report on some new Rioja releases and vintages coming soon... By the way,
the "exceptional" 2005 vintage has been awarded an “Excellent” rating by the Rioja Regulatory Council, the 13th vintage to be called this in the history of the region. Of course they're obviously totally unbiased! Posted 27/9/06.

21 September 2006

Languedoc: Domaine Lerys, Fitou

Domaine Lerys

A serene daytrip back in late September 2006, taking in 
the wine villages of western Fitou country, set the scene ruggedly for discovering three wineries, one big (Cave de Mont Tauch) and two (Bertrand-Bergé and this one, obviously) small... Maguy and Alain Izard farm 45 "low-yielding" hectares (110 acres) around the pretty lost village of Villeneuve; they also do chambres d'hôte with two rooms above their nice shop, one double and one family with a terrace.

2003 Fitou tradition (Carignan Grenache, 13.5%) - perfumed and pure, liquorice and pepper fruit with light rustic notes; firm tannins v ripeness, elegant bite and length. €6.20 87-89
2003 Fitou Prestige (Carignan Grenache Syrah) - more floral and herby followed by nice black fruit, firmer and more austere with lightly bitter bite; structured finish with coating of tannins. €7.30 88-90
2001 Fitou Fût de Chêne (Carignan Syrah) - coconut spice with nice fruit underneath, layered tannins with long bite; attractive but would be better with less oak. €7.70
Rivesaltes (
Grenache blanc & gris) - appealingly oxidised walnut and toffee notes, quite subtle freshness v sweetness. €6.20 87+

Latest HERE - 2012 Fitou report featuring their 2008 vintage.

11360 Villeneuve-les-Corbières

05 September 2006

Roussillon: Domaine Fontanel, Tautavel/Estagel

Laid-back Pierre and Marie-Claude Fontaneil (not a spelling mistake) have 25 ha (62 acres) around Tautavel, where their small yet soon-to-expand winery is found, and 10 ha (25 acres) in the village commune of Maury. I like those traditional village cellars found on a narrow residential street like any other, where you just walk in as if you were going into a large garage. The domaine was set up in 1989, before that the two families were cooperative growers. Their focus is red, mostly Roussillon AOC wines, producing around 10,000 cases in total per year, 80% of which is exported particularly to Asia and the Far East. In the UK, the wines are listed by Stone, Vine & Sun and Indigo Wine.

Tasted 5th Sept 2006:
2004 Côtes du Roussillon rouge (Grenache Syrah Carignan, 14%) - smoky black cherry with minty notes, elegant fruit despite fair concentration and weight, tight fresh finish v dry coating of tannins. 87
2003 Tradition Côtes du Roussillon Villages (Grenache Syrah Carignan, 13.5%) - firm and a bit closed up, subtle ripe fruit underneath; attractive tannin texture, needs 6-12 months to express itself as it's concentrated and structured. 89+
2004 Prieuré Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel (Syrah Mourvèdre Grenache) - elegant perfumed nose and black cherry fruit, good grip and length. 89-91
1997 Rivesaltes Ambré (Grenache blanc & gris, 16.5%) - appealing mix of aged toffee notes and mature cheese complexity, finishing with fresh long bite. 88-90
2002 Maury (Grenache, 16%) - deliciously concentrated spicy blackberry and liquorice fruit, nice grip bite and power on the finish; not so sweet.

25 Avenue Jean Jaurès, 66720 Tautavel (cellar address, from April to October) or 37-39 Avenue du Docteur Torreilles, Estagel (shop open all year round 10am to 7pm). Tel: 04 68 29 04 71, 04 68 29 45 21; http://www.domainefontanel.com/.

24 August 2006

Médoc Marathon

This annual charity run hits the road on 9th September 2006 passing through the famous villages and Châteaux on Bordeaux's Right Bank. As usual, a team of Masters of Wine will be taking part (no doubt fuelled by samples of Margaux, Pauillac and Foie Gras...) including Caroline Gilby MW, pictured. In her own words, Caroline has "chosen to raise money for the breast cancer team at Bedford hospital, a cause very close to my heart.  I am keen to raise as much money as possible to give something back after all the support I've had through my own treatment. The best way to sponsor me is through http://www.justgiving.com/carolinegilby. Thanks very much for any support, or even your good wishes." More info on the marathon here (in French).

02 August 2006

Mediterranean Jazz 3-6 August

Château l'Hospitalet, part of the energetic Gérard Bertrand empire located in the unfortunately named La Clape wine area near Narbonne, is hosting wine tasting jazz concerts over the next few days. Artists include Nicole Croisille on Thursday 3rd, on Friday 4th the Louis Martinez Quintet  with Charlie & Sourisse, Sat 5th: Guy Marchand with 'Amor y Perfidia' and a homage to Frank Sinatra with the Big Brass Band on Sunday 6th August.
The 'Jazz in l'Hospitalet' shows start at 10pm (it'll be nice and cool by then) with tickets priced at 25 €uros (hopefully including some wine!). Ring (+33) 04 68 45 36 00 for more info and booking, or the town hall on 04 68 90 30 30 or check out their site www.gerard-bertrand.com. Château l'Hospitalet also has 22 rooms in its on-site Hôtel Mona Lisa plus two restaurants: l'Olivet and La Grange; phone + 33 (0)4 68 45 28 50 or fax : + 33 (0)4 68 45 28 78.

01 August 2006

Understanding Mourvèdre: Wine Business Monthly

'Comparing Mourvèdre's European growing characteristics and winemaking styles provides an understanding of its US potential...' by Richard Mark James.
An edited version of this feature was published in the August 2006 issue of Wine Business Monthly and on their website winebusiness.com (goes to article on their site):

"Dial M for Mourvèdre…Monastrell…or indeed Mataro: The very fact that it has (at least) three names says a great deal about this migrant, mystifying and misunderstood variety..."

22 July 2006

World Wine Challenge™ quiz for wine geeks

Created by American wine educator Barry Wiss, as part of his Vine To Dine culinary and wine education programme designed for the Trinchero Family Estates winery, an Advanced Level of the game has just been launched in the UK on CD Rom. Complete with sound effects, it takes the form of a virtual wine wheel on screen which spins when you click the mouse.  An arrow lands  on a wine region and points to a question - such as ‘Sangiovese Grosso is also known as?’ or ‘The Walla Walla AVA is located in?’ - giving a choice of answers. World Wine Challenge™ is available from winegiftcentre.com at £12.95. I'd recommend playing with a glass or two of something appropriate to make it even more fun...

06 July 2006

Languedoc: Château de Sérame, Corbières/Minervois

Château de Sérame

"...Delving deeper into the Corbières, this huge region has been witnessing an impressive transformation with several very serious investors on the scene. Château de Sérame is an extensive property straddling both Corbières and Minervois, who went into partnership with Bordeaux magnate Dourthe four years ago. With 120 hectares in production and 10 being replanted every year, “our aim is benchmark wines” commented winemaker Vincent Bernard..." Read the rest of this article for more info (scroll down to OLN 2006).

Tasted July 2006:
2003 Minervois (Syrah Grenache Carignan Mourvèdre) - warm blackberry and liquorice fruit with light toasty oak, slightly 'reductive' tang and complexity; nice soft-ish texture v depth of fruit, weight (13.5%) and chocolate coating; quite big yet the fruit wins the day. 87-89
2004 Minervois (Syrah Grenache Carignan Mourvèdre) - touch more vanilla but also lively floral spice notes; attractive juicy v fresh and tight mouthfeel, enough black cherry fruit to absorb the choco oak; more elegant and perfumed than the 2003. 89+
2004 Corbières (variation of same grapes) - tighter more blackcurranty fruit, again very light oak and reductive notes; nice concentration v firm tannins, elegant and long; needs a little time to express itself. 87-89
2003 L’Icone Corbières - powerful barrel-fermented, limited series red: pretty rich, spicy and toasty nose leads to very concentrated choco palate, sweet fruit v solid rounded mouthfeel, actually 15% but not so obvious. Quite wow Parker-esque style (sorry Robert for that sweeping comment), not sure I'd want to drink more than a glass. 90 (purely as a 'show' wine)

Domaine de Sérame
2005 Merlot Réserve, Vin de pays d'Oc - appealing plum and cherry aromas with very background oak, good varietal character; aromatic v chunky, attractive style. 87-89
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Réserve, Vin de pays d'Oc - quite tangy and tight, perhaps bottle-shocked needing a few months; it does say Cab with less charm than the Merlot, maybe an awkward adolescence...
2005 Viognier Réserve, Vin de pays d'Oc - delicious floral apricot notes, gummy and fresh v fatter 'sweet' fruit, clean long finish. 87-89
2005 Muscat sec Réserve, Vin de pays d'Oc - sexy pure piercing orange peel and grape aromas build to a very zesty palate, 13.5% adds weight yet it's long and fine. 90

Latest vintages tasted here (Corbières report May 2011).

North of Lézignanwww.chateaudeserame.com

30 June 2006

Signature Bio organic wine competition

Signature Bio organic wine competition June 2006

I was Judge Dredd at this organic wine competition held in rather-hot-June at the AIVBLR's HQ (Languedoc-Roussillon organic growers' association, with the very French 'interprofession' word in it), who also organise Millésime Bio trade show where the medal winners are officially honoured. Apart from my pick of the ones I tasted - blind of course, their identity was revealed afterwards - I've also included notes and scores for all the gold-decorated wines. The competition covers the whole of Mediterranean France, so organic growers from Provence and southern Rhône as well as Languedoc-Roussillon. Two things stand out in particular: many of them are under €10 and are vins de pays, which certain people strangely regard as inferior to appellation wines! As for the judging process and results, I think it's worth adding a few candid comments.

The wines were marked out of twenty - 12 to 13 for a Bronze medal (equivalent to 80-84 on the 100 point scale), 14 to 15 for Silver (85-89) and 16 to 20 for Gold (90-100). This seems a little generous to me, and why such a wide band for gold medal? Compare this to the International Wine Challenge, for example: Gold 95-100, Silver 90-94, Bronze 85-89 and Seal of Approval 80-84 (whatever that means). Each wine category was divided into tasting flights by style and vintage (certain judges weren't comfortable with this, as the appellation wines and vins de pays were mixed together; who cares, I say) with a 'possible number of medals' depending on how many wines in each flight, coming to max 29% of 197 samples in total. Is it a good idea to suggest up-front how many medals could/should be awarded? Surely best to let the juries decide which wines are worth what...

In the end, 23% of the wines were given medals including nearly 7% gold (11 plus 2 'highly rated') and more silvers than bronzes. The IWC "rewarded 64% of entries" including the more modest Seal of Approval but only 3% gold medals. I should also add I was frustrated by some of the judges' inability to spot faults. For example, I tasted the gold medal winning Marselan from Dom. de l'Attilon (see below) three times, blind and uncovered, and found excessive reductive/sulphide notes. Admittedly it was a youthful red perhaps only just bottled; this does happen and the off-smells can disappear, but the level here went beyond potential aromatic complexity! Anyway, enough of the maths and chemistry, let's move on to the wines. The panel I was on tasted Provence, southern Rhône and Côte d'Azur reds by the way.


Highly rated: 2001 Cuvée des Cadettes Château la Nerthe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape - ripe smoky and oaky on the nose, rich extracted and concentrated with nice dark fruit and rounded tannins; powerful finish but still too much vanilla oak, which by my reckoning leaves it just short of gold. By far the most expensive wine in the show at €56.50. 15 / 87-89
More La Nerthe here.

Highly rated: 2005 Le Sol Blanc Château Veredus, vin de pays (VDP) d'Oc - peachy fruit v good mineral intensity, crisp long finish. Very attractive but not really competition winning wine, although good value at €4. 14.5 / 87
2005 Cuvée Inès Château la Rèze, Minervois - lively citrus fruit edged with intricate yeast-lees notes, very light toast and fatness v crisp length. €6.80 15.5 / 88-90
2005 Cuvée Tradition rosé Domaine des Aspras, Côtes de Provence - classic delicate style, tight zesty and long. €6.50 15 / 87-89
2005 Merlot Domaine des Soulié, VDP des Monts de la Grage - cherry fruit aromas with meaty notes, a bit oxidised; spicy dark fruit palate, quite inky with menthol undertones. €5.50 14.5 / 87
2005 Côtes du Rhône Château les Quatre Filles - rustic spicy nose leads to tight cherry-fruited palate, firm tannins and good length. €5.20 15 / 87-89

2002 Prestige Château Bousquette, Saint Chinian - smoky black fruit notes edged with nice minty spicy chocolate, quite rich mouth-feel with tight firm finish. €8.95 16 / 89-91
2003 La Lignée Julien Mas de Janiny, Coteaux du Languedoc - leather and pepper tones set the scene for ripe liquorice fruit v solid tannins and impressive finish. €11.50 17 / 90-92
2004 Alix Château Pech-Latt, Corbières - the bottle I tasted was faulty, a bit oxidised and dusty? At
Millésime Bio back in January I said this about it: ripe and silky liquorice and herb flavours build to dry grip and elegant length. €18.30 16 / 89-91
2004 Grenache de l'Etoile Domaine de Clairac, VDP de l'Hérault - smoky toasty aromas with very intense cassis fruit, shows good length and balance. €8.50 16 / 89-91
2004 Pioch de l'Oule Domaine Costeplane, VDP d'Oc - quite jammy with oaky background, nice enough but fairly simple. €7.40 14 / 85-87
2005 Marselan Domaine de l'Attilon, VDP des Bouches du Rhône - 1. a bit reductive, spicy cherry fruit but rather over-extracted tannins. 2. similar nose and palate, the fruit's coming through better this time. 3. Sulphide notes still dominate, crisp cassis and cherry fruit, still rather firm yet elegant. €4 13 / 85
2004 Confidentiel Domaine Montirius, Gigondas - blackcurrant & blueberry fruit with savoury backdrop, tight firm palate but elegant too v power. €29 15 / 87-89


2004 VDP de Vaucluse Château la Canorgue - shades of meaty complexity, lovely peppery fruit on the palate supported by subtle oak, rich concentrated and powerful. €12 15-16 / 88-90
2003 La Chapelle de Romanin Château Romanin, les Baux-de-Provence - attractive rustic wild herb aromas layered with liquorice, good depth of fruit and balance, ripe v firm; stylish. €9.40 15-16 / 88-90
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Domaine des Beynes, VDP Bouches du Rhône - ripe and smoky with spicy savoury undertones, quite extracted rustic fruit and firm tannins with background oak, muscular finish. €4 13 / 85
2005 VDP Bouches du Rhône Mas du Petit Azégat - herbal slightly reduced yet interesting nose, spicy wild cassis fruit, elegant and unusual although lacks a bit of ripeness. Still, it only costs €2.50. 13.5 / 85

Other SILVER MEDALS I didn't taste:

Domaine du Jas d’Esclans Côtes de Provence Cru Classé Cuvée du Loup Rosé 2005
Château La Nerthe
Clos de Beauvenir 2003
VDP du Gard Domaine de Tavernel 2005
Domaine de Tavernel VDP du Gard 2005
Minervois Château La Rèze 2004
Clos de Barbéjo
VDP d'Oc
Elégance 2004
Château La Canorgue
VDP de Vaucluse
Viognier 2005
Peter Riegel
VDP du Gard
Le Corbeau Rosé 2005
Château Les Eydins
Côtes du Lubéron
Cuvée des Consuls 2004
Château Les Eydins
Côtes du Lubéron
Fontête 2004
Domaine Siméoni
VDP d'Oc Mourvèdre 2004 - at
Millésime Bio I said this about it: youthful black cherry fruit with earthy peppery notes, nice olive fruit and grip on the finish. 87
Château de Brau
Le Suc de Brau 2002
Château de Brau
VDP Cité de Carcassonne
Méditation Syrah 2004
Les Vignerons de Correns
Côtes de Provence
Croix de Basson Rosé 2005
Domaine Grand Corbière
VDP Sables du Golfe du Lion
Chardonnay 2005
Domaine Grand Corbière
VDP Sables du Golfe du Lion
Gris de Gris Rosé 2005
Château de l’Ou Côtes du Roussillon 2005


Château de Bastet Côtes du Rhône Les Acacias 2005
Domaine Bassac VDP Côtes de Thongue Syrah 2005
Château Sainte-Marguerite Côtes de Provence Grande Réserve Rosé 2005
Domaine de la Grande Pallière Côtes de Provence 2005
Domaine de Clairac VDP d'Oc Réserve de Chasse 2004
Domaine Pastouret Costières de Nîmes 2005
Latest wines and profile on Pastouret: go to Languedoc winery A to Z, right hand column.
Château Bousquette St Chinian Cuvée Pruneyrac 2004
Peter Riegel VDP d'Oc Soliano Merlot 2005
Domaine de la Sauveuse Côtes de Provence Cuvée Philippine 2004
Domaine du Revaou Côtes de Provence 2004
Domaine du Revaou Côtes de Provence Rosé 2005
Les Vignerons de Tornac VDP des Cévennes Rosé 2005

For some reason our panel didn't put through any wines for Bronze, which were deemed to miss Silver medal. Anyway, I thought these deserved it:
2003 Mas de Gourgonnier Réserve du Mas, les Baux-de-Provence - complex earthy medicine notes, maturing spicy fruit turning savoury with balanced dry tannins. We tasted this one twice in fact, so what happened? €8.80 15 / 87-89
2005 Marselan Domaine des Beynes, VDP Bouches du Rhône - better than their Cabernet, in my humble opinion: closed nose, some pure blackcurrant fruit; firm and tight yet has reasonable concentration, more savoury finish. €4 14.5 / 85-87

Click here for a post on Signature Bio 2010.

15 June 2006

Winetourisminfrance.com goes live

Winetourisminfrance.com goes live
A new website dedicated to, erm, all things wine tourism in France has just been launched: click on the title above to check it out. At the moment, the site's just in French but it will soon be available in English (translated by yours truly) and Chinese. Magazine, regional winery and restaurant guide, what's-on, organised tours and tastings, wine books and films... you can plan your trip around where the best vineyards are; find all the useful addresses, phone numbers and websites, and also sign up for their newsletter if you like. More news and information to follow.

06 June 2006

New Zealand: Auntsfield Estate, Marlborough

Auntsfield Estate - Marlborough

Graeme and Linda Cowley are renovating and replanting this vineyard in the upper Wairau Valley, which had been abandoned for 100 years. The fruit for the Sauvignon, International Wine Challenge 2006 gold medal winner, was grown near the earthily named "long cow paddock." The Hawk Hill Pinot is named after "magnificent harrier hawks riding the thermal currents" over Auntsfield’s north-facing slopes, and was awarded two silver medals (IWC and Decanter World Wine Awards 2006). Tasted June 2006:

2005 Long Cow Sauvignon Blanc - lovely classic style capturing the best of Marlborough's climate: purity and intensity of green yet tropical edged fruit, nice elegance and length v concentration and power. 90+
2005 Hawk Hill Pinot Noir - I found this a bit clumsy when first opened with charred oak and high alcohol (at least 14.5% from memory) dominating; the next day it better expressed those hoped-for floral 'sweet and savoury' Pinot characters, which pulled in the reins a little. Perhaps just too young at the moment, but I'd prefer much less toasted new oak a wine like this... 87

Languedoc: Château Coujan, Saint-Chinian

Château Coujan

Florence Guy makes quite a large and varied range at this peaceful estate found a few km out of Murviel-lès-Béziers, on the eastern side of the Saint-Chinian appellation. Her top wines are definitely worth seeking out, e.g. an off-the-wall 100% Mourvèdre that varies in taste-profile according to vintage - sometimes labelled as St-Chinian, sometimes Vin de Pays if ‘non-conformist’ in terms of alcohol or residual sugar content - see below for explanation! Her team also organises walks, wine dinners, summer concerts and art and cookery classes even (the Lebanese food weekend was a big hit apparently). There are also two on-site family gîtes available all year round (see website); it's quite nice just to hang out here sitting outside, and why not try Coujan’s olive oil while you're at it, listening to the roaming peacocks squawking (funny birds aren't they). Wines tasted June 2006:
2005 Rolle, Vin de Pays Coteaux de Murviel - floral and honeyed, crisp mineral tones v fatter fruit; different. €4.95 85
2005 Bois Joli, Saint-Chinian blanc (Rolle Grenache Blanc Roussanne) - barrel sample: light toast with mealy creamy notes, good weight and concentration v citrus zest. €6.90 87+
2004 Tradition rosé, Saint-Chinian (80%+ Mourvèdre) - attractive tangy strawberry fruit with still quite crisp and lively palate, fat v fresh finish. €4.60 87+
2003 Cuvée Gabrielle de Spinola, Saint-Chinian (Mourvèdre Syrah Grenache Cinsault) - lovely black cherry & olive aromas, liquorice v peppery; solid fruity mouthful, powerful yet balanced. €5.90 87-89
2002 Cuvée Spéciale Bois Joli, Saint-Chinian (Mourvèdre Syrah) - rich leather and spice tones with light chocolate, quite mature with nicely textured tannins. €12 87-89
2004 Ile de Corail, Vin de Pays Coteaux de Murviel (100%Mourvèdre) - gorgeous ripe wild herb, liquorice and cherry tones; rich lush mouthfeel v structured and fresh, very different. Actually has 10 grams residual sugar and 15% alc, hence why it's VDP this vintage! €23 90+

34490 Murviel-lès-Béziers. Tel: 04 67 37 80 00, chateau-coujan@orange.fr or stanislas.pujol@wanadoo.frwww.chateau-coujan.com.

30 May 2006

Biodynamic growers worldwide: "return to terroir"

In brief: "Biodynamic viticulture is slowly moving from obscure homeopathy-cum-astrology to hippy mainstream... the illustrious names who are members of the Renaissance des appellations or "Return to terroir" group... speak for themselves..." Two dozen 90+ pointers picked from a groundbreaking tasting in London (May 2006) including sublime wines from: Josmeyer, Falfas, Leroy, Abbatucci, Gauby, Coulée Serrant, Breton, Trévallon, Montirius, Chapoutier, Nikolaihof, Geyerhof, Herrnsheim, Sander, Eymann, Pepe, San Giuseppe, Trevvalle, Valgiano, Lezaun, Estela, Benziger, Bonterra, Antiyal and Castagna. Plus an attempted summary of Nicolas Joly's ideas, biodynamic guru grower and author: "winegrowing for the future..." Read on to be enlightened!

Biodynamic viticulture is slowly moving from obscure homeopathy-cum-astrology to hippy mainstream. As you'll see below, the illustrious names who are members of the Renaissance des Appellations - Return to Terroir group (120 of them in 12 countries) speak for themselves. I tried wines made by the following growers at a groundbreaking tasting during the London Wine Fair in May 2006: Josmeyer (Alsace), Falfas (Bordeaux), DerainLeroy, (Burgundy), Abbatucci (Corsica), Gauby (Roussillon), Breton (Loire), Trévallon (Provence), MontiriusChapoutier (Rhône), NikolaihofGeyerhof (Austria), HerrnsheimSanderEymann (Germany), PepeSan GiuseppeDodonCastellinaTrevvalleValgiano (Italy), LezaunEstela (Spain), BenzigerBonterra (USA), EmilianaAntiyal (Chile) and Castagna (Aus). I've only included my favourite wine from each to avoid a great long list. There were many other top estates there too, just not possible to taste everything!
Nicolas Joly - owner of legendary Coulée de Serrant in Savennières (Loire Valley), the group's founder, author and biodynamic guru - believes the whole concept of appellation, that specific site brings unique character, has been lost in a frenzy of chemical farming and corner-cutting economics. I've attempted to summarise his talk at the event (posted after notes on the wines below) and hence ideas and way of life: some of it makes absolute sense, some a little hard to grasp... For further thoughts and perhaps clarity, you could read his book 'Le vin du ciel a la terre' ("wine, from heaven to earth") or try coulee-de-serrant.com.


Domaine Josmeyer - Wintzenheim, Alsace
2004 Riesling les Pierrets - deliciously intense offering floral v citrus fruit, elegant and crisp finish. 90-92

Château Falfas - Côtes de Bourg, Bordeaux
2002 Le Chevalier
 (Merlot Cabernet Malbec) - richer and smokier than the 'base' blend, again forward and leafy (indicative of 2002 probably) yet firmer and more concentrated to finish; nice now in fact. 88-90

Catherine & Dominique Derain - Saint Aubin, Burgundy
2003 Mercurey la Plante Chassey
 (Pinot Noir) - from a 0.9 ha plot (2¼ acres): scented violets and raspberry fruit, quite austere for a 2003 (hot vintage) with firm tannins v weighty mouth-feel; should open up. 87-89
Domaine Leroy - Auxey Duresses, Burgundy
2004 Vosne-Romanée
 (Pinot Noir) - wild smoky nose, quite concentrated and rich with 'sweet' start then savoury finish, fresh bite and length; real finesse.92-94

Comte Abbatucci - Ajaccio, Corsica
2003 Faustine (Niellucciu Sciacarellu) - fragrant garrigue notes (earthy wild herbs and flowers) bolstered by rich raisin fruit, very firm bite v nice soft palate. 89-91

Domaine Gauby - Calce, Roussillon
2003 Muntada (Carignan Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre) - stewed red and black fruit combo, power v grip on a complex concentrated palate; purity of fruit on the finish. 92 (More Gauby wines and info here).

Clos de la Coulée de Serrant - Savennières, Loire Valley
2003 Coulée de Serrant (Chenin Blanc) - floral peach stone aromas give way to richer fruit and palate, exotic v mineral intensity, quite big with 14.5% alc. yet finishes very fresh and tight; wow. 93-95
2002 Coulée de Serrant - oily developed nose, lovely texture of maturing complex fruit adding fatness, then again that minerality and fresh long finish complete the picture. 95-97
Domaine Catherine & Pierre Breton - Touraine, Loire Valley
2005 Bourgueil Trinch (Cabernet Franc) - delicious fruit with biscuity yet meaty edges; nice grip, fresh length and liquorice fruit all ride in together. 90

Domaine de Trévallon - Baux-de-Provence
2001 rouge (Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah) - herbal v smoky complexity, rich yet dry textured showing attractive maturing fruit v structured tannins. 92-94

Domaine Montirius - Vacqueyras, Rhône Valley
2003 Clos Montirius (Grenache Mourvèdre) - richer fruit than the 'non Clos' with spicy blackberry and rustic tones, firm and powerful yet sufficient weight of fruit too. 89-91
Maison M. Chapoutier - Hermitage, Rhône Valley
2003 Le Pavillon (Grenache Syrah) - spicy smoked bacon and blackberry notes, rich and complex with a hint of oak; concentrated fruit v very solid tannins; wow. 94


Nikolaihof - Wachau
2005 Vom Stein Riesling Federspiel - pure flowery aromas with mineral celery notes, richer and more exotic than the nose suggested finishing with crisp fresh length. 88-90
Weingut Geyerhof - Kremstal
2005 Grüner Veltliner Steinleithn - floral with mineral vegetal undertones, very concentrated and rich with oily extract followed by crisp bite, very long with real fruit purity and mineral intensity. 93-95
2005 Riesling Goldberg - delicately floral with blackcurrant notes, super zesty citrus palate with gummy texture, gorgeous fruit layered on its mineral acid structure; sublime Riesling. 95


Freiherr Heyl zu Herrnsheim - Rheinhessen
2004 Pettental Riesling First Growth, Spätlese trocken - a bit closed on the nose, less obviously fruity than their (very good) Kabinett Riesling but much more intense and mineral, pure extract v shimmering acidity on its full dry finish; class. 93-95
Weingut Sander - Rheinhessen
2003 Gewürztraminer Mettenheim, Auslese - the first organic vineyard in Germany in fact (1950): this has lovely pure sweet Auslese style with floral lychee fruit, opulent mouth-feel yet freshness to balance on its long finish. 89-91
Weingut Eymann - Pfalz
2004 Riesling Toreye, Auslese - delicious aromas, oily yet citrusy; concentrated and rich yet hardly seems sweet thanks to fresh acidity and impeccable balance; very long. 95


Azienda Agricola Bio Emidio Pepe - Abruzzo
1983 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo - very raisiny yet savoury with sweet fruit v red pepper tones, mature tannins but still alive and kicking. Wow: 95. His 2001 is a 90+er too.
Azienda Agricola San Giuseppe - Tuscany
2004 Rosso di Montalcino (Sangiovese, barrel sample) - meaty tar aromas, very firm palate yet rich with nice tobacco and plum fruit; should be very good.90-92
Domaine Borc Dodon - Friuli
2001 Refosco dal Peduncolo rosso - plum and soy sauce notes, sweet v savoury; chunky maturing fruit and tannins; different. 87-89
Fattoria Castellina - Tuscany
2004 Daino Bianco, Toscana rosso (Merlot) - attractive dark plum v red pepper and soy undertones, chocolate oak and extracted fruit, pretty big tannins and lush mouth-feel; good but a bit forced. 89
Poggio Trevvalle - Tuscany
2004 Morellino di Scansano 'Larcille' (Sangiovese) - perfumed floral and earthy, concentrated cherry and raisin fruit with tight firm finish, elegant and fresh. 92-94
Tenuta di Valgiano - Tuscany
2003 Tenuta di Valgiano
 (Sangiovese Merlot Syrah) - quite closed and showing a tad more oak than their Palistorti, this is concentrated with rich fruit and power, contrasting with nice bitter twist and well-integrated 14.5% alc. 93-95


Bodegas Lezaun - Navarra
2002 Reserva (Tempranillo Garnacha Graciano) - complex herbal notes on a smoky backdrop, rich and firm with power yet tight and elegant too v maturing fruit. 90-92
Mas Estela - Empordá Costa Brava
2003 Vinya Selva de Mar
 (Garnacha Carignan Syrah) - savoury fruit aromas lead to a firm closed up palate, powerful with meaty fruit and grip on the finish. 90-92


Benziger Family Winery - Sonoma Mountain
2002 Tribute
 (Cabernets Sauvignon & Franc Merlot Petit Verdot) - rustic yet herbal with oak and cassis tones, soft fruit with nice dry texture and bite. 90-92
2005 Sauvignon Blanc Paradiso de Maria - very lively pure and mineral with gooseberry and grapefruit flavours, long fine finish. 90-92
Bonterra Vineyards - Mendocino
2002 McNab Ranch red table wine (Merlot Cabernet Petite Sirah) - pretty okay but the palate's more subtle offering nice maturing blackcurrant and raisin fruit, firm yet rounded and long. 88-90


Viñedos Organicos Emiliana
2004 Novas Syrah Mourvèdre - the vanilla toasted oak is a bit strong but this has good depth of fruit on its tight palate, nice fresh bite of tannins and acidity; hope the oak drops out. 89
Viña Antiyal - Maipo Valley
2002 Antiyal (Carmenère Cabernet Syrah) - smoky rustic and lush with firm v ripe palate, has weight intensity and interesting choco v pepper characters, tight long finish. 92-94


Castagna Vineyard - Victoria
2002 Genesis Syrah - minty style showing nice pure Syrah fruit and spice, subtle concentration and power v elegant length. 90-92 

Nicolas Joly: wine growing for the future
"You have to understand about life and living things to appreciate the effect of life. What is Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée? Most wines don't carry the 'taste of origin', why not? We have to go back to farming, nature's assistant isn't the winemaker. AOC is based on climate - heat, light, rain, humidity - and soil / geology. Then take the grape variety, how do you bring it up in the above environment? You can't just look at the smallest component of matter, it's a dead end.
Hence why we've gone back to the old botanical view to look at plants differently. The Earth's power - gravity makes matter physical, attract to the Earth and also react against it - plus heat light and air, minerality or level of minerals, liquids and gases. The vine is caught by the Earth's forces, mostly pulling it down. It has no capacity to grow upwards yet has an enormous ability to grow in the poorest soils.
In the 60s and 70s nasty herbicides were sold to clean the vineyard; we had no information about them at that time and they killed all micro-organisms and hence the terroir effect. It's essential for the roots to draw the vine's needs, assisted by bacteria etc. So when the roots are starved they turn back up to the surface to find the chemical fertilisers that are also added!
After the summer solstice, vines shouldn't grow outwards anymore but inwards; if you add fertilisers and water, you force growth which provokes diseases, e.g. fungus to regulate this growth. Systemic chemicals get into the sap and poison the plant, leading to a natural imbalance and more diseases. It's the same story with all these yeast strains that influence flavour, it's not the flavour of terroir; or technology such as reverse osmosis. Stupid clones aren't progress: it's like the army, they all behave the same! And having say 3 clones, that's not proper mass selection; a blend of different plots brings synergy.
So we've reached a crisis and realised we have to return to organic viticulture, biodynamic being the full expression of this. Unfortunately some might be doing it because it's trendy, but in the first 2 to 3 years there's a real risk, you could lose a chunk of your crop. So it can't be done for quick profit, it's a long term philosophy.
Biodynamic farming helps nature do its job by restoring forces and recreating balance. It's important to understand other plants and their uses. Aloe Vera helps scorched leaves, seaweed has a similar effect when it's hot, by producing colloids, applied as a 'tea'. Camomile combined with cow gut as this digests it best = synergy.
Spring represents the point when the sun is stronger than the earth's force; it's the opposite at the start of autumn. The solstice = complete victory of the sun over the earth, or vice versa (summer v winter). Grapes are the crop but are really about the vine producing seeds to continue its survival. The best wines are thus made when vines flower around 10th June (northern hemisphere); if it's too early, taking say California, the best sites are therefore at altitude facing west to delay it.
The treatments we apply, a few 100 grams per hectare, all have a specific purpose because of the different bacterial, chemical, mineral composition of each one. When 'dynamised' we move from macro to micro with matter working in opposition to non-matter. This gets the vines to tune into each specific process at certain times, which gives them the need to be healthy. Organic works on a physical level, biodynamic on an 'energetic' level.
Three key issues in summary:
Chemical spraying appears set to continue in conventional viticulture, yet these chemicals make vines less able to receive solar energy through leaves and the soil's vitality through roots. The more you use to attempt to control disease, the more you need to use as the vines get weaker and weaker. So reliance on technology to produce 'quality' becomes greater.
So-called 'agriculture raisonnée' (like integrated pest management) doesn't represent any real progress, as it sets its sights no higher than a 20% reduction in toxic chemicals.
By using the 'world of energy' more directly, biodynamic viticulture increases the vine's receptivity to its environment and the way it expresses it in the wine.
The Quality Charter is divided into 3 levels:
Level 1: the basic principals, which must be implemented on the whole vineyard for at least three years. Ploughing or grass cover (no weed-killers), compost or organic fertilisers only, use of natural products to fight diseases as per organic norms, indigenous yeasts only, no GM vines.
Level 2: hand-picking, natural fermentation with no enzymes or aids, no interference with natural grape concentration such as cryo-extraction or reverse osmosis, manual selection of vine cuttings for true field selection.
Level 3: adverse weather might prevent compliance every year. No must rectification such as acidifying or chaptalising, no fining, max sterile filtration of 1 micron."