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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 ground-breaking 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 ground-breaking tasting during the London Wine Fair in May 2006: Josmeyer (Alsace), Falfas (Bordeaux), Derain, Leroy, (Burgundy), Abbatucci (Corsica), Gauby (Roussillon), Breton (Loire), Trévallon (Provence), Montirius, Chapoutier (Rhône), Nikolaihof, Geyerhof (Austria), Herrnsheim, Sander, Eymann (Germany), Pepe, San Giuseppe, Dodon, Castellina, Trevvalle, Valgiano (Italy), Lezaun, Estela (Spain), Benziger, Bonterra (USA), Emiliana, Antiyal (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."

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.