Monday, January 24, 2011

Top Ten Biodynamic Wine Producers

With the increasing awareness, and thus sales, of organic food and wine, I thought it only appropriate to use this week's post to highlight biodynamic winemaking and some of the producers who are doing it well.

For those unfamiliar with the term, biodynamic winemaking is often described as a "step beyond" organic. While organic producers are protecting the earth from harmful chemicals, some argue they don't go far enough. Enter biodynamic producers, who take a holistic approach to winemaking. They see the vineyard and winery as a living organism, and use eco-friendly winemaking practices, along with a cosmic twist, to promote positive growth in their vineyards, leaving the earth better than they found it. There are plenty of skeptics, and while I admit I still have some reservations, it's a theory that sparks my curiosity. If the moon can effect the ebbs and flows of the ocean, maybe it's not so far fetched to think it could contribute something to grape growth. On to the top ten...

1. Clos de la Coulee de Serrant - Loire, France
Owned and operated by biodynamic wine legend Nicolas Joly, Coulee de Serrant is a 17 acre (7ha) monopole located in the Savennieres AOC of the greater Anjou sub-region in France's Loire region. Not only are they commonly viewed as the finest biodynamic producer in the world, but many consider their wines to be the best of the Loire. Coulee de Serrant consistently produces stunning, bone-dry whites made exclusively from Chenin Blanc. Austere in their youth, these wines are regarded as some of the longest-living dry, white wines in the world. It's the winemakers commitment to quality, coupled with the fact that Joly has literally written the book on biodynamic winemaking practices, that solidified Coulee de Serrant a spot on this week's top ten list.

2. Bonny Doon - Santa Cruz County, California
Bonny Doon, considered one of the most influential US biodynamic wine producers, is owned and operated by wacky winemaker Randall
Grahm, who, up until about a month ago, owned the Pacific Rim winery in Washington state. This rouge winemaker is known for pulling shenanigans, like naming his flagship red after an obscure ordinance passed in 1954 prohibiting UFOs from flying over vineyards in Chateaufuef du Pape and publishing a 30-page newsletter entitled The Vinferno, which ends with the eyes of two well-known wine magazine publishers getting eaten by the devil. While there are certainly other outstanding California producers using biodynamic winemaking practices (Quivira, Quintessa, Grgich Hills, Frog's Leap), it's Bonny Doon that takes the cake as California's finest biodynamic producer.

3. Cooper Mountain Vineyards- Willamette Valley, Oregon
Cooper Mountain Vineyards is owned by Dr. Robert Gross, who along with tending to the vineyards and winery is also a psychiatrist, a homeopath, and an acupuncturist. Cooper Mountain was the first U.S. winery of any kind to gain label approval for a no-sulfite-added wine under the new National Organic Program standards. And as an attestation of how seriously they take biodynamic practices, the winery completed Oregon's Carbon Neutral Challenge. Oregon is like the domestic breeding grounds for US biodynamic wineries, which include Sokol Blosser, Bergstrom (estate wines), and Rex Hill (converting) to name only a few. Beyond their delicious juice, it's their extended commitment to produce unadulterated wine that landed Cooper Mountain on the list.

4. Zind-Humbrecht - Alsace, France
Like Oregon in the US, the Alsace region of France is home to a number of biodynamic producers including Weinbach, Jean Becker, Albert Mann, and Josmayer. But it's Alsatian producer Zind-Humbrecht that, in this writer's opinion, showcases quality and consistency year after year. The Humbrecht family has a history of winegrowing in Europe dating back to the mid 17th century. The domaine was founded in the mid 1950's, and is currently managed by Olivier Humbrecht, son of the founder. Olivier was the first Frenchman to qualify as Master of Wine. Quality-conscious winemaking practices and an outstanding product ensure this Alsatian producer isn't budging from the list.

5. Chateau Beaucastel - Chateauneuf du Pape, France
Number five on this top ten list is a personal favorite, when cash flow allows. Some would argue that M. Chapoutier should be regarded as the Rhone region's finest biodynamic producer, but while I agree Michel is making some outstanding juice, I still go with Chateau Beaucastel for the win.

Chateau Beaucastel, producing award-winning wines in the southern Rhone Chateauneuf du Pape region of France, is owned by the Perrin family. And according to Vineyard Brands, importer for Beaucastel, "In 1903, a young chemical engineer and mathematics professor named Pierre Perrin, together with his father-in-law, began to restore the domaine following the ravages of phylloxera...Today, the third and fourth generations of Perrins, continue in the tradition of their father and grandfather. The vineyards of Beaucastel are treated as a garden: no chemical fertilizer, no chemical week killers or sprays are permitted. Organic fertilizer comes from compost and only a minimum of traditional sulphur-copper spr ay is used in the vineyards."

France is home to a number of quality biodynamic producers, from Huet in the Loire to Chateau Pontent-Canet in Bordeaux, but none bested Beaucastle. Family-owned with biodynamic practices and award-winning juice come together to form this week's number five, and the last of the Frenchy's.

6. Tenuta e Lageder by Alois Lageder - Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
For number six we head to Italy, where biodynamic winemaking is finally beginning to get some attention. The Tenutae Lageder label by Alois Lageder comes from the northern Trentino-Alto Adige sub-region of Italy. Alois Lageder began the conversion to biodynamic winemaking in 2004, and the first certified-biodynamic wine Lageder released was the Chardonnay-Pinot Grigio Vigneti delle Dolomiti Beta Delta 2008. It scored 90 points on Wine Spectator's 100 point scale. Today the estate produces dynamite wines, but look out. More and more Italian producers are looking to biodynamic winemaking as an alternative to conventional methods, so this top tenner may not hold his spot for long.

7. Nikolaihof - Wachau, Austria
Owned by the Saahs family Nikolaihof is committed whole-heartedly to biodynamic winemaking. The estate is certified by Demeter, the organization that regulates biodynamic methods around the world. Their entire estate embraces the holistic approach, and from delicious Gruner Veltliner to world-class Riesling, Nikolaihof makes phenomenal juice.

8. Weingut Wittmann - Rheinhessen, Germany
Weingut Wittmann, one of my new favorite German producers, is owned and operated by Philip Wittmann. The estate was certified organic in 1989, and in 2003 they converted their vineyards to biodynamic. They claim: "Slow fermentation and lengthy aging in the cellar’s constant temperatures preserve aromas. This is how Wittmann wines achieve their unmistable expression, which nevertheless varies from year to year." Recently the producer has launched a new '100 Hills' line. The line was created to showcase world-class, unpretentious wine made using biodynamic winemaking practices. The 100 Hills Dry Riesling by Wittmann retails for about $22. If you get a chance, pick up a bottle and see for yourself what this producer is able to do with biodynamic winemaking.

9. Alvaro Palacios - Priorat, Spain
From the Priorat DOCa of Spain, Alvaro Palacios has been regarded as the country's premier winemaker. With an emphasis on international varietals, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, blended with Spanish natives, like Grenache and Cariñena, Alvaro Palacios is producing big-bodied wines in an eco-friendly way. The wines from this producer range from $23 (Camins del Priorat) to $700 (L'Ermita). If you are looking for a full-bodied biodynamic red, look no further.

10. Emiliana - Chile
On to South America where, to be quite honest, many producers are practicing eco-friendly winemaking techniques, some by default. Water is abundant and free, labor is inexpensive, and the climate is ideal for growing grapes, which means biodynamic isn't all that much of a stretch. Emiliana is a Chilean producer practicing positive winemaking techniques, with an emphasis on biodynamics. They began converting their estate over to biodynamic in 1998, and while today they are not yet fully converted, they do have two dynamite BioD wines in their portfolio, Gê and Coyam. Look for more biodynamic wines coming from Chile in the next decade.

With over 450 producers using biodynamic techniques, it's difficult to highlight only ten. So what are your favorites? Send me an email, check me out on facebook, or leave a comment here on the blog telling me which biodynamic lables make your list and why.

For more information about me, more interesting wine information, and for delicious food and wine pairings, check us out online at Cru Wine Online. You'll find daily Wine and Recipe pairings just for our members. We pair our chefs' recipes with delicious wines, and bring them to you in an entertaining video short, complete with a brief explanation of the wine, the dish, and the pairing.

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Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director


Matthew Silverstone said...

Dear Nicholas,

I am not sure if you are going to love me or hate me, but either
way you are going to be fascinated by my research that shows
the science behind biodynamic wine making, finally proving how the
methodology works scientifically. It will now be possible to dispense
with all of the mysticism surrounding this process so that it can be
taken up by more and more farmers who will be shown that the process
follows very simple scientific principles.

I have spent the past two years researching a book that looks at
science from a slightly different angle, using existing peer reviewed
double blind studies. The conclusions I have made will, I hope, be of
great interest to the wine community.

I am surprisingly giving away the book for free as I am very keen to
get the message out to as many people as possible. You can download
the book for free at . The chapter that is
most relevant to biodynamic farming is chapter three although to
understand it fully you have to read the first two chapters as well.

If you read also the chapters on magnetism and plants you will be
amazed to discover that it is possible to improve a crops output by
50% by using electromagnetic fields on seeds.

If you would like to chat about any of the points that I raise in my
book, then please feel free to contact me.

Best wishes,

Matthew Silverstone

Cru Wine Specialists said...

Thanks for the comment. I would love to discuss this further. I will have my assistant email you shortly. Thanks again.

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