Our thanks to both Dario and Pascal – Dario came over especially from London, and his talk and tasting was very much appreciated by the students, along with regular guest wine lecturer at the school, Pascal Rossignol, who came from Kilkenny, and as always our thanks and appreciation to Pascal.
We tasted 7 Natural with the students, all of which showed very well.
ORGANIC, BIODYNAMIC AND NATURAL WINE, by Tim Wildman MW (Les Caves de Pyrène)
Wine is perceived as one of the most natural and healthy of alcoholic beverages.
Consumers might be surprised to discover that the majority of everyday wine is
produced using a wide variety of chemicals, both in the vineyard and the winery, traces
of which can end up in the final wine (ever wondered why cheap wine gives you such a
headache?). A vineyard is almost unique in that vines cannot be crop rotated, and
cannot be left to lie fallow. As a consequence the use of agrochemicals over time leads
to a build up of pathogens and a depletion of soil health. This weakens the vine,
creating a cycle of dependency on chemical treatments. As vineyards become “green
concrete” wine makers are waking up to the fact that high input farming using synthetic
herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers is becoming unsustainable. At the same
time consumers are becoming more aware of the ingredients in the food and drink they
buy, looking for healthier, additive free options. The coming together of these two
phenomena has resulted in a number of alternatives for the thoughtful and
environmentally conscious wine consumer, but what are the difference between the
various classifications, and which, if any, has any real meaning?
Organic producers will only make good wine if they also made good wine before
becoming organic. This may seem self evident, but organic certification is – at its
simplest – adhering to a list of chemicals not to add to your vineyard. Tick the list and
you can be certified organic, irrespective of the quality of what you produce. An oven
pizza may be labelled organic but its not exactly haute cuisine. Requirements for
organic certification vary widely around the world, with many countries not
“recognising” each others accreditation, so there are plenty of grey areas. To add
further confusion, in the EU organic accreditation covers only the grapes, and not what
happens in the winery. Hence you will only ever see an EU wine labelled as “made from
organically grown grapes”. Think of the organically grown lettuce that is treated with
chemical preservatives to keep it fresh on the supermarket shelf. Organic therefore is no
guarantee that a wine has not had chemicals used in the processing of it. There are
many superb example of high quality organic wineries, but the term should be treated
with caution unless you know the producer in question, or trust the place or person you
buy it from.
Biodynamics requires a much greater commitment from the grower and is often referred
to as “super-charged” organics. Rather than simply reducing chemical inputs,
biodynamics is a proactive attempt to bring life to the soil by the use of composts and
organic preparations. Biodynamic vineyards always “feel” alive and healthy. Practices
take into account the seasons as well as lunar and solar rhythms, which would not have
seemed strange to our ancestors. Rudolph Steiner founded the biodynamic movement in
the 1920s in an attempt to bridge the two worlds of modern science and what he
referred to as “peasant wisdom”. Some critics are sceptical of the more arcane
elements of biodynamics but often concede that the end result is better tasting wine.
This may simply be down to the old maxim that the best fertilizer is the farmers
footsteps. Some of the worlds leading wine producers are now working biodynamically
including Felton Road (New Zealand), Domaine Leflaive (Burgundy) and Zind-Humbrecht
(Alsace). For many it is a practical and sustainable farming solution, and as such you will
not always see it written on the label or used as a marketing tool. Biodynamic
certification is a sound guarantee of responsible environmental practice, the wines
should always have a clear sense of place (terroir) and quality can be exceptional.
Natural wine is a relatively recent phenomenon, but one that is currently receiving a lot
of attention. In its simplest form, natural wine takes organic or biodynamic practices in
the vineyard as its starting point, and extends them into the winery in an attempt to
reduce the total use of chemical inputs and manipulations throughout the entire
production process. The key difference is often the low or zero use of sulphur dioxide
(SO2). Natural wine is not an accredited or legally defined term, but refers to a broad
range of desirable practices both in the vineyard and the winery. These include the use
of organic or biodynamic treatments to bring life to the soil, hand harvesting, no
chapitalization (added sugar to raise potential alcohol), no added enzymes, the use of
natural wild yeasts for fermentation, no added “flavourings” or adjustments (oak chips,
tannin powder, acidification or de-acidification), low or zero use of sulphur dioxide
through ferment and elevage, no or very light filtration and fining and finally low or zero
sulphur additions at bottling (understood to be less than 20ppm for white, 10ppm for
In essence, nowt taken out and nowt put in.
There is also a recognizably “natural wine style” emerging, which for many is the chief
allure of this category. For some it is also its biggest weakness. At their best, natural
wines display lightness and purity of fruit. They have higher levels of acidity, often
combined with more restrained levels of alcohol, for reds often in the 11 to 12.5 range,
yet are fully flavour ripe. They are lean, fresh, mineral and often have little or no new
oak. As a result they can be incredibly drinkable. They can also be nutritious in the true
sense of the word, being living products, they appeal to the stomach as well as the
palate. Think Yakult or unpasturised cheese. The driving philosophy of many natural
wine makers is simply to make a wine that they can drink a lot of, which may sound
strange, even irresponsible, until you consider that many “modern” show-stopper wine
styles can impress with a sip, but are impossible to finish the bottle. Natural wine can
often be simple, but what they lack in weight or complexity they make up for in
drinkability and fun.
Like biodynamics, natural wine is a trustworthy sign of environmentally friendly vineyard
practices as well indicating the minimal use of additives and chemicals inputs in the
winery. As such it is the most “organic” of the accreditations if by organic we mean low
chemical additives. In addition natural may also signal a recognizable style of wine. This
style may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but ultimately this will depend on whether you
like your apple juice cloudy, your cheese stinky and your milk straight from the cow.
The proof of the pudding will always be in the drinking, and the best bottle on the table
is always the empty one.
The previous wine class at the cookery school, we had tasted both sulphured, and unsulphured dried apricots, with a majority of the class having a preference for the unsulphured apricots – so we were all well ready for an interesting tasting of Natural wines, which included the following:
PROSECCO DI VALDOBBIADENE, CASA COSTE PIANE
Casa Coste Piane is a tiny 6-ha, in Santo Stefano, heart of the Valdobbiadene area, owned and run by Loris Follador. For generations their wine had been sold in bulk, but since 1983 they decided to bottle the production themselves.
The organically-run vineyards lie on slopes close to the cellar. The vines are on average 60 years old (some are pre-phylloxera!!) and their roots can grow up to 30-40 metres long. This Prosecco is a gem, it is one of the few made in the champenoise method wherein the second fermentation takes place in the bottle.
Harvest is usually between the last week of September and the first week of October.
In April the wine is bottled without the addition of yeast and sugar, subsequently the indigenous yeast contained in the wine starts a second spontaneous fermentation that lasts for approximately four weeks.
After this the wine spends a further four weeks ‗sur lie‘. The process of ―disgorgement‖ is not practised, therefore the yeasts are still present in the bottle… any haziness is entirely natural.
This is very Champagne-like, with great purity and frankness; the aromas are of apple, acacia flowers with an interesting mineral twist and subtle yeastiness.
2010 MONTLOUIS AC ‘MINERALE +’, FRANTZ SAUMON
Frantz Saumon used to be a forester in both Canada and France, in 2001, after graduating from oenology school, he purchased a small three hectares property in Montlouis, which grew quickly to 5.5 ha.
Frantz set about to make true Montlouis that reflected the specific terroir of that appellation, and to this end he began converting the vineyards to organic viticulture and relying only on indigenous yeast. Most of his vineyards are planted with old vine Chenin Blanc (he likes to do everything in his vineyards by hand himself, one reason he has so little land).
The winery is an underground cellar carved into the tuffeau, the ubiquitous fossil-rich clay of the region, and all the wines are vinified in barrels (some 228l, some 400l)
Minérale+ is a natural wine, made without sulphur, wild yeast fermented, no additions and organically grown grapes. The wine delivers a lot of ripe apple and pear on the nose, with classic wet wool hints, grapey and gentle spice. Rich and full on the palate, tangy, quite mineral and ending with fresh, balancing acidity.
2010 COTE DU RHONE BLANC ‘CLOS DES GRILLONS’, NICOLAS RENAUD
Nicolas Renaud’s wines come from vineyard parcels on a variety of different soils: white sands, galets stones, yellow and redclays and marls and are exclusively classed as Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône-Villages-Signargues. He has been practising organic viticulture with dedication since 2006. In the cellar he vinifies with natural yeasts and without sulphur which is for him the only way of respecting and rediscovering terroir.
The vineyard area today comprises 15 hectares of vines most of them planted before 1960, the majority of the vines being Grenache Noir for the reds and Grenache Blanc for the white. He is also restoring the old local varieties such as Counoise and Bourboulenc and in 2011 reintroduced Picpoul Gris and Grenache Gris.
Grillons Blanc is made up of from 35 year old Grenache Blanc 70% with the balance from Bourboulenc, Clairette, Ugni Blanc 30%, a blend of four different parcels on the communes of Saze and Rochefort. After the must settles over one night there is fermentation (without temperature control) in barrels.
Honey, fennel, acacia flowers on the nose; The palate gradually builds in intensity and culminate with an explosion of wild mint freshness. Very lenghty and perfectly balance.
2009 GRAN CERDO TEMPRANILLO, GONZALO GONZALO GRIJALBA
Gonzalo Gonzalo was born in Logroño, Spain and grew up among the vineyards that his parents cultivated in Fuenmayor.
After studying biology in León and oenology in the university of Rioja, he dedicated himself to travelling through France and Italy where he met small vine-growers and winemakers and discovered new varieties of grape and technologies After completing his oenologist training in an industrial winery, in 2003 he abandoned everything to give birth to Orgullo, his personal oenology project.
Fiercely protective of the terroir of his family vineyards Gonzalo rejects market driven fashions, formulae, chemical treatments and conformism. Instead he has sought out his own methods with respect for the land, his vineyards, and the traditions of his forefathers. He balances this respect with formal training in the latest enological techniques and methods.
Gonzalo was profoundly influenced in his choice of viticultural methods by the fact that his father became seriously ill from years of daily exposure to high-spec chemical fertilizers and herbicides while tending their vineyards in the 1970s, when they were regarded as the panacea for all vineyard problems. It was not clear at the time that chemicals that were perfectly safe in small doses had significant harmful effects from cumulative, long term exposure. The soil itself suffered as well, losing its vitality as witnessed in the deadening of the biodiversity in the vineyard. Wild flowers, insects, earth worms, snails and the various organisms of the vineyard ecosystem were no longer present as they were even two generations ago.
The ladybug on the label of Orgullo is a symbol of the renewed vitality of the vineyards which Gonzalo has worked long and hard to revive. The ladybug is one of the “good” insects that prey on aphids, mites and other “bad” insects. The chemical treatments of the recent past minimized both the “good” and the “bad” and in the process the vitality of the vineyards.
However, this restored vigour requires plenty of vigilance and creative solutions to combat the various hazards that can befall vineyards, such as mildew, mould and other pests. For this Gonzalo keeps a close watch and has revived natural treatments and biodynamic practices used in the past to maintain healthy vineyards.
The 100% Tempranillo vineyards themselves were planted 35 years ago in the town of Fuenmayor in the La Tejera subregion, which is an area between groves of trees along the Ebro River and Mount San Llorente in the heart of the Rioja Alta sub-zone. The soil is calcareous clay and the vineyards are 4.5 hectares in size. Gonzalo and his helpers Teresa and Fernando tend the vines methodically, and with perfection in mind, year round and work only with the best grapes they can coax from the land for Orgullo.
They also follow the lunar cycle in vineyard and the winery. In the end Gran Cerdo is all about the purest expression of fruit with whole bunch fermentation, no filtration, no stabilization and minimal sulphur. The wine has real character, all the juicy elements of Tempranillo, with no dirty oak to mask its charm. It has a natural way about it but with no funkiness. With its cherry-red, purplish, brilliant colour Gran Cerdo reveals primary notes of fresh fruit, strawberries, raspberries, cherries and violets with clean mineral tones from the granite. This little natural wine is phenomenal value.
2008 MENDOZA MALBEC ‘No Sulphites added‘ , FAMILIA CECCHIN
Located in Russell – Maipu, this 75-ha organic farm is owned and run by the Cecchin family since 1959.
Strict adherence to organic methods in the vineyard, limited yields and minimal interventions in the winery result in very articulate wines that truly reflect their terroir and capture the essence of the fruit.
This Malbec, a grape that Argentina has successfully appropriated, is made without the addition of sulphur. The nose opens up with enticing, ripe plum, bruised red cherries,
liquorice, dark chocolate and a delicate earthiness. These lovely fruit and seeds are also found on the ripe, well-balanced palate and the natural acidity hold this eminently drinkable wine perfectly.
2008 TOURAINE COT (MALBEC) ‘IN COT WE TRUST’, THIERRY PUZELAT
Thierry joined his brother in his family estate Clos Tue-Boeuf in 1994, but very quickly realised he wanted to make natural wines rather than conventional ones.
In 1999, Thierry embarked in a micro-negociant operation, sourcing organically-grown grapes from small local vignerons which he supplements with the recolt of his own vineyards.
Influenced by natural winemakers such as François Dutheil (Château Sainte-Anne, Bandol) and Marcel Lapierre (Morgon), Thierry produces wines without any oenologic additives. Natural wines can only be made from grapes that are grown on soils where no chemicals are used, where the natural yeasts population is large and varied.
Thierry intervenes very little in the winery; he let the grapes express their terroir and produces natural wines that are extremely lively, digestible but with very strong personality.
The Touraine Malbec ‘In Côt we trust’ is such a wine.
Fresh, lively blackberry on the nose, slightly reductive at first, with damp earth and flowery notes. The palate is plush and mouthfilling, yet it is lively and balanced, thanks to its upfront acidity, it shows pronounced aromas of wild berries, cherry and liquorice.
2009 SICILY ‘VINO DI ANNA’, ANNA MARTENS
Anna Martens trained with Brian Croser for eight years before becoming a flying winemaker and plying her trade in various countries. She eventually settled in Sicily, and has been making natural wines from grapes harvested on vineyards about 1000m above sea level in the Etna region.
The red grape of choice is Nerello Mascalese supplemented by a field blend of all manner of red and white grapes including Nerello Cappuccio and Alicante. Nerello combines a certain muscularity with good acid structure from the poor, ash-rich soils.
Jeudi 15 is described as a peasant wine and made in a way to enhance drinkability. The grapes are hand-harvested, 2/3 whole bunch and fermented in an open wooden vat, pressed after one week and transferred into stainless steel. The ferment finishes in July. After a period to settle the wine is bottled without filtration, fining or sulphur.
It is a pale red colour and wafts gentle aromas of bruised strawberries, morello cherries and balsam and background terroir notes of pepper, roast bay, mushroom and cooked earth.
A fascinating tasting and a great introduction for the students to Natural Wines. Thank you Dario and Pascal.