Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

Pascal Rossignol of Le Caveau, @lecaveau1, is a regular guest wine lecturer at the cookery school and last week gave a masterclass on organic, biodynamic and natural wines to the 12 week certificate students

Pascal, a passionate advocate of organic and biodynamic wines made naturally for many years, has been introducing natural wines to people here in Ireland for over the past decade. Le Caveau, ‘importer of wines sourced from quality-minded artisan vignerons whose wines are true to their origins and made as naturally as possible’ was started in 1999 and has been awarded multiple times, Best Fine Wine Merchant nationwide in Ireland.

Pascal Rossignol of Le Caveau getting the wines ready for the class for the students

Pascal, originally from Gevry-Chambertin in Burgundy, primarily focused on Italy (with a final stopover in a wild vineyard in Colchugua, Chile – we do like to criss-cross the world of wine during our wine classes, mirroring the global representation of the students who come from all over the world to Shanagarry in East Cork).

Natural wine is broadly speaking a wine is made from hand harvested grapes grown in a biodynamically or organically farmed vineyard, fermentation occurs with indigenous (wild) yeast, no additives, no manipulation – basically little or no intervention in the winery, with minimal or no added sulphur, all resulting in a wine with more purity, vibrancy, vitality, drinkability, and personality. We also spoke to the students about sulphur. This turned into a fascinating discussion with the students as two are science graduates. Due to allergen labelling, ‘contains sulphites’ is written on the wine label. Even if no sulphur is added at any stage by the winemaker, there will be small amounts occurring naturally in wine as a result of the fermentation process. Natural wines are generally regarded as wines that have no sulphur added by the winemaker, or the bare minimum added depending on vintage and cuvée, and even then, the amount of sulphur added would certainly be very low compared to wines at the other end of the spectrum which would be wines produced in a heavily processed way on an industrial scale. Sulphur is a preservative and an anti-oxidant, and can be found in many other things, including for example in dried fruit, as can be seen in the case of apricots where one can buy sulphured, or un-sulphured apricots.

Pascal led the class on a tutored tasting of the following wines including an ‘orange’ wine and also a wine made in ‘Qveri’.

‘Orange wines’ / amber / skin contact wines, are white wines that are made like a red, i.e. with grape skin contact.

Qvevri were the first vessels ever to be used for wine fermentation, with archaeological finds dating back to 6000 BC. Qvevri are clay vessels lined with beeswax and completely buried under the ground where the temperature stays even throughout the year, allowing the wines to ferment in the natural coolness of the earth

Our thanks once again to Pascal for another fantastic guest wine lecturer class to the 12week certificate students.

Line-ip of Italian wines for organic, biodynamic and natural wine class

Filippi Soave, Veneto, Italy 2014

Filippi’s organic vineyards are located in Castelcerino, in the highest part of Soave, in the Veneto region of Northern Italy. Over the years, he’s incorporated some of the principles of biodynamic farming as well. 100% Garganega. As for the Soaves, while most top examples are often rich and honeyed, Filippi’s wines are some of the most structured and mineral-driven. The high elevation and volcanic and limestone soils certainly come through in the brightness and focus of the wines.

It was a hands on wine class!

Valpolicella, Monte dall’Ora, Veneto, Italy 2015

When Alesandra and Carlo Venturini first discovered Monte dall’Ora it was love at first sight. As children of farmers, they were excited and challenged by the hard work it was going to take to restore these ancient vineyards. Located in Castelroto, in the hills outside of Verona, the vineyards of Monte dall’Ora are planted on a base of limestone soil and form a natural amphitheatre facing southeast towards the city. In fact, portions of their vineyards are planted on ancient dry stone terraces called marogna, a design in which large stones form the exterior support structure and smaller stones form a spit of land in the interior. This brittle stone, in which fossils and petrified shells can be found, allows for excellent drainage and deep penetration of the vines.
The Venturinis are firm adherents to biodynamic principles. As such, they encourage the growth of biodiversity by planting herbs such as rosemary and lavender in the summer, whose fragrant blooms are attractive to bees; and sowing cereals in the winter, whose roots move and aerate the soil. In addition, Alessandra and Carlo have emphasised traditional and native grape varieties wherever possible to give originality and typical wines. All the wines are blends of Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Molinara and Oseleta. Fermentation is spontaneous with indigenous yeasts and extraction is gentle giving wines of gentle, cherry-fruited elegance.

Ciello Rosso, Nero d’Avola, Sicily, Italy 2015

Made from organic grapes Ciello Rosso Nero d’Avola has freshness and energy, dark red colour, hints of black plum, coffee and chocolate on the nose, pleasant spiciness in the mouth with smooth dark fruit flavours

The dynamic Vesco family took over the winery 10 years ago and have since revolutionised the viticultural practices and invested heavily in cutting edge technology for the winery and bottling line. Their organic vineyards are located high up in the hills above Alcamo. The wines are all certified organic and planted on south-east facing slopes on sandy soils 150 – 300m above sea level. The climate is clearly suited for producing the best quality grapes. The grapes tend to be picked earlier in the year than many of their neighbours which produces their customary bright, fresh style of wine. These wines are a million miles from the overripe styles made by many of their peers. Night harvesting and modern temperature controlled fermentations result in bright, fresh, modern wines. Inexpensive, but beautifully made and full of authenticity.

Vino di Anna ‘Qveri’, Sicily, Italy

Anna Martens & Eric Narioo, Etna Biodynamic principles, natural wine. The vineyards are at altitude (760-900metres) and are farmed organically. The Vino di Anna wines are made on their small property without much intervention, using native yeasts and no additives, save for a little SO2 in some lots (normally nothing is added at all). A variety of vessels are used for fermentation, including Palmento, old barrels and a Georgian qvevri.
“Our second Qvevri wine made in a 2,000 litre Georgian Qvevri. Nerello Mascalese was hand harvested from our “Don Alfio” vineyard located at 900 metres above Rovitello. The fruit was 100% de-stemmed by hand into the Qvevri. Alcoholic fermentation lasted just over two weeks followed by malolactic fermentation. The Qvevri was then closed and the grapes were left to macerate until April 2014. The resultant wine was pressed and put in an old oak cask until bottling in September 2014. No SO2 was added. The wine was neither fined nor filtered prior to bottling. Floral and expressive in the nose, this wine has a fine, textural structure. Morello cherries are coupled with cherry blossom. The palate is taut, complex and long.” Anna Martens & Eric Narioo
“Anna Martens and her Etna wines are one of the most exciting discoveries I have made this year. I met Anna years ago when she had just left a cellar job at Tenuta dell’Ornellaia on the Tuscan coast and had a vague memory of her moving to Etna to work with Andrea Franchetti. But I didn’t know until recently that this petite Australian had started her own wine brand on the volcano. She runs a small vineyard with her husband Eric Narioo on the north face of Etna. Many of her head-trained vines reach 100 years of age and are planted up to 900 meters above sea level. She adopts a non-interventionists – philosophy with natural yeast, no fining or filtering, and little or no SO2. Her most exciting wine, Qvevri, is made in 2,000 liter Georgian clay vessels.”

Valli Unite Barbera, Piedmont, Italy

Valli Unite (‘United Valley’) started over thirty years ago, at a time when most young people left the land to seek work in the large cities of northern Italy. It was started by three young men from local farming families who were deeply attached to their land and traditional practices, who had a belief in organic farming and biodiversity as the way of the future and were committed to a way of life and farming that would be sustainable over the long term. Valli Unite now numbers four families and 25 people, each bringing their own strengths and talents: from vine-growing and wine-making; to cheesemaking; to animal husbandry and butchery; to a hospitality and a restaurant and shop selling their own produce. Their wines have vibrancy and sense of place.
“Barbera is plush and velvety, with a savoury, earthy, kirsch fruit character. Complex and multi-layered on the nose. Dry on the palate, with ripe black cherry and damson fruit. Well-balanced, satisfying, long finish, good grip, totally delicious”

La Stoppa ‘Ageno’, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Certified organic, natural La Stoppa is a 50-hectare property located in North-West Emilia-Romagna. Founded in the late 19th century by a wealthy lawyer named Gian-Marco Ageno, the estate is currently run by Elena Pantaleoni and head vignaiolo Giulio Armani. 32 hectares of vines are planted and the wines produced from La Stoppa are typically Emilia.
The soils consist of heavy clay, and the estate has been worked organically since the early 90’s (certified in 2008). Moving forward occasionally means taking a step back. A minimal intervention approach is taken in the cellar: the wines ferment off of their native yeasts and nothing is ever added or subtracted from the juice. Sulphur is never added during vinification, only in small doses at bottling. Because of the region’s warm climate, Giulio prefers long skin contact to extract as much as possible. Stainless steel, concrete and wooden tanks are used for fermentation and small and large oak barrels are used for aging.
Ageno is an ‘orange wine’ made from 60% Malvasia di Candia Aromatica, 40% Ortrugo and Trebbiano grown on clay/limestone soils in a very warm climate (Elena Pantaleoni, owner says that this part of Emilia can be hotter than Sicily during the summer). The juice and skins stay in contact for 30 days and fermentation takes place spontaneously with ambient yeasts. The resulting wine is matured for 12 months, half in stainless steel, the other half in used French oak barriques, with a further 2 years in bottle before release.
Deep golden/amber in colour. On first pouring, bruised apple. With air, it becomes incredibly complex: candied orange peel and grapefruit, honey, smoke, nuts, and a herbal and Mediterranean character. The palate is medium full, bone dry, again very complex and intriguing. Candied fruit flavours on the sweeter end, yet somehow also savoury, nutty, umami characteristics. Very well balanced, with linear, mouthwatering acidity, a touch of palate-cleansing astringency and a lengthy finish.

And now off to Chile, in South America…

Wild vineyard depicted on the label of this natural wine from Chile

‘The Wild Vineyard’, Villalobos, Carignan Reserva, Colchagua, Chile

The Villalobos family estate is located close to the village of Ranguili and is entitled to Colchagua Valley appellation of origin. The vineyard is essentially Carignan as far as anyone can ascertain, and was originally planted during the 1940’s and 50’s. Villalobos vines have never been treated; indeed, the vines have always grown wild and free from any chemical processes for sixty years amongst native Chilean flora such as maitenes, rose-hip, Culenes, pine trees, blackberry bushes etc. In fact, the mission is the constant quest to produce a wine characterised by its unique qualities and the special Carignan variety, which had almost disappeared from Chile and is rarely found in this particular region.
The wine cellar was founded in the sculpture workshop of Enrique Villalobos, in the Artists Valley located in the Colchagua Valley. “The art of sculpture and the art of wine-making are intrinsically linked in the creation process; that is, the modification and intervention of substances offered to us by nature, which the artist may turn into a unique and particular work of art.” Given this context the winegrowers wish to distance themselves from the traditional industrial monoculture. Their main goal is to produce wines which reflect the seasonal conditions and qualities of the terroir, taking advantage of the organic and wild characteristic of the aged vines. This unique terroir allows them to harvest grapes which give the wine an aroma that is perfectly harmonised with the Chilean countryside.
The philosophy of Villalobos is based on absolute respect for the environment where the grapes are grown.

Viticultural methods involve the use of draught horses and natural forms of herb control in order to keep the natural balance. Grapes are hand-harvested, since the vines grow amongst rose-hip, blackberry bushes and other native plants, which makes the harvest a logistical challenge to say the least!
Villalobos’ Carignan is neither filtered nor fined and nothing is added to the wine which is allowed to age slowly and naturally in French oak barrels. It is the colour of a dark rosé, there is no extraction or concentration, just clean, pretty lifted, almost graphite fruit supported by clean acids.

A note on natural wine…

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. One of key differences 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 capitalisation (added sugar to raise potential alcohol)
-no added enzymes,
-the use of natural wild yeasts for fermentation,
-no added “flavourings” (tannin powder, oak chips, etc)
-no adjustments e.g. either adding acidity (acidification) or taking out acidity from the wine (de-acidification),
-low or zero use of sulphur dioxide at any stage of harvesting, fermenting, or bottling
-no or very light filtration and fining

There is also a recognisably “natural wine style” emerging, which for many is the chief allure of this category. 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. They often have little or no new oak influence. 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. This style of course may not be everybody’s cup of tea. The proof of the pudding will always be in the drinking and as the saying goes ‘the best bottle on the table is always the empty one’.

A word about labelling…

All wines contain some sulphites, so please be wary of wine labeled ‘sans sulphites’ or ‘sulphur free’, as this may have got lost in the translation of the label when what was meant was ‘no added sulphur’. (Different labelling rules do apply eg wines sold in the USA). Wines made or sold in the EU are labelled ‘contain sulphites’ In a recent article by Jancis Robinson MW she writes: ’Sulphite is a term that covers all form of sulphur, which is a natural by-product of fermentation so all wines contain a small amount of sulphites even if none added’

The word ‘naturalement’ or ‘naturally’ or any other similar words on the front or back label does not mean it’s a natural wine as natural wine is not a regulated term, so one does not usually expect to see it written on the front or back label of a natural wine.

Bio on a label in most European labels, means Organic (and not Biodynamic)


Upcoming event – ‘Real Wine – Celebrating the Artisan Grower’ with Eric Narioo and Pascal Rossignol, Sunday 26th May, 6pm

‘Real Wine – Celebrating the Artisan Grower’

With Eric Narioo of Les Caves des Pyrène and Pascal Rossignol of Le Caveau

Talk and wine tasting of a selection of artisan wines, at Ballymaloe House, Sunday 26th May, 6pm

Eric from Les Caves de Pyrène, Surrey, and Pascal from Le Caveau, Kilkenny, both specialise in artisan wines sourced from individual growers, that are ‘true to where they come from, which are made by hand with minimal interventions in the vineyard and winery, and which show maximum respect for nature and the environment’.

Pink bulles’ Pet Nat Gamay rosé by Jean Maupertuis (Auvergne, France)

Vino Bellotti Bianco 2011, Cascina Degli Ulivi (Piemonte, Italy)

Vouvray ‘la Dilettante’ 2011, Pierre et Catherine Breton (Loire Valley, France)

Vitovska Amphora 2007, Vodopivec (Friuli, Italy)

Cheverny Rouge 2011, Clos Tue-Boeuf (Loire Valley, France)

Vino di Anna 2011, Eric Narioo and Anna Martens (Etna, Sicily, Italy)

Peza do Rei 2010, Adega Cachin (Ribera Sacra, Spain)

Villalobos ‘Wild Vineyards’ Carignan Reserve 2010 (Colchagua Valley, Chile)

This is a great opportunity to listen to two passionate and experienced wine experts in this area, over a very pleasent, informal, yet educational talk, and a tasting of  different artisan wines.

Sunday 26th May, 6pm, at Ballymaloe. €15

To reserve places, please contact Colm   Tel 086 0859034

Eric Narioo
Eric Narioo
Pascal Rossignol and Darina Allen
Pascal Rossignol and Darina Allen

Irish Wine Geese

Caro Feely, author of ‘Grape Expectations’, and owner & winemaker at Irish owned & Irish run, biodynamic Chateau Haut Garrigue, Bergerac, South-West France, and Tomas Clancy, well known wine writer, recently gave a co-presentation at Ballymaloe on The Irish Wine Geese – Irish people both long ago, and present day, who are involved in winemaking around the world. A fascinating insight into generation of Irish people in all corners of the wine world, with a great selection of wines to taste as well. We also served ‘Irish Wine Geese’ wines at another recent event in Ballymaloe

Caro Feely and Tomas Clancy

Darina, Florence and Caro

Caro Feely and Ted Murphy
Caro Feely and Ted Murphy


Caro Feely in the wine cellar at Ballymaloe
Caro Feely in the wine cellar at Ballymaloe


Some of our French winemaking heroes

Samuel and Colm, sommeliers at Ballymaloe were delighted to recently catch up with some of thier French winemaking heroes, at a recent tasting of Le Caveau with Pascal Rossignol

Samuel, pictured below with Luc de Conti of Chateau Tour des Gendres, Bergerac

Samuel and Luc



and with Bertrand Sourdais, of Domaine de Pallus, Chinon.

Bertrand and Samuel

Colm with Pascal Verhaeghe of Chateau du Cedre, Cahors

Pascal and Colm

Samuel with Luc de Conti and Pascal Verhaeghe

Pascal, Samuel and Luc

Gubbeen – cheese and wine matching

Wine and Cheese

A very interesting subject – “wine and cheese are first cousins; they are both fermented and the complexities are there”, said Giana Ferguson, Gubbeen Farmhouse Cheese, as Samuel and Colm, Sommeliers at Ballymaloe, took the opportunity to ask Giana’s advice during her  visit to the Christmas Food and Craft Fair at Ballymaloe, this weekend.

Pascal, Giana and GeraldineGubbeen (or Gubbeen Gubbeen as it is affectionally sometimes called, to differentiate it from the smoked Gubbeen, that Giana and her Family also make) is a washed rind cheese (some other well known examples of washed rind Irish Farmhouse Cheese are Ardrahan and Milleens).

GubbeenThe aromas  and flavours that will develop are complex -  “mushroom and nuts being the most distinct”, said Giana, and that quintessential West Cork subtle elusive, often misunderstood, aroma and flavour of ‘bog’! (think of those rolling moss-covered, ancient land & valley’s of West Cork) Forest floor was also mentioned – the well known descriptor in wine terms – ‘sous-bois’ as Pascal Rossignol of Le Caveau said , highlighting again the similiarities of the language used when talking about the aroms and flavours of wine, and cheese. Now to what wine to have with Gubbeen!
We discussed several wines – older Pinot Noir, especially Burgundy of course, in the red line-up – and its equivalent White from the same region – the nuts and mushrooms aroma and flavour profile leading us to aged white Burgundy.

We matched the ‘Gubbeen Gubbeen’, with a wine from an equally iconic producer, Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 2000, Burgundy (see Anne-Claude’s visit to Ballymaloe here, June 2011) – sublime cheese and wine together.

Giana and Colm
Giana also had an ‘extra mature smoked Gubbeen’ at the Christmas Food & Craft Fair – and her preference wine-wise with this, she said, was Gewurztraminer – a fruity and rich style. Later on, we put this to the test at dinner- and it definitely worked.  Matched with Meyer-Fonné Gewurztraminer  Vielles Vignes Grand Cru Sporen 2008, Alsace – and by good sheer co-incidence, well known wine merchant, Pascal Rossignol, and his wife Geraldine, were also on hand (Pascal represents Meyer-Fonné in Ireland, and earlier this year, owners/winemakers, Mrs & Mrs Felix Meyer had visited Ballymaloe – see here).

Geraldine, Pascal and HazelA fantastic pairing said Hazel Allen, and Pascal and Giana likewise said exactly the same – a superb match – Giana gave us the lovely line ” in China they say, when one has this lovely feeling of having tasted and enjoyed something so good and so nice, it adds 45 seconds to one’s life” – now that’s a great reason to continue with this great pairing! (as if we needed one)

Giana and Samuel
Samuel Chantoiseau, showing his French background, enquired what bread would work well – Giana likes Sourdough with the Smoked Gubbeen, and they also have special Gubbeen cheese biscuits produced by baker, Robert Ditty (with this traditional oat biscuit originating in Scotland when they did not have flour, but just oats)

Mr Ditty
We finished this ‘Cheese and Wine’ matching workshop (ok – work, but not as we know it!) with again, another great pairing – Crozier Blue (Sheep’s Milk Cheese from the Clifton-Brown farm, near Cashel, Co Tipperary, and produced by their cousins, The Grubb Family, Beechmount, Fethard – who make the world famous Cashel Blue cheese) matched with Meyer-Fonné Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Furstentum  Vendange Tardive 2007, Alsace – the sweetness perfectly balancing the saltiness, and texture, of the Crozier Blue.

Our thanks to Giana and all at Gubbeen, Schull, Co. Cork and to Pascal and Geraldine Rossignol, Le Caveau, Kilkenny for a memorable evening – the best in cheese, wine and company!

New Season’s Olive Oil from Tuscany

Launch of the New Season’s Olive Oil, at Ballymaloe on Wednesday 9th November 2011

Olive Oil

Wines and Olive Oil of Tuscany,
Wednesday 9th November at Ballymaloe






We had an amazing day with the launch and masterclasses of the new season’s  Tuscan Olive Oil.

I hope some of these photographs can convey the excitment and sense of occasion in Ballymaloe throughout the day – Billy Lyons ‘Restaurants and Food in Cork’  also has written a very nice article about the launch here.

And also see ‘The Vine Inspiration’ wine blog nice article here on the Winemakers Dinner that evening at Ballymaloe House

Also on some more photos the Ballymaloe House Facebook here and  here

In the hall

Pictured, in the entrance hall at the cookery school, are Bea Contini Bonacossi, from Capezzana, Carmignano, Federico Giuntini, Selvapiana, Rufina, and David Gleave MW, of Liberty Wines who showed the olive oil of Fontodi, along with Darina, Rory and Gillian.

Olive TreeBeatrice and Federico, pictured by the Olive Tree in the gardens at the school.

In association with, and special thanks to Gerry, Ben, and all at Liberty Wines

David and GillianGillian Hegarty, pictured with David Gleave MW, prepared an amazing lunch, along with Rory O’Connell, specially for the occasion.

ScallopsRoaringwater Bay Scallops with Capezzana New Seasons Extra Virgin Olive Oil – delicious!


In demo

We all very much appreciate the time and effort that Beatrice, Federico and David, took to come to Ballymaloe, and our thanks to them for a memorable day – we look forward hopefully to welcoming them back soon again.





Gerry and Darina

All in demo room

Olive grove

Fontodi logo


Natural Wine

With guest speakers Pascal Rossignol, of Le Caveau, Kilkenny and Dario Poddana, of Les Caves de Pyrène, London.

Dario and Pascal at Ballymaloe
Dario and Pascal at Ballymaloe

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.

Pascal, Darina and Pascal
Pascal, Darina and Dario

We tasted 7 Natural with the students, all of which showed very well.

Natural wine talk
Natural wine talk in the demo room


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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.






Anne-Claude Leflaive, Domaine Leflaive, Puligny-Montrachet, Burgundy

We were delighted to welcome Anne-Claude Leflaive, and her husband Christian, and out thanks to Paddy Moore, Moores’ Wine, Dublin, for arranging this visit. Domaine Leflaive has been described as Burgundy’s greatest white wine domaine, a flagship domaine in the Côte de Beaune, and biodynamic since 1997. It is a family estate that was initially created by Anne-Claude’s grandfather Joseph, and is now managed by Anne-Claude Leflaive. Decanter Wine Magazine, in their Top 10 White Winemakers of the World, rated Anne-Claude Leflaive, Domaine Leflaive as the Number1. All her wines, from Village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru, have all been critically acclaimed by the world’s leading wine writers.

Anne-Claude Leflaive and her husband Christian