Alternative Farming – 4.12.18

Clos Saron, Smockshop Band, Cayuse, Domaine Cauhape, Domaine Huet 

Hearing the words “It’s a fruit day” is becoming more and more common around an open bottle of wine. In fact, many of our major local wine distributors actually schedule portfolio tastings on dates to ensure that buyers don’t taste wines on dreaded “root” or “leaf” days.  Even representatives from some of the world’s best-known wineries make market visits based on a belief that there is a cosmic window of time that will help their wines show better on certain dates than others. What we are talking about here is the highly contested subject of biodynamic wines – wines produced with an agricultural philosphy which developed over the last century. Basically, biodynamic farming is highly sustainable farming that incorporates crop management dictated by lunar cycles, unorthodox ancient fertilizing and harvesting techniques, and the concept that the entire farm is one living organism. 

For many, the biodynamic movement is nothing more than a pseudoscience based on superstitions and mysticism. Upon investigating the associated techniques, it’s easy to see the origin of their skepticism. I’ve heard numerous highly respected wine professionals snort, snark, and snicker at even the slightest insinuation of a vineyard’s biodynamic farming practices. They do what with cow horns? Oh, you only water the vines when the moon is in which sign? Come on, really?

The proponents of these beliefs however, aren’t limited solely to small market distributors or radical winemakers; Domaine-Romanee-Conti, Joseph Drouhin, Bonny Doon, Jean-Louis Chave, Grgich Hills, Joseph Phelps, Michel Chapoutier, Chateau Beaucastel, and Opus One are among a long list of producers that are either in the process of converting to biodynamic agriculture or already practicing it to some degree. Even the champagne house Louis Roederer – with its annual production of nearly 3.5 million bottles – is converting vineyards to biodynamic principles. The list goes on. 

As I said in the blog last week, I’m interested in singular wines and aim to highlight only those which enrich our dialogue about what the word “great” means when we talk about wine. If a wine is produced biodynamically – with careful attention given to soil health, canopy management, biodiversity of the farm, and the creation of chemical free, healthy fruit – it is my belief that these wines are less likely to be unnecessarily manipulated, pushed and pulled in the winery to conform to a standard which can’t be acheived naturally. Biodynamic wines are handmade wines made by conscientious people. That being said, I’m not exactly advocating for biodynamic agriculture, I’m just more likely to drink wines produced in this fashion because I feel they are more reflective of their terroir and vintage variation. As far as the legitimacy of the production methods I am neither here nor there. It isn’t really my place to pick a side. I just want to drink interesting juice.

At NLWS, we carry a substantial number of biodynamic wines; far too many to make a complete list here so, I’ll name list a few of my favorite bottles that are known to either source a portion of their fruit from biodynamic vineyards or practice the philosophy religously:

Domaine Huet Vouvray Clos de Bourg Sec 2014, $38.99 – This dry Chenin marries deep minerality, white flowers, mature lemon, citrus rind, pear and honey with a generous and weighty palate. This is very cellarable Chenin. 

Domaine Cauhape Chant des Vignes Jurançon Sec 2015, $16.99 – An interesting wine from South Western France in the Jurançon region. It’s a hearty white blend of Gros Manseng and Camaralet grown on clay and sand. It sports a nose of tropical fruits, peach and flowers with a rich and full mouth feel.

Clos Saron Stone Soup Syrah 2011, $54.99 – This is a beautiful, lighter expression of Syrah with a nose full of fresh pepper and crunchy red and blue fruit. Viognier makes up about 10% of the cuvee which adds breadth the the palate and an interesting floral component to the nose. Drinking incredibly right now. Clos Saron is one of our favorite new world producers and this is a great example of his wines.

Smockshop Band Oak Ridge Pinot Noir 2016, $74.99 – This is a Pinot Noir from the Master Sommelier Nate Ready’s second label, Smockshop Band.This fruit is sourced from a south facing ridge branching off the Columbia River in North Central Oregon. This Pinot Noir is an absolute must try for Pinot afficcionados as it expresses floral and red fruit characteristics unlike any other region in the world. 

Cayuse En Chamberlin Vineyard 2014, $136.99 – “96+ points. The 358-case 2014 Syrah en Chamberline Vineyard (100% Syrah aged in 10-15% new 600-liter barrels) is downright meaty, peppery effort that’s reminiscent of walking into a butcher shop in the South of France. Wood smoke, black cherry, teriyaki and layers of peppered meat give way to a rich and layerd yet still fresh and lightly textured. With fine tannin and an inherent elegance on the palate, give bottles 2-3 years to fill out and drink over the following decade.” -Jeb Dunnuck, The Wine Advocate