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“Now a farm comes closest to its own essence when it can be conceived of as a kind of independent individuality, a self-contained entity. In reality, every farm ought to aspire to this state of being a self-contained individuality.”- Dr. Rudolf Steiner
While there may be plenty of naysayers who argue that biodynamic farming is a bunch of "woo-woo" astrological rituals, the essence of the practice (or rather, collection of practices) is to create a self-sustaining ecosystem within the vineyard and surrounding land as Dr. Rudolf Steiner, the creator of this approach, explains above. It first took hold in Europe following a series of lectures on "The Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture" in 1924 as a direct response to the industrialization of farming and the introduction of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Though these inventions increased production in the short term, it was clear that it led to the detriment of the soil and surrounding wildlife.
Anytime I see a wine coming out the biodynamically farmed Johan Vineyard in the Willamette Valley, my eyes light up! Brianne Day's Pinot Noir from this site is such a beautiful expression of the land. I feel confident it could convince any Burgundy lover to give domestic wine a chance. This region is home to several biodynamic vineyards including Cooper Hill, where our go-to, great value Pinot Noir is made, and the elegant wines of Brick House. Doug Tunnell, winegrower for Brick House, describes the reason he moved from simply organic farming to biodynamic; "While the organic practices are largely passive, the Biodynamic® practices are pro-active. They feed our farm and our imagination. We have come to regard the farm as a wholistic organism– much like the human body— built on interdependent relationships that, when in good health, act and react in harmonious balance."
Further south is one of our favorite producers on the west coast, Porter Creek. They have achieved certification as biodynamic and organic since 2003 and for any purchased fruit, they insist on only working with likeminded farmers. Despite this type of farming being more expensive and more labor intensive, Alex Davis and the team at Porter creek believe that is their duty as stewards of the land. Alex writes, "My first priority in the vineyard is maintaining healthy soil, rich in organic matter, high in microbiological activity and avoiding soil compaction that inhibits the vines roots systems. At significant expense, we go about this by using compost, limiting soil cultivation, avoiding herbicides and using a specialized ultra low ground pressure tractors." The result of this work is years of consistently high quality, clean, wines that tell the story of the Sonoma Coast; warm, sunny days, cool breezy nights, and rich soils. Even their rosé, a style that is not typically the most terroir-driven, has incredible minerality, depth, and age-worthy structure.
Across the Pacific, in New Zealand, biodynamic farming is also proving to be beneficial. Thank you to Matt Mauricio of Wine Dogs Imports for introducing me to the amazing wines from the Quartz Reef and Rippon estates. The Quartz Reef vineyards sit atop the largest quartz deposit in New Zealand. Through their attention to the needs of the soil, and their low-intervention winemaking, this minerality really shines through in their wines. In 2007 they converted their vineyards to biodynamics because their goal was "to not just eliminate the use of chemical sprays and fertilizers but to promote the health of the soils and the vines...We understand, as farmers that each season we deplete the soil of nutrients and minerals and it is necessary to replenish the land in return of the crops we harvest." It is clearly doing wonders for their Pinot Noir; crystalline and mineral-rich in their sparkling Brut Rosé, and clear and expressive in their Single Ferment bottling.
Whoever convinced people that Old World wines are "terroir-driven" and New World wines are all "fruit-forward" had not had a chance to try these beautiful expressions from vineyards all over the world. Each has something eloquent and unique to say; nothing overwrought or overripe about them. These winegrowers have been convinced that the biodynamic philosophy is the best way to showcase what their land has to offer and to be able to for generations to come. I believe their wines will speak for themselves. Michelle DeWyngaert
Years ago I discovered the wines of Central Otago, and since then I have been on a hunt for a beautiful example of naturally made Pinot Noir from this cool-climate region like this one. The Quartz Reef Bendigo Estate is a stunning vineyard atop the largest quartz reef deposit in New Zealand (hence the name) with a soil mixture of clay, fine gravel, and quartz. The vines are planted on a gentle north-facing slope and organic and biodynamic certified (one of only six vineyards in Central Otago to gain full certification). All of the fruit is hand-harvested and cold-soaked before spontaneous fermentation. The wine aged for 15 months in 50% new French oak barrels, and then bottled without fining or filtering. The nose is uniquely 'Bendigo Estate' with notes of lillacs, crushed rock, black cherry, dried thyme and fresh soil. On the palate the oak is already nicely integrated, balanced acidity, and soft, powdery tannins with additional notes of stewed cherry, wild raspberry, rosemary, sun-baked stones, and just a touch of vanilla on the finish. A pleasure to enjoy over several hours, it seems clear that this will continue to age gracefully for 5-10 years. Michelle DeWyngaert
Central Otago has been building its reputation for excellent sparkling wine, and this is a perfect example. The stunning Bendigo Estate vineyard is one of only six in the region to receive Demeter certification. Though they are at a high elevation and at the southernmost latitude for viticulture, the Bendigo sub-region is one of the warmest pockets in Central Otago, and their sun-drenched north-facing slopes bring much needed ripeness to the Pinot Noir. The name Quartz Reef refers to the large quartz deposits in Bendigo, which gives this traditional method sparkler a crystalline mineral quality. The wine spends a minimum of 18 months on the lees and is bottled with 3 g/l of residual sugar. Bright, crisp, and elegant are the words that come to mind with notes of just ripe raspberries, strawberries in fresh cream, a touch brioche. Excellent as an aperitif and worked very well with prosciutto and melon. Michelle DeWyngaert
I know what you're thinking, "why would I drink Gewurztraminer from New Zealand?", but hear me out. This is one of the finest expressions of an oft misunderstood variety, that I have ever had. Rippon has always been a trail-blazer, having planted the first vitus vinifera vines in Central Otago. They never irrigate and have been farming biodynamically since 2003 to support the health of the soil and their team. The Gewurztraminer vines were planted between 1986-93 on their own rootstock. The juice is kept on the skins for two days and then 10% is reserved to be fermented off-dry, with the remaining 90% fermented dry before being blended together. This makes the final wine the slightest bit off-dry, giving it great balance between the remarkably high acidity (for this variety), that kiss of sugared apricot from the off-dry reserve, and long mineral finish recalling the schist and loess soils. The aromatics are bursting with notes of white lilies and stone fruit, but instead of being overpowering it is tempered by a salty savory note from the extended lees aging. Drink this with spicy thai food or on its own as you envision this gorgeous, lakeside New Zealand vineyard. Michelle DeWyngaert
Doug Tunnell would most likely call himself a farmer before he called himself a winemaker, as he takes his role as steward to the land very seriously. When he and his wife took over the Brick House property in 1990 it had been beaten down with industrial chemicals and they immediately halted all chemical treatments and began the conversion to organic, and then Biodynamic farming. As the name would suggest, the 'Dijonnais' bottling from Brick House comes from their eight acres of Dijon clone Pinot Noir planted on a south facing slope. Despite this being on of the warmest spots in their vineyard, this wine is light, ethereal, and elegant. Notes of dried earth, dusty rose petals, red plum, and shitake mushroom on the nose. On the palate are bright, crunchy red fruits, currant, red apple skins and freshly turned soil with gentle, velvety tannins. I enjoyed every drop of this bottle, but will certainly put a few away to see it evolve over the next five years or so. Michelle DeWyngaert
Cooper Mountain Vineyards started in 1978 when Dr. Robert Gross and his wife, Corrine, planted the first Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines in the unique soils of Cooper Mountain in the Chehalem Mountains of Oregon's Willamette Valley. Today, the estate has more than 100 acres dedicated to organic and biodynamic farming and winemaking. A great value and classic Oregon Pinot with notes of dried leaves, black cherry, macerated raspberries, and freshly turned earth. This vintage is a bit darker and denser than the previous vintage, but by no means overripe or heavy. A great pairing with roasted butternut squash with sage! Michelle DeWyngaert
A beautiful example of Pinot Noir from the Demeter certified Johan Vineyard in the Willamette Valley. Exposed to cooling winds from the Van Duzer Corridor, it is the last picked of the Day Wines giving it a delicate freshness. The grapes are left 30% whole cluster during fermentation and then the juice is aged for 18 months in 15% new French oak, the rest neutral. This wine feels like Oregon to me; simultaneously lush and juicy, and also crisp and vibrant. Notes of freshly turned soil, wild raspberries and currants, dried leaves and herbs unfurl with time in the glass. On the palate it begins with crunchy red fruit, follows with the earthy sweet and savoriness of roasted beets, and finishes with lingering gentle, but present tannin. While the vibrancy of the fruit is fully enjoyable now, this should continue to improve for many years to come. MIchelle DeWyngaert
80% old vine Carignan from the Trimble vineyard in Mendocino and 20% Zinfandel from Porter Creek's own vineyards, this dry rosé is one of my favorites each year. This is not just a light, quaffable "summer water"; this is a serious, age-worthy wine that happens to be a rosé. The biodynmically farmed Zinfandel lends bright red fruit, and the old-vine Carignan gives the wine depth and savory notes. By fermenting and aging the wine in neutral barrels, the crisp acidity is softened around the edges, and the time spent on the lees gives this wine a creamy, luscious feel on the palate as well as food-friendly salinity. Though this wine has so much to offer now, my experience with 2-3 year old bottles of Porter Creek rosé convince me to stash a few bottles in the cellar. Michelle DeWyngaert
The ladies at Hunter Moon are doing their best to bring back eau-de-vie (otherwise known as 'unaged brandy') with this delicious example. This is truly natural wine-making distilled, a rarity in the spirits world. The base for their brandy comes from Farrm Wines on the North Fork of Long Island, a Demeter certified vineyard, with a blend of 80% Petit Verdot and 20% Cabernet Franc, fermented entirely with native yeasts. It is then distilled in a hybrid copper/pot still, rested in glass, and then bottled at 50%ABV. Notes of honey, cherry blossom, and fresh herbs on the nose, with a soft, lush texture on the palate. I think this makes a killer Vesper variation, but it would also be great as a base for tinctures or bitters! Michelle DeWyngaert
This wine is as fun and vibrant as the color suggests! In the coolest subzone of of the Uco Valley in Mendoz, El Cepillo, the winemakers of Canopus harvest organically farmed Pinot Noir on clay-calcareous soil for this bright pink, hazy rosado. Roughly 3/4 of the fruit is direct-pressed and begins natural fermentation in concrete tanks, and then the last 1/4 is left as whole cluster and deposited into the fermentation in mesh bags, like tea, to infuse the wine for six months. The wine is bottled without fining or filtering, and just a small amount of SO2. Notes of juicy watermelon, crunchy, underripe strawberry, and fresh herbs on the nose, and bright strawberry sorbet on the palate; a delight! Michelle DeWyngaert
Way up at 3,215 ft elevation is the picturesque Tikal estate in the famed Vista Flores area of the Uco Valley. The vineyards are organic and biodynamic certified and entirely ungrafted. Though this is a blend of 60% and 40% Syrah, lovers of classic Mendoza Malbec will find much to enjoy. Luscious, ripe blackberry, cassis, and plum preserves are balanced with more savory notes of black pepper, cedar, and a little cured meat. The wine is aged for 8 months in 20% new oak (mostly French, with some American barrels used), and 80% neutral barrels, giving it just a kiss of baking spice and vanilla. Michelle DeWyngaert
Sourced from the estate's George's Hill vineyard, named in honor of founder George Davis who purchased the land in 1977, this biodynamically farmed vineyard site produces some of the most exciting Chardonnay in the entire Russian River. This wine is big on texture and has great aromatic power, with notes of green apple, almond, and darker mineral, oily, almost saline notes. On the palate this wine has great, peppy acidity, though it is not quite light-bodied. A certain breadth comes through on the palate, with ripe peach character filling out the back end as it slips into a long, softly nuanced finish that cycles between cream, citrus, and hazelnut. Tastes great now, but will continue to improve in the cellar for at least ten years. Andrew Farquhar