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Leading The Charge: From Sustainable to Organic

October 17, 2021 1 comment

Sustainability is the trend. A global trend, across countries and across industries. We, humans, want to make sure that there will be some inhabitable Earth left for future generations.

When it comes to grape growing and winemaking, sustainability is a major trend, with many winemaking countries and regions adding new sustainable vineyards and wineries at double-digit annual percentage rates.

For New Zealand wineries and vineyards, sustainability is done and over with – New Zealand wineries started sustainability journey in 1995. In 2016, 98% of New Zealand’s vineyard area (about 89,000 acres) was sustainable winegrowing certified, which is based on the data collected from 1,918 vineyards and 254 wineries (the data is based on the 2016 New Zealand winegrowing sustainability report). Sustainability certification is based on a number of key aspects, such as land management, water consumption management, pest and disease management, treatment of the people, business practices, and many more (you can find all the information in the report).

The forward movement doesn’t stop in the New Zealand winemaking industry. Next frontier – organic grape growing and winemaking. Organic grape growing imposes further restrictions on what can and can’t be used to produce healthy grapes, and it takes on average 3 years to convert from sustainable to organic methods, but New Zealand winemakers are used to the challenge.

At the end of September, the New Zealand organic winemaking was celebrated via the Organic Wine Week, consisting of a series of tastings and presentations by New Zealand’s vignerons. I attended one of the events (virtual, of course), where we could learn about the development of organic winemaking in New Zealand. Just to share some numbers, there are currently 45 fully organic certified wineries, plus another 7 which produce wines mostly from organic grapes, offering a total of 102 organic wine labels. There are a bit more than 6,000 acres of organic and biodynamic certified vineyards, including about 1,000 acres in conversion (as we mentioned before, it takes about 3 years to convert vineyard from sustainable to organic). If you are interested in learning more details about New Zealand organic wine production, I would highly recommend checking this dedicated website of Organic Winegrowers New Zealand –  I have to honestly say that when it comes to the well-presented, comprehensive winemaking region information, New Zealand wine associations do by far the best job out there – you need to check this for yourself.

If you ever looked at the labels of organic wines sold in the US, you probably noticed that many bottles say “made with organic grapes”, instead of simply been “organic”. I was curious to understand the significance of such wording, and it was perfectly explained during the seminar. It appears that based on the US organic labeling laws, to be just called “organic wine”, it is not enough to just use the certified organic grapes – the winemaking processes have a number of additional restrictions, particularly the use of sulfites is not allowed. It is very difficult to make good wine without the use of sulfites, thus most of the winemakers prefer to simply use a statement “made with organic grapes” instead of going the full circle and sacrifice the quality of their wines. I was happy to finally learn about this designation, as I tasted lots of “made with organic grapes” wines this year and always was wondering about such a specific wording.

As part of the seminar, I was also happy to receive samples of the New Zealand organic wines, which were packaged in tiny bottles. Definitely an interesting concept – and I understand the logic behind it – however, I’m really curious if such a format can negatively affect the taste of wine – take a look at my notes below particularly for the Chardonnay.

Here are the extended tasting notes for the wines – as a side note, all of these wines are vegan-friendly:

2019 Pyramid Valley Sauvignon Blanc Marlboro (13% ABV)
Straw pale color.
Clean, restrained nose with a touch of freshly cut grass, mineral notes
Restrained palate, crisp, acidic, uncharacteristic for the Sauvignon Blanc wine, more Muscadet-like

2019 Millton Chenin Blanc Te Arai Vineyard Gisborne (12% ABV, Demeter certified biodynamic)
Light golden color
A touch of gunflint and barnyard.
Whitestone fruit, unripe apricot, a hint of honey, medium to full body, granny smith apples over the long finish. “Te Arai” roughly translates to “the place where you pause before going on toward the land of eternal sunshine.”

2020 Te Whare Ra TORU Marlboro (13.4% ABV, 67% Gewurztraminer, 22% Riesling, 11% Pinot Gris, 1150 cases produced)
Very light straw color, almost like water
Playful floral nose, tropical fruit, intense
Well-balanced palate, honey, honeysuckle, round, plump, viscous, stays with your palate.
Unusual
Toru means “three” in Maori – the wine is made out of 3 grapes. All grapes are co-fermented at the winery.

2019 Greenhough Chardonnay Hope Vineyard Nelson (13.85% ABV)
light golden color
Heavy nose of gunflint, a touch of barnyard, nothing else is coming through.
A touch of vanilla, bitter on the palate, all covered in acidity. Chardonnay profile is coming through. Very acidic finish, really not enjoyable overall

2019 Felton Road Pinot Noir Calvert Central Otago (13.5% ABV, biodynamic)
Brilliant Ruby color
Intense nose of sweet plums, licorice, graphite
Light, spicy, creamy, red fruit, underbrush, tart cherries came later, good finish, delicious.

2016 Stonecroft Gimblett Gravels Reserve Syrah Hawke’s Bay (13% ABV, 110 cases produced)
Dark purple ink, almost black
Fresh, red and black fruit, fresh lacquer (I know it doesn’t sound right)
Black pepper, clean, intense black fruit, perfect balance, medium to full body, liquid black pepper.
Impressive wine. Selection of the best barrels from the vintage. Vines planted in 1984

As you can see, Sauvignon Blanc and TORU were two of my favorite whites. I love Central Otago Pinot Noir, and Felton Road is one of my perennial favorites, so I’m happy that the wine was as good as I was expecting it to be. New Zealand Syrah is still not a “thing” here in the USA, but the rendition presented in the tasting (Stonecroft) was outstanding – I would be happy to drink such a wine on a regular occasion.

Organic winemaking is good for the Earth, and it is good for the people. New Zealand is leading the way towards organic viticulture, but the other regions are definitely catching up – for example, Chile is rapidly advancing its sustainable and organic winemaking (we will talk about Chilean sustainable and organic wines in the next few posts). And this is something I’m happy to raise my glass to. Cheers!

 

 

Made With Organic Grapes: Domaine Bousquet

August 3, 2021 Leave a comment

Today we will be talking about two subjects we already discussed in the past. The first subject is the wines made from organic grapes. Organic grapes are becoming more and more available, and winemakers around the world are more eager to use organic grapes in winemaking, especially as wine consumers happily embrace the trend.

The second subject is the wines of Domaine Bousquet in Argentina. Last time we talked about unpretentious and delicious Domaine Bousquet bubbles, sparkling wines well suitable for every day. Today we want to continue that conversation and talk about few more wines.

The organic viticulture is fair and square a centerpiece of Domaine Bousquet winemaking. The picture below perfectly summarizes it – these are all the certifications that the domain already has:

Source: Domaine Bousquet website

Organic viticulture is only a stepping stone for Domaine Bousquet – the goal is to convert to biodynamic farming in 2021/2022, which is not an easy task, considering the sheer size of Domaine Bousquet’s vineyards (more than 500 acres) and the fact that biodynamic viticulture is 30% more labor-intense compared with traditional methods, and 15% more intense than sustainable. But once you get on this road, there is no turning back.

Organic/sustainable/biodynamic is an important part, but still only a part of the story. The terroir is essential, and it is a classic combination of the soil and climate which contributes to the quality of the Domaine Bousquet wines. Many of the Domain Bousquet vineyards are located in the Gualtallary region of Uco Valley, at an altitude of about 4,200 feet. The high altitude by itself doesn’t guarantee the quality of the wines, but it helps. Domaine’s vineyards are located on the patches of sandy soils, which are great for the vines as they limit the spread of the disease, provide good drainage and force the vines to work hard to get to the water.

Gaultallary offers a desert-like climate, with constant winds blowing for the Andes, and less than 8 inches of rain being total precipitation for the year. In such conditions, it is important that Domaine Bousquet vineyards are located in areas with access to the ground water – not everybody in the Gaultallary is that lucky. And then there are Zonda winds (Zonda in local dialect means “The Witch’s Wind”, which are showing up in the spring, and they are dry (relative humidity of 0), strong, and unpredictable – but they help to reduce the crop size and concentrate the flavor.

Domaine Bousquet produces about 10 different lines of wines. I was able to taste wine belonging to the 4 different lines (samples). Below are my notes.

First, 2 wines from the Premium selection:

2021 Domaine Bousquet Sauvignon Blanc Tupungato Uco Valley (12.5% ABV, $13)
Straw pale
Ultimately inviting nose, a touch of fresh grass, lemon, uplifting intensity.
Crisp, clean, lemony, grassy, tart, fresh, pure delight.
8+, perfect, delicious.

2019 Domaine Bosquet Cabernet Sauvignon Tupungato Uco Valley Mendoza (14% ABV, $13, no oak – unusual)
Dark Ruby
A touch of bell pepper, dark berries, medium-plus intensity
Bell pepper, eucalyptus, mint, blackberries, good acidity, fresh, good energy, good balance
8-/8, easy to drink. And I have to say that unoaked Cabernet Sauvignon is mind-boggling.

Next were two wines form the Reserve line:

2019 Domaine Bousquet Chardonnay Reserve Tupungato Uco Valley (14.5% ABV, $18)
Straw pale
Vanilla, a hint of butter, inviting, generous
Crisp, vibrant, a touch of butter and vanilla, tightly weaves around the citrus core. Excellent balance, delicious.
8+, superb. If this wine can age, it might be amazing, if this bright acidity will evolve into the honey note as it works with the best Chardonnays.

2019 Domaine Bousquet Pinot Noir Reserve Tupungato Uco Valley (14.5% ABV, $18, 6-8 months in French oak)
Dark ruby
Not very expressive, a hint of tart cherries
Tart cherries, bright acidity, crisp, tart
7/7+, not my wine, but should be okay as food wine or for those who like austere, bone-dry wines.

Next was the wine from the Gaia line – the wines dedicated to the goddess of Earth, Gaia, sporting a very attractive label. This is the second time I was able to taste the wine from the Gaia line – the first was Gaia Rosé, which was excellent.

2019 Domaine Bousquet Gaia Cabernet Franc Gualtallary Vineyards (15% ABV, $20, 8-10 months in French oak)
Dark garnet
A touch of barnyard, earthy notes, dark berries
Dark fruit, explicit minerality, a distant hint of bell pepper, mint, dense, good structure
8-, not the most striking Cab Franc, but interesting on its own

And the last one for today – the wine from the Gran series:

2018 Domaine Bousquet Gran-Malbec Valley de Uco (14.5% ABV, $25, 85% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Syrah, 10 months in French oak)
Dark garnet, almost black with purple hues
Dark fruit, eucalyptus, cassis, intense, powerful
Beautiful fruit on the palate, firm structure, big, brooding, perfectly balanced
8+, outstanding

Here you are, my friends – more organic wines you can choose from. As an added bonus, with Domaine Bousquet, you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy delicious organic wines any time you want. Cheers!

Made With Organic Grapes: Red, White, and Rosé

June 3, 2021 2 comments

Have you looked attentively at the wine labels lately? I don’t know about you, but “made with organic grapes” is something I see on more and more wine labels. Red, white, Rosé, bubbles – no exception. As winemaking methods are advancing, organic viticulture is almost becoming a new norm.

While “organic” and “sustainable” are not the same, organic designation is often a stepping stone toward sustainable and biodynamic viticulture. Sustainability seems to be the word of the day, not only in the viticulture but all areas of human activities – but this is a wine blog, so let’s just stay with our beloved subject here.

A few weeks ago, I shared my impressions of the organic wines of Viñedos Veramonte from Chile. As I believe we are looking at the trend, let’s continue our search for organic grapes, and let’s take a quick trip to the old continent – Italy, to be more precise. Once we are in Italy, let’s go to Sicily, where Cantine Ermes had been producing wines since 1998.

Cantine Ermes is a coop-type winery. The numbers behind Cantine Ermes are quite impressive – 2,355 associates, 9 cellars, more than 25,000 acres of land under vineyards, and about 12M bottles annually are sold in 25 countries. Despite its sheer size, Cantine Ermes practices organic and sustainable farming and has tight control over all steps of wine production.

Two wines I tasted brilliantly represented Sicily, made from the local grapes:

2019 Cantine Ermes Vento Di Mare Nerello Mascalese Terre Siciliane IGT (13.5% ABV, $13)
Ruby red
The nose of freshly crushed berries, cherries, and eucalyptus.
Playful on the palate, a touch of fresh cherries, intense tobacco, minerality, medium body, clean acidity, good balance.
8-/8, perfect on its own, but will play well with food.

2019 Cantine Ermes Vento Di Mare Grillo Sicilia DOC (12.5% ABV, $13)
Light Golden
Fresh lemon, Whitestone fruit, medium+ intensity, inviting
Crisp, clean, fresh lemon, nicely present body, a touch of white plum, good minerality, a hint of sweetness
8/8+, superb, delicious white wine all around.

We are continuing our organic grape quest by going west and leaving the old continent and arriving at Mendoza in Argentina. Earlier this year I discussed sparkling wines of Domaine Bousquet – the product of the obsession of the French winemaker Jean Bousquet, who fell in love with the raw beauty of Gualtallary Valley in Mendoza. Interestingly enough, two sparkling wines I was talking about before were also made from organic grapes – I guess I simply didn’t see it as a trend yet.

Gaia Rosé is the inaugural vintage of the wine made from 100% Pinot Noir, from the vineyards in the Uco Valley located at the 4,000 feet/1,200 meters elevation. The wine takes its name from Gaia, the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth and an inspiration for the Bousquet family. Just take a look at this beautiful bottle and tell me that you will be able to resist the urge to grab this bottle off the shelf at the first sight.

Here are my thoughts about the wine:

2020 Domaine Bousquet Gaia Pinot Noir Rosé Gualtallary Vineyards Mendoza Argentina (13.1% ABV, $20, vegan friendly)
Light salmon pink
Complex, onion peel, a touch of strawberries
Fresh Strawberries, grapefruit, bright acidity, a touch of sweetness, firm, present
8, delicious. Unusual

Here you are, my friends. Red, white, and Rosé from around the world. made from organic grapes, delicious, affordable, with a great QPR. What else should wine lovers want?

Towards More Sustainable Viticulture

August 13, 2015 Leave a comment

grapesToday I’m offering to your attention a guest post which is a bit unusual for this blog – it is a lot more technical then we usually get here, on the pages of Talk-a-Vino. This blog post is written by Urška Krajnc (email: urska@eviti.co), Business developer of eVineyard, a vineyard management solution (and an App), helping viticulturists to grow better grapes. Hope you will find it interesting. Your comments and questions are definitely encouraged. Enjoy!

Agricultural production is one of the most important economic activities on Earth. The majority of human food originates from land, which must perform over time in a consistent manner and produce huge quantities of output. To meet the demands of the world’s growing population, farmers have to increase crop production and availability of food. This is nowadays achieved through the standardization of crops, genetic changes of plants, growth hormones and excessive use of pesticides. Many argue that changes in agricultural production are not going into the right direction. Therefore initiatives for more economical, environmentally and socially sustainable agriculture have emerged.

An important problem of the agriculture production are pesticides, which have negative impact on human health and environmental pollution. While inappropriate use of pesticides is literally directly threatening human lives in certain (usually less developed) areas of the world, it also counts for many indirect harmful effects on human health, ecosystem changes, etc. Pesticide spraying, for example, has a huge impact on the bee population in the country-side, while bees are the main pollinators of certain species of plants. In certain areas, the bee population has reduced by as impressive amounts as 30%. All this is leading to large environmental imbalances – as the pollination reduces, the flora will not flourish as it should anymore, and soon fauna will follow. And we’re a very part of that, even though we may not see it.

Similar story exists with water organisms, which are being killed by the over-usage of pesticides, drifted from the spray targets to the water flows. Pesticides affect human health also through the  residues left in food, that can be toxic to humans. Grapes are believed to be among fruits with the highest level of pesticide residues. Not only in table grapes, but also in wine, several pesticides can be found, especially when the conventional production methods of wine are followed. Therefore in certain regions of the world, more sustainable and environmentally friendly agricultural production methods have developed to a larger extent. Alternative methods for large-scale growing are becoming feasible through the latest technology. The fact is that the food production needs optimization, and research has shown that an optimization can be only achieved if the resources that farmers use, are applied in a knowledgeable way.

Some of the countries are already taking steps towards the reduction of pesticides usage. France, for example, decided to reduce the amount of pesticide spraying by 50% in the time between 2008 and 2018. But even though there are national directives, and common sense leading more and more people to move away from pesticides, there are still situations where spraying is seen as necessary – and maybe in some cases it actually is, in order to avoid larger pollution later on, and to sustain the production that feeds our world today. However, a French winegrower from Burgundy probably wouldn’t agree, and would rather go to jail for a few weeks than to spray his grapevines with a pesticide that would consequently poison his soil for the generations to come. Even more, the first real cases against the corporations providing pesticides, are starting, as some people die of cancer which was clearly the consequence of long-term pesticide usage.

endless_vineyards_1The fact is that some of the pesticides are originating from military chemicals and the vast majority of them includes synthetically originated chemical compounds, developed to kill certain pests. Even here, the things are changing through the development of the natural fungicides, which don’t harm non-target pests, but work on fungus. Big steps were done also by science in predicting the disease outbreaks according to the environmental conditions, and using those predictions to spray selectively in order to prevent the diseases at the optimal time, instead of routine spraying. This scientific research is nowadays manifesting in practice through cost-effective solutions, based on sensors and data about the weather, and is targeted at the crops which are classically produced with large amounts of pesticides, like grapes.

Several wine producing countries – France, Spain and Italy under the EU agricultural policy, as well as Australia and United States of America, are systematically reducing the use of pesticides on grapevines for the last 15 years. The practical measures are taken to reduce pesticide residues and environmental pollution via usage restrictions of several dangerous pesticides and introduction of Integrated Pest Management approach. This approach has proven to reduce pesticides residues not only in wine, but also in the other agricultural products. Australian winegrowers have reduced the usage of pesticides through the use of technological solutions for strategic spray timing and through the use of more naturally produced pesticides. In the United States of America, the reduction of pollution is achieved through banning of several harmful pesticides and through the introduction of sustainable wine-growing practices, supported with the sensors and information technology, used to optimize other processes, such as irrigation. Similar practices are used throughout the Europe, which has seen a big increase in pesticide use in post World War II time, which is now decreasing.

Mountain vineyards view (Ridge)

In many European countries, the “Denomination of Origin” policies don’t allow irrigation and some other kinds of terroir manipulation in order to get the “DO” sign. But systems for smarter plant protection are always welcome and are already in place in most of the countries by big growers, with the adoption of technology now being done by smaller growers as well. Some winegrowers around the world went even a step further and applied organic wine production principals, due to the changes in market demands, led by the conscious consumers. In EU, 6.6% of the grape-growing area is treated as organic, from which one third of organic grape-growing area is in Spain. Unfortunately, on the other side of the world, in China, with rapidly growing grape production, a production and usage of pesticides is increasing.

A lot of solutions exist – we can spray very selectively by using sensors and computers that take into account the existent knowledge. We can completely avoid spraying in some cases, and in the other cases, we may use the natural fungicides that don’t harm the organisms, which were not targeted as harmful, like bees. It will take some time for all those solutions to become mainstream, but some parts of the world are already moving in that direction. It’s our, humanity’s, turn, to make healthy and sustainable future a reality. We’re not left with many other options anyway.

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