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Leading The Charge: From Sustainable to Organic

October 17, 2021 Leave a 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: Find Your Ritual

June 9, 2021 Leave a comment

The world of wine is full of eternal questions. Here is one of the most prolific ones: where is the wine made – in the vineyard or at the winery?

Many would argue that, of course, the wine is made in the vineyard. To make good wine you have to start with good grapes. You need good, healthy, properly ripened grapes to make good wine. “Good grapes” might seem obvious as a concept, but it actually entails a lot of hard work, love, and care, from the moment the first bud will appear on the vine (and even before that) until the moment when harvested grapes are reaching the winery. “Good grapes” are not defined by the taste alone – it is important how the grapes were growing, were any pesticides used, were all the methods organic, or better yet, sustainable? “Good grapes” for sure means a lot of work.

Then some might argue that no matter how good the grapes are if the winemaker will not take good care of the grapes from the moment grapes arrived at the winery, the good grapes will not result in good wine. How the grapes were manipulated from the very beginning – sorting, cleaning, de-stemming, pressing, fermenting, aging, storing – each of these steps has to be performed properly, as even the very best grapes will not convert themselves into the good wine.

Source: Ritual Winery

Source: Ritual Winery

The folks at Ritual winery in Chile clearly don’t want to answer this eternal question. Or rather their answer is “both”. Estate vineyards in the eastern part of the Casablanca Valley in close proximity to the Pacific Ocean are surrounded by 6,000 acres of the native forest, creating a unique biome. All the vineyards are certified organic. Estate uses its own compost, made out of the pomace and manure of the local animals. Sheep help mow the grass and fertilize the vines.

The grapes are hand-harvested early in the cool morning at the first sunlight. After sorting, the grapes are fermented in the open-top tanks, using basket press and native yeast. To achieve desired characteristics, 4 different vessels are used for the aging of the wines: Oak Barrels to enhance the structure, Concrete eggs for the texture, Stainless steel Drums elevate freshness, and Stainless steel Tanks help with aromatics.

Below are my tasting notes, where you can also see all the different vessels used to produce particular wines:

2018 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley (14% ABV, $19.99, organic grapes, 8 months in stainless steel, concrete eggs and neutral barrels)
Light golden
Very complex, white stone fruit, good minerality, fresh herbs
Round and velvety, creamy texture, a hint of vanilla, even butter, nice lemon core, clean and crisp finish
8+/9-, outstanding. A different and delicious Sauvignon Blanc. Borderline a Chardonnay experience.

2019 Ritual Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $19.99, organic grapes, fermented and aged for 8 months in concrete eggs, neutral oak, and stainless steel)
Light golden color
The nose is not very expressive, minerality, a hint of whitestone fruit
On the palate, a full spectrum, changing as the wine warms up – starting from steely Muscadet-like acidity, adding a bit of the creaminess after a few minutes in the glass, and then showing Chardonnay-like fuller-bodied notes and expressive minerality.
8/8+, Delicious

2018 Ritual Chardonnay Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $20.99, aged in concrete eggs and French oak barrels)
Light Golden
Characteristic touch of vanilla and apple on the palate, a whiff of honey
Vanilla, apple, a hint of butter in the palate, perfect balance, crisp acidity, wow, a superb rendition of Chardonnay. Give it 5–10 years, and it will rival the white burgundy.
8, Outstanding

2017 Ritual Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley (13.5% ABV, $21.99, aged 11 months in French oak barrels)
Dark Ruby
The dusty nose of fresh plums with a touch of vanilla
Plums, violets, a touch of mocha, good acidity, fresh, excellent balance
8+, delicious from the get-go

Tasting Ritual wines will not help us to find an answer to our eternal question – these wines are clearly made both in the vineyard and at the winery. Have you tried any of these wines? If you did, I guess you already found your Ritual, if not – well, here is your chance.

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?

Terroir, Unaltered

August 5, 2011 2 comments

Terroir. Sense of place exhibited by the wine. You can find definition of Terroir in Wikipedia, but interestingly enough, you can’t find it in Webster dictionary.

“Terroir” was always part of the winemaking, in transparent fashion, if you will. Wine was initially (we are talking thousands years ago) produced locally, to be consumed with local food. There was a traditional way of making the wine in each place, and it was repeated over and over, harvesting the same grapes from the same parcel of land. Even today you can find plenty of wines made for local consumption only, challenge is – you have to be “there” to taste them.

Needless to say that wine in those old days was made in “natural” and “organic” way, as it was the only way possible (no pesticides, no chemicals, no reverse osmosis machines, no oak dust, …). Then situation changed. While wine trade exists for thousands years, I would guess that extreme commercialization of it, which happened in the second half of the 20th century, and appearance of wine critics such as Robert Parker, forced a lot of change in the way the wine was produced. As for vast majority of commercial products, producer usually wants to limit the cost and maximize profits – when this principle is applied to wine production, we end up with a lot of wines which have no “terroir” concept whatsoever, and simply made to have a “familiar”, or “category required” taste. And as it is a commercial product, all means are good to guarantee an output and a profit (without going into any details, that includes all the stuff which you don’t want in or around your wine).

Luckily, the situation is changing. More and more wineries and winemakers are going back to the nature, and let terroir shine again, in its unadulterated form. Call it “organic”, “natural”, “sustainable” or “biodynamic” (each term has it’s own meaning and even philosophy behind it, but I have to refer you to Wikipedia to read more about it or we will never finish this post), but the main idea is similar among them all – interfere as little as possible, and let nature take its course. This is happening throughout the world, and in many cases is not even advertised on the bottle. For instance, Domaine Romanee-Conti, makers of some of the most famous (and expensive) wines in the world, are using organic farming and since 1985, and I’m sure there are lots of others which are simply doing it without much fanfare.

Sustainable, organic and natural are all very important, but there is more which goes into the winemaking process to let terroir to be the king. A lot of it goes back to that “do not interfere” concept. For instance, you can use 600 liter new oak barrels to age your wines, or you can use and reuse 15000 liter barrels. Which wine do you think will better showcase the terroir? Of course the bigger barrel will impart much much less oak flavor, and will let the grapes and soil to tell its story in a clear voice.

Okay, enough of this abstract talking, let’s talk about actual wines. I have to tell you that it was a seminar on Natural and Biodynamic wines, hosted by nobody else but PJ Wine, which prompted this post. This event was definitely both an education and experience, as all 10 wines presented in the seminar were not your average wines. To give you an idea, if you think about organic food, in many cases you only know that you are eating something which is healthier, better for you, but you can’t really taste it (if you are sure you can, I would love to play a blind tasting game with you). Talking about wines in that tasting, eight out of ten wines tasted totally different and unique – you can not necessarily tell that they are organic or natural, but you can tell that they can be distinguished from anything else you had before. These wines were made with “don’t interfere” concept in mind, letting the terroir to shine through. Another interesting fact about all the wines presented is none of them has alcohol level in excess of 13%, most of them are 11% or 12% – there were no jammy fruit bombs presented in the tasting (luckily!).

For what it worth, here are my notes, in the order the wines were presented.

Font I Jordana “Reserva” Penedes Cava NV – Interesting nose, with some yeastiness, full bodied. Very little amount of bubbles, almost none. Good acidity. Very refreshing due to the mouthwatering acidity. Good summer wine, but it is hard to call it a “sparkling wine”.

Jean Paul Dubost Gamayleon Rose Sparkling NV – Very unusual nose, almost off with  some spoiled food smell, like spoiled strawberries. On the palate – honeysuckle, in its purest form, very small amount of bubbles, if any, good mouthwatering acidity.

Frank Cornelissen Susucaru 3 Vino Da Tavola Rosato NV -Very interesting wine. Nose similar to Beaujolais Noveau, reminiscent of freshly pressed grapes. You can literally smell volcanic soil. Nose is perfumed with fresh soap aromas. Very unusual flavor profile – no strawberries (which is a typical component in many rose wine descriptions). Soap also comes as part of the aftertaste. Very herbal, with may be thyme being most prominent.

2009 Jean-Paul Dubost Beaujolais Villages “Tracot” –Very sweet nose. Big contrast between the nose and the palate, as plate is much drier, but overall there are pronounced raspberries, first on the nose, and then after dry start, the same on the palate. The wine just disappears in your mouth, doesn’t have any bottom – it is more juice than it is a wine.

2006 Jean Bourdy Cotes Du Jura Rouge – very interesting wine. Kitchen spice cabinet, like some nice rub, on the nose. Very good tannins, very nice and restrained overall on the palate, with some dry dill notes. Doesn’t show any age at all (and it is 5 years old). It appears that wines of Jean Bourdy are known to age very well (note to self). One of my favorites in the tasting.

2007 Italo Pietrantoj Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – The most unimpressive in the tasting so far. This is the case when I know it is good for me, as I’m told it is made differently, but can’t taste it at all. This wine actually was aged in 15,000 liter barrels for 2 years – but it is impossible to pick it up. It might be a food wine.

2009 Reunion Malbec Mendoza – Very grapey. Has some foundation, and some balanced fruit. Easy to drink, but not impressive at all.

2007 Le Pavillon de Saint Jacques Lalande de Pomerol –Very interesting. Smells like dirt, pure dirt after the rain. Very vegetative, no fruit on the palate, just pure dirt again. Almost no acidity. This wine was fermented in concrete tanks, aged for 18 month. It is “certified organic” and made with 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc – classic Pomerol wine. I would love to taste it in 10-15 years – I think it will greatly evolve, but it is not easy to say ” I like it” now.

1996 Bodegas Las Orcas “Solar de Randez” Rioja –Classic Rioja on the nose. Beautiful, with limited fruit expression, but very balanced. I guess this is how Rioja was in the old times. This is Reserva level Rioja. One of the best in the tasting.

2009 Jean Pierre Robinot Concerto d’Oniss Pineau d’Aunis -Loire valley wine. Beautiful fruit, rose petals on the nose, funky. Beautiful palate, somewhat reminiscent of Beaujolais, but with more substance and good acidity. Best in the tasting.

I just realized that many of the descriptions above start with the words”very interesting” – these wines are truly interesting, they are all telling their own stories. These wines are letting the terroir to shine through. I might not be able to understand all their stories yet, but this is great, as we there is more to learn. You don’t have to try them all, but make an effort, find and try some of them  – you might discover a whole new wine world. Happy learning! Cheers!

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