Monday, June 15, 2009

Organic & Biodynamic....Too Hippie?!

Saturday afternoon we hosted a tasting devoted to organic and biodynamic wines, now we’ve never been one of those shops that scream from atop a soapbox about these wines and we would never buy a wine for the shop simply based on the fact that it was organic or biodynamic, just not how we work. We taste wines and bring them in if we feel they have a place, if they happen to farmed organically, well cool, we’ll throw up a little tag on the shelf that lets the consumer know that. Sometimes the tags sell the wine, sometimes people turn their nose up at it…like low fat mayo or something, not for me to push anything down anyone’s throat or tell them what should be important to them.

As far as my personal feelings on whether the wines are better…I’m sure they are better for the environment, that can only be a good thing, and I do admire the risk and dedication behind it, but do they taste any better…I honestly have no idea. Like I said, I buy wine for how they taste, not for ethical reasons, and many of the organic and biodynamic wines we carry have been farmed that way as long as I have been buying them, (certified or not) so I have no, “before the mystic” points of reference. That being said, some of my favorite wines are organic or biodynamic, so maybe there is something about those “natural” or “unpolished” wines that suit my palate, then again, maybe I’ve just been lucky…..the point is I have no agenda, I don’t push the voodoo nor do I mock it, it’s all about what’s in the bottle for me.

So while walking through the shop I noticed that we had a fair amount of those little organic or biodynamic tags, all on some of my most beloved wines, so I thought it would be a fun tasting idea, a bunch of diverse wines from all over the world…fun right, yeah…had to be one of the poorest attended tastings ever, so sad.

Maybe a good chunk of our customers were hangin’ with Heff over at The Playboy Jazz Festival or they were terrified that we were going to feature “granola” wines, not sure what scared them off but they missed one hell of a tasting. No need to feel too bad for us, the people that came bought plenty of wine, the staff and hangers on polished off the bottles….their hostess, (that would be me) getting more playful with each emptied bottle, ended up opening some Roses and a couple of bottles of Champagne, it ended up being more like a private party, and I kicked off my manager shoes and stomped around with the revelers, cannot happen all the time, (and to be honest, had the bosses not been out of town things would have been more restrained) but a “too good” time was had by all.

Featured Wines

2007 Goisot Saint-Bris, ($17.99) this wine took a bit of explaining, the word Burgundy kept tripping people up, I’m still amazed at how many people read Burgundy and think red. Once I explained that Burgundy is indeed a place, and Saint-Bris is within Burgundy where they are allowed to grow Sauvignon Blanc, they opened up to the wine and we actually sold a chunk of it. Massive citrus, tons of minerals and racy acidity, a perfect way to get the palate ready for the wines to come.

2007 Roland Schmitt Riesling, ($16.99) without a doubt one of my favorite Rieslings in the store, so restrained and clean. Quite herby, some very faint peachy notes and a clean, uber refreshing finish, a far cry from those sappy, rich Alsatian wines that have turned so many people off, this is very food appropriate wine brings a little snap to anything from grilled fish to roasted chicken.

2008 Canorgue Viognier, ($15.99) “I love a wine that can change my mind about a varietal” one of our long time customers grumbled after tasting this wine, (he’s a grumpy old coot, but he always speaks his mind…love that about him) I have to say, I agree. I think Viognier can be too much, not terribly food friendly and I think many producers oak the shit out of it…blech, but this wine is floral and peachy but retains a core of minerals, that taste faintly peppery, all with a light mouth feel and a tangy little finish.

2006 Terra Savia Chardonnay, ($12.99) this un-oaked Chardonnay from Mendocino is everything you want in an under $15.00 white wine, fresh apple and pears with a little lime rind on the finish. Soft and plush on the palate with a nice balance of fruit and acidity.

2006 Grgich Hills Chardonnay, ($38.99) mixed reviews on this wine, tried and true California Chardonnay lovers…well, they loved it, but some of the others found the wine a bit clunky. I think in all fairness, had they tasted the wine on its own, rather than in a lineup of super crisp, lean whites, they may have liked it better, caramel, toasty, roasted oranges with a creamy, but not too buttery finish…kind of classic Napa Chardonnay if you ask me.

2007 Brick House Gamay, ($23.99) a lovely Gamay from Oregon, remarkable purity of fruit, light weight and delicately long on the finish, I thought this was a beautiful, simple wine that would pair with all kinds of foods.

2007 La Cabotte Cotes du Rhone, ($10.99) think this was one of the biggest hits of the afternoon, spicy, smoky, extracted fruit with a leaner texture and a fresh pepper infused finish, bring on the burgers and BBQ!

2007 Cavallotto Dolcetto d’Alba, ($17.99) plump, grapey, slightly earthy and a sheer pleasure to drink.

2005 Chateau Falfas Cote de Bourg, ($21.99) deep berries and roasted coffee upfront with a fair amount of complexity and a finish of super fine tannin and spice…this wine would be a slam dunk with a fatty rib eye off the grill.

NV Domaine Balivet Cerdon Bugey, ($19.99) this off dry sparkling Gamay was another “split camp” kind of wine, funny thing is that California Chardonnay lovers said it was too sweet…say wha??! So funny to me the way some people look down their nose at semi sweet wines but drink wines with plenty of residual sugar…perception I guess. The folks that loved this wine could not get enough and absolutely loved it when I told them to try it with the salami we had out, that wine with cured meats and strong cheese….freaking retarded delicious, and at 8% alcohol you can have lots and lots!

So yes, it was a terrible turnout but those of us that were into it….were way into it and the wines were all tasty, clean, and just so happen to be organic or biodynamic…could not have been happier with the way they preformed


Benito said...


I was pretty irritated by the whole biodynamic movement until I visited some of the vineyards. I think a lot of the methods are closer to religion than science, but when I took a step back and re-evaluated my prejudices, I realized that I was being unfair. I don't criticize Kosher wines because they're made in a certain way, nor did I have anything against that Communion rosé I tried recently because it was made under strict rules of the Catholic Church, but the unifying factor is that the winemakers chose to pay careful attention to one area of production, meaning there's a good chance they're paying more attention to the other areas as well.

I think there are some legitimate marketing issues with biodynamic wines--the name itself is confusing and misleading, and the practices can sound downright bizarre to someone hearing about them for the first time. Even a simple "Demeter Certified" looks better on a label.

But the vintners that I met in Sonoma who were practicing biodynamic/organic/sustainable were pretty cool people who cared more about not harming their own land rather than forcing a method on the entire industry.


John M. Kelly said...

I farm our vineyard keeping two points in mind: 1) I am a temporary steward of the land and it is my responsibility to pass it on in better shape than I found it in, and 2) my kids play there and I refuse to do anything that would give me pause if they were to get a mouthful of dirt. When people require that I adopt a label, I use "sustainable."

I'm in the middle of crafting a post for my blog about this so I won't go into too much more detail, but IME biodynamic wines may be different, but not better. Sam, the fact that many of the wines you like are farmed that way is probably just a coincidence -- are people who exercise care in their craft to produce small-production, soil-driven, interesting wines just more likely to practice biodynamic or organic?

But tell you what I have to say to people who feel my wines are somehow inferior because they don't have Demeter or Organic certification? I say GFY.

Samantha Dugan said...

I have been reading about your visits and I could not agree more, if people are that dedicated to the land they are likely trying to put the absolute best product forward...the risk involved is pretty freaking serious. Look at someone like Didier Dagueneau, he followed many of the practices of biodynamic farming but always said, "I just cannot risk losing an entire harvest, I'll step in if I have to" and I have also had a few organic wines that were pure shite...hence the reason the jury is still out with me. I respect the hell out of people like John who are doing their best to care for the land, the vines and the future health of both.

I think your "two things in mind" are the two most responsible and you should commended not forced to use some label or another, kind of pisses me off when people want everything formed into prefab ideals, or black and white. I appreciate winemakers like yourself that do try and leave the land better than they found it and give a crap what people might ingest, so should anyone break yer bawls about certification, might I suggest my favorite line.."Blow me"

I am driven by wines and winemakers that hand craft their wines, prune dramatically, use horses to plow...and yes, many of those people do farm at the very least, organically just can't quite bring myself to say that the wines taste better...oh, to me they do but might be to broad a brush stroke considering my end of the business is to help others find wines for them, know what I mean? I look forward to reading your post on this.

vickibarkley said...

That was a damn delicious tasting. I had a great time!!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Gorgeous Sam,

Unfortunately, once a winery mentions that it's Biodynamic (a screwy system created by looney Rudolf Steiner, the L. Ron Hubbard of agriculture) the focus then shifts to that instead of the big picture. Biodynamics isn't a religion or a cult, it's a bunch of guidelines that gained credibility because a lot of vineyards in Europe adhered to them and swore they worked wonders. There is no objective way to test whether or not the principles of Biodynamics makes for better wine. But, in any case, it is just one small component of what makes a great wine. If you home-schooled your kid and he turned out to be a marvelous and brilliant person, would it have been only because you home-schooled him? Nope. Clearly there's a lot more that goes into it, hundreds of intangibles. So it is with wine.

When someone asks me how Biodynamics works I usually say to them, "I'll explain how Biodynamics works if you'll explain to me how the Internet works." If there is one thing we take on faith but know nothing about, sort of like believing in a Supreme Being, One who will always be there for us when we turn to Him, it's the Internet. In Gates We Trust.

Blow me (just kidding, you started it!),
Your HoseMaster

Samantha Dugan said...

Every time someone asks me how it works the best I have been able to come up with is, "It's a roided form of organics" more often than not they leave it alone...or go home and find some information type blog to get the real answers. I like your Internet idea too though...if it were not for the Internets my dear we would never have started this torrid love afair of ours!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Darling Sam,

Yes, thank God for the Internet. Or is that thank the Internet for God? Whatever it is I am grateful it has brought us together. (PM me sometime,

Meanwhile, I forgot to mention how much I like many of the wines you poured at your tasting. Never cared if they were organic to begin with--they always left me in an organic state when I was finished drinking them.

Your HoseMaster

Ron Washam, HMW said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Samantha Dugan said...

You are just saying that cuzz I got you drunk! Glad you made it and those wines were, as you said...delicious!

I love those wines too, and I'm always thrilled to turn new people on to them...tasty and stoopid values for the most part. Glad to hear you have them up there, with as many orders as we get from NoCal winemakers, I was beginning to wonder if threre was any French wine at all up there :) (that's like my 4th time with the grin thing, think I don't like it...I just want to turn it rightside up!)

vickibarkley said...

And I am extremely fortunate to have gotten drunk at your hands.
It was fun!

Nancy Deprez said...

Hi Sam,

Wow, what a great line-up. Who knew that all these greats would be at an organic tasting - I wouldn't! I think many people missed out, me included!