By DAVID LAWRASON
There are about 260,000 hectares of biodynamically farmed vineyards in the world today — that’s roughly the area of post-amalgamation Ottawa. That is a mere sliver as a percentage of the total acreage under vine, but it has more than doubled in the past 10 years and is expected to double or triple again in the next decade. And not just because it feels good to be green, but because wine quality is better.
About 95 percent of the world’s organic vineyards are in Europe, with most in the sunnier, drier climates of Spain, southern France, and Italy, where lack of moisture reduces the need to use synthetic herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides. Even in cooler, wetter areas like Germany, the increase has more than doubled in a decade, with seven percent of its vineyards now green. And the movement is underway here in Ontario too.
Forgoing the use of fertilizers and other synthetic applications is the basic definition of organic grape-growing. Biodynamic viticulture goes deeper — it builds a microclimate teeming with life, including the countless organisms in the soil and above ground. The theory is that this environment creates stronger vines that are better able to protect themselves from disease pressures. It’s an argument similar to the one regarding our own health — do you want to pop pills to cure every ill or prevent ills by living well?
The historic problem with organic wine is a public perception that quality sucks, i.e., that there are too many oxidized and volatile, sour wines. That is rapidly changing as winemakers become more experienced. I recently spent a morning at Germany’s Geisenheim University listening to Randolf Kauer, Europe’s only professor of organic viticulture.
“The quality argument against organics is now over,” Kauer stated bluntly. “In fact, producers are converting to improve quality.”
Indeed they are. I spent five days tasting organic and biodynamic wines in Germany and was blown away by the continuous demonstration of excellent wines that I would rate over 90 points. The wines have notable energy, with fine natural balance and depth of flavour, and — most of all — they spoke clearly of the various microclimate and soil structures in which the vines were grown.
Few of those wines I tasted are available in Canada, but here are examples of very good organic/biodynamic wines from around the world.
Southbrook 2010 Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon
$22.95/ Niagara-on-the-Lake/ 89 Points
Several Niagara wineries are organic to some degree (Malivoire, Le Clos Jordanne, Tawse, and Hidden Bench), but Southbrook is certified as a biodynamic operation by Demeter, the leading international certifying body. This is a mid-weight, quite smooth, and mellow red from a warm vintage, so it’s drinking quite well, with youthful floral bloom, raspberry fruit, background oak, and a touch of earth and tobacco. The finish is dry, warm, and slightly tannic. Best 2014 to 2016. Vintages 193573.
Bonterra 2010 Merlot
$19.95/ California/ 89 Points
Bonterra pioneered organic winemaking from its base in Mendocino, becoming the number one selling brand of organic wines in California and proving to many others that it can be done. This authentic, balanced, mid-weight merlot features raspberry/sweet plum plus tobacco, mild chocolate, and spice complexities. It is medium-weight and fairly supple, and the length is very good. Vintages 984724.
Paxton 2011 MV Shiraz
$17.95/ South Australia/ 90 Points
Paxton was one of the early adopters of biodynamic viticulture in Australia. This not only is a testament to the quality that can be achieved, but it also proves organic wine need not be very expensive. This is rich, dense, and smooth, with a very ripe nose of dark cherry, chocolate, and mint. It’s full-bodied, even, and rich, with a dry, chalky finish. Vintages 327403.
Quartz Reef 2010 Pinot Noir
$36.25/ Central Otago, New Zealand/ 91 Points
Austrian Rudi Bauer is the pioneer of biodynamics in this new pinot noir area on the South Island. This is very elegant, layered, and deep. The nose shows ripe black cherry, fresh herbs, and oak sweetness and warmth. Excellent length. Vintages 599324.
Castello Di Volpaia 2010 Chianti Classico
$24.95/ Tuscany, Italy/ 90 Points
Centred on an 11th-century castle high on a hilltop, Volpaia is all about authenticity, including its organically tended sangiovese vineyards. This is a mid-weight, dense, tightly wound, and tannic sangiovese for the cellar, with complex if subdued notes of leather, earth, and ripe currant/sun-dried tomato fruit, as well as fresh basil/tarragon. Very good to excellent length. Best 2015 to 2019. Vintages 953828.
Wittman 2011 Riesling Trocken
$20.95/ Rheinhessen, Germany/ 90 Points
Wittman is one of several young wineries leading Germany’s largest wine region back to respectability through biodynamics — not easy in a cool, often wet area but perhaps getting easier thanks to global warming. This is a lean, dry, chalk-soil-grown riesling reminiscent of many in Niagara, with green apple, citrus, and stony flavours. Vintages 320366.
Zind-Humbrecht 2010 Riesling Turckheim
$27.95/ Alsace, France/ 91 Points
Famous for some of the most opulent wines of Alsace, Zind-Humbrecht is also a leader of the biodynamic movement in the region. This dry riesling has splendid rich aromas of honey, apricot, petrol, and spice that reminded me of banana bread. It’s spry and elegant, with all kinds of mouth-watering acidity, even a touch of spritz. Excellent focus and length. Vintages 31039.
Tawse 2011 Quarry Road Chardonnay
$34.95/ Niagara Peninsula/ 91 Points
Inspired by biodynamic producers in Burgundy, Moray Tawse began converting vineyards to this method one by one. Quarry Road atop the Niagara Escarpment is a cooler site producing taut, firm, mineral-driven chardonnay not unlike some of the best from Burgundy. The cool 2011 vintage has built in even more tautness. Look for pear, citrus, and toasty aromas and flavours, but give it a year or two in the cellar. Vintages 111989.