Thursday, June 24, 2010

Organic and Biodynamic Wines

I don't have any pictures to show you, because unfortunately that is what wine does to me. It makes me crazy forgetful.

Last Friday I had some girlfriends over for some yummy homemade pizza, a great homemade white bean puree and organic wine. Unfortunately no one really drank the wine. Well, I say unfortunately, but actually it was very fortunate for me!! I got to indulge myself all weekend!

I went to a nearby wine store, Vines on Pine. (Follow the link for their website an yes they do ship) There are a couple of larger wine and spirit stores in our area, but they are 10-15 blocks in either direction. That's kind of far for just one bottle, and really far for five heavy bottles. They are great stores, but they have an intimidatingly large selection. I guess some people like all that choice. I would much rather a manageable selection of wines that I knew I could not make a mistake with. Enter Vines on Pine. They are a small locally owned store front on Pinehurst Avenue in Northern Manhattan. Their selection is tight, but every bottle that I have gotten there has been excellent. And the varietals have all been different and interesting, many from small farms or vinters. I have had some great bottles from the larger wineries at the $10-15 price point, but at Vines on Pine I get to try things that I never would choose on my own. That's because I always ask the gentleman who runs the store and makes the buy. He has a vast knowledge of his inventory and always suggests something great while staying within my price range.

So before my friends came over I asked him for help with organic wines. Surprisingly he had an extensive selection. Some wines in the store were labeled as organic or biodynamic (more on that later) and others were not labeled, but my new friend knew the vineyard was organic, even if it wasn't certified. One must take into consideration the international nature of wine in it's relationship to the organic movement. The legal term 'organic' is an American invention. Yes, I am sure that it came from a variety of places and countries. But when the USDA created the certification process and legally defined the term 'organic' to mean no pesticides and non chemical fertilizers, etc. it became a word with a specifically American meaning here in the US. Other countries have farming regulations, but when you buy a product in this country that is labeled 'organic' it needs to meet USDA Organic standards. Wines comes from everywhere. Many international vineyards are adhering to the USDA standards without purchasing the coveted USDA organic logo through certification. It can be prohibitively expensive for some small farms. I don't care about certification because food is about trust. If I am putting the fruits of your labor into my body, I need to trust you. And if I trust that you are being honest with me in telling me the way you grow and prepare my food, then we will do business. Fortunately at Vines on Pine I trust that they are knowledgeable on what is organic and not.

Now biodynamic farming is different. It has a more extensive definition, and I do not believe that this terminology is regulated by the USDA (at least not yet). But it BEYOND organic. Wikipedia describes it as:

"a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms, emphasizing balancing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants, animals as a self-nourishing system without external inputs insofar as this is possible given the loss of nutrients due to the export of food.
Regarded by some as the first modern ecological farming system and one of the most sustainable, biodynamic farming has much in common with other organic approaches, such as emphasizing the use of manures and composts and excluding of the use of artificial chemicals on soil and plants. Methods unique to the biodynamic approach include the use of fermented herbal and mineral preparations as compost additives and field sprays and the use of an astronomical sowing and planting calendar."

I have started to see a few places define themselves as biodynamic. Particularly our local Hawthorne Valley which I have mentioned a few times here on this blog. I will be sad the day that the USDA decides to regulate that term.

I purchased two reds and one white. The white was a Blanc de Pacs 2009 Parellada Xarello Macabeu from Spain. The reds were Mas de Gourgonnier Les Baux de Provence Appellation les Baux de Provence Controlee 2008 from France, and the other bottle got recycled before I could write down the title. They were all excellent.

Now I love wine, but I am really intimidated by the culture that surrounds it. My palette is relatively simple, and I cannot always distinguish between cherry and blackberry notes. I know what I like, not much wood, clean finish, drinkable with food but on it's on too. I really like a smooth mellow red, and for a white, something tart and crisp. All of the bottles that I got were excellent. One thing I dislike in a red wine is too many tannins. Tannins are of course that bitter taste that you get in the finish of the sip of red wine. I noticed that neither of the red wines had the bitter flavor of tannins. It seemed like a cleaner finish. I attribute this to less sulfites and a cleaner product.

Overall, I definitely tasted a difference in the organic and biodynamic wines. I will absolutely look for them again. Most of all I was really pleased with the amount of selection. Not just from my local store but from the wine industry in general. I was actually really surprised that there were so many vineyards adhering to better farming techniques. But I should have suspected it, after all, there are few as passionate as the winemaker. And those with passion tend to go the extra mile for a higher quality product.


Biodynamic agriculture. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 23 June, 2010

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