There is a great appeal to things marked "natural." Who doesn't want to avoid herbicides and pesticides in things you consume? But there is a lot more to making hyper-organic wine than meets the eye.
I would have to say from my short time here at the store so far that the number one question I get comes from interest in "Natural" or biodynamic wine. I feel that many people come to this subject for different areas however. A good majority come because of perceived health benefits from these wines or to avoid adverse reactions they feel they have after drinking "bulk" large quantity wine. There are even some who want to partake just because it seems like the latest fad or newest thing in wine.
I personally can find great things in each of these approaches, from people being conscious about what they put in their bodies and how they respond to it, to someone who is eager to learn about and try a wine made in a style they have never had before.
Natural and biodynamic wines can be seen as the opposite reaction to the excess and overuse of artificial chemicals in the vineyard. Giant leaps in chemical science occurred after World War II with many new artificial fertilizer sprays and pesticides becoming available to vineyard managers who were flooded with products that promised to provide faster, cheaper results than the labor-intensive practices of yesterday.
After years of hardships through the phylloxera epidemic and then two world wars, almost everyone who could, hastily applied these products in excessive amounts to improve their lives and vineyards. This had the effect of diminishing the importance of organic manure supplied by the work horses of the vineyard and the knowledge of why healthy soil biology is important. These products ultimately delivered but with the same way fishing with dynamite is going drop a fish or two in your boat.
Organic, Biodynamic, Natural & Orange Wines
The term organic is a strictly defined term that prohibits most synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides while being grown on soil that has been free of prohibited substances for three years prior to harvest. Since we are in Long Beach, most people will be familiar with the CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) label. This certification was used as the foundation for the USDA National Organic program and their standards
Biodynamic is a certification term, trademarked by the Demeter organization. Its history comes from Dr. Rudolf Steiner's 1924 agricultural lectures to a group of farmers concerned about the health of the crops and animals on their farms. The basis of his lectures was that farms had begun to have a factory mentality with the main goal to produce the most volume at the cheapest cost, often coming with detrimental results.
What's unique about this certification is the nine agriculture preparations of herbs, minerals and animal manures. The purpose of many of these are to make an amazing compost that encourages growth or lower the risk of fungal diseases. Some of these preparations include cow horns mixed with ground up quartz and rainwater buried and then dug up and used as a spray on the vines that enhances photosynthesis. Chamomile blossoms are also buried along with cow intestines which increases calcium content and vital nitrogen for the grapevine.
Natural wine does not have a strict definition, but as a consumer you could feel confidant knowing that the grapes will be from vineyards that are opposed to over-using artificial chemicals. An emphasis is placed on preserving flavor by not fining or filtering the wine and using as little sulfur as possible.
“Orange” wines are very much a staple of importance for natural wine lovers. When you drink an orange wine, you are drinking the style of white wine that our ancient ancestors drank. An orange wine is simply a white wine that has been soaking and fermented with its grape skins rather than the standard method of removing the grape stems and then later the skins after you have pressed the grapes. Natural style winemaking has embraced this old method of making white wine like a red wine because the extra contact the wine has with grape skins and stems provide extra tannins which act like a natural preservative or antioxidant. The more a wine has, the less sulfur can be used to preserve it, this is why red wines don’t have to have as high Sulfur additions as white wines.
Since sulfur occurs naturally during the fermentation process of wine, you won’t see a bottle that is completely free of it, but some producers come very close by adding no additional sulfur to the wine. Rules for how much sulfur can be in wine vary, so I’ll list some of the major wine producing countries.
In the European Union if using the organic wine designation, a maximum is allowed of 100 milligrams per litre for reds and 150 for white wines. Canada follows the same amounts as the EU for Sulfur. In the US, a normal bottle of red or white wine can have as high as 350ppm (parts per million). Many wine producers will fall far under this, though.
How Do Natural Wines Taste?
So how do these natural wines taste? Wine can have many different variables and situations to answer that very directly, but you will rarely have a natural wine that has extreme amounts of new oak flavors as these producers and their customers want to taste all the hard work that was done in the vineyard and cellar and not just overbearing oak spiciness. Overripe jammy fruit character is rare as well as leaving the grapes on the vine longer might sacrifice important acidity needed to stabilize the wine. Many natural wines are also fermented with the whole grape bunch, stems and all, which can give the wine violet-like aromas.
Certified organic and biodynamic fruit, no sulfites added, and it’s delicious: rich black cherry and damson fruit turns to earthy flavors of soft worn leather and cocoa. Pretend it’s a long winters’ night with a roast in the oven. So layered and intriguing, yet maintains a great freshness. Fun and NATURAL!
$25.99 per bottle
This delicious “orange wine” is a blend of 60% Chenin Blanc, 30% Pinot Gris, and 10% Verdelho. The grapes are destemmed and left to integrate with the wine up to 29 days turning it a shade of Valencia orange and imparting increased tannins and aromatics. This allows the winemaker to hold off on adding extra Sulphur to preserve the wine. Sourced from vineyards throughout the central coast that winemaker Andrew Jones feels will soon be famous due to their untapped potential. An affordable aromatic wine that has apricot and tangy citrus flavors.
$17.99 per bottle
Since 2003 Donkey & Goat have been making wine under the philosophy that farming sustainably and organic will produce balanced grapes that require little to no Sulphur additions to make wine. This Syrah is proof of that as it contains no Sulphur additions and has juicy blackberry, black cherry and a smooth vanilla mouthfeel. Gigi is the winemakers mother, but it is also a play on words for “glug glug” due to it being so easy to drink. The vines were originally planted in 1963 at 2,600 ft in the Sierra Foothills. The wine spent time in a mix of slightly used and neutral barrels for 9 months to smooth out with age. Only 48 cases have been made and we are excited to carry it.
$34.99 per bottle
Vollmond which means full moon is a Syrah that has co-fermented with Blaufrankisch. The grapes are destemmed, fermented in open containers and with punchdowns twice daily for color and tannin extraction. 10 months in French Oak oak barrels with an additional 6 months in neutral oak. Solminer has very little Sulphur additions (40ppm at most) and does some biodynamic practices in the vineyard. This hard work in the vineyard produces quality grapes that avoid baked jammy fruit. Expect bright cherry fruit with earthy tobacco and cool blueberry notes.
$28.99 per bottle
Testa Vineyard was originally planted in 1912 and is farmed today by the 4th generation Testa family. This old vine Carignane sourced at 1,300 ft, is generous with ripe fruit balancing the rough tannins you can find in its youth. In fact, this wine is so smooth and juicy you might mistake it for a cool climate balanced Zinfandel. Donkey and Goat are considered natural wines due to their very low Sulphur additions if any. An excellent wine with dark fruits, subtle spiciness balanced by fruity earthy notes. Only 273 cases made.
$27.99 per bottle
This amazing natural wine has under 20 ppm of natural occurring Sulphur. What’s amazing is how big and juicy this fruit is for a natural wine. Margins sources from organic vineyards and use little to no additives during the winemaking process. Completely destemmed fruit is one of the reasons for this rich fruit and nearly 6 months in neutral French oak helps to soften and smooth the wine. Margins wine is the small winemaking project from UC Davis Enology graduate Megan Bell and we are proud to carry her small production wines full of amazing flavor.
$25.99 per bottle