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Category Archives: Biodynamic

Organic & Biodynamic Wines and the Environment – #MWWC36

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Sometimes procrastination pays off. As I was pondering the topic for this month’s Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, Environment, and trying to determine what I would write, the Keystone Pipeline leaked some 210,000 gallons of oil. That’s about 5,000 barrels! Regardless of your opinion on the pipeline, I think we can all agree that spilling crude oil is not a positive event for the environment.  

What does this have to do with wine? Nothing, really. However, it got me thinking about how we can continue to function in the modern, industrialized world while being good stewards of the environment in which we live. Therein lies the connection to wine.  

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge

Modern agricultural operations, including vineyards, incorporate the use of things like chemical fertilizers and genetically modified organisms. Opinions vary on these topics, often passionately, and I am not here to argue any particular viewpoint. I simply want to lay a foundation and present some facts. “Just the facts, ma’am.” 

Just the Facts Ma'am

The use of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides have had positive effects on farming over the years, by increasing yields, and reducing damage done by insects and other pests. However, these same chemicals can leach into water tables or run off into nearby waterways, which can cause damage to desirable plants and animals, and contaminate  food and water supplies for human consumption. In recent years, many farmers have become more environmentally conscious, and are turning to natural or organic methods to control pests and increase yields.  

In viticulture, organic and biodynamic farming practices have taken root (pun intended 🙂) and are becoming more and more popular. Both methods are chemical-free, and emphasize soil health to ensure optimum growing conditions. Increasingly, consumers are seeking out organic or biodynamic wines, which encourages farmers and producers to consider these practices from both an environmental and a social responsibility perspective.  

Organic farming is regulated in the United States by the Department of Agriculture, or USDA. In vineyard management, certified organic grapes are grown without the use of any synthetic additives, such as pesticides or fertilizers. All aspects of winemaking are included in certified organic wines, including yeast strains, fining agents, and any other materials used in the production of the wine. In the wine world, organic wines may have various degrees. From certified organic wines, to those made with organic grapes but may include non-organic additives. Biodynamic wines are, by their nature, also considered organic, but are taken to a higher level. Any and all of these farming techniques reduce the amount of harmful chemicals being used and released into the environment. 
Organic Seal - small

When I first heard of Biodynamic farming, I was a little skeptical. Well, that’s a bit of an understatement…I thought it was just weird. Hippie-dippie stuff. I mean, come on, planting and harvesting based on the phases of the moon and stars? Burying cows’ horns filled with manure? Seriously? However, the more I’ve learned about biodynamic vineyard management, the more I become a believer. Or at least accepting.  

Biodynamic Horns

Biodynamic farming embraces the idea that all things are interconnected in the universe. It takes the “Butterfly Effect” to the ultimate extreme. Applying this belief involves achieving balance between the vines, earth, moon, and stars. In practice, this holistic approach to farming includes such activities as adhering to a biodynamic calendar for farming activities, and yes, burying manure-filled cows’ horns (never a bull’s horn, apparently) in the ground over the winter, and then spreading the manure in the vineyards in the spring. The biodynamic calendar identifies four categories of days: Root, Fruit, Flower, and Leaf days. Fruit days are the best for harvesting grapes. Root days are for pruning. Flower days are rest days for the vineyard. And Leaf days are for watering. Some even extend the biodynamic calendar to the finished product, by drinking these wines only on Flower or Fruit days. Those ardent followers believe this is the reason the same wine may taste differently on different days.  

Do organic or biodynamic wines taste better? I’ve never noticed a difference. But then again, I’ve never done a blind tasting, comparing organic, biodynamic, and conventional wines. Perhaps I’ll do just that, and share my findings in a future blog post!  

Whether organic and biodynamic wines are better quality or not, the practices employed in producing them are arguably better for the environment. In my opinion, anything I can do to be a better steward of the planet on which we live is worthwhile. After all, it’s the only environment we have.  

Have you tried organic or biodynamic wines? Let me know, in the comments, what you thought of them. 

Cheers!  

  • By Kent Reynolds
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Want Great Wines? Head South.

For excellent wines at great values, head south. For interesting takes on your favorite varietals, head south. To expand your understanding of terroir and its influence on wine, head south. Wines from South America, specifically Chile and Argentina, define all these statements. I recently had the opportunity to experience three outstanding South American wines: Montes Limited Selection Pinot Noir 2014, Montes Twins Red Blend 2014, and KAIKEN Terroir Series Torrontés 2016.

The Three

For many years, right or wrong, Chile had the reputation of creating bulk wines of inferior quality. In 1988, Aurelio Montes, Sr. and Douglas Murray set out to challenge that notion, when they founded Viña Montes. These two pioneers believed that the unique conditions and terroir in Chile could produce world-class wines. Their first project was a Bordeaux-style red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. In 1998, the first vintage of Montes Alpha M was released. Subsequent lines, including Folly and Purple Angel, followed, with great success and popularity. Over the past 29 years, additional labels were introduced, at various price points, including Montes Limited Selection, the Classic Series, Cherub Rose, and the Montes Twins.

Montes Pantone

Those familiar with the Montes name will recognize the iconic angel on the label. That angel was inspired by Douglas Murray, who developed an abiding faith in angels after surviving two different near-fatal auto accidents. Montes adopted the angel icon to symbolize their commitment to be a positive force and influence. In keeping with that mission, Montes is a leader in environmental sustainability. Since 2009, Montes has implemented strategies to reduce fossil fuel consumption by 30%, and use of fertilizers by 50%. Sheep now help with weed control, and the winery has begun covering water reservoirs with geomembranes that reduce water leakage from two gallons per second to zero!

The Montes family of wines has certainly succeeded in breaking the mold and improving the quality and reputation of Chilean wines. So it follows that Aurelio Montes, Sr., would seek to expand his influence beyond the Chilean borders. In 2001, Montes, Sr., founded KAIKEN Winery on the other side of the Andes mountains, in Mendoza, Argentina. The Kaiken is a near-extinct bird, native to the region, known for soaring over the high, mountain peaks. Now run by son, Aurelio Montes, Jr., KAIKEN’s logo features a representation of “birds in flight” travelling over the Andes mountains. In keeping with the environmental commitment at Montes, in 2011 KAIKEN started managing its vineyards with biodynamic principles. They are pursuing a goal of being 100% biodynamic by the end of this year (2017.)

Kaiken Site Logo

Seeking to take Argentinian wines beyond just Malbec, the KAIKEN wine portfolio includes four labels: Mai, Ultra, Terroir Series, and Reserve. Malbec is featured in the Mai line, and is represented in others, but the Ultra, Terroir Series, and Reserve lines include reds composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Bonarda, along with Malbec. White wines are produced from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and the more Argentine-associated Torrontés.

So how do they taste? Well, here’s what I thought of them:

Montes Limited Selection Pinot Noir 2014 

100% Pinot Noir from the Acongagua Coast, aged 6-7 months in French Oak and Stainless Steel barrels.  

This is a complex, well-balanced Pinot Noir. Ruby red color with a slightly brick rim. On the nose there are aromas of soft earth and ripe raspberry. The complexity is evident from the initial sniff. On the palate, soft, supple tannins and light acidity dance on the tongue with earthy influences mingling with raspberry, cherry, plum, and red currant flavors. Medium body, with a lingering finish of red fruit and a hint of cola at the end.

I find some Pinot Noir to be too earthy, with the soil and mushroom flavors overpowering the fruit. The Montes Pinot Noir has just the right amount of earthiness, that enhances the fruit and makes this a very enjoyable wine. Paired with grilled salmon, it was truly delightful. It would also go nicely with other foods, including pork or mushroom risotto.

Average Price: $13 (Wine Searcher)

Montes Twins Red Blend 2014 

35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, 25% Carmenère, 10% Tempranillo, from the Colchagua Valley. 50% of the wine was aged for 10 months in first, second, and third-use French Oak barrels. 

Very impressive red blend. Deep purple color in the glass. On the nose, aromas of Black Cherry, Raspberry, Blackberry, and a hint of soft vanilla. After several swirls and minutes to open up, the palate offers juicy flavors of Blackberry, Black Currant, Black Cherry, and Dark Chocolate, with soft oak and vanilla influences. Rich and full-bodied, with a complex character and soft, velvety tannins and fresh acidity, the wine finishes with a flourish of dark berry, chocolate, and hints of licorice and spice. This is an intriguing, sexy wine that pairs well with anything from the grill: beef, lamb, pork…we had it with grilled Sweet Italian Sausages and the pairing was spectacular!

Average Price: $12 (Wine Searcher)

KAIKEN Terroir Series Torrontés 2016 

100% Torrontés from Salta, Argentina. Fermented and aged 6 months on the lees.  

Pale golden color in the glass. There are aromas of lemon-lime and citrus, with a hint of elderflower. On the palate, there are flavors of lemon and lime, with grapefruit, quince, and mandarin. There is bright, lively acidity, but the wine has a soft, smooth mouthfeel – evidence of aging on the lees. On the finish, the citrus notes continue, and some pear joins the party.

This is a delightfully refreshing wine, especially on the blistering hot day we tasted it. It paired magically with grilled Mahi-Mahi tacos, taking our simple, mid-week meal to a whole new level.

Average Price: $13 (Wine Searcher)

 

Delicious, food-friendly, and budget-friendly, I highly recommend that you seek out and try these wines. They are widely distributed and available, so you won’t even have to go to South America to find them!

Cheers!

Disclaimer: These wines were submitted to me as samples for review. I received no other compensation or incentive. Technical information was provided with the samples. All opinions and descriptions are my own.