Some clarification on ‘natural’ wines

Two weeks ago I wrote a column about “naturally made” wines. Some of you might have thought it was too much, but there is much more to say. Someone really needs to write a book on this subject — I nominate Joe Dressner, as he was not only one of the earliest people to champion the cause but also because of the sheer entertainment value of his writing.

In the meantime, I would like to offer some clarification. When I first started working in the wine industry, it was very difficult to find wines that were certified organic, and most were not all that palatable. Though a bunch of folks were essentially making wines according to organic principles, it was considered a stigma to call a wine organic. I am very happy that has changed.

What is an organic wine? I gave Kevin McKenna’s basic definition of a naturally made wine (“Winemaking getting back to basics,” The Examiner, Sept. 4) but many people do not know what makes a wine organic or biodynamic. Given the space limitations, I am going to put it in a nutshell. In the United States, if a wine is certified organic, that means it is made without the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, synthetic fertilizer or added sulfites.

Going a step further, biodynamics is not just a practice of agriculture but a school of thought that incorporates a holistic and spiritual way of looking at winemaking from the vineyard to the bottling line. Rudolf Steiner devised it 80 years ago. There are many practices that biodynamics requires, such as burying a cow manure-stuffed cow’s horn in the vineyard and harvesting according the position of the stars. While some of these might seem hokey, most actually make sense. Chemicals are not permitted in the vineyard but minimal sulfur can be added. Commercial yeast free of genetically modified organisms is also allowed.

Going into some murky territory, sustainable viticulture encompasses practices that promote environmental health, natural ecosystems and economic and social justice. While there is a lot of common ground in this camp, there is, as you might surmise, some disagreement. Division and debate are alive and well within all of the movements mentioned.

I want to stress that while natural practices might lead to better, more vibrant wines, there are definitely wines that might be naturally, organically, biodynamic or sustainably made that are not well-made or particularly good.

 

Good value

In brief, here are a handful of producers you can rely on that make wines priced for a recession:

– Catherine and Pierre Breton: Loire Valley, France. Biodynamic.

– Marcel Deiss: Alsace, France. Biodynamic.

– La Cappuccina: Veneto, Italy. Organic.

– Champagne Larmandier-Bernier: Champagne, France. Biodynamic. Well worth the extra money.

– Millton Vineyards: Gisbourne, New Zealand. Biodynamic.

– Pyramid Valley Vineyards: New Zealand. Biodynamic.

– Saintsbury Vineyard: Carneros. Sustainable.

– Marc Tempe: Alsace, France. Biodynamic.

– Wimmer-Czerny: Wagram, Austria. Biodynamic.

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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