Category Archives: Wine

Organic certification and why some winemakers aren’t certified.

We think there should be a category of certification in winemakers for “Wines made by people that give a damn”. If there was, almost all of the wines we stock would be categorised thus. We would like this figure to be 100% and are always working towards that, but it is impossible to verify the provenance of every bottle.

So, certification exists for Organic and Biodynamic wines (see the article about these and Natural wines elsewhere on the site). But not every winemaker wants to be certified, and here are some of the reasons why:

Some winemakers do not like the idea of somebody in a white coat with a clipboard telling them how to do their jobs, particularly when it will change very little about how they grow their grapes and make their wine. Especially when they have to pay for the privilege.

If your neighbour is not organic, it is very difficult for you to be. The wind is the problem. It is highly unlikely that any sprays used by your neighbour would adversely affect your end product (and systemic fertilizers are irrelevant here), but the occasional drift onto your vines would very likely mean that you would fail to meet the guidelines.

A Spanish winemaker once told me that he did not not want to be part of what he saw as a flawed system. He would have met the criteria for both Organic and Biodynamic certification, but did not want to be involved.

One very highly respected Australian winemaker told us that under no circumstances would they consider seeking certification as organic, even though they believe they would comfortably meet the criteria, and could well afford the cost. This is because they want to reserve the right to intervene should adverse weather conditions mean the crop was at risk and could only be saved by non-organic intervention. It hadn’t happened, and is unlikely to, but they don’t want to be restricted in any response that might be needed in the future. Also, they feel it is much worse to have your certification withdrawn than never to have had it in the first place.

Our ‘Winemakers That Give a Damn’ use organic sprays, no chemical herbicides, pesticides or systemic fertilizers – they care for the land and use sustainable farming methods. And, after they’ve done all that, they are good at making wine with the grapes. After all, just because you can grow grapes organically it doesn’t mean you’re a good winemaker.

It’s when the two are combined – good practices in the vineyard and good winemaking in the winery – that you can taste the difference.

The Differences Between Bordeaux and Burgundy

In Bordeaux they blend the wines from a few different grapes, in Burgundy they don’t. One of the reasons they use a number of grapes in Bordeaux is the unreliability of the weather. In order to protect against spring frosts, hail and autumn rain they plant vines that flower and bear fruit at different times. That way, the entire crop will not be devastated by one bad weather event.

The main red grapes in Bordeaux are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Malbec and Carmenere are also grown in the region. The main whites are Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. They also have a Left-Bank/Right Bank thing going on. On the Left Bank of the Garonne river Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the blend, while on the Right Bank the main grape is MerlotSome of the famous regions on the Left bank are Médoc, Haut Médoc (which itself contains St. Estèphe, Margaux, Pauillac and St Julien), Pessac-Léognan and Graves. Pomerol, St. Emilion, Fronsac and Côtes de Blaye are among the regions on the Right Bank.

In Burgundy there is no blending of grapes and the wines are 100% varietal. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the two great grapes of Burgundy. Aligoté is the ‘other’ white Burgundy grape, best known for the addition of blackcurrant liqueur to make a Kir. Chablis is considered part of Burgundy and, while Beaujolais is often referred to as part of Burgundy, it is a distinct region of its own.

Apart from Chablis, Burgundy contains the Côte d’Or (consisting of the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune), Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais.

In Bordeaux, estates are referred to as Châteaux, while in Burgundy the term Domaine is used in the estate’s name. There are over 7,400 Châteaux in Bordeaux, and most of them are nowhere near a castle.

Rules and Regulations:
Throughout France, the AOC system operates, but it has different variations of the rules in each region, and sometimes with an appellation (St. Emilion is one such case). The rules are way too involved and boring to go into here, but a couple of the basics can be helpful. For example, the biggest AC in Bordeaux is Bordeaux AC, and Bordeaux Superieur is simply any wine that is more than 0.5% stronger in alcohol than Bordeaux AC wines. Bourgogne is the basic Appellation in Burgundy, and can represent good value, particularly when the wine comes from close to a designated village, such as Meursault or Volnay.

A Bordeaux bottle

A Burgundy bottle

90s Night – A Review

Our 90s Wine Club night on November 4th was great fun. We had eight wines open for tasting that received 90 points or more from Robert Parker, Wine Spectator or The Peñin Guide. The wines we chose were:

2011 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon (New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc)

2010 Grosset Off Dry Watervale Riesling (Australia – Clare valley)

2010 Pian dell’ Orino Rosso di Montalcino (Tuscany – 100% Sangiovese)

2010 AN/2 (Majorca – a blend of local grapes (Callet, Mantonegre, Fogeneu) with some Syrah)

2010 Clos Mogador (Spain – Priorat. Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cariñena)

2010 El Reventon (Spain – Castilla y León. 100% Garnacha)

2006 Leoville Barton Saint-Julien (Bordeaux, Medoc. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc)

2003 GD Vajra Bricco Delle Viole Barolo (Italy, Piedmont. 100% Nebbiolo).

They all showed well, with the El Reventon getting the most first preferences on the night. The Off Dry Riesling was also a hit, surprising most people with its accessibility. We opened the Leoville Barton because Robert parker said it was too young to open and, while he has a point, it was still drinking well but will obviously become even better with a few more years’ cellaring. It suffers from the same problem a lot of top Bordeaux wines have – by the time it’s at its best there will be none available.

Organic, Biodynamic and Natural. What’s the difference?

There is a lot of discussion, and a little controversy, about Organic, Biodynamic and Naturalwines these days. So, what is the difference?

Organic wines don’t actually exist legally. What does exist are wines “made from organically grown grapes”. Put simply, organic grapes are grown with the minimum of intervention and using as few chemicals as possible. Pesticides are a no-no. Most growers would, however, use sulphur, but keep its use to a minimum. Without the stabilising effect of sulphur, wine spoils easily.

The difference between Organic and Biodynamic was best explained to me by Daniel Jimenez-Landi, maker of one of our most popular wines, Bajondillo, and such stellar wines as Pielago, Ataulfos and The End. Daniel explained that, during the first two weeks of the moon’s cycle, the sap in all plants rises and falls back during the second fortnight. So, you don’t prune the plants during the first two weeks. That’s Biodynamic. There’s a lot more to it than that, obviously, and the moon plays a part in it all. Interestingly, Daniel (at the time I met him) is not part of any Organic or Biodynamic movement and his wines are not certified in these categories. He does not want to be part of these movements. I don’t think he likes having to obey anybody else’s rules when it comes to making wine.

So, to Natural wines. There’s no definition, no rules, no legal status. It seems to be based around the ethos of the least possible intervention at every stage of the process. Some natural winemakers don’t even use any sulphur and will only use natural, local yeasts. There is a lot of antagonism from some other winemakers towards the Natural Wine movement. It’s a bit like ‘are you saying my wines are unnatural?’ In some corners they are seen as self-appointed overseers of how wine should be made and resented accordingly.

Is one better than another? Is Biodynamic better than Organic, and Natural better than both? No is the answer to that, simply because there are good and bad winemakers in each category, just as there are in each country and in each region. If it shows that the winemaker cares throughout the whole winemaking process, then the wine in your glass is more likely to be very good and an excellent expression of the wine of the region concerned.

There’s a winery called Acon in the Ribera del Duero region in Spain. The owner, a man in his seventies, has installed a sound system in the cellar and, while the wines are maturing in barrel, he plays music to them for an hour a day. Does this improve the wine? I doubt it, but I do know that he shows the same level of care throughout the entire growing and winemaking process, and cares greatly for the land and the environment. Not surprisingly, his wines are superb, but they’re not organic, biodynamic or natural. Does it matter?