Last month, Adam Morganstern of the Organic Wine Journal, met with us to discuss organic and natural wines. Without regional restrictions, we picked up a few bottles of organic, sustainable, and/or natural wines, some certified and labeled, others not. “When you see organic on the label,” said Adam, “someone’s gone through a lot of work. Hopefully it was worth it.” And while such certification requires adhering to a prescribed list of practices, it also requires a truckload of cash, and the patience to process a sh*tload of paperwork.
Where does this leave the winemaker with a desire to make natural wines? Some go the biodynamic route, though becoming certified by Demeter isn’t easy. Others practice without labels, relying on an awareness on the purchaser’s part, such as a knowledge of importers, and word-of-mouth.
But still we wondered, what originally got us into this mess? How are so many wines now made from grapes that are chemical dependent, and when did this dynamic first develop? According to Adam, we can look to the surplus of nitrogen at the end of World War II. Not wanting to sacrifice profit, the chemical companies went to farmers to create a market, which was easy, because the first few years of chemical dependence yielded lush vegetation. After killing off all “unnecessary” flora, such decaying matter made the soil incredibly rich. But then the negative effects of monoculture kicked in, and soon the farmers were hooked.
And while we like the idea of organic grapes, it’s important to note that a winemaker may use organic or biodynamically grown grapes, but s/he is still free to dress up the wines during the winemaking process. So, how can one find wines that are naturally made, without any manipulation of the process? One can choose to buy wines from importers who prioritize natural wines, like Jenny & Francois, Louis Dressner, and Savio Soares Selections, or one can familiarize his/herself with wineries that subscribe to the natural process, like Coturri or Domaine des 2 Anes. There are wine stores that specializes in natural wines, like Appellation Wine & Spirits or Chambers Street Wines, where one can seek advice. Astor Wines & Spirits is another with a knowledgeable staff and a note-worthy selection.
And now for a few notes on the wines we drank:
Montinore Estate Pinot Gris 2009 Willamette Valley –Organic and biodynamic in the vineyard. Notes of lime blossom wrapped in pear aromas, with minerality and a touch of white pepper spice on the finish.
Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Sauvignon No. 2 2009 –Light and herbaceous, with mica-studded stone mid-palate, and lime pith acidity that lingers.
Domaine Fabrice Gasnier Chinon Les Graves 2008–Initial aromas of buttercream frosting that quickly gave way to rustic cabernet franc notes–bramble wood cherry with light tannins, lovely acidity, and light black pepper spice at the finish.
Domaine Des 2 Ânes Corbieres 2006 — Funky with a wild berry blend. Earthy and warm, but not big bodied, with baking spice notes and an acidity that’s softened by the fruit but still ever present.
Note: It’s no surprise that a majority of our selections were French…