Symphony with Horns

 


Last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded a $3.9 million grant to develop a mechanical sprayer. The chemicals used in vineyards have become so toxic that they are considered a health hazard for humans. In other words, the government is trying to find a way to make spraying highly toxic chemicals on grapes more convenient. And we haven't even reached the end of this expensive and ultimately deathly spiral yet - eventually the pests and weeds will become resistant to what we already consider to be highly toxic chemicals. How much poisonous substance can we survive?
This week the annual “Return to Terroir” tasting of biodynamic wines took place in New York City. Return to Terroir is a group of over 150 biodynamic winegrowers from around the world, led by the charismatic Nicolas Joly from Chateau de la Coulee de Serrant in the Loire Valley (Joly is also the author of several books on biodynamic farming). There are some well-known estates amongst the members of Return to Terroir (which in France is called La Renaissance des Appellations): Marcel Deiss, Kreydenweiss, Zind-Humbrecht, Leflaive, Pierre Morey, Nikolaihof, Frogs Leap, Benziger, Robert Sinskey - to name just a few. The full member list can be found at the group's website.

The  number of organic producers is growing and so is the number of consumers who appreciate natural wines. The entry level of responsible farming is sustainable viticulture, where farmers try to reduce chemical means in the vineyard  as much as possible. Organic viticulture as the next step categorically bans all chemical pesticides and herbicides. Biodynamic wine growers then take it even a step further and take into account the influence the solar system has on all life on our plane. This holistic approach makes biodynamism the target of people who compare it to witchcraft, usually citing the notorious cow horns filled with manure, which biodynamic farmers bury in the. This sounds like a silly thing to do, but if one is willing to listen to the reason behind it, it actually makes a lot of sense. Plants need micro-organisms in order to take up nutrients from the soil. Without these micro-organisms a plant would simply starve to death. The cow dung that was filled into a cow horn in winter contains 70 times more bacteriological activity than the same amount of dung filled into a terracotta pot when unearthed in the following spring. No witchcraft, just biological facts.

Nicolas Joly makes some of the most intense wines from Chenin Blanc. The intentional oxidative character (the wine often has a Sherry aroma) may not be for wine drinkers with a faint palate, but there are few wines which are as complex as Joly's Coulee de Serrant. He insists that the wine needs at least 24 hours of decanting in order to fully develop its majesty.

“We desire to understand how an equilibrium sometimes so delicate is achieved; how these bright and dark moods, these sorrows and joys of the vine can ultimately become tastes, scents or harmonies of an almost musical nature.”(Nicolas Joly, “Biodynamic Wine Demystified”)

Appellation Wine & Spirits in New York City, a wine store that is dedicated to natural wines. Taste for yourself. Have a glass of that witched wine.

Uwe Kristen is a citizen of the greatest empire in the world, reigned by The Queen of Grapes, about which he writes on his website Der Kellermeister — Riesling + I.

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Comments

  • Snooth User: Adam Levin
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    I'll keep an eye out for it.

    Nov 14, 2008 at 2:31 AM


  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
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    What a fantastic tasting RtT was this year. I wish I wasn't so exhausted after a tough week-end that my palate broke down after 20 producers or so because virtually everything I tasted was excellent. This might have been the tasting of the year because of its diversity and high quality.

    Uew - I walked by Nicolas & Thierry puffing on the way out (probably minutes after that photo was taken) and was in the same great Joly seminar as you. Maybe we'll meet up next time?

    Feb 27, 2009 at 2:06 AM


  • Snooth User: Adam Levin
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    Sounds like a great event. Is there anything similar held on the West Coast?

    Feb 27, 2009 at 8:16 AM


  • Snooth User: Uwe Kristen
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    Return to Terroir is only on the East Coast this year (there was a second tasting in D.C. the next day). I believe they alternate b/w East/West coast every year.

    Feb 27, 2009 at 8:29 AM


  • Snooth User: Uwe Kristen
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    RBoulanger - it would have been nice to meet, walk up to one of the producers and ask for a blind tasting. Hopefully, Return to Terroir will return to NYC next year, although they might skip us.

    I find 20 producers a high number, considering the number of wines most of them offered. In fact, at a “normal” tasting you may not even have gotten that far - I found my palate to be less tired than normal at the end of the day. Maybe because of the purity of the wines?

    Feb 27, 2009 at 8:35 AM


  • Snooth User: Philip James
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    There's an east village vegetarian restaurant called Counter, which has an all organic / biodynamic selection of wines. They also make very nice cocktails.

    1st Ave and 6th St:
    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&sou...

    Mar 02, 2009 at 1:02 AM


  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
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    Uwe - I agree that the wines were clean and pure - it wasn't their fault this time, it was me. I am usually able to go 150-200 wines at a clip before the wheels fall off the wagon. We'll see what Friday's gambero holds.

    I believe Return to Terroir will skip us next year. It's been NYC, SF, NYC, LA and now NYC. A return to the bay area seems unavoidable. I don't like la renaissance des appellations has the money (or desire) to do a full US roadshow just yet.

    As for for Counter, I can highly recommend it for when you are on 6th street looking for vegetarian foods and great wines/cocktails and/or don't feel like curry!

    Mar 02, 2009 at 3:00 AM


  • Snooth User: Uwe Kristen
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    Counter had a stand at the Return to Terroir tasting, offering some really tasty vegetarian wraps and hummus. I didn't know about their organic/biodynamic wine list, though. Thanks to both of you for pointing that out.

    Mar 02, 2009 at 3:19 AM


  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
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    If you go on Mondays (or sometimes also Tuesdays), sit at the bar and chat with the bartender Nick who works the other nights a week at the great Apo in Philadelphia.

    Mar 02, 2009 at 3:44 AM


  • Snooth User: fibo86
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    I really thought it was (biodynamic) more on the lunar rather than solar as it goes by havrvest moons ect as they did in the day of old, if you can find an accurate sun dial with all of the interpretations you will see what I mean, also they only ever bottle on a new moon (or perhaps it's blue moon can't quite remember) as that's when the moon doesn't have any gravitational pull so no finings are needed as the sediment stays at the bottom.
    These practices (organic and biodynamic) are becoming more popular within Australia and if they can't they're trying more sustainable farming practices, for organic (here) it's a 7yrs with continual testing of the soils and biodynamic another 3-4yrs only after you've recived your organic certification in the end it turns out to be a very expensive conversion, but the people with whom I have spoken regarding this all have said it was worth it.
    The problem is that different countries have different interpretations of this meaning therefore the food & beverage ruler of each country might have a problem with the classification and not allow you to call the product organic even if it has been classified within the country of origin.
    I personally love some of these wines and we also have some of our top producers that have converted.
    Not that I have had an organic or biodynamic tasting it's just something I follow with a small passion and am continually impressed with the caliber of the wines avalible.

    Mar 02, 2009 at 8:57 AM


  • Snooth User: fibo86
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    Oh the classification thing also applies to biodynamic.

    Mar 02, 2009 at 8:59 AM


  • Snooth User: Uwe Kristen
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    You are correct, the moon phases play a crucial role in deciding when to sow seeds, when to pick grapes or when to rack a wine. When I was mentioning the solar system I was more generally referring to the four states of matter: mineral (root energy), liquid (leaf energy), light (flowering energy) and warmth (fruit-forming energy). The last two are dominated by the solar system and biodynamic farming tries to understand its energies and how these influence life on earth beyond the common knowledge that “a plant needs light”.

    Mar 02, 2009 at 9:27 AM


  • Snooth User: fibo86
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    Maybe instead of solar you could call it something else perhaps the basic four the the fantastic four, the energy forming four, the plant forming four, four points or even the four states of matter? I just find that statement a little misleading.
    It's great that this is being discussed more, as people need to understand it, rather than thinking this is just a little hippy thing left over from the 70's.

    Mar 02, 2009 at 11:01 AM


  • Snooth User: Daniel Petroski
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    Just drank Joly's 1998 Coulee de Serrant on Saturday night and left a tasting note with my review. (Philip, if you didn't know already, Joly is a fellow alum of Columbia's Business School - Butler Library is a long way from Biodynamics.)

    Mar 03, 2009 at 1:41 AM


  • Snooth User: fibo86
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    I don't mean to be rude at all pls don't get me wrong as I said this is one of my pet subjects and so agree that it's planetary as well as lunar and solar but in the world of half knowledge this could be dangerous, your blog is fantastic and I wish more people would take this movement seriously.
    Most of this harks back to an age where you worked with the land not forcing it to do your bidding.
    Again I didn't mean to seem to poke holes I'm just looking at it from a position of reading literally.
    You've done the movement a great deal of justice again REALLY a fantastic blog.

    I guess I can be dogmatic sorry.

    Mar 03, 2009 at 5:51 AM


  • Snooth User: Philip James
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    Dan - i had no idea, but thats a neat fact.

    Mar 03, 2009 at 8:25 AM


  • Snooth User: Uwe Kristen
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    No need to apologize! I think this kind of discourse is most fruitful. I am glad that you took the time to read the blog and I am thankful that you took even more time to respond. I am by no means an expert in biodynamics (although I am excited to announce that I will be part of the first biodynamic farming project in New York City, called Numina).

    It is exciting to see that more and more winegrowers use less and less chemicals in vineyards. The results are wines like the 1998 Coulee de Serrant, which Dan mentions above (and whose review of the wine here on Snooth I recommend to check out).

    Of the biodynamic producers whose wines you have tasted, which are the ones you would recommend?

    Mar 03, 2009 at 8:26 AM


  • Snooth User: Philip James
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    OK, just checked the school database - looks like he graduated in 1970:

    Nicolas Joly ‘70 | Savenieres, France | Owner, La Roche aux Moines

    Mar 03, 2009 at 8:28 AM


  • Snooth User: Uwe Kristen
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    fibo86, the solar system does not mean the sun alone, but rather all planets (including sun, moon and earth) which interact with each other. I am glad you are bringing this up because I think this is the core of biodynamic farming: it is not only about the sun and the moon, it takes it a step further and considers the energies generated by the whole solar system. Maybe it is less misleading if I quote Monsieur Joly himself (from his book “Biodynamic Wine Demystified”):

    “Biodynamics draws on and reinforces the archetypal forces of the solar system which a plant needs. […] Thus we should regard the solar system as an ‘information' system whose task is to generate on earth organisms which conserve the forces of life while also coming to physical manifestation.”

    Maybe I should have gotten more into details in the blog.

    Mar 03, 2009 at 9:49 AM


  • Snooth User: fibo86
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    Any of the Cullens (Australian) which have been converted for a while,
    Henschke (just finishing conversion), There are a few others I just can't think of them atm however I'll go through some of my notes and get back to you.

    Mar 04, 2009 at 6:40 AM


  • Snooth User: Philip James
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    Rodolphe - they clearly would have known each other. Class sizes were probably significantly smaller back then, and the Euro's even more tightly knit

    Mar 04, 2009 at 7:25 AM


  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
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    Interest - my father was also Columbia class of ‘70. They must have known each other - 2 French guys in the same class, looking to go into banking… but both somehow getting very involved in wine…

    Mar 04, 2009 at 12:00 PM


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