A toast to a healthier Earth
There is a growing movement toward viticulture that places the care of the earth itself as the priority.
Special to the Seattle Times
Pick of the week
Blandy's Alvada Madeira; $18
THIS SPECTACULARLY delicious dessert wine is a 5-year-old Madeira, but it tastes like a 30-year-old tawny port, with a rich bouquet of dried cherries, toffee and toasted nuts. The price quoted is for a 500ml bottle, enough for six people. Once opened, it will keep for weeks. (Odom-Southern distributes)
SUSTAINABLE, ORGANIC and/or biodynamically farmed grapevines are healthier vines and make sturdier, more expressive wines.
A lot of folks might disagree with the statement above. But what is beyond debate is the growing movement toward viticulture that places the care of the earth itself as the priority. And here in the Pacific Northwest, certification for "Salmon Safe" and "LIVE" (Low Input Viticulture & Enology) farming practices provides vineyards and wineries official recognition for sustainable agricultural practices modeled after international standards.
The LIVE website (https://liveinc.org) lists the vineyards and wineries already certified, along with program guidelines. To sum up, the overriding goal is to treat the vineyard as a complete biosystem, and to "minimize the use of off-farm inputs, such as agricultural chemicals and fertilizers, with the goal of protecting the farmer, the environment and society at large."
OK, but how do these wines actually taste?
In my experience, there is a perceivable link between earth-friendly vineyard management and quality winemaking. It is simply common sense to presume that anyone who goes to the extra trouble, expense and risk of replacing chemical fertilizers and sprays with practices that promote biological diversity is going to follow that up with noninterventionist winemaking. That, in turn, enhances the expression of terroir — the natural flavors derived from the specific vineyard environment.
Remember that the legal requirements for organic wines are quite strict and different from organic viticulture. Organic wines must almost always be consumed when very young; they don't age well.
Among the LIVE certified wineries whose wines I especially like are A to Z, Adelsheim, Amavi, Anne Amie, Chehalem, Cristom, Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Evening Land, Patton Valley, Penner-Ash, Pepper Bridge, Ponzi, Soter, Stoller, Watermill, Willakenzie Estate and Willamette Valley Vineyards. Tiny Cowhorn in southern Oregon is an especially talented biodynamic producer. And arguably the most influential biodynamic winery in the entire Northwest is Cayuse.
In the Walla Walla Valley, the voluntary group Vinea (website www.vineatrust.com) describes itself as winegrowers who "have embraced a covenant with environmental, economic and social sustainability concurrent with their production of grapes and wine." Among the subscribers are some of the valley's best: àMaurice, Abeja, Amavi, Beresan, Bergevin Lane, Dunham Cellars, Figgins Estate, L'Ecole No 41, Leonetti Cellar, Pepper Bridge, Reininger, Seven Hills, Tamarack Cellars, Tempus Cellars, Tulpen Cellars, Va Piano, Walla Walla Vintners, Watermill, Woodward Canyon and Zerba.
In California, a useful checklist of biodynamic producers includes: Araujo, Beckmen, Benziger, Bonterra, Concannon, Ehlers, Frog's Leap, Grgich Hills, Joseph Phelps, Opus One, Paul Dolan, Robert Sinskey, Quintessa, Quivira, Qupe and Viader.
The movement is gaining significant momentum in Europe also, particularly in France. Try the wines of Zind-Humbrecht, Josmeyer, René Muré, Marc Kreydenweiss and Ostertag from Alsace; Joseph Drouhin, Domaine de la Vougeraie, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Domaine Leroy from Burgundy; Château Pontet-Canet and Château la Tour Figeac from Bordeaux; Domaine Huët, Domaine de la Coulée de Serrant, Guy Bossard, Alphonse Mellot from the Loire Valley; Pascal Doquet, Fleury and Guy Larmandier in Champagne.
In Italy I've had wonderful biodynamic wines from Querciabella in Tuscany and Alois Lageder in Alto Adige. Rock singer Sting's Tenuta il Palagio is also biodynamic.
In Spain, superstar vigneron Alvaro Palacios is using organic/biodynamic practices in Priorat and Bierzo at his Descendientes de J. Palacios.
About Wine Adviser
My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.