Feature: Sebastien Chevalier, Sommeilier from Sarment wine discusses the positives of the difference between organic and biodynamic wine
The truth about biodynamic winemaking
Organic or biodynamic – does it matter? For the past 20 years, people have been confused by “green” wine terminology. While most people know that the terms biodynamic and organic refer to the way the wine is made, only a few truly understand the differences and benefits. To bring some clarification to the matter, let’s take a closer look at the two methods.
Put simply, organic wines are made with respect to nature. The use of pesticides is very strictly controlled, but not banned, in order to let the vineyard deal effectively with any diseases or insect infections.
While “organic” is a simple agricultural principal, “biodynamic” goes further. It could be described as a philosophy with an almost religious following. As Anne Claude Leflaive from Domaine Lefaive explains, “Biodynamic is a method of cultivation based on the sensitive intelligence of natural phenomena. It is not a method of control and it does not make it possible to eradicate a disease or a parasite. On the contrary, it favours the life of an important number of species and makes it possible to keep the vine's enemies at a tolerable level.”
Instead of trying to remove diseases from the vineyards, the biodynamic method aims to enhance the mutual respect between living organisms and to achieve a balance between them. Different tools are used to achieve this harmonisation. The most important - and the hardest to accept for non-believers – is the relation between all the natural elements in a vineyard and astral energy. It is widely known that the stars can influence the behaviour of living organisms, as we see in the influence of the moon on the tides. Biodynamic production extends this to all stars and planets, such as Mercury, Jupiter and the Sun, which are all seen to play a significant role in the life cycle of organisms on Earth.
Incorporating certain plants and natural components can enhance the influence of each star on the production process. Camomile, nettles, silica, oak bark and compost are all energy catalysers that can benefit by catching solar energy or promoting deep rooting, for example, allowing the soil to be in balance with all the other natural elements.
A few winemakers believe this goes beyond theory and make their wine according to biodynamic rules. In the beginning they were rudely mocked, but their perseverance paid off. After a few years, when the vineyards had been “detoxicated” from years of pesticide use and started to flourish under biodynamic production, their wines were found to be of outstanding quality. Some of the most reputable estates and winemakers were part of this elite, such as: Anne Claude from Domaine Leflaive; Olivier Leriche from Domaine de l’Arlot in Burgundy; Mr Nicolas Joly from Coulée de Serrant, one of the kings of the Loire valley; Jean-Michel Comme from Pontet-Canet in Bordeaux and Olivier Zind Humbrecht from Alsace.
With winemakers from some of the most well-known and respected estates turning to biodynamic production, it is time to challenge our preconceptions and embrace this way of winemaking. The Romans used to say “in vino veritas”, in wine [there is the] truth. Have you had a glass of Montrachet from Domaine Leflaive recently? Santé!
Domaine Leflaive Batard Montrachet Grand Cru 2005:
The harvest has been done on the 20th of September which was a “Fruit day” (The Moon across the Ram constellation), a perfect day for the fructification. The wine is starting to show an exuberant body, but still a lot of freshness. This wine is yet a baby but already shows great concentration.
Domaine de l’Arlot, Clos de l’Arlot white 2006.
It is one of the two monopolies of the Domaine. It is very rare as Nuits Saint Georges’ appellation is almost exclusively producing red wines. Made with 97% of Chardonnay and 3% of Pinot Beurot (Pinot Gris) it shows amazing complexity for a 1er Cru. The blend of the above allows the wine to have an unusual, spicy aroma which we could follow on the pallet. A great experience.
Coulée de Serrant 1999:
The wine from Nicolas Joly needs time… a lot of time to show his true potential. Decanting is strongly suggested as it will open up the wine more quickly and bring out the aromas. Minerality is the key word here. From an unassuming nose to an explosive array of flavours like dry honey, stone fruits and cooked citrus, it is a unique wine.
Chateau Pontet Canet 2005:
Mr Comme shows that using horses in his vineyard is not just a way to entertain wine enthusiasts… The quality of the Chateau since the late nineties reflects the hard work of the team to establish Pontet Canet at the level of quality it should be. Like the 2005, it shows a great structure, harmony and good balance. It is still young and will need 5 to 8 years of cellaring but it already sharea some depth and generously juicy bunches of red fruits. As aristocratic as Bordeaux wines can be, it is definitely not arrogant...
Domaine Zind Humbrecht Clos Jebsal 2002:
This wine is a true pleasure to taste. The precision is breathtaking. Sweet wine could be very syrupy and heavy, but this is definitely not the case with Olivier’s style. The balance of the acidity and the sweetness are perfect. Tropical fruits, ripe pears and apples as well as cooked citrus shine through as soon as you taste it. This outstanding wine is a really great pleasure.
All the wines from the above winemakers have something in common: purity and balance. However, many other Domaines could have been picked, as the biodynamic philosophy wins more and more followers.
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