Posts Filed Under organic wine
Actually, let’s take those in reverse order.
Here’s the deal – I have a love/hate affair with organic wines. I love the fact that they’re organic and environmentally-friendly; I hate many of the wines because they’re not any good.
And I’m convinced that enough wine consumers have reached a similar conclusion that they actually avoid buying wines labeled as Organic, which is why many good wines that could be labeled as officially organic don’t bother to mention this on their labels (see Alder Yarrow’s take on the subject of Organic wine labeling).
It’s not all organic wines that suck, and there are many excellent, premium wines that farm organically or biodynamically. But the extreme cases have a loooooong way to go before they will appeal to the average consumer.
Take Stellar Organics for example. Amazing things they’re doing for the environment and their community. BUT… they make a line of ‘No Sulfites Added’ wines (essentially, the only sulfites in the wines are those produced naturally in the winemaking process), and the samples I tried of those wines just aren’t very good. To the mini-review tape:…
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You know what kicks ass?
The movie IRON MAN. That film devastates when I watch it on the 50″ Sony HDTV in my basement.
You know what else stomps all kinds of gluteus maximus?
1WineDude.com readers! Especially when those readers make wine. Like Steve Lau of Volta Wine, which is releasing its inaugural Cabernet Sauvignon vintage (2005) this Fall. Steve contacted me as a fan of the blog and someone who grew up in my current stomping ground of Pennsylvania, wondering if I’d like to try their single-vinyeard, Howell Mountain Cab.
Howell Mountain? Would I like to try it? Hello! Does the Pope wear a hat?!?? Despite the fact that this kind of thing consistently gets me in trouble in the wine blog-o-world, I advised Steve to send me a bottle with all speed.
I tried Volta’s Cab. this past weekend. And it’s very, very good. The blackberry and plum coming off this wine is outrageously pure on the nose and on the palate, and the mouthfeel is smooth as silk. That Howell Mountain fruit is somehow lush but at the same time the tannins have a laser focus. The only thing I didn’t like about this wine was the high Voltage – at 15% abv, the wine’s booze power is no joke. But I was digging it, and it’s one of the few 14.5%+ abv wines that I’ve really been able to get behind lately without feeling like someone is trying to beat me up.
Still, I hesitated to write about the wine here, because at 291 cases produced, most 1WD readers are unlikely to be getting their hands on the stuff. BUT… with plans to branch out with other single-vineyard releases of Southern Rhone varietals from Sonoma and Riesling from Yakima, Volta might just be a producer to watch for high quality (but potentially high voltage) vino. Plus, they source grapes that are farmed organically so they’re adding to the growing list of wines that are proving wrong my theory that organic wines bite donkey bong…
I asked Steve for some insight on how the Volta got its start and what the winery is all about. According to Steve:
“I grew up in Pennsylvania. I was involved in the music industry for many years, first as an artist on Warner Brothers and then running a label called Kinetic records for Warner’s. I took some time off about four years ago at which point I met my partner who was, at the time, leaving the mortgage business. (Timely exits from two tanking industries I guess).
Long story short, after a fascination with wine for most of my adult life and a discussion with a friend who was importing wine in Amsterdam, we decided to explore the wine industry and went to the wine program at Culinary Institute in the Napa Valley. From there we just kind of dove in head first talking to as many people as we could about starting a new project, finding a facility, a winemaker and sourcing premium organic fruit.
It’s been an incredible journey, one that the more we learn, the more we realize how much we have to learn. Our winery is in Sonoma at a facility which is owned by a guy that is the former winemaker at Etude, Scott Rich. (He makes an awesome Pinot called Talisman.) Our winemaker is a a really cool guy named Massimo Montecelli. He’s a fourth generation winemaker and his entire family in in the business. He was the winemaker at Silver Oak, his brother is the winemaker for Trinchero family’s premium line and his dad was the first winemaker for E.J. Gallo back in the early seventies and is still running their wine making today. Phil Cotouri, our vineyard manager, is the leading organic vineyard manager in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. We feel privileged to be working with such generous and talented people.“
So there you have it. Good peeps, and very good unfiltered and unfined single-vineyard wine. Plus, I managed to combine Volta Wine, IRON MAN, and AC/DC in the same post. Better quit while I’m ahead…
(images: blog.al.com, bigpond-images.com, 1WineDude.com,)
(images: wpsignsystems.com, organic.lovetoknow.com)
Those of you who have been following the Dude’s blog know that when it comes to organic wines I have been, let’s just say, less than kind in the past on the quality and viability of these products.
To provide yet another perspective in my ongoing love/hate affair with all things organic. my partner in crime Jason Whiteside has offered up some comments on the organic trends impact for wine consumers.
Jason fully acknowledges the marketplace trends towards organic products, even though he is not influenced by it himself per se (according to Jason, “I am not a vegan. Whatever the opposite eating style to vegan is, that is what I am.“).
Organic-minded consumers should be aware of the hidden dangers in their wine bottles. According to Jason:
“Along with the wave of social food consciousness, it is natural to wonder about the wine we drink. Is it organic? Is wine OK for vegans to drink? What do we really know about the contents of any given bottle? Consumers who are sensitive to the use of animal products should know why and how animal products are used in the manufacture of wine. Eggs whites, isinglass (the powdered swim bladders of fish), and other proteins are used in the fining process, which helps make a wine clear.“
“Often times, when wine is made, it has a hazy or cloudy appearance from suspended particles. Nobody wants to drink hazy wines, for most of us are rightfully programmed to believe a good wine should be clear and bright. So the winemaker will use a carefully measured amount of protein to help remove the haze. This works because the protein carries an electrostatic charge opposite to the particles in the haze. They cling to each other, and fall out of the wine as sediment. The clear wine is then racked off the sediment, which means that for practical purposes there is no clarifying agent (egg whites) left in the bottle.“
For those who are over-the-top-serious about their organic shopping, even these fining procedures may not be enough:…
“But, who really knows if there is absolutely none left? Testing for that would be more expensive than it is worth.“
All is not entirely hopeless for these consumers, however: “As a consumer, it is relatively easy to find a list of wines that are either unfined or fined without animal products. This website lists vegan wine, and I have found it to be very helpful: http://vegans.frommars.org/wine. I recommend the wines from Rosenblum (especially their Petit Syrah) and Houghton Chardonnay, in particular.“
As for the current state of organic winemaking, Jason leans towards my assessment that good examples of these wines are harder to come by (but well worth the effort once you do finally get your hands on them):
“For consumers who look for organic or vegan wines, my hope is that more skilled winemakers take up the challenge of green winemaking. It is not an easy undertaking. Sulfur dioxide buys a winemaker a lot of time by keeping the grapes fresh, and fresh grapes mean better wine. If you want to see how fast harvested fruit starts to spoil in your own home, cut an apple in half, and see how long it takes to start to turn brown. The ‘browning’ is the effect oxygen has on fruit; sulfur dioxide protects against this. It will be difficult for winemakers to forever put away their chemicals, eggs, and fish bladders, and I for one would not ask them to. But, for those to whom this matters, know that quality wines are being made without the extra stuff. You just have to go out and find them.“
The wine sulfites battle rages on.
Some of you will recall that the Dude has been commenting on the topics of sulfites in wine, as well as biodynamic and organic wines.
Jason Haas over at Tablas Creek Vineyard has posted a great article on how the widely misunderstood fear of wine sulfite allergies (& “wine headaches”) has combined with overly-cautious (and poorly-constructed) U.S. wine regulations to cause winemakers unnecessary grief…
What U.S. Sulfite / Organic Regulations Mean for Winemakers
In a nutshell, it seems that the U.S. regulations regarding sulfite use for wines that are to be labeled ‘organic’ have a big negative impact on potential quality of the wine. That’s because some use of sulfites in higher quality wines is inevitable – otherwise the finished wine could be too unstable.
According to the Guidelines for Labeling: Wine with Organic References from the U.S. Dept. of Treasury – Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms:
“100% Organic” products cannot use added sulfi tes
in production. Therefore, since no add ed sulfi tes
are present in the fi nished product, the label may
not require a sulfi te statement. In these cases, a lab
analysis is necessary to verify that the wine contains
less than 10 ppm of sulfites.
Less than 10 ppm of sulfites… hmm… good luck! I wrote about the challenges of achieving such a low level of sulfites in wine before. Those winemakers that chase after the pot-o’-gold at the end of the marketing rainbow may make “organic” wines, but that will need to be done without much thought to the ultimate quality of the wine. Those winemakers that truly care about quality – well, they end up being discouraged from even trying to make wines that would be labeled “organic” by the U.S. government.
What U.S. Sulfite / Organic Regulations Mean for You
And who suffers the most – wine consumers. Because the average person is likely to a) be scared off because of the required sulfite warning labels on wines, often believing (mistakenly) that there last ‘wine headache’ was caused by sulfties, and b) assuming (mistakenly) that wines labeled as ‘organic’ are healthier and of higher quality, consumers can have a poor experience tasting a nasty unstable wine that is labeled ‘organic’ but sucks – and possibly get turned off to wine altogether because of that experience!
[WARNING: SARCASM] Gee… what’s not to love about this scenario? Besides everything, I mean… [END SARCASM]
Don’t Get Suckered into Following the ‘Organic’ Marketing Bandwagon
Unfortunately, it means that we wine lovers still need to have our wits about us when shopping for wine. Stay sharp, and don’t assume that a wine labeled as ‘organic’ is better for you or is higher quality, or contains no sulfites. Higher quality wines will contain sulfites and probably will NOT be labeled organic – but they will taste better, and in the grand scheme of things will be better for you, will provide better value for money, and will give you a better wine tasting experience!