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One Brilliant Bottle

organic/biodynamic/natural wines in Vinland

Rollingdale Winery Pinot Noir Icewine

Canada (British Columbia)

pinot noir

The setting is Greenland. Deep in a fiord, an edge of glacial ice ahead.

The subject turns to icewine. Its amber hues as rich as the landscape.

The colour comes from pinot noir, an unusual choice of grape for an icewine. It normally doesn’t take to the sub-zero temperatures required for ice wine production. But Rollingdale Winery has found a way, and with rewarding results. Not the least of the wine’s attractions is that wonderful copper colour, achieved by short skin contact prior to fermentation. In 2010 the Organic Wine Review named this Pinot Noir Icewine 2007 as runner-up for its Organic Wine of the Year. And Rollingdale as winner of its Organic Winery of the Year.

A fine achievement for a winery that has existed for less than ten years. Owners Steve and Kathy Dale were born in Ontario, and for a time were consultants for a Swiss-based company whose focus was organic horticulture. The couple worked at the conversion of a number of wineries to organic production. In 2003 they felt the urge to move back to Canada, and headed to British Columbia. Steve enrolled in a viticulture course in Penticton, before buying a small Okanagan vineyard in West Kelowna, and expanding it into Rollingdale. By 2007 Rollingdale became one of only two wineries in BC to be certified organic.

It is very much a family run, near garage-type operation. A quonset hut serves as its storage/production facility, and also as its tasting room. There are just over two hectares under vine, with an annual production of about 2,000 cases. Winemaker Joe Slykerman produces both red and white. In the meantime the winery has developed a strong reputation for its dessert wines. Rollingdale is drawn to using grape varietals not commonly associated with dessert wines — for example, the French hybrid ‘marechal foch’ in a dark and inky dessert wine called Potage. And in Rollingdale’s stellar icewines — pinot gris, pinot blanc, and, the grape of the slim bottle that ended up with me in Greenland, pinot noir.

Rollingdale Winery Pinot Noir Icewine 2007

The bright amber shine through the bottle is a definite attraction. It gives rise in the glass to aromas of a cold compote of apricots and apples. In the mouth a viscous blend of aged, port-tinged caramel, a fine acidity cutting through the fruit, exciting the palate and lingering on and on. I very much like a well-made, not-too-sweet dessert wine and this one is very much a winner!  $$


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Abbazia di Novacella Kerner

Italy (Alto Adige)


This is Abbazia di Novacella, a flourishing Augustinian monastery located just south of the Alps, in the Alto Adige wine region of Italy. It houses an exceptional winery, one of the most northerly in the country. Here wine-making dates back 850 years. The cool climate, high elevation, and mineral-rich soils allow the working order of monks to produce classic whites of crisp acidity.

(My bottle of 2010 Kerner is itself looking rather crisp against a cool, pristine waterfall in the remote northern coast of Labrador.)

Kerner is among the abbey’s several white varietals, a cross between the red grape trollinger and the white riesling, more widely known in Germany and first bred there in 1929. (It was named named for Justinus Kerner, a poet whose writing often turned to the intriguing subject of wine.) The aromatic grape found its way into Italy about 40 years ago, ideally suited to the terroir of Alto Adige.

The kerner of Abbazia di Novacella grows at about 700m above sea level, in a mix of gravel and sandy-clay glacial moraine. Following an extended ripening season, harvest takes place in October. Fermentation is in stainless steel tanks, at a controlled temperature of 20 degrees C, using only natural yeasts. The wine is matured for six months, also in stainless steel. Kerner makes up 80,000 of the half-million bottles produced annually by this non-certified, but organic estate.

Despite its long history, winemaking here is a state-of-the-art operation. Modern in outlook, yet steeped in tradition, the abbey’s wine production is consistently world class. In 2009 oenologist  Celestino Lucin was named “Winemaker of the Year” by Vini d’Italia, the country’s most prestigious wine publication. The world-wide sale of wine (and to a more modest extent, the local sale of farm produce), the tourist trade, together with a small school specializing in the study of viticulture, all combine to make Abbazia di Novacella entirely self-sufficent.

If there is any one thing that rivals the richness of the wines, it is the richness of the abbey’s interiors, its art and antiquities. Among the 20,000 volumes in the stunning library are two copies of the Gutenberg Bible. Visitors come to tour the abbey and its grounds and stay to enjoy the wines, likely leaving with several bottles to rekindle memories of this special place.

Abbazia di Novacella Kerner 2010

Light straw in colour with a tinge of green, and with pronounced aromas that include apple and citrus. Solid, medium body. A lovely, ample mouthful, with a rich acidic zing. Very nicely crafted, full flavoured. Lingers in the mouth and indeed in the memory. So very good for this price.  $

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Françoise Bedel & Fils Dis, Vin Secret

France (Champagne)

pinot meunier(86%), pinot noir(8%), chardonnay(6%)

Françoise Bedel & Fils Dis, Vin Secret (degorgement 2009; 5 years on the lees) 

Another brilliant grower champagne. Golden yellow in my humid glass. An intriguing nose of ripe fruit, aromas of undergrowth. Dry, and without too many bubbles getting in the way. Stewed apples giving rise to honey, candied citrus. Distinctive. Delightful.  $$

The champagnes of Françoise Bedel owe their existence to her son Vincent and his childhood medical condition. Having given up on standard treatments, his mother turned to homeopathic medicine. When it proved to be the cure, a vineyard light went on. What if such methods were applied to the growing of grapes, a mindset away from the domaine’s conventional chemical approach? A meeting with biodynamic champagne producer Jean-Pierre Fleury triggered a move to convert two hectares of the estate to biodynamics. The rest soon followed. Have the wines improved? Françoise would say most definitely. “The flavors are more intimate, with a greater profundity and expression.” Wine critics agree.

Françoise Bedel and now-grown son Vincent cultivate 8.4 hectares in the very western reaches of the Champagne region, centred in the village of Crouttes-sur-Marne, only about 80 km from Paris. The estate is made up of several different parcels in four separate areas on the banks of the Marne River. The soils here are largely a mix of chalk and clay, with some limestone soils (such as those in which the grapes for Dis, Vin Secret are grown.) Françoise and Vincent have come to view each parcel as distinctive, each with their own characteristics, and requiring their own specific treatments.

Traditionally, the vineyards have been comprised mostly of pinot meunier, and that remains so today, despite the fact that the grape is not looked upon by some as champagne-worthy. Her success with the grape is clear evidence of the care taken in the vineyard and the natural, dynamic health of the plants.

Neither are the mother-son team conventional in their approach in the cellar. Unlike the vast majority of champagnes, which are blended from different vintages with the aim of maintaining uniformity of product from year to year, Bedel bottlings are single vintage. Says Françoise, “I prefer to allow the wines to express themselves through the terroir and the vintage. It’s not necessarily a champagne of consistent taste. Each year is different.”

And isn’t that the beauty of wine? Rather than the taste-one-vintage, taste-them-all experience, each Bedel vintage gives the drinker a new taste experience, something fresh to remember.

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La Stoppa Ageno

Italy (Emilia-Romagna)

malvasia di candia aromatica (60%), ortrugo & trebbiano (40%)

No doubt about it, it’s an orange wine. Not to everyone’s liking for sure, but I find something exhilarating about it, something that redefines the notion of wine, so far from the mass-produced, over-refined wine that stock the shelves of most wine shops as to get the wine senses pumping.

La Stoppa Ageno 2007

An orange and cloudy brew, yeasty apple, non-sulphured apricot. Nothing tame in these aromas. Medium-body, with the fullness of a red, but openly atypical of anything normally encountered in a wine glass. Strong acidity, with tannic weight. Juicy, honeyed, floral bitters. Textured. Will leave no drinker without a strong opinion!  $$

It’s orange in colour because maceration on the white wine skins has gone on for 30 days, unlike white wines which would stop the exposure to the skins early to enhance the fruitiness of the wine (and in the process retain its mild colour). At La Stoppa this is done in large temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, where fermentation takes place (using only indigenous yeasts and without the addition of sulphur dioxide). Aging also begins here, then continues in used French oak barriques, followed by two years in the bottle. No filtration. Total production: 13,000 bottles, and so not many make it across the ocean.

La Stoppa, an ancient estate located along the slopes of the Val Trebbiola, near the River Trebbia in north-central Italy, is the terroir of Elena Pantaleoni, whose family purchased it in 1973. The previous owner (Ageno, after whom this wine is named) had planted mainly French red varietals. The Pantaleoni family invested heavily in the property, renovating the cellar and restructuring the vineyards, with an additional focus on indigenous grapes. Today the majority of wines are still red, but wines with that amber glow have taken their place at centre stage.

Daughter Elena assumed control in 1997 and since that time has run the 58-hectare estate, with Giulio Armani as winemaker for most of those years. Both are strongly committed to organic production. Thirty of the hectares are under vine, and it is to the vines that the owner has directed much of her energy. “Wine is born in the vineyard,” she says. Her wish for the wine drinker: to “recognize and feel my passions and my land.”

At La Stoppa all vineyard work is done by hand, leading to a careful harvest of only the best fruit, for the production of young wines as well as those with more aging potential. La Stoppa produces ten different bottlings, both red and clearly brilliant orange.

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Domaine des Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc

France (Beaujolais)


[no website]

The bottle seemed entirely appropriate for the “terres dorées” of western Newfoundland, the Tablelands of Gros Morne National Park.

Stacked up against what some would call “industrial” wine, there was just no contest. The other glass I held in my hand — a new world, manipulated, over-oaked chardonnay — came in a very, very distant second.

Yet, the chardonnay of Domaine des Terres Dorées is hardly a blockbuster. It doesn’t bombard your palate to get attention. It is richly subtle, charming, but understated. In short, a naturally honest wine, appealing in all its dimensions.

On top of that, it is a chardonnay from Beaujolais, a wine region that is not exactly a magnet for connoisseurs of white wine. Nor, for that matter, red, bearing a reputation tarnished by the questionable phenomenon of “Beaujolais nouveau”.

If there is a winemaker who would cause you to rethink Beaujolais it is Jean-Paul Brun. His vines are found mostly in the limestone soils outside the southern village of Charnay. (The region’s preponderance of golden stones gave rise to the name.) He began in 1979 with just four hectares, on soils that had for the most part been given over to mixed farming. Today there is a total of 45 hectares, mostly for the production of white wines, but with vineyards in the granite soils of several of the red Beaujolais grand crus.

Brun’s style of winemaking could rightfully be called Burgundian. Rather than the Beaujolais tradition of whole cluster semi-carbonic maceration, Brun has gone the route of using sorting tables, hand-picking the clusters, then de-stemming. This is followed by 4-6 weeks in vats with pigeage (punching down the cap). The wine is generally aged in cement vats and barrels. Brun’s approach differs in other ways. Fermentation with only indigenous yeasts. Minimal chaptalization (adding sugar to raise the alcohol level). Minimal addition of sulphur, minimal filtration. His object, in his own words, is “to make wines that you can drink and appreciate easily, but also that can pair well with a full meal or that you can keep and age in a cellar.”

Modest ambition, but leading to exceptionally appealing organic wines. Wines that express what Beaujolais can be when nature and terroir take precedence.

Domaine des Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc 2010

Golden light in the glass, and for the nose a quiet concentrate of floral and citrus aromas. Light and crisp on the palate, but with an acidic liveliness. A very pleasurable wine that sings with all the right notes. Value plus. $

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