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One Brilliant Bottle

organic/biodynamic/natural wines in Vinland

Tag Archives: biodynamic wine

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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Domaine Weinbach Cuvée Ste. Catherine Pinot Gris

France (Alsace)

pinot gris

On a recent visit to the West African country of Ghana, wine wasn’t much on my mind, but, as I was about to leave, there in the duty free shop of Accra’s airport were several bottles from Domaine Weinbach. It reminded me that I had a bottle from that exemplary estate back home in my cellar.

The core vineyards of the imposing Domaine Weinbach — the five hectares of Clos des Capuchins — stretch back to 1612 and to an order of Franciscan friars. With the French Revolution the vineyard fell into private hands and in 1898 was acquired by the Faller family, ancestors of the present owners. Théo Faller, who died suddenly in 1979, was the person most responsible for taking the domaine to the highly respected position it holds today. His influence extended far beyond his estate. He worked endlessly to raise the profile of Alsatian wines and to establish standards within the region.

Colette Faller, in the face of considerable skepticism, has not only maintained the reputation of the domaine established by her late husband, but has enhanced it, bringing a wider recognition of the wines’ stellar qualities. At the time she assumed control she was one of the very few women anywhere to be managing a wine estate. In recent years, daughters Catherine and Laurence have joined their mother. They make for an outstanding trio.

They have 27 hectares under vine, and are perhaps best known for their rieslings and gewurztraminers, but our entry level pinot gris, without doubt, has the qualities that separate Domaine Weinbach from most all its competitors. The grapes come from the lower slopes of the Schlossberg grand cru and from the clos itself. The sandy soil, set above granite, is rich in minerals, and here the wines tend to be fuller-bodied and fleshier. Less elegant, but with rich mineral character.

Domaine Weinbach (named after the brook which runs through the property) rises behind the village of Kaysersberg, just north of Colmar. The wines are completely estate grown and bottled. Harvesting is by hand; pressing is done horizontally in whole clusters. Fermentation uses only indigenous yeasts, and the wines are matured in large, old casks. The influence of oak is minimal.

For twenty years the domaine has been organic and since 2005 biodynamic. In this Domaine Weinbach is in very good company. Zind-Humbrecht, Ostertag, Marcel Deiss, Josmeyer — all top-notch estates in Alsace profiled in this blog, all biodynamic. The depiction of the Copuchin monk on the neck of each and every bottle from Domaine Weinbach is a very strong lure for lovers of white wines.

Domaine Weinbach Cuvée Ste. Catherine Pinot Gris 2007

Arresting golden hue in the glass. A thoroughly ripened fruit aroma, a fullness with distinct mineral qualities. Wonderfully inviting. A near-syrup feel in the mouth, but dry and warmly concentrated, offset by a charming cut of acid. Long and lively finish. Oh, so good.  $$

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Domaine Jean-François Ganevat  J’en Veux!!!

France (Jura)

17 native varietals!!! including l’enfariné, corbeau, gueuche, portugais blue, gouais, beclan. argant, seyve-villard

[no website]

A recent trip brought a one day, pre-Olympic stopover in London. There’s a terrific venue for lovers of natural wines on William IV Street, near Trafalgar Square. It’s called Terroirs and the charcuterie plate (salami, duck rillettes, pork and pistacho terrine) proved exceptional. As for the wine — a brilliant discovery from Jura.

Domaine Jean-François Ganevat  J’en Veux!!! 2009  

This has the wine character I love. Fresh, earthy, seemingly little removed from the end point of vinification. Lively and unpretentious, all about the natural evolution of the grapes into wine. Unfined, unfiltered, unsulfured, and I’m thinking with traits that marked wine centuries ago. ‘Delicious’ might sound pedestrian, but indeed, had I more time in the city, I would have been tempted to sit and linger over the whole bottle.  $$

J’en Veux!!! is one of an average domaine production of some 40 wines. All from a mere 8.5 hectares, with each parcel vinified separately. Very labour intensive, with eight people employed full time. In charge is Jean-François Ganevat (“Fanfan” to his friends) with roots in the region going back to 1650. Here, in underappreciated Jura (lying between Burgundy and Switzerland), there are varietals unknown anywhere else, and whereas Ganevat has managed to hold on to many of them, they have largely disappeared from other domaines, making way for AOC favourites pinot noir and chardonnay.

Roughly a thousand litres of this wine were made, on a plot of ungrafted vines behind Ganevat’s house, vines as much as a hundred years old. All the wines amount to micro-cuvées, some made up of no more than a single cask. In total only two thousand cases of wine leave the domaine each year. Ganevat is incredibly dedicated (some would say mad) to undertake production on this scale. The domaine is something of a maze of small buildings, cask rooms and cellars in the southern Jura hamlet of La Combe. Life here is well out of the wine mainstream.

Until 1976 income from winemaking was augmented by the production of the region’s famous cheese, comté. By 1998 Jean-François had completed wine studies in Burgundy and worked for ten years at the famous Domaine Jean-Marc Morey. He wanted to return to the family property in Jura. His experience at Morey led him to biodynamics, and it is said a Burgundian approach to winemaking.

Ganevat is a perfectionist. One estate wine each year undergoes particularly stringent destemming. Using scissors, each grape is removed from the cluster, leaving only the tiniest tip of the stem. In 2009 that wine was J’en Veux !!! The grapes are then put directly into the barrel. Vinification occurs within the skin. No pressing, no punchdowns, no pumpovers.

The result: absolutely delicious.

As I leave Terroirs I see by the blackboard that Ganevat’s wine is in very good company.

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Weingut Pittnauer Burgenländer Rot

Austria (Burgenland)

zweigelt (40%), blaufrankish (40%), St. Laurent (20%)

Weingut Pittnauer Burgenländer Rot 2009

Black cherry red in the glass, emitting earthy, dark berry aromas. A fresh, acidic balance, steeped in plum-like fruit. Medium-bodied, naturally good. Every sip a reason to return to the glass. For a wine below $20, it’s exceptional value.  $

This is a basic red (“rot”) blend from Weingut Pittnauer. Not a profound wine but for sure a very good one. It is one of several wines reaching the North American market from Gehard and Brigitte Pittanuer. Theirs is the second domaine I have experienced from the eleven-person Austrian wine growers association known as Pannobile. (The other was Claus Preisinger.)  Burgenländer Rot is not a wine selected for Pannobile release, (the experience of that wine will come in time, I’m hoping) but nevertheless, I get a very good vibe here. The Pittanuers have their wine growing hearts in exactly the place I would wish them to be.

“When in doubt, always quality before speed.” And again, “Fully in the present, without forgetting the past, but also, without exaggerating it.”

They are traditionalists and modernists at the same time. Situated in the eastern shore of the Neusiedlersee, near its border with Hungary, the region can point to a history of winemaking that dates back two thousand years. The Pittnauers take time-honored methods (a manual, natural approach in the vineyard) and meld them with modern cellar techniques that allow the grapes to express themselves, whether in the use of pneumatic pressing, of stainless steel or oak, or of temperature control. They stress the use of native varietals, and the importance of terroir rooted in deep limestone soils.

All against the backdrop of an ultra-modern tasting facility. And an approach to marketing that is equally stylish and inventive.

Gerhard was eighteen when control of the estate fell to him. His was an abrupt apprenticeship, but a turning point came with the discovery that the wines which most appealed to him, that seemed most vibrant and alive, were from estates which had embraced the culture of biodynamics. Today his vineyard area of 16 hectares has undergone 100% conversion. The Pittnauers remain open to experimentation, for always there is the urge to produce better and better wines. Their approach is instinctual, relying foremost on the human senses to direct them. Hands-on, enviromentally-positive, all-in-all good folks you would trust no matter what Pittnauer bottle you were to open.

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Domaine Binner Saveurs

France (Alsace)

sylvaner, auxerrois, gewurztraminer, pinot gris

The meal at goosefoot started with a mere spoonful, an amuse-bouche.

From beginning to end an extraordinary dining experience in Chicago.

The restaurant is BYOB, and our pairing — an exceptional Alsatian white from Domaine Binner.

Domaine Binner Saveurs 2009

An aromatic apple-like nose, the gewurz coming through nicely, with notes of caramel. The taste is rich and multi-layered, but not sharply defined as you might expect of a Binner grand cru, for example. A true field blend. With a lightly-buttered, salt-flavoured finish. A perfect wine for a tasting menu, fitting the groove of so many dishes. Lovely!  $

The inspired forces behind the domaine are Audrey and Christian Binner (left), with the whole Binner family an integral part of the domaine team. Set in the heart of Alsace, in the small town of Ammerschwihr, the property has been producing wine since 1770. Today the Binners, with a mere 11 hectares under vine, produce approximately 60 different bottlings, including a number of grand crus. There is a wide variety of terroirs, all with a foundation of granite soils. Vines are 30 years old on average, with some parcels more than 70.

Christian’s grandfather was one of the very few vineyard owners prior to WWII bottling his own wine. When the domaine fell to Christian’s father after the war he resisted the widespread move to chemical treatments and mechanization. And by the time Christian himself took over in 1998, the property already had a long history of organic cultivation. He went a step further and moved the winery to biodynamics, and with the advice of people like the late Marcel Lapierre of Beaujolais, learned vinification without the use of sulphur, and without filtering.

The creed of Domaine Binner: “Wine is made in the vineyard, not in the cellar.” It is the terroir that defines the wines. The owners are not looking for uniformity, but wines that reflect the soils and the growing condition of a given year. They harvest the grapes by hand along the steep vineyard slopes, and only when fully-ripened, which often means October and well past the time surrounding domaines conduct their harvests.

Pneumatic pressing is slow and gentle. No added yeast. Slow fermentation (often lasting more than six months) and at low temperatures, fermenting out as much sugar as possible. At least eleven months on the lees in large, century-old oak foudres, followed by an average of 3 years cellar aging in the bottles before release.

In the mind of Christian Binner, it is viticulture as nature intended, “…viticulture that respects humanity the most, as well as one’s health and that of our planet.”

Noble notions. Exceptional wines.

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