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Biodynamic Wine Production: Fad or Fabulous?

biodynamic winery in sonoma

If you haven’t heard of biodynamic wine farming, you probably will in the near future. This agricultural philosophy, founded in 1924, is sweeping the wine growing community, from France to Australia, from the United States to Chile. In fact, some of the world’s most coveted wines are being produced using this method.

What is biodynamic agriculture?

Biodynamic agriculture takes organic farming one (or perhaps two) steps further. The theory, first expounded by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, is based on the symmetry between the land and the plants. In this, biodynamics is similar to the French concept of “terroir” that maintains the flavor of a wine grape (and thus the wine made with it) is influenced by the soil and climate in which it is grown.

In addition to banning the use of chemicals and pesticides, biodynamic farming uses nine natural substances to enrich the soil, promote plant growth and boost the grape vines’ resistance to disease and pests. These substances include cow manure and quartz (which are buried in the ground inside of cow horns), dandelion leaves, chamomile, stinging nettles, yarrow flowers and oak bark.

Biodynamic farming uses the stages of the moon to guide planting, fertilizing and harvesting. Using the lunar calendar in farming isn’t a new concept. Such practices were used by Native American farmers for centuries.

Biodynamic wineries

This all may sound a little far-fetched, but this method of wine farming is being adopted by wineries all over the world, with astonishing–and often delicious–results. Some of the world’s major vineyards, including California’s Benzinger Estates, Burgundy’s Domaine Leroy and Domaine Zind Humbrecht in Alsace have adopted biodynamic farming. According to “Fortune” magazine, there are currently more than 450 biodynamic wineries around the globe.

What does this mean for the average wine consumer? In a word, it means taste. Although vintners and winemakers are at a loss to say way this practice works, the evidence is that biodynamic farming is producing superior wines to those produced using traditional methods. According to the “Fortune” article, biodynamically-produced wines were judged superior in several blind tastings to similar wines that were conventionally produced.

Though biodynamic farming is labor-intensive and only used by a relative handful of the world’s wineries, it’s a trend that merits watching. We predict now that you’ve heard this phrase, you’ll be noticing a lot more talk about biodynamic wines in the future.

Haunted Happenings at Charles Krug Winery

January 19th, 2012 No comments
The ghost of Charles Krug might be here, at Charles Krug/Peter Mondavi Family Winery

Napa Valley's first winery, established in 1861

If you’re inclined to believe in ghosts, St. Helena’s Charles Krug/Peter Mondavi Family Winery has been a “hot spot” for paranormal activity for years.  In fact, the winery’s founder, Charles Krug, claimed to have seen ghosts himself!  (To put this in perspective, the winery was founded in 1861.)  Current “sightings” have occurred most frequently in the winery’s Redwood Cellars built in 1872.  The ever-growing body of sightings was enough to prompt Vice President of Marketing, Paul Englert, to conduct a paranormal investigation of the winery.  Englert, who is “open to the possibility that [ghosts] exist,” says the winery’s ghost stories, true or not, are quite interesting either way.  He even knows two employees who have reported seeing spooks on the premises.

Ghost photo from a real séance in 1872

Photo of a séance conducted in 1872

Intrigued, Englert invited the San Francisco Ghost Society, and Leanne Thomas, a medium, to examine the facility.  Following an in-depth investigation by the San Francisco Ghost Society (which utilized an array of the latest paranormal detection technology), the Society turned up empty handed.  However, the team expressed great interest in revisiting the winery after more work in Redwood Cellars is completed this spring; they claim major renovations can sometimes arouse the interest of resident entities.   Leanne Thomas, on the other hand, claims to have seen the apparition of a woman wearing a blue dress.  (Numerous sightings have been reported of a woman in white strolling through the upper floors of Redwood Cellar.)  She also saw the spirits of a young boy and girl.

For curious tasters, Englert plans to host a “Wine and Spirits” (pun intended) dinner at the winery, which will also feature a seance!  In the meantime, “There are several people who have seen activity and things here. We’ll try to corroborate those stories.”  Given the winery’s lengthy history, there are artifacts around that go back over 100 years.  “It’s really interesting,” said Englert, “You kind of don’t know what you’re going to find when you open a closet.”  For the sake of the winery’s employees, hopefully not a ghost who says, “Boo!”

Natalie MacLean’s New book: UNQUENCHABLE

December 13th, 2011 No comments

Natalie MacLean poses for the cover of her new book UNQUENCHABLEA fascinating, fun and exciting romp through the world of wine, Natalie MacLean’s latest award-winning book UNQUENCHABLE: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines, has hit the shelves!  Named the World’s Best Drink Writer by the World Food Media Awards, and winner of four James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards, Natalie’s prose is passionate, witty, honest, and informative.  In UNQUENCHABLE, you’ll meet several intriguing real-life wine personalities, all personally interviewed by Natalie in a variety of exotic locales.  Natalie’s journey takes you to wineries across the world in search of the best value wines, and her findings are summarized conveniently at the end of each chapter.  And just as you’d expect from the inventor of “Natalie MacLean Wine Picks & Pairings”, the fabulous food and wine pairing app for smartphones and “touch” devices, the book abounds with mouth-watering recipes for you to savor as well.  Filled with history, wine history, culture, current events, tips about cooking with wine, plus food and wine pairing suggestions (and additional wine trivia), this entertaining read is a must for wine lovers.  UNQUENCHABLE: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines is published by Perigee Trade.  Available from your favorite book distributors, and even offered as an eBook, its 13-digit ISBN is 978-0399537073 (for easy searching!).  Maybe a great gift for a wine lover in your life?

Winery Quest Pro: an Awesome Wine Travel App

September 27th, 2011 No comments

Winery Quest Pro

It’s travel time!  Remember Jake Austad’s trek through California’s wine country?  Here’s a handy, travel app specifically made so that you can enjoy such an adventure: Winery Quest Pro.  Designed for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, this informative winery reference tool gives you everything you need to plan your California wine trip.  With 20 regional maps, filters for your favorite wine interests, detailed winery profiles, and a GPS navigated trip log, you’ve got everything necessary to embark on your own journey through California’s wine country. With Winery Quest Pro, planning your trip is easy!  And with the freshest wine and winery data updated daily, you’ll be kept in the loop with current information. Winery Quest Pro requires an iOS of 3.0 or later.  Available from iTunes with rave reviews, its current price is $7.99. 

Have a favorite wine app? Tell us about it in the comments and maybe we will review it!

Wine Bottle Art

July 29th, 2011 No comments
Richard Pim's wine bottle stained glass dome structure in Pembroke, England

Richard Pim's wine bottle stained glass dome structure in Pembroke, England

Ever been captivated by the beautiful mosaic of colors in stained glass windows?  Are wine bottles not, also, often made of colored glass?  Mesmerized by the similar, beautiful glow, retired geologist Richard Pim decided to create a dazzling stained glass window-like structure using wine bottles.  According to Richard, “One day I sat in the garden drinking a glass of wine, and as I held the bottle up to the sun it made an amazing sparkly effect. I thought ‘that’s it, I will make it out of wine bottles’.”

Richard’s structure, an eleven foot high dome, rests in his garden (open to the public) in Pembridge, between Leominster and Kington in Herefordshire, England.  Pembridge’s recorded history goes back over 800 years, and it has often been called called The Jewel in the Crown.  On a bright, sunny day, Richard Pim’s wine bottle dome looks just like such a glorious jewel.   When asked about how he obtained the wine bottles necessary for the project, Richard replied, “I had no problems getting hold of bottles. Most of Herefordshire knew what I was doing, so I have had lots of donations. I have also drunk a good few myself.”  Though the structure is predominately emerald green, bursts of red, yellow, blue, and other colors abound.  “The bottles are all different colours, but the hardest to get hold of are blue ones,” reported Richard.

In the United States, The Minnie Evans Bottle Chapel in Wilmington, North Carolina was created from 4,000 bottles.  (The bottles, however, are not limited to wine bottles.)  Though not as translucent as Richard Pim’s construction, the Chapel, built by Virginia Wright-Frierson in 2004 as a retreat, attempts to mirror the natural light, color, and shape of its surroundings.  The interior even contains a sculpture of a tree.  If a visit to England is not in your immediate timeline, the Minnie Evans Bottle Chapel is certainly a closer sight.

So, the next time you finish a bottle of wine, have a look at the bottle.  Perhaps it may inspire you, too, to create a shimmering work of art?

The Minnie Evans Bottle Chapel in Wilmington, North Carolina

The Minnie Evans Bottle Chapel in Wilmington, North Carolina

Jake Checks In from Dubost Winery!

May 13th, 2011 No comments

Vintage Cellars’ own Jake Austad checks in with us again from his California wine tour, telling us all about his latest find.  “I stumbled upon Dubost on the west side of Paso Robles,” says Jake.  “Sure, the sign said tasting room open, but after a half mile trek down a one lane dirt road, I was unsure.  Once in the gravel parking lot, the only car there, I met Curt.  Fourth generation on the family ranch, Curt had to get off the tractor and take off his farmers hat to put on his wine hat and pour.”  Curt made the atmosphere of Dubost very pleasant, sharing numerous stories with Jake from his 60+ years of experience.  Of the wines he tasted, Jake found the Granache and Zinfandel to be his two favorites.  “The zin was accompanied by a story of how the family stumbled upon the 2 tons of fruit from the cushion vineyard near the now famous James Berry Vineyard by Saxum,” relays Jake.  “It was a gem of a Zinfandel for the Dubost family.”   Jake, well aware of the recent trend to label yourself “boutique” in the wine world, believes the term aptly applies to Dubost.  “The wine was the very definition of boutique. All small case lots of 100 to 200 cases were made for each varietal.”  Summing up his positive experience, Jake had the following to say: “If you want family owned where you can taste the passion in each wine, if you want to search out the very definition of boutique winery, you can find it at Dubost.”  And Jake also recommends trying their estate olive oil, too!  “It’s worth the trek down a single lane dirt road for the wine, olive oil, and stories…”

Dubost Zinfandel

Jake Tours Paso Robles

May 11th, 2011 No comments
Turley's Tasting Area

Outside of Turley's Tasting Area

Vintage Cellars’ very own custom cellar designer Jake Austad is currently touring the wine country in Paso Robles, California.  Some of the wineries is visiting include “local favorites” like Justin, Denner Vinyards, Turley, and Tablas Creek.  Jake checked in on Monday with an exciting discovery claiming, “I think we may have found the greatest $10 wine ever made!”  Apparently, this wine is not on the tasting list at Turley, but it is available if you ask to taste the “table wine.”  This mysteriously good $10 wine is actually Pesenti Red Velvet Zinfandel.  In Jake’s words, “Imagine blackberry jam on buttered toast with a smooth velvety finish.  Make this your table wine of the summer as BBQ, pizza, burgers, brats and the classic American hot dog will all shine with this everyday wine…”  Sounds good to me!  I’m very curious to see what other affordable gems Jake will find on his travels.

Pesenti Red Velvet Zinfandel

Delicious wine!

Incidentally, if anyone has been following the BBC show “James May’s Road Trip”, where a BBC documentary host and wine newbie tours wine country and learns about wine from expert Oz Clarke, the most recent episode was May and Clarke touring Paso Robles. May’s goal for the California leg of their trip (they started in France) was finding good wines that can be had for under 10 pounds (somewhere in the $20 range)…but I don’t think they tried the Red Velvet!

Wine Storage Tourism?

February 10th, 2011 2 comments

Wine cellar in an old mine in Cricova, Moldova

Image source: www.sejur.com

This morning, I was doing something that you may very well have been doing just seconds ago: Browsing the web for wine-related news. I came across an article (a well-illustrated one, too!) about the underground wine cellars of Moldova.

Now odds are good that you can’t find Moldova on a map (I can’t), and you may never have even heard of this tiny eastern European country. However, Moldova is apparently the 7th largest wine exporter in the world, and the limestone-mines-turned-wine-cellar house hundreds of bottles of wine. These cellars have made the town of Cricova a tourist attraction worthy of being visited by wine enthusiasts in particular, although the beauty of the area attracts a variety of tourists.

This all got me thinking about wine storage tourism. We’re all pretty familiar with the idea of wine tourism–Napa Valley, French wine country–but you don’t hear about wine storage tourism, by which I mean travel aimed at seeing historic wine storage sites. The mine-cellars of Moldova cannot possibly be the only historic wine storage site worthy of tourist traffic.

Have you ever been on a wine-storage tourism jaunt, or included a wine storage site in your itinerary? We’d love to hear about where you went and what you saw!

San Diego Wineries

April 1st, 2010 No comments

With the great wine areas of Napa and Sonoma just a short trip away, it’s easy to forget about wine tasting options that are closer to home.  But the San Diego area, along with great beaches, great restaurants, and lots to do and see, has many quality wineries.  A great springtime weekend activity to to gather a group of your friends and tour a few wineries (you might want to rent a car service first).

Here is Sign On San Diego’s list of wineries in the San Diego area.  It focuses on wineries in San Diego proper, but if you’re also interested in wineries in Temecula, please also check this link as well.

When you’re wine tasting, don’t forget our five steps to a proper tasting: look, smell, taste, note, and enjoy.  If you need a crash course on the right way to taste wine, click here or read more here on some local San Diego wine shops. Cheers!

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