I am generally open-minded about most things, but when it comes to wine I am quite conservative. I am not into funky packaging or weird and wonderful blends of this or that. I like my styles to be classic and my varietals correct. You could say I am a ‘no nonsense’ wine drinker.
When wines labeled ‘organic’ or ‘biodynamic’ first became commercially available about 10 years ago, my reaction was one of disdain. For me it was just another marketing ploy, a way to off load inferior plonk, (which the majority of these wines were). I guess it was the abysmal quality of these early organic wines that was the thorn in my side. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for organic produce and I am anti-GM food technology, pesticides, etc. I want my food to be as free of additives as possible.
The problem for me was that what constituted ‘certified organic’ was not clear and varied from country to country. The extra step of biodynamic viticulture seemed to me to be a fad; something for sea changers who were only really acting out their dream of bonding with nature, trying to escape the modern world. I mean, come on: burying manure filled cows horns in the vineyard? Harvesting by the moon? It seemed like hocus pocus.
Change of Heart
The first time I began to question my own cynical belief was when I tasted the full range of Maison Champy in 2012. Champy is one of Burgundy’s oldest producers. They had just begun the process of converting all of their estates to biodynamic farming.
The difference in the wine from their vineyards that had already been converted to biodynamic farming methods to those that had not was remarkable. The biodynamic vineyards had purer fruit expression, and had more intense colour and greater length of flavour. It was quite eye opening and I was forced to eat my words. Of course it makes sense — wine is made from grapes that reflect their growing season and conditions. If they are nurtured and supplied with organic nutrition it can only be good, right? It all happens in the vineyard, and while you can make good wines from average grapes, only great grapes will yield something truly extraordinary.
So now when I see a wine label stating that it was produced by organic or biodynamic methods, I no longer turn up my nose. It is, of course, no guarantee of quality, but from what I have tasted recently it is beginning to become one. The way of the future is deeply rooted in our pagan past and it is here to stay.
2008 Alveirão ‘Encostas Do Vale Godinho’, D.O.C. Tejo Tomar
Portugal produces so much more than just Port wine, although very few make their way to Vietnam. Made from 100 percent Castelão, (a native variety to Portugal, think earthy shiraz), this is a great example of the individuality that biodynamics can add to a wine’s character. Packed full of plush plum fruit with an enticing gaminess and a spicy finish, it is now fully mature, but in no way over the hill. For me, it’s a great wine for amazing value and seems to handle anything you can throw at it.
Jim Cawood has been working in the wine industry for over two decades. He is presently man-at-the-helm at his District 2 restaurant, Lubu