Some vineyards have been making biodynamic wines for quite some time and some have even gone as far as making organic wines. This trend has been very strong amongst the younger generation who are trying to right the post WWII wrongs of their fathers who believed in quantity over quality, or maybe bedazzled by the chemical fertiliser sales man roaming the country side. The best Burgundies are very often biodynamic, Anne Leflaive, D. Romanee Conti and Leroy come to mind. Several Bordeaux producers have become certified organic, such as Chateau Guiraud in the Sauternes and Pontet Canet in Pauillac. Many are even ditching their gas guzzling tractors and bringing back their forefather’s horses. The positive aspect of these is that they naturally fertilise the ground and stop roots from getting crushed by the weight of the tractors. Domaine de Chevalier recently published a short film about their new horsepower, which happened to be a mule.
The other trend is towards natural wine – usually Vin de Pays that joined the New World wines in making wine that express their terroir and are mainly left to their devises. Natural wine usually contains less than 10 mg/l of total sulphur for reds and less than 25mg/l for whites at bottling only. These wines are made in minute quantities, in low yielding vineyards, usually with organic grapes, with only naturally occurring yeast (no adding of foreign yeasts ) or micro- oxygenation. The grandaddy of the ‘naturalists’ was Jean Chauvet in the 1950s, a Beaujolais négociant who pioneered natural wine making. He influenced a whole group of winemakers such as Marcel Lapierre in Morgon who pioneered sulphur free wine, Jean Foillard, Jean Paul Thévenet and Yvon Métras (all from the Beaujolais region). Some have taken up the natural wine trend a step further in Italy by using amphora’s as fermentation tanks.
So why go natural? For a start, you get pure terroir, no added chemicals or fancy winemaking tricks, and through pure wine, less hangovers (also less alcoholic). The flip side is that natural wines with out conservatives (i.e. sulphur dioxide) age faster and could be faulty (as much as 2 bottles for every good one). Except for the producers above, I would recommend Dario Princic’s Pinot Grigio – he really gets this grape right and is one to stop Pinot Grigio haters in their tracks! If you like Champagne I would also advise to look out for Leclerc Briant and Francis Boulard.
I came across Domaine Viret in the Drôme at the foot of the Mont Ventoux, an introduction by a family friend during my last visit to France. Nobody has rolled back time as far as Viret has! Not only have they been making wine in 450 litre terra cotta amphoras but have pushed the biodynamic letter on step further: they make cosmoculture® wine which developed when Alain Viret took over the vineyard from his grandfather. Viret’s philosophy is based on ancient Mayan and Inca believes that balance cosmic and earth energies. Around the vineyard you may find ‘cosmic energy beacons’ which will enable the vines to defend themselves naturally… A bit like Stonehenge, you get some upright stones standing in the middle of vineyard to make natural biodynamic and organic wine. Strangely enough in Roman times, this vineyard was apparently called the ‘hills of the fields of paradise’.
Domaine Viret make several wines in small quantities with low yields in red, rosé and white Cote du Rhone varieties. I tried the Renaissance 2007, 2008 and 2009 made from a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre from 40+ year old vines. My preference goes towards the older vintage, I found the 2007 very elegant for such a lowly priced bottle and would match it with cheese or a lamb based dish (90 points). The 2009 vintage is a blockbuster in the making, very vibrant and broody and must get 3 to 4 years cellaring before expressing its potential (potentially 91/92 pts). Same for the 2008 vintage to a lesser extent (87 points). Do hunt these wines down or visit their vineyard in St Maurice, all of the wines mentioned above are easily available across Europe.