Article By: Laurette Cossaboon
Discerning wine consumers are curious and hungry for information that often goes beyond what is in the glass, where it came from and how it was made. They are interested in wines from new places, want updates about the new faces at their favorite vineyards, and are eager to learn about the latest trends in the industry that might expose them to a new favorite. As a wine store that serves a wide range of palates and prices, we at Ball Square Fine Wines have found that the most effective weapon in our arsenal is to take advantage of our clients' curiosity by actively educating them at weekly wine tastings that focus on particular regions, varietals or specific industry trends.
After numerous queries about organic and biodynamic wines, we were curious how much interest there really was for this particular niche. What is it the consumer is looking for when they support a wine with the organic/biodynamic pedigree? Are they motivated solely by the feel-good sentiment of "treading lightly on the planet", or are they sensing something in the quality of the wine? Do organic/biodynamic wines actually taste better? Despite being a trained horticulturalist, I found that, like many people, I had a complete lack of understanding of what biodynamic viticulture was. Why would anyone take the trouble to engage in the part mysticism/part scientific method of farming or incur the cost of maintaining and certifying a biodynamic vineyard? Whenever we talk with successful wine producers, they insist that great wine begins in the vineyard. So, after reading about the concerns of commercial farming and the degenerative effects that the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and over consumption of natural resources can have on a vineyard, it is not difficult to understand why some growers would want to invest in organic and biodynamic farming. Biodynamic farming seeks to take the laboratory out of the vineyard, with belief that healthy soil produces more flavorful fruit that - through the unique particulates of the soil, climate and environment - imparts a sense of place to the wine. As a business, the practice is designed to increase the fertility and regeneration of the land over the long term, while addressing the art of winemaking by giving the fruit distinct quality.
Since we are fortunate to have the opportunity to speak directly to the owners/vineyard managers of wineries all over the world, I have often asked them how the organic/biodynamic philosophy might fit into their winemaking practices. What I've found interesting is that, while not all seek to gain certification, more often than not, many of the practices of biodynamics are in place in the vineyards today - and have been for years. The cost of certification, however, combined with the risk of being pigeonholed into a category that may or may not prove lucrative, is part of the reason why not all organically farmed or biodynamic wines are labeled as such.
In speaking with vineyard managers, it's become clear that biodynamic farmers do not do it so much for effect or as part of a marketing strategy, but rather for love of the land. That means that it is left to the retailer to make interested consumers aware of which wines are produced using these methods. While it is not always easy to keep up on this kind of information, those of us serious in the wine business do it because we have a passion for wines and the culture. This passion is often contagious, however, and the homework pays off when dealing with consumers eager to experiment and learn more about their options.
Once we gauged the interest among our clients and after arming ourselves with sufficient research, we decided to offer a series of tastings that would feature producers currently engaged in organic/biodynamic production of both wine and beer. Before launching the series, we emailed our clients information about the general theories and principles involved in sustainable, organic and biodynamic farming. Meanwhile, we enlisted the help of wholesalers and distributors who are knowledgeable and passionate about their products and willing to share their experience. The response was remarkable. Questions were far-ranging and intuitive, and the discussion went well beyond wine culture to include aspects of everyday life. It was surprising to see the immense support for these wines and learn that I had erroneously assumed that people were not willing to spend top dollar for organically/biodynamically produced wines. In a later tasting featuring the owner of a Sonoma based winery, I was amazed to hear our clientele quizzing him on his vineyard practices. While we're happy to let our customers answer the initial question themselves - whether an organic/biodynamic wines taste better - I can report that certain members of our clientele absolutely believe that they do.
While we are not yet willing to devote an entire section to the organic/biodynamic/sulfite-free movement, since this tasting series we have chosen to designate wines made from organically grown grapes or biodynamic practices. Since most wines grown in this fashion are not identified as such on the label, it means we have to do a little more research and have a more intimate knowledge of what is stocked on our shelves. But this knowledge and guidance are what our customers have come to expect. Our weekly tastings, again and again, have proved to be a valuable sounding board for products we think may have a fan base. In addition to the response to our biodynamic tasting series, we experienced a similar insight when a sake tasting allowed us to quadruple our selection. The feedback indicated that many customers thought it may be something they could enjoy, but were not sure how to approach it. The interaction of the tasting served as a valuable proving ground and gave us the insights needed to make an informed decision about our inventory selection.
The enthusiasm and support for our tastings is unmistakable every day. When customers ask: "What are we tasting this week?", we know that they are engaged in the process and view us as their preferred resource for what's new and exciting in the world of wine. This eagerness challenges us, but it also allows us to bring in something new and exciting to the tasting table each week.
Our most successful and favorite organic selections
MAS de GOURGONIER ROUGE From Provence, France, this estate has been farming and making wine organically for decades. A perennial favorite, it yields a powerful expression of the typical Rhone grape varietals.
QUINTA de COA From the Duoro Valley, this wine is made from tinta roriz, touriga franca and touriga nacional. These classic grapes are from organically cultivated vineyards that yield a wine that is flavorful, rich and impressive.
CHATEAU de ROQUEFORT CLAIRETTE This organic/biodynamic Cotes de Provence domaine is sited between the hills of Bandol and Cassis. Its citrusy and floral characteristics showcase the beautiful expression of the clairette grape.
DOMAINE de la LOUVETRIE MUSCADET SEVRE et MAINE SUR LIE This winemaker bottles wine by soil type. The certified organic vineyards help to showcase the light and lacy distinctiveness of the wines from this region.