Thursday, October 3, 2013

Another Oregon Star - Soter - Pursues Organic Certification

It's no secret that Tony Soter was one of the first Napa evangelists for organic grape growing. In 1985 he converted Spottswoode's estate to organic farming.

Nadine Basile, the new vineyard manager
at Soter Vineyards in Oregon
So I wandered into his Oregon winery, Soter Vineyards, last week for a morning tasting (they are also one of the few Willamette Valley wineries open before noon or 11 am) just to see what was up with his now famous Pinot Noir winery in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA.

I was surprised and delighted to hear from the tasting room staff that Soter Vineyards is now in year one of their three year transition process to organic certification.

Soter's hired Nadile Basile, a former Demeter Biodynamic inspector, as its new vineyard manager.

A U.C. Davis viticulture grad, Basile started her organic and biodynamic viticultural career at Napa's Robert Sinskey Vineyards (a 200+ acre Carneros vineyard planted largely to Pinot Noir) in the mid 2000's when Sinskey was in the process of getting biodynamic certification. (In 2012 Robert Sinskey Vineyards ended its participation in Demeter certification but says it will continue farming in the same manner, citing certification fees cost as the issue - of that, more later).

So it was exciting news to hear that Soter Vineyards intends to pursue Biodynamic certification as soon as possible (Biodynamic certification requires organic certification as a requirement).

May it continue.

I was struck on my trip by how many Oregon vintners go straight for the Biodynamic certification, instead of plain old organic. I don't know what to make of it just yet, but there it is.

It could have something to do with the nuances of Pinot Noir and the Willamette Valley's close ties with Burgundy, where experienced vintners have embraced biodynamic farming both as a way to replenish spent soils and as a way to get the more expressive qualities from their vines.

In my own stumble-and-bumble personal tasting journey, I'm recognizing more and more how biodynamic farming does truly allow for more expressive fruit, but that it puts more pressure on having the right terroir to begin with. Biodynamic farming can help winemakers get the best fruit, and the most resilient vines, but it can't make great wine unless the soils, exposure and winemaking are first rate. But when it sings, it sings.

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