Monday, November 9, 2015

Grand Crus Classés of St. Émilion Tasting: The Organic and Biodynamic Producers

Few people understand why one looks for the certified organic vineyards as part of the search for the best in wine...but for those of us who understand what that means (i.e. that far less toxic substances are used in farming, soil retains its vital and alive health and dynamism, and the wines are more expressive of their unique terroir), it's so lovely to find wines that are worthy of the journey to discover them.

Or, you can have your cake and eat it, too.

At least that's how I felt during lunch time today, when I went to Terra Gallery in SF to taste through wines from three organic or Biodynamic producers (out of 50-60 wineries) from the region. Each is a Grand Cru classé estate.

It's also a reminder that fine wine doesn't have to cost as much as it does in California. The wines featured here sell in the $30-50 range - and are truly world class. 

One should say much more about these wines than the facts about their farming certifications, and they deserve that. But mostly, when it comes to wine, the best way to understand them is to drink them. Like Eric Asimov says, tasting notes are as dull as describing music through its frequencies - technobabble applied to something that really is not about words. Instead, it's about sensations - which is what we love about wine, music and other sensory experiences. So let's just say, you will be rewarded by trying these wines...they are worthy of your attention.

Let the games begin...a quiet moment before the crowds arrived.. But even as it grew in size, this was a very civilized tasting in terms of the ratio of space to people. The event even offered casual seating in a lounge area (not visible in this photo), a rarity at trade tastings - and very much appreciated as a place to take a break and reflect on the wines or as a place to confer with other attendees. I hope it sets a new norm.
My first stop was Chateau Fonplegade, owned by the American couple Stephen and Denise Adams. They purchased the estate 12 years ago and began converting it to organic farming then. Certified in 2005, it is now on the path to Biodynamic certification. The Adamses also own a Bordeaux estate Chateau L'Enclos (next to Petrus), which they bought later, and have a Napa estate on Howell Mountain - Adamvs (already certified Biodynamic). The 2010 Chateau Fonplegade is outstanding. (Parker gave it a 94+ pt. rating which is surprising because often I do not agree with his palate - but
 in this case, it's a happy meeting ground.) This wine is my new love. Sometimes one tastes the very best wine on the first sip at a tasting...and then roams around the room hoping to repeat the experience, and trying new things, but not hitting that high note again...forcing you to return to the place where you started the journey - and linger.

Chateau Fonroque was the first St. Emilion estate to be certified organic and the first (and still the only) with certified Biodynamic vines. It has been in the Mouiex family since 1932. The estate found that the shift to Biodynamic viticulture brought out more (good) acidity in the wines as well as more minerality, expressive of the terroir.
 You can see a lovely video about the estate (in French), by clicking here.

The wines are bottle labeled with the
Winemaker, tractor driver, vineyard manager - Vincent Ligne is the one running Chateau Guadet, owned by his family since 1844. It's certified organic in the vineyard; Biodynamic certification is in process. Starting with the 2015 vintage, Ligne said the wine will also be bottle labeled with the word organic - this is a new legal requirement of certified producers in France, he said. (I'll have to find out more about this.)

By the time the afternoon ended, the air was filled with the sound of laughter and life - thanks to the wine?

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