Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Biodynamic in Bordeaux: A Small But Growing Presence Surfaces at the Union Des Grand Crus de Bordeaux Tasting in SF

The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux came to town on Friday for a very grand tasting at the Westin St. Francis.  The creme de la creme of tasters attended the afternoon trade tasting.

There were the professional wine celebrities - like Andrea Robinson (television personality and Master Sommelier) and Karen MacNeil (a renowned wine expert and author of the Wine Bible). There were many men in tweeds. There was the Chinese temptress (the one with the breast enlargements and high heels, wearing a skimpy leopard print and high heels in matching leopard print). There were serious Chinese women somms.

There were French men, some engaging with tasters, some not and looking bored - all pouring wine for the chateau they represented. More than a few wore thick black rimmed glasses. And there were some (but not many) French women, in unmistakably French outfits, like the one wearing a sweater in which the snaps that buttoned up the front sported little bows.

There were merchants (I saw name tags on guys from K&L, J. J. Buckley and Vintage Berkeley). And winemakers from Napa's prestige labels (Atelier Melka and Alejandro Bulgheroni, to name but a few).

There were people from the "hinterlands" (three guys from O'Brien's Market in Modesto, which has a surprisingly well stocked wine section and weekly tastings, as I later discovered online).

What was not easy was figuring out which among the vintners were farming their vines organically or biodynamically. I'd asked the organizers in advance. No help. It seemed too tedious to ask the vintners individually, so, when I saw a guy from Vintage Berkeley, one of my local wine shops, I asked him.

Ti Ngo, manager of the Vine St. Vintage Berkeley, very kindly pointed me in the right direction - Booth 60, he said. Margaux. Biodynamic.

He and the manager of Mission Street wines had both liked the Chateau Durfort-Vivens. In fact, Ti said it was the best bottle he'd tasted at the gathering, which had more than 85 chateaux in attendance.

So I made my way through the crowd over to the Margaux section to sample the wares.

Sure enough, the Durfort-Vivens was a standout. While most of the wines spoke in a rather narrow taste zone/range (most of them lovely, with acid and fruit and tannins, though a few were had more sort of outlier characteristics), the 2014 Durfort-Vivens had a freshness and an integration that was distinctive - and delicious...elegant...understated.

I chatted with the pourer, Pascal (apologies, I regrettably do not recall his last name) who told me a bit more about the estate and the family that owned it - the Lurtons. In fact, the Lurton family owns two wineries as Gonzague Lorton inherited Chateau Durfort-Vivens and his wife Claire Lurton inherited another Margaux estate, Chateau Ferriere.

I asked Pascal why the Durfort-Vivens estate was transitioning to biodynamic certification.

"Claire is very concerned about the environment and the purity of the wine and of the soil," he said. Later, this explanation was expanded upon. Pascal kindly gave me Gonzague's card.

He also explained that the couple had a Sonoma estate, Trinité. I could not understand his thick French accent when he told me where it was. "Shockey," he said, "Shockey." I discovered later he was saying "Chalk Hill."

Gonzague Lurton
A minute later, I looked up from a nearby spit bucket stand to see the name tag of Msr. Lurton, who was strolling over to chat with his pourer. I caught up with him in front of his tasting station. It was the perfect moment to find out more about his Bordeaux estate and its Sonoma cousin.

"Yes," Msr. Lurton said, "we started on certification in 2013, so the 2014 you are tasting was from the second year of being in transition to certification. Chateau Durfort-Vivens is getting certified by Demeter."

"Our other estate, Chateau Ferriere is also getting certified, but the certifier there will be Biodyvin."

Had Msr. Lurton notices any changes in the Durfort-Vivens since the estate converted to biodynamic farming? I asked.

"Yes, we see more complexity in the aromas, as well as brightness of the fruit," he said. "I'd say originally we did it out of concern for Mother Nature, and it has improved the quality of the wine."

After sampling both the 2014 Chateau Durfort-Vivens and the 2014 Chateau Ferriere, I have to say the Chateau Durfort-Vivens was clearly my favorite. It retails for roughly $45-55 in the Bay Area and elsewhere. (K&L carries the 2015 by pre-arrival order only right now, though I did see something about a 2014 supply of it when I searched WineSearcher.com. The folks from O'Brien's Market in Modesto also seemed interested in possibly carrying it.)

Both of the Lurton's Bordeaux estates are part of a broader - though tiny - trend in Bordeaux towards Biodynamic certification.

Chateau Palmer in Margaux is slated to be Demeter certified by 2017. It will also be certified organic by Ecocert.

Chateau Climens in Barsac (also owned by a branch of the Lurton family) was certified by Biodyvin in 2011. The Tesseron family's Chateau Pontet-Canet in Bordeaux is also certified biodynamic, by Demeter. (The Tesseron's newly acquired Napa estate - Pym-Rae - is also on the path to Demeter USA certification.)

When it comes to organic certification, Bordeaux has quite aways to go to catch up to Napa, where 7 percent of the vineyards are certified organic (with probably another 7 percent practicing organic farming). On the other hand, only four estates in Napa - Adamvs, Eisele Vineyard, Raymond (Boisset) and Pym-Rae - are certified biodynamic today. (The Araujo's new estate Accendo may also become certified.)

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