I could see for miles and miles at the top of the Purisima Mountain Vineyard, owned and farmed by Steve Beckmen of Santa Barbara’s Beckmen Vineyards. But the “truth,” according to Beckmen, is not “out there,” but in the soil, the grapes, and in the resulting wine; no matter what you may think of the Biodynamic® practices they have been practicing full-on since 2006.
The Beckmens (Steve the vigneron, with his parents Tom and Judy) purchased their 365 acre mountain estate in the mid-section (unofficially called Ballard Canyon) of Santa Ynez Valley in 1996, just a couple of years after establishing their winery on a 20 acre vineyard parcel just over the hill, a couple of hairpin turns away. Vintages from the late ‘90s, produced from grapes from neighboring properties (like the prestigious Stolpman Vineyards) convinced the Beckmens that Syrah and Grenache – yielding ultra-deep and concentrated wines when grown in the shallow, sandy clay layered over mounds of calcareous rock, surfacing towards the tops of these hillsides — were the way to go with their own plantings.
When Biodynamic® guru Alan York began consulting with winegrower/proprietor Rob Sinskey of Robert Sinskey Vineyards (a.k.a. RSV), the first thing he advised was to “get over the voodoo doo-doo” and find the “practical ways to get it done.” “I was never that heavy into Rudolph Steiner’s spiritual philosophy anyway,” confesses Sinskey, “but what makes sense are the steps that give your vineyard a distinctive personality… if it means planting according to the rhythms of the earth and employing sheep herders to mow the grass, so be it.”
Although Biodynamic® certification didn’t come to RSV until 2007, the original “tipping point” for Sinskey goes back to1990; when he observed one of his Chardonnay blocks in Carneros shutting down and phylloxera strangling the vines. “At that time we were spraying and constantly sterilizing the soil to the point which it had basically become a ‘dead zone,’ showing little sign of life, almost no birds or earthworms to be found. It was our winemaker, Jeff Virnig, who originally brought up the subject one day by asking, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we were organic?’”
So throughout the ‘90s Sinskey’s goal was to jump-start microbial activity in the soils of his property – 5 acres around the RSV winery in Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap District, and another 200 or so in the Los Carneros AVA – by ceasing the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and the like; and by 2001, when RSV received its CCOF certification, the earthworms and birds were back in multitudes.
For Pierre Morey – the former (and legendary) winemaker of Domaine Leflaive, and proprietor of his own Domaine Pierre Morey in Burgundy, France – farming biodynamically (his vineyards Biodyvin certified since 1997) is a matter of stewardship: turning over vineyards from one generation to another at the peak of health and productivity.
Morey is particularly known for his white wines, with family holdings in Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet in Burgundy’s Cote de Beaune, the original home, and center of the universe, as far as any producer of Chardonnay is concerned. But if you are drawing the conclusion that these white wines espouse enormous body, power and concentration of Chardonnay character, let me gently say: it is in the expression of the terroir, rather than grape, that the wines of Domaine Morey excel. As eloquently portrayed in this film, entitled Generations In Harmony:
In Alsace, a part of France full of famous rebels – like André Ostertag, Charles Schléret, and Zind-Humbrecht’s Olivier Humbrecht – Jean-Michel Deiss (right) has played the role of absolute pariah.
It’s not so much that he took the organically cultivated vineyards inherited from his grandfather, Marcel Deiss, and turned them into biodynamic farms by 1997. The domaines of Marc Kreydenweiss, Zind-Humbrecht, Ostertag and other top Alsatian vignerons are also farmed biodynamically. More than anything, what has rubbed colleagues and local authorities the wrong way has been Deiss’ total disregard of the sanctity of singular varietal bottling; for in Alsace, the finest wines have always been bottled by the names of the great grapes of Alsace – namely, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Muscat d’Alsace. Continue reading →
Despite what that fellow Miles might have said about it, there is still a very good reason why you should drink ultra-premium California Merlot, which is the same reason why some of the state’s most prestigious winemakers – like Bruce Neyers and Selene’s Mia Klein – still specialize in the grape: it makes wine that can enthrall the senses the way Keira Knightley eats up a camera. Resistance is senseless.
Here’s another reason: the 2006 Ceàgo Camp Masut Merlot (about $25) is biodynamically grown, on top of being totally delicious; its classic red berry/black cherry Merlot aromas enhanced by pretty, floral, violet-like perfumes; and on the palate, round fleshy, finely polished textures punctuated by the luscious berry flavors and buoyed by soft yet sturdy tannins. Textbook. Continue reading →