Category Archives: Biodynamic

Money Can Buy

I, like any good wine shopper, seek out producers over-delivering for their price point. In the nearby Willamette Valley, this means $20-$35 Pinot Noir that tastes like the giants at $50-$80. Last weekend I stopped by Bergström Wines, a hallmark producer in the valley. What I found buckled my knees. The first swirl and smell of three of the four Pinots I tasted left me staggering. Life paused, oh my word, there is a fourth dimension kind of wines.

The heavens opened. Photo taken at a nearby vineyard before driving to Bergstrom.

The heavens open. Photo taken at a nearby vineyard before driving to Bergström.

It started with the 2013 Le Pré du Col Vineyard Pinot Noir. The aromatics took me to another realm. Nothing I have tasted has touched this wine. Strawberry, earth, and pine forest mingle seductively and profoundly on the nose. The mid-weight palate adds cherry cola and soft tannins. This is a knee-buckling, tear-inducing wine—memorable and awe-inspiring. Stellar.

Having tasted the Le Pré du Col, I honestly didn’t care what the rest of the wines tasted like. I could have simply basked in the afterglow of that singular experience. However, the line-up continued to caress my interest, never letting me down from my cloud. The 2013 Silice Pinot Noir followed with its own unique path to Pinot Noir enlightenment. Chocolate covered strawberry and cherry aromas lead with silky, pure, red-fruit on the palate. The fine-grained tannins and strawberry preserve acidity weave smooth layers into the medium-bodied core. An eye-brow raising wine that floats effortlessly between density and buoyancy. Stellar.

This is the first time I have rated two wines as stellar at one tasting. I still encourage all to seek the hand-crafted gems over-delivering at affordable price points. Bergström Wines reminds me, however, that some (only some) have earned the hefty tariffs they charge. If you have the opportunity to taste their wines or purchase a bottle, do not hesitate.

Let It Be

The glorification of native yeasts. Can you hear it? “We only use natural yeasts. We let the terroir of this place speak by allowing the yeast from the vineyard to transform the wine.” Those who spend time in wine country chatting with winemakers or tasting room staff have heard this line once or tw. . . enty seven times. I would like to buy into the raw, back-to-nature ideal presented by these well-intentioned enthusiasts. Inoculating wine with cultured, laboratory yeast represents our modern desire to control and manipulate that which needs no help. Right? Let the wine speak of its place.

Unfortunately, relatively recent science* has demonstrated that the reality may fall short of the ideal. Cultured yeast strains, present in wineries from yesteryear or boots or guests, take over fermentation after the alcohol level reaches about 3-4%. The native yeast strains get beaten out by the strains refined in labs. Some natural yeast advocates, however, still contend that this initial, short-term fermentation with native yeast adds complexity to the wine not found in cultured fermentations.*

We certainly have more to learn.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

A recent exchange added a significant, suggestive layer to my understanding. I entered a conversation with Jeff Weissler of Pairings Portland and Alex Fullerton, winemaker at Fullerton Wines. Jeff is a self-described natural wine nut, and spends his energy proselytizing for biodynamic and organic wine and vineyard management. At one point, Jeff declared that all truly sustainable winemakers use native yeast fermentations. A bit taken back by this, I continued to listen, but with questions percolating and brow furrowed. Upon leaving, I cornered Alex. “I thought native yeast fermentation was rhetoric?” Alex effectively laid out the argument. Resident yeast fermentation fails miserably when attempted by large-scale wineries with pesticide and herbicide-laced vineyards. Not only is their scale often too large to tend the more fickle fermentation process of resident yeasts*, but the gallons of synthetic pest controls have stripped away the resident yeast’s ability to thrive or even live. The musts* of industrial fermentations require gobs of cultured yeast to withstand the barren, sickly environment created by chemical-laden agriculture.

2015-11-08 12.37.37

Evidence of another “natural” affect of eastern Washington viticulture—vine damage due to frost. This is a biodynamic vineyard in the Columbia Gorge AVA.

We now have significant insight into the winemaking process, knowledge our predecessors could never imagine. Despite the progress, wine science has miles to go before most viticulturists and oenologists will sleep. At this moment, though, we can use native yeast fermentation as a measuring stick,  a stamp of approval verifying a wineries respect for the land and process.

 

*http://www.winebusiness.com/wbm/?go=getArticleSignIn&dataId=119835

*https://winemakermag.com/758-wild-yeast-the-pros-and-cons-of-spontaneous-fermentation

*Resident yeast: A term for yeast that ferments wine without intentional additions of cultured yeasts. Typically native yeasts begin the fermentation followed by strains of cultured yeasts. Perhaps the most apt description of what most call “native” yeast.

*Must: the pressed juice, skins, seeds, and sometimes stems of red wines prior to and during fermentation.

Inclined to Syncline

As well as recline at Syncline’s estate winery (see photo and caption below). A recent visit of Syncline Cellars, near Lyle, Washington, left me giddy to write this post, as well as buy Syncline wines again and again. James and Poppie Mantone have crafted distinctive, memorable wines, while also creating an idyllic destination winery.

Inclined to recline while drinking Syncline wine

Located along the eastern edge of the Columbia Gorge AVA, Syncline focuses on Rhone varietals. In the winery, James Mantone treats his wines with minimal to no oak, opting for concrete fermenters, and concrete or neutral oak for aging. Syncline uses native yeast fermentations whenever possible. When you combine the winemaking style, excellently sourced fruit, and Rhone varietals–both unique (Picpoul) and well-lauded (Syrah)–expect wine that will delight and intrigue, pure expressions of the land.

Cement fermenter at Syncline Wine Cellars

  • 2014 Gruner Veltliner ($20): From Underwood Mountain and Celilo Vineyard, this 100% Gruner Veltliner balances focused acidity with complex aromas of citrus, savory nuts, and grass. 550 cases. Delightful.
  • 2013 Subduction Red ($20): Syncline’s flagship wine, with 2,500 of the winery’s 6,000 cases set aside for this gateway bottling. A blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, Counoise, Grenache, and Cinsault. Opens with floral aromas alongside juicy, red fruits including cherry and watermelon. Medium body with mild tannins–a smooth drink. Enjoy young. Excellent.
  • 2013 Cinsault McKinley Springs Vineyard ($35): Rarely found as a single varietal wine, this Cinsault has a captivating nose of sweet prunes and luscious red fruits. A silky, smooth entrance leads to distinctive savory, spicy notes alongside the ripe fruit characteristics. Well balanced. 200 cases. Delightful.
  • 2012 Syrah McKinley Springs Vineyard ($30): Crimson in color, a swirl releases aromas of blueberry and blackberry, as well as cocoa and a hint of smoke. At 14.4%, the wine fills your mouth with a delightful density. Medium-plus tannins. Dark and brazenly seductive. 350 cases. Excellent.

Next time you swing through the Columbia Gorge, do not miss your opportunity to visit Syncline Wine Cellars. Syncline exemplifies the best of what the Columbia Gorge AVA can offer–wines unlike any other in the Pacific Northwest.