Organic, Sustainable, BioD: What’s All the Fuss?

organicwineWe get a lot of requests for organic wine, and, though a large percentage of our wine is made sustainably, the response to the request is much more complicated than you’d think. Many, many of our small producers are practicing sustainable farming. Many are also practicing biodynamic and organic farming. But to be completely certified organic is not as simple as controlling what happens in the vineyard. Organic certification has a lot to do with the winemaking process, so a winemaker might use organic grapes but not be certified organic.
Much of the debate revolves around sulfites, a naturally occurring biproduct of fermentation. They are used as a natural preservative in wine, which, in a product where ageability and longevity is key, is a quite important component. But sulfites have gotten a bad rap. Many people blame them for headaches (when it’s probably histamines in grape skins that are the culprit for that).In fact, there are more sulfites in a salad bar or a handful of dried fruit than a glass of wine. So, the stringent dictates against sulfite use in organic certification essentially means that a winemaker has to chose between wines that can hold up and wines that are organic–even if his/her grapes are grown organically. Without sulfites, wine has to be refrigerated, like orange juice.

So, we’re on a campaign to give props to our winemakers who have taken all strides to farm organically, but may not have the USDA organic certification on their label. We’re sticking ladybugs on our wine cubbies to indicate sustainably farmed wines, and are slowly but surely identifying all we have in house.

So look for the ladybugs!

The Guy Who Makes the Girls

IMG_0750-1024x682Yesterday, we sat down with Rob MacDonald, the winemaker at the Art + Farm winery and creator of one of our most popular Cabernet Sauvignons, the Girls in the Vineyard. And it’s easy to see why it’s so well-loved: rich and full of aromas of dried cassis, cherries, and currants, with hints of chocolate. The grapes for his Cab are grown at a high-elevation site in Lake County, just north of Napa and east of Mendocino. High elevation helps build acidity in wines, which contributes to structure. The terrain is made up of obsidian rocks mixed with bright red volcanic soil. The result is a nice mineral undertone to his wines, providing complexity and structure–and making wine geeks go gooey. Wines from this region are cheaper than their Napa counterparts (thanks to the less glamorous zip code), but still concentrated, full-flavored, and rich.
We also just brought in his Sauvignon Blanc–aromatic and bright, with tropical and grapefruity notes to it. It has nice acidic structure, but the finish is a bit softer than a lot of your standard SBs–making it utterly sippable. It grows in an ancient river bed in Lake County with gravely soil, again adding a touch of that minerality that translates into complexity and interestingness in his wines.

Rob is an Aussie who has been making wine for 20 years, and is a true experimenter at heart. He founded Old Bridge Cellars, and was a pioneer in bringing Australian wines to the U.S. He and his wife, Kat, refer to their vines as their “girls,” so their wines are labors of love named after their girls in the vineyard.


Wines That’ll Bring Bullfighters to Their Knees

Spain-Wine-Map-1 Spain is the country with the most land under vine in the world, claiming the title of the world’s third largest producer (behind France and Italy). And that which it does produce is spellbinding: earthy, luscious, and rich reds; zippy, aromatic whites; and sparkling Cavas made in the traditional Champagne style.There’s a sea of Spanish wine flowing into the U.S., and, still, we can’t get enough of it.

Rioja is probably the most famous of Spain’s wine-producing regions, and Tempranillo is its star grape. The region was the first in all of Spain to earn its highest ranking, the DOCa (Denominacion de Origen Calificada), and is now joined only by Priorat. Rioja’s unique classification system is all about aging, and its wines on the whole are aged more than any other wine before release. The long stretches in barrel make for a wine that is lip-smackingly luscious. The limestone and clay of the upper region provide an earthy sensuality. Regions such as Priorat and Montsant in Catalonia and Ribera del Duero in north-central Spain are also churning out opulent, savory reds.

Spain’s white wines occupy the opposite end of the spectrum. Many parts of Spain are scorchingly hot, so Spaniards reach for whites that are crisp, light, and refreshing. Albarino is its signature white grape, with Viura and Verdejo close behind. In Catalonia, sparkling Cavas made in the Champagne style are crisp and lightly doughy–and affordable to boot.

Spain’s wines are approachable, luxurious, and generally easy on the wallet. There’s a world of good juice out there waiting to be discovered! Join us for our Wines of Spain class on August 22nd to dive into this awesome region!