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Jan 21, 2009 01:26 PM

Why are organic wines so bad?

I’ve noticed a trend – if two restaurants can be called a trend - both here in LA and in San Francisco towards establishments devoted to serving organic fare but which insist on billing themselves as wine bars. My experience with organic wines is that they’re uniformly horrible and nothing I’ve been served, red or white, either at Bar Jules in SF, but more specifically here at Lou (Melrose and Vine) has proven any different. (At Lou, even the one or two selections that were not organic or biodynamic were unpalatable.) Not surprisingly the food at both places is fantastically good, but if I can’t enjoy a nice glass of wine with dinner it absolutely diminishes the experience. But what really gets me is that both places think they’re wine bars! I called Lou today to ask what they charge for corkage and was told that it was ‘bringing coals to Newcastle’ – they’re all so nice there I didn’t have the heart to tell them they’re a million miles from Newcastle.

So I guess my question is, why is it that organic wines are so bad? Apparently organic beer is terrific (I don’t drink beer) and obviously organic food is too, but I don’t get why grapes grown organically shouldn’t produce great wines. Is it that the wineries are so focused on agriculture that they pay less attention to the winemaking? Or do sulfites make that big a difference?

Just curious, and I’m not knocking Lou by the way, it’s definitely worth suffering through the wine list to experience the food.

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  1. Sulfites make a big difference. Yet there are some organic wines (all French) that I love, like Joly and Chidaine.

    1. This should definately be on the wine board. There is a lot of information to cover. There are organic wines, and organically grown wines, and biodynamic wines. A lot of wines that are grown organically will not have that written on the label. Literally just a very time consuming topic. Move to the wine board and I'm sure you will have lots of discussion.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Rizza

        Thanks for the tip, I'll do that if I can figure out how :)

      2. They aren't necessarily. But before we delve into this, would you name some of the bad organic wines you've tried?

        13 Replies
        1. re: carswell

          I wish I had kept track but the best I can do is to say that they've all been in fairly nice restaurants in LA and one in SF. The first half dozen or so were oddities on the wine list, i.e. not at restaurants that were dogmatic about being organic, and the rest were at the two places I mentioned above --between them I've tried 7 different wines, both white and red. I'm by no means an expert by the way but part of the reason I'm even asking this question is that it seems like every time I really dislike a wine lately it's been because it's organic. I'm going to Lou again soon and will try the Chidaine and report back but I have been curious for months why organic should be bad for wines. Thanks!

          1. re: waferthin

            Hmm. Bar Jules's website doesn't include a wine list but Lou's -- -- mentions several producers whose wines they feature: "Clos Roche Blanche, Thierry Puzelat, and François Chidaine (Loire); Tissot (Jura); Walter Massa (Piemonte) and Clara Marcelli (Marche); Olivier Pithon, Jean Gardies, Ferrer-Ribière, and Gerard Gauby (Roussillon); Roland Velich and Franz Heiss (Burgenland); Ijalba (Rioja) and Ventura (Ribeira Sacra); from our own backyard, Steve Beckman's Purisma Mountain wines, Bucklin, Albini Family, Cooper Mountain, and Quivira". Many of those are producers I love and regularly buy (far more so, these days, than big name non-organic producers). Some of the wines are definitely quirky (endearlingly so, I and other wine geeks of the same ilk would say) and some are fragile due to their low sulfite levels, minimal filtration, etc., but I suspect you may just not like or have learned to appreciate the style. Which leads me to my next question: what non-organic wines do you think are good?

            1. re: carswell

              I’m afraid that asking me what wines I like is like asking me what fingers and toes I like – I’m kind of attached to all of them. It may be that I’m not accustomed to the organic ‘style’ but I’ve learned to enjoy a number of challenging characteristics in wine over the years from ‘barnyard’ to ‘burnt rubber’ and my sense is that if, after tasting more than a dozen, I still find organic wines made of many different varieties of grape to be of inferior quality there may be a good reason. And I’m not alone. This article appeared in Salon a little over a year ago, I’ll quote the relevant part of it:
              "Generally the taste of organic wines isn't very good," says Andy Waterhouse, interim chairman of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC-Davis. "People who want to buy organic wine should refrigerate it after buying. Personally, I'm not seeking out organic wines."
              So my question is not IF organic wines are bad, but why most of them are bad. I appreciate that there may be decent producers out there but it seems to be the exception and not the rule. I’m really just curious as to what makes the difference. The Salon article makes it sound like it’s really all about sulfites, but if people have found great organic wines maybe there’s some winemaking technique that can compensate for the lack of sulfites?

              1. re: waferthin

                You may not like a particular wine, and the reason you presume for not liking it is that the wine is organic. Instead, it's possible that it is the style of wine you don't like, or the flavor of particular grapes you don't like, and the organic fruit has nothing to do with it.

                Most wines are organic, BTW. Most wines are not labeled as such either. Many wines you have already enjoyed have been organic, and you were not aware that they were. The same is true for biodynamic wines. I've tasted really bad *and* really good biodynamic wines, and fabulous *and* not-so-fabulous organic wines. Many variables are at play. A winery may grow splendid organic fruit, and make it into so-so wine by the winemaker. It's difficult to tease apart just what it is that causes your dislike. I have found a few organic-labled wines that were "thin" or watered-down in flavor. Is that what you're referring to?

                1. re: waferthin

                  «my question is not IF organic wines are bad, but why most of them are bad»

                  I wasn't asking about your question but rather trying to find out what you're basing a (to my mind) flawed premise upon. And you're providing no help in that regard. Have you been drinking organic wine from crappy producers? Do you love industrially produced, malolactated, heavily oaked, tropical fruity Chardonnay and feel let down when you hold a sharp, minerally, artisanally produced organic Bourgonne-Vézelay against that yardstick? Are you basing your claim on low-sulfite US organic wines or on European organic wines, which can have high sulfite levels, or on both? You give us no clue. What do you consider good or bad? Again, we're in the dark.

                  Are most organic wines bad? Some sure are. But most? Not in my experience. On the contrary, I and many other wine lovers find that an increasingly large portion of the wines that excite us are from producers who favour organic or biodynamic methods, who believe good wine is made mainly in the vineyard, not in the winery. (Disclaimer: the vast majority of organic wines I'm familiar with are European; few West Coast organic wines make it to Montreal and, in any case, my palate leans toward Europe.)

                  Are most wines bad? Could be. Is the ratio of good wines to bad wines higher for organic or non-organic wines? Who knows but my WAG is that it's higher for organic (as far as I know, there's no organic equivalent to, say, Little Penguin).

                  That the head of the wine department at UC Davis pooh-poohs organic wines comes as no surprise. The university has done some very impressive research in areas like DNA profiling of grape varieties but is widely viewed as focused primarily on industrial production and post-harvest manipulation, as scoffing at "terroirists" and traditional production methods. About a decade ago, when I asked some of the staff at one of California's iconic wineries whether they viewed a Davis oenology degree as an asset on a job applicant's résumé, they said no, that the opposite was true because they'd have to deprogram the employee.

                  «The Salon article makes it sound like it’s really all about sulfites, but if people have found great organic wines maybe there’s some winemaking technique that can compensate for the lack of sulfites?»

                  The article is not very careful about distinguishing between US and non-US organic wines; for example, it's not clear which group Andy Waterhouse was referring to. In Europe, it's usually the producer who decides whether to bottle his/her wines with no or minimal added sulfites. And the few who do generally acknowledge a number of stability problems with such wines, whether organic or non, especially when the bottles are stored at room temperature. In other words, there are plenty of organic wines that contain added sulfites, so there's no need to compensate.

                  Final thought: Might your issue be with no-added-sulfite wines, not organic wines?

                  1. re: carswell

                    >>> whether they viewed a Davis oenology degree as an asset on a job applicant's résumé <<<

                    I've been amazed at how many grads are to be found in wineries I'm most fond of in the western US from our humble neck of the woods via CSU Fresno. I've always heard that UCD is research oriented whereas CSUF's focus is winemaking

                    1. re: carswell

                      Are you in Montreal? I just visited there this past fall and had some of the best food of my life there. And in fact a great Chablis at L'Express, but I'm bad at remembering producers.

                      To try and answer your question, I definitely do not like CA Chardonnays but I do like Chablis. I drink a lot of Italian whites, mainly Piedmont and Liguria but some Sicilian as well, like falanghina, greco di tufo and recently discovered the fantastic erbaluce. I don't know enough about how they're produced to know how manipulated they might be. I have a case of greco di tufo from Benito Ferrara (I think it's 2007) and another case of Erbaluce from Le Chiusure, and have found La Rustia to also be great for erbaluce. I also drink a lot of Sancerre, and I love roses as well - my faves are La Poussie, Petale de rose and the ever present domaine tempier. i don't drink as much red, but when I do it's pinot or again some italians -- i recently had a nero d'avalo (sp?) that I can't wait to go back for, and also a spanish tinto that was great. I'm also perfectly happy with what my friend calls 'cocktail' wines, like NZ sauvignon blancs or South African chenin blanc which are just fun and easy to drink. The only thing I don't really have a taste for is super big reds but I can't honestly say about the organic wines I've tried that I didn't like them because they had too much body.

                      It does sound like from a lot of the comments that the issue is not so much organic but organic-labelled. It's seems like it's parallel to the organic food situation when a lot of products are organic (or free range) in name but not in spirit. I find that a small kosher chicken (that may or may not be organic) or Mary's chicken that I can buy at Gelson's tastes way better than a 5 lb supposedly free-range Rocky or Rosie from Whole Foods.

                      1. re: waferthin

                        You like Piemontese whites, so do I! Have you tried Cascina Val del Prete arneis, and if so, I would like to hear your thoughts. It's biodynamic.

                    2. re: waferthin

                      **>>Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC-Davis<<**

                      Like with everything else, there are schools of "political" thought when it comes to winemaking. UC-Davis LEADS the school of thought that produces "Parkerized" wines -- it is a VERY pro-manipulation school. Quoting thier professors is like quoteing Alice Fiering on the other side of the argument. (Her name isn't even allowed to be mentioned on the erobertparker boards! If you try typing her name, it won't appear!)

                    3. re: carswell

                      The Loire producers listed here, Puzelat, Chidaine and Clos Roche Blanche, are some of my favorite winemakers on the planet.

                      Chidaine and the Bretons are considered some of the best winemakers in the Loire. Puzelat's wines can be a little quirky and weird, but I'd be surprised if anyone called them "bad"

                      Of the others on the list, I've only tasted Quivira's offerings. I'm not a fan, but it wasn't their "organic-ness" I had an issue with.

                      1. re: oolah

                        have you tried Quivira since Steve Canter took over as wine maker?

                        1. re: choucroutegarni

                          Not sure. I visited their tasting room a couple of years ago and found their wines a little too jammy for my tastes, but I'll look out for the newer releases and give it another shot.

                          I had that Puzelat Pineau D'Aunis recently and it's one of the weirdest wines I've ever had. In a good way. I really enjoyed it.

                          1. re: oolah

                            Heh heh, if you think that's weird, try Belliviere's "Rouge Gorge" '05 if you can find it. It's a Coteaux du Loir, 100 percent old vines pinea d'aunis made in a vin de garde style. Smells like clean, wet slate. The '06 is the current release and isn't quite as disturbing.

                2. Angela just received a favorable review from The Boston Globe for Nordstrom's Blue Stove wine list.

                  There are many wines that are organic and biodynamic which are incredible. I would have to say, generally speaking, wineries that are dedicated to the land AND the wine can create great wines. But, if a winery wanted to be green just so they could package it as green... they probably aren't so good. I visited a winemaker in Italy this last summer and she has been biodynamic since 1963 and she one of the top winemakers in Italy. She does not label her wines as organic or biodynamic.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: WineUnleashed

                    Organic and biodynamic are not the same thing.

                    1. re: zin1953

                      Biodynamic has to be organic by definition. But be careful about thinking they are good for the land. For that they need to be sustainable. For example, some wineries practice all organic farming but don't use some organic sprays which are really harmful to the farm workers (it's about the people too). Also they will use round up to kill weeds between plants b/c if they are on a hillside and have to plow it causes too much run-off. this effects wildlife in surrounding streams and does not sustain the land at all.

                      For more info I think you can get it on the web-site for Kunde winery (from Sonoma). They just won the govenor's award for being the most environmentally friendly company (business?) in California for any industry. It's the top environmental award for the state. They are sustainable but not organic.

                      1. re: Rizza

                        I didn't realize 'Round-Up' was within organic regulations - do you have a link for this? I would have thought hand weeding would be required though glyphosate-- is a fairly fast disappating chem.

                        1. re: OCEllen

                          What I said was people may choose to use round up and NOT be organic because they want to be sustainable. Plowing between vines to remove weeds causes run-off and is not good for the land or surrounding streams and aquatic wildlife.

                  2. Some of my favorite wines in the world are organic and biodynamic. When done commercially, these wines can come off as bland. But when done well by true artisans (Valentini, Gravner, Dettori, etc) these wines represent some of the most intriguiging and singular wines made on the planet.

                    45 Replies
                    1. re: whiner

                      Thanks for the specific recommendations, I'll keep an eye out for them. Do you happen to know if they're actually labelled organic for sale in the US, i.e. do they not add any sulfites? I've also noted some wines that are labelled 'post-organic' but I have no idea what that means.

                      1. re: waferthin

                        Most of the organic and biodynamic wines that I drink are not labelled as such. They are made this way because that is how the winemaker prefers to make his wines, NOT because it is en vogue. I can getyou a list of more realistically priced wines, too. Apart from the *amazing* Dettori Bianco (and the very impressive Dettori Tuderi) the labels I mentioned can be quite expensive.

                      2. re: whiner

                        I would have to agree. One that I'm loving right now is Benziger, out of Sonoma. They are devoted to the land, which, as WineUnleashed pointed out, makes a big difference. I've had plenty of organic wines that were terrible. Then again, I've had plenty of non-organic wines that are also terrible so... it's probably a matter of just exploring.

                        1. re: BeckyAndTheBeanstock

                          I toured Benziger maybe 4 or 5 years ago and they were doing biodynamic even back then -- one thing I will say is that it makes for a beautiful vineyard!

                          I've also had plenty of bad non-organic wines but I find that 100% of the wines LABELED 'organic' have been bad in a really specific way which leads me to believe that it may have to do with added sulfites. Either I don't like low-sulfite wines or, as someone else here suggested, they may just be less stable and harder to store well. In fact, I just went through my recycling (so gross) and found that one of the wines I recently had and loved was in fact made with organic grapes but is not labelled organic: Robert Sinskey Los Carneros Pinot Noir -- I threw it back in the bin so I don't know the year.

                          1. re: waferthin

                            <<I've also had plenty of bad non-organic wines but I find that 100% of the wines LABELED 'organic' have been bad in a really specific way>>>

                            What is the "really specific way" these wines are bad? If you have identified a specific way, please tell us the specifics.

                            1. re: waferthin

                              The problem with a lot of wines that go through the trouble of getting the organic certification is that the organic label is their entire marketing plan. Organic wines = sales in their minds.

                              1. re: orlwine

                                Yes, I see. In the absence of substance.

                            2. re: BeckyAndTheBeanstock

                              Just another opinion about Benziger:

                              Their wines are hugely disappointing. The mystery is this -- you'd think their biodynamic practices would produce better wine. I've tasted through the entire regular and reserve lines, and while I really, really want to like their wines, there's not a winner among them. I love the property, though. Too bad something so wrong is going on over there...

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                Curious as to what you think should make a biodynamic wine necessarily better. I get the non-use of chemicals, the spiritual nature of the farming and love the concept of a self-nourishing system but I don't really see how those things would produce better wine. I'd like to think they would, but don't know how/why.

                                1. re: Midlife

                                  That's what everybody was saying back in the early 80s when Nicolas Joly started the trend.
                                  Answer: try any bottle from Joly and you'll know.
                                  Epiphany kind of thing.

                                  1. re: RicRios

                                    Seems like bad logic:

                                    Joly practices biodynamic winemaking.
                                    Joly makes good wine.
                                    Therefore biodynamic winemaking makes good wine.

                                    Maybe Joly's just a good winemaker. If you start with crappy grapes or don't have a good winemaking touch, I don't think biodynamic practices are going to magically make good wines.

                                    1. re: Frodnesor

                                      All men are mortal. Socrates is mortal. Therefore...
                                      Que sais-je, moi.
                                      À la tienne, mon vieux!

                                      1. re: Frodnesor

                                        Joly started farming using conventional methods. He was alarmed by what he saw happening to the soil in his vineyards. He fell for biodynamics in a big way, and is now quite the evangelist. His vinyeards have been transformed by biodynamic practice, in simple-to-see ways (soil structure, earth worms) and also more subtle ways (microscopic differences in root structure). In any event, Joly himself that by converting to biodynamics, the wine he makes is better.

                                    2. re: Midlife

                                      Jules Chauvet has a well-thought position on why organic farming produces more interesting, honest, and complex wines. Part of his argument has to do with creating a healthy ecosystem in vineyard soils, which he argues creates a richer, more complex environment for wild yeasts. It's similar to why cave aged, non-pasturized cheeses are always more complex than pasturized cheeses.

                                      1. re: choucroutegarni

                                        <<It's similar to why cave aged, non-pasturized cheeses are always more complex than pasturized cheeses.>>

                                        Slight quibble: Pasteurization takes the cheese out of the cheese.
                                        It removes the beneficial, flavor-giving microflora that give cheese much of its flavor.

                                        Cave-aging (or the introduction of mold(s) to make a specific kind of cheese) is a separate component entirely in its effect on fthe flavor, and an inconsistent one. Even Roquefort cheese, known for acquiring its characteristic flavor and blue veining from the mold in the natural caves under the French village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, is now made by inoculating the milk with the Penicillium roqueforti mold before aging in the caves. So, cave-aging is a bit of a myth.

                                        I do agree that a healthy soil web is where it's at in organic farming, and have done a fair amount of research on organic "teas," the liquid extracted from specific composts. The nutrient delivery system is enhanced with a healthy soil web, and pests seem to be less attracted to the vineyard.

                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                          coming right back at you: the strain of penicillium roqueforti, at least for AOC cheeses, is/was cultured from a wild strain isolated, indeed, from aging caves. The idea is that the caves themselves are part of the terroir for producing a specific cheese. Today, the caves just provide a really good, naturally cooled environment for aging cheese, as the cheese is now innoculated, but innoculated with a strain that was originally isolated from the caves. That's why you cannot produce a blue cheese outside of the AOC area that tastes remotely like roquefort; it may be a delicious cheese on its own merits, but it won't taste like roquefort. I haven't double-blinded this assertion.

                                          In addition, I think Cowgirl Creamery cheeses, properly ripened, are quite good--they use a mix of bacteria to bring back some of the complexity of raw milk cheese to a product that uses, because of idiotic USDA ideas of food safety, pasturized milk.

                                          Note that this second scenario is used by some natural winegrowers, too: it's possible to create a culture of the originally wild yeast strains from your own cantina and use that to ferment with--you're still using wild yeasts, but also remove some of the risk in doing so.

                                          1. re: choucroutegarni

                                            I pointed out above that you mistakenly conflated two distinct flavor components of cheese and then likened them to organic wine: raw vs. pasteurized is one component, innoculated vs. naturally occuring molds is another.

                                            While there is a parallel in organic winemaking relative to cave-aging and introduced molds vs. naturally occuring molds, there is no direct parallel for raw vs. pasteurized milk in organic winemaking. (You could assert that the parallel is organic vs. non-organic farming practices, but that does not apply to organic winemaking.) So part of your analogy worked, part of it didn't work so well.

                                            In the case of Roquefort, the same mold is both innoculated and naturally occuring. This is part of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon's terroir.

                                            Some of Cowgirl Creamery's cheeses were created with naturally occuring molds. When Red Hawk was first created, brevibacterium linens arrived, airborne and unexpected, and created red streaks on the rind and a flavor similar to Epoisses. In this case, it was a happy accident, an expression of Cowgirl Creamery's terroir, and as a result, a new cheese was born. But it wasn't the cheese Cowgirl Creamery set out to make when it happened.

                                            B. linen's arrival was serendipitous, but as many cheesemakers and winemakers will tell you, many molds and yeasts in an individual environment or terroir will create terrible flavors in cheese and wine -- and that becomes a huge challenge for the cheesemaker or winemaker. With organically made wine, how do you keep out the nasty yeasts that create terrible flavors?

                                            Granted, a vineyard and winery, or specific cheesemaking area like Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, may have an individual "signature" of microorganisms, most of which are beneficial. But these signatures are not consistent, and bad bugs can easily creep in and wreak havoc with the flavor. I understand your terroir argument -- have researched extensively in this area -- and some terror is bad-tasting terroir.

                                            So your assertion that cave-aged, non-pasteurized cheeses are always more complex than pasteurized cheeses shows you haven't tasted the ludicrously horrible cave-aged cheeses that were affected by bad molds. Or even cheeses that are not cave-aged that got hit with a bad batch of airborne mold. Generally, those cheeses are never released because they're so awful. Even worse is when this bad airborne mold hits the entire cheesemaking facility, and every single cheese gets infected.

                                            Perhaps you also haven't tasted organic wines that were rendered god-awful by bad yeasts or other bacteria that could not be controlled because sulfur or potassium sorbate could not be added. Some of Coturri's wines are this way.

                                            Organic winemaking is completely unwieldy, a crap shoot, a tightwire act. Which I'm sure you know. Occasionally the wines are brilliant. Most are so-so, and sometimes the wines are so bad they're never released.

                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                              Just to add to ml's comment, when you take a strain of bacterium (or yeast) and isolate it, culture it, and then use it as an innoculant, it is no longer the same as the wild (indigenous) strain. It has been purified. It's now a single, pure strain . . . at least as far as winemaking is concerned.

                                              Every vineyard on the planet has indigenous yeast present in it, yet some wineries which attempt to use it (rather than innoculating with a cultured strain) ALWYAS have problems, while others NEVER do. Why? Because some particular yeasts can (and do!) cause off-odors, -flavors during fermentation.

                                              To generalize (meaning that the following may by-and-large hold true, there certainly are a number of exceptions), where vineyards dominate the landscape (i.e.: a monocultural environment), there are fewer problems -- that is, the indigenous yeasts tend to be "purer" than in a more varied environment.


                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                Here in Los Angeles we have a baker named Nancy Silverton. She started a bakery many years ago based on breads that are leavened with a wild yeast culture harvested from organic grapes. She has a method for keeping this culture alive over time so that you can use it dependably to bake bread. The mental model I have is that her method is essentially a small ecosystem for sustaining the original wild yeast culture. She doesn't bother to isolate the yeasts, she just keeps a mess of them growing happily, albeit slowly, in the fridge.

                                                1. re: choucroutegarni

                                                  But that's not true.

                                                  Even though Silverton used organic grapes in her starter, the lactobacilli and yeasts in the starter are actually from the flour or grain. "The particular varieties of yeast and lactobacilli [on grapes] have never been recovered in any sourdough starter that has been examined from any place in the world."*

                                                  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Lactobacilli and yeast strains.
                                                  Each is specifically adapted to grow on a particular thing. Grapes have yeast and lactobacilli on them but they are specific to grapes, just like certain lactobacilli are specific to yogurt. Other lactobacilli and microorganisms are specific to cheese.

                                                  That's why, when beginning a bread starter, it's important to use lactobacilli and yeasts that are *already* adapted to growing on grain. Rye grain and rye flour are the best -- even if making whole-wheat or white bread -- because rye already has the greatest quantity of the specific lactobacilli and yeast that you want in a starter. Mix in a little pineapple juice to provide acidity (to keep away nasty "yeasty beasties") and a fermentable sugar, and the starter really takes off.

                                                  Yes, a bread starter is an ecosystem, but one of grain/flour lactobacilli and yeasts, not those from grapes even if they're used.

                                                  Agreed, an individual vineyard and winery is also an ecosystem of microorganisms -- I mentioned this above several times as an individual "signature" of microorganisms.

                                                  But that isn't necessarily a good thing. It's just a thing, until the beauty or ugliness of flavors created by that ecosystem reveals itself.

                                                  *Read more here:

                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                    what do the grapes do, then, in her starter?

                                                    1. re: choucroutegarni

                                                      My guess: contribute sugar as food for the yeast to keep the starter going, and possibly some flavor.

                                              2. re: maria lorraine

                                                Hmm, I thought for AOC Roquefort the mold had to originate from strains harvested directly from the cave to qualify as AOC cheese? Anyway, I think I didn't express myself very clearly: I only meant to establish a similarity between a good natural mold-ripened cheese and a good organic wine, insofar as terroir makes them both possible. Native yeasts are part of the terroir equation, but just one part. I guess you can take the extreme operationalist view and assert that because terror cannot be measured it cannot be, but any self-respecting Burgundy drinker would stare at you blankly.

                                                Again, not to push Chauvet too much, but he does have an interesting take on just why organic wine making need not be a crapshoot. I really enjoy the wines made by his disciples; right now, I'm enjoying Guy Breton's Morgon vielles vignes very much. Note that this is not a USDA organic wine, as it is made with sulfur (a little bit). In addition, did you know that even our friend Tony Coturri uses sulfur with at least some of his wines? You’ll see the phrase “no detectable sulfur” on the label: that doesn’t mean it was made without sulfur, just that there was no sulfur left by bottling time.

                                      2. re: maria lorraine

                                        Midlife, in answer to your post...
                                        I do believe organic fruit farming produces more flavorful fruit. I also think organic wine-grape farming produces more flavorful wine grapes. I'm not so sure about biodynamic farming and its effect on wine grapes. Its combo of organic farming, phases of the moon, mysticism, folklore and other elements seems a little hokey to me, but others firmly believe in it, especially in Europe. I mentioned my opinion of Benziger wines because it seems all the effort to farm biodynamically should result in benefits to the wine grapes (and entire growing system) that go beyond those from organic farming. But that doesn't happen. The wines are terribly disappointing. Perhaps the Benziger grapes are more flavorful from being farmed biodynamically, but those flavors are killed by the winemaking. Beats me.

                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                          Well.......... almost every winemaker I've ever met agrees it all starts with the quality of the fruit. Maybe happy fruit makes better wine. :o)

                                          1. re: Midlife

                                            You reminded me of the commercials on the West Coast for
                                            Happy Cows Make Better Cheese, and the specific one --
                                            my favorite, entitled "Foot Massage:"

                                            Good wine, begins, at a minimum. with happy grapes. But happy fruit doesn't guarantee happy wine. Things can happen 'twixt vine and barrel, and even afterwards, that diminish the quality of the fruit.

                                            So, i guess the question for me is, then, what constitutes happy? In regards to wine. Are biodynamic grapes happier than organic grapes? Do they make better wine? I've noticed some 100% organic wines strike me as wimpy. Is that generally so? Is the entire category wimpy? I don't have enough tasting experience to know.

                                            If, if, there is a falloff in flavor in 100% organic or biodynamic wines, where does that happen in the winemaking process? Fermentation? Aging? Where? Does the lack of sulfur have anything to do with that? I don't know and I'm curious.


                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                              As to the lack of sulfur..............In previous posts I've mentioned Coturri, in Glen Ellen, and I think you are familiar with them. Tony Coturri's no-sulfites added wines are anything but wimpy. So much so that Parker actually likes them.

                                              1. re: Midlife

                                                Yet another example of where he and I disagree . . .

                                                Some of the very worst wines I have ever had in my life have come from Coturri. Then again, some have indeed been very good.

                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                  I'd be the first to agree that Coturri wines are almost always excessively fruity (some would say sweet) and I've always thought that was intentional to allow the wines to last without sulfites. I've had to warn people that they are often close to 'dessert style' and usually closer to 'on steroids' than stylistically 'correct'. Notice I didn't say I always like them, though his field blend is really very good. I had to advise customers that, for example, his Pinot was not like most Pinots.

                                                  But Parker has usually rated them at or just below 90 points, though he says his reviews of Coturri bring among the most controversy of anything he reviews.

                                                  1. re: Midlife

                                                    Coturri is a big believer in whole cluster fermentation, ergo, the frutiness. If you don't drink a lot of whole cluster wine, you might find his wines too fruity. I like 'em, some more than others. Personally, I think some of the wines have too much residual sugar, but I love that the guy has such an intensely personal vision for the wine he makes.

                                                    1. re: choucroutegarni

                                                      Are you ascribing the fruitiness of Coturri's wines to his whole-cluster fermentation and not the ripeness level of the fruit? For example, his Zin clocks in at 16.5 ABV. That's super-ripe fruit.

                                                      Coturri's wines often have RS, perhaps because the wild yeasts are spent before the wine is fermented completely dry. But another reason for the perceived sweetness is the high alcohol. When the Zin, as an example, has 16.5 ABV, at that point you are tasting ethyl alcohol, which tastes very sweet -- like caramel, in fact -- even when a wine is dry. Combine that with RS and -- whoa nellie! -- the wine can taste cloyingly sweet.

                                                      I've read a lot about Coturri *crushing* grapes, and his special crusher-stemmer (one place it's described in his website), which is indicative of him not using whole-cluster fermentation. Which wines does he ferment whole-cluster?

                                                      Jjust to provide a full picture, sometimes the fruit in Coturri's wines is not good at all, and his wines can be riddled with flaws. But, like you, I admire his personal vision and iconoclasm. He doesn't always succeed but he is, in a way, an American version of Joly.

                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                        Yes, I am ascribing the frutiness in part to his use of whole cluster, but you're right, some of it comes from the fruit ripeness, alcohol, as well as RS. Not all of his wines are so high in alc., e.g., the old vine carignan I think is "only" 14.5. I def get ethyl cinnamate in his wines, which probably contributes to the perception of sweetness.

                                                        I believe all of his wines start with whole cluster and then are crushed and fermented like any other conventional wine (but with a lot of punchdowns, a lot, plus very little or no sulfur).

                                                        1. re: choucroutegarni

                                                          >>> I believe all of his wines start with whole cluster and then are crushed and fermented like any other conventional wine (but with a lot of punchdowns, a lot, plus very little or no sulfur). <<<

                                                          So -- what? -- fermentation begins as whole cluster, and then he pumps the fermenting must/clusters into a stemmer-crusher????

                                                          1. re: zin1953

                                                            I'm really enjoying this discussion as I've never been able to get Tony to explain, in detail, why his wines taste the way most of them do (I've called them "X-varietal on steroids").

                                                            Also............ is it me or has this part of the topic been deleted and resurrected a couple of times so far? I could swear I've looked and not found it.

                                                            1. re: Midlife

                                                              Some of the subthreads have been "cut into" and spliced, which has affected continuity, but I don't recall any deletions and resurrections, which could be the title of your new novel.

                                                            2. re: zin1953

                                                              Yep, that's what he does. As do legions of other winegrowers, too.

                                                  2. re: Midlife

                                                    and tony coturri grows some of the best wines out there on th west cost. he is one of the few that believe in the act of nature on wine as opposed to a style tht is revered by critics. a brilliant grower, and one who others can learn a lot from.

                                            2. re: maria lorraine

                                              >Just another opinion about Benziger: Their wines are hugely disappointing.<

                                              I thought I was the only one who actively dislikes their wine. I still take visitors there because it's such a good place but usually I don't even bother to taste. A few (several?) years ago I stopped into the Imagery winery without knowing anything about it and quickly realized that I didn't like their wines. Then I found out that it's a high-end line of Benziger. No surprise.

                                              1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                That explains something to me. Imagery wines were recommended to me and I just don't like them at all. I already knew about Benziger.

                                                1. re: wally

                                                  Benziger has a new winemaker now, so I hope things improve.

                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                    When would the wines from the new winemaker at Benziger become available?

                                                    1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                      Depends on the varietal, of course. Rodrigo Soto has just arrived on the scene. He comes from Chile. First harvest will be this year, so 2011 might be a good time to check in. That allows enough time for some juice to get into the bottle and settle down a bit.. For the reds, maybe 2012. Seems like a long time, doesn't it?

                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                        >Seems like a long time, doesn't it?<

                                                        No longer than it's been since I last tried their wine...

                                              2. re: maria lorraine

                                                Hardly any of their wines are organically grown and the ones that are are totally overpriced.