This particular Wine Blogging Wednesday was real eye opener, thanks to our hosts Jack and Joanne at Fork and Bottle. As most of you did, I googled Bioynamic Wine and saw what came up. Strange, there were wines in my modest cellar that are Biodynamic --but rather ordinary wines, like the Chateau La Canorgue 2002 Cotes du Luberon, made famous by Peter Mayle's books on Provence. It's a simple Rhone-ish table wine, and always welcome on my table.
But then I got the Bio bug. I started entering "biodynamic" and "organic" into all my regular on line wine shops search engines and this caught my eye: "2002 Super T-Rex Sangiovese from excellent biodynamic producer". Wow, pretty interesting. Further investigation led me to Robert Rex of Deerfield Ranch up in the Kenwood/Glen Ellen area of Sonoma. Turns out the Super T-Rex is made from grapes sourced from many sustainably farmed vineyards, but the wine can't be certified as organic or Biodynamic; but my interest was piqued to say the least.
I had some really insightful emails from Robert Rex, the co-owner and winemaker and immediately made plans to visit him and taste his current line-up, and especially the 2001 Merlot and 2003 Syrah, both from certified dynamic vineyards, the former from Mike Topolos' Russian River Vineyards, the Syrah from Deerfield estate vines that Mike helped plant and nurture. Please read the extended post continuation below for a look inside the mind of a great, thoughtful winemaker on the subject of organics and biodynamics. Talking to him and to PJ, who is a great blender and taster in her own right, brought out the sensible practices involved with a Biodynamic farm, not the kooky ones.
How were the wines? All of them delicious. I bought 2 each of my 4 favorites: the 2001 Russian River Pinot, 2001 Sangiovese Clear Lake, 2002 Syrah, and the one I came to taste:
This wine is made in the French merlot styles of St. Emillion, so it's not a thick berry-blockbuster, but rather an elegant style with nice perfume of cloves and blueberries. Robert added a little Cabernet for depth and a longer finish. It is full and ripe, but not at all stewed or dense. The wine has a very clean finish and is not overly extracted. (All of Robert's wines seemed to share this sense of elegance).
Pair this with a beautiful steak with not too much pepper, or a nice wild mushroom risotto. Highly recommended.
"We grow biodynamically ourselves and have other vineyards that do. Some of the grapes on the T-Rex are biodynamic but only a small portion. The other vineyards, like Alegria use sustainable farming methods, some are organically grown, but not certified (many farmers don't like doing all the paper work and monitoring and don't like the CCOF intrusion. All the growers we work with are very "green". The one thing most of them are not willing to give up is Roundup. It has proven, over a 2 decade use and study, to be very environmentally friendly. All that being said, we make no claim that the T-Rex is either organic or biodynamic."
"We have just one wine that is certified biodynamic and that is our Russian River Valley Merlot. We made our first Syrah this year from our own biodynamic vineyard. That wine will be available in a couple of years."
Thanks for your question. I hope you enjoy the wine. I think it's delicious. It is very clean, no active sulfites and very low histamines, meaning no allergic reactions and no headaches. " "Histamines are produced by yeast to protect themselves form toxins in the fermenting juice, in much the same way your body produces histamines in reaction to allergens. Since we make wine from really clean fruit the yeast don't have as much toxin to put up with. We also feed the yeast with nitrogen, potassium, minerals, vitamins, and other foods so that they grow nicely and happily. The result is that very little histamine is produced. It is histamines that cause red wine headaches, not SO2."
"We use sulfites in our winemaking. It is impossible to age wine in barrels without sulfite. They would all oxidize prematurely. We do not add any sulfite before the wine goes in the barrel. For the most part the grapes come in really clean, the bad ones culled out as much as possible in the vineyard. The grapes are transported in small bins so the arrive at the winery whole. They are then hand sorted. This removes any remaining bad fruit so we have no mildew, mold, bird damage, or other stuff that doesn't belong. Nothing you wouldn't eat. We do not reserve any stray juice from berries that have been crushed in the bins, that goes down the drain because it can be contaminated from contact with grapes we end up sorting out."
"What all this does is make the juice and therefore the fermentation cleaner. It means we don't have to add any sulfite at the crush. It is only added in very small doses during the barrel aging and bottling process. The active ingredient in sulfite is SO2, sulfur dioxide. SO2 is unstable, it wants to become SO3. SO3 is stable and has no reactive quality. SO2 becomes SO3 by picking up an oxygen atom, thereby removing the O2 from the wine and keeping it from oxidizing. SO2 will do the same thing in the body, that's why it isn't good for you. Of course there are many things that rob oxygen from the body so everyone as a varying degree of tolerance to reductive agents like SO2. The personal tolerances vary. The lowest levels are typically in the 25 ppm (parts per million) range. My wife, PJ is at that level. Mine is about 40 ppm. Most people are around 75 ppm before you notice any effects."
"Since we use very little SO2 and monitor it carefully, when our wine goes into the bottle we know exactly how much free SO2 we have. The free SO2 in the bottle goes merrily about its job of binding up any free O2, keeping the wine fresh and safe from premature oxidation. By the time our wine is release to the public most, if not all, of the free SO2 is gone, well below PJ's threshold. So, we use SO2 but there is no active or reactive SO2 in our wine by the time it is consumed. Since the wines are made cleanly and are stable when they go into the bottle they will still age well. The higher alcohol levels or current wines also make them more age worthy. If we have to count on SO2 to give wine a long life we're in trouble. It never did that, not even at 75 ppm."
email re-printed with kind permission from Robert Rex.