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Natural Dynamic

Photos: Nic Gaunt

Biodynamic winemaking eschews many modern techniques in favour of alternative methods in balance with nature’s rhythms, writes Amber head sommelier John Chan

For a sommelier, it was something of a lifechanging moment. There I was with Jean Meyer, winemaker at Josmeyer, a certified biodynamic wine estate in Alsace, northeastern France. We tasted a few bottles of his dry white wines, which had been opened for more than four weeks, and his sweet and semi-sweet offerings, uncorked some two months earlier.

As any drinker of fine wine knows, most bottles opened for more than a few days – some would say a few hours – suffer from oxidation as they react with the air. But all the wines we sampled at the Josmeyer estate tasted fresh, with no oxidation apparent. From that day in 2006, I decided to study the philosophy of biodynamic winemaking. After all, if the esteemed Meyer was prepared to turn his 28-hectare estate of predominantly rieslings, pinot blancs and pinot gris over to this alternative method of wine production, there must be something in it.

Biodynamic viticulture takes organic winemaking to a whole new level. Organic wines are made from grapes grown without synthetic pesticides or additives in the winemaking process. But biodynamic wines are made using an even more demanding, and indeed more expensive, set of principles – not just a horse-pulled plough instead of a fuel-burning tractor, but a holistic emphasis on self-sufficiency of the land. It is an embrace of the philosophy of human beings working in harmony with nature’s rhythms – or as Josmeyer puts it, “a balance of sky to earth to plant to man”.

The vineyard becomes its own ecosystem, there are specific restrictions on the treatment of soil, vines are often left to develop more naturally, and herbal concoctions are applied according to astrological influences and lunar cycles, helping the vines find their natural balance. And once this balance is struck to the satisfaction of one of two international organisations, Biodivin and Demeter, a vineyard, and its wines, can be classified as biodynamic.

But are these biodynamic wines – made without the assistance of many of modern winemaking’s techniques, pesticide sprays, sulphite additives and so on – going to suffer in terms of quality? It comes down to how you define ‘quality’ among the thousands of labels on the market. Is it price? Is it reputation? Is it high scores from leading wine critics? At the end of the day, perhaps it’s simply that the best quality wines come from the best quality vineyards.

Six of the best
John Chan’s pick of six certified biodynamic wines currently available at Amber:

WHITE

2009 Josmeyer Brand Grand Cru Riesling
Alsace, France
Rich and dry with a hint of tropical fruit and a balance of clean acidity and chalky minerals.

1997 Nicolas Joly Savennières ‘Clos de la Coulée de Serrant’
Loire, France
Vibrant and racy with melon fruitiness and classic nuttiness; delicious a day after opening.

2010 Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner ‘Im Weingebirge’ Smaragd
Wachau, Austria
Unoaked, with florals and peach, savoury minerals, natural smokiness and deep-soil earthiness.

RED

1994 Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon
Northern Rhöne, France
A closely-knitted syrah offering a complexity of cassis and stony minerals and hints of leather and sweet spice.

2013 Clau de Nell ‘Vieilles Vignes’ Grolleau
Loire, France
Pure fruits with undertones of stony, chalky minerality and natural smokiness, with soft tannins.

2007 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Échézeaux Grand Cru
Burgundy, France
Floral, with ripe red fruits and earthy undertones of wild mushroom; both complex and lean textured.

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