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With Climate Week focusing our attention on the crisis of global warming, we have been slightly encouraged that the potential role of agriculture in sequestering carbon is being discussed more seriously in the scientific and farming communities, and has even been mentioned by politicians here and abroad. The basic idea is that regenerative agriculture, one aspect of which is "no-till farming" which maintains cover crops year round and minimizes plowing, can result in an increased rate of carbon capture by vegetation, storing the CO2 in the soil where it belongs. This, in turn, would be a major contribution towards lowering atmospheric CO2 to safe levels.
"Conventional" farming and the plowing and chemical use associated with it has led to the degradation of agricultural soils, causing an increase, rather than an absorbtion, of atmospheric CO2. Two books I read seven or eight years ago put the problem in a historical context and explained the situation - and what can be done about it - in clear scientific terms. First, "Dirt, The Erosion of Civilizations" by David Montgomery (University of California Press) is a depressing chronicle of how people throughout history have destroyed their soils, and subsequently themselves, through excessive plowing. Examples include ancient Anatolia and the Tigris/Euphrates valley, ancient Rome and the American South. "Le sol, la terre et les champs" by Claude & Lydia Bourguignon (Editions Sang de la terre) is both a fascinating textbook explaining the world beneath our feet, and an impassioned plea for sane agriculture based on farming methods that plant crops directly into cover crops that enrich and protect the life of the soil. "We must abandon plowing which destroys organic matter and exposes soil to erosion and replace it by direct seeding into cover crops."
Although vineyard acreage represents a very small portion of international agricultural land, viticulture that minimizes plowing and encourages growth between the vines can make a meaningful contribution to the effort to sequester carbon. In general, plowing vineyards became the norm in the 19th century when hand-tilling of high-density plantings (up to 30,000 - 40,000 plants per hectare in some areas) was replaced by horse-drawn plows, then tractors, in widely spaced low-density vineyards planted in rows. (Of course this scenario varies widely in different regions.) Before dessication and erosion from plowing could destroy vineyard soils, the 1950s brought herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers and systemic fungicides - plowing was no longer necessary, but the life of the soil, with its amazing complexity and natural functions, was largely destroyed. As were the wines: "These wines, products of soils biologically dead, no longer gave with age flavors of the earth, of truffle, of mushroom, of undergrowth, of dead leaf, of silex, of stone. Goodbye to beautiful minerality in the finish. They became flat, empty, exhausted by aging." ("Le sol, la terre et les champs") Fortunately there were some who refused to accept the new regimen, such as the Guillot family at the Clos des Vignes du Maynes, or who quickly rejected chemical farming and sought organic certification, such as the Guion famiy in Bourgueil (1964) and many others.
This digression brings us back to plowing - as winemakers realized that the quality of their wines was suffering and that agricultural chemicals were poisoning their soils, they turned towards organic and Biodynamic farming, and plowing done to control weeds or to aerate the soil once again became commonplace. Thanks to the work of the Bourguignons and many other soil scientists around the world, a new generation of vignerons is realizing that a healthy living soil is best maintained by minimizing plowing and maintaining vegetation covering the soil as much as possible. This enables the amazing factory of soil flora and fauna to do its work, combining the inorganic material of bedrock with the organic material of plants - powered by the sun - creating the nutrients and micro-nutrients needed for life - and great wine. While the motivations of winemakers may center around the health of their workers and their soils - and the quality of their wines - a growing number are recognizing the ability of living soils to sequester carbon and are ready to become part of a world-wide movement among winemakers and progressive farmers to combat global warming.
A few statistics:
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that making changes to how we use forests, grow crops, and raise livestock could yield upward of 9 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions reductions per year by 2050.
Researchers for Project Drawdown estimated that an increase in regenerative agriculture from the current 108 million acres to 1 billion acres by 2050 could result in a total reduction of 23.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide, from both sequestration and reduced emissions. This is equivalent to 65% of the world’s carbon emissions measured in 2015.
We'd like to thank a few of our winemaker friends who have shared their knowledge with us on this topic, principally Didier Barouillet (Clos Roche Blanche), Francois Chidaine, Eric Texier, Christian Ducroux, Elisabetta Foradori (who specializes in biodiversity) and Peio Espil (Domaine Ilarria). When I asked Peio many years ago how he felt about plowing, he smiled and said "I haven't plowed in 20 years!" Below is a short list of growers whose vineyard work produces beautiful wines, and fights global warming as well. We'll offer longer lists, with information about how the growers are working, in subsequent emails. And we'd like to recommend David Montgomery's new book "Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life." For more information check out RegenerationInternational.org, perhaps the main organization promoting regenerative agriculture around the world, and FoodTank.com has links to many other groups. David Lillie
The Heritage Red from Bedrock Vineyard is from a Zinfandel-based blend composed of 22 inter-planted varieties planted in the 1880s in Red Hill clay-loam soils, using no-till cover crop farming, and native yeast fermentation. Zinfandel really shines from these old, gnarled vines. The concentration of flavor that you get from the very low yields adds richness to the wines without having to pick them late and overripe. The nose shows a mix of violet, minty eucalyptus, and ripe, but not syrupy, purple plum. The palate shows additional complexity with a touch of cocoa powder, black tea, and black cherry. Rich and comforting, this will be excellent in the colder months! Michelle DeWyngaert
This is usually our favorite wine from François and Manuela Chidaine, long-time champions of organic and biodynamic farming in the Loire Valley. Named after the soil type "Les Bournais," a unique clay topsoil over limestone (tuffeau blanche) also found across the river in Vouvray and without the silex present in most Montlouis terroirs. The 2017 is a beautiful example of this wine with lovely aromas of lemon confit, kiwi, pear, lime-flower, honey and earth, with subtle hints of crushed raspberry as well. The palate is dense and creamy with chalky ripe pear and citrus fruits with a long, lush finish of stone, white fruits, anise and citrus. (Lush but dry at only 2.3 gr RS/L) This is a beautiful Montlouis that will perfectly accompany lobster, fish or white meats in sauce, Asian foods and goat cheeses. It's delicious now, and should be very interesting after ten to fifteen years in the cellar. David Lillie
In the French Basque hills, enveloped by Spain, Peio Espil tends his family’s estate with impressive care. Peio, after careers in both Sauternes and Jurancon, returned to Irouleguy to work sustainably, and received complete organic certification in 2008. Here he strictly adheres to a Fukuoka-inspired way of organic farming, with biodiversity in the vineyards and no plowing, with the overall health of the soil being his number one concern. The 2015 Rouge is 55% Tannat, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% Cabernet Franc and it's a great vintage for this unique wine, being a bit rounder than usual and quite delicious for current drinking. While packing a punch of dark flavors of plummy fruit, cured meats, and green herbs, there is also a signature lifted elegance to the wine. This has been attributed to Peio’s commitment to vineyards of limestone, which is unique in a land known for iron-rich soils. On the table, this red would do well with Mediterranean lamb or pork dishes.
Made primarily from 80 to 90 year-old vines of Serine, generally regarded as an old version of Syrah (which evolved from Mondeuse Blanc and Dureza) with smaller berries which survived through massale selection, principally in Cote Rotie. Serine gives a more aromatic and elegant wine that the larger berried modern Syrah. The 2014 shows earthy, complex black and blue fruits, with chalky strawberry amd floral aromas. The palate is intense and earthy with blackberry, red currant, licorice and mineral flavors with pretty red fruits lingering in the long finish. Decant well in advance if drinking now, best to hold ten years or more. "...reunites the potential of 2010 with the amiability of 2012" says Eric.
Located in the eastern part of the Eola-Amity AVA, Hope Well is a winery founded on the principles of regenerative agriculture. Trained in Forest Ecology and following a career in the National Forest Service as a botanist, Mimi Casteel returned to Bethel Hill, her family's winery. After a few years as vineyard manager, she founded Hope Well with the idea of putting into praxis her deeply held beliefs in regenerative farming, through promoting biodiversity and carbon capture thru no-till agriculture.
Francois Chidaine has been one of the leading proponents of biodynamic farming in the Loire valley and has had a profound influence on the resurgence of Montlouis. Les Choisilles is vinified dry, from parcels of 30 to 90 year-old vines on clay and silica soils over limestone "tuffeau." The soils are kept covered with beneficial plants growing in the rows and only organic composts are used. Fermentation of Les Choisilles can last up to six months, with wild yeasts, no malo-lactic, aging on the lees in large barrels. The 2017s at Chidaine are studies in terroir with the young wines showing intense acidity and mineral flavors eclipsing, for now, the elegant white and yellow fruits that coat the palate. Though delicious now, served with grilled fish, fish and chicken in sauce and shellfish, the Les Choisilles will open nicely over the next ten to fifteen years and should be considered for the cellar. David Lillie
While we’ve always loved Clos Fantine due to their impeccable farming, thoughtful cellar work, and the wines’ wild soulfulness, we’re especially enamored by the juicy and pure 2016 Tradition. This cuvée is a harmonious blend of de-stemmed Carignan, Syrah, and Grenache vinified separately in large vats with indigenous yeasts, then assembled and aged in cement before bottling with no sulfur. Slightly more polished than previous vintages, this year is singing, with a nose that is bursting with aromas of wood smoke, baked red apple skins, citrus and garrigue. The wine shows a deep purple in the glass. The palate is lifted by cool minerality and structured with powdery tannins with flavors of juicy plum, cinnamon spice and dried herbs on the finish. This is a satisfying wine that would pair beautifully with grilled sausages and wild rice. Amanda Bowman
Foradori's Teroldego feels like a benchmark. Not that there is excessive opportunity to do comparative tastings of this lesser-known grape, but of the ones that we've tried, this wine is neither over-oaked, nor reedy and thin, but always perfectly balanced in its intensity and expression. A medley of brambly red and dark fruit (blackberries, plum) interwoven with dark spice, earth and green notes of blackcurrant leaf. The 2016 vintage is quite reserved when first opened, but some air reveals its true potential. One of my favorite pairings with roast pork. It's a great testament to Elisabetta Foradori and her family, and the hard work that has been done in the vineyards and winery for nearly 40 years, that this expression of Teroldego has risen from relative obscurity to be a true staple. Oskar Kostecki
Manzoni Bianco is an early 20th-century crossing of Riesling and Pinot Bianco, and is almost exclusively planted in a small corner of the Dolomites. Elisabetta Foradori has a small 3 hectare parcel above the town of Trento, farmed biodynamically on clay-limestone soils. Though the wine only sees 3 or 4 days of skin maceration, there is a wonderful richness and texture to the Manzoni, coupled with notes of citrus, citrus peel, honeysuckle, almond, and a definitive herbal character running through it. Very expressive. The wine ages mostly in acacia barrels, with 15% in clay. Oskar Kostecki
Natalino Del Prete farms 10 hectares of mostly Negroamaro and Primitivo vines just north of Lecce in southern Puglia. Certified organic since 1994, his vineyards are never treated with any chemicals (they look quite wild!) and the vinification is decidely old-school, with minimal intervention and no sulfur added at any point, including bottling. The 2017 Negroamaro Anne is from a plot of 30 to 60 year old vines planted on clay soils. Rustic and slightly barnyardy on the nose, this wine opens with black cherry, black plum and a general medley of dark fruits, and finishes with notes of dark cocoa and earth. Medium plus bodied, with very good acidity, this is a wonderful example of "farmhouse" wine from the Italian South. Oskar Kostecki
Natalino Del Prete farms 10 hectares of mostly Negroamaro and Primitivo vines just north of Lecce in southern Puglia. Certified organic since 1994, his vineyards are never treated with any chemicals (they look quite wild!) and the vinification is decidedly old-school, with minimal intervention and no sulfur added at any point, including bottling. The 2017 Primitivo is from 30 to 60 year-old vines planted on clay soils. An elegant, deep and inviting nose leads to a bright palate of red plum, black plum, dark raspberry, blackberry, earth and spice. There is a hint of something wild about all the Del Prete wines, but in my personal opinion it leads to a bit more depth, complexity, and curiosity. I really like the spirit of these wines. Jules Dressner calls them "unpretentious peasant wine " and while that is a great description, I think there is a little more to them than just that. They speak to a certain vision, in a certain place, one maybe not necessarily associated with "natural wine". Oskar Kostecki
Jean-Claude says this wine, sourced from lieux-dits Beaux Fougets (clay soils) and Bons Feuvres (iron-rich soils) on the Pommard side of Beaune, always shows aromas of "cerises noires" (black cherries). The 2018 has a dark ruby, verging on purple robe. The ripe, lush nose offers plummy dark fruit aromas with notes of violet, cassis, and spice box. The palate also tends towards black fruits (there's that black cherry!), savory herbal notes, and a brooding earthiness beneath the ripe, exuberant fruit. There’s a lot to sort out here, but this has nice flair and concentration - give this a bit of aeration and it will be a very satisfying bottle with coq au vin or perhaps braised duck legs. John McIlwain
The 2014 “Achillée Millefeuille” from Christian and Nadia Charmasson at Balazu des Vaussieres is made from Grenache, Syrah and Carignan, which undergoes an approximately two month carbonic maceration, followed by pressing and 3 years in vat (no wood). (This is perhaps the most "natural" of all Southern Rhône reds, as the Charmassons use no SO2 or other additives in the wine and refuse to use copper sulfate in the vines.) The wine shows a deep black/red color with aromas of plum skin, ripe black cherry, spiced strawberry, roast meat, anise and cola. Ripe Morello cherry, earth, citrus peel and black olive on the palate with cool acidity, earth, licorice and spicy berry fruits in the finish, changeable and enticing, a real product of living soils. Anyone who appreciates natural wines should try this! Our thanks to Christian and Nadia for their beautiful work... David Lillie
The 2016 “Solaire” from Nadia and Christian Charmasson at Balazu des Vaussières is predominantly Grenache Blanc and Clairette with Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Bourboulenc. A complex and elegant wine of the south, at 14% alcohol, the wine shows a clear pale gold/bronze color with complex aromas of earthy citrus, almond, pear and peach fruit with spiced apricot, really showing the Marsanne when opened. The palate is quite mineral with saline stone flavors, preserved lemon and pear, finishing with anise, white pepper, dusty stone, almond and white fruits. This is a delicious and soulful natural wine from the stony soils of Tavel and Roquemaure - perfect with bouillabaisse with aioli, monkfish in sauce and white meats, or to just sip and contemplate. (On the label of the Blanc and Rosé is the Berber Flag from North Africa (Nadia’s heritage) with the symbol of the free man and three colors representing Berbers who lived by the sea, in the mountains and in the desert.) David Lillie
Jo Landron's Domaine Louvetrie "Les Houx" (formerly labeled "Hermine D'Or") is from a great parcel of 20 to 50 year-old vines on shallow sandy clay soils, rich with silica, quartz and iron, over a bedrock of gneiss and clay - a great terroir for Muscadet that always gives a dense, complex wine which benefits from medium-term aging. The 2017 is a great example and a sensational value. Lovely pale bronze color. A bit closed when first opened, then showing aromas of ripe pear, apple, lemon peel, a field in the sun, a hint of anise. The palate is dense and long with white fruits, stone, almond, iodine and citrus with perfect bracing acidity. Rather full-bodied for a Muscadet, this will accompany crab, lobster and monkfish as well as chicken, pork, Asian foods and goat cheeses. Or hold for a few years and serve with full-flavored fish dishes. Bravo, Jo Landron!
Guy Bossard is one of the heroes of French viticulture, having rejected modern chemical farming upon assuming the family estate, becoming certified organic in 1972, then progressing to Biodynamic farming in 1996. And this in a region where there was little recognition or financial reward for his intense work and the higher quality of his wines. Guy has been an inspiration for many growers in the region and the estate continues under the capable and imaginative direction of Fred Niger van Herck. The Domaine de l'Ecu "Granite" is always one of the most distinctive of Muscadet, with the Melon de Bourgogne coming from 50-year-old vines in a parcel of stony soils on "granite a deux micas." On the nose, the minerals are boldly pronounced, with notes of almond skins, cantaloupe, Meyer lemon, and sea spray. The palate is a fine mix of lemon zest, saline stones, some under-ripe pear, and white flowers. A gorgeous wine to pair with oysters (of course), langoustines, or Coquille Saint-Jacques. JDC
Sybil Baldassarre's first vintage of Faugères Blanc "Rocalhas" is 60% Grenache Blanc, 30% Roussanne and 10% Marsanne. Just arrived in the US for the first time, this unique natural wine shows aromas of lemon oil, almond, lime flower and wet stone. The palate is dense and full wtih flavors of ripe pear and apple, candied citrus, almond, stone and caramel, with a long sappy finish of ripe citrus, anise, pear and saline minerals. Serve with bouillabaisse, grilled shrimp or lobster, grilled vegetables, full flavored cheeses. Congratulations to Sybil on this delicious natural wine - organic farming, mininal SO2. (And we enjoy the love-making ladybugs on the label) David Lillie
Biodynamic farming, native yeasts, wild fermentations, good value –all phrases not typically associated with Bordeaux. Yet, each year the Hubert family provides us with just that in their staple cuvee from the Côte de Blaye. The Cru Bourgeois is a blend of mostly Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and a bit of Malbec. Generously aromatic owing to the rich clay soils in which it is grown, there's ripe red fruit, black currant, and spice, with supple tannins and an undercurrent of chalky minerality. This is a great addition to the dinner table alongside grilled meat or sipped on its own. Amanda Bowman
This year's Quintessence from the famille Hubert's estate in the Cotes de Bordeaux is composed of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon from beautiful biodynamically farmed vines on clay limestone soils. The nose is dense and ripe on opening, showing ripe cassis, blackberry and raspberry, with hints of warming spice. With time open, the wine shows increasingly complex aromatic qualities, with more tobacco and earth coming through by hour 4 or 5. On the palate, the fruit is again ripe and dense, with cassis liqueur, ripe blackberry, and black cherry balanced by bristly tannins and limestone minerality on the long finish. After some time open, the palate leans more towards cacao and earth, but the ripe fruit remains dominant. A pleasure now with butter basted rib eye steak or roast beef, it will certainly improve over the next 10 to 15 years for drinking with lighter fare. Ben Fletcher
Made from massale-selection Gamay Petit Grains planted in 1953, grown on a limestone/clay parcel high in magnesium, in the Clos des Vignes du Maynes in Cruzille, organic since 900 AD, now certified Biodynamic. The energetic Julien Guillot vinifies his reds without sulfur or additives of any kind, producing complex, mineral, elegant wines that transcend their appellation. The 2017s here are lovely, showing the elegance, purity and balance typical of the estate with the wonderful ripeness of the vintage. The wine shows gorgeous red and black fruit aromas with cranberry, raspberry, earth, stone and musk with hints of mint and spice. The palate is bright and sappy, beautifully balanced with black raspberry, tart strawberry, citrus, stone and earthy flavors, that continue on the very long finish with chalky red fruits and refreshing acidity. Always one of the greatest Gamays produced anywhere, the 2017 Manganite is a young wine that will benefit from decanting or five to fifteen years in the cellar. Highly recommended! DL
Rotburger is the original name for Zweigelt; this bottling is sourced from one of Karl and Eva Schnabel’s three vineyards, the Kreuzegg vineyard on the Sausal mountain, home to slate soils with silex. As is true with all of the Schnabel red wines, natural fermentation occurs in open tank, with hand-pigéage; the wine is then scooped via bucket into used Burgundy barrels where it ages on the lees until being bottled unfined, unfiltered, and with no sulfur. Deep, dark magenta in color, darker than expected. Scents of ripe purple plums, stewed strawberries, carrot peelings, and just a hint of savory soy sauce, the wine is medium-bodied, juicy and mouthcoating with flavors of blueberries, blackberries, black raspberries, plums, and only the faintest whisper of tannins on the finish. May need another month or so to really knit together, but we look forward to where this wine is heading. (2/2019) Cari Bernard
A new wine from the Brothers Brand in the northern Pfalz: mostly Portugieser with Cabernet Franc making up the balance. Carbonically macerated in stainless steel, bottled after malo and left to rest in bottle for six months before making its journey over to us. No fining, no filtration, no added sulfur. The wine is a beguiling color, a mix of dark magenta, maroon, and Tyrian purple. This is a great end of summer (chillable) red; make sure you invert the bottle before opening for lees distribution, adding a creamy texture to the tart red fruits on the palate (think: cranberries, red currants, pomegranate). Cari Bernard