Tuesday, November 24, 2015

BRAMBLES: Integrated Nature

Old World BioDynamics

A broad field of gold and bronze with scars of crimson carpet the seasonal Dry Creek Valley landscape. Soft sunlight bathes the dormant vines as swarms of starlings dance waves in the cool air streaming above. It is autumn, and the premium grapevines of this American Viticultural Area reflect the green loss of chlorophyll across their acres of canopy that are today increasingly sustain-ably farmed. At around 1 million acres, the county of Sonoma has targeted being the nation's first 100% sustainable farm region by 2019!  Further, its environment specific programs, such as the approximately 20,000 acres certified as Fish-Friendly Farming, and the growing Demeter certified farms and vineyards utilizing BioDynamic practices, such as Benziger Family Winery and Dry Creek's Quivira Vineyards establish even higher standards.

Traditional bio-diversity in agriculture evolved dramatically in 1924 thru a series of lectures offered by Austrian philosopher and esotericist Rudolf Steiner, promoting chemical fertilizer, pesticide-free farming. Seen as an entire self-sustaining organism, BioDynamics proposed an integrated, closed nutrient system; essentially a whole farm organism with a close personal connection to the land. Beyond rotating beneficial cover crops, it required beneficial predatory insects, the recycling of nutrients, an integration of livestock, and employing the phases of celestial bodies to positively influence planting and harvesting. Extended to the wine cellar, certification now requires fermentation from native yeasts only, with no adjustments to sugar or acid allowed. It is a holistic approach that at its core is integrated nature.

As may be expected, the philosophical practice is strongly anchored in the Old World, and today there are more than 450 certified viticultural practicioners world wide.  There are currently six(6) BioDynamic vineyards within our Central Coast super-AVA, stretching roughly from San Francisco to Santa Barbara which in total farms than 100,000 acres of vines. Blanketing six(6) counties, it had contained 27 smaller AVA's, as diverse as Santa Cuuz Mountains AVA and Carmel Valley AVA. In the Spring of 2007, numerous petitions from a local 59 member wine industry group began to be filed with the U.S. Treasury Departments Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau requesting changes to the existing demarcations established in 1985(amnended in 1999 & 2006).  Back in 1990 there were fewer than 20 wineries in the region of Paso Robles AVA, and the petitioners were arguing for change.

Historically, it was easy for most consumers of the regions wines to recognize the distinction of the differences from the Costal Range coolness of the western side of the Salinas River as compared to the warmer rolling hills that made up the eastside of the AVA. The bureau's final ruling was published in October of 2014, and the existing Paso Robles AVA of San Luis Obispo county(now home to more than 200 wineries) was sub-divided into eleven(11) defined regions to 'better describe the origin of their wines' or to 'better allow consumers to better identify wines'.  The established divisions are intended to better reflect the areas diverse soils and variations in daily temperature swings and annual rainfall. Jason Haas, general manager of organicly certified Tablas Creek Vineyard(sibling to Perrin's Ch. de Beaucastel of the Rhone valley) and Paso Robles AVA Committee member noted that “ultimately, the new AVAs will allow these newly created sub-regions to develop identities for themselves with a clarity impossible in a single large AVA.”
One AVA has become Eleven
 Downtown Paso Robles is today home to more than 15 winery tasting rooms, and on a recent wine escape there was opportunity to taste many fine efforts,  but I found it difficult to discern what was nouveau regionally distinctive. Certinly world class cuvees were to be found westside in the Adelaida Hills AVA at refined estates like Justin Vineyards & Winery(Wine Enthusiast Winery of the Year) and the stunning DAOU Vineyards(SIP Certified).  Extreem comparison took us to top-rated and fun-loving Tobin James Cellars eastside in the new Geneseo District AVA, where they are sourcing premium fruit from literally dozens of local independent grape growers, but no mention of their 'distinctive' AVA was offered by engaging hospitality staff or even their web site.
Tablas Creek Vineyards, Adlaida Hills AVA
On appearance(the first way we taste), many of these wineries seem distinctive by general location and capital investment. Points of differentiation ultimately will begin to sort out the Paso field, offering inevitable comparisions in the spirit of the TTB guidelines that will 'set it apart'. Consumers will increasingly have recognized broader choices from this area, something that Sonoma County to the north is still figuring out how to market.  Until then, we have the truth in advertising that appears on govenment approved wine labels, and the pledge from an increasing number of sustainable viticultural efforts to produce wines that are distinctively integrated with nature.

Certified BioDynamics of the Paso Robles AVA:
  •  AmByth Estate, Templeton
  •  Pine Hawk Vineyards, San Miguel
Salute', and a Happy Thanksgiving!


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