I love wines produced from organic, biodynamic, lutte raisonnee and other natural methods; more especially if they are from small, independent, fairly unknown wineries or producers.
I fully embrace the concept of respecting the environment and let mother Nature does what she does best. It is a good way to go back to the know-how of our ancestors, when we still knew how to make and take the time to craft things properly with passion and savoir faire, without really interfering but just making sure that everything was done right.
As we became aware of the need to go back to more natural methods to preserve our world and resources over the last few decades, it is, in my opinion, even more important to return to these days and ways as the world is changing and evolving so rapidly. Pushing further the limits of what we can do everyday, medical researches, advanced technology and scientific progress are now also directed towards more natural and environmental concerned results, which do wonder when allied with natural methods in the vineyards and in the cellars.
Yet, some of us don't want technology and prefer the complete natural way, going back to ploughing the soil with a horse, doing everything by hands as well as letting all sort of wild herbs and weeds invade their vineyards; thus creating a better environment for the vines by reintroducing needed insects and other plants to fight the diseases and pests, without the use of herbicides, pesticides, chemicals or any unnatural compost. Growing up in the countryside with my grandfather, I think it is great and I'm glad some people continue to think that way.
However, like anything else, the natural way has pros and cons. In terms of wine production, not much cons as pretty much everything occures naturally without much human intervention (except maybe the following of the calendar for the Biodynamic Methods), and the pros are the respect of nature and the environment, learning how to retrieve this lost human instinct to rely on Nature itself without the needs of machine or chemicals.
In terms of wine tasting, depending on the consumer the pros can turn into cons, as they are often related to the rawness of the wine mostly due to minimal interventions in the vineyards as well as in the cellar, more especially during fermentation process with natural yeasts and ageing period in used barrels or vats or tanks, usually bottled with no racking, no filtration and no fining.
The resulting wines may be too rough, angular or rustic for the novice palates. Sometimes inharmonious or unbalanced, too many of them taste like raw and are definitely not as polished or clean as they should be, showing funkier, stronger Terroir oriented and earthier aromas and flavors (than regular wines), not always to the taste of the average consumer and difficult to sell without an explanation to warn about certain edges.
Some winemakers even decided not to mention it on their label as it was affecting their sales, or to abandon these methods to favor the "Lutte Raisonee", which is also quite natural, but allows for more flexibility and the use of chemicals and pesticides when needed.
Fortunately lots of organic and biodynamic wines taste great, but they still only represent a minority amongst the ocean of organic and biodinamic wines that have flooded the market over the last 10 years. Unfortunately, natural wines, although much better and tastier than they were only even 5-6 years ago, still suffer from a controversial image in the consumer eyes.
Less than a decade ago, when the trend of natural methods made wines surge from western Europe to the London and New York markets, people were intrigued and excited but in the end not really satisfied. Some played the game saying, "it is a new style", "we are not just yet acquainted with them", "it is only a matter of time" or "it is about itme that we come back to more natural wines"; and the trend developed slowly, yet too many consumers have yet to be convinced.
And this surely due to the fact that some organic, biodynamic and other natrural methods crafted wines are too often difficult to approach and not accessible to everybody's palate. Some are great, even extraordinary at first taste and one can not get enough of them; but most are still too different to be fully understood at first sip. You know what I'm trying to say, you surely encountered at least one or two.
Did you ever taste one of these weird organic or biodynamic wines? You know the types of wine that are too out there, supposedly too intellectual or too complex for anybody to really grab their essence, or in fact, for some of them, just plainly bad and tasteless.
I personally tasted quite a bunch of them, and even if I'm a defender of the organic, biodynamic and other natural methods produced wines, I need to admit that some are just plainly disgusting and difficult to digest. Especially when you paid such a hefty price for something that your favorite local wine boutique pretends to be the next big thing in terms of taste, while it is barely drinkable.
Quite identical to regular wines, there are multiple reasons why some organic or biodynamic wines sometimes taste the way they do; and here are a few coming to mind.
Sometimes, I guess, it is just because the vines are too young and the resulting wine reveals fresh fruit but also green notes, bitterness and lack of depth and complexity (that is depending also on the richness and quality of the soil and overall Terroir).
It could also happen because of indigenous bad bacterias or yeasts present in the vineyards and / or more especially in the cellar, which affect the wine and its environment (cellar wall, roof, barrels, tanks, vats, etc...), due to lack of cleaning and disinfecting certain areas and tools.
It might also be the result of a lack of experience from a winemaker not too acquainted yet with organic and / or biodynamic culture (bad decision, bad timing, etc...). Or on the contrary, a winemaker pushing things to the extreme, in both cases resulting in an angular wine with rough edges, lack of harmony, balance and integrity, often showing strange funkyness and strong earthiness on nose and palate.
Or sometimes it is just simple bad winemaking and that is it. Resulting in a disgusting wine that is not good when you open the bottle, and that will not evolve or never really get better in your glass or even with more time in the bottle (examples that I tasted showed weird smell - oxidized, volatile acidity, full of sulfur, excessive animal funk, or even strong cheesy, mushroom, moisture smell etc... and don't even get me started on the palate).
For the latter, some people who still think that selling wine is a lucrative business driven by money and not by passion, will always try to convince you that these wines that taste awfully wrong are "great". That it is a certain style or even that it is the producer pedigree, that it is out there, difficult to understand but that it is because you are novice about that particular taste, maybe needs decanting, etc... Do not believe them, those are bad excuses.
If the wine is shit (and god knows that as the grand son of a winemaker I hate to say that, as I tremendously respect the work of all people working in a winery), the wine is shit! (Organic, Biodinamic or not).
However, there are plenty of good examples of natural wines out there that are fantastic and worth tasting, even if sometimes, I need to admit, not always for everybody's palate.
I already described quite a few in many of my previous posts, but here is another one that I tasted not long ago.
2009 Nicolas Testard Brouilly Beaujolais Burgundy France
Slightly off earthy nose with very ripe dark berry aromas, like grape jelly, and slight remains of carbonic maceration nuances, like if the wine recently came out of the vat, raw, unfined, unfiltred with barely perceptible bubbles. So far no problem, 2009 was a hot and ripe vintage; it is a young Beaujolais from a cru and it was crafted organically, which may also explain that slightly off-putting smell (those that are not acquainted with certain type of organic wines like this one may not like the smell). The palate is quite contrasted with the same dark very ripe fruit yet mingling with weird acidity and green edges bringing sour (acidity) and bitter (green), unripe edges probably from the stems if not remove, but more especially from unripe grape seeds; which is quite unusual for such warm vintage as 2009 which produced overall superb, soft, integrated and complex Beaujolais wines. The finish continues to offer the dark red fruit, but also and unfortunately the weird acidity and green touches too, with a subtle salty note.
Two bottles were opened, both showing the same things, too much to be coincidence, therefore it can only be the house style, or the winemaker style or the results of the decisions in the vineyard (early harvest due too much rain or the fear of over-ripeness if the weather was too hot) prior or during the harvest, that the winemaker took for this particular vintages (or all the above perhaps).
Yet, in conclusion, I will say that this wine is too funky and earthy and too inharmonious to be fully understood by most consumers; which is sometimes the case with certain producers who are producing their wines at one of the further extreme corners of the organic sphere (which is already a paradox in itself).
I usually like what Nicolas Testard does and previously enjoyed some of his wines, but this one was maybe to inharmonious for me to fully appreciate it. I will have to give it another chance in a few months to see if the wine has evolved or if it is just taste the same.
LeDom du Vin