Saturday morning I packed up and left my sweet zin suite at the Flamingo Hotel to jump on a shuttle with other attendees of the First Wine Bloggers Conference for a hike through the wine country…except I watched the shuttles head off into the morning without me.
Fortunately, I could jump on my cell and talk with organizer Allan Wright who sent me to Quivira, and since I had both a car and Quivira marketing director Nancy’s card, I was set with a quick call from her for directions. Off I went down the chill autumn, chasing after the van, and dodging bicycles on the back roads of Sonoma County’s Dry Valley Creek Road until I found myself pulling into the idyllic, picturesque barnyard setting of Quivira, chickens, solar panels, and all.
Farmer and winemaker Steve Canter was at work with the dozen or so bloggers, explaining biodynamics and homeopathy and everything else under the sun including cleansing and purification rituals he uses (go for the power of the earth, Steve!!).
And then we went for a lovely walk, visiting goats, and Ruby the pig, and picking grapes off the vines (my favs were the old zins of course), looping along unusually dry Wine Creek to Dry Valley Creek, both which eventually feed into the Russian River, then under a fig tree, and up a ridge planted in zin and down along the olive trees to the barn.
Steve and Nancy tag teamed a bit, telling stories about the vines, the wines, and the processes both of biodynamics and organics in practice here. Of particular interest to me was how they are healing Wine Creek by building weirs to slow down the water to create better habitat for steelhead and other native species practically wiped out by the previous channelization and control of the creek.
The idea behind biodynamics seems an obvious one: in order for a wine to reflect the land where it came from, it needs to be fed as much as possible by an integrated series of local, native, natural influences. That means bees and hives and producing honey. Chickens. Goats. Pigs. Developing a whole system approach to the land. Using natural yeasts found and produced here from the land, the buildings, those that work the land and tend the grapes. Keeping the same crew to work the land and tend it all year long. Creating a complete ecosystem, with plenty of diversity both with regards of plants and animals.
The system builds health and immunity in the plants so they are less likely to need the “Magic Bullet” provided by modern tendencies toward wine making. In fact he’s finding he’s needing even less and less sulphur in the fields and in the wines. The results are in the wines. According to Steve, an increased minerality: using the native, local, natural sources increases the sense of terroir in the wine.
At the end of our walk, we paused for quite a while where they make the wine. As Steve talked, he pressed his hands into a vat of granache grapes. Next to it stood a tub of mourvedre–sinnner and saint, lying in state. Steve massaged the grapes, a little swedish here and there while he spoke passionately about producing biodynamic wine.
But I was lost in the sensual motion of his pressing his hands rhythmically into the grapes, and I just had to try it myself.
“Can I?” I asked. “Can I do that?”
Of course, Steve agreed, and I eagerly pressed my hands down onto the dark grapes. Others joined me, like Robbin Gheesling of Vineyard Adventures and Amy Atwood of My Daily Wine, and together, we felt the surface, felt the weight of the grapes, felt the tension, and slowly, slowly, slowly, our hands, fingers spread wide, pressed down into the surprising warmth of the fermenting juice, and into the cool depths, over and over again.
Afterward, we rinsed off and headed to one of the most amazing meals of my life–great food, wine, and fascinating company like Amy and Robbin plus others like Anthony Nicalo of Farmstead Wines who sat across from me at the table. He’s importing wines from France, Austria, and Italy which use minimal interventionist wine making like here at Quivira, and distributing them in the US and Canada. I sat between Amy and Remy of Canada–Remy Charest
Restaurant and farm Zazu prepared our meal using all locally grown food, starting with olives, humous, salumi, goat cheese, and other items with a flight of lighter wines–a dry rose grenache (with just a hint of mourvedre), and two sauv blancs, one “Barrel Complete” kept in acacia which I liked best as more fuller and richer. Then we moved into medium bodied reds–a flexible grenache with some spice, and two slightly heavier zins, “Dry Creek Valley” with nice fruit, not too high of alcohol, and not too pruney, and the Wine Creek zin, with a bit more of everything zin imaginable, then a relatively mild mourvedre, a vivid deeply colored syrah, and a lively petite sirah.
The wines were all varying degrees of wonderful, but for me the venison stew with navy beans and coriander stole the show. It was big magic, simply incredible (and not just because I missed dinner the night before!) The stew worked really well with all the reds, and the cool refreshing whites and rose were so appreciated with the appetizer course when we first arrived at the table laid outdoors under the shade of a giant olive tree with views of the valley.
For dessert we had a grenache ice on a cone which showcased the strawberries and finished us off for good!
I look forward to returning to Dry Creek Valley again, exploring its narrow winding roads, and discovering more of its secrets. In particular, I will return to Quivira, not just to see what’s coming out of the cellar, but to learn more about what’s going in–what’s growing, and how biodynamics is being practiced.
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