As Earth Month 2018 draws to a close, we want to draw YOUR attention to the 2016 American Winery of the Year Bonterra, an organic and biodynamic winery based in Mendocino County California that I visited in November on a press trip before the Wine Bloggers Conference and which #Winestudio featured in January 2018.
April is also National Poetry Month so I was thrilled to find this image from Bonterra featuring a quote from farmer, poet, conservationist, and essayist Wendell Berry who is also author of poem “The Peace of Wild Things” (found below and in Robert Bly‘s News of the Universe):
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Poetry, planet, and wine: you get all three with biodynamic and organic Bonterra.
A pioneer since 1987 in adopting organic vineyard management and winemaking, Bonterra also is home to three certified biodynamic ranches: Blue Heron, McNab and Butler. The annual Biodynamic® certification by Demeter ensures “that each ranch adheres to the Demeter Farm Standard.” The Bonterra website points out that
“The principle of Biodynamic farming is the simplest way to understand what it is: a living organism which is self-contained, self-sustaining, and follows the cycles of nature.”
They further explain that: “Being self-contained and self-sustaining can be better understood by thinking of how farms functioned centuries ago. A family farm would often exist in isolation, requiring people, animals and plants to sustain one another. These systems function together to create a single living organism: the farm as a whole. We farm our Biodynamic ranches striving to achieve this ideal with as few external inputs as possible. Biodynamic farming is a holistic view of agriculture with high awareness of the interconnectivity between earth, plants, animals, humans, the moon and planets.”
2015 – The Roost – Blue Heron Biodynamic Vineyard – Chardonnay SRP $40
2015 – Organic Merlot SRP $16
2013 – The Butler – Butler Ranch Biodynamic Vineyard – Syrah SRP $50
VEGETARIAN ORGANIC MENU
We turned to Bonterra’s website for inspiration for tonight’s vegetarian, organic dinner; it provides a number of recipes on the vegetarian side with suggested wine pairings. The richness with the eggs, the zestiness from the lemon and tarragon, and the earthiness from the mushrooms. with the base of the noodles, went so well with all three wines. They suggest the Chardonnay with the puffs, but it was also great with the reds. The pasta main course they suggest pairing with Pinot Noir but the dish had plenty of “meat” to work with the reds. While the meal was vegetarian, there were duck rillettes on the cheese plate!
2015 – The Roost – Biodynamic Blue Heron Vineyard – Chardonnay – 14.2% alcohol SRP $40
While Sue is not a big Chardonnay fan, she found this wine quite enjoyable. There was oak, but it was not overly oaked. What she noticed the most was the wonderful mouthfeel of this wine. All three of us noticed how great this Chardonnay was a bit warmer than you usually drink Chardonnay — it’s better at cellar temperature (low 60s) and not fridge temperature.
Color: Gold straw, not as golden as might be expected in a California Chardonnay.
Nose: John felt it smells like the ocean, which is unusual for a Chardonnay that’s oaked but that gives you a sense of the minerality present in this wine; vanilla, butterscotch, a hint of oak, but not overt, bartlett pear and golden delicious apple, nutmeg.
Palate: Think apple and pear galette with baking spices. John pointed out the buttery, wonderful mouthfeel of this Chardonnay. This wine is super silky across the palate, balanced with plenty of acidity, and nutmeg on the finish.
Pairing: It really pairs well with creamy, rich foods. We had a Brilliat Savarin creamy cow’s milk cheese (which if you have never had this cheese before, it is a must have) that went so well, so easy to enjoy. The Chardonnay went nicely with both of our meal choices. The parmesan puffs were playful and fun, with lots of flavor, the salt and savory of the appetizer brought out a very nice fruitiness. The creaminess of the carbonara added to the wonderful mouthfeel. Great with the salad, brought out a little kick from the spiced pecans in the salad and the raspberry vinaigrette dressing was not overwhelming to the present flavors of the Chardonnay, adding to the enjoyment of the experience the two were able to produce.
2015 – Organic Merlot – 13.7% alcohol SRP $16
mostly Merlot with Petite Sirah and Malbec
We noticed with both the Merlot and The Butler that they catch the light nicely. They are rich and densely beautiful wines. Put this wine in a really nice wine glass to bring out the best possible qualities in the wine. We find this to be the case with most wines. My new favorite wine for under $20!
Color: Dense, pretty how the light catches the rim.
Nose: Clean, herbal, grassy, woody, forest floor.
Palate: There is a cinnamon, sandalwood, cherry, cigar box, lovely qualities that are usually present in an expensive Cabernet. It is a complex, versatile wine, that seems to go with so many things. Great value for under $20 because while it has fruit, it has so much moe going on.
Pairing: Worked well with the pasta. Great with roasted brussels sprouts. Be great with burgers. I also tried it with mole chicken tacos with fresh berries and greens — OH MY! I loved this pairing — perfect for Taco Tuesday! It’s pictured above.
Bonterra says: “Merlot is one of our most distinctive expressions, thanks to the nuances that we’ve discovered in our vineyards. For our 2015 Merlot, the lots were fermented separately and underwent full malolactic fermentation before being combined to create the final blend. Additional complexity comes from the small additions of Petite Sirah and Malbec. The wine was aged for twelve months using a combination of French and American oak of which 45% was new. The resulting wine has aromas of black currant, black cherries and a touch of wood smoke with flavors of plums, dark berries, toasty oak and vanilla spice. In the mouth, this wine has an elegant and restrained style with nice structure and balance, soft tannins and a long finish.”
2013 – The Butler – Biodynamic Butler Ranch Vineyard 15.2% alcohol $50
80% Syrah with Mourved, Grenache, and Zinfandel making up the balance
Color: Dense but translucent ring of lovely color.
Nose: John got pepper, I got earth, Sue got mushrooms. Restrained fruit of plum and cherry.
Palate: The fruit is like fresh wild blackberry brambles that you may find along the side of the road in Mendocino. You do not notice the high alcohol content in this wine– it’s all so well-integrated. Some bright cherry and earthy dark chocolate.
Pairing: I loved, loved, loved the duck rillets as a pairing with this wine; it gave me the wow factor. This would be wonderful on a romantic special occasion picnic with this wine and rillets on a crostini; bring along the Brilliant Savarin cheese to take it over the top. It also really liked the earthy mushrooms in the pasta, and it did not fight the lemon, which was one of my concerns when Sue suggested this recipe. The Butler liked the berry salad as well: not all red wines go so nicely with salad, but the berries, the earthy baby greens, the spiced pecans, the fig goat cheese, and the raspberry vinaigrette all combined to create such a great pairing.
We loved the Bonterra wines tonight. Contemplative wines, you want to be with your friends while you are enjoying, and loving, they are drinkable with and without food. Super relaxing. We also love their commitment to the planet by using organic and biodynamic techniques in their vineyards and winemaking.
Bonterra is one of the main sponsors of next weekend’s International Biodynamic Wine Conference in San Francisco and Director of Vineyard Operations Joseph Brinkley will lead a session. He studied horticulture at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, earning his Bachelor of Science in Horticulture in 2003, worked at Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms while learning about Biodynamics at Virginia’s Josephine Porter Institute, then was hired at Grgich Hills Estate in Napa where he worked for three years. He consulted for organic and biodynamic clients like Spottswoode and Roederer, and joined Bonterra Organic Vineyards as a vineyard manager in 2013 until he became Director of Vineyard Operations in 2017.
We really enjoyed Joseph’s passion for biodynamics which learned about as we tromped with him through the biodynamic vineyards in the rain and again during lunch.
I am so excited to attend and learn more about biodynamic wines from around the world, and tasting many of them. Tickets are still available; the event has one day focused for producers, and one day focused for media and consumers.