Can you taste RESPECT in your glass of wine? How?
How about respect for the land? Can you taste that?
Can you taste the chemicals, the herbicides, the fungicides?
You can search for respect in your glass of wine or bottle by looking at the soil in the vineyard — is it healthy? Diverse? Can the vines transport the character and the minerals of the soil to the grapes so that in time you will taste them in the glass?
How about respect for people? Can you taste where a company spends its money?
Do companies that do NOT have strong ties to social justice, environmental justice, planetary justice leave a bad taste in your mouth or gut?
Tasting respect for people and planet may be challenging to quantify and difficult for consumers to do on our own, but respect is doing the right thing — and this transcends flavor and terroir.
Tasting respect is more important than the flavor of the wine– it’s about being transparent about what went into the wine– from how the grapes were grown to how the people who grew the grapes are treated. That there’s diversity from the plants on the ground to the people running the plants.
About fifteen years ago, a group of mostly Austrian winemakers founded respekt. Paul Achs, Judith Beck, Kurt Feiler, Karl Fritsch, Michael Goëss-Enzenberg, Gernot Heinrich, Johannes Hirsch, Fred Loimer, Hans Nittnaus, Bernhard Ott, Gerhard Pittnauer, Claus Preisinger and Franz Weninger started a movement in 2003 “when a few of us started to think about farming and the way we farmed,” said Fred Loimer in a recent ZOOM webinar. They were seeking to improve the quality of their wines by using biodynamics as guiding principles.
In 2006 Loimer and others started changing to biodynamics without certification or organization, learning month by month as they went along and sharing what they learned with each other. “We learned in 2006 when you talk about biodynamics and organic farming there has to be a certification system at the end” because you can’t just talk the talk — you have to walk the walk and consumers can know from certifications that what a winery is saying is for real.
After meeting as a group to share their experiences, in 2009 they created respekt, a certifying body. In 2015, they changed the name to “respekt-BIODYN” and today respekt-BIODYN is honored in the world of biodynamics and they work closely with Demeter, an organization that certifies all kinds of farms, not just vineyards. respekt has grown in these past 15 years to about 25 members of certified winegrowers; they only certify wineries where they think in similar ways with regards to quality. The 25 member wineries of respekt-BIODYN come from Austria, Germany, Italy and Hungary and have “committed themselves to the goal of producing wines of the highest quality and individuality using biodynamic methods.”
Loimer emphasized that it’s important that members not only work biodynamically, but how you work and live — and the wine in the glass? The quality has to be a certain level. In the United States, the term biodynamic is a registered trademark, but in rest of the world it’s a free term so it’s possible for anyone to use it. Unfortunately, this can be confusing to consumers so respekt-BIODYN is working with Demeter to get some basic rules and guidelines. Members of respekt-BIODYN also pay for lobbying work in the EU.
Loimer appreciates the higher complexity in the respekt-BIODYN wines, they require less sulphur, and he doesn’t have to wait as long for maturity yet the wines produced have lower alcohol; he can harvest a bit earlier which is one of the biggest effects of biodynamic farming that he’s found.
Fritz Weininger said in the webinar that he was trained to be very technical in the vineyard and he believed that modern developments were necessary: “My father trained me and I think trained me well on the rules” of how to use chemicals and modern technology so as little handwork as possible would be required. His father saw that as the future of winemaking– less labor intensive. But a difficult year in 2005 “showed me that with conventional farming we got into a dead end street that didn’t lead to success anymore.” He saw the negative impact of spraying, and “I was looking for a way out of this.”
He learned about Demeter through a certified winegrower and he switched five hectares over “to see how this is changing my vineyards, cost, quality of grapes…how the quality of the wine would be.”
After two years Weininger saw it was the same amount of work in either system and yields did not drop down significantly. He found that “all the changes were in the right directions” producing wines with more character and interest so he decided to get certified. He likes that he’s finding the fruit is mature with lower sugar content.
Weininger read books and took seminars to find that biodynamics was “much less esoteric than I thought before” and that biodynamics “is working with nature the right way.”
“I’m not an organic junky,” said Weininger. “This is necessary.” He encouraged others to try it too: “jump into it– the water is much less cold than you think!”
“The most important thing: I am happy with my decision. I am happy with what’s in my glass. As long as I am happy I will find enough other people happy with this quality.”
Alex Sattler had been an organic farmer who recently made the jump to biodynamic and to join respekt-BIODYN. Located in southern Austria, concerns about soil health and biodiversity led to a “major change of thought in our estate,” he said in the recent webinar. He’s the third generation, and in taking over, he’s leading a big evolution that’s come to the winery: “everything’s changing” he said. At one time, he didn’t think it was possible to maintain the same quality of grapes, but “times have changed…our idea has changed.”
Blame it on a pile of compost.
Sattler compared his organic compost with a biodynamic one: “we had ours and we saw that his compost pile with the biodynamic approach worked much better making the vineyard more healthy.” While both ways of farming had the same number of worms, the biodynamic way had a greater diversity of kinds of worms.
“We see our vineyards as a living organism. We saw the living things in the vineyard.” He even had healthy grapes under harsh conditions.
At first, Sattler was skeptical about biodynamics but what also changed his mind was learning from a soil scientist about the microbiome, and it all began to make sense even if he didn’t learn about it in school: “We are very much vineyard people in our family. We really want self sustaining vineyards.”
Sattler said that using artificial fertilizer is like feeding your children only with sugar; you need to feed the microorganisms in the soil too so they are healthy.
Another secret is having a diversity of plants, Sattler said. “There is a one firm rule: the more the merrier.” The microorganisms keep it in balance.
While many find that biodynamic wines last longer once they are opened, Sattler thinks they will cellar longer as well because he is finding his biodynamic wines have finer grained tannins. While the yield is lower, aging is better.
- SATTLERHOF Südsteiermark Sauvignon Blanc 2019, SRP $19
- LOIMER Langenlois Kamptal Grüner Veltliner 2019, SRP $24
- WIENINGER Wiener Gemischter Satz 2019, SRP $21
All of these three wines were so completely different and unusual. These are all deep dives into an unusual experience following a webinar I attended with the winemakers quoted above. The three wines are samples, opinions are mine, and no money was exchanged for my reviews.
SATTLERHOF Südsteiermark Sauvignon Blanc 2019
These grapes come from steep hillsides in southern Austria near the Slovenian border near the village of Gamlitz, and area that specializes in aromatic and refreshing dry white wines thanks to an intense diurnal shift from the Alps, and diverse soils. After vilification in stainless-steel tanks, the wines were aged for 3-4 months on lees before bottling.
Such a fun, intricate, and beautiful label.
Color: So pale, it’s platinum, with a hint of pink!
Nose: Stone, gooseberries, meadow flowers, a bit smokey, smells like what you would imagine a walk in an alpine village would be like on a brisk morning where a cottage has a freshly stoked fire. There was also a bit of apple strudel.
Palate: Very acidic and tart, so very tart it is almost like sucking on citric acid. This degree of intensity is not typical of most Sauvignon Blancs, and
reminds how biodynamic practices often give a wine a greater depth of character…
This is a wine for conisours who are out to taste and experience different expressions of the same grape. Chalky texture. We paired this wine with sautéed squid served over boiled potatoes. It was delightful bringing out wonderful orange citrus notes in the wine. This was an unexpected pairing as we were working on several in one evening, but it really worked. It also loved the green notes in the parsley
Pairing: We paired this wine with sautéed squid served over boiled potatoes. It was delightful bringing out wonderful orange citrus notes in the wine. This was an unexpected pairing, but it really worked. It also loved the green notes in the parsley.
A summer seafood, salad, sushi kind of wine!
Like many biodynamic wines, as I revisited this wine several times over a week, it was still excellent. The final glass was full of fresh grapefruit. I’m amazed this wine is available in the US at this price.
Langenlois in the Kamptal has plenty of sunshine but gets cool evening air from the Waldviertel providing optimal conditions for aroma and flavour for the grapes that grow there. The geology also is high in contrasts with gneiss and mica schist of the Bohemian mass in the north; the south has loess that can measure several feet thick.
Vines were planted between 60 and twenty years ago. After being picked by hand, grapes spontaneously fermentated in stainless-steel tanks with 5% in neutral oak.
Color: Greenish tinge, citron.
Nose: Light florals, daisy, fennel bulb, a bit of fresh cut grass, the nose is very subtle, but as the wine warms in the glass it becomes more expressive.
Palate: Oven roasted carmelized carrots, anise seeds, toasted almonds, citrus finish. Plenty of acidity and savory notes.
Pairing: This wine was very nice with a fresh green salad with tangerine and rosemary almonds. It was spectacular with the ahi and the sushi. I’d love to pair it with pesto dishes.
Did you know wine grapes grow in Vienna? I had no idea, but they do, with most located in the 19th and 21st districts on opposite sides of the Danube river. Reading this description makes me want to visit: “The Bisamberg area sits in the 21st district and is the source of many of Fritz’s wines as well as the home to his family’s heurige. On the opposite side of the Danube lies the Nußberg, an impressive hill that soars above downtown Vienna.”
According to Winebow, “Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC comes from 70% Bisamberg and 30% Nußberg and is a traditional field blend where several varieties are co-planted, co-harvested and fermented together. This field blend of 11 varieties includes Grüner Veltliner, Weißburgunder, Welschriesling, and Chardonnay with small contributions from Riesling, Rotgipfler, Zierfandler, Sylvaner, Traminer, and Neuburger.” Vines range in age from 60 years old to 25.
Color: Very pale lemon yellow, with a hint of green
Nose: Full of florals, crisp apple, grass, meadow flowers or even waxy white flowers, sour grass
Palate: Gretel “Oh I like this” Salinity, sour grass, green tart apple. The complexity is fascinating. So many different notes it’s hard to put your finger on it.
Pairing: So very great with the olive oil and rosemary fried almonds that Sue made. “We were not expecting to pair them with this wine, but it worked so well. It was not fabulous with an oyster, and even “A let down” as Gretel said as she downed her last oyster of the evening with this wine. Sue made a Spanish almond tart for another blog post we were doing on the same evening and that pairing was amazing! Over a week, I tried this wine with several meals and I was impressed with the flexibility in this wine. The first glass was as good as the last.
To answer the questions I posed a the beginning: you can taste respect in the glass. Choosing a resepkt-BIODYN wine makes it easier to find the flavors.