Why biodynamic agriculture doesn’t need to make sense to make great wines
Farmers who use biodynamic growing methods choose to plant, weed, treat, harvest and, if they’re winemakers, vinify in concert with the movement of the planets. The point of biodynamic growing, an agricultural movement that looks at organic farmers as folks who do something right if somewhat incompletely, is to look at the growth cycle of the entire field as one holistic unit. To those of us who bear an empirical mind and like to see cold, calculating and clear evidence to support assertions (and I do count myself among that number), biodynamic practices with their airy-fairy reliance on manure-filled and cow-horns that are buried and exhumed, water’s circular memory, and a vague tie between planetary movements and “energy” can make us roll our eyes.
Some people decry the ability of biodynamic agriculture to actually make a difference in winemaking. It’s too magical, too lacking in substance, too weird, and too unscientific, they argue. It is hard to understand exactly how or why water that has moved in one direction rather than another would affect a plant’s hydration, and it’s hard to see how burying a cow horn would do anything to affect a vineyard’s production. Being fairly empirically minded, I might accept these arguments had I not spent an afternoon with Luca di Napoli Rampolla at his biodynamically maintained Tuscan estate, Castello dei Rampolla. This afternoon changed my thinking about biodynamic methods, and even if I don’t understand them, I became a believer.
It might have been spending a couple of hours walking around the estate as Luca pulled up tufts of grass and named each plant in his hand. It might have been his patient explanation of the ways that his vines interact with the trees that surround them, with the soils that support them, and with the weather that touches them. It might have been the clear, unremitting commitment that Luca makes in every choice for his estate—from the solar panels on top of the vinification area to the placement of his chicken coop.
It might be all of that talking, walking and looking helped me grasp that choosing to prune according to how the alignment of the planets will affect the plants. Or it might be sitting on Luca’s terrace, drinking the wine that he made helped me believe. But on that Thursday afternoon, I became a biodynamic convert. I don’t really care how the science works. It’s clear to me that there’s something very special, very alive and very unique about this wine.
Italy, unlike the United States, is a place where people continue to believe in magic. I’ve never lived long enough in other areas of the world to make further comparisons, but while Americans might wistfully wish for magic, Italians feel it. It’s in the mountains and in the sea. It’s in the cities, like Venice and Rome, that shouldn’t exist, not as they do, not after all these centuries. It’s in the food and in the wine. And sometimes, I think, you just have to put science on hold, sit back, exhale, and enjoy the magic. It’s ephemeral, beautiful and vital. If it’s biodynamic, then it’s simply all the better.
IWM has the new 2011 Sammarco release coming from Castello dei Rampolla. Don’t miss this extraordinary biodynamic Super Tuscan!
Two expert selections from Garrett Kowalsky
A lot of wine passes through IWM’s cellar here in Manhattan. I constantly marvel at the treasures that lurk beneath our operations, but I am always equally thrilled with the impending arrival of more treasured bottles of vino. I got excited when I spotted an upcoming delivery of two of my favorite (and arguably underappreciated) Super-Tuscan wines. I’ve enjoyed both the ’09 Sammarco and the ’10 Camartina in the past and was completely blown away by them. Here they are for you, available again and delicious now—and for the next decade.
Castello dei Rampolla is located in the Chianti region of Tuscany and dates back to the 1300’s. However, the Super-Tuscan did not debut until 1980 when Alceo Napoli dreamed up a blend of his own as an homage to the great Sassicaia (a personal favorite of his). His twist however was making sure the Sangiovese, the quintessential Italian grape, was in the mix. 2009 was a splendid and warm vintage in Chianti that produced approachable and fruit-forward wines. Do not be fooled, however: this ’09 may drink well now but it has the stuffing to go another 15-20 years if you let it.
Querciabella 2010 Camartina $129.99
Querciabella is another elite estate from Chianti, however the root of this property date back to just the 1970’s. Almost falling in line with Sammarco, the Camartina debuted in 1981 but where it differs is in the blend. Its rich texture comes from being predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, but Camartina uses a higher percentage of—about 30 percent to Sammarco’s 5 percent. Also of note to wine lovers, the estate has been organic since 1988 and biodynamic since 2000, one of the first in the region to receive their certification, although Castello dei Rampolla has also gone completely biodynamic. Dark fruit and spice abound in this wine, which makes me dream of enjoying it alongside a NY strip steak. With decanting, drink now or cellar to 2030.
Two expert picks from Garrett Kowalsky
Late last year we were very lucky to locate a cache of back vintages at great pricing that we were able to offer to you. Sammarco is wine born in the early ‘80s; Castello dei Rampolla’s Alceo di Napoli had been a huge fan of the Super-Tuscan blend Sassicaia for years and decided he wanted to make his own bottling, but he would include the Sangiovese grape. It might be helpful to think of Sammarco as the lesser-heralded cousin of Tignanello—except in a recent tasting, the ’88 Sammarco outshone the Antinori superstar. That said, wine should not always be considered a competition, unless it is for your heart. A competition I feel this wine will win handily once you give it a taste. I’ve picked a pair to help convince you.
At its release, the 2006 vintage in Tuscany received a lot of praise, and a few years on we can see how truly correct that praise was. A hot June and July, damp August and warm September provided grapes that reached ripeness slightly earlier than usual, but contained excellent balance nonetheless. This explosive, silky pure wine will drink now and for the next 10-15 years.
1988 was an excellent year in Tuscany. A heat wave started in early summer and continued almost all the way up until harvest. This benefited international grapes such as Cab Sauv (part of Sammarco), aiding in their optimal ripeness and providing wines of great depth and concentration. The ‘88s have shown grace over time and this bottle is drinking now and for the next 5-7 years.