I was very excited to visit Seresin Estate in the Marlborough region of New Zealand to get a fuller understanding of biodynamics. What is biodynamics? It's an approach to agriculture, the earth, and the role of people on this planet that's a blend of science, organic farming, sustainability, and (frankly) a bit of mysticism. As more and more wineries convert from interventionist and chemical-based agriculture to biodynamics, I'm reading a lot about it but haven't seen it in practice. I know that some of the world's top wines are made from vineyards farmed on biodynamic principles, so there must be something to it.
My guide for this journey was Estate Manager Colin Ross. A perpetual source of enthusiasm, knowledge, passion, and good humor, I could not have asked for a better host to lead me through Seresin. We just toured around the vineyard while Colin showed me one of their piles of composted manure, as well as a Clydesdale that pulls a sprayer behind him full of natural rather than chemical treatments for the vines.
A big part of biodynamics is treating soil and vines with various preparations that might be based in a combination of composted elements and teas that put back vital nutrients in the soil, maintain a balanced ecosystem, and treat/prevent pests and disease. Rather than spray with chemicals to keep things out, biodynamics strives to work with natural ingredients that promote health and balance. Probably the biggest snickering and scoffing about biodynamics concerns the practice of burying cow horns filled with preparations; most critics hone in on that one point because it's an easy target. Yeah, it sounds a little crazy, but it's a small part of a whole system of stewardship of the land that has some tangible and concrete applications to all types of agriculture.
What really struck me is the distinction that Colin is an Estate Manager, not just a Vineyard Manager. Chickens, pigs, vegetables, and fruits are all over the place. (Staff meals must be pretty incredible here. Just check out all the garlic, shallots, and onions! Wowzers!)
Seresin gets most of its compost form one source: Olga. This cow also provides a bit of milk for cheese-making. Yours truly even helped in the process, milking a cow for the first time:
So after working my ass off, I was rewarded with some wine tasting. Special mention has to go to the Rachel and Leah Pinot Noirs, which were fabulously pure, balanced, and complex. Damn hard to spit while tasting. (So I opted to drink them.)
So while biodynamics has its detractors, it's hard to argue with the results in the bottle. I'm willing to take that leap of faith.
Spent a wonderful long afternoon tasting wines and touring the impressive property at Yealands, outside of Seddon in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. I was truly awestruck by the amount of vines planted here; the above view just hints at what's going on. Driving into the winery, it's an unbroken, endless vista of vineyards as far as the eye can see.
This is your first view of the winery. What's more impressive than the structure is what's going on inside and out. "Sustainability" is buzz word thrown around a lot in the wine business, and business in general, but I'm not sure there is a winery with a bigger commitment than Yealands. I won't bore you with details, but just illustrate a few small examples:
Wetlands to capture rainfall, 350kg-worth of bailed vine prunings burned for fuel, and sheep instead of tractors to "mow" between rows of vines. (Note that these are a special miniature breed of sheep that are not tall enough to reach the grapes!)
Once again I have been distracted by the scenery in New Zealand (don't worry, more photos to follow), but allow me to focus on the wines. While I tried a myriad of bottles, I want to focus on my two favorites that also happened to be the most intriguing as well. (Honorable Mention goes to the Tempranillo.)
The Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc was a revelation. Take everything you love about zesty, lively, thirst-slaking Sauvignon Blanc and add bubbles. I could drink an ocean of this stuff! This needs to make its way to the States, posthaste! Great Gewurztraminer, too. I couldn't get over the gorgeous ginger aromas and flavors; light and fresh without that oily bluntness of some Gewurtz.
And now back to the views. Here's a shot looking back at the winery:
And when you turn around, it's the ocean:
Now where's my well-chilled bottle of Sparkling Sauv Blanc?!?
Greetings from New Zealand! The guy who picked us up from the airport in Auckland has become like a God to me. First he recommends we have dinner at the O'Connell Street Bistro in downtown Auckland, which was charming, cozy, and delicious; a restaurant staffed by a friendly and quietly brilliant lot who steered me towards excellent wines from Hawkes Bay. (More on that meal and those wines to come.) Second he tells us to check out the wines on Waiheke Island. Huh? Sure I've heard of Marlborough and the Otago, but drawing a blank here. Since it involved a ferry ride to an island, how bad could it be? Turns out it was aces.
The first two wineries we visited had some wines that ranged from ho-hum to adequate. Fortunately, the best was saved for last: Te Whau Vineyard. Can you believe how gorgeous this place is?!? The top photo is a shot of the steep vineyards planted to Bordeaux varietals. The slope is so perilous that the grapes must be hand-harvested as, even in 2011, there is no machine that could do such a job. (Though if I had to turn my back on that view to pick grapes, I'm not sure how much progress I'd make.) And if you're wondering about the netting, it keeps grape-decimating birds away from the fruit. Anyway, let's go inside and check out the restaurant and tasting bar, shall we?
Always nice to pull up a stool and gaze out at this:
Or maybe you'd rather sit down at a table with someone special. Hell, with this view, even someone not-so-special:
Get to the wines already! Sorry, distracted.
We tasted two vintages (06, 07) of Te Whau's signature Bordeaux blend, The Point. It's a Cab-heavy mix of Merlot, Cab Franc, and Malbec. Both were very, very good. The 2006 was a little riper and richer than the more finessed 2007. If I was served these wines blind I would have said Bordeaux. Though I would have been wrong (nooooooo!), I took solace in noting the surrounding evidence suggested that I was at least philosophically on the right track:
And big cheers to proprietor Tony Forsyth. He gave the most informative, educational, humorous, down-to-earth, and passionate talk about wine and Te Whau, specifically.
From now on when someone mentions how so-and-so is "Living the Dream", I am going to think of Tony. He's probably sitting out on the patio, enjoying some food, some wine, and life right about now.