It's April and things are jumping in our Biodynamic vineyards! We've just completed pruning, and now are tying the newly pruned canes onto the trellis.
Alex Babbitt returning for his third year with us, here among the crops of fava beans, field peas and clovers that have fixed atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, and now are being mowed.
The April days are warm, but frost still threatens some nights. Our valiant frost team of Adam, Derek, Tommy and Jonathan are alerted by remote thermometers when the temperature dips to 36 degrees. Then they arise from warm beds and head to the fields to be poised to turn on sprinklers just before temperatures reach the freezing point. The moving water protects the tender grape buds and stays on until the sun rises. It's common to have frosts in April, and not unheard of to have a frost or two in May.
Preparation is also underway to plant 12 more acres of vines. We're very excited to be introducing six new varietals into our vineyards. Two acres each of Malbec, Grenache, Moscato, Barbera, Tempranillo (Spain's noble grape) and Vermentino, also known as Rolle, are all varietals that should thrive in our climate. If all goes well, we'll begin making unique organic wines from them in 2016!
Frey Vineyards’ core values include purity, quality, truth in labeling and transparency. We choose to hang our hats on the Demeter Biodynamic Farming and Processing Standard that embodies all of these same principles.
This chart shows a concise history of the Biodynamic timeline and the foundations of Demeter:
Biodynamic® is defined by the Demeter Farm and Processing Standards and is protected via a certification mark, which is an inclusive type of trademark. Demeter International is the first, and remains, the only ecological association consisting of a network of individual certification organizations in 45 countries around the world. Demeter US has 163 members and reaches over 10,000 certified acres.
I’d like to point out that Demeter US was formed seventeen years before the USDA National Organic Program (NOP); following the evolution of farming practices in the last century, one could suggest that Biodynamic agriculture is the parent of organic. At Frey Vineyards we adhere to the Demeter Farm Standard, which incorporates NOP practices, but goes a step further because it retains the view of the farm as an integrated whole.
The Demeter standard requires whole farm certification. 10% of total acreage must be set-aside as wild area to promote biodiversity. Because the farm is managed as a self-contained system, fertility is generated via the integration of livestock, compost, green manure, and careful crop rotation. Disease and insect control are addressed through botanical species diversity, predator habitat, and attention to light penetration and air flow. The use of the preparations is required. There are eight preparations in all, made from herbs, mineral substances and animal manures, that are utilized in field sprays and compost inoculants applied in minute doses, much like homeopathic remedies are for humans.
The Farm Standard is historically significant because it dates back to the beginning of the modern sustainable agriculture movement and captures key agronomic principles not comprehensively addressed within any other agriculture certification system. As such, Biodynamic agriculture represents one of the highest paradigms of sustainable farming, and offers one of the smallest carbon footprints of any agricultural method.
Standards are developed democratically, seeking input from farmers and processors and then vetted and voted upon annually by the international Demeter board. The standards are living and evolving and deserve respect from everyone who cares about Biodynamic agriculture and anthroposophy.
Lily Frey by Biodynamic Cabernet vineyard.
You’ll notice that the standard does not attempt to certify a farmer’s spirituality or understanding of Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy. We believe this is outside the scope of our work. However, we do observe that once a farmer begins to seriously apply the principles and practices of the Demeter standard, they are often quickly led to powerful personal insights.
So how does the Demeter standard inform what we do at Frey Vineyards? We plant leguminous cover crops for soil fertility (top left in photo above). We make our own compost from on farm ingredients (top right). All the herbs for the preparations are grown on the farm, and then applied to the vineyards and gardens (bottom left). And eventually the grapes are harvested at the peak of ripeness. Frey wines are then crafted and labeled in accordance to the Demeter Biodynamic Wine Standard (bottom right).
Over 32 years we’ve trained several hundred interns and aspiring farmers. Other Frey ranch activities include working winter grains into our cover crop rotations. We are doing everything we can to battle GMO’s and educate our customers and fellow farmers. And we continue to develop appropriate power for the winery.
In conclusion, Frey Vineyards is committed to the spirit and spread of biodynamic farming, starting with our children, our family, and our community.
John Muir was thinking about Sacred Connections when he wrote:
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find that it is bound fast, by a thousand invisible cords, that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe."
Testing by EXCELL Laboratories in France from the 2009 and 2010 vintages found that only 10% of 300 French wines were free of pesticide residue*. The majority of residues found were fungicides, which are applied late into the growing season. EXCELL Laboratory, which is owned and operated by Pascal Chatonnet, an innovative figure in the French wine business, now plans to offer pesticide residue testing to winery clients. Wines tested that contain no more than five substances in levels 100 times lower than the Maxium Residue Limits Set by the EEC** will be able to use EXCELL’s certification, called “+ Nature”. The idea is to have a scale of pesticide residue that can be put on wine labels so that consumers can choose wines with less contamination.
Frey Biodynamic Petite Sirah, pesticide-free.
A similar study by the European Pesticide Action Network in 2008 found that 100% of conventionally farmed wines in Europe contained pesticide residues. Many of the wines contained traces of several different pesticides. (View a PDF of the report here.) The organic wines tested in the study were all free of pesticides except one; researchers expected the presence of pesticides in the organic wine was due to chemical drift.
The EPA in the US and the EEA (European Environment Agency) would tell you not to worry because the levels of all pesticides were within the legal acceptable limits for each individual substance. This approach fails to look at cumulative levels of all pesticides that were found. Also, lack of research about how these substances interact in combination is a valid concern. As Chatonnet explains, “It is possible that the presence of several molecules combined is more harmful than a higher level of a single molecule.” Chatonnet and others advocate an industry wide shift towards less toxic pesticides, coupled with more precise application methods to avoid overuse of toxic substances.
These studies indicate the benefit of choosing Organic and Biodynamic wines and wines made from Organic and Biodynamic grapes. Not only do they lessen the impact on the environment, they lessen the consumer’s chemical burden. And now, with consistent growth in the Organic and Biodynamic wine sectors, there is more variety than ever before. Cheers To Your Health!
* You can read Decantuer magazine’s summary of EXCELL’s research here.
** The EEC is the EU-Eco Regulation, which is label for products and services that have a reduced environmental impact in the European Union. While raw agricultural commodities are subject to Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) set by EEC agreements, MRLs do not apply to processed foods, including wine. More info can be found here.
Éva-Marie Lind describes this month’s Wine Club selection. Empowered by passion, botanical beauty, science, and authenticity, Éva-Marie Lind is a Designer, Olfactory Artist, Perfumer, Healing Arts Facilitator and the CEO/founder of EM Studios Arome in Portland, Oregon. Ms. Lind has devoted over 30 years to innovations in scent and flavor, with the unique distinction that all ingredients are devoted to natural, ecological, and sustainable tenets. Focused to authenticity, transparency and integrating her work at source, seed to bottle, she has become a uniquely honed, one-of-a-kind design specialist in the field of aromatic and medicinal plants. Contact: email@example.com.
Here, Ms. Lind shares her sensory perceptions of the Frey Organic Wine Club selection for spring, from a perfumer's perspective.
Sauvignon Blanc 2011
She opened with the fresh zest of pink grapefruit kissed by grassy notes of lemongrass and perilla (shiso) leaf. A floral, powdery refrain of creamy honeysuckle, when the evening sun dips in the sky sufficiently to kiss her warmed waxy petals underneath, exposing her ‘winey’ impressions. Lemongrass unfolds, offering a sensation of fresh grated ginger, slightly pungent, lemony, laced with ribbons of honey and a spicy-sweet wood under-note. In fusion with the green, apple-pip of shiso, she lifts into a bright vibrancy. In the mouth there was an addition of juicy melon that merged to a seamless minerality, where all elements, that might otherwise appear resilient to one another, danced in harmony, and offered a lingering finish.
Pinot Noir 2012
This wine began with a bright yet delicate aroma that spoke to me of cashmere and Turkish rose petal, that offers less in her roseaceous characteristics, exposing more presence of her leaf and fruitiness, with an underskirt of soft spice. Teased with lemon blossom and brushed lightly with wild fennel and a hint of sweet cedar beneath. In the mouth she was slightly tart and delightfully soft, exposing cassis (black currant) having a simultaneous flirtation with sweet cherry, plum, a fringe of rhubarb and the suggestion of toasted caramel. She finished with a whisper of the floral that began at her nose.
She blossomed with a brushing of cassis merged with the creamy violet demeanor of orris butter, subtle blueberry and a hint of Tarocco orange zest with a gourmand underskirt. In the mouth her blueberry notes became bolder, opening to expose a surprise accent of sweet cherry and a hint of acai. Brighter notes of cassis followed, further feathered by orris, with accents of oakwood, the slightly peppered, fruity notes of clove bud and the sweet buttery notes offered from the cœur (heart), of zeylanicum cinnamon. Her ending was balanced with a refined, slightly smoked, earthy finish.
Biodynamic Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Uncorking the bottle was as if blackberry and fig were shaking hands, with a dusting of cacao and a hint of oak upfront. Nose deeper, caramel and the inner heart of nutmeg reached forward. In the mouth she was plush, with a lovely rush of herbaceous tannins, that held a suggestion of tarragon leaf before she is crushed, a touch of golden tobacco exposing glimmers of sun-dried hay that merged with a lingering of sweet wood offering a subtle richness weighted by dryness. All held a wonderful balance in the mouth with a lovely finish.
From the "Before It's News" website, here's what one intrepid blogger made from a used bottle of Frey Organic Agriculturist. We could say this bottle contains a literal bouquet of rosemary and daffodil. If describing wine were always this easy!
We waited five months for all the baby goats to arrive and finally last March our herd of mothers delivered the next generation!
Baby goats in vineyard.
Ten baby goats joined the farm family with 8 of those being billy goats (males). Only a few weeks old, they're already learning how to play with each other by butting heads and frolicking in the fields. Each day Daniel herds the rambunctious crew to the vineyard in front of the winery where the grass is particularly lush this season. We've been having lots of visitors who come to meet the goats.
Baby goat nibling on a grape stem.
Last week, in all the excitement of walking the goats back from their pasture to the barn, one baby black goat got left behind. The little billy must have been hiding with the cows or the sheep who were also enjoying the pasture when the goats were called in. When we went back to get him, we were delighted to find that the little goat made new friends with his pasture neighbors the cows. In fact, he had established a special bond with Maybelle, who happily allowed him to nurse to keep his energy up while his goat mother was unavailable!
Sweet spring days of milk on the Frey farm! This orphaned goat found a bovine surrogate while its new step-sibling looked on. Later it was returned to its mama goat.
On January 28-30 Katrina and Jonathan Frey attended the Millésime Bio, the largest organic wine trade show in the world, held in Montpellier, France. The festival was particularly special this year, not only because of its 20-year anniversary, but also because Frey won a gold medal for our 2010 Organic Cabernet Sauvignon! To be chosen out of nearly 700 exhibitors from 11 countries in Europe, South America, and South Africa was quite an honor (we likened it to the organic wine version of the “Judgment of Paris” in 1976!) and we were proud to be the only medal winner from the U.S. In addition to the annual wine competition, the 3-day trade conference holds seminars on organic winemaking, wine tourism, resistant grape varieties, and the new European winemaking regulations.
Established in 1993 by a group of winemakers in Languedoc-Rousillon, the Millésime Bio continues to be the gold standard for international organic wine. This is Frey’s fourth year participating in the event, and it’s always a great venue for catching up with some of our organic pals. “It’s a great exchange of knowledge,” says Katrina Frey. “We’re very excited to see more European interest in non-sulfited winemaking.”
Jonathan and Kartrina Frey accept the Gold Medal for the 2010 Frey Organic Cabernet Sauvignon at Millésime Bio, France, 2013.
Meeting our UK distributors John and Jane Lang from GoodWineOnLine. Interest in Biodynamic wine is huge in the UK.
Jonathan discusses additive-free winemaking with Rodrigo Filipe from Portugal, who just made his first non-sulfite wine, Humus.
Eve Cartier from the Provence winery Mas de Gourgonnier worked with us 7 years ago. They produce beautiful organic olive oil and wines, and now a sulfite-free wine.
New friends Karl and Eva Schnabe, from Weingut in Austria. The Schnabels make natural wines and pasture cows in their vineyards.
At Frey Vineyards, we began working with spontaneous fermentations in 1996 when we released the first certified Biodynamic wine in North America. We are now big fans of how spontaneous fermentations uniquely bring out the terroir of a site and allow the wine drinker to have a tasting experience that mirrors climate, vintage and vineyard.
Frey Biodynamic Cabernet after a light rain.
What is spontaneous fermentation? During the grape crush, yeast is usually added to the grape juice to “kick start” the fermentation. For our line of organic wines, we use certified organic yeast. For our line of Biodynamic wines we rely on spontaneous fermentation – no kick-starter yeast is added. Instead natural yeasts that already live on the grape skins get the fermenting going. Yeast ferments the grape juice by eating up the sugar, which gets converted into alcohol. Later, the yeast sinks to the bottom of the tanks.
The goal of Biodynamic winemaking standards is to promote the production of wines that are in sync with the core principles of Biodynamic farming: reliance on site available inputs, sustainability and diversity. Spontaneous fermentations are required to ensure that each wine is the result of the local yeast populations of the vineyard where the grapes are grown. This allows the wines to express the complexity of the vineyard biology and it allows the wine drinker to experience the nuances between different vineyards and vintages.
At Frey Vineyards, we are relative newcomers to this age-old practice. People have been making wine through wild fermentations for thousands of years. Grapes are one of the few fruits that have enough natural sugar to ferment spontaneously. Grape fermentations also served as the original starters for other fermentations, from sourdough bread to beer. While people knew that wine would result when grapes were crushed and left to sit, they didn’t need to understand the life cycles of yeast or the extent and complexity of their populations.
Louis Pasteur first isolated and identified yeast in the 1800’s. By that time people had already refined and industrialized the process of fermentation. The wine business was huge, with global production, trade and distribution. While Pasteur’s discovery didn’t change the way wine was produced overnight, it led the way to the standardization of wines. Once yeasts were identified, people began to study them and isolate them and eventually to control which yeasts carried out fermentations.
There are several genera of yeast in the world and spontaneous fermentations involve numerous strains of wild yeasts that are localized in the vineyard. Grapes fresh off the vine are teeming with wild yeasts. In spontaneous fermentations each of the yeasts does a little bit of the fermenting, with the more fragile, less alcohol-tolerant strains starting the fermentation and the more robust ones finishing off in higher alcohol environments. Each strain of yeast is best suited to certain conditions and each produces specific byproducts that affect the flavor and aroma of the wine. The result is a wine that is more complex and that is a unique expression of the site where it was grown.
Winemakers in the past had to get by with whatever populations of yeast were found in their vineyards and wineries. Once people understood what yeast were and how they grow and reproduce they were able to isolate and grow certain strains by taking yeast from active fermentations, isolating them and growing them on a substrate (some kind of sugar). Yeasts were selected for certain characteristics, such as flavor profile, alcohol, temperature, pH and sulfite tolerance. People could overpower native yeast populations with introduced strains. They could pasteurize juice that was rotten, then effectively ferment it. Such approaches allow more uniformity in the winemaking process. For mass produced, large-scale industrial winemaking this approach works well because the results are predictable in spite of fluctuations in climate and growing region. This advance also results in a loss of complexity and flavors because the fermentation environment is essentially a monoculture.
At Frey Vineyards, we are big fans of natural processes and diversity and it has been exciting and rewarding to produce Biodynamic wines through spontaneous fermentations. We have noticed that our wild fermented wines have an increased complexity of aroma and flavor and we love the surprises that come from each year. We hope you join us in this return to age-old methods by trying some of our Biodynamic, wild fermented wines. From the vineyard to the table, they are delicious examples of the natural chemistry of grapes and wild yeasts.
Glass of Biodynamic Chardonnay
We live in a time where we have access to almost all cuisines from across the globe and wine is no longer being overlooked as a compliment for spicy or ethnic foods. In the past spicy food wine pairings were limited to white wines but there are wonderful options among rosés and reds. For spice loving foodies it’s time to start sipping outside the box!
Spicy foods are as varied as the wines they can be paired with. Low alcohol wines are best for the spiciest dishes, since spice can accentuate alcohol and make high alcohol wines taste hot and abrasive. Spice can also enhance the astringency of tannins in wine, so heavy red wines are not a good choice with fiery dishes. The spice of ginger, with citrus and lemongrass, is balanced well by wines with crisp acidity and floral aromas, like Sauvignon Blanc and other aromatic whites. Savory spice like garlic, onions, oregano, sage and rosemary are right at home with deep spicy reds like Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. Brown, earthy spice like cumin, coriander and cardamom are best paired with earthy Syrahs and low tannin Merlots.
Below is a list of Frey wines that are best served with spicy fare, and pairing suggestions that will highlight both the food and wine.
Frey Organic Rosé – The floral acidity of our rosé is great with sweet and spicy foods like southern barbeque, Jamaican Jerk spice or Tom Kha Thai coconut soup with lemongrass, galangal (ginger’s spicy cousin) and chilies.
Frey Organic Gewurztraminer – The spicy aromatic nose of gewürztraminer is slightly sweet. We enjoy it with ginger flavored stir-fries and coconut curry dishes with kefir lime.
Frey Organic Sauvignon Blanc – Our Sauvignon Blanc is grown in a warm climate and has tropical aromas and flavors with not too rigid acidity. We recommend it with the cilantro, lime and zest of Mexican and Southwest dishes.
Frey Organic Pinot Noir – Wonderful with spicy Baja fish stew (see our recipe below!), chile verde sauce or basil and eggplant sautéed with garlic and hot peppers.
Frey Organic Zinfandel – Zinfandel has a naturally fruity and spicy character that lends itself to ethnic foods. Great with garlicky dishes like Shrimp Diablo, spicy meat dishes and sautéed pardon peppers.
Frey Biodynamic Chardonnay – The roundness of Chardonnay can cut through the spice and smoke in chipotle sauce. Since Chardonnay is a full bodied white wine it can stand up well to dishes that include chicken or other poultry.
Frey Biodynamic Syrah – The spicy notes of Syrah go great with Indian and Middle Eastern dishes with warm spices like cumin, coriander, fennel or cardamom. The wine’s earthiness is great with the lentils, chickpeas and potatoes often found in such fare.
Frey Organic Petite Sirah – Petite Sirah is known for its peppery character and is a great choice for heavier, tomato based dishes like spicy tomato gratin, or spicy chutney with grilled lamb.
As with all wine and food pairing, at the end of it all we should drink and eat what we love. Combine what sounds good to you, and always remember to try new dishes with wine and food – in moderation of course.
Cheers and Bon Appetite!
(Copyrighted © Eliza Frey, Frey Vineyards, 2013. All right reserved.)
Frey Vineyards 2011 Field Blend was crafted specifically for Whole Foods customers. Our goal with Field Blend was to produce a Biodynamic® example of terroir at its finest expression, where soil, varietal character, and vintage culminate in an authentic representation of our vineyards.
Field Blend is graced with a subtle nose of red currant, a hint of star anise, iron, and rose hips. The flavors lend themselves to an available freshness showing dewberry, white pepper, red beet, and a touch of licorice. The finish is balanced with apricot, kola nut, and cherry bark. While 2011 presented a challenging growing season for much of Northern California, it also prompted us to take a creative approach with some unconventional blends. For Field Blend, we took the best of our estate-grown grapes, starting with our Syrah for composed structure, melding it with our Zinfandel for added spice, and rounding everything out with our soft, plummy Merlot. Field Blend pairs harmoniously with grilled flank steak with olive sauce, paella with spicy sausage, or penne with porcini mushrooms.
The Field Blend label was designed by our wine club director, Nicole Paisley Martensen. It incorporates a collage of vintage astrological charts and farmers’ almanacs, evoking the origins of Biodynamic farming and its founder, Rudolf Steiner, along with photographs of grapevines and tractor treads at Frey Vineyards.