A few days ago I attended a wine fair and conference that focused on biodynamic wines. The biodynamic movement, briefly summarized, is one that incorporates many of the principles of organic agriculture (no pesticides or GMO’s) and focuses on the normal cycle of the earth all while considering the link between the ecological, kinetic and spiritual components of nature. This means for example that in hot climates, “cool” fertilizers are used in order to create a more balanced growing environment. Developed by Steiner in the early 1900’s, its modern day spokesperson is Frenchman Nicolas Joly.
Cosmoculture is biodynamic wine with an extra dose of energy. Those who practice it use means, such as large stones and water sources, to capture the natural energy of the cosmos and direct it in a way that it flows to the ground and has a positive impact on the vinification process. Currently, the bastions of this type of winemaking can be found at Domain Viret, in the Cotes du Rhône in France. And it would be a lie to say that I wasn’t a little bit skeptical when I went to a tasting of three wines from the Domaine at Pullman (click here).
Three glasses, three bottles, and a winemaker stand before me. Philippe Viret (pictured) is the son of the founders of the Domaine Viret and an oenologist. A young gentleman with a deep sense of calm about him, he begins to tell the story of cosmoculture and how it is expressed in his vineyards. Before even tasting anything, he begins our conversation by insightful commentary. He points out that it’s interesting how we have moved from a society that had nature and animals as central parts of all experiences in life to one where we are almost alienated from them. Cosmoculture is essentially a move back to incorporating the energy that comes from a holistic environment that includes all these components. Man is part of the terroir and rather than seeing himself as having control over it he should see himself as the conductor of the orchestra that is nature. As such, the quality and respect for each "section" is essential to the production of any symphony.
The first step in cosmoculture is to clean the ground and remove many years worth of “bétisses” as he calls them. A survey of the land, uncovering and utilizing water sources and installing antennae in the form of menhirs, allows for energy to be properly directed on the property. He chuckles and clarifies “I know it must be hard to listen to me speak about energy in wine without thinking of the alcohol, but I hope that you know what I mean”. After three years, the yields begin to show a different character. The grapes are more resistant, the earth is looser and the worms make a much anticipated return. Once the berries are picked, strict norms are applied to the vinification process: no sulfur, no additional fermentations, only natural indigenous yeasts and at least two years in the cellar.
The resulting product is a variety of wines made from traditional grape varieties found in the Southern Rhône Valley. And how do they taste?
Phenomenal. Honest. Fresh. Balanced. Whereas most wines from this region are characterized by jam-like, cooked berry features, we could only summarize these as fresh summer fruit.
Renaissance 2005 : A blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah is aged in concrete and is wonderfully mineral. Medium tannins give way to a menthol and blackberry seed persistence. Such a depth of flavour with a smoky finish.
Maréotis 2005 : A 60/40 blend of Grenache and Syrah, this wine is finished in Burgundian barrels that will soon be replaced by terra cotta barrels. More acidic than Renaissance, it had a citrus peel (lime?) start that the tannins lead to wood nuances – but a real wood flavour, not the vanilla components typically associated to this type ageing process.
Colonnades 2004 : This one spends 30 months in barrels because the natural yeasts require it. It’s 80% Grenache and 20% Mourvedre and made with Grenache vines that are almost 100 years old. An intense yet surprisingly crisp nose yields to a spicy heat and warmth in mouth. The intense fruit flavours give way to an herbal, almost olive nuance finishing with plum notes. Heartier tannins remain balanced making this wine highly quaffable and almost light – shocking for a wine at 16.8% alcohol!
Currently unavailable at the SAQ, these wines, should you come across them, should be purchased in large quantities. While I don’t know that I would apply the principles of cosmoculture to my garden (even if I had one), I definitely plan to apply them in my wine cellar…