Writer Jane Anson picks her favourite organic, biodynamic and natural wines to feature in her new book. We are thrilled to see many Wine Society producers making the cut.
Jane tells us what inspired her to write the book and how she narrowed down the selection for the book.
What are biodynamic wines? Biodynamic wines are made from fruit which is grown subject to an unusual set of rules based on the ideas of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925); moon phases and astrology make up part of the biodynamic calendar which instructs growers when and how to plant and care for their grapes, including the use of biodynamic preparations. Demeter, the largest certifying organisation for this system defines biodynamics as 'a holistic approach to agriculture in which vitality is the highest priority'.
What makes these wines different?
It's hard, of course, to pinpoint exactly what difference specific farming practices make in the glass. I can't tell you that biodynamic wines are 20% more tasty, or that organic producers are always going to be worth choosing over traditional ones. But I can say that wine that tries to be a true reflection of the place that it is grown is surely a satisfying and interesting approach for both a winemaker and those of us who enjoy the results of their work.
It's increasingly clear that organic, biodynamic and natural wines are part of the same movement that has seen farm-to-table restaurants, locavore eating and farmers' markets revolutionise so much of our food culture over the past decade. The idea of provenance and the quality of ingredients matters more and more to all of us – a fact that is evidenced by the growth of organic wine in the UK, that rose by almost 15% in 2016. So shouldn't we think about celebrating wine producers who believe in this just as much we do chefs like Dan Barber, Umberto Bombana or Francis Mallmann?
Biodynamic preparations laid out to dry at Château Climens in Barsac
The healing powers of boxwood are well known and are used in place of chemical sprays to help protect the vines
For me that would include winemakers like, Julien Brocard in Chablis (producers of The Society's Chablis), John Williams at Frog's Leap in Napa (who makes The Society's Exhibition label wines), Olivier Humbrecht in Alsace and Bérénice Lurton at Château Climens in Bordeaux. In fact once you start looking, you find hundreds of brilliant winemakers who are committed to making wines that speak of a particular place and a particular story, underlined by returning to traditional methods of farming that help biodiversity and sustainability.
John Williams of Frog's Leap – a trailblazer of sustainable viticulture in the US
Where foodies and wine lovers meet
It was this idea that organic, biodynamic and natural wines can be the space where foodies and wine lovers meet that really inspired me to write Wine Revolution. Above all I wanted to get across the idea that these wines should no longer be viewed as specialist, or eccentric. Instead even the most prestigious of them are about the pure pleasure of taste, and the pleasure of discovering the history and personality of a vineyard through the bottles that it makes. Steering clear of over-processed techniques in vineyard and cellar – from lashings of new oak to over-cropping – means the wine is freed to focus instead on authentic flavours and intensity of fruit.
The stories of the people and places behind the wines
Starting with a blank page and the whole world of wine before me wasn't exactly easy. I was simply looking for the best examples, wherever they came from. I wanted to ensure that I was writing about the wines themselves, and the people who make them, rather than focusing too much on the technical details of the farming methods. Where possible I wanted to highlight local grape varieties that protected the historic identity of a region - and that often matched perfectly with local foods.
I couldn't have done this without the help of sommeliers and wine buyers from around the world sharing their invaluable knowledge of regions that I don't get to travel to often enough. I am based in France and travel regularly to European and American vineyards, but wanted to be certain I was giving space to the amazing wines in Australia, New Zealand, South America and beyond.
…stories like that of the incredible Chateau Musar
Armed with their suggestions alongside my own, I started tasting through what just might be the most enjoyable selection of wines I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know. Impossible to taste Chateau Musar, for example, without learning just a little about the Bekaa Valley in the Lebanon, and to be enriched by the experience. Chateau Musar was the first certified organic estate in the country, back in 2005 – even though, like so many of these properties, the estate doesn't major on this fact in its marketing. Musar is the place where the legendary Gaston Hochar stuck to his non-interventionist winemaking and produced bottles that age happily for decades, sharing their rich exotic flavours of figs, dates, mint leaves and fleshy black fruits. I selected the 1999 vintage for the book, because the estate likes to release older wines that showcase the beauty of the flavours as they soften and round out, making them a perfect accompaniment to a slow-cooked lamb or a root vegetable stew.
Extract from our 1971 List
…and the Meyer sisters at Josmeyer in Alsace
I have also tried to ensure I showcase wines at different price levels, so everyone can find something to try out. There are some brilliant values on offer with the wines of Josmeyer in Alsace, for example, an estate that is run by two sisters Céline and Isabelle and has been certified organic since 2004. Again and again in their range I found that the taut and thrilling flavours of riesling and the rounder more apricot flesh of pinot gris came alive under their skill.
Or Seresin Estate in New Zealand, that makes a range of site-specific pinot noirs that rival anything you can find in Burgundy - and have a winemaker, Clive Dougall, who was born in Chiswick and has been making these magic dark-berry fruited wines in Marlborough since 2006.
I also found some incredible value wines in Sicily, Spain, Austria, Argentina, France and the US that are bursting with flavour and vitality, all under £40 and many far less than that. But the most important thing I found was that these are wines made for sharing. They belong on a table over lunch or supper, or in a bar with a few local tapas and plate-sharing specialities.
Because while the wine producers take their production methods extremely seriously, they want the end result to be firmly focused on pleasure.
Jane Anson's book 'Wine Revolution: The World's Best Organic, Biodynamic & Natural Wines' is out now from Quarto Publishing, hardback £25
Wine writer, author and educator, Jane Anson, is a regular contributor to Decanter magazine and has published several books
> Browse our selection of wines produced by organic, biodynamic and sustainable viticultural practices