Who would have ever thought that we’d see the day when calculating our carbon footprint was just as important as calculating our calorie intake?
There’s no doubting that as a society, we’ve increasingly become more aware of the cycles of nature and the importance of taking care of our planet. It’s as though our technological triumphs of the past 25 years no longer matter. We’re all being asked – in one way or another – to circle back to our roots in many different areas of our lives and really think hard about how we can make a change, and thus, a difference.
In the viniculture space, Southbrook Vineyards and Tawse Winery – both located within the Niagara region – are renowned wineries that can lay claim to ‘making a difference’. Not only are these wineries certified to sell organic wines, they’re able to label and market wines (made from their own estate fruit) as biodynamic.
To help us understand what biodynamic wines are, let’s first start with what certified organic means when it comes to farming a vineyard site. Winemakers must prove that their farm is free of synthetic pesticides and preservatives, chemical fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics and genetically modified organisms; demonstrate the humane treatment of animals and the preservation of ecological integrity; and maintain and record these practices for 36 months prior to certification.
You may be thinking that these practices seem pretty straight-forward and almost expected by “today’s standards”, yet only a handful of Ontario’s wineries are actually certified organic, and organic wine represents just five percent of the global wine market.
Biodynamics takes organic farming to the next level. The whole farm is treated as a living entity and holistic ecosystem, from the earth beneath to the stars above. Biodynamic farmers track the movement of the stars and the moon to determine when to sow and when to reap. Still following?
Like organics, biodynamic wines are free of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers, but the eco-balanced regimen is even more stringent. One of the main aims is to strengthen the soil and, therefore, the vines. They bury cows’ horns filled with compost material in the soil – an almost paganistic practise.
So what are the impacts and expected results of biodynamic farming? Firstly, biodynamic winemakers have claimed that their methods tend to result in the wines having better expressions of terroir – the way in which a wine can represent its specific place of origin in its aroma, flavour and texture. There are also improvements in the health of the vineyard, specifically in the areas of soil fertility, crop nutrition, and pest, weed and disease management.
“There is no question in our minds that our (biodynamic) practises have improved the tilth of our soil,” admits Ann Sperling, head winemaker at Southbrook Vineyards.
“We see a thicker topsoil profile and deeper root penetration throughout the vineyard,” continues Sperling. “The natural/pre-existing make-up of our soils is very delicate; therefore the increased organic matter is making it more resilient. Over the 10-12 years of work with our estate grown biodynamic grapes, our wines have required very little to no intervention.”
Moray Tawse, owner of Tawse Winery and Redstone Winery in the Niagara Bench area agrees. “Our vineyards have no rot, our plants are just so much healthier that they can fight off any diseases, and that is a testament to organics and biodynamics,” says Tawse. “We started with just five acres, just to see if we could see a difference. And the difference was so great, right away, that we converted everything within a three year period.”
“The energy in the wines that you get from biodynamics is what makes them refreshing and ripe, really separating them from the pack,” explains Tawse.
Sperling also stresses that she believes “it’s important for educated consumers to ask their producers the hard questions about methods of production and challenge growers to perform at higher levels. The argument for “feeding the masses” should not apply for products such as wine, so growing wine grapes using the highest standard of sustainability should be the norm rather than the exception.”
Consider reducing your carbon footprint by enjoying a bottle of organic and/or biodynamic wine produced in Ontario:
Southbrook 2017 ‘Saunders Vineyard’ Chardonnay
From the certified organic vineyard that’s become a sought after ‘cru’ site for its terroir expressive fruit comes this flavourful chardonnay that’s packed with peach, honey and zesty citrus fruits. It’s seamless from front to mid palate and finishes long with hints of orchard fruit and bees wax. ($35)
Southbrook 2017 ‘Wild Ferment’ Chardonnay
An intensely flavoured expression from estate-grown fruit that shows its hand a tad too much at this point. It’s a bit tight and brash right now, but my suspicion is that some of that fore-palate intensity will ease with some more time in bottle. Give this another two or three years to develop nicely. ($35)
Southbrook 2019 ‘Orange’ Vidal Skin Fermented White
I can’t seem to recall another winery in Ontario making ‘orange’ wine before Southbrook. Skin fermented white wines are now being made throughout the province and have become the next big thing – admired for their intense flavour profile and experimental composition – not to mention the colour! This uses vidal grapes, estate grown, and made in a very natural style (free of additives, no sulphites, wild yeast). Full of savoury and profound flavours, be sure to pair this wine properly – think spicy Asian cuisine to cut all those flavours. Contemplative, no doubt. ($29.95)
Southbrook 2018 ‘Laundry Vineyard’ Gamay
A beautiful gamay from another well-kept organic site that displays aromas of cranberry, strawberry and herbs. It’s savoury and fresh on the palate, with dry cherry and all-spice lending support. Thoroughly enjoyable and an excellent match for most foods. ($29.95)
Southbrook 2018 ‘Laundry’ Cabernet Franc
A very aromatic cab franc, the nose is akin to nachos in a glass – complete with jalapeno and black pepper notes. The palate is spicy, with black fruit, more pepper and a smoky core. Perhaps this is a bit heavy-handed for some that prefer a more restrained, less in-your-face style. It’s big and bold, to be sure. ($34.95)
Southbrook 2017 ‘Witness Block’ Cabernet Sauvignon
Right now, this is very tight knit on the nose, but with time in the glass (or a good decant) this will open nicely. The palate is firm but smooth with polished tannins. Blueberry, black currant, cedar and spice are what’s detected immediately on the palate. It’s well refined and ready to drink. I love the approachability of it, not to mention its fair price point. ($45)
Southbrook 2016 ‘Poetica’ Red
This limited-edition offering reflects the highest expression of Southbrook’s vineyard. Cabernet sauvignon is the primary variety, with a splash of merlot and petit verdot to provide some favourable structural support. This is a wine that continues to satisfy year over year, and will be a real treasure among your cellar. Expect red and blackcurrant fruit accented with spice and some cedar notes, all nicely elevated with fresh acidity. Tannins are beautifully structured, providing a very gentle tug. It’s remarkably approachable, yet built for serious aging (up to a decade). A definitive Ontario red wine blend. ($70)
Tawse 2019 ‘Grower’s Blend’ Skin Fermented Pinot Gris “Orange Wine”
Displaying an attractive sunset-like colour, this ‘orange wine’ is intensely flavoured (as one should expect) with notes of orange peel, dried peach, marmalade and ginger spice. The finish is reminiscent of citrus rind and gingersnap. Don’t be fooled. This is a bold wine, dry and crisp, with 0 g/l of residual sugar. Try with curry based dishes. ($25)
Campbell Kind Wine 2019 ‘Limestone Ridge’ Riesling
Founded by Steven Campbell in 2019, Campbell Kind Wine is the world’s first international range of sustainable, carbon zero wines. This globally connected initiative works with international winemakers to help craft custom brands for their retail partners while leaving a minimal impact on the environment. Campbell Kind Wine currently has five varieties of wines, including sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, syrah from South Africa, tinto from Spain, a red wine blend Rosso Veronese from Italy, and this riesling, made in conjunction with winemaker Paul Pender and Tawse Winery.
The “carbon foot print” of the wines’ packaging and shipping is calculated by Carbonzero who offsets the footprint right here in Canada. This riesling, from the Tawse owned Limestone Ridge Vineyard, is certified organic and vegan. It is a single tank from a single vineyard of 25-year-old vines that were picked and kept separate the whole time. It’s truly a limited edition wine with incredible minerality and is bursting with notes of green apple, grapefruit and orange zest. Balanced and ever-refreshing, this lovely wine is quite ready now, but feel free to hold onto it for several years if you’re into collecting well-made riesling. Hard to beat the quality-to-price ratio on this one. ($20)
Redstone 2017 Cabernet Franc
The fruit for this cabernet franc is sourced exclusively from Redstone’s biodynamic-practised estate vineyard. Planted in 2010 this is the sixth growth and fifth harvest from this high-density, low-yielding six acre block. The nose is ripe with currants, plums and mixed cherries. The palate is expressive and complex, with subtle earth and gravel, savoury herbs and dark fruit. Tannins are firm and give balance to the warming alcohol. ($39.95)
Tawse Cherry Ave. Pinot Noir
Tawse Winery has won numerous prestigious wine awards, including four ‘National Winery of the Year’ awards since 2010! Maybe it’s because they treat their whole farm as a single living organism – the core of biodynamic practise. Whatever the reason, it’s working, and there’s no better a wine than their pinot noir from the famed Cherry Avenue vineyard block to provide testament to Tawse’s ability to craft exceptional, food friendly, terroir-driven and expressive wines. ($49)