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November 2003
Fine Wine that Respects Nature

By Chef Matteo

Organic and biodynamic farming methods are more popular these days than ever before. A few daring and visionary wineries have adopted the biodynamic philosophy. The Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association explains the system thusly:

Biodynamics is a science of life forces, a recognition of the basic principles at work in nature and an approach to agriculture which takes these principles into account to bring about balance and healing. Biodynamics is an ongoing path of knowledge rather than an assemblage of methods and techniques. Biodynamics recognizes that soil itself can be alive and this vitality supports and affects the quality and health of the plants that grow in it. One of the fundamental efforts is to build up stable humus in the soil through composting. Biodynamic farmers and gardeners aim for quality not quantity.

In the wine industry a small handful of vintners have chosen to respect nature, minimize manipulation of the environment, work with nature not against it, and establish a healthy vineyard that begins with soil, creating a balanced ecosystem.

Two standout American wineries using organic and biodynamic farming techniques are the Robert Sinskey Vineyards (RSV) and Cooper Mountain Vineyards. RSV is located in the heart of Napa Valley, California’s thriving wine-growing region. RSV is 100 percent certified organic and is one of the largest organic vineyards in Napa Valley.

The story of RSV began in 1982 when Bob Sinskey purchased 15 acres of land in Napa’s famed Carneros Valley. Initially, he sold grapes to his neighbors. However, in 1985 RSV decided to create their own wines. In 1988, Jeff Vernig joined the RSV family along with Bob’s son, Robert. In 1991, Vernig became one of Napa Valley’s youngest winemakers. Robert Sinskey slowly took over the reigns of the vineyards, eventually becoming the general manager and vintner.

RSV’s wines tend to showcase finesse rather than sheer power, allowing the subtle nuances of each vineyard to shine in each glass. RSV grows six varieties of grapes: Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is definitely the standout of RSV wines. It is also known as the toughest grape to grow because of its specifics and temperamental behavior. The Carneros Valley and Willamette Valley in Oregon are considered two of the best regions outside of Burgundy to grow Pinot Noir. The RSV Pinot Noir exhibits black cherry and raspberry nuances with an earthy undertone. It is a wine that can stand on its own, but is phenomenal with foods such as mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, eggplant, pine nuts, and risottos.

Cooper Mountain Vineyards produces 100 percent organic and biodynamic wines exclusively from their own estate-grown grapes. Cooper Mountain lies on the slopes of an ancient volcano, located on the western edge of Beaverton, Oregon in the Willamette Valley. The volcanic soil is extremely rich in nutrients and aids in the creation of unique flavors representative of their terroir, a French term meaning, “a group of lands from a certain region, belonging to a specific vineyard, and sharing the same type of soil, weather conditions, and winemaking savoir-faire, which contributes to give its specific personality to the wine.” Terroir is what sets apart a great wine from a good wine. Cooper Mountain believes great winemaking begins in the vineyard.

The varieties of Cooper Mountain grapes are Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir. Their wines are separated into three levels. The Estate tier comprises reasonably priced, everyday, food-friendly wines ($8-$10 a bottle). The Reserve tier showcases the depths of their varied terroir. Cooper Mountain’s premium blends, vineyard designates, and special selections are under the new Five Elements label. These are the best of Cooper Mountain Vineyards and their availability varies vintage to vintage. While their wines are not as refined as RSV, they are great for every day and have no added sulfites.

Benjamin Orphan of Whole Foods Market in San Francisco, pointed us towards some of his favorite European biodynamic wines. Biodynamics was born out of Europe, so it only feels fitting to include some selections from the old world. Benjamin’s favorites are:

Barmès-Buecher is a great Alsacian producer who makes a wonderful Gewürztraminer.

Fleury Vineyards’ Champagne-Carte Rouge is an excellent Cuvée, a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They make the house champagne for Alice Waters’ famed Chez Panisse restaurant.

Guillemot-Michel makes an amazing white Burgundy from the Mâconnaise. So adamant about natural wine that they don’t even use ink on the corks—they burn the information on with an iron!

Guy Bossard, of the Loire Valley, makes a beautiful, crisp, lemony, classic Muscadet. The only biodynamic Muscadet, period!

Nikolaihof-Wachau produces a Grüner Veltliner and Riesling from the premier Niederösterreich region in Austria. A vegetarian’s dream wine (grün means green), the Grüner Veltliner pairs well with the trickier vegetables—artichokes, peas, asparagus, wild mushrooms, etc.

Chef Matteo moved to New York from San Francisco in March 2001. He is a long-time vegetarian and has been vegan for nine years. Matteo has worked in the health food and restaurant business for over a decade, and currently works as a private chef, caterer, and hosts “4 Course Vegan,” a weekly gourmet dinner party in NYC (

Seasonal Recipes Made with Wine
By Chef Matteo

Golden Chanterelles with Pinot Blanc and Fresh Thyme

1 Lb. Golden Chanterelle Mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
2 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 C. Shallots, minced
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 C. Pinot Blanc (or Sauvignon Blanc)
1 T. Fresh Thyme Leaves, minced
Sea Salt and Pepper, to taste
Thyme Sprigs and Black Sesame Seeds for garnish

1. Heat oil in sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté shallots for 1 minute and add the Chanterelles to the pan. Cook until mushrooms begin to caramelize. Add garlic. Cook 1 minute.

2. Remove pan from heat and pour in the Pinot Blanc. Return pan to heat, add the minced thyme and cook until wine is almost evaporated.

3. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with black sesame seeds and thyme sprigs.

Pinot Noir and Autumn Fruit Compote
1 1/2 C. Pinot Noir
1/2 C. Fuji Apple, peeled and chopped
1/2 C. Bartlett Pears, peeled and chopped
1/4 C. Cranberries
1/4 C. Dried Cherries
2 T. Maple Syrup
1 Cinnamon Stick
1/4 t. Orange Zest
1 Clove
2-3 Grates of Nutmeg
Pomegranate Seeds for garnish

1. In medium saucepan, combine all ingredients, except pomegranate seeds, and simmer 10-15 minutes or until liquid is reduced by at least half.

2. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and serve warm or cold with pie or ice cream.



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