Raise your glasses and toast a truly exceptional wine: Benziger’s Tribute, Sonoma County, California ($60), the first certified Biodynamic wine from Napa and Sonoma counties. The first vintage, 2001, has sold out of stores across the country, and the 2002, which will be released in May, is expected to follow suit.
Biodynamic farming is the new-and-improved (and maybe wild-and-wacky) method of organic farming. There is absolutely no use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. But growers dedicated to Biodynamics go beyond general organic farming. Each grower must essentially create a self-sufficient ecosystem, which involves sustaining wildlife, introducing plants and animals that help enrich the land, and using the lunar cycle to time the grape harvest. Of the 85-acre Benziger estate, only 42 acres are reserved for grapes. About 30 acres are planted with pockets of native plants (dubbed biodiversity breaks), which require no watering or maintenance that doesn’t come from nature, as well as fruit and olive trees, gardens, and wildlife sanctuaries and wetlands.
Benziger’s national sales manager Chris Benziger describes the process as a labor of love. “You have to have a personal connection to the property and a personal commitment to the land,” he says.
Many winemakers are looking to the Benzigers to blaze a new trail. The process started in 1996, but the land was not certified Biodynamic until 2000. About 60 additional acres of land are in transition and should be certified by 2007.
But not all winemakers are sold on Biodynamics. You might hear, “I think Biodynamics is a good thing when you’re talking about sustainable agriculture, but when you get into burying cow skulls under the vines and harvesting on the new moon, you’ve got to wonder.” (Yes, those are real guidelines for Biodynamic winemaking.) But critics haven’t stopped the Benzigers, and the proof is in their product. If all Biodynamic wineries can release a gem like Tribute, it just might be the future of viticulture. —Julie Blacklidge
Available at Pogo’s Wine and Spirits, 5360 W. Lovers Ln., Ste. 200. 214-350-8989.