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Howl at the Moon 

Biodynamic winemaking takes hold

The phrase "organic wine" freaks out most Americans, summoning up images of pot-smoking hippies living in sin. But wait until they hear about the souped-up, black magic version of organic: biodynamic winemaking. In an effort to recapture the pure, pesticide-free soil of yesteryear, a silently growing revolution of winemakers is emerging across the globe. They use holistically inspired growing techniques to pump up produce and soil quality. And high-profile winemakers are beginning to embrace the practice.

About 50 years back, before Big Chemical began influencing farmers, organic wine was all you could buy. But the introduction of 'cides created bigger crops with less work, and more profit. The chemicals stripped the soil of valuable natural nutrients, creating a cyclical dependency on pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers. Now, we're seeing a slow move back to the way things used to be.

Biodynamic winemaking began with the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). He viewed the farm as a living system, and emphasized diversity in the vineyards - growing a variety of plants to attract insects and raising animals to provide manure for fertilizer.

Biodynamics also involves applying special mixtures to crops. One concoction is created by fermenting manure in a cow horn over the winter, then spreading it over the vineyard in the spring. Another method is applying oak bark fermented in the skull of a domestic animal. It sounds whacked out, but die-hard biodynamic farmers believe these practices fix problems with pH and salinity, help fight soil diseases, and increase beneficial microorganisms.

Application of these compost mixtures is planned according to the phases of the moon and planetary movement. Biodynamic thinking tries to balance the four influences on the vineyards: water, earth, air and fire, harmonizing the world's energies with the grapevines. Bizarre? Maybe. But these biodynamic farmers hark from some of France's most renowned wine estates, like Chateau de Beaucastel in the Rhone Valley. California's successful, family-owned Benziger Winery started going biodynamic in the late '90s, a few years behind France. Winemaker Mike Benziger states on his website: "A biodynamic vineyard is free to draw complexity, flavor and character from its roots below and abundant sunshine above. As a result, biodynamic vineyards can produce a totally unique wine with boundless charisma."

Other notable wineries employing some form of biodynamics in their vineyards are Bonterra Vineyards (CA), Robert Sinskey Vineyards (CA), Domaine Alfred (CA), Yorkville (CA), Frey (CA), Araujo Estate (CA), Josmeyer (FR), Domaine Leflaive (FR), M. Chaputier (FR), and Quintessa (CA).

But some winemakers doubt the benefits. Fred Payne is a winemaker at Michel Schlumberger Winery in Sonoma Valley, Calif. Payne calls the practice "state of the art farming, circa 1920." He believes additional manipulation decreases the vigor on the vine and the practice of tilling the soil lessens the nutrients for the vines. Others, like Matias Lecaros, winemaker from Chile's leading organic winery Carmen, don't buy the whole concept, since the benefits can't be proven. "In organic [winemaking], you have science, not just faith," Lecaros says. "I know the affect of the spider on the vineyards, but not the moon."

But does biodynamic wine taste better? Rumor has it that biodynamic has beaten organic in taste tests. I'd love to believe something this alternative would trump other wines, but personally I haven't been moved. But I'll keep exploring the wine aisle in my local health food market, in the faith that one day the moon and stars will make a difference in my glass.

Recommended Wines

Domaine Alfred 2002 Da Red Edna Valley Chamisal VineyardsThis biodynamic red blend from Southern California smacks of earthy dark cherry, laced with vibrant mint and chocolate. Great rich finish that holds your attention. SW = 1. $16.

Yorkville 2002 Petit Verdot Mendocino CountyLight bodied for this normally inky, hefty grape. Tart cranberry, cherry and coffee float in this easy-going red. SW = 1. $9.

The Wine List


UPCOMINGPULL INTO PORT - Salud! Cooking & Lifestyle School inside Harry's Farmers Market presents an introduction to the underrated world of port and other fortified wines Thurs., Jan. 27, 7-9 p.m. Expert Don Reddicks will discuss the history and production process of these wines. Cost is $45 per person. 1180 Upper Hembree Road, Roswell. 770-664-6300. www.harrysfarmersmarket.com.

NEW FESTIVAL IN TOWN - The Atlanta Fine Wine Festival makes its debut Sat., Feb. 19, from 2-6 p.m. at Mason Murer Fine Art. The event is an opportunity to sample more than 300 wines, including rare, allocated and limited-release wines from some of the world's renowned wineries and vineyards. Sample gourmet nibbles provided by Murphy's, Portofino, Toulouse, Sotto Sotto, Woodfire Grill, One Midtown Kitchen and Two Urban Licks. A silent charity auction will benefit Hospice Atlanta. Tickets are $100 per person. 199 Armour Drive. Visit www.atlantafinewinefestival.com for more info.

ONGOING
Black Bear Tavern - Bottles of red and white wines every Tuesday for $12. 1931 Peachtree Road. 404-355-9089. www.blackbeartavern.net.

Cafe at East Andrews - Each week, the restaurant offers Wine Down Wednesdays, with bottles of wine for half price. Included in the promotion is the "Cellar List," so patrons have the chance to sample high-quality wines like Silver Oak and Opus One. 56 E. Andrews Drive. 404-869-1132. www.eastandrews.com.

Cheetah - Wine, Women & Thong every third Friday of each month, beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Executive Room. The $15 event includes front door cover, Executive Room admission, hors d'oeuvres and wine. The next tasting is Fri., Jan. 21. 887 Spring St. 404-892-3037.

D'Vine Wine Bar and Shop - Come enjoy a wine event every day of the week (with the exception of Sunday). To mention just a few: Monday from 6-8 p.m. is D'Vine's Uncorked Night, where customers can sample all open bottles for $12. From 6-8 p.m. on Tuesdays, D'Vine has wine tastings of six to eight themed wines. Wine Knowledge Wednesdays include classes by expert Michael Bryant, trivia and a four-course dinner. 5486 Chamblee Dunwoody Road. 770-350-9463. www.atlantawinebar.com.

Eclipse di Luna - Enjoy a wine tasting event the first Tuesday of every month from 6-7 p.m. For $10, it includes tapas and bottomless glasses of six to eight wines. 764 Miami Circle. 404-846-0449.

Eno- Blind tasting special offered every Tuesday. Those who correctly identify an unknown wine receive a complimentary glass. Restricted to Tuesday bar hours, at the bar only. Every Wednesday, Mediterranean wine and tapas. $5 a glass, $3 a plate. 6-8 p.m. Also, Eno presents a wine tasting special every Thursday. Admission of $25-$35 includes three to five wines from different regions around the world served like a flight. 6-8 p.m. 800 Peachtree St. 404-685-3191. www.eno-atlanta.com.

Flying Biscuit Cafe, Candler Park - Take advantage of the Fabulous Fixed Price Friday Wine Tasting Dinner every Friday. The $25 event includes a three-course meal and paired wines. 1655 McLendon Ave. For info and reservations, call 404-687-8888. www.flyingbiscuit.com.

Imperial Fez - Taste wines from around the world paired with Moroccan appetizers the first Wednesday of every month. $15. 5:30-7 p.m. 2285 Peachtree Road. 404-351-0870.

Inman Park Patio - Every Monday night, wines by the bottle are half-off. 1029 Edgewood Ave. 404-659-5757. www.inmanparkpatio.com.

Java Monkey - Wine tasting every other Thursday on the patio. The next tasting - which includes music and chair massage - will be Thurs., Jan. 20. Sample featured wines and complimentary hors d'oeuvres. $15. 7-9 p.m. 425 Church St. 404-378-5002.

Murphy's - Wine tasting Tuesdays start at 6:30 p.m. Cost is $10 for tasting, with $5 off any entree. 997 Virginia Ave. 404-872-0904. www.murphysvh.com.

Sage - Come enjoy the revival of Wednesday night wine tasting, 6:30-8:30 p.m. For $13, the event includes light hors d'oeuvres, live jazz and a raffle. Reservations recommended. 121 Sycamore St. 404-373-5574. www.thebistros.com.

Spice - Half-priced bottles of wine every Tuesday, 6 p.m.-closing. Choose from more than 100 wine varietals. Also, "Sipping from the Vine" wine tasting and complimentary hors d'oeuvres every Thursday, 6-8 p.m. $10 per person. 793 Juniper St. 404-875-4242. www.spicerestaurant.com.

Star Provisions - Wine tasting every Wednesday, 7-8 p.m. Reservations required. 1198 Howell Mill Road. 404-365-0410, ext. 1111.

Tierra - Bottles of half-priced wine every Tuesday to celebrate its fifth anniversary. This special is limited to bottles under $40. 1425 Piedmont Ave. 404-974-5951. www.tierrarestaurant.com.

Twist - Every Monday, Twist offers half-priced bottles for every item on the wine list, including Dom Perignon. 3500 Peachtree Road. 404-869-1191. www.heretoserverestaurants.com.

Vinocity - Exotic dinners paired with bottomless glasses of wine from a specific region every Sunday, starting at 5:30 p.m. Prices vary by the week. And Mondays, a $5 wine tasting is held from 6-11 p.m. Three or four selections presented like a flight. 36 13th St. 404-870-8886. www.vinocitywinebar.com.

E-mail winelist@creativeloafing.com or fax information to 404-420-1402 at least two weeks prior to event.

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