Jeff's Blog

Posts tagged with 'biodynamic'

Friday, January 20, 2012

Sulfites in Wine

Sulfites in wine are a long standing tradition. The Romans got the sulfite ball rolling a few thousand years ago. More on that story shows up a bunch of paragraphs down the page. The main purpose of sulfites in wine is to prevent oxidation and bacteria from running wild.

Many people say they have reactions to sulfites. They most often describe these reactions by saying that they get headaches from sulfites. Here’s a video we did in regard to sulfites in wine, with a focus on the headache factor.

Not too long ago, ConsciousWine received an e-mail saying the following: “I am allergic to so many foods I will not list them out, but found I also have a lot of problems with sulfites. I was directed towards organic wines and was told this was a great place to check out.”

I responded to this e-mail by writing the following:


My name is Jeff Weissler. I am a partner in ConsciousWine, and The ConsciousWine Guy. Thanks for reaching out to us. I hope we can help.

I want to be clear that I am not a doctor, although I’ve spent some time studying nutrition to go along with 30 years in the fine wine business and researching the different pieces of ConsciousWine since 2005.

Wine is an interesting and can lead to a group of different reactions in people. I believe the main culprits for someone having a reaction with a wine are sulfites, histamines, dehydration, sugar, and the “energetics” of the wine.

Sulfites in wine are used to prevent oxidation and bacteria from running wild. There is a legal maximum of 350 parts per million (ppm) allowed to be added to wine for these purposes.

Many folks believe sulfites cause headaches, although there is no scientific evidence of that. There is evidence of sulfites causing a reaction in asthmatics. It’s most commonly described as a cotton or stuck feeling in the throat. The Harvard Health Letter has had reports on a condition they describe as “Red Wine Syndrome” where research was done on this.

At ConsciousWine, a big part of our purpose is to help folks figure out what is a good choice (a healthy choice), for both them and the planet.

In regard to your specific question this is what I can say:
When an American wine says,“Organic Wine” on the label, it is a guarantee that there have been zero sulfites added during the winemaking process (that includes right before bottling which is when most wineries add a fair amount of sulfites). This sounds sulfite free, but it is not completely. Sulfites are a natural bi-product of fermentation, and there can be 6-8 ppm sulfites in a wine without adding anything. That was the good news of this little tale. The bad news is to make wine without adding sulfites at all, is incredibly difficult (although not impossible) to end up with a consistent quality product. If no sulfites are added, a single extra yeast or microbial anything can lead to a microbial universe (and flavors not so fun). FYI, sulfites (in small amounts) have been added to wine since Roman times (sulfur was in the candles they used to see when cleaning the vats; burning the sulfur created sulfites).

The most common “Organic Wine” you can find at a store (including most health food stores) is from Frey Vineyards in Mendocino County, CA. They represent outstanding farming practices, are made with tremendous love, but I also feel there is a problem with a frequency of inconsistent quality. They are the most popular and available wines in the US with no sulfites added.

In terms of labels, you should know there is another one called, “Made with Organically Grown Grapes” which does allow for sulfites added. This brings me to sharing a little more with you about ConsciousWine. ConsciousWine goes to vineyards and wineries to find those committed to making what we call wines “Vital to Both Palate and Planet.” We find those wineries and then tell their stories on our website, and offer some of those wines for sale through The Shop on

All wines on our site have been vetted for 4 Principles. They are:

Here’s the link where you can click to get further descriptions of any of the Principles: The 4 Principles

The wines on our site have a maximum of 100 ppm sulfites added. Having said that, most of the wines are more in the 20-50 ppm range.

We have one winery on our site that does not add sulfites to some of their wines – AmByth Estate. Philip & Mary Hart are the owners. Their passion for natural grape growing and winemaking runs to their core. Here’s the link to their page on our website: AmByth Estate Featured Winery Page. You can watch a video or two to get a taste of their style. With the exception of several wines, their wines sell for $45 per bottle, so they are not inexpensive. For comparison, Frey starts in the $15 range. But like they say, you get what you pay for.

Wines on our site do contain minimal sulfites added (with the exception of a few Ambyth Wines and I’ve included that link here: Having said that, with all ConsciousWines you do get wine made with a gentle touch that keeps the “life force” from a vital soil and environment intact. I don’t know if they would cause a reaction for you or not, but if you can drink wine without having a reaction, these wines should have a high possibility of success for you.

Thank you so much for reaching out to us, and we’re here to make a difference, and help where we can. Feel free to continue the conversation.

Cheers & Best of Health,

Jeff Weissler & ConsciousWine

AmByth Estate (in Templeton, CA near Paso Robles) has been working hard at making wines without any sulfites being added. That is one of their goals, and what I love most is that they won’t force it. They have an understanding of what it takes from start to finish for a well made product to arrive in bottle at your door, and they stick to that commitment. When nature lets them create a no sulfites in wine opportunity, they jump on it, and the results speak for themselves.

ConsciousWine is excited to be offering 4 wines (2 reds, 2 whites) from AmByth Estate with no sulfites added. They’re all made in tiny amounts. 100 cases were made of the Zinfandel, which is more than the total of the other 3 wines combined. Click on the wine name to discover more about the individual wine and to buy some through our Cyber-Shop (3 bottle minimum order). Their natural winemaking style leads to a balance and diversity of flavors, alcohol levels not in the stratosphere, wines that unwind with air & love being paired with food.

’09 Syrah $35
’10 Bailey’s Zin(fandel) $38
’10 Marsanne $45
’10 Grenache Blanc $45

When the addition of sulfites in wine has been eliminated, the first quest is to discover a stable, quality wine. When you come across one, it’s a blessing! When you discover AmByth Estate it’s amazing! Big shout out to Philip & Mary Hart!!

Trying these naturally made American wines is a delicious opportunity for yourself or anyone that loves wine expressing balance, place, purity and specifically wants to avoid sulfites in wine. They’re available in our Shop.

Cheers and Happy 2012!

In Basic Wine Enjoyment, Demystifying Natural Wine, Jeff's Blog, Natural Winemaking, Storytelling, The Shop, Wineries | Tagged with , ,

What exactly are sustainable farming practices? Good question! There’s many certifications based on sustainable farming practices yet do they go far enough?

ConsciousWine has been on the look out for wineries following our 4 Principles (OrganicSustainableVitalQuality), and came up with a list of the 12 most common sustainable farming practices of wineries following our 4 Principles.

We’ll be doing a series of 12 posts to dig a little deeper into each of those practices. As sustainable farming practices go, animals on the farm is my favorite place to start.

During 2009 and 2010, I took a year long Biodynamic Farming Course at the Rudolf Steiner College in Sacramento. With each class, we were given an opportunity to approach the topic from a new perspective. I thought of it like putting on a new pair of glasses to look at the world through, except it was a pair of glasses through which to experience the topic of each individual class.

When it came to the class on animal husbandry (animals on the farm), we were given this pair of metaphorical glasses: “What if, domesticated animals chose to become domesticated? What if, they knew that humanity had lost their way,… and through offering themselves to the farm, they could support the health and well being of the whole. By doing so, humanity’s way of being would return to a balance for the good of all.”

From that perspective, animals on the farm is quite the sustainable farming practice.

I’ve become conscious of (or aware of), that when I’m living in (or visiting), an area that welcomes animals into it (wild and domesticated), something about that just perks me up. It makes me want to be more attentive and conscious, which reminds me of why we named ConsciousWine ConsciousWine.

The idea is to bring awareness to how we taste, and to what’s happening on the farm and in the winery. That’s what our principlespractices and mission are all about. Now back to the sustainable farming practice animals on the farm…

Animals are part of nature. They are part of the balance. When removed, something is missing, and we can feel it. Do you agree? Maybe we even end up losing a very basic connection to nature and natural law.

Over and over I am reminded there’s a vitality when you go outside that all animals and all life are meant to be part of. When this natural system is whole do things just work better? Go for a walk in the woods and see how that feels. Do you know what I’m talking about?

There’s a book called Ishmael by Daniel Quinn that comes to mind as I’m writing this. It speaks a lot to the effects of agriculture onto society and the world.

I’m a believer that a farm with animals just kicks it up a notch.

What types of animals are vineyards including?

-Sheep, cows, pigs, goats, chickens, birds, horses, cats, dogs, bees…

What’s the benefit of having them there?

-From eating weeds, to helping fertilize the soil, to adding their particular personality, to supporting the natural predatory cycle. Animals on the farm bring their special unique vitality, and very importantly support biodiversity.

What are some of the individual benefits of each type of animal, and what’s the name of a few wineries with that type of animal on their farm?

-Sheep: Natural lawn mowers controlling unwanted vegetation (alternative to herbicides and mowing); can be an extra special help in wet years when farmers may not be able to get tractors easily into the vineyard. Wineries with sheep? Benziger (Sonoma, CA), Tres Sabores (Napa, CA).

-Cows: Provide manure for compost; a major piece of a biodynamic approach to farming. Wineries with cows? Ambyth Estate (Paso Robles, CA), Araujo Estate (Napa, CA).

-Goats: Goats can be a problem in that they do like to eat grape leaves and chewing on things, but they also produce whey. Once a goat gives birth, they produce milk. From the milk can come cheese, and in the course of producing curds (from which cheese is made), a large quantity of whey results. Whey is a nutrient rich liquid that when diluted becomes a potent ‘mildew-cide’ (fungicide). Wineries with goats? La Clarine Farm (Sierra Foothills, CA), Belle Pente Winery (Willamette Valley, OR).

-Chickens: Contribute to the overall biodiversity cycle supporting an harmonious interaction of soil, vegetation, insects and the whole. One example was described to me as, “the chickens keep the horses’ paddocks and stables free of ticks and mites as they love to forage for insects and will even overturn stones to find them. By keeping chickens in the vineyards, we are free of vine weevils and mealy bug activity and along with our sheep, they ensure that our vineyards are kept in tiptop shape whilst their nitrogen rich droppings fertilize the soil.” Wineries with chickens? Big Table Farm (Willamette Valley, OR), Dark Horse Ranch/Paul Dolan Wine (Mendocino, CA).

-Birds: A diverse bird population is a sign of a healthy diverse eco-system. Some birds present problems in the vineyard (Robins and Starlings), but a diverse population in the environs is a very good sign. Recently, Southern Oregon’s Cowhorn Vineyards won an award for most “Bird Friendly Vineyard” in a competition created by the Klamath Bird Observatory.

-Bees: There are 2 documentaries that spell it out far better than I could explain. “Vanishing of the Bees” and “Queen of the Sun” are 2 movies that transform perspectives. If the honey bee goes away, so probably do we. Wineries with bee hives? Michel Schlumberger (Dry Creek Valley, CA), Littorai (Russian River Valley, CA).

If your passion for animals runs deep, there’s a non-profit to know about in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley. They are a “care farm” where people, animals and the earth work together for mutual healing.  In discovering the wonderful things happening at Sanctuary One at Double Oak Farm, we might start embracing  that sustainable farming practices really do include animals on the farm!

Watch winemaker and co-owner of AmByth Estate, Philip Hart, speak about animals on his farm.

In Biodynamics, Digging Deeper, Jeff's Blog, Sustainable Practices, Wineries | Tagged with , ,

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ambyth Wine Estate: Nuts For Natural Wine

Taken from, Fall-2011
by Josh Petray

Ambyth Wine Estate crafts fine biodynamic wines out of Templeton Gap

Biodynamic pioneers Mary and Phillip Hart’s Templeton hilltop estate originally planted with vineyards in 2004 has become more of a farm. For the owners, it’s a lifestyle choice. And a healthy one at that, they said.

The Harts, owners of Paso Robles American Viticultural Area’s only certified biodynamic/organic vineyard and winery, say they never undertook the niche certification for the money or the marketing boost it would provide in a culture arguably intrigued with sustainable buzzwords like biodynamic and organic, but their wines happen to be both.

Witnessing the growth of the vines and evolution of farming practices on their estate — situated in the Templeton Gap and cooled by Pacific coastal breezes — is part of what characterizes the “new ancient,” as Phillip coined it, for Ambyth Estate Wines.

“Huge,” Phillip said as he stood perched looking at the two cows mowing weeds on the estate vines in response to the question: How has the growth been on the vineyard since it was planted?

The vines — stronger. Grape clusters — more organized. From a wine-growing perspective, advancement as one could hope, according to Phillip.

Sixty-five apple and pear trees, more than 60 fruit and nut trees and eight beehives adorn the property. Chickens bear eggs that the family eats. Two sheep that roamed the property, fertilizing it, are now in the freezer, awaiting an epicurean twist. Rabbits are reared for weed-eating and eventual consumption.

“We’re not just a vineyard,” he said. “We have become much more of a farm.”

The couple’s love of the land is visible at every step of the way at Ambyth Estate. Olive-oil lovers have been known to make the trek all the way to Ambyth to pick up what Phillip described as fine an olive oil as one can get. Five-hundred-and-forty olive trees adorn the property, producing a two-and-a-half-ton harvest last year.

In addition to the dry-farmed olives, the Harts make their own honey from beehives situated throughout the Templeton property.

“That was outstanding — just to have our own extra virgin olive oil,” Phillip said. “In my opinion, it’s as fine of an olive oil as you can find on this planet. It is purchased by people just the same as honey — it’s just good stuff. Here, right out of the winery.”

He’s quick to point out that whole farming/biodynamic component wasn’t necessarily in the couple’s master plan. It was just “the path that just keeps opening up.”

“When I think by being biodynamic, the path has opened up more because it does tend to make you read more to understand what you’re doing,” he said.

What follows is a learn-and-dothrough- reading approach that’s allowed him to see what others have done successfully on their properties, and then emulate it.

“There’s a gas that apples give off that’s great for all other growing plants,” he said, offering up a theoretical example. “You go, ‘Ooh, I have a west fence that the breeze comes through every day — that would be a great idea.’ That kind of stuff. Really, that’s how it happens.”

“It was never a marketing plan,” he said. “It was a choice of a way of life, but there seems to be a nice peripheral sides that go with that.”

In fact, the proprietor and Persian rug aficionado said he’s not heavy on the whole certification side of things. Although Ambyth carries the heavy organic and biodynamic certifications, it blends in nicely with the natural approach already being undertaken at the farm.

Despite any preconceptions about the mysticism steeped in biodynamic farming, Hart professes that biodynamic pioneer Rudolf Steiner “is no guru,” nor a “prophet,” simply someone who took information from the past and spoke about it in a way that people could understand intellectually and move forward.

“It’s not a mystical way of farming — it’s actually an old-fashioned way of farming,” he said.

The “natural way” of farming biodynamically appeals to Mary, too.

“It’s a safe environment that we’ve created here on our property, not only for our family but for our animals, any beneficial predators or insects that we have. Visitors, if people come and eat at my table they’re going to get food that is healthy and clean for their bodies, and wine as well,” she said.

At Ambyth, Phillip handles the vineyard and winery. Mary takes charge of the gardens, fruit and nut trees, small animals.

“We’re trying to create a closed system,” Mary said. “Things just keep going — it’s circular.”

That’s not to say that biodynamism isn’t something that’s misunderstood by the vast majority of farmers and wine enthusiasts.

“Some people are wide open to it, and of course as with everything else in life, other people are absolutely closed shut, and that’s fine, I don’t have a problem with it,” Hart said.

According to the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association, the movement laid its roots in the 1920s with a group of practicing farmers who were concerned with the decline in the health of soils, plants and animals, and sought the advice of Steiner, founder of anthroposophy. The movement embraces a “unified approach to agriculture that relates the ecology of the farm-organism to that of the entire cosmos,” according to the group.

It’s an approach, from the preps to the harvest that the Harts believe in. From planting the vines to making the wines, all facets of winemaking occur onsite at their estate.

Among natural approaches, the Harts do not fine or filter and use only native yeasts. Lower alcohol level wines are sought after.

“Take a look at the property,” Phillip said, offering evidence of the success of biodynamism. “Look at the vines.”

Wines harvested from Ambyth vines are oftentimes described as “interesting,” said Phillip. That — and they’re “very pleasing.”

“I typically hear that they’re all different,” he said. “I think that’s what you get when you go this way. The question of do I really believe in it? Well, it’s self-evident.”

Just this year, the couple purchased quartz from an exclusive New York distributor to be buried in the vineyard, among other prep work undertaken.

Varietals grown on the property include grenache, grenache blanc, mourvedre, syrah, viognier, Rousanne and Cuonoise.

Last year’s vineyard crop was good, in part due to the rain, according to Phillip. This year, the couple has decided to take a step back and sell about half the fruit in order to take a breath and tend to some of the other things around the farm.

Hart comfortably described the zero growth statistic in sales for Ambyth wines in 2010 from the year prior, which he described as “pathetic,” and “a horrible year business-wise.”

“You should have growth in those early years,” he said, adding, “This year we’re on target for where I thought we were last.”

People do travel the beaten path to seek out Ambyth, the couple said. For Mary and Phillip, it’s always kind of fun to see visitors seek out their estate-grown wines, from places near and far. They’ve grown to learn just how many natural wine enthusiasts there are out there. Though limited (and admittedly not providing an exciting business climate due to its limited range), they’re a dedicated bunch that will single Ambyth out for a taste of something distinct and different.

“I didn’t quite realize how many biodynamic wine nuts there were out there,” Phillip said. “Natural wine nuts — and I say that in a friendly way because I’m a natural wine nut.”

In AmByth Estate, In The News | Tagged with , , , , , ,

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dominio IV Viognier

Taken from Wine Access Monthly, 2011

After completing grad school at UC Davis in the late 1990s, Patrick Reuter and his wife, Leigh Bartholomew, worked at wineries in Napa, Chile, New Zealand, and Burgundy. Eventually they made their way to Oregon, where Leigh found a job as the vineyard manager at Archery Summit.

Patrick and Leigh decided to start making small batches under their own label, Dominio IV, using two European varieties that they thought were underappreciated in the New World: Syrah and Tempranillo. Tempranillo is a natural bridge between Pinot and Cabernet, and not many people had tried cultivating it in Oregon. After scouring the state, they found an ideal hillside parcel in Mosier, at the northern edge of the Columbia Gorge appellation. In 2001, they cleared the land and planted seven acres of vines. While waiting for their own vineyard to come online, Patrick and Leigh got Dominio IV off the ground by making tiny batches of wine with fruit they’d sourced from a few top growers. And in addition to producing the two reds, they also decided to try making Viognier.

Viognier is the temperamental northern-Rhone variety most often associated with Condrieu, where it grows on the steep hillsides. It came into vogue in the late 1980s, but most efforts to cultivate it in the New World have been a failure. The best examples, however, are among the most aromatically complex white wines in the world.

Patrick and LeighFor this Viogner, “The Scarecrow,” Patrick and Leigh sourced all of the fruit from the Fort Miller Vineyard at the opposite end of the state in Talent. Patrick told me that he sought out this vineyard “because it was in the hottest, driest part of the state’s warmest appellation”–the Rogue Valley. Viognier can really thrive even in the heat. France’s inferno summer of 2003, for example, produced the most critically acclaimed Condrieu in years. The heat and elevation of the vineyard in Talent Dominio IV’s Viognier pronounced natural acidity and well-developed, but not roasted, fruit.

Patrick and Leigh named this wine “The Scarecrow” and said that it “protects and conjures the aromas and fruits we found in and Indian garden on the edge of a village called Pushkar. The unctious texture of the grape will envelope its present fresh and crisp nature to create a deeply round and complex creaminess with mysterious second and third aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle.” Drink now-2011.

In Dominio IV, In The News | Tagged with , , , ,

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Are Biodynamic® Wines “Better”?

Thanks to Jeffrey for his enthusiasm for Biodynamic® wineries and wines.  In his October 19 blog, Jeffrey shared his experience noticing the connection between wines he was loving to drink, and their connections to Biodynamic farming.  It begs the question: Are Biodynamic Wines “better?” Continue reading “Are Biodynamic® Wines “Better”?” »

In Biodynamics, Guest Bloggers, Jeff's Blog, Natural Winemaking, Sustainable Practices | Tagged with , , ,

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Biodynamic Wine: An Adventure Begins

In 2002, as the Wine Director of Suburban Wines & Spirits, I had not heard of biodynamic® wine or biodynamic anything for that matter. I was very passionate about wine and wine with “terroir,” but biodynamic wine hadn’t yet appeared on my radar. Continue reading “Biodynamic Wine: An Adventure Begins” »

In Biodynamics, Demystifying Natural Wine, History, Jeff's Blog, World | Tagged with ,

Studying biodynamic® vineyards and practices can be a brain twister but the proof is in the bottle. What they share is an approach to the health of the whole farm and eco-system of which they are a part. Attention to detail, a tight relationship with the assets of the farm, understanding the farm as a closed nutrient system, and working in tune with nature’s rhythms and cycles are pieces to what makes a biodynamic vineyard what it is. Continue reading “Biodynamic Vineyard: Dominio IV’s Three Sleeps” »

In Biodynamics, Jeff's Blog, Storytelling, Tasting Wine, The Shop, Wineries | Tagged with , ,

Monday, September 19, 2011

Brooks Winery Joins ConsciousWine Family

How I first heard of them…

On the menu at The Winchester Inn in Ashland, Oregon was a “blind tasting” of four topnotch, highly regarded Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs. My favorite was the only one I had never heard of, the ’06 Brooks Janus. I was on a mission for further discovery, and my palate soon landed on two other vintages of Janus, along with the best Oregon Riesling I’d experienced to date.  I was happy to learn they had a strong commitment to sustainability, biodynamic® farming, and natural winemaking. Continue reading “Brooks Winery Joins ConsciousWine Family” »

In Jeff's Blog, Tasting Wine, The Shop, Wineries | Tagged with , ,

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Wine & Time Play-by-Play

How a wine changes once exposed to air is a favorite conversational topic in the world of ConsciousWine.

There’s a white wine called Savennieres from France’s Loire Valley, that is made from 100% Chenin Blanc. I was trying the 2004 Domaine du Closel “Clos Papillon” Savennieres. Continue reading “The Wine & Time Play-by-Play” »

In Demystifying Natural Wine, Digging Deeper, Jeff's Blog, Tasting Wine, Wineries | Tagged with , , , ,

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Joy of Listening

I’ve been called a good listener, a bad listener and everything in between. Does how we listen create how we see the world? Since getting a Honda Fit, I’ve loved watching to see how many Honda Fits are on the road. I listen for Honda Fits! A moment of curiosity led me to switch my listening focus to Volkswagen’s, and I discovered that about every 10th car or so going by was a Volkswagen. Continue reading “The Joy of Listening” »

In Biodynamics, Demystifying Natural Wine, Jeff's Blog, Storytelling | Tagged with , ,