Tag Archives: Biodynamic Wines

Alpamanta : Biodynamic Wines from Mendoza, Argentina

Someone once said that “pleasure can only be derived from personal discovery”. I couldn’t agree more. It is one thing to see pictures of a beautiful wine region and vineyards situated in the most picturesque locales, but another to actually visit them and see the beauty for yourself.

It was this desire for discovery which took me all the way to South America, and more specifically, to a wine region that is currently hot on the international wine scene, Mendoza Argentina. And I couldn’t have chosen a more adventurous way of getting there. A spectacular drive from Santiago, Chile across the Andes mountains to Mendoza, Argentina’s largest and most important wine region.

The vineyard that I chose to visit was Alpamanta, meaning “Love of Earth” in the local native language; a single vineyard estate making exceptional wines from 100% organic and biodynamic vineyard. It is located at an altitude of 950m (3117ft) above sea level, in a picture postcard setting against the backdrop of snow capped Andes mountain, in Ugarteche, Luján de Cujo, 38 kms south of Mendoza city.

Alpamanta, Certified Organic & Biodynamic Vineyard in Ugarteche, Lujan de Cujo, Mendoza, Argentina. All photographs used in this blog post are mine.

I was curious to see how “biodynamics”, an extreme form of “organic viticulture” and the next big trend in grape growing, actually worked. Was it really possible to attune farming to the spiritual forces of the cosmos in general and to lunar rhythms in particular. And all those stories about the use of cow horn manure and other “homeopathic preparations” (involving dandelion, camomile etc) used to dynamize the vineyard; was it just some irrational cult and unscientific mumbo-jumbo, or did it really work.

The visit was a revelation and added tremendously to my knowledge of Biodynamics, a wine-making practice where the vineyard is considered a self-sufficient living organism, co-existing with flora and fauna in a complimentary way.

Incidentally, it was way back in the 1920’s, that this concept started with an Austrian philosopher named Rudolph Steiner, who was against the use of chemicals in agriculture. The aim was to restore harmony between humans and the universe and keep human intervention to a minimum. However, it is only in recent years that people are taking this holistic agricultural practice seriously, as the harmful effects of chemicals are becoming apparent.

While a lot of vineyards across the world are hopping on to the sustainable wagon and converting to biodynamics including high-end wine producers like Peter Sisseck of Dominio de Pingus in Spain, Lalou Bize-Leroy of Domaine Leroy in Burgundy, Michel Chapoutier in Hermitage, DeLoach Vineyards in Sonoma County; the founder of Alpamanta, an Austrian of noble descent, Andrej Razumovsky and his partners Andre Hoffman and Jéréme Delecourt, established this boutique winery in 2005, in a virgin previously untouched site, as an organic and biodynamic project right from the start.

Which in essence means that the 35 hectares of Alpamanta estate has not been exposed to any chemicals in the form of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, commercial yeast or any other artificial ingredients. They practice soil and bug friendly cultivation using home made compost, treating the soil as a living organism.  All activities, including  cellar work, are carried on following a biodynamic calendar. There are root days (for pruning), leaf days (for watering), flower days (leaving the vineyard alone) and fruit days (for harvesting).

With Ignacio Ciancio, Commercial Manager Alpamanta, who took care of my visit.

Setting foot inside the vineyard, the first thing I noticed was an organic herb garden. I was told by Ignacio Ciancio, Commercial Manager Alpamanta Estate, that these herbs were used in a making a “compost preparation” which vitalizes the soil and makes the vines disease resistant. He then pointed to the ground which was teeming with ants. These ants were present on every inch of the vineyard walkways. Ignacio mentioned that all biodynamic vineyards will have colonies of ants and this is the first thing one should look for, if any vineyard makes claims to being biodynamic.

Herb Garden and Compost Pit at Alpamanta Estate, Mendoza Argentina. Ignacio Ciancio holding some compost to show the earthworms.

I saw sheep, horses and hens roaming freely around the property. This is done to allow them to pick off damaging worms and greens and also generate manure.

Poultry is transported to different parts of the property in a mobile hen-house . Chicken eat “cutworm’ while sheep help in weed control.

All vines are covered by a mesh to protect them against hail.IMG_3477

One of the most fascinating areas of the estate was the cellar which stored barrels full of “biodynamic preparations” used for infusing the manure with vitalizing forces to promote vine growth and prevent diseases. These are administered only on specific days in accordance with the biodynamic calendar, based on the phases of moon and its relationship with the 12 constellations. In other words, these are effective only during certain earthly and celestial rhythms.

Ignacio showing the various “biodynamic preparations” and explaining their usage.

The certified organic Alpamanta wines were a bigger revelation. Available in four varietal lines Natal (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, and Malbec, all unoaked, fruity and fresh ), Estate (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Chardonnay, aged in French oak for 10 months) Reserva or Terroir (Malbec, aged in new French barrels for 18 months) and Breva (unfiltered). All wines are made using ambient yeast, very little sulphites and with minimum manipulation, right from harvest to bottling. The packaging too is eco-friendly.

IMG_6096Very elegant, complex, layered and well-balanced, they tasted nothing like the other “organic” wines, I had been previously exposed to. Some of those had left me underwhelmed, while these were simply outstanding. Which just goes to show that better farming practices result in better wines and “going green” is not just a marketing gimmick. If you want to change your perception about organic wines, look for Alpamanta. And if you happen to find yourself in Mendoza, do visit this biodynamic vineyard.

It was a fascinating and educative visit for which I am grateful to the owner Andrej Razumovsky and to my friend Georgina Fernandez Desrefano, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Argentina, India, who introduced me to Andrej and co-ordinated my programme. A big thank you to Ignacio Ciancio, who showed me around Alpamanta and other parts of Mendoza, like the breathtakingly beautiful Uco Valley.

Though I liked most of Alpamanta wines, my favorite surprisingly, was not Malbec, but the Estate Cabernet Franc.

By : Lavina Kharkwal

Alpamanta is one of the seven certified biodynamic wineries in Argentina. They can be contacted at turismo@alpamnta.comIMG_3562

Chateau Malartic Lagraviere : A Gem in Pessac Leognan Bordeaux France

People often ask me about my favourite wine region. Without any hesitation I would say it is Bordeaux in France. There is just something about the complexity and the aging potential of wines from this region which fascinates me. They say that wine is the expression of a place and for me just a sip of a wine from Bordeaux, doesn’t matter if it is a luxurious first growth or fifth growth, Grand Cru Classé, Cru Bourgeois, Grand Vin, second or third wine, which brings out the sensuality of the region and poses a cerebral challenge in terms of getting through the depth of its myriad layers.

The impressive chateau of Malartic Lagraviere
The impressive chateau of Malartic Lagraviere

Bordeaux is the largest fine wine district on earth comprising of  Médoc to the north of the city of Bordeaux and Graves to the South, both on the “left bank” and the “right bank” areas consisting of St Emilion and Pomerol. It is known the world over for its red wine blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, a small production of very sweet Sauternes, and some unique dry whites made in the Graves.

We are all familiar with the big players in Bordeaux like Château Latour, Lafite, Mouton Rothschild, Margaux, Haut Brion, but sometimes, it is the lesser known names which makes one sit up and take notice, because of the exceptional quality of wines that they produce. One such name is Château Malartic Lagraviere, located in the commune of Léognan, in the heartland of Graves, blessed with a soil which makes both red and white wine equally well.

A replica of the sailing vessel on the wine label of Malartic Lagraviere Photo Credit Rajiv Kehr
A replica of the sailing vessel on the wine label of Malartic Lagraviere Photo Credit Rajiv Kehr

The first time I heard the name Malartic Lagraviere was from wine enthusiast Rajiv Kehr, the only Indian to have been honored with the title of Chevaliers du Tastevin, an exclusive club of Burgundy wine lovers. He had just returned from a trip to the beautiful vineyards of Malartic, located in the oldest wine producing terroir in Bordeaux, where he got the opportunity to taste some very impressive wines, especially the whites. He managed to persuade the owners to showcase their wines in India and this is how I met Veronique Bonnie Laplane at a Chateau Malartic Lagraviere wine dinner held at Zanotta, the Italian restaurant at The Leela Ambience Gurgaon, recent winner of the Times Food Award for the Best Italian fine dine restaurant in the NCR.

Tasting room at Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Photo Courtesy Rajiv Kehr
Tasting room at Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Photo Courtesy Rajiv Kehr

Speaking with Veronique over breakfast I came to know that Chateau Malartic-Lagraviere is one of only six classified growths known for both its red and white wine in Bordeaux and is ranked among the Premier Crus in the Classification of Graves Wines of 1953 and 1959. Originally known as Domaine de Lagraviere it has always been recognized as having a terroir of quality. It was bought by her parents Michèle and Alfred- Alexandre Bonnie at the end of 1996 from the Champagne group Laurent Perrier. Being great wine enthusiasts they were drawn to the exceptional terroir and the immense potential of its wines. Thus began the renaissance of Malartic Lagraviere with the introduction of the latest concept of sustainable farming techniques in the 53 hectare (131 acres) estate and a thorough modernization of the entire wine making facilities. They introduced temperature controlled stainless steel vats and new oak vats and brought vast improvement in viticulture practices which involved a cautious use of agrochemicals.

Chai Malartic
Chai Malartic

All this led to achieving new heights in the quality of its wines, the Grand Vin Chateau Malartic Lagraviere both Red & White, a second wine Sillage de Malartic and a rosé Le Rosé de Malartic. In 2005 the family acquired the neighbouring Château Gazin Rocquencourt and a single estate of 130 hectares in the foothills of the Andes mountains in Argentina, Bodega DiamAndes within the very heart of Clos de los Siete (Mendoza-Uco Valley). Things started to move around with the 2009 and 2010 vintages, clearly the best ever produced, particularly for dry white wines. All the three estates Chateaux Malartic Lagraviere, Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt and Bodega DiamAndes are co-managed by Veronique Bonnie Laplane and her  brother Jean Jacques and they are helped by their respective spouses, JeanJacques’s  wife Séverine  and Veronique’s husband Bruno Laplane.

Veronique Bonnie Laplane , Bruno Laplane, Michele & Alfred Bonnie, Jean Jacques & Severine Bonnie Photo Credit : sommelier-international.com
Veronique Bonnie Laplane , Bruno Laplane, Michele & Alfred Bonnie, Jean Jacques & Severine Bonnie Photo Credit : sommelier-international.com

Among the wines that I tasted at the Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Wine Dinner at Zanotta was a superlative white, the Château Malartic Pessac Léognan AOC Blanc 2010, a medium-bodied crisp lime-lemon, floral, herbaceous wine with a nose of gooseberry and pear & honeydew melon on the palate and  a wonderful sweet citrus finish. It had 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon and was very expressive of the gravel, clay and limestone soil of Graves. This was my first exposure to a Bordeaux white and I loved it.

Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Pessac Leognan AOC Blanc 2010
Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Pessac Leognan AOC Blanc 2010

Next was a Château Malartic Lagraviére Pessac Léognon Rouge 2008, a very classical expression of what they do, lot of fruit, blackcurrant, and tobacco with soft rounded tannins and potential to age. The 1989 vintage was intricate like “Lace”. Very pronounced graphite, elegant tannins and a long finish. The Château Malartic Lagraviére Pessac Léognan AOC Rouge 2000 was 50% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. It had a good balance between fruit, acidity and tannins, and a lovely long length. I also tasted a Chateau Gazin Rocquencourt Pessac Léognan AOC Rouge 2007 which is often called the “younger brother” of Malartic. The philosophy and style behind it the same as Malartic but it has less ageing potential.

Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Pessac Leognan AOC Rouge
Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Pessac Leognan AOC Rouge

A very special feature of wines from Malartic are that they are made by using the principles of sustainable agriculture and for a few hectares they use biodynamic methods of farming which views the farm as a cohesive interconnected living system and produces wines which are more vibrant in taste, have a better expression of terroir and remain drinkable for a longer time. There is a meticulous attention to detail and no use of insecticide. Veronique Bonnie Laplane talked about the challenges that they constantly face in terms of the impact of the vagaries of nature, 2013 being a particularly challenging year for Bordeaux, and the importance of taking timely decisions. They are always striving for quality which goes a long way in making their wines well known all over the world for its complexity, elegance, intensity and balance.

Veronique Bonnie
Veronique Bonnie

I sincerely hope that we get to see Chateau Malartic Lagraviere Grand Cru Classe De Graves in the Indian market very soon.

By : Lavina Kharkwal

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