Saturday, September 15, 2018

Summerhill releases first biodynamic wines






Photo: Summerhill's Ezra Cipes

In a landmark release, Summerhill Pyramid Winery has sent its first two Demeter certified biodynamic wines to market.

The history and explanation was penned by winery president Ezra Cipes. Here it is, reproduced from the winery’s website.

My brother Gabe moved back to the family farm in 2004, and I followed in 2005. At that time our vineyard had been managed organically for 17 years. We noticed that the leaves were a little yellowish green and the crop was smaller than it should be. One of our mentors Gabriel Howearth described to us that no matter how you do it, farming is always mining. Crops mine nutrients from the soil, and we are hard on the land when we drive a tractor over it. Conventional farmers can add nitrogen fertilizer, but organically it is not so easy. We had to build up the soil so that nitrogen and other nutrients could be available to the vines, and so we set upon the Biodynamic path.

Biodynamics views the farm as an ecosystem, connected to the greater systems of the earth, solar system, and universe. It’s a wonderful feeling for the farmer to be a part of something greater than oneself, and the biodynamic program of composting and making special plant and manure preparations is demonstrably good for the farm. 

By 2012 my brother Gabe had been practicing Biodynamics for long enough that the leaves on the vines were green again and the crop level was back to a balanced, sustainable level. At that time we sought Biodynamic certification through Demeter Canada. Also at that time, we started to experiment with making wine biodynamically.

The biodynamic wine standard is quite beautiful. It describes “…the human being in the role of an artist to develop soil, fertility and plant in such a way that fruits of vital quality become available,” and then a production method so that “Nothing shall conceal the true nature of the factual properties of the produce.” Therefore when we make wine biodynamically we add no yeast or nutrient and no fermentation or processing aids of any kind. We create the right environment for the juice to turn naturally to wine, and we monitor the process. At the end we clarify the white wine with bentonite and add a little sulfur as a preservative. That’s it; that’s all.

The first year we made wine this way was 2013 with our Summerhill Vineyard Riesling. Winemaker Eric von Krosigk says the process gave him new gray hairs. The fermentation was slow and the wine developed H2S, which does not smell at all pleasant. Apparently this chemical reaction occurred because there was not enough nutrient in the juice for the yeast to do a tidy job. Eric ended up pumping that wine through the air into a new vessel so that the atmospheric oxygen could act as a nutrient for the yeast. The smell and taste of H2S receded and the wine ended up being beautiful for all its imperfection. We learned a lot about the health of our vineyard through that early trial, and have made wine in the same method from our estate grown fruit ever since. Now when we make wine biodynamically it is proof of the vitality of our vineyard.

This year we decided to see about certifying our wine as biodynamic through Demeter Canada. From the 2017 vintage we vinified Riesling and Gruner Veltliner as single estate varietal wines. Summerhill Vineyard is now healthy and vital to a point where the fermentation happened beautifully. Assistant Winemaker Michael Alexander says that the process is still stressful for the winemaking team, as the transformation of sugar to alcohol does not happen as quickly as when we add organic yeast to the crushed fruit, but after a few slow days it happens naturally and efficiently enough to show the true nature of the fruit and of the farm, and creates wine with an individualism that is the essence of the aesthetic pleasure a bottle can provide.

The wines are outstanding achievements. Here are my notes, along with notes on several organic wines released earlier in summer.

Summerhill Summerhill Vineyard Riesling 2017 Biodynamic ($32.20).  This wine great purity of fruit. It begins with citrus aromas. On the palate, there is a lovely dance between the residual sugar and the bright acidity. There are tangy flavours of lemon and lime. The moderate alcohol, 11.5%, contributes to the refreshing finish. 92.

Summerhill Summerhill Vineyard Grüner Veltliner 2017 Biodynamic ($32.20). Lightly golden in hue, the wine begins with aromas of melon and pepper. Pepper is often a characteristic of this varietal. Here, it also appears on the palate along with flavours of apple, melon and grapefruit. This complex wine has good weight on the palate, with a dry finish. Summerhill planted this varietal in 2013. 92.

Summerhill Alive Organic White 2017 ($21.28 for 3,200 cases). This is a blend of 37% Kerner, 27% Pinot Gris, 26% Gewürztraminer, 8% Chardonnay and 2% Riesling. The wine begins with herbal aromas mingled with pear and apple. On the palate, there are flavours of apple and citrus. The finish is crisp and dry. 88.

Summerhill Alive Organic Rosé 2017 ($20.70 for 600 cases). Made with Pinot Noir, the wine has a delicate pink hue. Fruity on the nose, it has flavours of wild strawberry. The finish is crisp and dry. 87.

Summerhill Alive Organic Red 2016 ($26.44 for 2,300 cases). This wine is 41% Syrah, 40.5% Merlot and 18.5% Cabernet Franc. It was partially fermented and aged for six months in 10,000 litre oak vats and then aged in neutral barriques for 12 months. The wine begins with aromas of spice cake and cherry. It is firm on the palate, with flavours of black currant mingled with cedar. 88.

Summerhill Organic Riesling 2017 ($25.29). The winery suggests this wine is “classically” balanced with 39 grams of residual sugar and 7.5 grams of acid. Reminiscent of a German Riesling, the wine has aromas and flavours of lemon and nectarine. The off-dry finish lingers. 89.

Summerhill Organic Syrah Malbec Rosé 2017 ($ Sold out). This is 72% Syrah, 28% Malbec – made by the saignée method. The colour is vibrant, the result of 24 hours skin contact. It begins with aromas of cherry and plum, leading to flavours of plum with an earthy hint. It is an assertive wine, with a hint of sweetness and lightly tannic spine. 90.

Cipes Blanc de Blanc 2012 ($46). Made with Chardonnay, this elegant sparkling wine has been on the lees at least four years. It has developed fine bubbles and hints of brioche in the aroma. On the palate, there are hints of green apple and citrus. The finish is crisp and dry. 92.

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