Wine from another Planet
I was very pleasantly surprised to find a selection of Domaine Viret at my local Lea and Sandeman’s here in London. They were out of the Rennaissance which is the non-oaked cuvée that I prefer, so I went for the 2001 Les Colonnades, a lightly-oaked version that is ready to drink. Domaine Viret is in Saint-Maurice, a village in the Southern Rhone that’s allowed to use its name on Côte du Rhône Villages. Their practice of Cosmoculture is singular in the winemaking world. What is Cosmoculture and where does it stand in relation to other agricultural practices? Here’s a list – in increasing order of intensity – to help explain: Industrial Farming – The soil is an inert medium to be cleansed with herbicides, pesticides and nourished with chemical fertilizers. Germs, insects and bacteria are regarded as scary and must be completely eradicated. Hydroponics is the natural extension of this way of thinking: "can't we just eliminate the dirty soil?" Monty Waldin, in his book Biodynamic Wines estimates that 142 grams (approx. 5 oz.) of synthetic chemicals are used each year on a typical industrial vineyard per bottle of wine produced! Lutte Raisonée – Lutte Raisonée is literally “reasoned struggle.” It is a way of low impact farming that doesn’t have the regulatory restraints of Organic or Biodynamic. It’s a new, increasingly popular method that’s explained in detail in Jamie Goode’s excellent new book, Wine Science. Organic Farming - The soil, plants, animals and environment are considered part of an ecosystem. This ecosystem is to be held in balance without the use of synthetic herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. Also considered the "old fashioned" method -- the way agriculture has been practiced for virtually all of its history outside of the 20th century. Many European vineyards practice organic farming without saying so on the label. Biodynamic Farming - Biodynamic agriculture is a further development of organic practices that were developed by Rudolph Steiner in the 1920's. In a very small nutshell, Steiner was an Austrian Philosopher who believed that society was being eroded by technology; his teachings on agriculture, education, etc. emphasized the spiritual or mystical forces he regarded necessary to all life. It Considers the soil, plants, animals and really everything as living and sentient beings. This is point where Steiner's teachings come in and where most people start to think of crackpots and zealots. One thing that is hard to dispute is the intense amount of care put into growing and making these wines. Cosmoculture - As far as I know, the only practitioner of Cosmoculture is Domaine Viret. Cosmoculture is based on the exchanges between cosmic and telluric energies, a return to ancient culture and civilizations (Maya, INCA) on the forgotten ancestral principals of La Geobiologie, La Radionique, Le Balisage planetaire, and La Memoire de l’eau. This is, of course, why one distributor gives their wines a 4 straightjackets rating. To find out more about Cosmoculure, Denyse Louis of Louis/Dressner Imports (their US importer) has written an excellent essay about the practise at Viret and Thor Iverson has written a thoughtful article on the vineyard and its wines. When we visited Viret in fall 2003, at the suggestion of Denyse, we had wild anticipation about visiting a real cult winery (as in operated by a cult). We were mildly disappointed to find winemaker Philippe Viret very sane indeed but were very happy to sample their unique and exceptionally good wines. Wait - sane? here I am holding my son Leo over the giant illuminated crystals at the center of the winery while Philippe looks on! There seems to be something other worldly in their wines that's hard to categorize (much like Chateau Musar, which is from an altogether different winemaking planet, Lebanon). 2001 Les Colonnades Dark, slightly cloudy garnet, or as expected from an unfiltered, unfined wine. Extremely aromatic, floral, leathery and perfumed with notes of violet, blackberry, chocolate and coffee. It seems that they are, like Musar managing low levels of faults like brett and VA. Chewy, meaty and full bodied with slightly rustic tannins. Highly acidic with a bit too much alcohol (wow – 15%!) An enjoyable long savoury/spicy finish. Very good but a bit too much alcohol. A ready drinking cuvée of Domaine Viret rouge called "Cosmic" made for the US market is imported by Louis/Dressner and is available in NYC and many states for $17.00.
A really fascinating & shocking comment about the amount of man-made chemicals used per bottle of wine!
There is surely a compelling argument for using Hydroponic technique in wine making, although I suspect some connoisseurs would argue that the taste comes ‘from the soil’…
Thanks for the eye-opener.