To your vocabulary of biodynamic wine— which may include such loosey-goosey phrases as "ultimate organic" and far-out sounding practices like applying "preparation 501" according to the "cosmic calendar"— add these two sexy terms: "compliance" and "auditing."
Whatever else one may say of biodynamic winemaking, its certified practitioners adhere to a standard you can depend on. "We're audited every year," says Bonterra director of organic and biodynamic winemaking Jeff Cichocki. "It's a definable method of making wine."
Speaking on the phone in between trade calls in the New York City market, which is currently the hotbed of the natural wine movement, Cichocki contrasts the winery's approach with the "natural" category: "It's open to interpretation and opinion, and people's definitions are all quite different."
Bonterra is a division of Hopland-based Fetzer Vineyards, which was purchased in 2011 by Chilean wine giant Concha y Toro, and has been a leader in organic grape growing for 30 years. Just 5 percent of the Bonterra program is also biodynamic, producing three vineyard-designated wines in tribute to the holistic farming practice's goal of a closed-loop system.
"And that's a goal, it's not an absolute," says Cichocki. "We strive to get there—it's challenging, as any farming can be." In winter, for instance, Bonterra rotates up to 3,000 head of sheep through the vineyards to maintain weeds and grass while also depositing fertilizing manure, but harvesting doesn't have to be jeopardized if strictly following to the cosmic calendar might do so. "You can use common sense and logic."
The Demeter Association, which certifies biodynamic farms and producers in the United States, is flexible, providing two standards for wines that bear their certification mark on the back label, one in combination with the words "biodynamic wine" on the front label, the other with the words "made with certified biodynamic grapes." Bonterra chooses the latter, as it allows adjustments and additions for greater flexibility in winemaking. Both allow added sulfites, albeit at a lower maximum than conventionally produced wine.
Only dusted with oak aroma, as if by a warm hint of springtime oak pollen, Bonterra's 2015 Roost Blue Heron Vineyard Mendocino County Chardonnay ($40) is a dry, medium-bodied Chard with a lemon merengue tang that keeps richer, butterscotch flavors in check.
Their 2013 McNab ($50) is a serious Cabernet-based blend to please any pencil-chewing claret lover, while the 2013 Butler Red Blend ($50) also suggests a big Cab—you might not guess this stygian purple, cassis-like wine is 80 percent Syrah. Revealing a blackberry pastille to pretty up its charred beef note on the second day open, this wine proves dynamic, yet solid.