Fox Brook Winery
Produced from certified biodynamically grown grapes from Mendocino County.
Newly established Fox Brook Winery is off to a dynamic start—bio-dynamic, that is. The winery’s first two releases (and all others that will follow) are produced from certified biodynamically grown grapes from Jim Fetzer’s Ceago Vinegarden vineyard in Mendocino County.
Fox Brook Winery, the brainchild of wine group Rutherford Benchmarks in Napa Valley, is the first winery devoted entirely to the production of biodynamic wines. Accomplished winemaker, Greg Graziano, is crafting the Fox Brook wines, and has already raised eyebrows with his inaugural releases.
This month’s Platinum Wine Club selection, the Fox Brook 1997 Merlot is a big wine that instantly earned a Gold Medal in its first competition. The early success of these wines may indicate a watershed moment in California’s storied winemaking history. If top-quality award-winning wines can be made using biodynamic methods, why wouldn’t every winery want to follow suit?
The concept of biodynamically-produced wines have long been popular in Europe but is just now starting to emerge in California. The term refers to the farming practices followed by growers as to how the grapes are grown. The phrase “biodynamically grown” is often confused with, “organically grown.” The desired end result of the two processes is fundamentally similar however there are distinct differences in the approach.
Organic farming is ecologically oriented. It takes a common sense approach and in the most natural manner possible. Insects and diseases are combated by the use of nature’s own remedies, such as ladybugs, preying mantises, garlic and pepper sprays, etc. Absolutely no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are used. The aim is healthy soil for healthy plants for healthy humans and animals. The organic farmer will bring into the farm missing or deficient nutrients or insects, or attempt to remove an undesirable fungus or insect by using something that has a natural origin.
Biodynamics applies a unique and sustainable approach to agricultural practice that takes into consideration the ecology of the earth as a whole and its relationship to the workings of the universe. Developed in the 1920s, by Austrian scientist and philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, biodynamic farming prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, as does organic farming. But biodynamic agriculture is distinct from organic farming in two principle ways. It employs a unique set of herbal sprays which, when applied to plants, compost, and fields in homeopathic dilutions, enliven and harmonize the soil. And, biodynamic farmers look at processes rather than substances or organisms. They seek to stimulate processes that are at the source of the problem rather than addressing the symptoms.
The sprays utilized can be one of eight “approved” preparations depending on grower preferences. Herbs typically used in these concoctions include yarrow, dandelion, nettle, oak bark, valerian, chamomile and equisetum arvense. Two other standard biodynamic sprays are made from “horn manure” and “horn silica”—the preparations of which require a careful, if not slightly bizarre ritual. The horn manure mixture is made from cow dung. It is placed in an actual horn taken from a lactating cow, and buried underground in the growing area from the fall equinox to the spring equinox. After unearthing the horn, the grower mixes it with water and sprays it on the vineyards. About one cup of horn manure is used in each acre to treat the soil. Horn silica, made from ground up quartz—and also mixed with water—is sprayed on the vines themselves. About half a teaspoon is used per acre to allow the plants to photosynthesize more effectively.
In addition, work activity in the vineyard on any particular day falls into one of four categories: leaf, flower, root or fruit. The determination of which category to focus on is governed according to celestial positioning, in the belief that the moon, sun and planets influence the life cycle of the vine. The terroir plays a part too—how the sun falls, what the wind is like, the color, the texture, and the mineral content of the soil.
Despite the unconventional nature of biodynamic farming, many advocates believe the method could be the future of agriculture.. According to the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association, 15 farms in California are certified as biodynamic by the movement’s governing body in Europe, The Demeter Association. Nationwide, there are about 60 certified biodynamic growers.
This month’s Platinum Wine Club selection from Fox Brook Winery is made entirely from the 100% biodynamically grown grapes from Jim Fetzer’s Ceago Vinegarden. The winery’s first releases, a 1997 Chardonnay and 1997 Merlot are case studies on how to produce ultra-premium quality biodynamic wines. Even without it,s biodynamic moniker, winemaker Greg Graziano has crafted superb wines that stand up with the best of the best in their varietal class. Winery president Brent Simpson says, “the Merlot has developed better than any of us had anticipated. Its rich flavors and full-body structure are showing us the fantastic benefits of growing grapes biodynamically.
Dear Platinum Wine Club Members:
It is with great pride that I introduce America’s first biodynamically grown Merlot, a product of the incredible 1997 vintage from Fox Brook Winery. For those of you not familiar with biodynamic grape growing, the process has been used in Europe since 1924, with amazing success. It is considered the most natural and ecological approach to agriculture and embodies much more than mere organic farming while diminishing the negative effects of artificial fertilizers and pesticides in the vineyard. Planet positions relative to the constellations are held to influence the life cycle of the vine. Calendars which chart these planetary movements are critical to biodynamic growing and winemaking and biodynamic winemakers are prohibited from using many conventional winemaking chemicals. The Ceago Vinegarden of grower Jim Fetzer is America’s premier biodynamic vineyard and the home of Fox Brook Merlot. It was the first vineyard given approval by Europe’s Demeter Association, which established biodynamic farming rules. The Demeter seal appears on the Fox Brook Merlot label.
The first Fox Brook Merlot 1997, Ceago Vinegarden, was an absolute joy to make and sets a high standard for others to follow. I know you will enjoy this Platinum Selection.