For those unfamiliar with Nicolas Joly, I’ll start not with a list of pertinent bio bullets, but instead with a challenge, recently issued by Joly himself. Smiling to a packed audience of acolytes (they’ve brought bottles for him to sign) and gentle skeptics (every Mulder needs a Scully), Joly suggests buying a bottle of his wine, and leaving it out, open, exposed to the air. For 8 days. 10, even. You just see if it doesn’t still sing.
"Wines made by nature will last longer when open," he says, then ribs the lengths we’ve all gone to keep our wine drinkable 24 hours after popping the cork. "Cover it in a layer of gas?" Mimicking exasperation, dropping his head. "How weak is your wine? It has no fight!” Give a wine a robust, truly organic spine and not a cosmetic one, Joly argues, and it will show you true mettle.
Though simpler on its face than some of Joly’s other assertions throughout the night (there are mentions of frequencies, magnets, the interruptive force of manmade satellites on the natural order of the atmosphere), the test captures everything the man’s come here to say.
Nicolas Joly began working his family’s Loire Valley vineyards in 1961, after a stint at Columbia and a career on Wall Street. He was soon after turned on by the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, and began evangelizing the practice of Biodynamics, turning it from a relic into a movement over the course of four decades. In its details, Biodynamics is complex. Adherents refer to it as a “spiritual-ethical-ecological” approach to farming, and adherence requires charts: there are phases of the moon to track, planting calendars to follow. As a philosophy, though, it’s easy to follow. You just start with the soil.
"In the last 30 years, modern farming has been weakening the capacity of the vine to connect to the soil with its roots, and to catch the sun with it’s leaves," Joly says. One culprit here is industrial weedkiller, which strips the soil of natural nutrients that then must be replaced by industrial fertilizer, a product that induces the plant to consume more water. With that, Joly argues, comes increased susceptibility to disease, and a whole new cycle of intervention on the plant’s natural ability to express its surrounding terroir.
Biodynamic winegrowers (not makers, mind you — the only creatures with that gift are yeast) and organic viticulturists alike seek to remove all this chemical intervention and get back to a system that worked for eons before the industrial revolution. Instead of weedkillers, re-introduce animals who can do that work for you; consider the value of biodiversity in and amongst your vines. For Joly, if you can tend your grapes effectively in the field, then the work of great wine is done long before you crush or cellar a drop of juice.
The handy thing about a philosophy lesson followed by a vertical tasting? No matter whether you find Biodynamics to be an occultist hoax, an unnecessarily spiritual approach to organic farming, or an inspired, holistic how-to, your palate gets to have a say in the matter. On paper, it’s one thing; in the glass, another entirely. And in the case of Joly’s Savennieres line-up, it’s a wilderness of pure, unfettered awesome.
Savennieres “Les Vieux Clos” 2009
A hit of luscious honey on the nose, then white chocolate, though it could be a phantom born of smelling it too long; baked peach, candied pineapple & a mai-tai cut with fresh grass. Full-bodied, oily on the palate. It’s a wild thing, this one, and it gives a hell of a satisfying chase.
Savennieres “Clos de la Bergerie” 2009
Deep, dripping gold honey tones on the nose, they’re practically roasted, and from here it’s all money: marmalade, coconut, white chocolate again.
Savennieres “Clos de la Bergerie” 2007
A stand-out for me, mostly for its epic finish. Tropical fruits splayed over white smoke, and a truckload of caramel, butter, and the best kind of burnt animal flesh.
Savennieres “Coulée de Serrant” 2009
Marshmallow and rock salt, like seaside salinity that turns to salted butterscotch. Medium acidity throughout keeps the candied orange and peach notes juicy instead of jawbreaking.
Savennieres “Coulée de Serrant” 2008
More minerality here than the wines that came before, with some green grass and red apple peel laced in among the wash of golden sunshine. Full, dry, fresh on the palate.
Savennieres “Coulée de Serrant” 2007
More campfire marshmallows that run away with the nose, and then things get charismatic. It’s autumn in a glass, this one, think Halloween and caramel apples and state fairs and fantasy sex by fireplaces. If this is the wine of the occult, someone get me a membership card.