But questions remain about whether or not organic vineyard practices lead to better wines. I haven't formed an opinion yet—mostly because I haven't had that many organically grown wines.
In fact, I had only tasted a couple marginal ones until last week when I got my hands on a set of wines from Bonterra Vineyards, a producer that has bet the farm—literally—on the quality of their organically grown wines.
Their 378-acre vineyard, located in the Russian River benchlands of Mendocino County, is certified organic, and they describe their farming practices are "back to the future" because they focus on composting, cover crops and natural cycles to "create a soil that is rich and vital. From this fertile soil grow naturally healthy vines and intensely concentrated, flavorful grapes."
I can't be sure if their "green" vineyard practices are responsible for the quality of the wines, but the quality is there—even if the ripe, California style is a bit much for my taste in some cases.
Bonterra Vineyards 2005 Roussanne ($22) was my favorite of the whites. Roussanne has a unique flavor profile and this wine is a fine example with honey, apricots and fresh flowers on the nose. There are a lot of over-oaked, chardonnay-wannabe roussannes out there, but this isn't one of them. Ripe peach flavors dominate a well-balanced, medium-bodied palate that features just the right amount of acidity. There are also honey and floral notes, particularly on a deliciously long finish. Buy this one if you see it.
Also fairly well balanced was the Bonterra Vineyards 2005 Viognier ($18). On first sniff, this wine has a lot of gewürztraminer-esque, exotic character with rose petals and lychee-lemon aromas. Moments later, just-ripe honeydew melon steps forward on the slightly underwhelming nose. The finish leans a little towards sourness, but there are loads of lemon, lemon zest and green melon flavor here. At 13.9% alcohol by volume, there was a little heat on the finish too, but it wasn't overwhelming.
My disdain for many California chardonnays is well documented and while Bonterra's 2005 Chardonnay ($14) doesn't suffer from the usual flabbiness, a noticeable green pea aroma and flavor was off-putting. No thanks.
Moving on to Bonterra's red offerings, they make a serviceable, if overly soft, Bonterra Vineyards 2004 Merlot ($15) that is one dimensional and a little hot on the finish. If merlot is your thing, you're much better off looking locally.
I did enjoy their 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($16), however. It is filled with plum and cherry flavors with just slightly gripping tannins and a lengthy finish. It's unique for California because it's not over-oaked, and at $16 is a nice value.
If you like Australian shiraz, but want a little more complexity, pick up a bottle of Bonterra Vineyards' 2004 Syrah ($18). This dark, almost inky, red wine offers deep, big black fruit flavors with hints of spice, tar and caramel. The caramel is most apparent on a flavorful yet supple finish that lasts long after the wine is swallowed.