Wine column | Wine Culture

Bonterra leads the way for organic wines

California’s Bonterra Organic Vineyards in Mendocino County has been on my radar screen for more than 20 years — since the early-1990s when “organic” was in its infancy and when sister winery Fetzer was in its heyday with its Sundial Chardonnay. I remember tasting new vintages of it at the preferred watering hole for downtown Detroit newspaper types, lawyers and politicos — the now defunct Money Tree on Fort Street.

Background: Bonterra blazed the way for sustainable, organic and Biodynamic®  viticulture. The first Bonterra vintage was 1990 under the Fetzer Organic label; in 1992 the wines came out under the Bonterra label. All the grapes are certified organic or Biodynamic®  — the latter means they are grown using practices that complement organic viticulture to further enhance the health of the soil and tie the soil to the vibes of the universe.

People: Bob Blue was founding winemaker and remains today the lead winemaker, with his signature on the back label. This information is straight from the Web site: “Vineyard Director is David Koball who joined Bonterra Vineyards in 2001 and currently oversees production on 970 acres of certified organic land in Mendocino County, 284 acres of which is also certified Biodynamic®.” These people, plus a lot more, have history with Bonterra.

Recent news: Fetzer, including Bonterra Vineyards and a bunch of other related wineries, was sold in 2011 to Viña Concha y Toro of Chile for $238M. According to Napa publicist Tim McDonald, Concha y Toro has left the Bonterra team in place. Longtime Fetzer wine guru Dennis Martin, Bob Blue, and the others are enjoying improved resources, new marketing, and many improvements.

The wines: Critics of organic and Biodynamic® practices say there is nothing proven about purer, more honest flavors. All I can say, especially regarding the Merlot, is that the new Bonterra vintages are knockout! And they have been for a long time!

Bonterra Chardonnay Mendocino County (Calif.) 2011, $14: A wave of green apple and ripe pear, citrus and pineapple erupts on the nose. On the palate, it has a refreshing minerlity to add to the bright, clean flavors. The tart green apple persists in the long finish. It has all the acidity, fruit and alcohol to make it lively and refreshing.

(Courtesy Bonterra Organic Vineyards)

Bonterra Merlot Mendocino County 2010, $16:  Let your palate soak up the dark plum, dark cherry, wild berry, oak-infused flavors. The Bonterra Merlot has always been a standout for me: Lots of tannin, lots of body, layers of flavor, earthy. And this one from the 2010 vintage does not disappoint. It’s a ton of flavors on the palate. Actually, the Merlot is a special thing for Bonterra vineyard master Dave Koball who discovered the nuances in his vineyards. Various lots were fermented separately before the final blend, which then was beefed up with Petite Sirah, Syrah and Carignane. The wine was aged for seven months in a combination of French and American oak. No wonder this baby makes an impressison. It recently caught my eye at Merchant’s Fine Wine in Dearborn.

Bonterra Zinfandel Mendocino County 2010, $16: Zinfandel is part of the DNA of Menodocino County, where Italian immigrants first created their rustic wines and eventually were succeeded by artisan producers like Bonterra that refined and polished the wines.  Take a sip — you can just about chew it. It’s packed with blueberry, dark stone fruit and spicy black pepper.  Earthy, dusty tannins add to the complexity. It calls for rustic Italian dishes, hearty stews, juicy steaks and burgers.

Availability: Bonterra is widely available. Here a some of the places: Many Kroger, Hiller’s stores; Gibb’s, Detroit; Vintage Wine Shop, Novi; Walled Lake Liquor, Walled Lake; Merchant’s Fine Wine, Dearborn; Wine Palace, Livonia; Village Wine Shop, Grosse Pointe Park; Red Wagon, Rochester Hills; Champane’s Wine Cellars, Warren; Holiday Market, Canton Township; Vince and Joe’s, Shelby Township; Whole Foods, West Bloomfield.