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Vinarija Imperator - First Serbian Biodynamic Winery

Written on 31-10-2015 by Dusan Jelic, Belgrade, Serbia

Cow's horns are filled with a cow’s manure and placed in soil until the spring time.

Just a few kilometers outside a city of Erdevik there are 5 hectares of Imperator Winery vineyards. The winery was established by Branko Zečević.

My host and driver was a PR wizard Nenad Vučijak who was driving carefully through narrow roads, until we reached a wet muddy piece. Our vehicle could not pass through, due to a few rainy days, so we opted to walk the last two hundred meters.

 

Air was clean and a feeling I got was of a picnic in countryside, as we were surrounded by beautiful dense forests. When we reached the Merlot vineyard, as the harvest was progressing, I met Mr. Zoran Zolotić, the vineyard manager. He talked passionately about his vines, some 3 hectares of white varieties: Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc and Rhine Riesling, and a bit more than 2 hectares of red varieties: Merlot, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. I quickly realized all 8 varieties are international ones and asked about the local and indigenous Serbian varieties. His response was that everything is possible in the future.

Zoran was discovering biodynamic viticulture together with the rest of the Imperator team, which notably includes a charming and knowledgeable all-round wine personality Ms. Đurđa Katić, who was at the time of my arrival together with Zoran supervising the final touches for a day of the 2015 Merlot harvest.

 

Like biodynamic agriculture in general, biodynamic viticulture stems from the ideas and suggestions of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), who gave his now famous Agriculture Course in 1924, predating most of the organic movement. The principles and practices of biodynamics are based on his spiritual and practical philosophy, called anthroposophy, which includes understanding the ecological, the energetic, and the spiritual in nature. Biodynamic refers to both the agricultural methods and the handling and processing of the grapes post-harvest. Only at a later stage a famous cow’s horn fertilization comes. Horns are filled with a cow’s manure and placed in soil until the spring time. At that time it is taken out and mixed with water, providing that it does not radiate any unpleasant odor, in which case it is thrown away! Steiner’s main biodynamic precept was that each farm should have the right balance of crops for economic sustainability, of livestock whose composted manure maintains soil fertility, and of wild habitat to avoid creating unsustainable farm monocultures.

One of the pillars of biodynamic viticulture is to prevent the occurrence of diseases. However, not like in a classic viticulture where excessive use of chemical compounds, often pretty toxic, is commonplace.

 

There are currently around 500 biodynamic wine producers worldwide. For a wine to be labeled ‘biodynamic’ it has to meet the stringent standards laid down by the Demeter Association, which is the largest certification organization for biodynamic agriculture. Biodynamic viticulture views the farm as a cohesive, interconnected living system. Many biodynamic winemakers claim to have noted stronger, clearer, more vibrant tastes, as well as wines that remain drinkable longer. They also believe that their methods tend to result in better balance in growth, where the sugar production in the grapes coincides with physiological ripeness, resulting in a wine with the correct balance of flavor and alcohol content, even with changing climate conditions.

 

We all wonder are biodynamic wines really about celestial energy, cow horns and ‘howling’ at the moon? Mike Benzinger offered a short yet precise definition: ‘At its core, biodynamics is an energy management system.’

 

Madeline Puckette a.k.a. Wine Folly offered a nice description of key elements of the biodynamic viticulture:

‘All the various tasks, from planting, pruning, to harvesting, are regulated by a special biodynamic calendar. The calendar was originally devised by the ‘high priestess’ of Biodynamics, Maria Thun, who divided days into four categories: Root, Fruit, Flower and Leaf Days.

Each biodynamic calendar day coincides with one of the four classical elements of Earth, Fire, Air and Water that have been used since before Plato’s era:

 

1.      Fruit Days: Best days for harvesting grapes

2.      Root Days: Ideal days for pruning

3.      Flower Days: Leave the vineyard alone on these days

4.      Leaf Days: Ideal days for watering plants

 

You would never, for example, want to harvest on a Leaf Day because Leaf Days correlate with the Element water and you’d end up picking rotten, waterlogged grapes!

Besides the biodynamic calendar no chemicals or ‘manufactured’ additions (like commercial yeast) are allowed in biodynamic wine. Instead, wine growers make special compost preparations with natural ingredients to bolster their vineyards. This is where things start to get controversial…’

 

In a recent blind tasting of 10 pairs of biodynamic and conventionally made wines, conducted by Fortune and judged by seven wine experts including a Master of Wine and head sommeliers, nine of the biodynamic wines were judged superior to their conventional counterpart. The biodynamic wines ‘were found to have better expressions of terroir, the way in which a wine can represent its specific place of origin in its aroma, flavor, and texture.’ 

 

Tasting wines made by Vinarija Imperator

 

Wines were virtually not made from the vintage 2014. Weather conditions were appalling and excessive rains simply destroyed the crops. After such a horrible experience the entire team is happy to see that harvest 2015 indeed promise extraordinary wines.

My inspection of Merlot grapes, harvested as I was there, showed an extremely healthy crop of grapes which can be undoubtedly turned to top quality wines.

Imperator winery uses exclusively Serbian-made oak barrels, which could be almost called as made from the famous ‘Slavonian oak’, as the nature does not recognize state boundaries.

It was a great picnic with caviar, smoked salmon, roasted veal, variety of top cheeses paired with the great wines made by the only Serbian bio-dynamic producer Vinarija Imperator:

 

Valerius 2012 Rhine Riesling,

Gratianus 2012 Gewürztraminer (Traminac in Serbian)

Maximianvs 2012 (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec & Merlot)

Qvintillvs 2012 (Malbec & Merlot) 

 

My personal favorites were Valerius 2012 and Qvintillvs 2012!

 

Valerius 2012 is truly a great Rhine Riesling with superb acidity and a touch of characteristic petrol-like secondary aromas and a kiss of citruses. It’s a perfect wine for varieties of food as it can superbly partner a very wide range of white meat, vegetables, sauces, sushi and cheeses.

 

Qvintillvs 2012 is a rare blend of Malbec and Merlot with 13.7% alcohol, which is beautifully integrated. Wine is jammy with notes of plums and cherries. This blend is smooth and has a never-ending aftertaste. It is indeed a complex wine. Of course I know when wine writers wax lyrical they use the word ‘complex’ only to describe the myriad flavours emanating from the glass of wine under their often bulbous, red noses.

 

I am wholeheartedly recommending these two wines made by Imperator winery!