The Clever Root

Winter / Spring 2016

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3 8 | t h e c l e v e r r o o t Blue is considered a pioneer in America's organic viticulture movement. A native of nearby Lake County, he got his first taste of wine in Germany while serving in the military and was instantly hooked. After studying at U.C. Davis, Blue began his career at McDowell Valley Vineyards in Mendocino County, then became winemaker at San Martin Win- ery, a custom-crush facility. Blue's move to Fetzer in 1988 led directly to Bon- terra and began his interest in organic winemaking. At Fetzer he worked with Paul Dolan and Dennis Martin, two influential pioneers who were deeply versed in the practices of organic farming. Travels to Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône familiarized him with Old World viticulture. After a stint as the wine- maker for red varietals at Fetzer's Hopland Winery, Blue was appointed Head Winemaker at Bonterra, Fetzer's new organic vineyards. In 1992, the first vintage was released, labeled Fetzer Organic; by 1994 Bonterra was being marketed under its own label, although its wines are produced at Fetzer's facility. Bonterra has become the top-selling organic U.S. wine label. To Blue, farming biodynamically isn't a risky venture but rather the future of the industry. "It represents the next step in our knowledge. What I've learned is that soil science is still in its infancy; soil is one of the most unstudied subjects in academia. We were on the path to learning more about it before we discovered chemicals and stopped looking. Hor- mones, micro-organisms, predators—it's the subtle parts of the equation that really get things going." Blue is convinced that the biodynamic advantage is easy to taste in the bottle. "With organic and biody- namic wine, you're going to get a more true sense of the place and the characteristic of the varietal." He pointed to a blind taste test conducted by the Univer- sity of Washington that employed many types of wine made from grapes grown in both biodynamic and non- biodynamic vineyards. "Overall there was a preference for biodynamic across all categories," he says. Blue acknowledged that it's not easy to farm organically, and biodynamic certification by the Demeter Association, which regulates biodynamic practices in the U.S., is a long and difficult process even for an organic wine producer. (The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance has its own de- manding certification process for organic wineries.) But being in an isolated location has its advantages. "Here in Mendocino, 97 percent of the county is wild, and it's a pretty big place," Blue says. "We don't have a lot of neighbors or giant monoculture around us. In this little canyon you really feel that the hand of nature washes over you like a blanket." Still, Blue thinks it's possible to successfully adopt organic practices wherever a vineyard is located. "Those who say they can't do it, I think they're not trying hard enough," he says. "It becomes a financial thing and they're not willing to do it. Carving out ten percent of the land and spending money to change the habitat and make it natural, that's a process that takes time and money." But his wines, which win high scores and acco- lades despite their reasonable prices, are the proof that the considerable toil is worth it. "You have to have all of the pieces in place work- ing together naturally, without any manipulation," Blue says. "Otherwise, you're not reaching your potential as a winemaker." Winemaker Jeff Cichocki (pictured here) works alongside Lead Winemaker Bob Blue to ensure the quality of Bonterra wines and the enduring environmental legacy of the estate. ■cr

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