Véronique’s secrets of Organic Wines continues to amaze me…
A story that’s been a long time coming, and a story that a wine magazine with advertisers would never touch, this story has been incubating within Véronique Raskin’s psyche.
Yesterday, I said that it’s a saga, and that it is. It’s also going to be a straight forward fact finding mission. No drama, no fantasy, no pie-in-the-sky intention… As Véronique has said to me, “Just the facts ma’am, just the facts– We need to put it in the larger context, i.e. the welfare of our earth.”
Véronique feels as I do. We’ve got one planet and it’s fragile, therefore, we should be taking care of it, so it – in turn – it takes care of us.
From yesterday’s blog, just for an introduction, if you missed yesterday…
Once upon a time (the 1970s), in a far off land (France), the idea and practice of organic farming began to take root and shape its history.
According to the Organics Institute:
“The modern organic movement began at the same time as industrialized agriculture. It began in Europe around the 1920s, when a group of farmers and consumers sought alternatives to the industrialization of agriculture. In Britain, the organic movement had gathered pace in the 1940s…. It was not until the Second World War that farming methods changed dramatically. It was when research on chemicals designed as nerve gas showed they were also capable of killing insects… The organic movement had sprung directly from the customers’ demands as they became sick of the health hazards associated with the use of chemicals in food and household products.”
In the Languedoc, wine importer Véronique Raskin’s 75 year-old grandfather Pierre Fabre, a Professor of Medicine, was pioneering organic viticulture. He decided to convert the family property Domaine de la Bousquette to organic methods, and then to bottle its wine. La Bousquette is located 10 miles North of Béziers (a town made famous during the Cathar crusades). The winery and vineyard are located in the center of the Languedoc region, only 20 miles from the Mediterranean Sea.
Véronique, founder and president of the Organic Wine Company, was born and raised in the South of France, close to the historic walled city of Carcassone. She attended the University of Toulouse, and originally came to this country as a psychology graduate in 1973 to study “Structural Integration” with the renowned Ida Rolf, eventually writing her Ph.D thesis on the work. Soon after accomplishing these goals, she got married and settled in San Francisco, where she ran a successful professional practice, and made San Francisco her home away from home.
Domaine de la Bousquette has been in their family since 1791; and by 1980, Pierre had accomplished his organic goals. In the process, his passion and knowledge for organic wines had been transferred to Véronique. She agreed to import the La Bousquette wines into California, to maintain a connection with the family land, and to further her grandfather’s dream. Just as important to her was her passion about the organic vision, and believed that organic wine was an idea whose time had come. Today, she owns The Organic Wine Company, and her journey is a quite a tale; with leadership, intrigue, and deception woven into a very complex pattern. I believe you’ll discover the simple truths of how the organic wine industry developed (or not) in the US.
In a meeting with her in her home office, we tasted some of her organic wines, and between the swirls, sniffs, and sips, her organic story began to unravel from her brain. Personally, I’ve been into organics since the 1960s, when a whole generation of Americans seemed to go off the deep end, tuning out and turning on… For me, it was going into a holistic world. I only wanted as much purity as I could get, and so did a few other people.
My conversation with Veronique went to authenticity, and holistic approach, and biodynamics. She introduced Nicolas Jolie to me as the absolute head of pack with biodynamic wine, when it comes to understanding and describing Steiner’s vision and practice; i.e., the world of biodynamics. … He’s “an incredibly respect-worthy guy,” she said, “in the biodynamic business as a master of the biodynamic grape growing business. Incredibly passionate and erudite- an extraordinary speaker who would convert a cement wall to his vision.”
… So I did a Wiki Quickie:
Nicolas Joly, born 1945, is a French winegrower in the Loire wine region, and one of the pioneers and leading personalities of the biodynamic wine movement.
Joly studied at Columbia University and subsequently started to work for J.P. Morgan in New York as an investment banker. He was later posted to London, but in 1977, he left banking to take over his family’s wine estate Château de la Roche aux Moines in Savennières.
At the time he took over the family estate, Joly was sceptical about modern agriculture and the effect it had on nature. He encountered a book on biodynamic farming and took an active interest in the ideas found there, and from 1980 started to experiment with them in his wine estate. From 1981, the estate’s top wine Clos de la Coulée de Serrant has been made biodynamically, and from 1984, the estate’s entire range has been produced biodynamically.
Joly has later written extensively on biodynamic wine production, and has served as an inspiration to many other wine producers who have converted to biodynamy.
His biodynamic convictions also means that Joly disapproves of the label “winemaker” to the extent that his business card is reported to read “Nicolas Joly, Gérant de la Société, Nature assistant and not a winemaker”.
Okay, I agree with her. He’s got very interesting credentials.
So, I asked her my first question: “What’s the difference between America’s biodynamic wines and Frances organic wines?” Everything went silent for at least 30 seconds… Neither of us breathed it seemed, and then she said, “Oh, you are wicked!”
Yup… I had asked my last question first, and she knew it.
She finally said, “Well, this is a very interesting question and a tricky one to answer succinctly and correctly – one I want to ponder and respond to carefully. Can we talk over the Memorial Day Weekend?
I agreed, so that answer will come later.
Véronique: “Got a bit of an easier question to ask me today?”
What happened when you started importing your grand father’s wines, these ground breaking vin biologiques from the Languedoc into the US in 1980?
Véronique: : Nothing happened, because there was nobody doing it. We were way below the radar, no one was interested.
In 1981, I imported these wines in good faith from my heart. I thought that organic wines would be easily received and loved by the American public. It seemed to me that organically grown wines would be what you guys call a ‘no-brainer.’ Little did I know.
- I did not just preach the organic bible. I also sought to build our credibility, for instance, by having our wines tested for pesticides residues by a lab in Geneva. No chemical residues were ever found.
- The other thing I did to establish our seriousness was that I looked for laws on the books that could promote my position.
All there was at the time was Code 26560.11 of the California health and safety code. So, we printed that mention on our back label. At least we were doing our due diligence; and, slowly and surely we were growing our market until we were hit in 1987 by the sulfite tsunami.
That’s all we’ll do from 1980 until 1987… There’s much to follow, so stay tuned for the next chapter. This one has 1200+ words. Enough for one read.