Narrow Gate Vineyards: Defining wines through a biodynamic footprint
In this day and age many wineries choose to utilize green practices in both the winery and vineyard. Biodynamic is an old principle but is a newer philosophy of farming for many wineries. As Down To Earth Month slowly comes to a close there is another Wine Institute member that is Demeter Certified Biodynamic that is worth mention. The winery is Narrow Gate Vineyards, located in the Pleasant Valley region of El Dorado County.
Photo by Cori Solomon
Frank and Teena Hildebrand, owners of Narrow Gate decided to make a career and lifestyle change. Giving up the hectic life of the fashion industry, they decided to pursue their passion for wine. This change was easier said than done but Frank’s background as a graduate from UC Davis in Agricultural Economics helped make the transition go more smoothly.
In 2000 they purchased a former cattle ranch of 86 acres and thus began Narrow Gate Vineyards. Beautiful old Ponderosa trees surround the charming French provincial winery and tasting room. The vineyard encompasses about 13 acres and is planted with mostly Rhone Varietals.
Narrow Gate Vineyards got its name from a bible verse, Matthew 7:13-14, which says, “ Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” 14 -"For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” The second part of the verse best describes Narrow Gate Vineyards because as you enter the winery it leads to the life of the grape, which is discover when tasting their wines. It is the essence of what the biodynamic process for this winery is all about.
For the Hildebrand’s the meaning of Narrow Gate "Is a choice of how we choose to live our lives as a married couple, raising a family and doing business in a small community. The narrow gate is the choice of following God and all the moral implications it entails including doing business not just fairly but uprightly. The broad way is the way of the world, with no checks to stop any desire or any wrongdoing whatsoever. We have found for our marriage, family and business those decisions when placed through the God "filter" always benefit us."
The Hildebrand’s choose the biodynamic method of farming and creating wines because it incorporates their passion, spirituality, detail and love of wine into the winemaking process. They believe in very little intervention by technology.
The theory of the biodynamic process is that it is an organic form of farming that regenerates the soil. The program starts with composting. Preparations are added to invigorate the soil. Chamomile is added because it stabilizes nitrogen and stimulates plant growth. Stinging Nettle stimulates the soil. Valerian is used to balance the compost. Dandelion affects the silicon and potassium in the soil. Oak Bark works to prevent diseases on the plants. Yarrow is also used to promote the nutrition of the soil as well as the plant. These components all work to promote Calcium, Potassium, Phosphorus and Silicon in the soil as well as reproduction and growth in the plants.
Some of the other preparations are horsetail, which is used as a spray to decrease fungus. In the spring the horn dung, cow manure that had been buried in the fall is used as a spray to promote root growth. In the fall horn silica that was buried in the spring is used to enhance photosynthesis and formation of chlorophyll. This spray affects the color, aroma and flavor of the grapes.
The focus in the winery is gentle handling because this allows the fruit to express itself as very fruit forward. The red grapes are whole berry de-stemmed while the whites are whole cluster pressed or whole berry pressed, minimizing oxidation, keeps the wines fresh.
The wines are exceptional. The first wine I sampled from Narrow Gate was the 2010 Syrah Viognier. It is very fragrant. The grapes are small, adding to the intensity of this wine. One will find wonderful flavors of Lavender, blackberry, violets and allspice. It is a smooth wine with a peppery finish.
The 2009 Primativo is a grape, which ripens early. It is one of the easier grapes to grow in this area. The wine exudes flavors of black cherry.
The 2012 Dunamis Roussane is a rich golden colored wine that has aromas of pineapples and grapefruit. The wine has a wonderfully thick texture and the flavors are very tropical with notes of pineapples and mango.
The 2009 Dunamis GSM is a complex full-bodied wine with a deep black cherry color. The bouquet is that of cherries and the flavors are dark Bing cherries, cocoa, currants and mocha. There is a creaminess to this wine that makes it heavier than most GSMs yet at the same time wonderfully appealing.
After sampling both of these wines I was curious to the meaning of Dunamis. It means miraculous power. I have to say both wines are powerful in their own way; the Roussanne with its thick texture making it a mightier wine than most Roussannes in the marketplace and the GSM due to its rich commanding presence.
The last wine I sampled was the 2010 Cepage’s de la Ferme, a Rhone blend of Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvédre. This is a smooth balanced wine displaying flavors of cherries, mocha and cocoa with some hints of licorice and vanilla. Cepage means vine in French while the Ferme can either mean farm or ground. The wine signifies the importance Narrow Gate places on biodynamics. Basically the ground represents the healthy soils that in turn make the vines prosper.
I found all the wines at Narrow Gate have a marvelous intensity, depth and flavor. This is partially due to the higher elevation that gives the wines more acidity and tannins as well as the airflow through the grapes. For the most part I think these qualities are common attributes to those wineries that use the biodynamic principles. When asked about the intensity of the wines, Frank said, "I would say that it certainly can have an impact. Biodynamics is about improving soil health. What we hope to attain by being biodyamic is to make our soil the healthiest it can be so we can make the best wines possible from our vineyards. Without the use of chemicals and fertilizers along with our continued composting and use of Biodynamic preps we are ideally strengthening our vineyard’s ability to not only resist adversity as it comes up, but create a profile for our grapes that will be unique for us in the end product, our wine."
Utilizing the biodynamic process Narrow Gate is defining their carbon footprint through the integration of plants, animals and biodiversity enabling Hildebrand's to take the next step in giving back to the planet.
The intensity, depth and complexity of Narrow Gate’s wines entices me in such a way that I want to experience more of their wine portfolio. It will do the same of you.