[A word of warning — this is a long, dense blog post. But have no fear, there’s still a recipe at the end! Also, this post was the subject of a Wine Beserkers discussion forum, and the questions from readers there made me think I needed to add some explanation, which you can find right before the recipe.**]
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Domaine Chaume-Arnaud receiving biodynamic certification from Demeter France. Cy and I visited while we were in France last month, and a lot of our discussion was about biodynamics, punctuated by tasting the awesome 2009 selections and the 2011 post-fermentation batches of white and rosé.
Valérie Chaume-Arnaud, the winemaker, thinks of biodynamics as striking a blow for a return to family farming, with small farms that support their owners and contribute to the community. Just the kind of thing that you, our customers, like to know about the people who make our wines. And that’s how we’ve tried to set up first vine, connecting you to the producers through our website and blog posts, and also giving you useful information about the wines on our importer back labels.
Because of that, I’d like nothing more than to be able to trumpet Valérie’s hard-earned biodynamics certification on the Chaume-Arnaud labels.
Unfortunately, I can’t unless Valérie and I pay Demeter USA to allow me to.
After Valérie told me that she had earned the certification from Demeter France, I started doing some research on Demeter requirements. As I mentioned in my last biodynamics post, I had a lot of questions about farming and winemaking as outlined by Demeter. I got answers to those questions, and the following information from Elizabeth Candelario, Marketing Director for Demeter USA:
“A few things that are important for you to know. In the USA the terms Demeter and Biodynamic are registered certification marks. We are a not for profit organization and the function of maintaining the certification marks is to protect the U.S. consumers and committed producers worldwide by providing a US marketplace definition for these terms.”
This means I can’t use “biodynamic” or “Demeter” on a label without Demeter USA’s permission. The stated purpose of getting permission is to protect U.S. consumers, presumably from products claiming to be biodynamic but not certified by Demeter (currently the only biodynamics certification in the U.S.).
A little heavy handed, I thought, but not unreasonable from a truth-in-labeling perspective.
Then came the next paragraph, where Ms. Candelario explains what getting that permission means:
“The definition of the U.S. certification marks are the Demeter Farm and Processing Standards. Because different countries have some variations between their standards, it is going to be important to verify that the wines you are going to be importing meet the U.S. standard as well. Jim [Fullmer, Executive Director of Demeter USA] can explain that more fully. The process is referred to as a ‘gap analysis.’ “
Here’s where I started scratching my head. Even though Demeter is an international organization, Demeter USA doesn’t accept Demeter France’s certification. Or for that matter, Demeter certification from any other country, either, without a “gap analysis.” My question is, why has Demeter USA created this gap in standards to begin with? Demeter certification was established in most European countries before coming to the U.S. Our friends in Europe wrote the book on biodynamic agriculture. So why is Demeter USA changing their standards enough to necessitate a costly gap analysis?
Costly for the producer and importer, that is. Demeter USA’s application makes it clear that the cost of the analysis, including possible travel expenses for its staff, would have to be borne by Valérie and me. Valérie would also have to invest time and expense in resubmitting information already given to Demeter France, but this time in a language she doesn’t speak.
To my mind, it’s especially insulting for Domaine Chaume-Arnaud, which is probably more truly biodynamic than many U.S. vineyards engaging in monoculture (only growing wine grapes) and that don’t raise farm animals – two things that Ms. Candelario already said were requirements that Demeter USA doesn’t enforce for most U.S. vineyards.
Once the gap analysis is completed, there’s still another hurdle for Valérie and me. Ms. Candelario continues:
“We [also] require Traders [selling exported] product [in] the USA labeled as DEMETER/ BIODYNAMIC to be certified with us. This is our means of verifying current and valid Demeter certification and also labeling, transportation, audit trail concerns etc. There is a licensing fee [based] on the gross turnover of product labeled as DEMETER/ BIODYNAMIC. This supports the Biodynamic marketplace, which is really starting to develop, especially related to wine.”
first vine would have to pay a licensing fee and spend countless recordkeeping hours each year to be registered as a trader with Demeter USA. Why? So Demeter USA could be sure that Valérie’s wine isn’t somehow getting contaminated by non-biodynamic products while it’s in transit or in my possession? This might make sense for produce shipped in cardboard boxes, but not for sealed bottles of wine. (Demeter certification definitely requires sealed glass bottles for wine.)
The real issue beyond fees and recordkeeping is that the trader certification is only required for importers of Demeter certified products from other countries. Traders selling U.S. biodynamic products within the U.S. aren’t required to get the trader certification, although they can apply for it if they want to. I’m not sure why any of them would go to the trouble and expense, so it’s effectively just imposed on importers.
Why is it important for an importer like first vine to get Demeter USA certification, but not a U.S. distributor who sells Bonny Doon wine (a California winery certified by Demeter USA)? Why is it not important to know how a U.S. distributor tracks and keeps separate its biodynamic and non-biodynamic wines? And what will first vine get for submitting a trader application in support of the rapidly developing biodynamic marketplace that traders of U.S. biodynamic wines won’t?
“I would be delighted to help you once you get this taken care of- as there is a very active market for Biodynamic wines, and the wineries are frequently participating in tastings, trade events, etc. You should know that there have been a number of inquiries from wineries looking for a broker/importer to the US market. Jim and I feel that there is a lot of opportunity in this, as there really isn’t anyone filling that niche. As European wineries begin to notice the burgeoning American marketplace for Biodynamic wines, we expect many of them will begin to label and market as such.”
Evidently nothing, other than Demeter USA’s help representing other wineries producing biodynamic wines and whose owners apparently are begging Demeter USA for a chance to export to the U.S. Provided of course that the producers of those wines get analyzed and signed up by Demeter USA. No word on whether Demeter USA has told the inquiring foreign wineries about that requirement or not.
Finally, a parting factoid from Demeter USA:
“Did you know that there are now 75 U.S. certified and in-transition vineyards and wineries- second only to France?”
A distant second to France. According to Valérie, there are nearly 400 wine producers certified biodynamic there, plus a lot more in transition. Talk about your gap analysis. You’d think Demeter France with its greater experience would be the one telling U.S. wineries they needed to get recertified to sell in France, not the other way around.
As you can imagine, we had quite a discussion at Domaine Chaume-Arnaud about all of this. Philippe Chaume, the winery manager and Valérie’s husband, was going to a Demeter France conference a couple of days after Cy and I visited, and he promised to take the issue up at the meeting. What he learned was that Demeter USA had bought up all the rights from Demeter International to operate as they wish in the U.S.
In other words, Demeter International won’t intervene with Demeter USA on behalf of producers in other countries because Demeter USA paid them not to. I e-mailed officers of Demeter International and Demeter France two weeks ago to confirm this, and haven’t yet received an answer. But I have no reason to doubt that this is what Philippe was told.
That means I’m left with two alternatives: pay Demeter USA, or don’t use the word biodynamic on the labels of Chaume-Arnaud wines. Valérie and Philippe feel strongly that I shouldn’t go along with Demeter USA’s demands. While they’d like me to be able to include the word biodynamic on their wine labels, they’d rather it be under a better policy between Demeter International and Demeter USA.
I suspect many foreign producers and U.S. importers will make the same choice. Biodynamic wines already cost the producer and importer more than conventionally-produced wines, resulting in higher prices to the consumer. Adding fees to be able to label wines as biodynamic and sell them in the U.S. would make them even more expensive.
This amounts to a foreign subsidy for Demeter USA and trade protectionism for U.S. biodynamic wines, pure and simple. It will only serve to make fewer imported biodynamic wines available in the U.S., or at least fewer that are labeled biodynamic.
I can tell you verbally that Domaine Chaume-Arnaud wines are certified biodynamic – and of course I will, at every opportunity — and I can produce the paperwork to back it up if you’d like to see it. But it’s not the same as having it on the label.
That’s really the best way to increase the market for biodynamic wines, so it’s perplexing that Demeter USA would act counter to its own stated interest. Demeter USA’s marketing materials make it clear that the organization is looking to biodynamic wines to be the driver for increased biodynamic agriculture in the U.S., because of the wines’ high profile among consumers. So you’d think they’d want more wines labeled biodynamic, not less. Imported wine currently amounts to less than 30% of U.S. wine sales. Charging foreign producers and importers to subsidize Demeter USA isn’t the way to promote and increase the biodynamic marketplace – getting more U.S. producers certified biodynamic is.
I’m unhappy to have to report that it has come to this. While I support the goals of biodynamic agriculture and winemaking, I don’t support Demeter USA’s demanding more from producers in other countries who got their Demeter certifications in good faith. Nor their trying to limit the marketplace for foreign biodynamic wines. And it appears that Demeter International is letting Demeter USA do this, which is deplorable.
I’m particularly sorry for Valérie and Philippe, since they’re passionate advocates for biodynamics and sustainable agriculture. If anyone deserves the boost that being labeled biodynamic might give, they certainly do. At least they can label their wines as biodynamic in Europe, where most of their customers are. I feel lucky to have such nice, understanding people as producers and friends.
Well, that was a lot to read. Sorry about that, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it shorter and still get everything in there. You must be hungry by now! And of course you’ll want something to pair with one of Valérie’s wines.
Last year when we visited Domaine Chaume-Arnaud, Valérie and Philippe invited us over for a spectacular lunch and served a lamb tagine. And Cy and I had tagine again in this trip while we were in Marseille. These meals inspired me to look at tagine recipes, and I put together a completely vegetarian tagine from various recipes I found online: Roasted Vegetable Tagine with Crispy Chickpeas. It goes beautifully with Domaine Chaume-Arnaud’s Le Petit Coquet ($13), a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Carignan. Of course, Le Petit Coquet is biodynamic – even though Domaine Chaume-Arnaud got certified for its 2009 vintage, Valérie and Philippe have been making biodynamic wine since 1999.
Our tagine in Marseille was deconstructed, which I think is a good way to serve it because you can take what you like. The main ingredient, in this case the roasted vegetables, is served on one plate. Then there is a pot of soup containing the broth, potatoes, and carrots, and a separate plate of couscous. Each guest has a wide bowl to eat from, and puts some couscous in the bottom, then the vegetables, and then ladles the soup on top.
Valérie served her tagine with regular semolina couscous, but the tagine we had in Marseille was served with barley couscous – basically pearl barley cut into smaller pieces. It had a delicious, nutty flavor. It might be tough to find outside of Middle-Eastern and African markets, but you could also cook regular pearl barley for 45 minutes in a lot of boiling, salted water. Then drain it, fluff it up, and serve.
The preserved lemon, green olives, and raisins are sometimes used, sometimes not, but I like all of them. The preserved lemon is easy to do ahead if you like. In fact, you can make the soup ahead of time too. Roast the vegetables before you plan to serve the dish, cook the couscous or barley while the vegetables are roasting, and then sauté the chickpeas just before you bring it to the table.
This isn’t the world’s shortest recipe. But after going through all this Demeter nonsense, I needed something to take my mind off of it. So open the Petit Coquet and get into the kitchen!
[** Here’s the comment I posted on Wine Beserkers: I think I was so intent on getting all the details down that I didn’t convey the message too well, an occupational hazard for me in blogging… I don’t object to the registered certification mark per se, even though Demeter USA provides no added value whatsoever to importers and foreign producers. Business is business, after all. If Demeter USA had simply told me look, we control the use of the words, it’s a small fee to use them, I wouldn’t have liked it but would probably have
paid the fee. Valerie, the biodynamic winemaker I represent, believes that it’s important to get the word out about biodynamics. Not because of the cow horns and such, but because to her it represents a blow against big ag in France and a return to a more balanced way of farming. And to honor the spirit of what she’s trying to do, I’d likely have
gone along with Demeter USA if they were honest enough to admit it’s just about the money for them.
Instead, there was the nonsense about protecting consumers. Saying that my French producer might not measure up, when she follows the rules more stringently than many of the U.S. producers (to whom Demeter USA gives waivers for monoculture, crop rotation, and keeping farm animals) and charging us for the privilege of making sure she does. And making importers of foreign biodynamic wines pay to register with Demeter USA, but distributors of U.S. biodynamic wines don’t have to — although the stated purpose is to make sure the biodynamic wine is handled properly. Why would a U.S. distributor automatically handle the wine more responsibly than I do?
Demeter USA is counting on biodynamic wines to promote greater awareness of
biodynamic agriculture, so they look the other way when wineries don’t (and mostly can’t, by their very nature) meet Demeter USA’s own requirements. To then get on their high horse about importers and foreign producers is just ridiculous.]
2 lemons, scrubbed
4 teaspoons kosher salt
Cut one of the lemons in half crosswise and juice it. Put the juice in a small saucepan and cut the squeezed lemon halves into large pieces. Add them to the pan along with the salt. Cut the other lemon in half lengthwise. Then put the cut side down on your board and cut the lemon crosswise into ¼-inch slices. Add the slices to the pan and turn on the heat. Add just enough boiling water to cover, and stir to dissolve the salt. Cover the pan and turn the heat to very low. Simmer until the half-moon lemon slices are completely tender, rind and all, about 40 minutes. Set the pan aside to cool. If you do this a day ahead, pour the pan contents into a small container and refrigerate.
Tagine Broth Mixture
1 28-ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes with their juice (I like Muir Glen)
3 cups vegetable broth or stock, preferably low-sodium
1 cup dry white wine
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1-1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon crushed fennel seed
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 large red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into ¾-inch cubes
2 cups peeled baby carrots
1 cup cracked green olives (or more to taste, remove the pits if you like)
Preserved lemon slices from recipe above, chopped into small pieces
½ cup golden raisins (soak them in hot water for a half hour if they’re dry, then drain them)
Combine the tomatoes, vegetable broth, and wine in a 3-quart saucepan. Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes or so, until the contents reduce to 4 cups. Cover the pot and set it aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the onion, with some salt, and pepper, and cook until the onion just starts to brown. Add the garlic, cumin, fennel seed, and cinnamon, and cook for a couple of minutes to soften the garlic and bloom the spices. Add the tomato/stock/wine mixture and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper. Then add the potatoes, carrots, cracked olives, and half the preserved lemon pieces (put the rest of the pieces in a small bowl for serving at the table), bring to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook for 15 minutes. Add the raisins, cover, and cook for 15 more minutes. The potatoes and carrots should be very soft. Turn off the heat and set the pot aside.
2 red onions
2 fennel bulbs
3 zucchini, ends trimmed and cut into ½-inch slices
3 Japanese eggplants, ends trimmed and cut into ½-inch slices
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Put two racks in the oven, equally spaced, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Have two large rimmed baking sheets ready.
Cut the onions in half through the poles. Then peel the papery skin off, cut off a small portion of the top, and cut a little of the root end off – just enough to get the rooty-looking things off, but leaving enough on to keep the onion halves together. Then cut each half in half through the root, and then each quarter in half again. You should have 16 pieces of onion.
Trim the fronds and shoots off the fennel bulb. Cut it in half and then cut out a small amount of the core. Slice off any really hard spots or brown spots on the outside of the bulb. Cut each half into 4 pieces like you did with the onion, to make 16 pieces of fennel.
Toss the onion and fennel pieces with a little olive oil, about a half teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, and some salt and pepper on one of the baking sheets. Sprinkle a little cumin over the vegetables.
On the other sheet, toss the zucchini and eggplant slices with olive oil, another half teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, and some salt and pepper. Sprinkle a little cumin on top.
Roast both sheets for about 40 minutes, until the vegetables are browned. Stir them up after 15 minutes, and again after a half hour to make sure they’re not burning. Transfer the vegetables to a serving bowl, cover with foil, and set aside.
1 pound semolina or barley couscous, instant or regular, cooked according to package directions
Or 2 cups pearl barley, cooked in 3 quarts of boiling salted water for 45 minutes, then drained
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and dried very well with paper towels
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon ground fennel seed
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, salt, pepper, cumin, and fennel seeds. Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet until it just starts to shimmer, then add the chickpeas to the bowl with the flour mixture. Pour the contents of the bowl into a strainer with reasonably large holes (but holes that are still smaller than the chickpeas), shake to remove the excess flour.
Add the floured chickpeas to the hot oil and cook over medium-high heat for about five minutes, stirring often, until lightly brown and crispy. Drain on a paper towel, and put in a small serving bowl.
Mound the couscous on a rimmed serving platter. Pour the soup into a tureen or bring the Dutch oven to the table, along with the roasted vegetables, the crispy chickpeas, and the rest of the pieces of preserved lemon. Each person can arrange a plate the way he or she likes. The object isn’t to drown the couscous in liquid, there should be a layer of moist couscous on top with the vegetables and such, and dry couscous underneath – it all gets stirred together on the plate before eating.