There's much in common between the symbolism of the full moon and the New Year. Both have been known to inspire wild and unpredictable behavior. Both drive transformation. And both are turning points. On the philosophical and spiritual levels, the New Year marks the end and spurs remembrance of one year while at the same time signifying the beginnings of and inspiring hopes for the next. On a more scientific level, the full moon marks the apex between the waxing and waning paths of the lunar cycle.
The full moon holds special significance on the Biodynamic calendar, as it does to those who farm and make wine with a belief that the soil is the meeting place between the earth and the cosmos, that that same soil is a living, breathing entity. According to the principles of biodynamic agriculture, the full moon marks a major turning point in the lunar influence on farming practices and plant growth. As the moon waxes, the gravitational pull of the moon increases and the flow of energy moves upwards, from the soil toward the sky, from the roots toward the leaves. As the moon wanes its gravitational influence lessens, the soil focuses its forces inwards and plant energies move down toward their roots.
Biodynamic winemaking principles, too, look at the influence of moon and star cycles to guide the timing of certain activities in the vineyard and in the cellar. Movia winemaker Aleš Kristančič, for one, considers the full moon to be the ideal time to bottle his aptly named Ribolla Gialla, "Lunar." It's the time during the synodic month when the wine's mineral content and energy — what Aleš calls "floating islands" as you'll see/hear in the video below — are active and upwardly mobile while the lees and grape solids in the same wine are moving downward toward a restful state.
Given that the full moon occurred on New Year's Eve just past, I couldn't imagine a more appropriate wine to enjoy with our last meal of one year and our first taste of the next.
Goriška Brda Ribolla Gialla "Lunar," Movia (Aleš Kristančič) 2005
$45. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Domaine Select, New York, NY.
As Aleš recommends, I decanted "Lunar" in order to leave behind most of the considerable sediment that makes its way into the bottle. A cloudy, coppery orange, it's a near match for the hue of peach nectar, just not quite so rich and dense to the eye. Likewise, the wine is loaded with peach and apple skin aromas and cidery nuances, which lead to a long, mineral stained finish. With air, more tertiary aromas of sandalwood, saffron and floral tea emerge, along with an intense leesiness that reminds me of the sweetness of fresh-baked whole wheat bread. Though not as tannic as some other extended skin contact wines, Paolo Bea's "Rusticum" for instance, the wine still has a definite textural component that gently grips and undulates across the palate.
Said my wife, "Why is it orange? And cloudy? I think there might be something wrong with it... it tastes kind of oxidized." For a moment, her words had me contemplating whether she might be a more honest taster than I. Certainly, "Lunar" and other "orange" or extended skin contact white wines like it are more than tough to understand without some context. And certainly, I did carry some context and correlated expectations to the table.
Why is the wine orange? Well, as Eric Asimov described it a couple of years back, "Movia’s 2005 Lunar is an experimental ribolla gialla wine, in which Ales Kristancic, an owner and the winemaker, tried to produce a wine basically without the touch of humans except at harvest. He put the grapes in specially designed barrels and then allowed them to ferment and age on their own for seven months, without pressing the grapes or adding any chemicals." Seven months of skin contact give ample time for the wine to absorb all of the pigmentation from the Ribolla Gialla skins — a distinct orange, even though "gialla" means "yellow."
Why is it cloudy? After those seven months on the skins and another extended period on the lees in small casks of Slavonian oak, "Lunar" is bottled without any fining or filtration. Only the energy of the full moon, in Aleš' view, keeps it from being even cloudier... that and perhaps more careful decanting than I exercised.
In the video above, Aleš explains his thoughts behind producing and bottling "Lunar" according to the cycles of the moon.
Why is it oxidized? Well, actually it's not, though it does have a definite oxidative character. You'll want to see Jeremy Parzen's excellent post about "Lunar" for a full explanation of the wine's production methods. In short, "Lunar" is whole-cluster fermented in special casks designed by Kristančič to mimic the shape of a grape, complete with a valve modeled after the stem of the grape that is meant to allow the carbon dioxide created during fermentation out of the cask without letting oxygen enter. After all that time on the skins plus added time on the lees, the oxygen native to the juice itself along with the oxygen that slowly permeates the casks, has an inescapable influence on the wine. But that influence is not detrimental or a flaw. Rather, you can taste how oxygen has sculpted the wine without blurring its edges or eroding its freshness.
Perhaps it's not surprising in that context that "Lunar" reminded me a bit of some of the Arbois whites from Puffeney and Overnoy/Houillon in the way it balanced oxidative character with brilliant, buoyant freshness.
"Lunar" is not inexpensive but, at half the price of similar wines from the likes of Radikon and Gravner, it constitutes a good value and makes for a quite accessible introduction to this genre of Slovenian/Friulano winemaking.