Thursday, October 16, 2014

Celebrate Food Sovereignty Day: Miguel Altieri (Video)

After attending a panel on agroecology hosted at Berkeley's Brower Center recently, I've started auditing the agroecology class at U.C. Berkeley to learn more from some of the experts in the field. And so it's only appropriate to mention that today IS Food Sovereignty Day - and to celebrate the role vineyards are starting to play - albeit on a minuscule scale to date - in embracing agricultural biodiversity. Just like in olden times, when farms grew not just wine grapes, and olive trees, but, as small farms, many diverse crops.

If we believe that wine is food - a concept traditionally embraced in Europe - we can think more about how wine production fits into the broader food production system using the agroecology lens. This lens emphasizes biodiversity, small scale farming, polyculture and a systems approach to managing a farm, maximizing on farm inputs and minimizing the use of fossil fuel based fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides common in California's 500,000 acres of vineyards (where 98 percent use them).

Grains grown between vineyard rows in Mendocino at Frey Vineyards
A number of wineries with organic vineyards have been evolving approaches that increasingly embrace biodiversity. In fact, a delegation of Chilean students and experts recently visited a number of these U.S. wineries in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. (More on that story in a future post).

Miguel Altieri, a world famous agroecology leader, heads the agroecology dept. at Berkeley. He's also served as a leader on food policy programs to the United Nations and has been an expert consulting on food policy for the Vatican as well as Prince Charles.

Here's a brief (4 min.) 2012 video interview in which Altieri explains the problems - how industrial ag has failed to feed all of us - and how agroecology provides solutions.

Read more about his work online at or this interview and find more videos here.

Farms that are also wineries including Preston Farm & Winery and Front Porch Farms, both in Healdsburg. Quivira also farms a limited number of crops and showcases endangered food varieties (which Slow Foods have deemed threatened) in its Ark of Taste garden,

In Mendocino, Nelson Family Vineyards and Frey Vineyards are involved in the Mendocino Grain Project, interplanting rows of grain - for local consumption - between vine rows.

Harvesting grains at Frey 
Look for more on this topic in future posts, and, in the meantime, enjoy this Altieri video.

Monday, October 13, 2014

8 Great Sonoma Vintners with Organic Vines Open Their Doors - Nov. 1

Are you the type of person who finds it off-putting to make an appointment to visit a winery? The Sonoma Nov. 1 tour program is a great way to visit some of the wineries that are not open on a walk-in basis.

This year's tour options include the following wineries with organically grown wines:

• Richard Arrowood's Amapola Creek

A standout winery below the famed Monte Rosso vineyard, in the newly designated Moon Mountain District AVA, it's run by Richard Arrowood, who put Sonoma Cabs on the map before selling his Arrowood Vineyards (now owned by KJ) and setting up shop at higher elevation. He's been a proponent for organic grape growing, converted by his vineyard manager Phil Coturri.

You'll see the estate and try the wines, many of which come from his certified organic estate vineyards.

Look for: Cabernet

• Canihan

A Sonoma Coast producer, located near the Carneros, this Pinot Noir producer craft artisanal wines, all from its certified organic estate. Known for Pinot, it also produces a praiseworthy Syrah and Rosé.

Look for: Pinot Noir

• Dane Cellars

Tiny artisanal producer, whose winemaker - Bart Hansen - works for his day job at Lasseter Family Winery in Sonoma Valley. He makes one wine from Lasseter's certified Justi Creek vines under the Dane Cellars label.

Look for: Justi Creek Syrah

• Kamen Estate

A shining gem that's the creative collaboration of owner Robert Kamen (screenwriter par excellence) and vineyard manager Phil Coturri (organic and Biodynamic grape whisperer) who have made the fruit from these cobbled soils sing. Spectacular vineyard views from the estate.

Look for: Cabernet, Syrah and more

Laurel Glen

A fabled Sonoma Cabernet producer getting its mojo back now that it's under new management. The vineyards are now in transition to organic certification. Sample the Bordeaux wares.

Look for: Cabernet Sauvignon

• Stone Edge

A new Moon Mountain label that brings Mayacamas Mountain fruit to life, it's also under vineyardist Phil Coturri's grape growing tent. Its best wine got a whopping 94 pt. score from Parker and sells for $80 (a fraction of what Napa's Parker point equivalents cost).

Look for: Cabernet Sauvignon

• Winery Sixteen 600

Tiny micro-brand from the Coturri family's own small vineyard, producing high alcohol wines from Moon Mountain vines.

Look for: everything on offer


$110; available online now. Previous years have sold out. Click here for more info.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

IN PHOTOS Celebrating at Adamvs - New Wine Release, New Tasting Room

Last Sunday (Sept. 21) proved to be a beautiful day to celebrate both the weather and Adamvs' inaugural 2010 wine releases at the winery's new tasting pavilion. The Howell Mountain winery, a relatively new kid on the block, opened the doors, ceiling and wine bottles in honor of the new tasting room and hospitality center.

Adamvs, Latin for "of this red earth" is a play on both the red, Howell Mountain soils on which the vineyards sit and the name of its owners, philanthropists Denise and Stephen Adams, who already know something about great wines, owning two Bordeaux chateau in France.

The couple bought what was formerly White Cottage Ranch in 2008 and are doing everything right to make this Howell Mountain's Next Great Estate:

• The site: great Napa mountain terroir 

The 28 acre vineyard have glorious views and sunny exposures above the fog line. Neighbors include DANA and Dunn Vineyards.

• The farming: organic and Biodynamic certification

• The management: significant Biodynamic knowledge (along with elite winery experience)

Heather Conlin was formerly with another elite Napa label; previously she was the general manager at Bonny Doon Vineyards during its Biodynamic go go years.

• The winemaking: superstar consulting winemaker and rising star winemaker

Philippe Melka (DANA, Entre Nous, Skipstone and others) is the consulting winemaker; Jason Valenti is the winemaker.

To this list, as of Sunday's fete, one can add The tasting room. Designed by architects Kurt Melander and Peter Benoit, it is as original and creative a pavilion as one could imagine and true to the Adamses notion of a place inspired by nature.

Constructed out of walls made of log pieces (from the site itself), artfully held together with log fitting metal work, the building's shape and flow through design enable guests to effortlessly shift in and out of enclosure and expanse. A small courtyard is nestled between the pavilion and a separate cube shaped structure which serves as both kitchen and wine library.

Enjoy these photos of the day; click on the photos to see them display in a larger size
Adamvs Winery sits atop a hill on the property, above the tasting room
Winemaker Jason Valenti gives a tour of the winery
Amid the fermentation tanks with the crush pad in the background
The pavilion and cube with courtyard in the middle
The tasting room pavilion
Interior of the pavilion
The logs coupled with the open air ceiling provide see-through airiness.
(A cover slides over the open ceiling when shelter is needed.)
The view above
Exterior wall and ceiling
Inside the nearby cube: the wine library
The pavilion provides a great space for intimate entertaining
Celebrating with classical music
Delectable treats included pastry wrapped duck nibbles
The guest book

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ridge Vineyards - A 50 Year Perspective on the 2014 Harvest

Paul Draper on the 2014 harvest…early, early, early - in fact, Draper says, it's the earliest it's been in 50 years.


Congrats to the Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries - 5% Have Organic Vineyards

Of the 100 wineries chosen as Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries of the Year, announced on Monday, five percent have organic estate vineyards - and not just a few vines, but sizable estates.

And in case you didn't know, only about 2.5% of California vineyards are certified organic; the fact that the top 100 features twice as many organic growers as there are in the state should say something…quietly…

Here are the winning wineries, in the international competition, for 2014:

Frog's Leap - 130 estate acres and 70 additional acres; estate vines first certified in 1989
Storybook Mountain Vineyards - 42 acres; estate vines certified in 2008

Ridge Vineyards - 277 acres total (including its Monte Bello and Sonoma estates); estate vines first certified in 2011 (and continuing to transition today)

Qupé - 40 acres; certified in 2009

King Estate - 470 acres; certified in 2012

In addition, two of the featured wineries buy organic grapes (Bergstrom and Big Table Farm) while another Concha y Toro includes the organic wine giant Bonterra in its extensive portfolio.

All of these wineries and their wines from certified organic or Biodynamic vines will be featured in Our Next Big Project (stay tuned for news of this development - sign up for our email newsletter - on the top right of this page).

Harvest at Casa Barranca Winery: A Family Affair

Monday, September 22, 2014

Honey, There's A Bear in My Vines

While most vintners worry about troublesome pests - birds, rodents and more - there are few who have to guard against grape loving bears. Storybook Mountain Vineyards posted these before and after photos on their Facebook page of what harvest ready grapes look like before and after a visit from a local bear. Alas, the Seps (Storybook's owners) lost 3 tons to this hungry critter this year.

Harvest Beauty Shots, Continued: Organically Grown Orange Muscat

With less than 100 acres of orange muscat grown in California, who knew there was an organically grown one? The one and only is grown in Mendocino's Sanel Valley, near Hopland by Nelson Family Vineyards, on its 17 acres of certified organic vines.

Here it is being harvested a week ago. Look for the wine here.