Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day: Celebrate By Sharing This Infographic

I'm happy to be able to share Wine Enthusiast's Earth Day infographic on organically and Biodynamically grown wines with you to celebrate Earth Day.

I consulted to Wine Enthusiast editor Marina Vataj who visualized, with her artist, Chris Delisle, a simple way to help people understand what green wines labels mean.

Thanks to all of the hundreds of farmers, winemakers and vintners who care so much about soil, vine balance. eco-friendly farming and wine to be organic and who understand why certification matters to consumers. Grow, baby, grow!

Source: Wine Enthusiast Magazine

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Organic Lover's Guide to Dry Creek Valley's Passport Weekend (April 24-26)

Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma's popular hot, sunny Zin and Rhone loving region just west of the town of Healdsburg, opens its door this weekend for three days of music, food and wine.

This is a fun, albeit crowded, way to experience this 16 mile long valley (2 miles wide) covered with 9,000 acres of vines. The region's wine history stretches back 140 years. Zinfandel is the local religion.

Sunday only tickets are already sold out; be forewarned that the entire area will be mobbed. (Drive carefully and don't ride a bike on Westside Road this weekend). If you're planning to attend, you may still purchase a two day Passport ticket for $140 per person which gets you free tasting and food on at the wineries from 11 to 4:30 on both days. Friday there is a quieter day planned with winemaker dinners and vineyard tours, but most are already sold out.

More information is available here.

While the Dry Creek Valley promotional web site says that the valley has "a majority of the producers following sustainable, organic and biodynamic practices in the vineyards," I'm not sure the facts actually back up that claim. "Sustainable" is a standard in the eye of the beholder (and in general, the beholder is the wine industry).

While Dry Creek Valley has 9,000 acres of vineyards, fewer than 400 acres are certified organic or biodynamic. The entire county of Sonoma has only 1,000 acres of organic vineyards out of 60,000 acres in vine.

What sets Dry Creek apart is the organic vineyards of just three of the largest producers with organic or biodynamic vineyards - Preston Farm and Winery (70 acres), Quivira Vineyards and Winery (88 acres), and Ridge Vineyards (157 acres).

In honor of Earth Day this week, raise a glass, and sample some of the wines from Dry Creek's organically farmed vines.

DaVero Vineyards and Winery
12 acres of organic and Biodynamic vines in Dry Creek Valley AVA

One of the first to make gourmet olive oil, DaVero uniquely grows wine varietals from Italy. A large olive tree graces the garden. Only Club members get their prized Sagrantino, but there's lots to entertain on the biodynamic vineyard and tasting room property which is conveniently located on Westside Road at the intersection with W. Dry Creek Valley Road. A visit to DaVero is a veritable agrotourism experience, where you can stroll to see pigs happily resting in their pig shack and perhaps see sheep in the fields. About half of the wines come from the estate's organic and biodynamic vines.
For Passport:  DaVero will be serving their own lamb, pork and veggies raised on the farm. One of the proprietors is a former gourmet chef; expect the food to be sensational. 

Martorana Family Vineyards
29 acres of organic vines in Dry Creek Valley AVA

The family started by making olive oil in the late 1990s and gravitated to wine. It's a great spot for relaxing by the creek where they have picnic tables on the edge of the banks. The easy going tasting room is in a cave structure nested inside a berm and has a living green roof. Everything is estate grown and organically farmed.
For Passport: The pizza oven will be fired up and cranking; there'll be live acoustic mandolin as well.

Quivira Vineyards & Winery*
88 acres of organic and Biodynamic vines in Dry Creek Valley AVA

One of Dry Creek's major Rhone hot spots, Quivira's focused on Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre as well as the Dry Creek regulars - Zin, Zin and Zin. They're also famous for their Sauvignon Blanc and their Petite Sirah. About a third of their wines are grown organically and biodynamically and are bottle labeled with certification.
For Passport: To celebrate Rhone wines, taste southern French food. A small market will also be featured, with wares from local artisans. Don't miss the rosé.

Ridge Vineyards*
157 acres of organic vines in Dry Creek Valley AVA (and 47 acres more in Geyserville; and even more in other locations)
A classic, not to be missed winery that is one of the defining wineries of the region, Ridge was born from Sonoma's heritage vines and proudly carries the tradition forward today, making super wines at its Healdsburg and Geyserville sites. Some of the vines are more than 100 years old. And they're converting all of these vines to organic farming and labeling the new East Bench Zin with the words "organic grapes" for all to see.
For Passport: You can bet that Ridge has been searching for the perfect food pairing with Zin for decades. This year they're serving forth a Korean clay pot beef and spring onion dish along with Zin, Grenache and more.

* = Top Pick: Don't Miss

See where these and other wineries are on the Passport to Dry Creek Valley map here.

Preston Farm & Winery, another prominent Dry Creek Valley producer devoted to Rhone wines and Zinfandel, has 70 acres of organically grown vines (and certifies their wines). Hawley Winery has 9 acres of organic estate vines, and the focus is on Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet). Neither participates in Passport although Preston is open to visitors (as it is on a regular basis). Hawley has a tasting room in downtown Healdsburg open to visitors; vineyard tours are by appointment. In addition, Syrah specialist Montemaggiore, with 10 acres of vines, has for years been certified biodynamic (and is now transitioning to organic certification). Visits are by appointment.

Can't make it to Passport? You can, of course, visit any of these wineries the rest of the year. Most are featured in the Dry Creek Valley Green Trail, a listing of only organic or biodynamic producers. (It used to list "sustainable" ones). You can find a map of these producers here.

Monday, April 20, 2015

IN PHOTOS: Volker Eisele Memorial, Tribute to 47th Anniversary of Napa's Ag Preserve

Napa Valley's stars from the world of wine and politics turned out yesterday to honor the memory of Volker Eisele, the "lion of land use" in Napa who was a champion of protecting ag lands from over commercialization, a threat that continues today.

Eisele died in Jan. at the age of 78 from a stroke. (Here are some brief excerpts from an interview I did with him in the summer of 2014).

The memorial program featured brief remarks by U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson, who said Volker helped to get him elected and worked closely with him on legislative issues. Hugh Davies, whose father Jack Davies preceded Volker in land preservation leadership, spoke on behalf of the Jack L. Davies Napa Valley Ag Land Preservation Fund and its continuing efforts.

Author James Conaway, whose two classic books on Napa have chronicled the hard fought battles to preserve Napa's agricultural character, entertained the audience with the humorous story of his first meeting with Volker.

Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon (a fifth generation Napa resident) thanked the Eisele family, as did others, for the time Volker spent on political battles.

Napa County Farm Bureau President Norma Tofanelli closed the program with a reminder that battles lie ahead in the protection of Napa's ag lands, calling for the attendees to continue the movement Volker and his allies created to preserve this precious region.

Note: Don't miss...Napa Broadcasting recorded an interview with James Conaway, reflecting on the past and present preservation challenges. You can listen to it here.

The event was held in the historic carriage
house at Charles Krug Winery (owned by the
Peter Mondavi family) in St. Helena
A crowd of wine industry and political leaders packed the hall
The program opened with a brief video tribute to Volker; the video will be posted
soon on the Napa Farm Bureau's web site and YouTube.
Host Marc Mondavi welcomed the group
Congressman Mike Thompson told several humorous stories that illustrated
Volker's tenacity in trying to rid his vineyard of wild pigs and wild turkeys
The reception outside featured classical music 
Guests mingled on the lawn amply supplied with food and drink, including
Volker's 2010 Cabernet

Monday, April 13, 2015

Symphony of the Soil: FREE STREAMING

This year is the United Nations' International Year of Soil. My friend Debra Koons Garcia is one of soil's true champions and her film Symphony of the Soil has won acclaim from farm folk as well as the Washington Post, Village Voice and the New York Times.

"This film raises the bar. It makes you care about our earth's precious skin, so rare among planets."
                                                                      -Barbara Damrosch, Washington Post
"Stimulating and visually engaging..."
                                                                      -John Oursler, Village Voice
"Unfolding with gentle joy and an unexpected beauty, this ode to the miracle of the Earth's topmost layer gives us a newfound respect for the ground beneath our feet."
                                                                      -Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times
Deborah will be speaking at the U.S. Congress at a congressional briefing on the soil-carbon Connection, courtesy of Congressman Jarred Huffman who represents Marin County.

In honor of that occasion, she has decided to make the film free on Vimeo for two weeks, starting today. So be sure to see it and get that Earth-Day-feel-good glow! And tell your friends.

Your free screening comes with subtitles - Spanish ones for April 13-19 and French ones for April 20-26.


If you don't make it for the free version, you can still rent the film on Vimeo or buy a DVD to share with others.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Our Visitors' Guide to Santa Cruz Mountains' Organic Wine Trail (April 18)

Four wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains have teamed up to help visitors celebrate Earth Day by touring the Organic Wine Trail with special events offered on April 18.

While it's wonderful to bring attention to this undervisited region, it's also important to note how many of the wines at each destination are actually grown organically (a small minority in most cases). Be sure to pay special attention to these wines from these participating wineries (that are open to the public):

*** = 50-100% of production

• Cooper Garrod Vineyards (3,000 cases out of 3,000 total)

Cooper Garrod's current releases are from its organic vines. (It has older library wines that are not).

** = 10-50% of production

• Ridge Vineyards (10,000 cases out of 80,000 total; an additional 15,000 cases, including its flagship Monte Bello and Lytton Springs Zinfandel, are made predominantly [80-90%] from organic grape during the transition to full certification).

Ridge is now the biggest organic vineyard owner in both the Santa Cruz Mountains and Sonoma County with 277 acres (all of its estate vines) certified organic (or in the three year transition period to organic certification).

Ridge also sources from historic vineyard properties that it does not own.

Note: Although grape buyers can appeal to vineyard owners to certify their vineyards as organic, ultimately certification is the owner's decision. With historic vineyards, the leverage a winery has over getting grapes certified is harder to come by. (Turley is in the same boat - all of its estate vineyards are certified but historic vineyards it buys from may be farmed organically but not certified).

* = less than 10% of production

All of the one star wineries have small estate vineyards or buy grapes from a certified grower. They all buy the bulk of their grapes from nonorganic sources.

• Alfaro Family Vineyards (332 cases out of 10,000 total)
• Silver Mountain Vineyards (250-650 cases out of 3-5,000 total)

A Guide to the Wines


*** Cooper Garrod
Organic estate acres: 28
Bottle labeling: "Made with Organic Grapes"
  • Cabernet Franc ($29)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon-Lone Oak Vineyard ($32)
  • Chardonnay-Gravel Ridge Vineyard ($29)
  • Syrah-Finely Vineyard ($29)
  • Viognier ($29)


** Ridge Vineyards

Organic estate acres: 277
Bottle labeling: "Ingredients: Organic Grapes" (East Bench only)
  • Zinfandel-East Bench ($28)
  • Zinfandel-Geyserville ($38)
In addition, the current releases of Ridge's Monte Bello Cabernet and the Lytton Springs Zindandel are both 80-90% organic.


* Alfaro Family Vineyards
Organic estate acres: 8
Bottle labeling: no certification on label
  • Chardonnay-Mary Katherine Vineyard ($29)
  • Gruner Veltliner-La Playita Vineyard ($25)
  • Pinot Noir-Mary Katherine Vineyard ($35)
* Silver Mountain Vineyards
Organic estate acres: 10
Bottle labeling: Made with Organic Grapes
  • Chardonnay-Estate ($38)
  • Pinot Noir-Estate ($38)
  • Pinot Noir-Miller Hill ($38)

Wine Industry's Widespread Use of Glyphosate and Neonicotinoids "Sustainable"? European Commission Says No on Neonics; U.S. Companies Start to Test for Glyphosate in Food Products


It ain't just the bees. Pity the poor ladybug as well, pesticide experts in the EU say, in their new report on the injurious effects of using neonicotinoids, an insecticide banned in Europe in an effort to help declining bee populations recover. The insecticides are used widely in the U.S. where there is no ban. Though they are predominantly used on corn seeds in the Midwest, neonicotinoids are also used widely in wine grape growing in California.

Yesterday the New York Times reported the following about a new report from European Union expert scientists on neonicotinoids:
"An influential European scientific body said on Wednesday that a group of pesticides believed to contribute to mass deaths of honeybees is probably more damaging to ecosystems than previously thought and questioned whether the substances had a place in sustainable agriculture."
The story went on to report:
"A growing body of evidence shows that the widespread use of the pesticides 'has severe effects on a range of organism that provide ecosystem services like pollination and natural pest control, as well as on biodiversity,' the report's authors said. 
Predatory insects like parasitic wasps and ladybugs provide billions of dollars' worth of insect control, they noted, and organisms like earthworms contribute billions more through improved soil productivity. All are harmed by the pesticides."
EU scientists had previously linked neonicotinoid use to health problems in humans, reporting that the chemicals affected children's developmental capacities.

Neonicotinoids are not prohibited under the Wine Institute's sustainable wine definitions nor under any other sustainability definition.

Here's where the neonics are used in California (on vineyards alone).
Latest state data mapped by the state's Dept. of Public Health showing the use of neonicotinoids in wine grapes in California
One of the most intense concentrations of neonic use in the North Coast is the area around Healdsburg and Geyserville, as you can see in the map below. Another area of intense use is along Highway 29 in Napa.

An earlier report on Dutch birds also pointed to the severe damage done to bird populations by the use of neonicotinoids, where university researchers found that as many as 35% of farmland birds died over a 10 year period due to low levels of neonicotinoids releasing into water supplies.


Also in the news, today's Reuters Health reports that labs are getting lots of new business from the recent announcement by the United Nations' World Health Organization (WHO) that Roundup and its main, active ingredient glyphosate, are probably carcinogenic. Wrote Reuters:
"Scientists says requests spiked after a World Health Organization research unit said last month it was classifying glyphosate as 'probably carcinogenic to humans.'"
The story reported that testing is revealing the presence of glyphosate in honey, soy sauce, infant formula and breast milk.

Glyphosate is a giant in wine grape pesticides used in California. More than 645,000 lbs. were applied in 2012, according to the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation. (California has more than 500,000 acres of vineyards).

The map below shows the application of one of the most popular forms of glyphosate.


If you LIKE insecticides and herbicides being used massively over the state, by all means, keep buying that non-organically grown wine on the supermarket shelf. Support the growers who put these chemicals into our ecosystems in the soil, air and water.

Otherwise, it's worth your while to seek out alternatives, grown by people who care about not using toxics. And when it comes to wine, you won't pay any more - there's no price premium to buy the ones that are organically grown. 

Can't find organically grown wines on the shelves? Talk to your supermarket's wine director about getting some of the GOOD, organically grown table wines in the store. There's no reason for stores not to offer plenty of alternatives. They just have to make the effort and work with their distributors. So, don't suffer from bad Choice A or bad Choice B. Get the great wines - from affordable to collector quality - on the shelves.

Monday, April 6, 2015

TAPAS: America's Tempranillo Producers' Grand Tasting April 26

Spanish varietals grown in California rarely get their due, but April 26 is your chance to redress this imbalance and discover or pay homage to producers from the U.S. who grow climate appropriate wine grapes and make stellar wines (including Albarino, Grenache and Tempranillo).

The Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society holds its grand tasting April 26 at the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio (with fabulous Bay views). Tickets are now on sale - $45-75 - depending on the number of events selected. Don't miss the Tempranillo Shoot Out comparing top Spanish and American tempranillos. 

(Volunteers are still needed, so you could also attend for free if you are willing to participate in this way.)

TAPAS producers who make organically grown wines include:

• Bokisch (Albarino, Graciano, Grenache)
• Castoro Cellars (Grenache, Tempranillo)
• Martian Ranch & Vineyards (Grenache, Tempranillo)
• Upper Five Vineyards (Tempranillo)
• Verdad (Albarino, Grenache Rosé, Tempranillo)

For details on the tasting, click here.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

IN PHOTOS: Saturday Seminars - Savoring the Great American Rhones

The Rhone Rangers two day extravaganza this past weekend featured two morning seminars, both led by Wine & Spirits magazine editor Patrick Comiskey, the author of the forthcoming book American Rhones, which U.C. Press is publishing.

Both featured an all star lineup of Rhone winemakers from California.

The first seminar was on rosés, the second on ageworthy Rhones
Bob Lindquist's Marsannes - featured on the left - dramatically
 illustrate the effects of aging Marsanne
The 2013 (left) and 2005 Marsanne (right)
from Qupé (Santa Ynez Valley AVA) -
a world of difference in appearance and
taste; you might want to start buying more
Marsanne for aging, Lindquist suggested.
Neil Collins from Tablas Creek (left) described the
original vision for Tablas Creek (planted in 1992)t
 that he observe now coming to fruition after 20+ years.
On the right is David Gates from Ridge Vineyards.
The two middle wines are the Esprit de Beaucastel (2003)
in the back; the front middle is the Esprit de Tablas (2012);
both are blends of Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, and Counoise.
On the right are the 2002 and 2012 Ridge Vineyards'
Petite Syrahs.
The 2003 Esprit
After tasting the 2022 Ridge Petite Sirah, I
finally see what all the fuss was about...
Petite rocks! And isn't that what a great tasting
should do - open your eyes? Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

IN PHOTOS: Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting (March 28)

Craneway Pavilion, on the waterfront in Point Richmond, with
magnificent Bay views, was the venue for the Rhone Rangers
this year, for the second year in a row
A silent auction in the center of things raised money for a
Rhone Rangers scholarship fund
Sebastian Donoso, winemaker for Hopland-based
Campovida winery, with two of his wines
from organic vines - the estate Viognier
and a Grenache from the Dolan family's
nearby Biodynamic vineyard - Dark Horse Ranch 
Lasseter Family Winery poured their Rosé and Chemin de Fer, a GSM blend 
Ridge Vineyards poured its beauties from Lytton Springs; pictured here
are David Gates, vineyard manager, and John Olney,
Ridge's Lytton Springs winemaker
Bob Lindquist of Qupé had more than a dozen wines to try, including
his beautiful Syrahs from the Sawyer Lindquist estate.
 He's never shy about wearing his Dodgers attire in the Bay Area.
Friday night, he won the Rhone Rangers' Lifetime Achievement
Award. Hurray!
Sondra Bernstein, proprietess of Sonoma classic
The Girl and the Fig, serving forth a stemaing
heap of French Rhone goodness in the form
of a cassoulet
Her cassoulet is a perennial favorite at the Rhone Rangers
Cassoulet looks like it's ready for its closeup...hmmm...
better reach for a nice bottle of an American Rhone wine...