Monday, March 30, 2020

After Pesticide Testing Revealed Pesticides in Natural Wines, New French Natural Wine Standard Requires Certified Organic Grapes



A definition for natural wine? For years, wine drinkers have been asking the question, "What is a natural wine?"

There have been many answers. For some, no sulfite additions has been the main criteria. Many objected to that definition alone, saying that the intent was to use organic grapes as well. And no other additions.

Quoted in the French wine magazine Vignerons du Val du Loire (use Google translate to see the article in English), the leader of the certification effort, Jacques Carroget, said the certification was needed to prevent the use of non-organic grapes in natural wines.

Carroget said testing for pesticides in natural wines made the standard necessary and that he and others were shocked by the results of testing.

“We realized that some wines had levels of pesticide residues such that it could not have been caused by the neighbors. Clearly, these were not organic wines. It was unthinkable that natural wines were not organic. So a few decided to launch the Syndicate for the Defense of Natural Wines, with a real commitment charter," he's quoted as saying in the Loire publication.

Jacques Carroget, Loire winemaker
and head of the Natural Wines Union
After ten years, the French have adopted a standard that should prevent that from happening again.

The designation comes just three months after Alice Feiring, the American wine writer who paved the way for French natural wine producers in the US and championed their cause, began publicly criticizing the natural wine movement in an article published in the New York Times in December.

"The movement, built on honesty and simplicity, is being corrupted by opportunists," the article's subtitle read.

But in an article published on Wine-Searcher last week, Feiring applauds the new certification standard, which allows the use of the logo for "Vin methode nature" to be applied under two different standards.

One standard is zero sulfites. (The logo pictured above is for the no added sulfite category). A second allowed standard, with a different logo, allows the addition of sulfites up to 30 ppm.

In addition the standard prohibits mechanical harvesting. No filtration is allowed.

For many, the new French certification comes at a time when boundaries on what is "natural" are needed. In the U.S. many natural winemakers would not qualify to use such a standard as they often do not use certified organic grapes and some of the purchased grapes they use are mechanically harvested (typically in order to make prices lower).

[Current standards in the US for organically grown wines allow for two different sulfite levels. Zero sulfites qualifies a wine to be designated "Organic Wine" while a wine with up to 100 ppm can be labeled "Made with Organic Grapes." While only certified organic grapes are included, natural wine enthusiasts often do not like that these wine standards permit a limited number of additives to be used.]

Another longstanding value in the French winemaking movement was that the winemaker also be the winegrower. In the U.S. natural wine making community, this is rare as most wineries are buying grapes from growers. A few are in transition to growing the grapes and exercising more control in the vineyards.

A few natural winemakers in the U.S. do have estate vineyards that are certified organic or biodynamic. These include AmByth Estate and Powicana Farms, both of which make Biodynamic Wines that are certified sulfite free and additive free. Johan Vineyards in Oregon also makes a Zero Zero Pinot Noir that fits this definition and Cooper Mountain Vineyards has one Pinot Noir (Life) as well.

Frey Vineyards also makes some wines at this standard, but in the past Feiring has claimed that Frey's winemaking process (they make 7,000 cases of biodynamic wine and more than 150,000 cases of organic wine, the latter partly from purchased grapes) is "too industrial" to qualify under her own natural wine definition.

I looked in vain online for a website for the certifying body, the Natural Wine Union, but could not find one. If you find it, can you let me know?

Also, although I found several articles on this new natural wine standard (in Forbes, Decanter, Wine-Searcher and Wine Business Daily), none mentioned the pesticide testing issue. I only found that in the Loire publication. And the Loire story mainly mentioned the pesticide testing alarm bells.

Viva la difference?

Note: In the Wine-Searcher article, Tony Coturri is quoted as saying there are many organic growers who are going off certification. I do not see any evidence of that in my research and so if Tony has examples or data to share, I'm all ears.

Online Tasting Videos, The Golden Age At Last: Part 1 - Porter Creek Vineyards

Congratulations, Wine Industry! You're Making Online Tasting Experiences and Recording Them as Videos!

It's 2020, and for years many of us have been wondering: we're online with video, but where are the wineries?

But finally, the day has arrived when even the most camera-shy of our great producers are doing online tastings and video replays.

 Partly, it's because the tasting room is closed, closed and closed and no one knows when they will be able to reopen. And that means the bar on production values is lower now, and people don't expect polished productions with sweeping drone video footage, vineyard shots and music.

Today the bar is just give us some talking heads! Conversation.

But it turns out those conversations are often better than the experience you would have had on the winery's website or by visiting the winery. You can actually hear the winemaker speak, sometimes at length, as they themselves talk about the growing and the tasting.

A Golden Age has arrived.

I'll be sharing a number of these over the coming weeks. To start off, here's Porter Creek Vineyards from Healdsburg, a producer specializing in Pinot Noir from its biodynamic vineyards in the Russian River.

Porter Creek Vineyards

 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Online Tasting Videos, The Golden Age At Last: Part 2 - Frog's Leap

Frog's Leap is one of Napa's poster children for organically grown wines. It has three core things going for it: taste, quality and price.

Its 60,000 cases of wines are mostly made from estate grapes, and (almost all of) its purchased grape sources are certified organic.

People who disdain big jammy Napa cabs love these wines (like I disdain them).

Frog's Leap has made a loving commitment to preserving historic vineyards and varieties and the historic Rachel Rossi Ranch property.

And it's done all this with pricing that is much more affordable than most Napa wineries.

Frog's Leap is also famous for Sauvignon Blanc, which it produces in vast quantities (23,000+ cases out of its 60,000 case production). It is one of the most widely available Sauvignon Blancs on restaurant wine lists, according to Wine & Spirits magazine.

The winery is hosting four interactive tasting and giving consumers an opportunity to buy wines to pair with each of the four tastings. It's also distributing its content on Instagram.

While other wineries are offering $300+ wine package assortments for interactive tastings, Frog's Leap is offering affordably priced bundles to accompany the tastings.

The father and son duo of John and Rory Williams, both with a well oiled and welcome sense of humor, are good medicine, even if you're not interested in wine. But the wines are great and this is a wonderful chance to get to know them and their makers.

Frog's Leap

 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Biodynamics at Troon Vineyard: The Video

Stuck at home? Want a video break that doesn't include corona virus? Check out the regenerative ag that underlies biodynamic wine grape growing.

 I like this video more than many others about biodynamics because it really does show via drone shots the holistic nature of the biodynamic concept.

It's not just about the herbal and mineral sprays, and not just about biodiversity, and not just about soil health. It is an eco system based approach.

 

Thursday, March 5, 2020

My Hot Tip from the Oregon Wine Trail


It's not often that I say, "BUY THIS," but at the Oregon Wine Trail tasting yesterday in SF I have to admit I was really wowed by one wine in particular.

The fact that is costs $39 and tastes like wine three times the price is why I feel compelled to mention it here. Purity. Translucence. Finesse.

Here is the wine.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Weed Slayer: Organic Wonder Drug for Weed Control is Just Clove Oil Basically

At Unified Wine Grape Symposium this year, I attended the panel on Weed Control and the big buzz at the end of the 90 minutes panel seemed to be the moment when moderator John Roncoroni asked the audience, "Who here is using Weed Slayer?"

Hands shot up, and most were not from organic growers (who are a tiny percentage of those who attend Unified).

In the race to stop using what Ronconi and others called "the hammer," - i.e. Roundup - growers have been looking for a kinder, gentler replacement for years.

So today's blog post by Craig Camp of Troon Vineyard - a deeper dive into Weed Slayer - is much appreciated.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

IN PHOTOS: Slow Wine Guide 2020 Tasting

Slow Wine Guide 2020 kicked off its annual tour yesterday in San Francisco with a sold out tasting at Pier 27.

The event consisted mainly of Italian wineries (the core of the book's focus) and is based on the book Slow Wine Guide 2020. The Italian version of the book contains more than 500 Italian wineries and 1,000 wines and is the bestselling wine book in Italy.

You can download a free copy of the English edition here.

The English version includes 366 Italian wineries and 245 U.S. wines, including 176 from California and 69 from Oregon.

Enjoy these photos of U.S. organic and biodynamic producers from the event:

Lulu McClellan (right) of Handley Cellars in Mendocino's
Anderson Valley
with Don Neel (left) of Practical Winery & Vineyard
Mitch Hawkins (left) and Jerry Baker (right) of
Hawk and Horse Vineyards, located in Lake County's Red Hills AVA
Rosemary Cakebread's delicate Gallica wines (from Napa, Sonoma
and Amador County grapes) were featured at the tasting.
Jason Drew of Drew Family Cellars in Elk (above Anderson Valley in
the Mendocino Ridge AVA) poured his award winning reds and a Chardonnay.
Ehlers Estate winemaker Laura Diaz Munoz

Jeff Chaney from Grimm's Bluff in Santa Barbara County poured the
biodynamic estate's Sauvignon Blancs and Cabs

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Slow Wine Guide 2020 | Free EBOOK Here

Happy to announce that the 2020 edition of Slow Wine Guide is now out.

As a Senior Editor for California, I wrote about 60 of the winery listings in this year's guide. It was a pleasure to meet winemakers and to work with Deborah Parker Wong, Senior Editor, and Jeremy Parzen as well as all the field contributors in the two day marathon tasting in Sept. where we tasted all the wines nominated for awards.

California wines just keep getting better and better. What rockstars we have!

Get a free download of the book here:
https://edigita.cantook.net/campaigns/kU9mBoSQD5mA7Tt3/participants/7nPpW3SEb8WruDmH

Slow Wine Guide is the number one bestselling wine book in Italy with more than 5,000 copies sold.

The Slow Wine Guide 2020 Tour kicks off next week:

• February 18th, San Francisco, California: Pier 27, The Embarcadero
• February 19th, Seattle, Washington: Bert & Tot Ballroom, Block 41
• February 21st, Denver, Colorado: Asterisk, Downtown
• February 24th, New York, New York: Union Park, Flatiron
• February 25th, Boston, Massachusetts: Artist for Humanity, Fort Point

Monday, February 10, 2020

UK Organic Wine Sales Up 47%, Says UK Soil Association's Latest Report

A new story published in Forbes today shows that organically grown wine is making great strides in the UK market.

• Sales of organic wines increased 47% to $65 million

"U.K. retailer, Waitrose, is a big winner as it is the largest supplier of organic wine with over 70 organic wines from 18 different countries," the article said.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Organically Sonoma Launches: New Website to Help Consumers Find Fine and Everyday Wines from Sonoma’s Organic Vines



Enabling consumers to "Drink Well" after Dry January and to launch their own Personal Green New Deal for Wine

Wine Country Geographic today announced the launch of OrganicallySonoma.com, a new website designed to help consumers and wine professionals find estate wines from certified organic vines from Sonoma’s leading vintners.

“We hope consumers and the wine industry will make 2020 the year to “Drink Well,'” said Pam Strayer, Wine Country Geographic founder and publisher as well as the author of the Organically Sonoma site.

“Dry January is over. With this new site, consumers now have new and better tools to help them find the wines that fit their eco friendly and health conscious lifestyles. You could call it a personal Green New Deal for wine."

"In addition to meeting consumers' concerns about pesticides in wine, organically grown wines also offer a more climate friendly solution," Strayer said. “The latest scientific study shows that organic or biodynamic vineyards put 9-13 percent more carbon back into the soil than conventional or sustainable wine,” she said.

“While we can all appreciate that the sustainable wine movement may be helping the overall wine industry to pivot to better farming in the long term, sustainable wine guidelines do not provide the pesticide restrictions that meet consumer concerns about health,” Strayer continued. “Organic growers and vintners offer much safer alternatives for people, wildlife, birds, bees and planet.”

Testing in the U.S. and France has found that conventional and sustainable wines contain up to 500-1000 percent more glyphosate and copper residues than organically grown wines. “In addition, consumers should be aware that many conventional and sustainable wines are grown with herbicide and fungicides that contain unlisted ingredients: arsenic, heavy metal and pesticide residues,” she said.

GIVING VOICE TO SONOMA'S ORGANIC SIDE

“Voices from the organic side of Sonoma’s wine industry have been largely unheard,” said Strayer.

“There are 47 estate wineries with certified organic vines in the county,” she said, “and many are among the finest producers—with national and international reputations.”

All the organically grown wines from Sonoma do contain sulfites, as do most fine wines from organic or other vines around the globe.

While 20 of the 47 wineries with organic estate vines are 100% organic within brand, 27 are not. "The site helps consumers identify choices on a wine by wine basis," Strayer said. "Brands may have organic estates but then purchase grapes for other wines from conventional or sustainable growers. Organically Sonoma lists only the wines from certified organic vines."

WINE QUALITY HIGH

“Organic grape growers are extremely attentive to their vines,” Strayer said, “and that results in better grapes and high quality winemaking in the hands of fine winemakers. Many of the organically grown wines in Sonoma get scores from top critics (like Wine Advocate and Antonio Galloni’s Vinuous) of 90-95 points. Consumers can have their cake and eat it, too—buying organically grown wines from fine wine producers."

Sonoma’s organic growers mirror the wide variety of grapes Sonoma is famous for—Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel are the top three varieties produced.

ORGANIC VINEYARDS ARE 3% OF SONOMA COUNTY'S VINES

Sonoma County has approximately 1,870 acres of certified organic or biodynamic vines, representing 3% of the county’s 59,193 planted vineyard acres.

Of these,1,491 acres are owned by estate wineries. Growers certify an additional 379 acres of organic or biodynamic vines.

SONOMA'S LEADERSHIP ROLE IN BIODYNAMICS

Sonoma County has 10 biodynamic estate producers and three biodynamic growers. "It's the county with the largest number of biodynamic wineries and growers in the country," Strayer said. (Other regions - Oregon and Mendocino County - have more acreage, but fewer wineries). The county’s total biodynamic acreage is 426 acres, which represents 21% of the certified organic acreage.

Three of Sonoma’s biggest organic vineyard owners are both organic and biodynamic.

A WIN WIN: CONSUMERS IN THE KNOW CAN DRINK THE BEST WINES AND AVOID PESTICIDES

“According to the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation, in 2017 Sonoma growers and vintners used 74,815 pounds of glyphosate on wine grape vines. Glyphosate is the leading ingredient in Roundup,” she said, “which we now know is a carcinogen.”

“While seven cities and the county of Sonoma have all voted to ban glyphosate from public spaces, parks and schools, Sonoma’s growers continue to pour thousands of pounds of Roundup on to the soil,” she added.

Unlike food, organically grown wines cost no more than other wines.

ORGANIC AND BIODYNAMIC STANDARDS STRICTER AND BETTER ENFORCED

“We know from the wine industry’s own market research that 43% of consumers think sustainable means organic,” Strayer said. “It’s time for consumers to know the facts. Almost all of Sonoma’s sustainable growers, according to their pesticide use reports, use agricultural chemicals that may contain bird and bee toxins, carcinogens, developmental and reproductive toxins and other chemicals of concern.”

According to state statistics, in 2017 Sonoma County’s growers applied 9,751 pounds of one fungicide, boscalid (a bird and bee toxin), on grape vines. “At a time of decreasing biodiversity and ecological imbalance, consumers should know they can support growers and wineries that promote life,” she said.

Enforcement is another issue.

“While wine growers have generously funded and aggressively marketed their Sonoma Certified Sustainable program, we have seen that lapses in program enforcement have led to using banned toxins in wines bottled with the program’s little green labels,” she added. “The standard is not enforced by federal law.”

ORGANIC IS A GROWING TREND AND ESPECIALLY AMONG MILLENNIALS

The organically grown wine category has expanded rapidly in Europe, where approximately 10% of vineyards in Spain, Italy and France are either certified or in transition to organic certification. Experts predict that the organic wine market in the EU will increase dramatically by 2022.

“Sonoma’s organic growers are definitely in the vanguard of this movement and have made tremendous strides, thanks to the vineyard management leadership over decades of dedicated experts like Phil Coturri, Amigo Bob Cantisano and of committed wineries who care,” Strayer said. “Now consumers can finally see each and every producer and the wines they make from organic vines.”

SUBSCRIBER BENEFITS

A subscription to OrganicallySonoma.com costs $25 a year and gives readers access to:

PRODUCER PROFILES
• In depth producer profiles on 47 estate wineries with certified organic vines in Sonoma

WINE LISTS
• Lists of wines from certified vines: 250+ wines (from $20-$250) and tasting notes on selected wines
• A list of 20 everyday wines (under $25)

NEWS AND ARTICLES
• News on selected wines, producers, trends. dining, travel and more

TASTING AND TOURING
• Info on dozens of great tasting and touring destinations

WINERY OFFERS
• Discounts on wine, shipping and two for one tastings at participating wineries.

Visitors can check out the new website at http://www.organicallysonoma.com.

Wine Country Geographic also offers services including wine buying consults, trip planning, and tour guide services to help consumers and the food industry explore, try and buy organically grown wines. It receives no sponsorship or advertising revenue from wineries.

-----------------------------------

ABOUT WINE COUNTRY GEOGRAPHIC

Wine Country Geographic is a publishing company that provides consumers and wine professionals with guides to wines grown from certified organic or biodynamic vines.

Wine Country Geographic was founded by Pam Strayer, a leading expert on organic and biodynamic wines from the U.S.. She has written and spoken widely on vineyards and pesticides and on organic and biodynamic wine topics.

Her articles have appeared in the industry magazines Wines & Vines, Wine Business Monthly and Beverage Media. Ms. Strayer has also conducted online classes on organic and biodynamic wine topics for Women of the Vine & Spirits and spoken to classes at Healdsburg SHED, Santa Rosa Junior College, and Sonoma State University’s Wine Business Institute. She served as Conference Program Director for Demeter USA’s 2018 International Biodynamic Wine Conference and is a Senior Editor for California wines in Slow Food's bestselling wine book, Slow Wine Guide 2020.

Contact:
Pam Strayer, Wine Country Geographic
winecountrygeographic@gmail.com or info@organicallysonoma.com
(510) 213-9525
Wine Country Geographic

Follow us on Facebook
www.facebook.com/organicallysonoma

Follow us on Twitter
@winecountrygeo

COMING SOON:
OrganicallyNapa.com
Biodynamic Wines & Vines (bd.wine)

Two more sites, one on California's Central Coast and one on Oregon, will launch this spring.

———————

FACT SHEET

Certified Organic Vines in Sonoma

Certified Acres | 1,870 acres of certified organic vines

Percentage | 3%

Number of producers with organic estate vineyards | 47

Number of producers who make only organically grown estate wines | 20

Number of wines | 250+

Organic certifiers used by Sonoma vintners | CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmer), Organic Certifiers
Biodynamic Certifier | Demeter USA

Organically Grown Wines from Sonoma

Wines from Bordeaux grapes (Cabernet, Cab blends, Merlot and more) were the most popular. Rhone wines (Grenache, Syrah, and more) made up the second largest category.

28% | Bordeaux: Cabernet and more
21% | Rhone: Grenache, Syrah and more
18% | Burgundian: Pinot and Chardonnay
16% | Heritage Reds: Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Blends and more
7% | Rosé
4% | Italian Grapes: Barbera, Fiano, Greco, Montepulciano, Sagrantino and Sangiovese
6% | Other: heritage whites, sparkling wines. dessert wines

Financial Impact
Sonoma’s organic grape growers represent $23.3 million in wine grape value.*

Based on calculations by the Sonoma County Vintners of the total wine value from wines made in Sonoma, the portion represented by the organic sector in terms of retail value is $240 million.**

*Calculated at 3% of the total value of all wine grapes - $777 million - in Sonoma in the 2018 Sonoma County Crop Report.
**Calculated at 3% of the total value of all wine from Sonoma, reported to be $8 billion by the Sonoma County Vintners. Website: https://sonomawine.com/wine-community-impact/

Our press release will also be available on Cision/PRWeb Thursday, Feb. 6 at 2:30 pm.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Organic Yum for Your Valentine: Port Style Wine Paired with Chocolate Covered Walnuts

Good things come in twos like port wine and chocolate covered walnuts. Where can you find them from an organic producer in California? 


This Paso based, women owned enterprise grows walnuts and makes a port style wine which they sell along with chocolate covered walnuts. A two pack with both is just $29.

Order now to get them by the all important date-Feb. 14.

I ran into Cynthia and Jutta at the Ecofarm wine tasting this year, where they also featured their delicious chocolate covered walnuts, which I sampled, so I can say this vintage is every bit as good as last year's.

But don't take my word for it. Try them yourself.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Ecofarm Chronicles | Day One

Once again, the farmers went to the sea. The organic clan is gathering for its annual migration to Monterey's Asilomar conference center for the 40th Ecofarm conference. A stellar lineup of speakers enthralled, depressed and rallied the tribe.

Great science presentations are a tradition. This year, pesticide researcher and government whistleblower Dr. Jonathan Lundgren, kicked off the conference with an opening speech on the need for growing the grassroots movement for regenerative agriculture.

Jonathan Lundgren presents the case for regenerative ag in a workshop Thursday at Ecofarm. Video of his keynote was livestreamed on Facebook and will be posted on the Ecofarm YouTube channel.
A former USDA scientist, Lundgren's research on the effects of neonicotinoids on monarch butterflies was too hot for the chemical industry to handle and it was suppressed.

In 2015, he filed an official whistleblower complaint (during the Obama administration) and was later dismissed from his government position.

Today he works with the grassroots movements in regenerative ag from his farm in South Dakota, (Blue Dasher Farm) and Ecdysis Foundation with students.

"What we need is a Manhattan Project for bees. That is what we need for food production," Lundgren told workshop attendees at a morning session on bees and pesticides. "Millions of dollars have been spent on keeping a broken system. It's time instead to change agriculture."

"Our current systems are fundamentally flawed and heading for a cliff. We need to burn them all down and rebuild them."

Lundgren said new methods are also more profitable.

"Regenerative agriculture is more successful. The systems are transferrable, scaleable and successful. More organic matter in the soil increases yields."

Stacy Malkan of U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit that focuses on transparency in the food system, talked about the pesticide-propaganda chemical industrial complex, pointing out the heavy disinformation systems that chemical companies utilize to sway public opinion, government policy and science itself. Aside from direct subsidies, the companies employ an army of PR professionals and consultants, she said, pointing to newly released documents.

In a Jan. 2020 article entitled The Playbook for Poisoning the Earth by Lee Fang, Malkan said that recently released documents included in the article show the full scope of chemical industry's influence which is more entrenched and well funded than has been known.

"As Gary Kasparov says," Malkan stated, "the point of modern propaganda isn't only to misinform or push an agenda. It is too exhaust your critical thinking to annihilate the truth."

In another session, on vine mealybugs, U.C. entomologist Kent Daane and vineyard manager
Erin Amaral reviewed strategies for combatting vine mealybugs.

In the past, the dangerous neurotoxin chlorpyrifos has been used in attempts to suppress the vineyard pest. Its use has tapered off, and beginning in two years, the chemical will no longer be available for use in California.

Daane and Amaral outlined major biocontrol efforts with different types of predators and parasitoids and a discussion of the pros and cons of each.

The audience was captivated by Daane's videos of mealybugs secreting poison to kill predator ants.

Growers face difficult challenges in keeping vine mealy bugs in check whether they use conventional  or approved organic methods, though the organic growers' challenges appear to be greater. Growers using conventional methods are spending about $80-120 an acre at a minimum, Amaral said.

Organic solutions were more costly.

An audience member asked Daane about his view of drone programs to drop predator eggs into vineyards. Daane said he thought drone delivery may not be as effective as spot placement of larvae on infested vines.

"First of all, I don't like using the eggs, because they are not as effective as releasing larvae. And when they are dropped by drone, they might fall on the ground rather than the and don't get to the leaves, where they're needed. More work needs to be done to determine its efficacy" he said.

Bob Quinn's concluding slide in his presentation the past, present and
future of organic farming. After, lunch, attendees heard from keynoter Bob Quinn (a presentation that will later be posted on YouTube) who outlined a vision for the future of organic farming.


Quinn called on the audience to visualize a new form of homeland security - one that encompassed food sovereignty as basic to security. Tying food to health was another key component of his vision for the future.

"Sixty years ago we used to spend 18 percent of our income on food and 5 percent on healthcare (or sick care). Today we spend 9 percent on food and 16 percent on healthcare. It's roughly the same amount of money. We made food cheap and abundant at the cost of our health," he said.

Thirdly, Quinn said, regenerative, organic agriculture is the right way to address climate change.

Quinn, a grain farmer in Montana, went organic in 1991. He launched the KAMUT brand of durum wheat.

He called upon organic farmers to switch the economic system from Commodity to Community and told the story of a community project to help the local Indian reservation residents switch their diets.

"We live near a large Indian reservation where a many people have diabetes," he said. "Working together we were able to help them start growing their own grain on 500 acres and now they are putting in a new flour mill. We helped them start growing lentils, which they can use for oil, too."

The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Surendra Dara and Pam Marrone at Ecofarm
U.C. scientist Surendra Dara presented an afternoon session on beneficials, an emerging area of research in agriculture. Dara has worked food crops but said he will soon be devoting some of his time to wine grapes.

Biopesticide entrepreneur Pam Marrone attended Dara's workshop and the two indirectly discussed possible new fungi based products they might collaborate on in the future.

Monday, January 13, 2020

SF Wine Competition: Best of Class - The Organic Winners


Three organically grown wines got Best of Class awards at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition this week.



1. McFadden Vineyards' Brut 

A local's $35 bottle once again bested brands like Domaine Carneros and other well heeled labels. McFadden's Brut has been a winner in the Brut category more often than not for almost a decade.

(Its sparkling rosé is also a top choice, but in limited production).

2. King Estate's Domaine Pinot Gris

A knockout wine (at $29) this limited production wine from the southern end of Oregon's Willamette Valley is made from biodynamic grapes.

It also got a 93 point score from Wine & Spirits magazine.

3. Carol Shelton's Wild Thing Zinfandel

Sourced almost entirely from organically grown grapes, this affordable ($19) Zinfandel is partially fermented on native yeasts, a feat few can match at this case production level (8-10,000 cases). The grapes come from Mendocino.

The annual public tasting of these wines takes place in SF on Sat. Feb. 15.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Mapping Chlorpyrifos on California Wine Grapes: Where Are the 5 Percent?

California's state health officials map the pesticide data they collect from all agricultural enterprises throughout the year.

In 2017, growers applied chlorpyrifos on five percent of wine grape acreage in the state. Where are these growers concentrated? And what is the changing pattern of chlorpyrifos use on grape vines in California for the last 17 years?

It is worth mentioning that most of California's wines come from Central Valley vineyards, so when you're picking up a bottle of supermarket wine (unless it's organic or biodynamic), there's no way of knowing if it's grown with chlorpyrifos.

Read the companion post to find out what the chlorpyrifos ban on sales actually means in practice.

WINE GRAPE USE

In 2017, growers applied 49,417 pounds to 26,340 acres of wine grape vines.

Here's a look at 2000, 2005, 2010, 2015 and 2017 chlorpyrifos use on wine grapes.

2000



2005



2005 Close Up of Napa & Sonoma Counties

The darkest red areas in the Carneros may be Laird Family holdings.



2010



2010 Close Up of Napa & Sonoma Counties

In 2010, Napa growers applied 272 pounds of chlorpyrifos on 162 acres and Sonoma growers applied 123 pounds of it on 65 acres, according to the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation.



2015



2015 Close up of Napa and Sonoma Counties

The red square on the left might align with Gallo's Two Rock vineyard where chlorpyrifos was used on 400 acres.



2017



2017 Close Up of Napa & Sonoma

There are red squares near Forestville and Petaluma that indicate some growers are using chlorpyrifos there. The pesticide use report would list their names and exact locations.



Want to know more? Check out the Agriculture Pesticide Mapping tool here.

APPENDIX

Here's a look at the use of chlorpyrifos on all crops—it was applied to 650,000 acres of them—in California in 2017.

As you can see, it's favored by growers in the reddest part of the state—the area that Republican Congressman and Trump supporter Devin Nunes is from. In addition to using the most chlorpyifos, the area is also known for having severe groundwater pumping and subsidence problems and may be heavily impacted when new water control laws go into effect.



Source

Interested in learning more? Check out the companion post on what the ban on sales actually means in practice.

Ding Dong the Wicked Witch—Chlorpyrifos (Used on 5% of Wine Grapes)—is Dead (But Only Sort Of): California Bans Sales (But Not Yet Use) Effective February 6

Five percent of California's wine grape
growers use Lorsban, a restricted material
linked for years to neurological diseases in
children and adults.
For decades, scientists—and especially pediatricians—have been calling for a ban on chlorpyrifos, an old school insecticide that is used by conventional and, sadly, yes, sustainable growers.

Starting Feb. 6, sales of the neurotoxin in California will be banned.

Glasses up! Break out the bubbly!

But maybe fill up the glasses only half or a quarter full, since this is not actually a full glass victory.

Over the years, I have written a number of articles about chlorpyrifos in the wine industry.

Sold as Lorsban, the insecticide has a dark history—invented by war chemists in Germany before World War II)—and has been in the cross hairs of public health authorities since the 1980's.

For the last year data is available—2017—California wine grape growers used 49,417 pounds on 26,430 acres.

Why should we care about this dastardly chemical? And will banning its sale in the state end its use?

• In a pesticide hair testing study conducted by the Greens in Europe, it was found in 10% of the 150+ participants.

• It's linked by numerous scientific studies to neurological conditions—including damaging child brain development—and neurological diseases like Alzehimer's and Parkinson's.

• It contaminates water supplies in California where it's used (now mostly in the Central Valley, but it's been used in Sonoma, Napa, Monterey and elsewhere over decades. It's becoming increasingly popular on wine grapes in the Tulare region). A story published by Environmental Health News about the study conducted by Beate Ritz (an expert who also testified in the Roundup trials, but that's another story) published in Environmental Health Perspectives summarized the study's findings:
People drinking well water within 500 meters of a dozen or more of the pesticides had a 66 percent greater rate of Parkinson’s, the study says. Airborne exposure only slightly increased the risk. [Boldings mine.]
• It also pollutes the air. 

• It is highly toxic to bees.

Heard enough?

• In 2015, the EPA said it wanted to ban the pesticide, but the wheels of government moved slowly. Cal EPA issued a press release in 2015 expressing its concerns over chlorpyrifos and worker safety. Its report stated,
"We are concerned about some workers who mix, load and apply chlorpyrifos to agricultural and other non-residential sites...We are also concerned about workers who work around areas that are treated with chlorpyrifos as part of their jobs." 
When Trump assumed power he killed the proposed nationwide ban.

Surprisingly

• Sustainable wine growers in the Wine Institute's Certified Sustainable Winegrowing program may use it but only during the first year of certification. (Why would this be allowed?) It is used to wipe out nematodes in replanting vineyards, controlling vine mealybugs and other uses. Basically, it's an exterminator.

• The California Association of Winegrape Growers, showing no compassion towards workers, residents or health officials (or the reputation of their industry) opposed the ban on selling it. According to an article published on Wine Business.com, the growers "and other agricultural organizations argued chlorpyrifos as another 'tool' in the farmers’ 'toolbox.'"

Sadly

• No one can legally buy chlorpyrifos in the state of California, but it is available outside of California. While California is now on the road to banning its use, that milestone, if approved, is two years away, according to state authorities. They are moving to cancel its use after a period of transition in which $5.7 million has been allocated to help growers using it try other products.

For now, its use was not made illegal—only its sale—so it remains a restricted material.

That means county ag commissioners must issue permits for its use. While ag commissioners are able to grant or deny permits, they cannot actually deny a permit for a legal chemical and it is still legal to use chlorpyrifos.

Just ask the Sonoma County ag commissioner's office: they had to give Sonoma Cutrer a permit to spray it on 100 acres in 2017. "We can't prohibit it because it is legal to use it, even though it's restricted," a spokesperson for the office said. Locals were alarmed. And rightly so. There is no requirement to warn when spraying is approved or about to take place.

UCLA researchers have documented the problem of ag commissioners' reluctance or inability to stop the use of restricted materials, writing a report on ag commissioners' track records. Read their full report here or local news coverage here. Certain counties will be more or less likely to continue granting permits.

A FEW CASE STUDIES FROM NORTHERN CALIFORNIA WINE COUNTRY

• SONOMA

Gallo used 147 gallons of chlorpyrifos on 400 acres at its Two Rock vineyard.
Gallo sprayed 147 gallons of it over Gina Gallo's favorite Chardonnay vineyard, Two Rock, in Petaluma in 2015.

Sonoma Cutrer sprayed it on 100 acres in Sonoma in 2017. (Source: Sonoma County Ag Commissioner's public data—pesticide use report records—available from the county ag commissioner's office upon request).

Parents with children in nearby schools and homes are not required to be notified when the spray is used.

• NAPA

Laird Family in Napa (and Sonoma) has consistently used chlorpyrifos for years.

It is the largest land owner in Napa with 5% of the county's vines.

So why are Laird Family's wines sold even at Whole Foods in Berkeley? (You'll have to ask Whole Foods' wine experts or post on Whole Foods social media.)

Take a look at the second post on chlorpyrifos here to see maps of where wineries used it from 2000 to 2017 (latest year data is available)

Biggest Stories of the Year: Roundup Lawsuits, Fires PLUS New Sites Coming Soon!

OTHER STORIES IN THE NEWS: ROUNDUP (Good News) AND FIRES (Bad News)

There were several stories I didn't write about this year, but that were of major importance: the ongoing Roundup trials and the fire season in California wine country.

• Roundup Trials

Probably the most thrilling news of the year was the continuing verdicts against Bayer/Monsanto with the third case of cancer victims successfully suing the company.

The Pilliod case was tried in Oakland, and, living a 10 minute drive from the courthouse, I went to observe the day that the Pilliods were on the stand. I will confess, I was scared to death about the process. The jury was probably the most diverse I have ever seen, a real cross section of Oaklanders, from Latino to Asian to black to white and seemed to range over a wide spectrum of classes. I was proud of my town's diversity and inclusion.

But I have worried with each jury (and judge) I have witnessed because this material can be complicated and it would be easy for someone to get hung up about some misinformation, which is Monsanto's lawyers stock in trade. Happily the plaintiffs' lawyers did a fantastic job of presenting the material and educating the jury and this jurors came through with a $2 billion verdict, making headlines around the globe.

The Pilliods, lovely old grandparents from Contra Costa, presented their case quietly and modestly. The jury heard how they both gardened and used Roundup to kill weeds around the yard. Their attorneys showed pictures of Mrs. Pilliod spraying it at the base of the wooden raised beds where they grew vegetables in their suburban backyard. Mrs. Pilliod testified that she told her husband that Roundup was as safe as sugar water.

When they both got the same kind of cancer—non Hodgkin lymphoma—Mr. Pilliod thought that was strange since they did not have the same genetic makeup. That led to the hypothesis that it was their use of Roundup, which they also sprayed near the grandchildren (even when they were babies) when they were gardening at their retirement home.

While the couple were awarded billions, the judge knocked it down, which was required under legal guidelines. When all is said and done, after endless appeals, they probably will not get that much (and their lawyers will take two thirds or so of whatever they eventually do get), but the $2 billion sent shockwaves around the world, damaging Roundup's reputation and Bayer's stock took a beating.


The lowest point in 2019 for Bayer's stock was in June 2019, in the wake of the $2 billion Oakland jury ward in the Pilliod trial.
Prediction: Bayer will propose a mass settlement and Monsanto's top execs will not have to testify in court.

• Sonoma County Fires

Pity the poor wine tourism promoter in Sonoma County. How many years does it take to recover from constant national TV news running the same clip of Soda Rock winery ablaze over and over and over?

By Day Three, the local news had replaced the on the scene reporters in fire suits with a sexy babe reporter in an elastic, form fitting black dress meant to reveal all her curves. For a moment, you wondered if you were watching Fox News. Talk about finding a new angle to cover the exact same footage.

No other footage could match the Soda Rock flames for drama as most wineries did not burn and harvest was pretty much completed for most. And vines don't burn.

The really big story was about PGE, again, and its lack of appropriate maintenance, and the citizen upset over being forced to evacuate in case high winds spread the fire across the county. Nearly 200,000 people had to evacuate. Luckily smart fire fighting strategy was able to quell the fires and save whole towns from destruction. But it was scary and a close call. For people who had just rebuilt since the last fire, it was even more traumatic.

Sadly people and businesses suffered financial consequences that no one else will pay for, except out of their own pockets, given Trump's lavish love of California. The economic impact to Sonoma tourism in the past was serious enough that Healdsburg SHED shut down, as it said it couldn't compensate for the losses it suffered in the aftermath of the 2017 fire season. No one's talking in public about the impacts yet for 2019 and 2020.

Prediction: Sales of solar panels will soar as Sonoma residents and businesses prepare for the next fire season without relying on PGE. 

Governor Gavin Newsom is taking it all seriously, and we will see, in 2020, how that plays out.

 • The Pyrocene is Seen

For me, it was exciting to discover the work of Stephen J. Pyne, on what he calls the Pyrocene. Here's one of his latest articles and a very good read, while we all wring our hands over the fire apocalypse that is Australia.

Prediction: His books will become bestsellers.

• Good News: Slow Wine Book & Best of All: New Sites!

While I wrote less for the blog this year, I've been hard at work. During 2019, I was invited to write for Slow Wine Guide 2020 (coming in March 2020) about California producers and was promoted to Senior Editor. The book is published by Slow Food.

I visited 60 wineries in northern California and the guide expanded my experience of many wineries that do not have certified vines or do not farm organically. It's good to develop one's peripheral vision.

I also helped the guide expand its listings of wineries with certified vines, adding dozens of them. There are still some strange policies in place on how certification is included in the guide, and I hope Slow Wine's editorial staff in Italy will come up with better solutions than the current guidelines, which require a winery's output to be 100% organic or biodynamic for certification to be included. Most of the wineries with certified organic or biodynamic estate vines also produce wines from sustainable or conventional grapes, too, (they buy them) though they keep the lots separate.

The Slow Wine Guide finale was judging the final tastings for the guide's Great Wines, Slow Wines and Everyday Wines at a two day event held in San Francisco with all of the book's many authors. Bottom line: California is making a lot of great wine! It may sound like a "Duh" but it was gratifying to taste the results of decades of improvement.

It was an honor to be part of this team.

Secondly I have been working to bring forth new websites on organically grown wines as well as biodynamically grown wines and I've had the pleasure of learning about and interviewing many leading lights.

Round 1: Biodynamic Wines & Vines

This site launches next week.

You can subscribe now and be among the first to read the in depth winery descriptions, wine lists, and hot off the press articles. Launch articles focus on:

• Monty Waldin's top five biodynamic wines from Italy
• An interview with John Fagan, the leading glyphosate lab researcher in the U.S. who has tested more than 2,000 citizen scientists for glyphosate levels
• The three U.S. biodynamic wineries winning Top 100 awards from Wine & Spirits this year, a further sign that biodynamic wines, as a category, overdeliver
• Natural wines from certified biodynamic vines: four producers to know
• Natural Grocers: the first nationwide natural foods chain to go all in on organically and biodynamically grown wines
• Biodynamic Wine Decade in Review: the major accomplishments and milestones of biodynamically grown wines 2010-2019

Plus more to come on biodynamic cider makers, and much much more.

Subscribers get access to all this content PLUS two for one tastings at 12 wineries, discounts on wine and shipping. An amazing deal for just $25 a year...

Check it out at bd.wine!

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019's Most Popular Posts: Pesticides, Science, Environment, Memories, Good Wines

2019 was the tenth year of writing this blog. It's fun to look back and see what readers paid the most attention to.

Pesticides

As usual, pesticides remained a big topic, getting the most page views. This is news that is generally unreported (why?) yet very, very important.

• Sonoma trumpeted its good green-ness in sustainability hype, overlooking the fact that the county used 81,000 pounds of glyphosate alone in 2017.

• Speaking in a well attended talk at Ecofarm, Amigo Bob Cantisano, a long time organic champion, railed against pesticide food testing methods, saying they were a fraud

• But the topper was the video of a U.C. professor (on the verge of retirement) singing a pro-spraying song to a group of Sonoma growers, and encouraging them to sing along, "I Sprayed it on a Grapevine."

Science

• While the internet was rampant with misinformation about organic growers  allegedly choking France to death with copper sprays, science came to the fore (for those who could read) in Seralini's mass spectrometry analysis data (published in a peer reviewed journal) showing that copper was much more widely and intensively used by conventional growers. Copper is a common ingredient in conventional fungicides. More startlingly, Seralini showed that copper residues were also showing up much, much more in the conventional wines.

• In addition, while organic groups widely circulated the fact that organically grown wines had glyphosate in them (albeit in tinier amounts than conventional wines), consumers were not focusing on the real culprit on glyphosate consumption: glyphosate ridden grains, which I tried to bring attention to.

Environment

• Oregon's second generation winegrower and farmer Mimi Casteel (her family owns Bethel Heights) made headlines when she was featured (hurray) in the podcast I'll Drink to That and in an article by Eric Asimov. Before all that happened, I had the good fortune to have a long phone call with her (as I was and have almost finished a website organically grown wines of Oregon) and I had also featured her compelling video on why not to use Roundup in a blog post. While a lot of what Asimov writes is excellent, he still seems to underestimate the use of pesticides in vineyards.

• Bonterra had soil scientists track soil carbon drawdown in 13 of its vineyards and compared data from conventional, organic and biodynamic vines to see which sequestered the most carbon. Guess who won...

Farming

• My first trip to Ecofarm, the organic farming conference held annually in California, led to posting the fun video from Tablas Creek on keeping sheep year round in their vineyards. Many other wineries rent sheep in the spring to save on tractor passes and mowing, but only one other (Preston Farm & Winery in Healdsburg) has them year round. (Both rely on selling lamb meat to offset the expense of caring for them year round).

Expansion

• While organic did not come up as a topic in the state of the wine industry presentations given at Unified Grape Symposium in Sacramento, at the press conference afterwards, I was able to ask the assembled experts their views on its future in the state.

I'm not sure why a $1.4 billion wine sector gets so little attention.

The U.S. lags far behind European producers in organically grown wine production. Production here is about 2.3% compared to 8-10% in the three major wine producing countries in Europe (France, Italy and Spain). Most organically grown wines in the U.S. sell for premium prices (i.e. $10-20) a bottle so this would seem like a lucrative market since that is what all the mass market Big Wine companies want...to edge higher and higher in that price range.

• One of the top wineries in the U.S., Heitz Cellar, also changed ownership and acquired additional property. The new management has announced plans to convert the winery's 400+ acres from organic to biodynamic certification.

Memories

• The legendary and good humored Charlie Barra died this year and was celebrated and mourned with deep affection. He did so much more than most people knew in his early days battles to get fairer compensation for growers who were far more at the mercy of the big wineries then than now. His list of accomplishments continued over the decades. His place in history is assured.

Good Wines

• Finally, four stories celebrated excellent wines from organic vines and these got a lot of page views, too. See the stories on the Ecofarm tasting, Mendocino Wine Competition's organic winners, the Deep Roots tasting and the organic growers of Champagne who showed a lot of joie de vivre in San Francisco.

THE TOP TEN

4,004 page views
1. Mendocino Producer Charlie Barra Dies, Age 92, After 73 Harvests; Organic Since 1945, Fought for Growers, Created One of the First AVAs

1,304 page views
2. Your Tax Dollars At Work: UC Davis Professor Dr. Carl Winters of UCCE Shares Song "I Sprayed It On a Grapevine" with Sonoma Growers at DPR Accredited Educational Event--"No Problems with Glyphosate"

1,211 page views
3. Conventional Wine Has 10X the Glyphosate Level of Organically Grown Wine, But Conventional Grains Have 500% More Than Conventional Wine

1,133 page views
4. Science! New Soil Study Shows Carbon Sequestration 9-13% Higher for Biodynamic and Organic Viticulture Than Conventional

1,040 page views
524 
5. Roundup in Wine? Please, No, Says Mimi Casteel
516
5. Mimi Casteel in New York Times and a Note for Eric Asimov on Actual Pesticide Use

798 page views
6. Organic Vineyard Consultant and Farm Advisor Amigo Bob Says Pesticide Residue Testing "Is a Fraud," Urges Activism

775 page views
7. At the Press Conference: Unified's State of the Industry Panel Sees "Continued Growth" of the $1.4 Billion Organic Sector

634 page views
8. Science! New Seralini Study on Copper: Conventional Wines Contain 10 Times More Copper than Organically Grown Wines—And You Can Taste the Difference

562 page views
9. Sonoma's Certified Sustainable Glyphosate: Average of 81,319 Pounds Each Year for Four Years in a Row

520 page views
10. Heitz, One of Napa's Biggest Organic Producers, Acquires 51 Acres of Vines; Will Convert New Holdings to OrganicAnd Biodynamic

----

AND A FEW MORE

511
EcoFarm Celebrates Organically Grown Wines in Conference Tasting

471
Deep Roots Coalition's SF Tasting: The Organically Grown Wines

431
Sheep Evangelists Aren't Sheepish: See the Latest Video from Tablas Creek

383
Organic Champagne?! Mais Oui! French Group Proudly Flaunts Their Eco-Cred, Dispelling the "Organic Wine Stigma"

362
Mendocino Wine Competition: Double Gold + Organic Winners

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Wine Geeks: How to Relax Over the Long Holiday Weekend—Watch Fungi and Wonder About Their Influence on Wine

The weather's cold. It's time for a fire and a feast. And the warmth of the boobtube?

Many of us will have a little leisure time this coming week (after Thursday) and look for some kickback time - possibly spent on a screen.

I can recommend a few fun options.

BIG SCREEN

The movie Fantastic Fungi is now in (obscure, art) movie theaters in the Bay Area and maybe where you live. I saw it this weekend at the delightfully quirky New Parkway Theater in Oakland where it's playing until Nov. 28. It's also going to the Roxie in SF. 

“Louie Schwartzberg’s lightly informative, delightfully kooky documentary, “Fantastic Fungi,” offers nothing less than a model for planetary survival.” NY Times Review

“Schwartzberg’s film quickly proves to be one of the year’s most mind-blowing, soul-cleansing and yes, immensely entertaining triumphs.” - Roger Ebert

Yes, you can take the whole family, including visiting relatives. The time lapse action will entertain them all. And you.



After the film, which is mind blowing and FUN, you may find your appetite has simply been whet. Not satisfied? Move on to...

YOUR OWN SCREEN

Genius researcher and explainer Paul Stamets has a lot of great YouTube talks (including TED talks) but to my mind, the best one by far is the one he gave at EcoFarm in 2017, just two short years ago. You will see just how much radically inspiring, super cool scientific discoveries he's been making about mushrooms.

One example is saving the bees with fungi. Yes, saving the bees.

Yes, there's fun stuff about magic mushrooms, but the magic of mushrooms goes so much further than even what Timothy Leary and the Terence and Dennis McKenna experienced.

Find out what I'm talking about in Stamets' talk. One example: antiviral properties in mushrooms that inspired the Dept. of Homeland Security in a post 9-11 world to give grant money to study Stamets' mushroom collection where it was discovered that out of 200,000 antivirals, one mushroom compound proved the most effective way of combatting potential bioterrorism. Or the largest network of fungi—in Oregon—that covers four square miles.

Stamets' latest research probes ways to save the bees, and succeeds in using mushroom extracts to kill off the varroa mites infecting and killing bee colonies. There's hope!



After watching these videos, the next morning it became clear to me what is happening in biodynamics is that the cow poop aged in cowhorns decomposes with the help of fungi. The powdery substance that emerges after six months is teeming with fungi.

Who knows: it may turn out that the sole reason that the tea known as 500 (a solution of the thoroughly decomposed poop) works is that it is an effective way of spreading an awesome antiviral (fungi) on the vines.

Who needs chemical fungicides when nature's are at work?

It also means we should be re-examining the impacts of using chemical fungicides: are they killing off the useful fungi deep in the soil that's pulling those minerals out of the rock layer and into the vines? Now I want to know more about arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, which a friend told me about today, and its role in grapevine soil.

Do we know which precise fungi are in 500? It would be likely that it varies from farm to farm, and yet...do we know? Where's the research?

Was the specificity of the instructions for making 500 an attempt to control the process so certain fungi would appear?

Stamets goes on to talk about how the red bellied polypore mushroom degrade pesticides, including DDT.

Today, I walked out into my yard where there are four giant eucalyptus trees and for the first time, one of them had a mushroom at the base of it. (Rain had not started yet at that point).     

Are mushrooms ready to tell their story?






Saturday, November 2, 2019

Organic Champagne?! Mais Oui! French Group Proudly Flaunts Their Eco-Cred, Dispelling the "Organic Wine Stigma"

Morgane Fleury of Champagne Fleury, the oldest biodynamic grower in Champagne,
at the San Francisco tasting organized by the Association des Champagnes Biologiques.
She also runs a wine shop in Paris, Ma Cave Fleury, carrying her family's wines.
France's vintners have embraced organic wine growing and certification in far more vast numbers than U.S. producers, but there's big divide between those who make fine wines and those who make lower priced, table wines in how the groups talk about organics.

Overall, the table wine producers from Languedoc-Roussillon and other regions are happy to put the Ecocert (organic certifier in France) logo on their bottles and exhibit at Millesieme Bio, but fine wine producers with certified organic vines in Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhone and elsewhere haven't been so enthusiastic about waving their organic flags. (The situation is the same here in the U.S. Substitute Mendocino for Languedoc-Roussillon for the table wines and Napa/Sonoma for the fine wines).

Now comes a vanguard--what a breath of fresh air--an organized, proud and effervescent gang of organic Champagne producers.

Vincent Couche was the first Champagne grower and one of the first vintners in Champagne to become biodynamic
Grower champagne, or terroir champagne (probably a more accurate term) flourishes in the margins of the Champagne region but not all producers are working organically and fewer still certify or bottle label their organic certification. (The same is true of producers in the U.S. In Napa, out of 50 wineries with certified organic vines making at least one wine solely from certified grapes, only 10 label their organic certification on the back label).

No other organic fine wine producers have risen to the organic communications challenge, proudly declaring the benefits of organic and exhibiting as a group.

The Champenois do so amidst a region that uses the most pesticides on wine grapes in all of France. (The black regions in the map below show the highest use of pesticides. The black region in the upper right is Champagne.)


In their first American tour, the group of 15 producers from the Association des Champagnes Biologiques took over San Francisco's Cerf Club Tuesday for an intimate, informal trade tasting. Only two percent of the region's producers have certified organic vines (up from 0.5% in 2009), but they're ready to make noise about it. (There are a total of 63 producers in the region with certified organic vines. Roughly 1,400+ acres [out of a total of 83,000+] in Champagne are certified organic. Fewer still are certified biodynamic).

Though I only found out about the tasting at the last minute from a friend on Facebook who was in attendance, it was enough to make me drop everything and drive over the bridge for the last precious hour of the tasting.

No more having to go booth by booth and having to ask, "Are you organic?" as is standard protocol at most tasting events. (Though I often ask tasting organizers in advance which producers I might target who are organic, it is usually impossible to get a list of them.) No more smirks and stares, like why would being organic be important? And why would certification matter?

Here, to my profound amazement, I not only met many of the 15 organic producers but also more than a few Demeter certified biodynamic producers. Some of these producers have been organic since 1971 and biodynamic since 1989.

The natural wine magazine Glou Glou features an interview in its Champagne issue with Jean-Pierre Fleury, the first to go down the biodynamic path.

From Glou Glou, Champagne issue, No. 1 (Sorry I wasn't able to find a link
online to purchase the issue, or I would have posted it here).
The association was selling copies of Glou Glou (now transformed into Super Glou, a New York based importer) which covered the region's organic producers. They wrote about AND defended certification, a rare phenomenon. In the U.S., most natural wine people do not like to talk about certification. It's almost a dirty word: like, "what, you don't believe us?! Trust us." (I wouldn't; ask to see the spray reports. And be sure to do it on a wine by wine basis with U.S. natural wine producers since most are buying grapes from uncertified sources.)

ORGANIC PRIDE

Bottle Labeling

Each producer had the little green leaf, the Ecocert label, on the back of the bottle.

Why Organic Matters

Glou Glou's coverage talked about growers' practices and why they are so important. It had a frank explanation about copper. (Headline: "Copper is a problem invented by industrial agriculture to undermine organic farming.") It had a timeline of the organic movement in Champagne. It had explanations about soil, and terroir, and root depth. Without the bullshit.



Why Excuses for Not Being Certified Are Just Excuses

There was a section called "The Gaslighting of Organics," detailing the typical excuses given by other wineries for not being organic.

They were all too familiar: "It's too expensive." (In the U.S. it ranges from $11-40 an acre, a little known fact. If you can't afford that, should you really be in the wine business?) Their answer: Ecocert certification fees are 800-1,500 euros a year. Which translates into costs of one to two cents per bottle. 

How much time does certification take? Their answer: 3 hours a year maybe? But it's worth it because, "it gives our customers greater transparency."

For those who don't certify, they had these words: "In Champagne, there are lots of people who say they're organic, but not certified. Why? Because they're not organic," says Vincent Laval in Glou Glou.

Pascal Doquet echoes that observation, "Winemakers who say they farm organically but aren't certified are almost always liars, That is to say, they use chemicals in difficult years and they're organic 80-90 percent of the time." (I would say this applies to more than a few producers in the U.S., too). He continues, "I don't know a single winemaker in Champagne who actually farms organically in Champagne who is not certified. Anyone who is not certified continues to justify the existence of the chemical industry. For me, they're against organic farming."

And most damningly, in keeping with my own horror show responses to wine shops (including natural wine shops), Doquet describes his visit to New York wine sellers with Laval: "Everything there was labeled 'organic' or 'organic practicing' or 'organic non-certified.' Yet it was nothing but chemical farming."

Reports on farming practices provided by wine sales reps should be taken at face value.

"Anyone who's not certified can spray pesticides whenever they damn well please."

THE WINES SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES

Although I only made it through about 5 to 6 producers' wares, the wines were uniformly fantastic and showed the nuances of terroir and subsoils. It's a pleasure to taste the terroir.

Retail prices were in line with other Champagne producers, with entry level bottles in the $35-50 tier and special bottles around $75 and up. Many also made a zero dosage or no sulfite Champagne as well.
Georges Laval, certified organic since 1974

Georges Laval's boxes show where the wine is from, a lovely touch for those
marketing wines of terroir

Lucie Cheurlin of Champagne L & S Cheurlin
Dominique LeLarge-Pugeot and her husband 
Dominique are the seventh generation at the family 
estate; they are also Demeter certified biodynamic.
Cheurlin
LEARN MORE

To learn more about the producers, visit the association's excellent website or visit the 15 producers this weekend at Raw Wine in LA, where I imagine they will be quite a hit. 

You can also read Terroir Champagne, by the very capable Caroline Henry (featured in a previous blog post here) who lives in Champagne and writes regularly about the organic and biodynamic producers in the region. Her book is the indispensable guide.