Friday, June 22, 2018

Sonoma's Hawley Winery Gets a New Peregrine Falcon - Max

You've heard about predatory birds being used in vineyards before. Owl boxes are commonly placed in vineyards to control gophers and other rodents. Hawks are also effective. Bluebirds have been used to go after the blue-green sharpshooter, which brings the dreaded Pierce's disease.

But to my knowledge, no one - except one guy in Dry Creek Valley - has their own Peregrine falcon.

John Hawley, a legendary California wine pioneer who put Sonoma on the map at Clos du Bois in the 1970's and brought Kendall Jackson's from the table wine era to the fine wine era, has been a falconer since his childhood years, growing up in Mill Valley. 

He got into winemaking early on and spent his first year as a winemaker at Preston in Dry Creek, before his career took off into the stratosphere at Clos du Bois and KJ, where he was the head of winemaking, making millions of cases a year and upgrading the winery to oak barrels. (Imagine that era!)
John in his early winemaking days
Today his sons run the family winery (amping up its social media and video, too), leaving him freer to his falconry on his (organic) Dry Creek Valley estate.

John's new, two month old Peregrine "baby" is named Max. Hear John's talk about his new falcon and how Max will be trained. 


And while you may enjoy  the falconry aspect of Hawley's story, don't forget about the wine!

I was initially surprised to think of a great estate Cabernet coming from Dry Creek Valley, which we more often associate with that California classic Zinfandel.

Yet the hills in nearby Alexander Valley is known as Cab country. The Hawley's site is located on the west side of the valley, near Bradford Mountain, a highly coveted site.


The 10 acres of vines are mostly planted to Bordeaux varietals - Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc - along with smaller amounts of Zin, Petite Sirah and a tiny bit of Viognier. The vineyard was certified organic in 2006. About half of their 3,000 case production comes from their organic estate grapes. They are one of the few in Sonoma to label their wines "Made with Organic Grapes" on the bottle.

Hawley is best known for classic Bordeaux blends. My personal favorite (along with many others) is their 2010-2012 Meritage, which is still sold in a vertical three pack ($180). I bought some of the last bottles of their earlier coveted Merlots and a 2011 Meritage when I visited a few years ago (bottles I'm longingly eyeing, but adamantly aging).


Most people visit Hawley's tasting room in downtown Healdsburg (near SHED), but the better choice by far is to take the vineyard tour. 

For $25, you will have an unforgettable experience up on the hillside estate site. Upgrade to their lunch package for a memorable picnic and tour ($46).

If you're lucky, your vineyard tour could include the sight of a young Peregrine falcon. But at the very least, you're likely to see hawks soaring over the mountain and enjoy the valley views from the barn/winery.

So if you're looking for a great outing this summer, or hosting visiting summer guests, get away from the cars and the crowds, and go to a hotspot for great, under the radar Cabs from a master craftsman and his sons. This is the real Sonoma.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A New Type of Wine Score - Glyphosate Levels - Tells You What's in the Bottle - California's Wine Institute Says "No Problem"?

The nonprofit activist group Moms Across America recently tested 20 bottles of popular wines for glyphosate, using the state of the art testing lab HRI Laboratories in Iowa.

The highest and lowest results?

49.24 ppb for Gallo Pink Moscato

0.38 ppb for Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc

Take your pick.


Question: why did the Wine Institute buy the search terms for a search of "Moms Across America glyphosate" and publish this page?


Why is the industry association representing California's biggest cash crop (by revenue) misrepresenting science? This is not good PR for the industry.

• Glyphosate is legally classified as a carcinogen in the state of California.

• The World Health Organization's IARC - a blue ribbon panel of non partisan scientists (who are not regulators) - found glyphosate to be a probable carcinogen in 2015. And these scientists included some of the most prominent, former senior U.S. health officials.

• Almost all of the entities who have approved glyphosate (US EPA, EFSA, etc.) are regulators, many of whom have been shown to have been lobbied by Monsanto. (Regulators are very different from scientific panels, as any scientist will tell you.)

• More than 6,000 individual plaintiffs (aided by top product liability law firms) are suing Monsanto alleging that Roundup caused them to get non Hodgkin lymphoma.

• Increasingly medical studies are showing the harm of glyphosate at very low levels (1 ppb); here's one recent example.


When it was found - through testing - that Ben and Jerry's ice cream had glyphosate, Ben and Jerry's took immediate steps to try to change the way it sourced ingredients.

How long will it take the Wine Institute to see there is a problem and take action based on the latest peer reviewed science?


The problem in the wine industry is that they are not taking this issue seriously enough. A growing number of consumers do.

Moms Across America, just one of the groups bringing this to the attention of American consumers, has more than 1.5 million Facebook page views each month. And there are many groups with a lot of social media power broadcasting similar messages.

Companies - including vintners - that want to position themselves for growth need to start paying more attention and planning to launch glyphosate free products.

Siding with Monsanto and its dangerous herbicide is not a forward thinking path.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Favorite Biodynamic Animal Photos

Who can resist these? Enjoy these little pick me uppers on your (relaxing?) Memorial Day:

From Analemma Wines in Mosier, Oregon
From Tablas Creek's twitter feed

Friday, May 18, 2018

Rare Opportunity to Visit Bonterra: America's Biggest Organic Brand Opens Its McNab Ranch to Tours for Rosé All May Event Saturday May 19

Joseph Brinkley, vineyard director, and Rachel Newman,
brand manager, pose with a bottle of the newly released
2017 Bonterra Rosé

Sebastian Donoso, winemaker
for organic and Biodynamic 
wines at Bonterra
Need to get out and smell the rosé? Bonterra is ready and waiting with tours of its vineyard and winery grounds in Ukiah.

The event is from noon to 4 pm and features Bonterra's new rosé, tours of the Biodynamic (and organic) vineyard and garden, oysters and appetizers, and live music. Gourmet pizza and live music are part of the festivities. You'll also be able to meet the winemakers.

I had a chance to sample it earlier this spring on a vineyard tour with vineyard manager Joseph Brinkley and marketing manager Rachel Newman (pictured above) at the McNab Ranch.

You can reserve a ticket for $60 online or opt for shuttle bus service for the event for $70. For details, click here.
Biodynamic flow form for dynamizing water

The new Biodynamic garden

Monday, May 14, 2018

Can Napa Kick Its Deforestation Habit? Measure C Referendum Will Decide

Napa's #1 attraction to most tourists isn't its wines, according to wine tourism research. It's its scenic beauty - its valleys and its steep hillsides, studded with forests of oak trees. But those oak trees - and the water that residents use that's dependent on the oak forests - are under siege.

Now that the valley sites are pretty much maxed out on vineyard plantings, vintners have no place to go in Napa but to head for the hills, which they have been doing increasingly over the last two decades.

Hillside developments were the main subject of James Conaway's 2003 book, The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land and the Battle for Napa Valley, the second in his Napa trilogy focused on conservation battles.

It seemed shocking back then, 15 years ago, to read about dynamiting rocky sites and cutting trees for vineyards, but these practices have continued as a way of life in Napa.

Last year the county approved a development by Texas developer and Napa vintner Craig Hall that will allow him to cut down 17,000 oak trees. And, according to Conaway, in his third book Napa at Last Light (published in 2018), the wine industry pressured the head of the county board of supervisors to put a stop to a similar referendum that was aimed for the 2017 ballot.

Residents were undeterred. They've successfully got the measure on the ballot this year, and are saying: enough is enough.

Concerned citizens have put together Measure C to protect oaks and woodlands and have drummed up a lot of support among the 140,000 county residents. Among their supporters are many current and former public officials in the county.

Counties are often ill equipped to resist the pressures of development, and residents say they are sending a message to wineries: there should be limits on cutting our woodlands and there should be respect for the county's watersheds.

Local organizers have used the referendum tool in previous campaigns and won.

Under Measure C, almost 800 more acres of oak trees can be cut, but then limits kick in.

The vintners opposing the measure have raised more than $500,000 on campaign communications.

Vintner Randy Dunn says wineries - and the rich people who want new ones - need to come to grips with the fact that "there is no more beachfront."

One battle for the soul is taking place in the Napa Farm Bureau, once the headquarters for the conservation minded growers and supporters.

This was the hangout of Volker Eisele, formerly known as the lion of land preservation in Napa (he died two years ago, after passing important land use measures via referendums in Napa) and of his supporters. Now the Farm Bureau is itself the seat of a major rift, and long term president Norma Tofanelli (a fourth generation Napa farmer and Farm Bureau president from 2013-2016) has left the organization as has Cio Perez, who is now running against incumbent Diane Dillon in the mid valley district for a seat on the county board of supervisors. Dillon is anti Measure C; Perez is for it.

Look at the Measure C web site, and you'll see just a few vintners willing to put their name on the supporters list. But if you're serious about protecting the environment, you might want to support these wineries.

The organic folks on the list include:

• Beth Novak-Milliken, Spottswoode Estate
• Volker Eisele Family Estate

Others are:

• Warren Winiarski, Arcadia Vineyards
• Andy Beckstoffer, Beckstoffer Vineyards
• Christian Moueix, Dominus Estate
• Randy Dunn, Dunn Vineyards
• Michael Honig, Honig Vineyards and Winery

The referendum vote takes place June 5.

For more coverage, see KQED's story here.

If you've been in the Bay Area long enough to remember the Oyster Wars, in which residents of West Marin took sides in a ferocious debate over whether or not commercial oyster activities should continue on National Park Service land at Point Reyes, you'll know how bitterly it divided the communities. Friendships were lost, relationships torn apart. The same thing is happening now in Napa.

Some locals say that vintners are cutting oaks now before the referendum takes place, in order to avoid having to deal with limits if the measure does pass. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

May 12: What's On Those Vines? The Napa Edition

I'll be talking about vineyards and pesticides May 12 in Napa. (The local environmentalists invited me). Also featured is Medha Chandra, of Pesticide Action Network.

The two of us did a similar presentation in March in Sebastopol, and this new talk will focus more specifically on Napa and the most commonly used pesticides in California's richest wine county.

Napa was the first county I wrote about when I launched the apps I used to have. Organically Napa was the first of the seven apps I wrote. I will also discuss producers who farm without harmful chemicals and which non-toxic wineries to consider checking out for their beautiful wines.

Details here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Biodynamic Wine Tasting: Get Your Tickets Now!

It's a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The International Biodynamic Wine Conference (May 6-7) features a Grand Tasting and Party that are open to all. For one night - and one night only -  you can sample wines from 47 Biodynamic wineries around the world.

This is the largest gathering of Biodynamic producers and wines that's ever taken place in the U.S. and it's open to the public.

The Demeter Rocks! Party and Grand Tasting features 130+ wines from Argentina, Chilé, France, Italy and the U.S. See the list of producers here and get your tickets ($75) here.

Monday, April 16, 2018

French Wine Study Finds Wine Lovers Can Taste Pesticides in Wine

Can you taste pesticides in wine? That's the topic French scientist and researcher Seralini set out to explore in a country wide study of wines from popular French wine regions (and one Italian wine region).

The research had expert wine drinkers compare the taste of organic versus non-organic wines grown in adjacent vineyards. Sixteen pairs of wines were sampled.

The wines were individually tested for the presence of 250 different pesticides.
The results showed that the organic wines had only traces of pesticides while the pesticided wines, in comparison, had 4,686 ppb of chemicals.

The average (mean) was 293 ppb, which included the most widely used ones: 1. glyphosate based herbicides and 2. synthetic fungicides.

Tasters preferred the taste of non-pesticided wines 77% of the time, compared to wines raised with pesticides.

In addition, tasters were asked to evaluate the taste of individual pesticides diluted in water at the level of concentration that the substances were found in wine, so that the taste of the chemicals could be analyzed individually. Tasters reported the following tastesassociated with the different chemicals listed below:

In California, the most commonly used pesticides from this list are glyphosate (and Roundup) and boscalid, a bird and bee toxin commonly used as a fungicide. (Imidacloprid, the neonicotinoid that is commonly used on vineyards in California - and is a bird and bee toxin - does not show up on the study list as it is prohibited in the EU.)

Use these links to read a summary news article and the whole study.

If California were to repeat such a study, it might reflect the use of these top two pesticides for wines from the following regions, where glyphosate and boscalid are commonly used on wine grapes.