Thursday, December 7, 2017

Holiday Gift Giving: Best Books of the Year

Holidays are here and it's time to shop for gifts or just stock up on your supply of books for winter reading. Here are my recommendations for the best of 2017.

1. Best Wine Book of the Year: The City of Vines: A History of Wine in Los Angeles



This is the best untold story in wine. We're lucky to have a wine historian as esteemed as Thomas Pinney to finally tell the tale of California's original wine country and its subsequent prosperity, glory days, and demise.

One of my favorite wineries in the world is Galleano, a surviving Los Angeles area winery run by a family that has hung onto 100 year old organically grown (and certified) vines (and redwood tanks) to this day, making some of the best sherry you'll ever taste. Treat yourself to a glass of Galleano's Mary Margaret sherry while you read this excellent volume.

2. Best Food and Wine Book of the Year: The Gourmands' Way



Another extremely well written book by a polished writer covers the influencers who introduced the U.S. to French food and wine. It's an indirect exploration of the roots of our mass foodie-ism movement where Americans learn to care about organic farm to table foods (and hopefully organic grape to glass). Wine merchant and educator extraordinaire Alexis Lichine is one of those profiled. Enjoy with a glass of your favorite (organically grown) Bordeaux.

3. Best Wine Murder Mystery Book of the Year: Requiem in Yquem



Looking for some light reading? The fun and frivolous Winemaker Detective series from Le French Book is always good for a few hours of entertainment. This is the 13th in the series about the wine consultant Benjamin Cooker who gets help from his wise wife and his young sidekick. Written by two Frenchmen - Noel Balen and Jean-Pierre Alaux. If you're new to the series, this volume might entice you to explore all the others in the series. Drink with Chateau d/Yquem, of course.

An honorable mention also goes to Alice Waters for her touching memoir about the her discovery of French wine and food and the origins of her Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse. I liked the book but I really enjoyed the audio book, read by the author herself.

4. Best Wine Paperbook of the Year: Cork Dork



Looking for a popular nonfiction book about the world of wines and somms?  Bianca Bosker's smash hit Cork Dork is a winner, no matter how much or how little you know about wine. The paperback version came out in 2017. Check out the New York Times review. Drink with whatever overpriced, much hyped, hipster, small lot (the more inobtainium, the better) wine you prefer.

Holiday Picture of the Day: Ehlers Estate in St. Helena

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Top 10 Organic Vineyards in Napa: By Size

This week WineBusiness.com is publishing the top 100 vineyards in Napa, listing the top 10 (free online) and the top 100 (in its print edition). In response, I thought I'd publish a list of the top 10 organic vineyards in Napa (scroll down) to bring attention to this under recognized category of good neighbors.

The WineBusiness.com list, shows the influence of the top 100 vineyard owners who collectively own or lease 28,000 acres of Napa's 43,000 acres of wine grape vineyards. That's 65 percent of the county's vines.

Of the top 10, Big Wine - Treasury, Silverado, Constellation and E&J Gallo - together owns or leases 19 percent of the valley's vines.

In comparison, the organic vines are not owned by major corporations. In each case, the owners reside on or near the vineyard property.

Many of the organically grown wines made from these vines represent the highest rated in Napa. Heitz is world famous for its Martha's Vineyard Cabernet (ccertified organic by its owners). Wine critic Robert Parker awarded one of Hall's single vineyard, organically grown wines with a 100 point rating. Similarly, Inglenook, Frog's Leap, and others have won top awards internationally.

Several of the families - Pelissa, Bartolucci, Heitz, Grgich - trace the winemaking activities in their families back several generations. Some hit the land rush at the right time - Sinskey is one - and translated their values into organic farming. Others who achieved great success in business - Ted Hall, Eric Yuan, the Halls - also saw the wisdom of organic practices.

TOP TEN LARGEST VINEYARDS IN NAPA (Conventional or Organic)

Corporate (Australian)
1. Treasury Wine Estates - 410 owned / 3,416 acres
Treasury Wine Estate (based in Australia) sources from 3,416 acres (owns only 12% of what it sources from). That means it owns 410 acres. Treasury is one of the largest wine companies in the world, with $2 billion in revenues worldwide. In Napa it owns Acacia, Beaulieu, Beringer, Etude, Hewitt, Provenance, and Stags' Leap Estate (not to be confused with the more well known Stag's Leap Winery on Highway 29 [which is owned by Antinori and Chateau Ste. Michelle]).

Corporate
2. TIAA/Silverado - 2,500 acres
TIAA  (a Fortune 100 financial company based in Manhattan) owns Silverado Investment Management Co, which is better known name locally. TIAA is a pension investment fund.

Local Family
3. Bayview/Laird Family - 1,811 acres
Bayview/Laird Family is the largest enterprise owned by a Napa family. Unfortunately they are also the most likely to use the most dangerous, old school pesticides, according to my analysis of Pesticide Use Report, using mancozeb, for instance, long after everyone else in the county stopped using it. (Remarkably, a few old school Italian families in Sonoma continue to use it, as well, making Sonoma a strange anomaly compared to the rest of the state.)

Corporate
4. Constellation Brands - 465 owned / 1,330 acres
The giant Fortune 500 company is most famous for its takeover of Mondavi estate and brand in 2004, which marked a sad day in Napa's dynastic history.

Corporate
5. E&J Gallo - 1,123 acres
Despite getting a late start in acquiring Napa acreage, E&J Gallo is now the fifth largest owner in Napa, doubling its holdings this year with the acquisition of Stagecoach Vineyards in Pritchard Hill and Atlas Peak (the latter suffered heavy losses in the fires this year) in a deal that staggered locals. Gallo paid $180,000 for the 1,300 acre Stagecoach parcel, of which 600 acres are planted. The price per acre is $300,000.

Gina Gallo also owns the former Robert Mondavi home in Napa.

Local Family 
6. Beckstoffer Vineyards - 1,015 acres
Andy Beckstoffer's family fortunes began to rise when he was sent to work for Heublein on the destruction of Inglenook's prized vineyards, which Heublein acquired. In 1970 when Heublein decided to abandon the wine business in Napa, Beckstoffer began buying vineyards. Today his family owns land in Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties.

Local Family
7. Jackson Family Wines - 500 acre / 690 acres
This is the only Sonoma based company to make the top 10 Napa list. It owns Cardinale and Freemark Abbey.

Italian Family
8. Antinori California - 561 acres
Foresighted enough to see the potential of Atlas Peak long before others did, Antinori has a spectacular parcel here at the top of Soda Canyon Road. Miraculously, its mountain estate winery survived this year's fires. The company is a private firm headed by the Antinori family.

Corporate (French) 
9. St. Supery (Chanel) - 535 acres
The Skalli family started the winery, selling it to Chanel in 2015. Chanel itself owns 1587 acres (so one wonders why it didn't rank #4 on this list).

Local Family/Organic
10. Yount Mill Vineyards/Napa Wine Company - 500 acres (according to my records it's 557 acres)
Owned and run by a Napa family whose presence dates back more than 100 years, this iconic organic growers sells 88% of its grapes to Napa wineries. Prized for their quality, these sold off grapes are blended away in wines that are primarily made from conventionally grown grapes. However, the family vinifies 12% of their grapes - from historic blocks - into three family owned labels - Elizabeth Rose, Oakville Winery, and Ghost Block.

TOP TEN LARGEST ORGANIC VINEYARDS

Say the words "organic" and "Napa" and people may give you a funny look. Huh? Those two things go together? But the truth is that 7-8 percent of Napa's vines are certified organic, which shows the commitment to the highest level of eco-friendly practices of the families - yes, all of these wineries are family run - to making great wine from vines that are nourished and tended without the use of highly toxic chemicals.

(Although experts estimate that as many an equal number of Napa growers are organic in their practices, these other growers chose not to be certified.) In all likelihood, Napa has about the same acres of organic vineyards as it's more well known organic neighbor Mendocino County.

NOTE
Just because a winery is listed below, do not assume that all of their wines are organically grown. Many make and sell wine from other vineyards as well as their own. Starred wineries - * - are 100 percent organic estate.

Local Family
1. Yount Mill Vineyards/Napa Wine Company - 557 acres*
The Pelissa family's holdings were purchased during Prohibition when land was cheap. Their extensive acreage in Yountville and Oakville is sometimes locally referred to as the "Pelissa Hills." Their commitment to organic farming is based on family values and elders' concerns about the purity of the wells on the family property where many of the Pelissa descendants still live.

The most famous (and visible) of their vineyards is Ghost Block, located just north of Yountville on the east side of Highway 29, across the street from Mustards Grill. The family also owns Napa Wine Cellars, one of the county's most historic wineries (it dates back to 1877), which is now the family's custom crush facility.

At the peak of the Napa cult wine scene, three of the custom crush wines produced here were "cult wines." Organic family-owned vintners Volker Eisele Family Estate*, Pavi and Voss* (the last also sources its organic grapes from Yount Mill owned vineyards) continue to make their wines here.

Local Family
2. Grgich Hills Estate - 336 acres*
The Grgich and Hills families came together in the late 1970s to found their very successful winery on Highway 29. Today they own five separate parcels spread out from Carneros in the south (the best place to grow their Chardonnay) to Rutherford and American Canyon and up to Calistoga where they tend an historic Zinfandel vineyard.

Croatian born Mike Grgich may be the most famous name in American wine history, immortalized in a Smithsonian exhibit as the immigrant winemaker extraordinaire. Today his Croatian born nephew Ivo Jeramaz runs the winery with the help of Grgich's daughter Violet Grgich.

Local Family
3. Heitz Wine Cellars - 275 acres (out of 375 acres total)
The Heitz family has one of the deepest family histories in Napa, dating back to 1963 when there were only 12 wineries in Napa. Stag's Leap Winery founder Warren Winarski called founder Joe Heitz Napa's first artisanal winemaker. Today Heitz's descendants run the winery, making excellent Cabernet (the Trailside is all from certified vines, although they don't market it as such) as well as the world famous Martha's Vineyard Cab (and an excellent estate grown Sauvignon Blanc, rose and Grignolino).

NOTE
Both the Grgich and Heitz families got a big boosts from the 1976 Paris tasting in which both made wines that placed highly in the competition pitting California wines against France's finest.

Local Family
4. Inglenook - 230 acres*
The grand dame of historic wineries in Napa, Inglenook is the jewel in the crown. Famous today for being owned by the Coppola family - who bought the place in 1972 - insiders know its real fame is due to its historic origins as the first fine wine winery established in Napa by Gustav Niebaum in 1879. Niebaum wanted to move to Europe to have a world class winery, but his wife preferred to remain in the Bay Area, so voila - Inglenook was born. The Coppolas reunited the winery, its original name and vineyards over their 40+ years of ownership. All of its wines come solely from the estate, which was certified organic in 1994.

"Local" Family/Corporation
5. Hall - 211 acres
Compared to the other wineries on this list, Hall is a relative newcomer in Napa, using the fortunes of its owners' successful real estate business in Texas to buy into two prime small vineyard sites in Rutherford and St. Helena. Here they established two modern wineries bedecked with cutting edge artworks to attract visitors. Hall also bought extensive acreage in the more distant (and "affordable") areas of Napa - Pope Valley and Atlas Peak. (All of these grapes are blended with non-organic grapes purchased from other growers.)

NOTE
Hall has recently been the target of anti-development residents who oppose Walt Ranch, a vast new development on Napa's east side, where the Halls have received approval to cut down 17,000 trees on a 2,300 acre property to create a 209 acre vineyard and subdivide the land into future ranchettes. The Sierra Club and other groups are contesting the county's approval.

Local Family
6. Robert Sinskey Vineyards - 176 acres*
Dentist and Pinot Noir wine lover Robert M. Sinskey had the good sense to buy acres of vines in the Carneros in the 1970's. Today his son Robert Sinskey farms these lands organically - with the help of a large herd of sheep. The winery is best known for Pinot Noir and for growing what few in Napa grow - Alsatian varietals.

Local Family
7. Frog's Leap - 130 acres* / 200 acres
Ask around in Napa about organics, and the winery you're most likely to hear mentioned first is Frog's Leap, which has been the poster child for organics for decades with its organic vines, fruit orchard, chickens and vegetable garden. It was certified in 1989. It's the second largest producer of organically grown wines in Napa (after Grgich Hills, which ranks first), with a widely distributed Sauvignon Blanc and award-winning Cabernet. The winery owns 130 acres  of vines and sources from additional growers under long term contracts. It recently purchased an historic property - the Rossi Ranch - which has some of Napa's oldest heritage vines and makes small lots of old vine wine from these and other old vines it farms.

Local Family
8. Madonna Estate - 140 acres*
The Bartolucci family can lay claim to being among the oldest wine families left in Napa (along with the Pelissa's), establishing their first vineyards here in 1922 in Oakville. During the boom in Napa land prices in the late 1960's, the family sold their Oakville properties in 1970 and moved south to Carneros, buying 160 acres near San Pablo Bay. Today they dry farm their 140 acres of organic vines in Carneros, growing primarily Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Their family history is on display in the tasting room on the well trafficked leg of Highway 12 between Napa and Sonoma.

Private Owner (Chinese)
9. Acumen - 116 acres
The successful Chinese businessman Eric Yuan embarked on a Napa winery project with the help of Stephen Rea, hiring an A list of viticulturists - Steve Matthiason and Garrett Buckland - to convert two large parcels of Stagecoach Vineyards on Atlas Peak to organic certification, completed in 2017. The group named the winery Acumen and opened an elegant, stylish downtown Napa tasting room and art gallery (featuring painted portraits of vineyard workers) this summer.

NOTE: A long fight by local residents against Acumen's plans to develop a winery and tasting room on the site, at the top of Soda Canyon Road, was defeated several months before the Sept. 2017 fires swept through Atlas Peak.

Local Family 
10.  Long Meadow Ranch - 78 acres 
Is there a family more dedicated to organic agriculture overall in Napa than the Ted Hall family? Raised by a mother who was an organic gardener, Ted, a very successful business consultant, believes in the viability of a vertically integrated business. This has led the family - including his wife Laddie and son Christopher - to create and integrate a hillside estate and a valley floor estate in Napa along with a St. Helena farm to table restaurant and winery tasting room. In search of cool climate Pinot Noir to add to their portfolio, the winery recently purchased 69 acres of vines in Mendocino's Anderson Valley, converting it to organic certification, which makes them that region's largest organic producer - a commendable act in a region where conventional farming predominates.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

German Ag Minister "Goes Rogue," Casts Deciding Yes Vote on EU Glyphosate License; Alternative Herbicides Under Review in France and Italy

German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt cast the deciding vote
EU activists hoping to ban glyphosate lost the battle to block the herbicide's license renewal on the continent when Germany's Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt voted yes on the issue instead of obtaining permission from his superior, Prime Minister Angela Merkel, according to news reports.

German's Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks opposed the renewal (echoing a similarly structured divide that had previously happened in France in the pre-Macron era) and said Schmidt knowingly voted yes instead of abstaining on the vote.

According to Politico, Hendricks said "Schmidt had acknowledged her objection in a text message ahead of the vote, meaning that the German government should have abstained."  

Anti-glyphosate activism in Toulouse, France

The German Green Party is now calling for Schmidt to resign.

German chancellor Angela Merkel rebuked Schmidt for his vote, saying, according to Quartz, that his "decision went against agreements we have made in government - these also apply to the current caretaker government."

The vote took place as German-based Bayer has announced it plans to acquire Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, in which the main active ingredient is glyphosate, in a $66 billion deal.

In the meantime, France and Italy announced they will phase out the herbicide over the next three years.

Alternative herbicides are in development and leaders expressed optimism about switching to safer herbicides in the near future. 

Countries that voted yes on glyphosate included: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the U.K.

Countries that voted against the license renewals included: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, and Malta.

Abstaining: Portugal.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Glyphosate Ban in France: Get the News that's Not Being Reported in the US - Direct from the Horse's Mouth - in Le Monde


In case you hadn't understood that the French are SERIOUS about banning glyphosate...you can read all about it in Le Monde.

(What? You say you don't read French. You can with Google Translate.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Sonoma Saturday: A Beautiful Day in Wine Country

After attending the Wine Bloggers Conference, in the pitiful excuse of a hotel that is the Hyatt in downtown Santa Rosa (currently undergoing a renovation and without food of any kind on offer to the casual visitor who stops for lunch), I had to escape to the countryside.

Hearing that Ridge was putting on a tamales fundraiser for fire relief, I scurried on up Highway 101 to see if I could get something to eat. I arrived at 3, with the event going on till 4. "We ran out of tamales at 2:30," Ridge's greeter told me.

I had a seat, instead, at the outdoor tasting area, respendent with the colors of fall. Enjoy this shot - of a perfect moment.

Biodynamically Grown Alsatian Wines Shine at Wine Bloggers Conference

Saturday I had the opportunity to briefly drop in to the Wine Bloggers Conference to taste Albarinos from Gallicia and Pinot Gris gems from Alsace. There were no certified organic or Biodynamic Albarino producers in the tasting, but among the Alsace wines two out of three were from legendary certified Biodynamic producers - Zind Humbrecht and Albert Mann.

Alsatian wine tasting: The Zind Humbrecht and Albert Mann wines are 2 and 3
respectively (photo credit: Nancy Brazil @mspullthatcork - thank you, Nancy!)
Here are the tasting cards for these two superlative wines, both of which elevate Pinot Gris to previously unknown heights. (They are also priced accordingly.)

If you're looking to wow someone with a fabulous holiday gift, these would be at the top of the list.


There is no wine region in the world that is better at marketing itself as organic and Biodynamic than Alsace. And few have as good a story to tell...


Here's the slide for Zind Humbrecht from the presentation:


Zind Humbrecht vineyard 



Sunday, November 12, 2017

Victories: EU Sidelines Glyphosate in History-Making Vote and the UK Bans Neonics

EUROPE

The battle over whether or not to renew the permit to sell glyphosate in the EU took another decisive turn this week as the European Union failed to pass a motion to continue sales of the herbicide in Roundup this past week.

France and Italy voted against renewal, while Germany and Poland abstained, thus preventing a majority vote in favor of the renewal.

For full coverage, read the New York Times account here.

On other fronts, the British voted to ban neonicotinoids in the UK. The insecticides have already been banned in the EU on a temporary basis since 2013. A full ban in the EU is expected. Read more in The Guardian.

CALIFORNIA

In California, the state government's agricultural agencies have worked to decrease the amount of toxic chemicals through implementing IPM (which stands for integrated pest management) and the wine industry has formed its own sustainability programs to wean growers away from wasteful practices - including consuming fewer natural resources - and other goals. (See values here.) (Sustainability programs do not mandate or directly address reducing use of toxic chemicals.)

However, the statistics from the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation show little to no decrease in the use of the most dangerous substances overall.

CHARTS TELL THE STORY ON ACRES TREATED

The charts below taken from the state's annual report how acres treated (and not the amount of the chemicals used) which is useful to consider.



(Note: Sulfur is considered safe to use and is used in both conventional and organic farming.)

HERBICIDES

More than 700,000 pounds of glyphosate, now officially labeled as a carcinogen in California, were use in 2015, the last column of this chart.




NEONICS

Imidacloprid continues to be used in ever increasing amounts. The good news here is the increased use of oils, which are permitted in organic farming.



MORE BAD NEW ON NEONICS

A new Canadian study this week found that neonics makes birds lose weight and distorts songbirds' sense of direction. Read more from CBC news here.

US WINE INDUSTRY IMPACTS

California wineries have not yet begun to address publicly what the effects of the European bans will be on wine sales from California wineries. Here is the latest tweet on this subject from UK bee expert, Dave Goulson, an international authority whose scientific work has shown the connection between bee health and imidacloprid.



It would be great to see California vintners take a leadership position in decreasing their use of toxic chemicals, a move that may protect their position in the market, in view of their European competitors' next moves. It's hard to see how being glyphosate-free is not going to be part of future European wine marketing campaigns.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Organic and Biodynamic in Sonoma: Advice on Tasting for Attendees of the Wine Bloggers Conference

Wine bloggers are descending on Santa Rosa this week to learn more about California's North Coast wines (yes, it's not just about Sonoma - Lodi, Napa and Mendocino have organized outings for the bloggers) and will be getting a first hand view of the wine country fires and their impacts on the affected communities.

The vast majority of sponsors of the conference are large, corporate owned wineries who pitch their stories to the legions of influencers. The bloggers will also certainly be overwhelmed with marketing communications from Sonoma's sustainability contingent. Wineries like Gallo and Kendall Jackson make sure to tout their green horns quite loudly while continuing to spread toxic chemicals across the vines.

In Sonoma, vintners spread more than 60,000 pounds of glyphosate annually; this is the main ingredient in Roundup and it has been declared (officially) a carcinogen by the state of California. In the EU, glyphosate is on the verge of being banned, with France announcing it will phase out the chemical in agriculture over the next 3-5 years. In addition, vintners here use thousands of pounds of imidacloprid, the bee and bird toxin, now banned in Europe.

Bloggers beware. Is this the type of farming we want to support?

The bigger voices of this "sustainability" group are well funded and well meaning. Writers should dig deeper and look at the wonderful, local wineries who practice the greenest farming of all - organic and Biodynamic.

Here's a list of wineries not to miss that are located in Sonoma within easy driving range for Wine Blogger Conference attendees. What follows are my top ten list.

TOP TEN WINERIES FOR WINE BLOGGERS TO VISIT

DRY CREEK VALLEY/HEALDSBURG

1. Ridge Vineyards - Lytton Springs Estate
World Class Wines from Heritage Vines 

Few people know that Ridge has the largest acreage of certified organic vines in Sonoma - some 200 acres, more than twice as much as any other winery in the county. Everyone knows their environmental record (Lytton Springs' straw bale construction, solar energy, etc.) and wine quality is superb. But few know how deep this approach is rooted - literally in the soil.

Wines
Try some of the local Zinfandels. Two of my favorites are the East Bench (which is even bottle labeled on the back "Ingredients: Organic Grapes" - one more thing to love about Ridge) and the 50th anniversary of Geyserville. Hurray to get a bottle of the latter. These vines date back to the 1880s - a heritage even Europeans cannot match.

GLEN ELLEN

2. Benziger Family Estate
Biodynamic Pioneer Offer Best Biodynamic Tours 

No one tells the story of Biodynamics better than Benziger on its tram tours and estate tastings. You'll learn about the winery's 100 acres of estate vines rely on biodiversity, cows, and herbal and compost teas to grow healthy grapes.

Wines
Especially recommended here are the Pinot Noir wines from its de Coelho vineyard out in Freestone (where the coastal fog is a huge influence).

SEBASTOPOL

3. Radio Coteau 
Single Vineyard Wonders from a Quiet Outpost

If you want to taste some of the very best Pinot Noir from the U.S., make an appointment to meet Eric Sussman of Radio Coteau, who quietly makes a dozen-plus wines from top tier growers in Sonoma and Anderson Valley. I'm not the only person who says this; esteemed wine expert Karen MacNeil holds the same opinion of Eric's wines.

Wines
Eric sources a few of his single vineyard designates from certified organic and Biodynamic vines. His piece de resistance in my opinion is the Terra Neuma, which comes from Benziger's Freestone vines at de Coelho. (It's also a certified Biodynamic Wine, meaning no additives save sulfur).

RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY

4. Porter Creek
Pure in Pinot Noir 

Want to visit the most laid-back place to find somm gold? Porter Creek - where you'll find the treasure you seek. In the form of Pinot Noir.

A perennial favorite of NY somms, and moi, Porter Creek is one of the great producers of Biodynamic Pinot Noir - created with nothing (save sulphur) added. No additives - yes,  you got that right. Their beautiful 17 acre estate surrounds their rustic tasting shack. On one of the world's most beautiful wine roads - Westside. Not to be missed.

Wines
Take your pick of any of the estate Pinots. My faves among them change with each vintage. You're sure to hit on at least one that sparks your palate. (Personally I have about 10 cases of their wines in my cellar which should show you what a diehard fan I am.)

SEBASTOPOL

5. Horse and Plow
Table/Fine Wines + Rustic + Hip + Heritage Ciders

Table wines don't often get their due, but Horse & Plow gives us a great selection of both affordable and weekend wines to choose from (the weekend wines come from their higher priced The Gardener label). And it's all set in a beautifully casual setting.

They've recently branched out into kickass heritage ciders and have even planted their own estate apple farm featuring heritage varieties.  Plus you can play horseshoes outside and relax on hay bales after buying your organic veggie starts (in the spring).

A welcome break after too many (other) tasting room come ons to join our wine club. Sonoma's most down home setting.

Wines
I'm all for their rosé! Consider buying a case. It's got a great track record, year after year.

DRY CREEK HEALDSBURG

6. Preston Farm and Winery
Rhones Down Home on the Farm

The Rhones have it at everybody's favorite winery - Preston. A farm that's a winery or a winery that's a farm - you decide.

Enjoy the grassy lawn, play bocce (on weekdays only please), or buy local cheese - with bread made by the vintner hisself - Lou Preston. The tasting room is housed in the historic farm house building. There's a picture perfect barn in back that houses the winery.

You can also stroll through the acres of crops - everything from lettuce to grains that go into the bread.

Visit on Sunday and you can get a gallon of their famous backroom blend for $36. (Them be bulk wine prices, practically).

Join the wine club for the best prices.

Wines
I'd go for the Syrah myself, but try them all.

SONOMA/MOON MOUNTAIN DISTRICT

7. Kamen Estate
Mind Blowing Views (and Wines) on the Estate Vineyard Tour

Moon Mountain's Cabernet country - and Kamen Estate is one of the great estates in this region. Owned by movie screenwriter Robert Kamen, the winery has a tasting room in Sonoma just off the plaza, but it's far better to take the estate tour (by appointment only) which is how I celebrated a recent "Big Birthday" (one of those decade ones), not knowing I'd encounter such a breathtaking view of the Bay and surrounding countryside.

You'll sip and savor atop a mountain perch. The wines are every bit as memorable as the scenery. Memories are made of this.

Wines
Everything they make is first class. They're known for Cabs that match Napa's finest (at similar prices) but every wine here is "above average." (That's putting it mildly). Parker gives them high scores, but for those who often find Parker's palate too big, you'll probably find these wines a very welcome treat.

SONOMA/MOON MOUNTAIN DISTRICT

8. Amapola Creek
A Cabernet Legend's Lair + Red Volcanic Soils

Richard Arrowood is the undisputed king of Cabernet in Sonoma, with decades of vintages that proved the county's the equal of Napa in every way. In fact, Moon Mountain sits on the ridge between the two counties.

Arrowood's Moon Mountain estate vineyard is the source for his Amapola Creek wines, which come from red volcano soils. The spectacular mountainside site borders one of Sonoma's most historic mountain vineyards (above). Open by appointment only. Well worth the trek.

Wines
The Cabernets the thing. (But don't let it blind your eyes to Amapola's other delights - which are many.)

GLEN ELLEN/SONOMA VALLEY

9. Hamel Family Winery
Elegant eco chic with grand views of Sonoma Mountain

Rising Biodynamic star Hamel boasts some of the most spectacular and luxurious estate tasting experiences in the whole North Coast region. Set across the valley from Sonoma Mountain, its architects took great care to frame the mountain in the most spectacular way.

While you can taste here during the day, the winery also offers a continental breakfast experience that lets you greet the day here with relatively few other visitors as you lounge on the various patios and garden settings or get cozy inside the glorious tasting room.

The caves here are world class works of art.

The whole experience here reeks of elegance and style - a classy way to present wines worthy of their environment. The entire estate (already certified organic) is on its way to Biodynamic certification.

Wines
The current vintages were made under the direction of Harlan Estate's former winemaker and take a decidedly translucent approach to wines. No big jammy Cabs here. All is ethereal and light. Taste the full lineup.

DRY CREEK VALLEY/HEALDSBURG

10. Quivira 
Biodynamic Rhones and Zins

It's recently downsized its certification from Demeter Biodynamic to CCOF organic, but that doesn't change the fact that Quivira's current releases mostly come from its Biodynamic era. About a third of the estate wines are from certified vines. (Two thirds are farmed conventionally; ask in the tasting room or check out the bottle labeling - Quivira does bottle label certification).

Wines
The Sauvignon Blanc is a perennial favorite, but the Zins and Rhones are highly recommended as well.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Could European Glyphosate Ban Impact Global Trade?

As a followup to the recent post on Pesticides and the Political Will, the potential impact on crops grown with glyphosate is registering on the ag industry's Richter scale. See Politico's coverage here.

In addition, to bring things up to date, the EU's governing body delayed a vote on glyphosate last week, delaying a decision until Nov.

A majority of residents in the EU favor a ban, according to recent polls.