Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Close Out Deal of the Week: Martian Ranch and Vineyards Case Sale - $90/Case

Some of the best deals come from case close-out sales. How can that be?

Wineries just want to clear it all out.

Martian Ranch, a favorite of mine, making what you might call "naturalista" wines, is offering Grenache Blanc (2012 and 2013) along with a 2012 Mourvedre (it NEEDS to be aged this long at least, in general) and Grenache (2012). 

These 2012 wines were made with minimal intervention and on native yeasts with loving care by Mike Roth, a Chronicle "Winemaker to Watch" in 2015. The 2013s were made by Greg Tatomer, a winemaker known for his great finesse.

You could be down at Bi-Rite market in the Mission paying $24 a bottle for the current Martian Ranch releases. Or you could call up the winery and order these in.

Shipping from Martian has been $20 (in state) in the past...making these a very good deal indeed.

And they have cool corks, to boot.

Rhone Rangers Swarm Oakland: That Saturday Tasting

The North Coast Rhone Rangers event took place Saturday at Campovida's spacious tasting room in Oakland, and there was a very good turnout, with hundreds of people attending.

More than 15 wineries poured Syrah, Grenache and all other manner of southern France varietals in the beautiful, historic brick building.

Campovida's tasting room is adjacent to The Dock at Linden Street and Linden Street Brewery - both hipster hangouts - and the crowd that came on Saturday was not the crowd you see at the big Rhone Rangers tasting event. There were a lot of younger people and millennials.

From an organic perspective, there was just one winery pouring wines from certified vines and luckily, it's a standout winery, making what I think are by far the best wines from Mendocino's inland areas, bar none. And that's the host of the event itself - Campovida.

About five years ago, Campovida was not the winery it is today. Chilean born winemaker Sebastian Donoso has evolved the wines into standouts both for their quality and freshness. He's also taken the extra step of seeking out organic or Biodynamically grown fruit and making small lots of precious liquids.

Sebastian Donoso, Campovida winemaker, serving forth

It was therefore a great treat to find he was pouring new wines at the event. While I get all woozy over my favorite Campovida offering - the Grenache from Dark Horse Ranch (BD grown on Paul Dolan's family vineyard), I found some new bottles to adore.

First was his rosé - an outstanding wine that makes you take notice and slow down. It's such a beautiful wine, your senses tell you to relax so you can more truly savor it. It's from a grower who Donoso has gotten to at least practice organic farming; let's hope this grower will decide it's something to stick with and get certified so I can put this on the official list.

A note about Donoso's wines: all the reds are made on native yeasts. But most amazingly, all are made on free run juice alone, giving them a fresh, lively, vibrant quality. Of course, it costs more. But the wines are the better for it. 

The Campo di Blanca comes from a vineyard planted to Rhones that's on its way to Demeter Biodynamic certification. A lovely white Rhone blend.

Then a new wine for the Campovida brand - a late harvest Viognier - Innamorarsi. Honeysuckle - yes. And so much more than words could ever say. It comes from the Campovida estate in Hopland, about 2 hours north of Oakland on Highway 101.

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All in all, the wine flowed, with more labels in the back room, and Ridge Wines pouring outside on the welcoming front porch. I hope the wineries were happy - the crowds looked pleased. I heard only one complaint and that was the kind a vintner might like to hear: a lovely Indian couple I sat next to over nibbles of cheese and crackers lamented, "why can't we BUY the wines here?"

Of course, I told them, for Campovida, you could. And they were off.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Biodynamic Wine Seminar with Adriano Zago Aug. 5-6 at Montinore Estate

Italian Biodynamic wine expert Adriano Zago will be teaching two days of classes in Biodynamics at Montinore Estate, located in Forest Grove, Oregon in the Willamette Valley. One is for a general audience (Sat.) and one day is for a more targeted industry audience.

The Friday class, aimed at the slightly more technical audience will cover many aspects of Biodynamics including Zago's path from viticulturist to agriculturist. He will talk about the BD preps, cover crops, canopy management, composting and more in the Friday morning session.

The afternoon session on Friday will focus on vineyard soil sampling and how to optimize labor and time for Biodynamic practices. Zago will also cover the cellar program for Biodynamic wines.

The Saturday session is aimed at a more general audience.

On both days, lunch is included; it features Biodynamically grown garden produce from Soter Vineyards.

For more information, a detailed agenda, and registration, click here.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

California State Fair Winners

The California State Fair wine competition announced the winners of its 2016 wine competition earlier this week. More than 2,800 wines were submitted from 750+ California wineries.

A total of 55 judges tasted the wines (with the help of 170 volunteers), awarding 115 Double Gold medals ands 230 Gold medals.

The oldest wine competition in the U.S., the event dates back to 1854.

The state fair continues through July 24. Some of the wines will be available for sale at the fair. And wine slushies ($5) will be served.

For a list of all the competition results, click here.

Here are some of the top wines from organic vines that took home medals:

Cucamonga Valley, South Coast

One of my favorite wineries, this Riverside County wonder has 300+ acres of old vines, including some that date back to the 1920's. Its history runs deeps, and it's one of the few wineries left that makes sweet wines - like port and sherry - of distinction. Along with Zinfandel.

Zinfandel, 98 pts., Double Gold ($35)

Port (NV), Best of California, Fortified Dessert Wine

Ancient Angelica, 91 pts., Silver ($33)

Sonoma County, North Coast

The Biodynamic pioneer in Sonoma has some amazing terroir - estate vineyards on Sonoma Mountain and out in Freestone - which is reflected in these Biodynamic Wines, made without additives of any kind (save for sulfites to preserve the wine). You're tasting the actual grapes!

Tribute, 95 pts., Gold, Best of Class of Region ($80)

Pinot Noir-Terra Neuma, Gold ($75)

Cooper Garrod
Santa Cruz Mountains, Central Coast

A Saratoga horse ranch and a winery, created on a former apricot farm, the Cooper Garrod's family winemaking hobby turned into a commercial enterprise - and a medal-winning one at that.

Test Pilot, 2010, 95 pts., Gold, Best of Class of Region ($39)

Syrah, 2012, 95 pts., Best of Class of Region ($33)

McFadden Vineyards
Potter Valley, Mendocino AVA, North Coast

A perennial favorite. From one of my favorite wineries, their best wine.

Brut, 95 pts., Gold, Best of Class of Region ($25)

Friday, July 15, 2016

New Scientific Study Shows Vineyards Adversely Affect Soil Biology

When you plant a vineyard, you look for the right kind of soils. But then, in planting and cultivating that land, you change the microbial life of that soil. So says a new study from University of British Columbia soil scientist Miranda Hart published in Applied Soil Ecology. Hart is associate professor of biology at UBC.

Her study looked at three communities: bacteria, fungi and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi.

The three year research project found that bacteria increased in vineyards, stimulated by changes in soil pH. Fungi decreased in response to the lack of biodiversity. Mycorrhizal fungi populations in vineyards were smaller compared uncultivated areas.

Hart's been studying "wild soils" deep in the British Columbia forests for decades. She's begun to work with grape growers in the region, where vineyards are rapidly expanding.

As climate change threatens to warm the North Coast of California and the Willamette Valley of Oregon, many look to British Columbia for the future. In addition, vineyards are proving to be an economic plus for rural BC.

In the span of 25 years, British Columbia has gone from 1,476 acres of vines to 10,260, according to the British Columbia Wine Institute. By comparison, Oregon has 20,000 acres in vines. So BC is now about half the size of Oregon's wine industry in terms of land impact. The region grew from 17 wineries in 1990 to 257 this year.

Hart's concerned about the use of chemicals in vineyards. Farmers have been adding exotic microbes to enhance the soils; these exotic microbes are simply doing what the original soil microbes did.

You can read more about her latest research here.


Monday, July 11, 2016

This Saturday: Oakland's Second Annual Oakland Wine Festival

Bay Area Wine Lovers: no need to drive to Napa and Sonoma this weekend. Dozens of the North Coast's best wineries are coming to Oakland where they'll be pouring at the Oakland Wine Festival.

Organized by Melody Fuller, the festival is now in its second year. I met Melody when we both attended the 2014 Napa Wine Writers Symposium, where she got to blind taste with Robert Parker and impressed the living daylights out of everyone with her ability to blind taste with him. It will be a treat to see how this festival has grown from last year, which was its inaugural year.

The venue is the Sequoyah Country Club in Oakland.

You can attend the festival at a number of different levels of participation:

Saturday Events 

Choose a full day pass that includes everything for $150 or select from a la carte passes for admission to individual events. See the web site for details on ticket prices ($25-55-75-150).

9-Noon - Brunch and Blind Tasting

There will be a blind wine tasting (accompanied by a brunch from 9 am to noon that includes biscuits and bacon) of more than 100 wines for winemakers and attendees.

1 - 3 pm - Intimate Winemaker Luncheon

At noon, you will be able to attend an intimate winemaker luncheon, enjoying a four course lunch paired with wines from the winemaker seated at your table.

4 - 6 pm - Grand Tasting

The Grand Tasting takes place from 4-6 pm and includes dozens of wineries.

7 pm - Winemaker Dinners

Three wineries will offer an intimate winemaker dinner experience at three different venues in Oakland.


There will be morning and afternoon seminars. Napa's rocks will be the topic of a morning session. In the afternoon Sonoma takes the stage.


If you want to make sure to visit (and support) wineries that farm their vineyards organically (we recommend it), check out these wineries and their wines:

100% Organic Estate Wineries

• Ehlers Estate, St. Helena

Everything from this 39 acre St. Helena estate, specializing in Bordeaux wines (Cabernet, mostly) is superlative. The current vintages of red wines are all from vines that were certified Biodynamic.

• Grgich Hills Estate, Rutherford

A historic winery with more than 300 acres of certified vines in 5 locations throughout Napa Valley, this powerhouse carries on making widely distributed Napa Valley wines, including Chardonnay and Cabernet and more.

• Oakville Ranch, Oakville

A tiny winery on a big estate with grand views, this one is perched high on the hills on the east side of Napa's Oakville appellation. Stunning Cabernet and more - the winery won double golds for three of its wines at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition. It only makes four wines. And in small lots. This is a must try stop.

• Storybook Vineyards, Calistoga

Nestled in the western side of Napa's northern reaches, this is one special spot. Here, Zinfandel is the object of worship and adoration. Since this varietal is not usually as expensive as Cabernet, you'd be smart to pick up wines of great finesse for less than the cost of their expensive Bordeaux born cousins (i.e. Napa cabs).

Wineries with Some Organically Grown Wines

All of these wineries have organic estates, but many of the wines they make are from growers who are not organic. Ask.

• Chappellet Vineyards, St. Helena/Pritchard Hill

Famous for their Pritchard Hill estate, high above Napa Valley, this "blue blood" of Napa wineries has 97 acres of certified organic estate vines. Look for the Signature Cabernet ($60), which is made mostly from estate vines. (I don't think they'll be pouring their very finest - the Pritchard Hill Estate Cabernet - since it's $180 a bottle. But one can hope.)

• Domaine Carneros, Napa

Descended from Champagne's Taittinger winery, this formerly certified organic Carneros estate (332 acres of vines) still has plenty of current release wines from organic vines. Ask to taste them, if you can.

• Laurel Glen, Glen Ellen (Sonoma)

We will be lucky indeed if we get to taste their best Cabernet, which is sourced solely from their Sonoma Mountain estate, which the current owners have brought back to life.

Organic and Biodynamic Viticultural Expert Appointed to Superintendent at Hopland UCCE Station

In 1994, the Fetzer family in Mendocino hired a young plant pathologist just out of grad school to convert their 170+ acres of organic vineyards to Biodynamic certification.

Dave Koball, a U.C. Davis grad with a master's degree in plant pathology from Cornell University, took on that challenge, and stayed with those vines (and more) for more than 22 years.
Dave Koball

These were the grapes that, to a great degree, kickstarted the early era of Biodynamics in California (and later Oregon) vineyards. Jim Fetzer's pioneering work in Biodynamics with Alan York was one of the first steps in that story.

Later Mike Benziger started buying fruit from these vines. He was so bowled over by their quality that he hired York to come and work for him at Benziger.

The Hopland vineyard, with 300+ acres of certified Biodynamic vines, is still today the largest Biodynamic vineyard in the U.S. (a title that is expected to pass to Oregon's King Estate later this year, sit certifies 471 acres of vines).

Last month the Hopland Cooperative Extension Research, part of the University of California, announced that Koball will be joining its team as the Superintendent of HCER. 

Koball managed the 900+ acres of organic vineyards (including those 300+ acres of Biodynamic vineyards) for Fetzer's Bonterra brand throughout three eras. The first was under the Fetzer Family, the second was during the time when the liquor company Brown-Forman owned the winery (1992-2010), and the third is the current era of Vina Concha y Toro S.A. ownership which began in 2010.

Under the Chilean company's ownership Bonterra's wine sales have increased 15 percent, year over year.

During Koball's tenure, the vineyards were studied in various university sponsored research projects on organic and Biodynamic methods including the use of Biodynamic preps in composting (Washington State University) and a new cost study on the comparative costs of growing wine grapes Biodynamically (U.C. Davis). 

HCER has a 5,000 ranch in Hopland where it conducts research on agriculture and wildlife.

In the university's announcement about Koball's new job, Koball says, "I am thrilled and honored to become a member of the knowledgeable, dedicated and enthusiastic team at the University of California Hopland REC. It is my hope that my background in research from earlier in my career and more recent winegrape industry experience will help me to increase the visibility and usability of this gem of a resource that we have here in our backyard."

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Soil Not Oil Conference: Aug. 5-6 in Richmond

The second annual Soil Not Oil conference takes place Aug. 5-6 in Richmond bringing together food, climate and ag activists from around the world. The overarching goal is to reduce reliance on chemical, fossil fueled monocultures and increase sustainable farming systems.

Featured this year:

• Vandana Shiva, seed champion
• Bill McKibben, 350.org found and climate activist
• David Montgomery, soil expert and historian, and author of the book, The Hidden Half of Nature.

For more info, see the conference web site at soilnotoilcoalition.org.

For a sample of last year's conference, see Fritjof Capra's 2015 presentation:

The Soil Not Oil YouTube channel has more presentations to view including:

2016 Conference Invite

Soil Not Oil YouTube channel

Vandana Shiva 2015 keynote

Friday, July 8, 2016

Virginia Creeper Leafhopper: Fairyfly to the Rescue

How do you get rid of an invasive leafhopper that destroys acres of vineyards?

In Hopland yesterday, growers in Mendo, Lake and other counties met to hear the latest recommendations from U.C.'s Cooperative Extension researchers studying and learning how to combat invasions of the non-native Virginia Creeper Leafhoffer, a bug that has been plaguing North Coast vineyards.

This leafhopper has been particularly devastating to organic growers, a number of whom have abandonned organic practices in order to stay in the vineyard business, according to UCCE Farm Advisor, Glenn McGourty, who serves in the Mendocino and Lake county region. But, as the latest research shows, there's hope they could return to organic wine grape growing.

At the July 7th tailgate event in the vineyard, Berkeley Post-Doctoral Researcher Houston Wilson presented the latest findings on improved methods on combatting the Virginia Creeper Leafhopper (Erythroneura ziczac).

Virginia Creeper Leafhopper
Credit: Mike Poe, UC ANR Communications
Researchers found a parasitoid, Anagrus daanei, a member of the fairyfly family, one of the tiniest flying insects. A particular strain that exists in the Sacramento Valley is effective in keeping Virginia Creeper Leafhopper populations in the North Coast in check.

The parasitoid also lives in Mendocino, but local specimens have not been going after the Mendocino Virginia Creeper Leafhoppers, which only recently invaded the area.

Virginia Creeper Leafhopper eggs parasitized by the Anagrus daanei
A 2015 pilot program, conducted with the initial support of the American Vineyards Foundation and Fetzer, was successful enough to win funding from the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation's Pest Management Alliance grants program for the purposes of rolling out significant numbers of Anagrus daanei to a larger number of vineyard growers.

"We started our initial releases in July 2015 with 2,000 Anagrus daanei, and they spread into the vineyard blocks," Wilson said. Now in 2016, his group has started a much larger release program, with four vineyards in Mendocino and one in Lake County. "And we're looking for new targets," he added.

Houston Wilson
The release program has continued with one release per month at each site. "We've done 13 releases so far," Wilson said. Researchers have been breeding Anagrus daanei in the lab to provide releases of more of the fairyflies.

Wilson said the fairyflies reproduce up about 10 times per season, faster than the leafhoppers.

Use of the parasitoids to control the Virginia Creeper Leafhopper will reduce the amount of pesticides used in fighting the invasive non-native species as well as reduce pesticide costs for both conventional and organic growers.

For more information, or to find out how to participate in the program, visit the project's web site at http://ucanr.edu/sites/vclh/.