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 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


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.


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.

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.


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.

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


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.

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).


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.

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.)


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.

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


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.

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


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.

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.


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.

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


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.

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.


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).

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.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

New Study Published in JAMA Finds Glyphosate Levels in 100 Person Sample Increased 500% Over 23 Years

Researchers from U.C. San Diego published a study this week in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association showing that the presence of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the widely used herbicide Roundup, has increased dramatically in humans.

Sampling 100 humans in a southern California town, researchers compared urine samples from 1993-1996 to samples from 2014-2016 and found that the number of people who had detectable levels of  glyphosate in their urine grew from "very few" to 70% of the individuals sampled.

In addition, the amount of glyphosate in each individual increased on average more than 500%.

The study's lead author, Dr. Paul J. Mills, is Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at UCSD where he also directs the Center of Excellence for Research and Training in Integrative Health as well as the Integrative Health and Mind Body Biomarker Laboratory.

The press release issued by UCSD stated,
"There are few human studies on the effects of glyphosate, but animal studies demonstrate that chronic exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides can have adverse effects, said Mills. The authors point to other studies in which consistently feeding animals an ultra-low dosage of glyphosate resulted in liver disorders similar to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in humans." 
The researchers point to the dramatic rise in the use of glyphosate in the food supply with the increased use of GMO crops. Glyphosate is also commonly sprayed as a desiccant to dry out crops before harvest. Wheat (and therefore bread) and potatoes are the most common way most people ingest glyphosate.

Though the wine industry's use of glyphosate is not as dramatic of a story, studies like these are increasing awareness among consumers of the prevalence and dangers of glyphosate, giving rise to new consumer health trend that the wine industry has not yet anticipated how to come to terms with.


For a good summary of the animal studies on glyphosate, see NRDC scientist Christopher Portier's excellent presentation to EU officials which you can read here.

The EPA first declared glyphosate to be carcinogenic back in 1984, but later reversed its position after political pressure.

Pesticides and the Political Will: Europe and U.S. Moving in Opposite Directions - What It Means to the U.S. Wine Industry

It's hard to imagine a time when Europe and the U.S. moved so forcefully in opposite directions when it comes to industrial agricultural's ubiquitous poisonous brews. While populism in the Trump era is drowned out by anti environment and industry interests, Europeans are taking the bull by the horn and flipping decades of ag chem policies to protect their populations against scientifically proven health risks.


As the New York Times reported in detail in Sunday's Oct. 22 edition, it wasn't enough that Scott Pruitt was appointed to head up the EPA and forestall any positive action on climate change. The in-depth article, authored by Eric Lipton, entitled (in the print edition) Chemical Industry Insider Now Shapes Policy at EPA, details the Trump-influenced rise to power of Nancy Beck, a former executive at the American Chemistry Council, to the position of Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

Chlorpyrifos used on California wine grape vineyards, 2015 (latest data)
California Department of Pesticide Regulation data
In addition, Trump's appointees at the EPA recently reversed a decades long move to ban the neurotoxin Chlorpyrifos, a deadly insecticide which was being phased out.

Chlorpyrifos was used on 25,861 acres of wine grape vineyards in California in 2015. That's 5 percent of the vineyards. The insecticide affects the nervous system and child development.

There is no talk of any restrictions or cutbacks on glyphosate (contained in the commonly used herbicide Roundup), at the federal level, which is now officially classified by both the international cancer experts group IARC (part of WHO) and the state of California as a carcinogen, but one with less immediate observable effects.


At the same time, as the Guardian posts, in a very well informed article by Arthur Neslen entitled EU on Brink of Historic Decision on Pervasive Glyphosate Weedkiller, France has already committed to banning glyphosate entirely, and other EU nations appear poised to phase the chemical out altogether as well.

The BIG NEWS of the day is that the European Parliament, in a non binding resolution, voted 355 to 204 to phase out the herbicide glyphosate altogether by 2022. More than 100 - 111, to be precise - abstained, reflecting the controversial nature of the ban. European farmers are up in arms over the licensing of the herbicide.

See European Parliament press release here for details.

A vote by the European Commission (which would be binding) on whether or not to relicense the herbicide is still pending. France, which had said it would phase the chemical out within three years, was said to have agreed to compromise on a four year phaseout.

This move comes only a few years after the EU voted to ban the bee killing neonics, still commonly used in about 60 percent of California's wine grape vineyards. Neonics have now been found in 75% of honey sampled around the globe.


Bee activists in Europe have already begun tweeting about California wines' use of neonics as a reason not to buy Golden State wines.

Dave Goulson, one of the leading bee scientists in the world, tweeted this out to his 8,800 followers last month.

Here's the distribution of neonics usage on California's wine grape vineyards (showing summed pounds). As you can see, its use is fairly ubiquitous.

Neonic usage on wine grape vineyards in California, 2015. Source: California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation data

Ben and Jerry's faced market pressure this fall after activists announced that glyphosate was found in its popular frozen desserts. It quickly announced it was launching glyphosate-free ice creams.

Wine grape growers in the U.S. should think clearly about what it will mean to consumers to be able to purchase European wines a few years from now when the continental wines are known to be grown without glyphosate.

There's a five year (give or take a year) window of opportunity for U.S. vintners to phase out glyphosate or face the consequences of a European wine industry that is sure to point out the difference between drinking American glyphosated grape wines versus European wines that are free of the carcinogenic herbicide.  Organic certification takes three years of compliance in order to be awarded.

The optics are not good here for U.S. producers.

Monday, October 2, 2017

2017 Mendocino Wine Competition: The Organic Winners

Looking for a wine competition that has more affordable, organically grown options than any other? The Mendocino Wine Competition is the place to find them, since the county has more organically grown vines (percentage wise) than any other in the U.S.

This year Redwood Valley also saw more than its fair share of Double Gold winning wines, showing off its Italian heritage of organic and often dry farmed vines. Some are from head trained vines.

Here are the winning wines from the 2017 competition made from organic or Biodynamic vines.


Judges at this year's competition were particularly impressed with the quality of the Petite Sirahs, awarding nine out of 11 Petite Sirahs with Double Gold awards, including three from organic vineyards in Redwood Valley. For more on Petite Sirah's hefty pleasures, see Dan Berger's latest column on this varietal here. (He was one of the judges at the Mendocino Wine Competition.) 

• Barra of Mendocino - Petite Sarah - ($22)
From an old standby, founded by Mendocino native Charlie Barra, a local legend. Barra has been making outstanding Petite Sirah for decades. This comes from his Redwood Valley vineyard.

• Handley Cellars - Petite Sirah ($25)
Handley buys grapes from Vittorio's Vineyard in Redwood Valley for its well made Petite Sirah.

• Powicana Farms - Petite Sirah - ($32) (Also won Best of Class)
Powicana Farms is a new winery in Redwood Valley run by a French family. Their vineyard is planted exclusively to Petite Sirah. This is their first year entering the fair - and look, a Double Gold! The wines are made in the natural wine style, with native yeasts and no added sulfites. Sonoma's Press Democrat wine critic Dan Berger cited this as his favorite Petite Sirah.


• Bonterra - Viognier ($15)
• Bonterra - Zinfandel ($17)

Bonterra's two Double Gold winners come from Mendocino growers.

• Briceland Vineyards - Dark Horse Ranch - Syrah ($28)
From the gorgeous Dark Horse Ranch (owned by the Paul Dolan family) on the east side of Sanel Valley comes this 2013 Syrah from Briceland, a winery located in Redway in Humboldt County (just north of Garberville). It's rare to find single vineyard designates from Dark Horse, a renowned Biodynamic vineyard, as most of its grapes are sold and blended with other grapes.

• Handley Cellars - Primitivo - Vittorio's Vineyard ($25)
Another Double Gold from Vittorio's Vineyard in Redwood Valley from another old Italian family preserving its old, head trained vines - and dry farming them, as well.

• Handley Cellars - Estate Rosé - $25
A wine I can never get enough of.

• McFadden Vineyards - Late Harvest Riesling 
A perennial winner in the dessert wine category, this delicately flavored sweet wine has a place in my heart and in my cellar. (I have at least a case of it). The perfect bottle to bring to any occasion, including when you need to have a gift for someone. Irresistable.


Girasole Cabernet ($15)

Handley Cellars - Estate ($25)

Powicana Farms - Port Style Petite Sirah ($31)

Blue Quail ($18)
Handley Cellars - Estate ($22)

Bonterra ($15)

Pinot Noir
Blue Quail ($24)
Handley Cellars - RSM ($52)

Sparkling Wine
Handley Cellars - Blanc de Blanc ($52)
McFadden Vineyards Cuvee Brut ($25)

Green Truck ($18)


Philo Ridge - Haiku Vineyards ($19)
Frey Vineyards - Biodynamic ($16.50)

Pinot Gris
Blue Quail (McFadden) ($16)

Pinot Noir
Barra of Mendocino ($20)
Handley Cellars - Estate ($47)
Naughty Boy ($21)

Red Blends
Bonterra - TheMcNab ($55)
Bonterra - The Butler ($55)
Handley Cellars - Red Table Wine (Vittorio's) ($25)

Barra of Mendocino, Rose of Pinot Noir ($18)
Handley Cellars Rosé - Estate ($25)

Jeriko Vineyard ($32)

Sauvignon Blanc
Blue Quail ($16)
Frey Vineyards ($14)

Bricelands Vineyards - Dark Horse Ranch ($26)
Frey Vineyards - Biodynamic ($20)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Monsanto Banned from Contacting EU Officials After It Declined to Appear in Public EU Hearing

European newspapers reported a rather startling new development in the EU as the European government bans Monsanto from contacting elected officials.

See The Guardian's coverage of this landmark move here.

This is a striking contrast to the political attitude of those in power in the U.S. re oversight of Monsanto.

Monsanto had been invited to appear on a panel scheduled for Oct. 11 to face criticisms over its involvement in what were supposed to be independent safety studies for glyphosate produced by EFSA (and a German affiliate), which, as The Guardian reported earlier this month, were found to contain many pages of material taken directly from Monsanto's documents. The multinational giant declined to appear at the Oct. 11, saying that the hearing was not an appropriate forum for the discussion.

The EU is also considering whether or not to approve Bayer's bid to acquire Monsanto, which is becoming an increasingly controversial topic. Farmers in the U.S. are also concerned about economic consolidation in the proposed merger.

One of the EFSA documents, according to The Guardian report, quoted verbatim from a report written by "former and current Monsanto employees John Aquavella and Donna Farmer, challenging the results of a study which found an association between glyphosate use and non Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)."

An EPA convened group of toxicology and epidemiology experts earlier this year found that numerous studies (published in peer reviewed journals) making the connection between NHL and glyphosate or Roundup were credible.

In the U.S., Monsanto is currently facing lawsuits from 3-5,000 people who suffered themselves from NHL or had a family member who did, which they attribute to using the herbicide Roundup (which contains glyphosate).

Hear lead attorney Timothy Litzenburg here. He is representing more than 1,000 cases for NHL victims.

More than 700,000 pounds of glyphosate are used on wine grape vineyards in California each year.

See the map below for a view of where one of the main types of glyphosate is applied to wine grape vineyards statewide.