Thursday, May 9, 2019

Biggest Little Farm Film - A Farm Love Story - Debuts May 10

It's the agrarian ideal for many urbanites—writ large. Take your dog to the country, buy a farm and STAY THERE.

 That's the heartwarming story that audiences at Mill Valley Film Festival fell for, hook line and sinker, last fall when I first saw this new documentary feature.

Now the film is coming out this week in major markets. It will arrive in the SF Bay area May 17.

You can follow developments on the movie website or on Twitter.

Although the film never mentions the word "biodynamic," Apricot Lane is a Demeter certified biodynamic farm. Wine people will want to see the film to see Allan York, a top biodynamic consultant, who appears in the film; he was Apricot Lane's main advisor until his untimely death in his early 60s.

Andrew Beedy, another top biodynamic consultant, also worked  with Allan at Apricot Lane and continued the work after York passed away.

York worked with many northern California wineries to implement biodynamics. Among them:
• Bonterra and Dark Horse Ranch. At Bonterra, many of the beautiful garden structures he created are still present.
• Benziger Family in Sonoma, the first Demeter certified winery in Sonoma County
• Cowhorn, a top Rhone producer in southern Oregon

Beedy is currently working with Troon Vineyards in southern Oregon as it converts to biodynamic practices and certification.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Copper Use in California: Mainly on Conventional Vineyards


Toxic fungicides, pesticides, insecticides and herbicides are routinely used in large quantities and applied most frequently and intensively in the "fine wine" growing regions of Sonoma and Napa as well as in Lodi, as you can see in this map below from the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation's most recent report showing the active ingredients applied to wine grape vineyards in 2016.

(The 2017 report is due out in June).

While sulfur is the most frequently applied active ingredient, glyphosate, copper and oils are commonly applied.

The 2 percent of vineyards in California that are organic may use sulfur, copper and oils, but the vast majority of these materials is used in conventional vineyards (98 percent of vineyards in California).

Despite the widely publicized growth of industry sponsored sustainability programs, pesticide use is increasing, not declining, the report states. It says (page 119), "The long term trend over the last two decades is an increasing area treated for all pesticide types except for sulfur which has tended to fluctuate more annually (Figure 37)."

Copper, this chart suggests, is used on 400,000 acres of grape vines.

California has about 550,000 acres of planted wine grape vines.

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

I have decided to publish this press release about groundbreaking scientific research from Professor Seralini in its entirety (below) in order to let him and his co-authors speak for their research directly. 

Often people who have heard about the French argument over copper assume that California's organic vineyards rely on copper to the same extent that French organic growers do. The data shows that conventional growers in California use almost all of the copper that is used on wine grapes. 

But Seralini's real point is that regulators should be looking at the ingredients (often kept secret) in many conventional fungicides (that include copper), and should regulate all vineyard pesticides on the basis of toxicity. Singling out copper does not reflect an accurate risk assessment, he says. 

I have also published a companion post with a few excerpts from the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation statistics showing the widespread use of copper and other fungicides in all vineyards in California.


[Editor's Note: I , Pam, have added boldings.]

Citation May 2019: Seralini GE, Douzelet J, Halley JC (2019) Copper in Wines and Vineyards: Taste and Comparative Toxicity to Pesticides. Food Nutr J 9: 196. DOI: 10.29011/2575-7091.100096

Other related research papers:

"Copper is generally considered to be a biopesticide that should be more regulated in organic vineyards, as it is the major treatment applied.

[Editor's note: I would add "in France". In California, pesticide use statistics show that conventional vineyards use far more copper than organic ones.]

There is currently a heated debate on this topic. In order to advance understanding of this issue, the authors studied the levels of copper in organic and non-organic wines and investigated whether this substance modified their taste.

They also compared the toxicity of copper to that of synthetic pesticides at the levels of human health and the environment.

Copper is found at an average level of 0.15 mg/l in organic wines and at a level ten times higher, at up to 1.5 mg/l or more, in non-organic ones. 

This is probably because of its presence in the commercial formulations of petroleum-based synthetic pesticides, which contain several heavy metals that are transferred to the grapes.

Vines are among the crop plants that are most heavily treated with pesticides, except when grown organically.

The environmental impact of copper in organic vineyards under normal treatment (a few kg/ha) appears to be positive, in that it improves biodiversity, in contrast with the impact of synthetic pesticides, which gradually desiccate the soil.

Copper is essential for life. It stimulates the defense systems of plants and the human immune system and is toxic only in excess. Copper is not primarily a pesticide but is an essential element for life.

It is nontoxic at the levels found in wines. However, at levels present in nonorganic wines, it clearly changes their taste. 

For comparison, we found that a favourably judged (awarded 100/100 in the Parker Guide) non-organic bottle of wine contained 146 μg/l of boscalid, a widely used synthetic pesticide.

If we consider the formulants and residues present in numerous pesticides, such as petroleum and arsenic or other heavy metals, the threshold of chronic toxicity will be reached from the consumption of 22 ml of this wine.

Similar results are obtained for fenhexamid and glyphosate in Roundup, which are widely used in non-organic vineyards and have a considerably higher toxicity than an excess of copper.

Copper cannot therefore be considered as being comparable with the synthetic petroleum-derived pesticides that are present in nonorganic wines.

If regulatory agencies are to regulate the use of copper, they should first release the composition of synthetic pesticide formulations, which are currently kept confidential, as they could contain copper together with toxic heavy metals."

New Study Finds Consistent and Persistent Confusion on Greenwashing Labels: 43% Think "Natural" or 'Sustainable" = No Pesticides

Consumers are fairly consistent when it comes to greenwashing in labeling: 43% of those recently surveyed think that natural means no pesticides, according to new research from the Hartman Group published today.


 This aligns with previous studies by Christian Miller's Full Glass Research in which 43% of consumers thought "sustainable" wine was from organic grapes. (See second to last row, right column).

The takeaway? Organic messaging for wine and food products hasn't gone far enough.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Science! New Soil Study Shows Carbon Sequestration 9-13% Higher for Biodynamic and Organic Viticulture Than Conventional

Source: Bonterra Organic Vineyards

Scientists from Pacific Agroecology conducted research on 13 vineyards. Nine were organic, three were Biodynamic and one was conventional.

Their findings? "Vineyards farmed with organic and Biodynamic methods stored 9.4%-12.8% more SOC per acre, respectively, than the conventionally farmed control vineyard."

Here is the full press release:

Source: Press Release


MENDOCINO COUNTY, Calif., March 13, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- America's leading organically farmed wine, Bonterra Organic Vineyards ("Bonterra") continues its legacy of pioneering green viticulture with completion of a landmark soil study highlighting the benefits of organic and Biodynamic® farming on soil health.

Conducted by Pacific Agroecology on behalf of Bonterra, the study analyzed all of Bonterra's approximately 1,000 acres of Mendocino County vineyards, with results showing that Biodynamic sites hold the most soil organic carbon, followed closely by organic sites; both are superior in storing carbon to  conventional farming.

The soil study is the first research step in Bonterra's long-term commitment to understand, practice and promote the important topic of soil-carbon stewardship, and is in keeping with Bonterra's mission to champion regenerative agriculture as an important element in the global effort to address climate change.

Experience the interactive Multichannel News Release here:

Organic and Biodynamic Vineyards Store 9-12% More Organic Carbon

Data from the 2017-2018 soil study1, which measure density of soil organic carbon (SOC), indicate that Bonterra's vineyards farmed with Biodynamic and organic farming methods correlate with 12.8% and 9.4% greater SOC levels, respectively, than those found in a similar vineyard site farmed conventionally. The research took place over 12 months on 13 vineyards (nine organic, three Biodynamic, and one conventional) across Mendocino County, and included more than 500 grapevine biomass samples and more than 100 soil samples from vines planted between 1987 and 2015. The same study reviewed soil and above-ground carbon stores in Bonterra's undeveloped wildlands, demonstrating that total carbon storage in wildlands remains higher than in production lands, indicating that continued conservation efforts are also beneficial.

The Impact of Organic Carbon Stored in Soil

"Soil organic carbon—something regenerative farming strives to enhance—is a signal of how well a landscape captures and stores carbon, and also contributes many long-term benefits to soil health, such as improved aeration, drought resistance, and erosion prevention," said Joseph Brinkley, director of vineyards for Bonterra. Bonterra strives to enhance soil health on its Mendocino farms through a coordinated mix of regenerative practices, including applying compost, planting cover crops, planned sheep grazing, reduced tillage regimes, enhanced insect and wildlife programs, and conservation of nearly 50% of its land in a natural state.

A 2017 report by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations entitled "Soil Organic Carbon: The Hidden Potential"2 states: "As an indicator for soil health, [soil organic carbon] is important for its contributions to food production, mitigation and adaptation to climate change." Elizabeth Drake, regenerative development manager for Bonterra Organic Vineyards, noted of Bonterra's recently completed study, "The results of this study provide early indication that regenerative farming practices lead to healthier, more productive soils, while contributing to the mitigation of climate change by holding more carbon underground."

Bonterra's Long-Term Commitment to Healthy Soil

Recently celebrating 30 years of organic farming, Bonterra remains passionate about building on its history of regenerative agriculture, and the soil study is the first research step in the winery's long-term commitment to understand, practice and promote the important topic of soil-carbon stewardship. Bonterra recently initiated a third-party peer-review process for the study so that its results may be further verified, and is also examining methods to conduct additional soil sampling to analyze vineyard carbon storage and carbon fluxes over longer periods. These efforts underscore a deeply rooted belief at Bonterra that regenerative farming practices offer compelling solutions for healthy soils, improved vine and grape quality, and a positive path forward for farming.

"We're excited about the potential impact of this study, which we hope inspires other farmers to examine the benefits of organic and Biodynamic agriculture," said Drake.

Visit to learn more about the study, and to learn more about Bonterra's organic and Biodynamic farming practices, network of organic farms, and acclaimed wine collection. Follow Bonterra on Instagram and Facebook for informative news on healthy soils and farms, plus tips on organic lifestyle, cooking, and trends.

1 SOURCE: Morandé, J.A., M.G. Vaghti, J.N. Williams, J. Medellín-Azuara, & J.H. Viers. 2018. Carbon Inventory and Annual Increment Analysis of Vineyard Blocks and Adjoining Wildlands of Bonterra Organic Vineyards.  Pacific Agroecology LLC Project Report. Davis, CA. 25 ppd.
2 SOURCE: FAO 2017. Soil Organic Carbon: the hidden potential. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.

About Bonterra Organic Vineyards
Organically farmed and masterfully crafted, Bonterra Organic Vineyards epitomizes wines that are perfectly in tune with nature. A celebration of farm-fresh flavors, the portfolio features wines coaxed from the earth by careful farming practices carried out on a dynamic network of estate and partner farms throughout California. In addition to a widely available collection of organically farmed wines that includes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Equinox Red and Rosé, Bonterra crafts a trio of sought-after single-vineyard offerings from estate Biodynamic® vineyards in Mendocino County, and The Elysian Collection Merlot, an elevated offering from organic grapes. Long before organic produce filled the shelves of neighborhood groceries, the dedicated team at Bonterra was committed to organic and Biodynamic® farming because they passionately believe that farms teeming with biodiversity—encompassing vines, insects and wildlife, and healthy soils—yield organic grapes leading to better wines.

About Pacific Agroecology
Pacific Agroecology LLC is an environmental research and consulting company dedicated to restoring balance between agriculture and natural systems. We believe that with proper stewardship, not only are economically viable cropping systems and natural habitat compatible, but they can be mutually reinforcing.  Humanity and ecosystems are interconnected at multiple levels, and only through an awareness and understanding of these connections can we find ways that both can thrive. Our clients range from worldwide leaders in the agricultural industry, to research institutions, to government agencies and policy makers.

I've asked for a copy of the actual study and will post a link to it here later when it's available.

Monsanto Trial on Roundup Concludes: Jury to Decide Case

Good synopsis of the testimony presented in the Monsanto Roundup trials about to conclude in San Francisco today can be found here.

It includes links to the expert reports and videos of expert witnesses for both sides.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

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

The Deep Roots Coalition is a band of Oregon winemakers who dry farm. They held a tasting yesterday in SF at Barcino for trade with "guest stars" John Williams from Frog's Leap. The wines featured here are all grown without irrigation. Many of the producers also label that fact on the back label of their wines.

Deep Roots is a great concept, but like so many wine classifications, it seems one dimensional. Some of the producers are not farming organically, and if wine quality and soil health matter, it's hard to understand that choice. (And do consumers really want to drink wine made from grapes whose roots have been treated with glyphosate?)

So yes, raise a glass to dry farming. But soil health and water retention are enhanced by organic farming. So if you are a lot about water as a resource, it's best to look at more than one dimension. That's true of a lot of one-factor wine movements of our times - Raw Wine (low sulfite levels), Glyphosate free (up to 10 ppb allowed), etc. etc.

Dry farming is a much more complex subject that invites further inquiry from buyers.

• Is it ok to till a lot of tillage in order to dry farm? Are there alternatives to tractor tillage? (i.e. animals)? Permanent cover crops (with just under vine cultivation) is a very popular choice.

• Or is it better to dry farm by planting less densely and on head trained vines, like Tablas Creek has done in its new 60+ acre vineyard in Paso Robles? (And like Philippe Coderey, a traditional vigneron from Provence, has done in new vineyards at Grimm's Bluff and Duvarita in Santa Barbara County?) There's more complexity to the concept of "dry farming" than meets the eye.

Is it good to get water use in vineyards more in the public eye? Yes, but the conversation should be a broader one, and one that's not just about Oregon winemakers. Most Californians would agree.

I'm not sure why Deep Roots is Oregon only since it's our state that traditionally faces drought and where consumer interest is high.

That said, I tasted through the dry farmed wines from certified organic or BD vines at the tasting and found a lot to like.

John Williams of Frog's Leap in Napa gives them hell at the Deep Roots Coalition
tasting in SF. His point? Napa farmers would get better flavors (but lower yields)
if they didn't irrigate and create shallow roots.

The Frog's Leap Zinfandel only gets better and better.
If ever there was an advertisement for Napa
tourists for Zinfandel, this is it.

It was great to finally taste face to face with Evesham Wood
owner and winemaker Erin Nuccio. The estate Le Puits Sec. Yes,
Wow. I get it now. (And for $40? Compared to many
Sonoma or California Pinots, that's a such deal).
We live in amazing times.

This is actually a single vineyard designate from
Temperance Hill. (And it says so on the back label).
Another Temperance Hill single vineyard designate.
The "same" vineyard has so many blocks and so many
expressions and interpretations.

My favorite wine at the tasting had to be the Sparkling
Blanc de Blanc from Johan vineyard's BD grapes.
I'm always looking for sparkling wines from organic
vines and they are few and far between from U.S.
producers. This is my new love! 

A totally new find for me: Eyrie's Trousseau (Noir). Done
as a bit of an experiment, I would say it's a total success.
I don't know of anyone else making this variety and
have only seen the white (Gris) version in California.
Only 300 cases made.
Other producers with organic or Biodynamic vines at the tasting include Brick House Vineyards and Brooks. I wanted to give a shout out to Brooks for their incredible Pinot Blanc from a newly certified Biodynamic vineyard in close proximity to Brooks' estate vines. Congrats on both the wine and the the Crannell family for seeking and getting certification. The best part, of course, is the taste of that wine! A great everyday wine - find it for $16 on

                                                           CALIFORNIA WINES

California natural winemakers Les Lunes and Populis showed four dry farmed wines from Mendocino vines - two of them from old vines at Venturi Vineyards. I especially enjoyed the Wabi Sabi, a $22 red blend that's another great everyday wine.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Sonoma Mountain Book to Debut This Week

For details, click here.

Update on the Glyphosate Case: Hardeman, Santa Rosa Resident, Testifies

Yesterday, I had a chance to visit the current glyphosate trial in federal district court, a year after covering the original Science Week proceedings for Civil Eats and PRI. During Science Week, the leading cancer risk researchers and scientists presented their reports to Judge Chabbria, who determined what was and what was not "junk science." That laid the groundwork for the experts who will be able to testify in future federal proceedings on this topic.

This was scary then and it's still scary to see non-scientists learn about cancer risk assessment and place one's faith in them. Luckily the jury in the first state court case - the one that decided in favor of the plaintiff, DeWayne Lee Johnson - was very engaged and taking notes throughout the trial.

I know Chabbria's learned a lot more about the science of cancer risk assessment than he knew a year ago. Most of the same experts will be testifying again (as they did in the DeWayne Johnson trial) and in other proceedings.

Yesterday I arrived too late and missed getting a chance to see Mr. Hardeman, who is the plaintiff in this case. He used Roundup on his 50+ acre property in Santa Rosa to eliminate or control poison oak. He then contracted non Hodgkin lymphoma. Yesterday he demonstrated - with the use of sprayer - how he sprayed on a regular basis.

When I was there in the morning shortly after his appearance, the courtroom was filled with about 30 observers, many with laptops taking notes. A daily transcript - and daily summary posts - are published and available on the U.S. Right to Know website.

At the lunch break in the court cafeteria, I did briefly meet and say hi to reporter Sam Levin who is reporting on the case for The Guardian. Here's his latest story from yesterday. Hardeman said he sprayed Roundup for 3-4 hours monthly.

My biggest concern is that this jury did not appear as engaged during expert science testimony. No one was taking notes. Two women had eyes that appeared glazed over by the details. That's understandable. The plaintiff's attorneys really have their work cut out for them in this trial.

For reasons I have yet to understand (but hope to learn more about), Judge Chabbria granted Monsanto's request to divide the trial into two phases - one in which the jurors will not be able to learn about the company's ne'er do well involvement in getting reputable journals to publish industry sponsored research.

In phase two, that's apparently going to be fair game. But there will only be a phase two if the decision of the jury is unanimous.

Slow Wine Guide, Part 2: Organic and BD Producers' "Great Wines" From Certified Vines


Fourteen wines from certified vineyards in the U.S. received the prestigious designation of Great Wine from Slow Wine in its 2019 Guide.

In particular, three remarkably young producers appear on this list:
• Analemma, in Oregon, for its Mencia (a Spanish grape) from the Columbia Gorge.
• Grimm's Bluff, in Santa Barbara County's Happy Canyon appellation, for its second vintage of its estate Cab.
• Solminer, also in Santa Barbara County, was recognized for its Rubellite Syrah made with carbonic maceration.

All three are Biodynamic vineyards and the first two wines were featured at the International Biodynamic Wine Conference last year. (Solminer was certified just after the conference).

This kind of recognition for these new producers is unprecedented. And a tribute to high farming and winemaking standards.

Bordeaux Blend
• Eisele Vineyard - Altagracia
Partially BD estate wine, partially purchases fruit.
(Note: the price was listed in error in the guide at $66 - a girl can only dream that it's $66. Luckily it's $25 a glass at a Calistoga hotel near the winery.)

Cabernet Sauvignon
• Grgich Hills Estate - Estate
A Napa cab that isn't $100! (It's $71).
• Grimm's Bluff - Estate | BD
This is a breakthrough for a young BD producer - Congrats! And well deserved recognition. Biodynamic vineyard manager Philippe Coderey planted these vines not so long ago, and look what the result is. This is only the second vintage from this estate.
• Heitz - Martha's Vineyard
One of the most decorated wines from the U.S. for decades.
• Ridge Vineyards - Estate (not the Monte Bello)
(Happy to have two cases of this aging in my cellar)

• Analemma Wines | BD
Another big surprise win! Congrats!

Pinot Noir 
• Brick House Vineyards | Evelyn's BD
Mom (Evelyn) must be proud!
• Eyrie Vineyards - Original Vines
The classic.
• Radio-Coteau - Terra Neuma | BD
Another one of my personal favorites. Swoonworthy.

Red Rhone Blend
• Tablas Creek - Esprit de Tablas | BD
The bet on finding a place to grow mourvedre paid off.

• Solminer - Rubellite (carbonic maceration)
Only 100 cases made.

White Alsatian Blend
• Robert Sinskey Vineyards
One of my favorite whites from Napa.

• Winery Sixteen 600
Only 84 cases made.

Soter Vineyards - Mineral Ranch Brut Rosé | BD

Slow Wine Guide, Part 1: California and Oregon Picks: Biodynamic, Organic Producers Win Top Awards

Alex Davis from Porter Creek Vineyards in Sonoma, which won a Snail award,
at the Slow Wine tasting at Pier 27 Monday. 
Slow Wine released its 2019 guide this week announcing its Snail awards to Italian, California and Oregon wineries. U.S. Organic and Biodynamic producers took 18 out of the 44 U.S. top spots.


Among the top winners for the group's top award - the Snail - were 7 Biodynamic wineries (out of 34 total) from California and 5 Biodynamic wineries (out of 10) from Oregon. The Snail represents wineries with "high quality wines, originality, respect for the land and environment."

That's 20% of the California snails and 50% of the Oregon snails. Considering Biodynamic certification is rather rare, this is a very impressive showing.


• AmByth Estate
• Villa Creek Cellars

• Beckmen Vineyards
• Grimm's Bluff
• Solminer

• Porter Creek Vineyards
• Radio-Coteau

Claire Jarreau, asst. winemaker for Brooks,
which won a Snail award

Willamette Valley AVA

Eola-Amity Hills
• Brooks

Ribbon Ridge
• Brick House

Willamette Valley
• Cooper Mountain Vineyards

Van Duzer Corridor AVA
• Johan Vineyards

Applegate Valley AVA (southern Oregon)
• Troon Vineyard (in transition to BD certification)

I'm happy to say that all but one of these exhibited at the International Biodynamic Wine Conference last year. Bravo to the Snails!


And, of course, more kudos to all of the Snails with certified organic estates! Organic certification in the U.S. is about 2 percent or less, so this is also a very special group of producers.


Anderson Valley

• Drew

Napa Valley

• Frog's Leap
• Matthiasson
• Storybook Mountain Vineyards


Willamette Valley AVA
• Eyrie Vineyards
• Lumos Wine Co.
The Eyrie Pinot from Original Vines also
won a Great Wine award


It is hard work for these producers to farm organically and it's probably not a lot of fun to get certified. But quality and commitment (certification) shows and the extra effort is appreciated. Let it not go unrecognized.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

VIDEO: Mike Benziger in New Sonoma State University Wine Business Video

Pioneering Biodynamic vintner Mike Benziger talks about his career in a new series of videos on wine business.


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Brown Estate on KRON 4 TV - Napa's First Black Owned Winery

Check out the video here.

Conventional Wine Has 10X the Glyphosate Level of Organically Grown Wine, But Conventional Grains Have 500% More Than Conventional WIne

A new Public Interest Research Group test for glyphosate in beer and wine has revealed what many suspected all along.

You can't rid of the herbicide entirely - it's in the rainwater - but you can reduce more than 80-90 percent of your exposure by drinking organic.

You can get the report here.

The report is curious to me because if health risks were the main concern, the far greater levels of exposure come from grain, soy and bread. What is happening?

Nonprofit activist groups are finding that putting out messaging on beverages gets more media attention than foods that the general population is consuming. 

Since 2016, when more responsible groups began testing for the herbicide, findings have been consistent that the best way to get glyphosate out of diets is by eliminating grains and cereal based products.

In 2016, glyphosate testing showed that residues in Cheerios were 1,125 ppb, for Kashi oatmeal chocolate chip cookies 275 ppb, and for Ritz Crackers 260 ppb. Each of these contains 500% percent more glyphosate than the highest conventional wine on this short list.

Wineries should stop using glyphosate, but they probably won't unless consumers start reacting and only buying French wines that will, in a few years' time, have lower glyphosate residues. But U.S. wineries should stop telling people glyphosate levels of 51 ppb are fine. They're not. We have peer reviewed science that tells us otherwise.

In addition, the latest meta-analysis shows that workers and others who use Roundup do have a 38% higher chance of getting non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It's workers and other people who use it on a regular basis who have the highest risk.

My biggest concern re wineries' use is the guys who landscape the tasting rooms grounds. They're often out there everyday spraying. Are they at least wearing protective gear when they do that?

But while all glyphosate intake is a concern, shouldn't responsible health reporting focus on the greatest risks?

EWG did just that, when it published a big report last year on the highest risk foods. But focusing on beverage intake, in my view, is more about clickbait than informing consumers of the highest risks to cut back on. Of course, kids are the most impacted - and they don't really drink beer and wine. But they do eat a lot of cereal and bread.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Wine Australia Tasting: Three McLaren Vale Organic Producers To Watch

At the annual Wine Australia tasting this year, held at The Pearl, it wasn't easy to find the organic producers (no printed indications or even A-Z lists in the handouts), but after a lot of asking around, I located three, all from the McLaren Vale region outside of Adelaide, one of the oldest and most well established of Australia's 65 wine areas. Twenty two regions were represented at the event.

Like many a New World wine region, Australia's focus on higher end - and higher priced - wines in the last decade was evident. Aussies have clearly moved up - and it's not just to the Penfold stratosphere.

I found a lot to like with excellent value in $20-30 wines from organic producers' vines, making Australian wines a top choice for consumers.

Mark Davidson of Wine Australia with Phillip Anderson of Mountain People's Wine

1. Angove
Organic acres: 503
Organic since 2008

A giant in the Australian wine industry and one of the country's largest organic producers, Angove was founded by a Cornish immigrant who first harvested grapes in 1893. The fifth generation of the family has now begun to manage the winery.

Angove's organically grown wines range from $25 bottles (Angove Family Crest brand) to $75-100 upscale wines from its Warboys Vineyard (Angove McLaren Vale brand). It's also recently expanded into the Riverland region, buying a large chunk of vineyard acreage there.

The winery's low end Shiraz and Rhone GSM blend and high end Shiraz and Grenache impressed.

The wines are imported into the U.S. by Trinchero and are available on

2. Spring Seed Wine Co.
Organic acres: 70
Organic since 1995

2017 Forget Me Not Sauvignon Blanc Semillon $20

This white Bordeaux blend has 57% Sauvignon Blanc and 43% Semillon. Grown in a Mediterranean climate, it's a refreshingly unique white wine that's a change of pace from white Bordeaux from Bordeaux. Very few in the U.S. make a Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend. (Volker Eisele's Gemini from Chiles Valley in Napa is one.) So if you want to try a wine that's off a little bit off the beaten path but from a very good producer (and organic since 1995) this is a good choice.

Fun fact: the wine is available with three different labels (the wine inside the bottle remains the same), with graphics that echo summer seed packets.

Spring Seed has quite a few other wines to try, but they weren't being poured at the event, so I look forward to trying them another time.

3. Paxton
Biodynamic acres: 300+
Organic and Biodynamic (100%) and certified since 2011

One of Australia's leading Biodynamic producers, Paxton was founded by a first class viticulturalist, David Paxton, who also grows varieties apart from the usual Shiraz and Grenache (including Graciano and Tempranillo), selling grapes to other wineries. The winery's first vintage was in 1990.

Today it is a major producer, with an extensive portfolio and impressive scores as well. Four of the wines rated mid 90's scores from James Halliday and ranged in price from $20 to $30 - very good value indeed.

The marketing gang from Paxton;
global marketing director Brian Lamb  is on the right
The winery's new no added sulfite wines - NOW (NOW standing for "Natural Organic Wine") - are available in several varietal bottlings. The NOW Shiraz is sold at some Whole Foods stores in the U.S.

More impressive were the 2017 Cabernet ($20, 94 pts. from James Halliday) and the Shiraz ($20), which were bargains in my book. My favorite was the 2017 Quandong Farm Shiraz, a single vineyard designate ($30).

About 2,000-5,000 cases are distributed by Wine Warehouse in the U.S.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Organic Vineyard Consultant and Farm Advisor Amigo Bob Says Pesticide Residue Testing "Is a Fraud," Urges Activism

Organic farming advisor and activist Amigo Bob Cantisano at Ecofarm
In a rousing speech at Ecofarm, the organic farming conference, Amigo Bob Cantisano, one of the founders of CCOF, accused the state and federal government of fraud in testing food for pesticide residues, claiming that state officials test only 181 out of 1,048 active ingredients.

"This pesticide residue testing that they tell you everything's okey-dokey - it's not," he said. "Not one of the top ten most widely used pesticides is tested for."

Cantisano, who has been battling cancer for the last six years, said he was concerned about health effects of pesticides. "We're all being mollified that all that conventional food, which most of us are eating most of the time is safe. It's not," he said.

Official procedures for determining food safety are flawed from start to finish, Cantisano said. 

Cantisano said he came to his conclusions after repeatedly touring the California Dept. of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), where, he said, the testing machines are unable to analyze two thirds of commonly used pesticides.

Gaps in measurement

Firstly, Cantisano complained, the testing process for residues begins with washing produce for 15 seconds, a process which he says doesn't reflect the way consumers treat produce.

"These are all water soluble pesticides," he said. "The majority of the pesticides are washed off before they ever get into the [testing] machine." 

Secondly, the government tests aren't performed on pesticide combinations or on the inert ingredients.

"There are 1,058 active ingredients in pesticides used in California," Cantisano said. "But that doesn't count tank mixes, that doesn't count the products which are multiple mixes together," he said. "The government doesn't test the inert ingredients."

In the recent glyphosate cases against Monsanto and Bayer for Roundup and other herbicides, university researchers in France and the U.S. have found that the inert ingredients are more toxic than the listed active ingredient - glyphosate - alone.

"It's documented that inert ingredients in many pesticides are as toxic or sometimes more than the pesticides themselves or increase the toxicity of the active ingredients combined and inert ingredients to much greater toxicity levels," Cantisano said. "No inert ingredients are tested for on a routine basis by the government." 

Inerts are routinely used as 75 to 90 percent of the ingredients in pesticides, he said.

Thirdly, Cantisano said the CDFA tests for only 343 of the listed 1,058 active ingredients, according to lists provided to him by CDFA officials, of which he claims only half are actively used.

He said 16 of the 343 were metabolites or byproducts of pesticides that break down, bringing his count to 327 substances. 

Furthermore, he said, 146 of the active ingredients have not been registered in the state for 10 years and are no longer being used on California farms.

"So if you do the real math," he said, "it's actually not 343 of the 1,050 pesticides, it's a 181."

"That's what they're testing for on a regular basis. This represents less than 17% of the active ingredients used in California agriculture. So the vast majority of stuff applied in farming is never ever measured."

“Of the top ten, including sulfur and the other nine, which didn't even include glyphosate - which is probably way up there now - but at any rate, they don't test them. The lab analyzes three of the top 20 and nine of the top 50 pesticides used in California....They're not looking, folks. And when they look, they wash it first and then use this equipment that doesn't find it."

Fourthly, Cantisano also said the solvent used to extract the pesticides produces inconsistent and inaccurate results. 

"The efficacy of the solvent to extract the pesticides ranges from a high of approximately 90% of the active ingredient to a low of less than 10%. So some pesticides - they only get a very small portion of the extractant. The solvent is not able to pull it away from the produce. So the machine can't identify it."

Encourages more organic

Cantisano called for the organic farming community to step up efforts to support the use of fewer pesticides in all forms of agriculture and to fight for improved and more accurate testing. 

"Farm workers need to be protected, the environment needs to be protected. Two hundred million pounds of pesticides are being sprayed right now on farm land in California. Just keep that in mind. All this work you're [organic farmers] doing and all this coalition building, and all these organic farmers -  we're just pissing in the wind."

"We need to increase the consumption of organically grown food. We need to increase the growing of organically grown foods. We need to encourage - start it up again - the development of biological and non-toxic pest management," he added. "I'm telling you that even a cursory look at this shows that pesticide residue testing is fake."

Health effects of eating food with pesticide residues

Cantisano said communities were at high risk of diseases from pesticide use on food crops. "There's a cumulative effect. Our livers, our kidneys are all paying the price for this. Pancreases, too. 

"All this cancer stuff is from trying to clean your blood are constantly being assaulted every time you eat something. Even though they told you there's nothing on there, we're being fooled and the health system and your body - my body right now dealing with cancer - is dealing with this stuff, but we're not capable of fully dealing with it."

Cantisano was deeply inspired by Dr. Van den Bosch, a Berkeley professor whose life was cut short by an apparent heart attack just after giving a galvanizing three hour interview on talk radio on KGO on pesticides, Cantisano said in a followup interview. "He was naming names of what he called the pesticide mafia."

"Van den Bosch was just about to embark on a nationwide speaking tour to promote his new book, The Pesticide Conspiracy, published by Doubleday [in 1978], when he died jogging at Berkeley High School's running track, where he usually ran everyday," Cantisano continues. "This scared me and a whole lot of people from speaking up about this issue." 

"Twenty five years ago I wanted to talk about this," he said in his speech on the podium, "but I was afraid of being killed, like Dr. Van den Bosch from U.C. Berkeley's Division of Biological Control. I just didn't have the balls then," Cantisano said. 

Van den Bosch, a world renowned scientist in the field of biological control, was widely credited with being the founding father of the integrated pest management (IPM) program in California, but his career ended with his death at the age of 56. Later his lab disbanded. "All the copies of his book back then were taken off the market immediately," said Cantisano. (The book is now available as a reprint).

Cantisano, who is 67, has been a farm advisor to more than 800 organic farms and vineyards. He said he himself almost died last month from his battle with cancer. "That's why I am speaking out now," he said. "We need young people and middle aged people to continue the fight."

An expert on organic farming as well as organic vineyards, Cantisano has helped dozens of wineries grow wine grapes organically, advising Frog's Leap, Tres Sabores, Long Meadow Ranch, Preston, Martorana, Skipstone and many more over a 40+ year trajectory in the organic movement.

"I urge us to work more - more farmers together, more farm workers together, more scientists together, more environmentalists together. And in your lifetime: please clean this damn place up," he said in his closing remarks.

A group of attendees signed an email list to come up with ideas to increase awareness and develop programs to broaden education about the issues Cantisano raised. 

Cantisano founded the Ecological Farming Association or Eco-Farm in 1981 when a group held its first conference in Winters. The group says it has reached more than 60,000 people with its educational programs. It also gives out awards to prominent organic and ecological farming visionaries including Robert Rodale, Vandana Shiva, and Alice Waters.

New science research studies support organic health claims

On other fronts, new scientific reports released this winter from prominent authorities echo the health risks of pesticides in the food supply and mishandling of risk assessments by regulators at the EPA. 

In January, Consumer Reports and the Washington Post reported on a recent French study (published in the respected medical journal JAMA) that people whose diet is mostly organic reduced their cancer risk by 25 percent. The study followed 70,000 people over a four and a half year period. 

In January, a noted health researcher, Charles Benbrook, former executive director of the National Academy of Sciences board on agriculture, cited discrepancies in EPA's data sources, using data submitted by pesticide makers that conflicted with data from peer reviewed scientific journals. His article, published in the peer reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe, says the EPA overlooked critical data on glyphosate.

In his article, Benbrook wrote, "the EPA relied mostly on registrant-commissioned, unpublished regulatory studies, 99% of which were negative, while IARC relied mostly on peer-reviewed studies of which 70% were positive (83 of 118)." 

Benbrook also says the EPA looked only at glyphosate on its own, while the UN's IARC experts looked at formulated products that contained glyphosate (the listed active ingredient in Roundup) in combination with inert ingredients. 

In addition, Benbrook said the EPA looked at general population health risks, not specialized risks for workers or residents who used glyphosate based products on a regular basis.

[Representatives from Pesticide Action Network and CDFA did not respond to requests for comment on Cantisano's remarks.]

Friday, February 1, 2019

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

Image result for tablas creek sheep vimeoLast week at Ecofarm, it was great to hear Nathan from Tablas Creek and Kelly Mulville from Paiscines Ranch speak about their experience with sheep in vineyard settings - year round.

While many wineries use a "rent a sheep" service for sheep grazing before bud break, a few pioneers have figured out how to use sheep to graze year round.

 At Tablas Creek, sheep also graze non vineyard areas munching on brush that would otherwise be potential forest fire fuel. But sheep do more aside from the obvious "tillage" and fertilization, they also affect vine root structure, as you'll hear in this video.

  Tablas Creek Sheep Program from Shepherd's Films on Vimeo.

I'll be writing more about the Ecofarm session at Click to learn more and subscribe. Our Organic Wine News Briefs are free.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

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

L to R: Mike Veseth, Danny Brager, Melissa Lange, Jeff Bitter, and Glenn Proctor 
While organic vineyard acreage is expected to surge by nearly 6,000 acres in this year, it barely got a nod from speakers on the podium at the industry's annual State of the Industry panel session, a popular gathering that is part of Unified Wine Grape Symposium in Sacramento this week, attended by an estimated 14,000 participants.

On the podium, Glenn Proctor of The Ciatti Company mentioned organic bulk wine sales were up in Italy and in Spain, but there was no mention of organics in the U.S., which the picture is dramatically different, experts said at the press conference after the public event.

The organic sector's revenues (2 percent of U.S. off premise sales) are growing at 10 percent annually, according to Nielsen figures (from June 2017 to 2018). Two percent of California's vineyards are certified organic, and if the wine industry overall is valued at $70 billion (according to bw166 estimated from tax receipts data), the organic sector's net worth - at 2 percent of $70 billion - would be $1.4 billion annually (including both domestic and imported wines).

At the press conference after the session, speakers briefly touched on their perceptions of this market.

"We will continue to see growth in that segment," said Danny Brager, SVP of Alcohol Beverages for Nielsen, which collects the bulk of available wine industry scan data on sales revenue and volume. "I don't have the exact numbers, but it's certainly growing."

Looking to softer data culled from social media sources, Brager said, "at the messaging level, I think there's a receptive audience. In social media conversations, younger people - or people when they're talking about health stuff - the other topic that comes up is about the environment and sustainability. Organic pops up pretty heavily in terms of those conversations, which are largely younger people."

Mike Veseth, wine economist, said he was watching Shaw Organic, Bronco's new label, which launched in 2018. "They are making an effort to produce about a four or five dollar wine in Trader Joe's...a Trader Joe's buyer is likely to be interested in the organic designation. I'm keeping an eye on that."

Jeff Bitter of Allied Grape Growers said growth is moderate in terms of grape buying for those already in the organic sector. "We see the same organic buyers in the marketplace and we see moderate growth within those same groups of people. I don't have a lot of experience with new entrants coming into the market to buy a lot of grapes that for an organic program."

"I think some of the growth is either the big guys that already exist - the Fetzer's [Bonterra's] of the world, Winery Exchange [WX, whose brand Daily Red, is also sold at Trader Joe's] - people that are kind of have these brands that are already established.

"Franzia is probably going to expand internally, but in terms of new entrants into the market, I don't get a whole lot of buyers call me looking for organic grapes that are not currently in that business."

Currently Bonterra produces about 500,000 cases of "Made with Organic Grapes" wine, making it the top selling wine in that category according to Nielsen data. However Nielsen does not include Costco or Trader Joe's sales nor sales in most natural food stores throughout the country.

While Bonterra dominates U.S. sales in this category, with a 25 percent market share, seven of the top ten bestselling wines in the Made with Organic Grapes category are from foreign producers.

Frey Vineyards sales on revenue growth

Nielsen data says that "Made with Organic Grape" wines are 80% of the wines sold with organic labeling in the U.S.; the remaining 20 percent is split between the other two categories: "USDA Organic" or "Ingredients: Organic Grapes."

But no added sulfite wine producers' "USDA Organic" wines are often sold in Costco and natural foods stores not covered by Nielsen's scans.

No added sulfite wine producers at the Organic Growers Summit said sales are increasing more than 10 percent a year. Frey Vineyards' production was 270,000 cases, according to Katrina Frey, who spoke at the December summit in Monterey. Sales of Our Daily Red were up as well.

Featured in Costco in Nevada and California, Frey says the winery can't keep up with demand and has recently started importing organic grapes from Argentina. "We don't have enough wine to fill all the potential Costco markets, but with our new winery (which will be completed in May 2019), we are looking at approaching a few other regions now."

Argentina's Domaine Bousquet, which makes a line of more than 10 "Made with Organic Grapes" wines also reports that its U.S. sales are also up 10% a year.

For more industry coverage of this market sector, sign up for free Organic Wine News Briefs or subscribe to premium content at Organic Wine Insider.