Thursday, July 31, 2014

Celebrate International Albarino Day - August 3

Did you know there are four organically grown Albarinos made in the US? You can celebrate International Albarino Day with any of these praiseworthy fine wines:

1. From an Organic Vineyard

Bokisch Vineyards, Albarino, $18

Specializing in Spanish varietal wines, Lodi-based Bokisch is run by a Mark Bokisch (who is half Spanish). The winery's won high praise from critic Robert Parker for its Spanish varietals.

2. Certified Wine: Made with Organic Grapes

Marimar Estate, Albarino, $32 (Winery Only Wine)

Marimar Torres, proprietor of Marimar Estate in Sonoma, is a member of one of the world's most famous (and largest) winery families, the Torres, who make wine around the globe. Their brands comprise the largest  winery in Spain and one of the largest in the world.

Robert Parker's praised this wine, giving it a 90 point rating. : "...strikingly authentic floral notes intermixed with notions of chalky soil, white currants, apricots and peaches...crisp, mineral-laced, delicate yet authoritative…the finest Albarino I have tasted from California."

3. From a Biodynamic Vineyard:

Martian Ranch & Vineyard, $22

Inspired by a trip to Spain, Central Cost vintner (and Martian proprietor) Nan Helgeland decided to plant Albarino in her Santa Barbara County vineyard (near Los Alamos, just north of Buellton-Solvang-Los Olivos).

Her 2012 vintage garnered this praise from Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle, who called it"...pitch-perfect for summer, juicy and distinct…”

4. Certified Biodynamic Wine*:

Verdad, $22

"Virtually no one in California has been as committed to this grape as Louisa Lindquist," writes Jon Bonné of Verdad vintner Louisa Sawyer Lindquist's Albarinos. He goes on to praise this wine as "densely flavored...fresh mint-leaf and wet stone wrapped around citrus and guava flavors. A masterful effort."

Jeb Dunnuck of the Wine Advocate, rated the 2012 90 pts, writing the following: "A beautiful Albarino that’s worth checking out...offers up plenty of citrus blossom, pear, wild herbs, lime and tinges of minerality in a medium-bodied, crisp and balanced package."
And if that wasn't enough, S. Irene Virbilia of the Los Angeles Times picked it as a Wine of the Week.

The Verdad is probably the easiest one to find outside of directly contacting any of these four wineries.

Wouldn't it be great to try all four?


* This certification means that no additives other than sulfite have been added to the wine.

"Shades of Green" - Our Article Makes the Cover of Beverage Media Magazine's August 2014 Issue (Out Today)

Have a look at the article "Shades of Green" here.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ramona, The Mother Vine: A Trip to San Gabriel Mission and the Roots of California's Wine Industry

California's rich wine history lies beneath the surface in southern California's landscape today, but it reveals itself to travelers willing to seek it out.

I've made a 10 day research trip to discover the roots of California's first wine grape growing and wine making, which has led me to the Mother Vine - Ramona, a 250 year old grape vine planted in the San Gabriel Mission courtyard.

Visitors to the San Gabriel Mission can see the vine, along with the winery next to it. It's easy to miss  Ramona, so be sure to look for it beside the winery where its tendrils extend hundreds of yards, covering a large arbor.

This particular vine is said to date back to 1777.  Historians date the introduction of the grape vine to California to a shipment that arrived in San Juan Capistrano a short time before this date. However, it was at San Gabriel that vines truly flourished, along with other crops (in part, due to the availability of irrigated water from Pasadena and San Marino). More than 8 acres of Mission wine grapes were cultivated here. (The vineyards are now settled areas with no remaining traces of their former agricultural use).

San Gabriel Mission, Michael Hart illustration 
The vines at San Gabriel were widely used for cuttings that established southern California's wine industry, which grew to be the American powerhouse producing region in the 1830's-1870's.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ballard Canyon + Biodynamic = Beckmen Vineyards

Syrah producers got a great opportunity to introduce wine writers and bloggers to the new Ballard Canyon appellation at the 2014 Wine Blogging Conference, held this weekend in Buellton (in lovely Santa Barbara County).

Enjoy these photos from the event.

Steve Beckmen of Beckmen Vineyards with his
Purisima Mountain Syrah - made from the various
elevations on Beckmen's 125 acre Biodynamic vineyard.
Sixty percent of it is planted to Syrah.
Patrick Comiskey (left), wine writer for LA Weekly, made impassioned
introductory remarks about the love of Syrah, calling the varietal
"rebellion in a glass" for its wilder side (which may be somewhat of an
exaggeration but makes great copy for Twitterers - of whom there
were plenty at the conference.)
Ballard Canyon AVA organizer Pete Stolpman said while Syrah's
reputation had suffered for producers who have  Syrah but
don't specialize in it (i.e. a Napa Cab vintner with a Syrah on the side),
the Syrah specialist producers were doing just fine. 
To learn more about the panel, check out Tweets from #wbc2014 and/or
The Beckmen Purisima Mountain Syrah (top glass in this
For more information on Beckmen's Syrahs (the winery makes 4 different ones from certified Biodynamic vines), check out the Biodynamic Vine Finder app.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

New - Pinot Noir Tasting Experience at Benziger

Looking for a new wine country experience to take in this summer? If you're traveling to Sonoma, consider Benziger's new Pinot Noir tasting.

It's much harder to grow Pinot Noir organically or Biodynamically - or so say most of the producers in the Pinot heartland of Anderson Valley, where only two vineyards are certified - Handley Cellars' organic estate and Filigreen Farm's Biodynamic vines. (In Oregon, 9 producers have certified Biodynamic vineyards; three more prestigious producers have organic vineyards.) 

In the Sonoma Coast AVA, the newest region making acclaimed California Pinots, there are precious few certified vineyards growing Chardonnay or Pinot Noir - let alone, making great wine from them. To find the others, check out the Organically Sonoma: Wine Finder app. (App link here for Apple and link here for Android.)

But in western Sonoma, in the Sonoma Coast AVA, Benziger's producing three Pinot Noirs with growing reputations from its Terra Neuma vineyard.

Now, the winery is showcasing its Burgundian wines in a new Pinot Noir experience, which includes only organically or Biodynamically grown Chardonnays and Pinots. 

For $40, experience a private tasting with these featured wines:
  • Signaterra, West Rows Chardonnay (Made with Organic Grapes)
  • Signaterra, Bella Luna Pinot Noir (Biodynamic Wine)
  • de Coelo, Pinot Noir - Arbora Sacra (Biodynamic Wine)
  • de Coelo, Pinot Noir - Quintus (Biodynamic Wine)
  • de Coelo, Pinot Noir - Terra Neuma (Biodynamic Wine)
Several of the 2011 and 2010 de Coelo Pinots ($75) have received ratings of 90-91 pts. from Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar. The 2011 Quintus won a Double Gold medal in the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Biodynamic Wines are the only wine classification that tells you the wine was made using only native yeast and no additives were added - a high bar indeed. It's one that few wines in the U.S. measure up to. In fact, there are only 18 Pinot Noirs in the U.S. that meet this standard. 

Find out how the terroir of the impressive de Coelo (pronounced day SHAY lo) site, near Freestone, actually tastes on this by- appointment experience.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Grand Cru Breakthrough - Bordeaux's Fonplegade Wines Labeled Organic

Congratulations to Fonplegade for putting organic on the label.

While many a winery grows grapes organically, few bottle label it - especially in Bordeaux.  Now, another name can be added to the list of those who are proud to say they are making an organically grown product.

Fonplegarde is owned by the American couple, Stephen and Denise Adams. Mrs. Adams is an organic gardener who enjoys organic gardening at their home in Connecticut.

The Adamses also have Adamvs, a Howell Mountain winery, with Philippe Melka as the consulting winemaker. (I visited recently - a great pleasure - and will share photos soon).
Fonplegarde, owned by the Adamses, is a Saint-Émilion Grand Cru and the
third in the region to put organic on the label

Monday, June 30, 2014

Eric Asimov's Rosé Picks - Kudos to Two Organically Grown Rosés Featured Last Week

Being featured on the pages of a New York Times wine review is nice - very nice. Two of the wines featured in Organically Napa: A Wine Finder made Eric Asimov's list of recommended California rosés.

He doesn't list them as organically grown. Can you tell which ones are organically farmed? (Hint: if not, check out the app.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

IN PHOTOS: A Trip to HALL Rutherford - Napa's Most Glamorous Chandelier Cellar

It's hard to know where to start in describing HALL in Napa.

Focus on the glamor, the Texas connections or the stunning, art filled presentation? The 200 acres of certified organic vines, the LEED certification (first to be both LEED and certifed organic in the vineyard)? Or just the world class touring experience with thoughtfully designed hangout areas, the historic winery and sculptures among the gardens? Or should it be the wines alone - which have captivated both Parker (who gave its Exzellenz a 100 pt. score) and the Wine Spectator (which placed Kathryn Hall Cabernet #1 on its Top 100 List)?

With more than 200 acres of organically farmed vineyards in Napa, HALL is one of Napa's biggest organic vineyard owners. All of its organic grapes go into its estate wines (along with grapes from other sources). For wine lovers seeking wines sourced solely from organic vines, look for HALL's two wines from its Alexander Valley estate in Sonoma and two of its most expensive single vineyard designates (Bergfeld and Sacrashe).

I spent yesterday at each of HALL's two locations - St. Helena and Rutherford - to understand the wines and the experiences offered for my app Organically Napa: A Tasting and Touring Guide. I came away deeply impressed with HALL's attention to detail, the quality of experiences, the wine and the art.

While the St. Helena experience provides both walk in and by appointment options and is conveniently located on Highway 29, the Rutherford estate is by appointment only ($60, three tours a day offered at 11, 1 and 3) on a private road above Auberge du Soleil.

Judging from the comments of my tour companions, reservations take awhile to get. On my tour, 2 out of 4 couples were from Texas, including two couples from Dallas (where the Halls have their business offices and real estate investments; Craig Hall, involved in many enterprises, was a part owner of the Dallas Cowboys). One couple said they had called in March and were unable to get on the 11 am or 1 pm tour on June 24 - those times on date three months in advance were already booked.

The winery is also offering a combo tour including lunch ($250 per person; available on

Our guide said that Madeleine Albright and Nancy Pelosi had recently held a dinner at the estate. Clinton is also a regular visitor.

Here are some photos from the tour yesterday. 

The rear of the house with the winery below…Hall makes most of its
wines in St. Helena but the cellar and winery here are for single
vineyard designate red wines
The most spectacular aspect of HALL Rutherford for many people
is the Swarovski chandelier in the cellar  
The chandelier armature is made of bronze in the shape of a
grape vine root system
There are some 1,800+ crystals, each representing one day in
Kathryn Hall's tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Austria in 1997-2001
In a town with stiff competition on glamor, HALL's cellar might
just be Napa's classiest. It's constructed solely out of imported,
antique Austrian bricks, each bearing the seal of the Hapsburgs.
Antique bricks provide the structure; niches on the side feature art
from the Hall's personal collections
The tasting set up inside the cave…yesterday's featured a WALT Pinot
Noir ($65), the Ellie Cab ($80) and the Jack's Masterpiece Cab ($125)
The entrance to the cave features art commissioned by Kathryn Hall
in the winery's signature red color
Austria had quite an influence on the overall winery;
the stainless steel fermenters were hand crafted by German and
Austrian artisans
A tour at Rutherford includes a quick stop at the vineyard's edge -
the Sacrashe vineyard here is the site from which HALL makes
its Sacrashe sourced Exzellenz Cabernet, which Parker awarded a score of
100 pts. last year for the 2010 vintage ($200, 160 cases; sold out). 
The Sacrashe vineyard's distinctive volcanic ash soils are unique in Napa.

It's lovely to see an estate that's both elegant and committed to organic viticulture, even if all of the wines are not from organic vines.

Because HALL is not an estate only winery, almost all of HALL's production is a blend of organic and non organic grapes with the overall blend around 50/50. The winery is committed to a program emphasizing Cabs from a variety of appellations. Its own vineyards are in St. Helena, Rutherford and Pope Valley in addition to newly planted vines on Atlas Peak. It buys fruit from Mt. Veeder, Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain, and other locations.

Enjoy this great new addition to the organic landscape in Napa. With 200 acres of organic vines in the county, HALL accounts for 5 percent of the county's organic acreage - a number that increases as the Halls purchase additional vineyards in the area.

This winery is sure to rise quickly to the top of Trip Advisor's lists - it's done all the right things to promote visitors to share in its vision and bounty. More than 60% of the wine is sold directly to consumers at the winery or via its three clubs. It makes four (out of 19) wines for general distribution.

It's #1 on my list of wineries to recommend to friends and family heading to Napa. All of the visitors on my tour yesterday booked it based on the recommendations of friends.

The Halls have succeeded in creating a destination spot that caters to a broad market, with many different experiences in St. Helena aimed at making the wine newbie comfortable and conversant with wine and food as well as serving the needs of collectors - and all in a spectacular environment in which all wine tourists will enjoy being engaged with the landscape, the art and the wines.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Kudos to McFadden's Sparkling Brut - The Little Wine That Could - Best of Show at California State Fair

Once again, the little winery that could - McFadden Vineyards in Mendocino's Potter Valley - grabs a great big prize at yet another wine competition. This time it's the California State Fair's Commercial Wine Competition.

Proprietor Guinness McFadden will pick up a DOUBLE GOLD and a BEST OF SHOW for the winery's nonvintage Brut ($25) (a wine I've been enjoying and championing for several years and have blogged too often about, but what can you do when it wins yet another major award?)

McFadden also received Double Gold medals for both this wine and its reserve Brut from the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition earlier this year.

On sale, as a wine club member, you can buy the regular Brut for $14-15 a bottle. Discounts also apply during the Hopland Passport weekends (once each year in the fall and again in the spring). The next Passport weekend is Oct. 18-19.

The McFadden annual Wine Club party (open to non club members as well) is a farm-and-vineyard extravaganza not to be missed. In fact, it's coming up in early July - the date is Saturday, July 12, 2014 from 5-11 pm. Tickets can be purchased online or over the phone at (707) 744-8463. Guinness takes guests on a walking tour of the farm, then there's a big feast prepared by his daughter Fontaine (a caterer in SF), serving locally raised grilled pork and lamb from famed Mac Magruder's farm down the way.

The winery also promises to serve a new 2012 McFadden Brut Rosé, its first Brut Rosé.

After dinner, there's dancing under the stars to the sounds of the fabulously talented Kelly McFarling Band.

To me, this party celebrates the best side of California's wine industry - local, organically grown award-winning wines, beautifully farmed vineyards, community, and great food! You can also bring a tent and sleep overnight at the winery on a grassy lawn and stick around Sunday for swimming in a bit of the Russian River, which flows right by the dinner spot.

Guinness McFadden, leading a tour in 2013 for the wine club
on his Potter Valley property