Sunday, September 27, 2015

Valley Fire Survivor - Beaver Creek Vineyards in Middletown: Update

Beaver Creek Vineyards in the Valley Fire - part of the vineyard burned
An update from Beaver Creek Vineyards, an organic and biodynamic winery in Middletown:

"Beaver Creek Vineyard has survived the Middletown fire. Part of our vineyard burned but we are one of the few businesses still standing.

If you would like to support us during the regrowth of Middletown, please visit our winery or join our wine club.

The tasting room will reopen Thursday Sept.. 24th from 11-6 pm."

NASA Image of Valley Fire

I can highly recommend their 2012 Fairytale Cabernet ($29) - a real gem of a Biodynamic Wine (no additives except a limited amount of sulfites)...which I recently had the pleasure of tasting in San Francisco. Out of 100+ wines, it was one of my favorites.

Beaver Creek Vineyard proprietor and winemaker
Martin Pohl in August at a tasting at Yield Wine Bar
I am planning to stop by on Tuesday when I will be in the area to visit Hawk and Horse (another Biodynamic vineyard in Lake County), too.

Portland Magazine's 25 Wines $25 and Under Features 2 Organic Options

Two of the great weekday wines featured in Portland Magazine's roundup of Oregon's Top 25 Wines Under $25 and under come from some of my favorite Oregon producers - or really, just some of my overall favorite producers.

Both of these wines are featured in a book I am currently working on: Under $20: Top 100 Wines from Organic Vines.

Both are whites:

Rudy Marchesi (right) of Montinore
at a recent SF tasting
• Montinore's white Alsatian blend Borealis ($16). The blend varies year to year, but this is just always an intrinsically interesting wine - and as Portland magazine points out, great with anything spicy. The grapes are Biodynamic and organic; it's made in a certified organic and Biodynamic winery.

Montinore makes 40,000 cases a year of mostly affordably priced wines (although it has excellent small lot reserve wines, too) from its 210 acres of biodynamic vines in the northwest corner of the Willamette Valley.

Dai Crisp at a recent SF tasting

• Lumos Wine Co.'s Rudolfo Pinot Gris ($18).  This comes from the 10 acre Logsdon Ridge vineyard near Corvallis. It's full of melon, spiced apple and nectarine notes on the nose.

Lumos Wine Co. is the winery of Dai Crisp, vineyard manager extraordinaire, who is famous for farming Temperance Hill vineyard, one of Oregon's finest. Appreciation for his own wines, including a Pinot Noir from Temperance Hill, is rapidly growing.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Great Harvest Photos, Continued - Pinot Noir on the Vine: Temperance Hill

From Oregon, Temperance Hill Vineyard's Pinot Noir is looking picture perfect! This gorgeous hilltop site, with 100 acres of planted vines - among the most coveted among Willamette Valley winemakers - is farmed by vineyard manager and Lumos Wine proprietor Dai Crisp (who provided this photo on FB).

These grapes go into more than 10 single vineyard designate Pinots produced by Oregon's top vintners (Adelsheim, Bergstrom, Brooks, Evesham Wood, St. Innocent, and many more).

Dai Crisp also makes an outstanding bottling of his own, too - look for it under his Lumos Wine label. (A word to the wise - order some now. I can't say why but it's probably going to all be snapped up soon.) And on top of that, it is only $38 (versus those $75 Sonoma Coast Pinots). But of course cost is not the reason you want it - pleasure is!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wine & Spirits 2015 Top 100 Wineries Announced: Here Are the Organic Among Them

Wine & Spirits released its list of 2015's top 100 wineries. A few of the regulars - with organic vines - who made the list again this year are:

• Frog's Leap

• Storybook Vineyards

Both make only organically grown estate wines. Storybook labels its "Ingredients: Organic Grapes" on the bottle.

There's also newcomer Drew Wines, a tiny Mendocino Ridge AVA winery in Elk, whose first release from its organic estate vines is coming in 2016. It also grows organic apples.

Several wineries on the list also make at least one single vineyard designate from organic vines, including:

• Nickel & Nickel (Rock Cairn Cabernet)

• Radio Coteau (both its Pinot Noir-Terra Neuma and Syrah-Dusty Lane are from organic vines; the Pinot is also a Demeter certified Biodynamic Wine)

• Ravenswood (its two small production estate wines - Estate Merlot and Estate Zinfandel)

While I don't know all of the foreign winners, at least is biodynamic - Domaine Zind Humbrecht in Alsace.

Kiss, Kiss - Shill, Shill? Did Sunset Magazine's Wine Editor Just Appear in a Commercial on Behalf of Napa's Big Corporate Vintners?

As someone who comes from the world of real journalism (my mentor was a New York Times editorial board member and I have several journalism awards, including one from the New England Press Association), the world of wine and wine writers has been something of an ethical mystery to me.

In my early days, I reported on nuclear power plants and citizen attempts to close down the local plant. It taught me a lot about consumer perception of dangers that, to many, are largely invisible.

Later in my career, I learned about "tech journalism," from the other side of the fence, while freelancing a lot for Apple. (I made most of John Sculley's videos and wrote countless presentations along with 13 books for Apple.) One veteran event producer I worked with was fond of making fun of the computer press. "They're just ducklings, and we feed them bread crumbs," he said.

The wine world is hardly known for rigorous journalism - and more's the pity. While no paper in the U.S. covers the pesticide issues connected to wineries, there's a lot of money to be made from puff pieces about the wine scene and wineries, which the wine industry paints as drivers of the local economy. (If they are such drivers, you wonder why you rarely if ever see a piece about the local economy and wine in the business section in a regular California newspaper - only in the North Bay Business Journal or wine industry press.)

Contrast that with organic foodie-ism - a huge topic in newspapers - and maybe even fracking. Sunset magazine does pieces on both of these topics. (See its latest piece on fracking here.) But pesticides in wine? Don't look for that anytime soon. Sunset looks to be in bed with the wine industry - in a newer and bigger way.

Sunset magazine wine editor Sara Schneider starring in the Napa Valley Vintner's latest video production
Sunset's just partnered with the Napa Valley Vintners, having Sunset wine editor Sara Schneider star in a new series of videos produced by the powerful regional association of the country's richest wineries. That's what I call a "brand smooch" - i.e. let's build bigger audiences by leveraging your audience and mine. The two companies logos are flashed on the screen at the beginning of each segment.

Sara Schneider "covers" harvest in a day, appearing in a series of videos posted on the vintners site. It's (allegedly) a "behind the scenes, day in the life" video of harvest. After viewing the video, which takes place in short segments shot across the valley, one has to wonder - is this "coverage" or a "commercial"?

What's in the video:

• Stops at five wineries, three of which are owned by giant wine corporations, including two based outside the U.S. (Italy, Spain)

• A casual, friendly, folksy feeling (not like a real harvest which is one of a lot of stress and moving of equipment, grapes, machines and people - all making for big hubbub)

• "On message" interviews, highlighting green practices and vintners' "love of the land" and love of preserving the land for future generations

• Pretty pictures of white people, not the hardworking Mexicans who actually harvest the grapes (although there's one Latino vineyard manager who appears very briefly in the first segment)

What's left out: 

• Corporate ownership

Two of the wineries featured are owned by large, global corporations headquartered outside the U.S. Another winery - featured one that's Napa Green certified - is owned by a family that is the main contractor for the tar sands oil drilling projects in Canada.

• Toxics and water use

All of the featured wineries - Napa Green certified or not - use pesticides and herbicides, including an assortment of bee and bird toxins (boscalid), reproductive and developmental toxins (myclobutanil), and carcinogens (glyphosate/Roundup). None talk about the amount of water it takes to make a bottle of wine and where that water comes from.


In the first segment, Sara visits Artesa, where she meets the winemaker and vineyard manager and finds out why grapes are picked in the night.

She's curious why they pick by hand - which might make you wonder how she got to be the wine editor of a major food and wine magazine? Surely she knows the answer why before she made this video. Therefore, we might not really be sure whether to trust this host or not...

Corporate ownership - Artesa: Spanish-based Cordoniu/Raventos, founded in Catalan and one of the world's largest producers of the Spanish sparkling wine cava. It owns wineries on 5 continents, including 7,400 acres of its own vineyards. It employs 800 people globally.

Toxics: 46 gallons of Roundup - the carcinogen you can no longer buy in a French store - on estate vines; more on purchased grapes from other growers.


Next stop: Cliff Lede where Sara meets the viticulturist and the enologist where she learns what happens in the winery, and asks, "I understand that Cliff Lede is Napa Green certified. What exactly does that mean in the vineyard?"

Then we get a non-answer from the Cliff Lede enologist: "We're committed to the land and to future generations."

The Cliff Lede staffers go on to say that 90% of the energy that they use in the winery comes from solar panels on the property (subsidized by energy tax credits provided by California taxpayers).

They also talk about the wine caves used to store their wine barrels. "The cave system requires minimal amounts of energy for cooling," the Cliff Lede employee says. Gee, what a modern technological marvel - since caves have been in use to age wine for as many as 8,000 years.

"We collect our water and we use reclaimed water to irrigate our vineyards and our landscaping," they say, without saying what volume of water that amounts to and how much water they use to produce a bottle of wine.

Ownership of Cliff Lede: Cliff Lede created his winery backed by his days working in the family business, Ledcor, an Alberta construction company. Ledcor is the leading contractor for the Canadian oil tar sands project

Toxics at Cliff Ledelots of Roundup and the bee and bird toxin, boscalid, are used on its 47 acres of estate vines, in addition to toxics applied to grapes it buys from other growers. 


Then it's on to Antica, on Atlas Peak, where a "typical" harvest luncheon is served. It looks more like a Sunset magazine shoot for the perfect beef industry promotional meal. Plates with heaping portions of steak are passed around as Sara "interviews" general manager Glen Salva, who looks like he just stepped out of a Ralph Lauren ad, about the activities at harvest time.

In the video, there are plenty of shots of young, white people in winery positions in the cellar. A quick reference is made to the harvest crew - but we don't see or hear from any of the (Mexican) vineyard workers.

Salva talks about the owners - the Antinori family, an Italian wine dynasty - and their commitment to "passion, patience and perserverance."

Pesticides aren't on his P-words alliteration list.

Corporate ownership of Antica: Italian wine giant Antinori, one of the world's largest wine companies, owns vineyards and brands across the globe, including in Hungary, Roumania, Spain (Malta), and Chile, as well as Napa and Washington State. It is a part owner (along with Washington-based Ste. Michelle Wine Estates) of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars in Napa. 

Toxics used at Antica: 20 gallons of the bee and bird toxin boscalid; 21 gallons of the developmental and reproductive toxin myclobutanil (one of the more toxic pesticides, it's labeled a "Bad Actor" by the EPA)


Then, because Sara needs a caffeine break by now, it's on to coffee in St. Helena with Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home fame. Trinchero, a winemaker in Napa since 1960, is the guy who created White Zinfandel, now a $6 billion business.

He reminisces about how he got his start in 1960, when there were only 15 wineries in Napa Valley, where his family was already in the business. You'd be forgiven for not knowing he's also one the country's biggest vintners, because it's never mentioned. You know, he's just an old timer from when Napa was a folksy, intimate place.

Corporate ownership: Trinchero Family Estates, the 5th largest winery in the country, owns 30 wine brands, including Sutter Home. It just opened a state of the art mega-facility in Lodi, where it can make all of its annual production of 20 million cases and can store up to 4 million at a time in the 850,000 square foot facility. 

Toxics used: with 30 brands, toxics used are too numerous to count.


Then it's back to the grapes - this time, Napa's signature varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, which hasn't ripened enough to be picked. Sara visits Schweiger Vineyards, the only winery in her day in the life that actually is a small family winery. It has 35 acres of vines on Spring Mountain.

"What do you think makes this an attractive place?" she asks the proprietors Fred and Andy Schweiger. Their answer? "We do this because you [sic] love working with the land and putting into it."

Toxics: feeling "the love" of the land and putting into it 13 gallons of the carcinogen glyphosate


The video concludes with a big harvest party (even though most of the wineries haven't picked their Cabernet yet).

Sara's at the party, holding a glass of wine and saying, "You can keep the magic going the next time you open a bottle of Napa Valley wine."


I'm not sure the New York Times would allow Eric Asimov to mouth these words to camera, nor would the Wine Spectator, even. But one does wonder - what rules are being followed here in terms of Sunset's editorial policies?

The American Society of Magazine Editors does have some rules. Its rules say, "Editorial content of any kind should not be submitted to advertisers for approval."

Didn't Sunset staff and the magazine's logo appear in the videos? Yes. And did the magazine edit the videos? In all likelihood, no.

With Sunset having announced its relocating its test gardens and kitchens to Sonoma (and its offices to Oakland's Jack London Square), we can anticipate where this brand is going - i.e. deeper and deeper into wine country. But can we ask Sunset to be accountable for its editorial content and policies - and to let us know those policies? After all, it's owned by Time, Inc. And they should know something about journalistic ethics.

Personally, I don't blame the NVV for putting out a promotional video - it's a great piece of advertising for their brand. They are doing what great marketers do - deliver consistent, high quality messaging about their brand.

But I do think that Sunset should watch what it's doing. While they're no environmental watchdog, they do have a brand to protect - one based on home, family, food and travel.

Credibility is based on editorial ethics - and Sunset's are, at the very least, questionable.

ADDENDUM (Sept. 27)

The data on pesticide use quoted here was not meant to single out these particular vineyards and wineries, as more than 80 percent of the vines in Napa Valley use one or more of these toxic pesticides (and others). Enumerating just some of what was used was to point out the disparity between vintners who proclaim themselves to be green (and spend millions promoting that marketing messaging) and the actual facts of their farming practices. Consumers are very confused about what the wineries are doing, which is precisely the point of the wineries' green marketing efforts.

Saying you have a love of the land and want to preserve it for future generations is a media talking point, and wineries and their staff are rehearsed in media trainings to provide that quote over and over. Many - maybe even most - staffers do not know the actual facts of what is used at their wineries.

I'll be posting an updated list of the countywide quantities of toxics used in Napa, and Sonoma, and Mendocino and statewide in a future post so you can get a sense of how pervasive and widespread the use of toxics is. But for starters, Napa Valley growers applied more than 50,000 pounds of Roundup (glyphosate) in 2013 over 34,000 acres (out of 40,000 bearing acres in the county), according to the state's pesticide use reports.

No organic vineyards use any of these toxics.

2015 Sunset Magazine International Wine Competition: Organic Winners

Sunset is carving a deeper niche in the wine space, in an effort to promote its role as the voice of authority for wines from supermarket aisles to fine wine departments - as well as wine tourism. The current issue's cover focuses on "The Best of Wine Country," a feature focusing on Napa, Santa Barbara County and Southern Oregon.

The Napa wineries feature a number of wines from $85-150 - pretty pricey for what I would expect to find in Sunset magazine.

Four years ago, the magazine launched its own wine competition, and brings together an all star panel of judges to judge the wines.

Like most wine competitions, the results can sometimes be surprisingly odd, making you wonder...

• Barefoot Cellars $7 Cabernet (from Argentina) getting a gold? Higher than the $125 world famous, Fay Vineyard Cabernet from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, which only got a silver?

• There were almost no wines from Oregon producers (despite the fact that the magazine included a special on touring southern Oregon wineries)

• There's no mention of the number of wines submitted and how many awards were given, so you don't really know how many wines did not win any award or how much wineries had to pay to have their wines considered.

But never mind.

Here are the organically grown wines that took top awards and gold or silver medals. A few of these are personal faves. I've underlined those.


Red Blend

Oakville Ranch - 2012 - Field Blend ($55)




Bokisch Vineyards - 2014 ($18)



Medlock Ames - 2013 - Lower Slope ($40)


Retzlaff ($22) **



Handley - 2014 ($20)



Voss - 2014 ($19)


Petroni Vineyards - 2013 ($24)**




Benziger Family Winery - 2012 - Oonapais ($49)*

Benziger Family Winery - 2012 - Tribute ($80)*

Wilridge Winery - 2013 - Melange Noir ($40)*



Oakville Ranch - 2012 ($110)



Oakville Ranch - 2012 ($80)


Benziger Family Winery - 2012 - Sunny Slope ($59)*

Frey Vineyards - 2013 ($17) ***

Hawk and Horse Vineyard - 2011 ($65)

Medlock Ames - 2012 - Bell Mountain ($45)

Medlock Ames - 2012 - 50 Tons ($60)

Muscardini - 2012 - Cassata Vineyard ($42)

Petroni Vineyards - 2012 ($40)**



Medlock Ames - 2012 - Snake Pit Red ($60)



Benziger Family Winery - 2013 - Bella Luna ($49)*



Benziger Family Winery - 2012 - Joaquin's Inferno ($60)*

Frey - 2013 - Field Blend ($16)*, ***

McEvoy Ranch - 2011 - Red Piano ($35)

Oakville Ranch - 2012 - Field Blend ($55)



Carol Shelton - 2013 - Wild Thing (85% organic grapes) ($19)

Frey - 2013 ($20)*, ***



Domaine Carneros - NV - Pompadour (Brut Rosé) ($37)



* = Biodynamic Wine (labeled)
** = Ingredients: Organic Grapes (labeled)
*** = USDA Organic Wine (labeled; no sulfites)
Wines with no stars = estate wines from wineries with 100% organic estate vineyards

Monday, September 21, 2015

Organic Winners at 2015 Sonoma County Harvest Fair Wine Competition

After three days of judging last week, the  2015 Sonoma County Harvest Fair Wine Competition results were announced today.

With just 1,409 acres of organic vines in the county (out of 58,280 total), or 2.4% of the total vineyard acres, the organically grown wines represented 5% of the Best of Class awards.


Cabernet Sauvignon

Medlock Ames, 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon - Bell Mountain Estate (Organic Vineyard), Alexander Valley, $45

Zinfandel Blend

Benziger Family Winery, 2013 Joaquin's Inferno (Biodynamic Wine), Sonoma Mountain, $65


Out of 315 gold medals (out of 1,189 wines total), the organically grown wines numbered ten, or 3 percent.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Benziger Family Winery, 2012 Obsidian Point (Biodynamic Wine), Sonoma Valley, $60

Benziger Family Winery, 2012 Three Blocks (Biodynamic Wine), Sonoma Valley, $49

Benziger Family Winery, 2012 Tribute (Biodynamic Wine), Sonoma Mountain, $80

Petroni Vineyards, 2010 Cabernet (Organic Vineyard), Moon Mountain District, $75


DeLoach, Chardonnay, Estate, (Biodynamic Vineyard), Russian River Valley, $50

Pinot Noir

Benziger Family Winery, 2013 Bella Luna (Biodynamic Wine), Russian River Valley, $49

DeLoach, Pinot Noir, 2012 Maboroshi (Biodynamic Vineyard), Russian River Valley, $50

Merriam Vineyards, 2013 Three Sons (Organic Vineyard), Russian River Valley, $75

Red Blend

Medlock Ames, 2013 Snake Pit - Bell Mountain Estate (Organic Vineyard), Alexander Valley, $60


Fogline Vineyards, 2013 Grist Vineyard (Dry Creek AVA), $38


According to the Press Democrat newspaper, which covers Sonoma County, 55 of the 80 wines that won gold medals were from wineries owned by one couple - Ken and Diane Wilson - who own Wilson, Matrix, Mazzocco, Pezzi King, Soda Rock and St. Anne's Crossing (none have any wines from organic vines).

For a complete list of all of the winners, see the full results here.

Great Harvest Photo: Ehlers Estate

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Highlights from the National Heirloom Expo

For us Northern California types, the heat at the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa this year was absolutely sweltering but that did nothing to dilute the value of the presentations, where farmers and scientists gathered to share information and knowledge about the good, the bad and the ugly.


Trendspotting - What's Hot: Plant Based Food

For the first time that I have ever seen, there was just about no line at the burger food stand - the longest food lines were at the food booth for Plant Based Food. I think this might be a trend? Certainly it's nice to see that Amy's offers an all veg, fast food, burger alternative drive through in Novato...and Sonoma-ans seem to be embracing unique gourmet foods made from plants.

In olden times (yesterday) we called such food vegetarian (or vegan, depending on the particulars). Today it's more chic to say plant based. Now you know.

The longest food lines were for the plant based cuisine.
Sonoma's great grain breads from Revolution
Wines from Biodynamic producers were on display at
the Demeter Lounge, which, as usual, provided comfy
couches and a shaded place to sip some cool Yerba Mate
and escape the heat
More Demeter certified wines...nice to see so many
all in place (outside of my house)

Carol Grieve of Food Integrity Now (podcast, which I have appeared on)
put together a panel of the all star scientific experts on Roundup (Glyphosate) and GMOs;
I will be writing a more in depth post in the coming weeks on the content the science
panel shared 
The panel included Don Huber, retired Purdue University professor, and one
of the few in the academic establishment who has been constistently
tracking scientific research on the dangers of GMO foods 
Retired USDA scientist Robert Kremer (now a professor at the University of Missouri in
soil microbiology) is an expert on the effects of glyphosate; he visited Napa last year
and mentioned that he saw the tell tale signs of Roundup's effects on
vine leaves (more on that in a future post). (We know Napa uses 30,000 pounds of
Roundup every year, according to California state data; Sonoma uses even more and
usage across the state on wine grapes amounts to 450,000 pounds per year.)


Cannabis growers cultivating medical marijuana Biodyamically may soon be able to receive Demeter biodynamic certification. This could be a significant factor for those who use medical cannabis as serious medicine. 

Currently there is a lot of testing for pesticides and other harmful substances in cannabis by distributors and edibles manufacturers, but no organic certification is available. 

Back in the Demeter classroom, there was an in-depth panel on Biodynamic
cultivation of marijuana with several presenters
Colum Riley, of Malibu Compost (Biodynamic compost), and a farming consultant,
provided in-depth tips on Biodynamic medical cannabis cultivation

Time magazine (and other media) reported this week that Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, is currently receiving more tax revenues from marijuana taxes than from alcohol taxes. According to the report, Colorado's revenues from marijuana taxation this year were $70 million, compared to $42 million for alcohol taxation.

Wine Spectator's Annual Video Contest: The Greenest Among Them (Caution: May Result in Lifestyle Envy)

It's Sept. and that means the Wine Spectator's annual video contest is ON.

Check out the entries - and pay particular attention to two from organic producers in Spain and Italy (where 10 times as many vines are certified organic as in the U.S.).

Go the Wine Spectator site to vote.

Here are the two organic contenders. Be forewarned: each may give you a hefty dose of lifestyle envy.



My Name is Carlota (not to be confused with My Name is Malala - ?)

Carlota is a transplanted Englishwoman making organically grown wine from 17 indigenous varieties in Spain.


The Rocky Road to Elegant Sangiovese (Chianti producer)

A husband and wife team making wine from organic vines in northern Italy.

Video Tip: I had to switch from Safari to Chrome to get the videos to play.