Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tip from Santa, Part 2: MapIsArt - Map Your Favorite Wine Country Locations

Tired of stupid gift suggestions for wine lovers? You can immortalize your favorite vineyard's terroir or the area you visited on a trip to wine country by mapping the location onto a serving tray, lampshade, coaster set, or marble clock.

Learn more at MapIsArt.com.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Tip from Santa: Here's One of the Best Deals of the Year...

Straight from the KL email newsletter:
Bryan Brick | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: December 02, 2014
Arguably the most popular of the co-branded wines with our staff last year was the 2010 version of this wine so it had a lot to live up to this year. The good news is the staff is every bit as excited about it this year and we hope that enthusiasm will rub off on you. Bob Lindquist was more than happy to work with us again this year and put together this 100% Syrah bottling from certified Demeter Bio-Dynamically grown vines in the cool Edna Valley Appellation. Unmistakably Syrah from the first sniff of the nose the bold cracked black pepper, fried bacon, fresh sage and licorice ropes. Already in a great spot to drink this lovely Syrah has plenty of power but no gruffness, sort of like a well manicured beard it’s burly but not necessarily a bad thing. Full of complex and intertwined flavors of beef blood, Asian plum, black currants and a load of smoky, savory goodness. Long and finishing with good energy and lift this is a Syrah that certainly stands out from the pack and over delivers on its price tag. Perfect for hearty winter braises and potluck get-togethers.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Free Streaming Through Dec. 12: Don't Miss the FIlm "Symphony of the Soil"

Ever wondered what terroir really means? If so, bone up on soil science, because that's a major component. My friends Deborah Koons Garcia, Vivian Hillgrove, Nancy Schiesari and others teamed up to make this landmark film which has received rave reviews in The New York Times and elsewhere and has screened around the globe. It makes soil understandable - and will make you sit up and take notice of the way we're currently treating soil, which is the resource we depend upon for food and shelter and life.

"Soil is... the largest pool of organic carbon, which is essential for mitigating and adapting to climate change. In an era of water scarcity, soils are fundamental for its appropriate storage and distribution."

This week, from Dec. 5-12, in honor of the United Nations' designation of 2015 as the International Year of Soils, Deborah has made the film available for anyone to see online for free. The only other way to see the film is to pay $25 for a DVD (which you should do - it makes a great holiday gift or school or library gift).

And be sure to check out the United Nations' site, too.

Here's the film in its entirety (only through Dec. 12):

San Francisco Chronicle's Top 100 Wines: 7% From Certified Organic Vines

San Francisco Chronicle's wine writer Jon Bonné's come out with his latest annual list of the Top 100 Wines. It's a list that could not be more opposite of the Wine Spectator's. Look at the Wine Spectator and you'll see the idiosyncratic approach of this powerful industry voice, highlighting mostly international brands and many corporate wineries. This year there was not a single, organically grown U.S. wine on the list.

By contrast, Bonné's list reflects the local, Slow Foods movement's orientation - emphasizing small lot wines from artisan wineries on the Left Coast.

This year's list omits many of the artisanal greats, but perhaps Bonné likes to mix it up, highlighting different producers each year.

While certified organic vines account for less than 3 percent of the wine grapes grown in California (where 90+ percent of U.S. wine comes from), they represent a disproportionately large percentage of the wines on this list (and many other top wine lists) with 7 out of 100 on the list.

However, don't expect to see the words "organic grapes" on the label. Most of these wines (with rare exceptions) are not bottle labeled. Many are featured in the apps I've written.

Enjoy these fine finds.

The * indicates a wine that is bottle labeled. 
The double asterisk ** means the wine is included in one of the apps. 


From Napa….

• Inglenook, Cask Cabernet (2011, $75)**
• Neyers, Conn Creek Cabernet (2011, $48)**
• Spottswoode, Estate Cabernet (2011, $150)**


From Santa Barbara County's Sta. Rita Hills...

• Transcendance, La Encantada Pinot Noir (2012, $45)


From Sonoma County...

• Ridge - Geyserville (2012, $38) (90-95% organic)**

From Napa...

• Storybook, Antaeus blend (60% Zinfandel)**


From the Carneros (Sonoma County)…

• Horse & Plow, Pinot Gris (2013, $26)*, **

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tempranillo Day Cometh

One of the best red wines you never heard of, Tempranillo is one of California's great unknown successes. Its producers celebrate Tempranillo Day on Nov. 13.

Only a few brave souls grow it, but once you've experienced a good one, you'll bow down to their wisdom.

Originally from Spain, this is a grape that's far more appropriate for California's climate than many of the more widely grown varieties planted here.

There are five pioneering vintners with organic vines who make Tempranillos. Surprisingly, three are from San Luis Obispo County from vintners in Edna Valley and Paso Robles.

Wines I Know

1. Verdad, $30*

My hands down favorite Tempranillo, this is made with Biodynamic grapes from the vintner's estate vineyard in Edna Valley (in San Luis Obispo County). I've even found it at the hipster Cafe 123 in Berkeley on tap.

Says wine critic Stephen Tanzer in his review of the 2009: "Musky red berries, cherry and herbs on the nose...lively red currant."

2. Martian Ranch & Vineyard, $35

A great winemaking team at Martian produces just 200 cases of this Tempranillo. It's made on native yeasts.

Wines I Know Of

1. AmByth Cellars, $45

This natural wine producer adds no sulfites to its tiny lots of wines. It's also a Biodynamic grower and it  makes all of its wines in the Biodynamic Wine category.

2. Castoro Cellars, $24

Castoro Cellars is one of the largest organic growers in the country. It makes 300+ cases of this organically grown Tempranillo from its Whale Rock Vineyard in Paso Robles.

3. Upper Five Vineyards, $28

This Oregon vineyard is tiny - just 5 acres - but is located in the hot, sunny Rogue Valley in the southern part of the state. About 150 cases are made. Most is sold locally, including at the Ashland Food Coop.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Montinore's Riesling Makes Eric Asimov's Thanksgiving Wine List in New York Times Today

Eric Asimov's Thanksgiving Day wine roundup published today in the New York Times includes Montinore's Almost Dry Riesling ($16) as one of the recommended wines for serving with the holiday feast.

It's the only organic or Biodynamically grown wine on the list. As usual, the readers' comments are as interesting to read as the article.

Here's the link... http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/12/dining/wines-for-thanksgiving-that-refresh-the-palate.html?ref=dining

Slow Money Conference: Good Ag on the Menu

Fabulous livestreaming online of the Slow Money conference today and tomorrow.

This morning Elizabeth Candelario from Demeter USA spoke on a panel. Throughout the day there are lots of great leaders and new ag luminaries and real food foodies in the lineup.

Check out the speaker list at: https://slowmoney.org/national-gathering/2014/program

Livestream is here: https://slowmoney.org/national-gathering/2014/live

Twitter stream: #slowmoney14

Here are the opening night presentations: Douglas Gayeton of the Lexicon of Sustainability and the farm entertainer of all time Joel Salatin.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

A First in Wine Labeling: Ingredients Labeling Pioneer Ridge Vineyards to Put "Organic Grapes" on Bottle Label

California's prestigious Ridge Vineyards, an industry leader with a history of advocating for honesty in wine labeling, announced yesterday that it will start to label its organically grown wines with the words "organic grapes" on the back of the bottle, effective in the spring of 2015. 

Scheduled for release in April of 2015, this is the first Ridge vintage
to display the words "organic grapes"on the bottle.

The winery began transitioning its estate vines on its Cupertino and Sonoma sites to certified organic farming (under Organic Certifiers) 7 years ago and has now certified 270+ acres of organic vines.

Announcing its organic farming direction in its Fall 2014 Trade newsletter, CEO and Head Winemaker Paul Draper said, "We decided to farm organically because we believe it leads to better grapes and higher quality wines. True organic farming focuses attention on the health of each individual vine, and on the soil's microbial life....This approach in the vineyard, plus our traditional approach to winemaking, will provide the finest possible wines for our customers."

Draper has called for wineries to state wine ingredients on the label (including additives and commercial yeasts). Bonny Doon has also advocated for ingredients labeling as well. The only other winery I have come across that does ingredient labeling is Beaucanon Estate in Napa, run by the de Coninck family of France. The Beaucanon wines all contain commercial yeast; the Ridge wines are all vinified on native yeast. With the exception of these two wineries, most wines do not say what kind of yeast is used or what additives are in their wines.

One wine writer recently spoke up at an industry gathering saying she could not wait for the day "when wineries will have to label all of the pesticides used in making this bottle of wine." While that day is still probably far off, the wine industry is an anomaly - while food shoppers have learned to read ingredients labels, the powerful political forces in the wine industry have kept ingredients labeling at bay.

Up to 25% of grapes in a bottle of wine labeled as from California may be from abroad. Typically those added grapes come from Chile. Even wine labeled Mendocino AVA, for instance, may contain up to 15% foreign grapes. (An exception is Demeter's "Biodynamic Wine" standard which ensures that 100% of the grapes come from the winery's estate).

In the U.S., many higher end wine producers certify their estates as organic and publish that information on their web sites, but do not put the words "organic grapes" or "made with organic grapes" on their labels, making it difficult for consumers seeking organically grown wines to find them.

In Napa and elsewhere, about half of the fine wines that could be labeled with the words "Ingredients: Organic Grapes" - including estate grown wines from Araujo, Chappellet, Frog's Leap, Hall, Inglenook, Spottswoode, Staglin, Tablas Creek, and Turley Wine Cellars - do not put the words "organic" on the wine label.

Is it possible that Ridge's announcement signals a change in marketplace trends on the labeling of fine wines? Let's hope so.

Other prestigious vintners who do put organic labeling (but not ingredients labeling) on their bottles include: Brick House, Ghost Block, Grgich Hills Estate, Porter Creek, Quivira, Qupé, Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Sokol Blosser, Storybook Mountain Vineyards, Verdad, and Volker Eisele Family Estate, among others. 

Note: Any wine certified as Biodynamic Wine would automatically designate a wine that is vinified on native yeasts and, except for the addition of up to 100 ppm of sulfites, does not contain any additives; this certification standard functions as an indirect ingredients statement.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

VIDEO - Soil: It's a Happening Thing

Soil - it's not just dirt and it's not just inert below ground. Recently Dutch researchers captured the action of three worm species over a month to show just how alive the soil system is with observable worm activity. (Much more goes on at tinier levels, too).

Enjoy this rarely seen view of what happens underground...

Bioturbation - Worms at Work from Wim van Egmond on Vimeo.

Organic Vines Inside: Five of VWM's 20 Most Admired Winemakers Have Organic Estates

Vineyard and Winery Management's latest issue of the 20 Most Admired Winemakers is a prestigious list indeed, featuring a real who's who of U.S. winemaking.

Is it worth remarking upon that 25% of the winners have organic estate vineyards?

Those winners include two of the state's grand, old men - pre-eminent winemakers Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards and Josh Jensen of Calera - who pioneered terrain that was not yet proven when they began. Now those spots - Monte Bello in Cupertino, Ridge's heritage vines in Sonoma County and Calera's lonely, limestone laden outpost in Mount Harlan in San Benito County -  are hallowed ground.

John Williams of Frog's Leap has taken the path less traveled as well, farming organically since 1981 and making dry farmed wines that truly do express terroir, growing on vines that are more deeply rooted.

These three all have certified organic estate vines - 83 acres at Calera, 277 acres at Ridge, and 200 acres at Frog's Leap.

Two more farm organically but are not certified - Cathy Corison of Corison Winery (on the 8 acre Kronos vineyard surrounding her winery) and Ted Lemon of Littorai (on his 3 acre Pivot vineyard surrounding his winery).

(One could even say Joel Peterson of Ravenswood has organic vines, too, but since those 14 acres only amounts 650 cases of wine [out of 1 million], we will resist.)

And on the list of six honorable mentions, one more - Paul Dolan - has been a pioneer of the Fetzer and Bonterra brand, the largest U.S. producer of organically grown wines as well as his own brand, Paul Dolan Vineyards (which now continues under new ownership).

Bravo for Team Organic.