Friday, July 13, 2018

Napa Organic WInegrowing Conference: July 26 at Spottswoode

Napa's 2018 Organic Winegrowing Conference will be held Thursday July 26, beginning with a morning program at Spottswoode in St. Helena.

The conference is sponsored by the Napa Valley Grapegrowers (with funding from sponsors and the USDA) and is the only organic winegrowing conference in the U.S.

This year, the morning presentation features Grant Lundberg, CEO of Lundberg Family Farms, longtime rice growers in California. They offer conventionally farmed, non GMO products along with 22 organic products and 1 Biodynamic product.

Following the keynote address, vineyard talks and tours are scheduled from 9:30 to 2:45 and include three options, each at a different location. All three estates are organic.

Cade Estate (Howell Mountain) - Marketing Organic and Hillside Farming with John Conover, Partner/General Manager of Plumpjack Winery and Andrew Opatz, Associate Vineyard Manager, David Pirio Vineyard management

Frog's Leap Winery (Rutherford) - Composting 101 with Rory Williams, Assistant Winemaker and Assistant Vineyard Manager, Frog's Leap Winery

• Wheeler Farms - Developing an Organic Site with Bart and Daphne Araujo, of Wheeler Farms and Accendo Cellars, Steve Matthiasson, Partner Premiere Viticulture & Matthiasson Wines, and Miguel Luna, Partner, Silverado Farming Company

Conference admission is $200 for NVG members and $300 for non-members.

Easy Come, Easy Go: "Lost" Varietals Make a Comeback in Two New Books - Plus Advice on Wines to Pair with These Books

Looking for books to take along on your vacation? Or to enjoy while lounging at home?

This summer's crop of nonfiction wine books includes noteworthy titles on those "weird grapes" you may never have tried - until now. Check out Tasting the Past, by Kevin Begos and Godforsaken Grapes by Jason Wilson to learn more about the world's most unsung grape varietals and how they're making a comeback.

Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz 
Just like books that focus on lost heritage roses or the hundreds of vegetables and fruits we no longer enjoy the taste of, these two authors have scoured Europe in the company of experts like José Vouillamoz, a Swiss grape geneticist and one of the three authors of the epic tome Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including their Origins and Flavours co-written with Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding, to find grapes of yesteryear.

That very big book, published in 2002, represented the fruit of the latest genetic work being done on sex among the vines, tracing the wine family tree back as far as can be known. (Which, apparently, isn't far enough, according to Vouillamoz, quoted in Begos' book).

Wine Grapes has 1,279 pages and weighs nearly 7 pounds; a Kindle
version is also available
With more than 1,368 varieties listed, Begos and Wilson have plenty of grape trails to trace.

Each writer meets Vouillamoz and tastes wines from rarely planted varietals with him. Each focuses on travels in search of other precious, historic gems. And each reflects different eras of wine, before globalization and the so-called "noble grapes" we know (Cabernet, Chardonnay and the like) began to kill off vinuous variety. Though neither is specifically a wine expert at the outset, each becomes more knowledgeable from their travels about these specific wines than the hippest somms their books may be read by.

Begos is interested in origins, and that dictates trips to Georgia, Israel, Cyprus, Sicily and more of the ancient grape hunting grounds. Wilson mostly winds his way through Europe on a series of adventures in the high Alpine regions and elsewhere. And what do they find? Enological rarities, genetic treasures and more.

Paul Begos at Kermit Lynch wine shop in Berkeley, where I had a
chance to chat with him about Tasting the Past
Begos' focus begins with a quest for a wine from Jerusalem that he tasted in Jordan - Cremisan. A science writer by trade, his journey explores more of the genetic arc of wine yet also touches on the science of taste and many other off the beaten track (but compelling) topics. His book is interspersed with quotes from unusual sources that I found illuminating. Here's one from the physicist Richard Feynman:
"And there in wine is found the great generalization: all life is fermentation.
If our small minds...divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts - the physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology and all - remember that nature doesn't know it. So we should put it all back together, and not forget at last what it's for..."
While Patrick McGovern's book 2007 book Ancient Wine was the groundbreaking account that put ancient wine on the map, Begos' is a lovely complement to it.

Begos also goes into details about the role women played in ancient winemaking, from being some of the earliest celebrity winemakers in Egypt to the goddesses essential to wine cultures.

He also looks up a vineyard Italians say belonged to Leonardo da Vinci.

An ad for Bordeaux Vineam
In Bordeaux, he mentions this billboard, which warmed my heart (although I should add that very few wineries in Bordeaux are farmed organically.)

When I met him at Kermit Lynch's wine shop in Berkeley, where there was a small wine tasting to celebrate the book's release, he talked about his concerns about pesticides in vineyards.  In his last chapter, entitled The Dark Side of Wine, he quotes from historian Steven Shapin's find from a 1771 book, lamenting on the state of wine:
"What passes for wine among us is not the juice of the grape. It is an adulterous mixture, brewed up of nauseous ingredients, by dunces, who are burglars in the art of poison-making."
Wilson, who wrote mostly about alcoholic beverages before embarking on his enological adventures, focuses more on his individual forays to visit various people and producers. He has an engaging style and it's a bit of good fortune that we have not one but two books to read on these fascinating forays into the past - forays that could also represent more of a presence in wine's future. 


As you read these books, you may find yourself becoming tired of reading adjectives about flavors and wanting some actual wine in your glass. Here are some bottles worth seeking out (from organic or Biodynamic vines).

Blaufrankisch - Johan Vineyards, Willamette Valley, Oregon

While it's mostly grown in Austria (and some in Germany), Blaufrankisch is typically a bit spicy, but still on the light side of red. In an atypical move, Oregon's Johan Vineyards grafted over some of its vines to make estate grown Blaufrankisch ($28). Raspberry and blackberry on the nose with black cherry and raspberry fruit on the palate.

Durif - aka Petite Sirah - Powicana Farm, Mendocino

Petite Sirah, or Durif, is not really that obscure in California where 10,000 acres are planted, but the next largest planting in the world is Australia, with 1,000 acres. Once a staple in Napa, before Cabernet took over, it was a steady producer but used primarily as a blending grape. It has a reputation for being Big and Tannic, but that's not what the Powicana 2015 Petite Sirah ($32) is. The Redwood Valley producer's 2015 vintage swept the Mendocino Wine Competition last year winning Best in Show. For a reason.

Grignolino - Heitz Cellars, Napa, California

A light red wine from a vineyard first planted to this grape in Napa by the Brendel family on an 8 acre vineyard that the Heitz family purchased in 1961 and which they have continued to preserve as an homage to Napa's past. Heitz makes both a Grignolino ($22.50) and a rosé of Grignolino ($25).

Mencia - Analemma, Columbia Gorge, Oregon

A wine primarily grown in Spain, this mid-weight red originally hails from Galicia. It's rarely grown elsewhere. Oregon producer Analemma make it ($42) as well as Godello and Trousseau, if you want to explore further.

Tannat - Tablas Creek Vineyards

Tannat comes from Madiran in southwest France, not the Rhone region, but when the nurseryman at the Perrin family's Chateauneuf du Pape estate shipped over Rhone cuttings to this Paso winery, he also put in some Tannat in the shipment, thinking it would grow well in Paso Robles.

Originally planted with the thought it being a blending grape, after several years Tablas Creek decided instead to bottle it separately. In fact, Tablas Creek's initial one acre plot, planted in 1996, yielded wine that was the first (in 2002) to be labeled Tannat in the U.S. Since that time, plantings have grown to 579 acres today, mostly planted in the last five years, according to the winery.

One reason for its growth may be recent health research that suggests that Tannat contains compounds that lead to long life. One study found that the percentage of men in their 90s in Madiran (where Tannat is commonly consumed) is double the average in France. The Tablas Creek Tannat (700 cases made) sells to the winery's wine club members for $45.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Powicana's Sonoma Tasting Room: Rustic, Relaxing and Home to Beautiful Sparkling Rosé Bubbles

Tired of slick wineries? Wine club come-on's? Over the top wine prices? Looking for a way to connect back into "real wine"?

Powicana Farm's tasting room in in Penngrove - next to Petaluma - is an easy to get to, rustic spot with a lot of Sonoma ag history vibe. They're open only on the weekends from 1-5, but that's more than enough time to sample their wares, and, if you like, enjoy a picnic on their outdoor picnic tables.

The ambiance is the first thing you notice here - laidback, farm-oriented, roots. The tasting room and winery are located in the Denman Creamery, which bears a historic marker commemorating its landmark status as the first commercial creamery in Sonoma County. And no, it hasn't been all gussied up.

It's a beautiful setting, with a big barn (the cold storage for the winery is in there) and grassy lawns to lounge on. There's a view across the way of the old Palace of Fruit, a reminder of yet another aspect of Sonoma's agricultural heritage.

And the wine is great.

Powicana Farm first got on my radar when it won a Double Gold at the Mendocino Wine Competition last year for its Petite Sirah ($32). After sampling it on Sunday, I can see why.

As Dan Berger, a judge at the competition, later wrote in the Press Democrat, "its aroma of black pepper and violets was matched by a taste intensity that can only be experience by trying it." A beautiful wine, but not Big and Tannic.

For those of you who think you know Petite Sirah, think again. Because Powicana makes it five different ways - regular, reserve (aged in oak), as a port ($39), as a rosé, and as a Pet Nat sparkling wine ($26). The last was my hands down favorite. (I bought some, but I should have bought a lot more).

Everything Powicana makes is from Petite Sirah, because that's what their vineyard is - 10 acres in Redwood Valley (northeast of Ukiah in Mendocino). They're certified organic and Biodynamic and all of their wines come from the vines they work by hand. Their wines also appeal to the natural wine crowd since nothing is added.

French born proprietors Remi and Zoubeida Zajac - he's from Grenoble and Alsace, she's from the Loire originally - moved to Mendocino from Los Angeles because their son had asthma and needed cleaner air. (The son is also the artist behind the lovely Pet Nat label). They found air - and a lovely community - in Redwood Valley, the area with the highest percentage of organic vines in the country.  They found they couldn't survive financially just by selling grapes, so Zoubeida took classes at the Rudolph Steiner College in Sacramento and Remi studied winemaking at U.C. Davis so they could launch their own wines.

They chose the name Powicana, which, in the Pomo native American language, means "red clay earth."

Powicana Farms shares its tasting room in Penngrove with the a new cider producer, Acre and Spade, and the lovely Sonoma Aperitif, which offers beautifully handcrafted liqueurs and shrubs, some of which are made from organic fruit. (Much of the fruit is gleaned.) 

Proprietor Laura Hagar Rush was inspired by a friend's homemade aperitifs to start making her own four years ago.. They're released on a seasonal basis with different fruits and flavors in each season. Currently she's selling two aperitifs - Grapefruit and a Citrus. I'm looking forward to try the White Nectarines and Roses one that comes out next month.

You'll also find other local treats for sale - including the incredibly exotic sounding goat milk caramel.

The Penngrove site is an easy on, easy off from Route 101, but these purveyors and the site make it feel like you've traveled way into the countryside. Powicana's wines are the very kind of wine more people should be making and drinking - flavor filled bottles, straight from the vines.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Online Supermarket Delivery Services Lead to Declining Wine Sales, Need Improvement, Says Rabobank

Amazon's announcement that its Whole Foods chain will now deliver wine with your groceries was big news this week. (Read the story here.) I wondered (along with a few colleagues) if this new way to order wine from the natural foods giant might be an opportunity for organically grown wines to expand?

Apparently not, according to this story in Progressive Grocers, on declining alcohol sales among online grocery shoppers. The whole wine category suffers, according to experts.

A new June 2018 Rabobank Research report found that about 5% of in store shoppers buy alcohol, but that number drops to 0.7% among online shoppers, leading the study's authors to predict a $3.9 billion decrease in supermarket revenue by 2022.

The report states:
"Between 2011 and 2016, beverage alcohol sales in supermarkets grew by 25.3%, more than any other department. Furthermore if a consumers buys wine, they spend nearly 60% more per trip, with half of that additional spending coming from non-alcohol items."
The bank research group goes on to say:
"Supermarkets account for 44% of wine sales and 25% of all beer and spirits sales in the U.S. and problems with the supermarket channel can have widespread implications throughout the industry. In fact, we believe poor online sales in grocery could explain some of the slowdown in 2017." (Italics added)
What should retailers do?

Beef up their online ordering web sites, say the report's authors.

"The department (alcohol) has become a cash cow for grocery retailers," and retailers should make sure to make their online sites let consumers search for wines and cross sell wine as a related product (just like those recommendations on Amazon provide suggestions on products you might also like).

Why have alcoholic beverage sales declined in online orders?

Shoppers don't stop buying alcohol, say the report's authors; they just buy it from a non supermarket retailer.

"According to Nielsen, only 69% of alcohol purchases are planned. Without a physical shelf to remind consumers that beer, wine and spirits are an option and retailers failing to effectively promote beverage alcohol online, people could just buy less alcohol."

In their podcast, the authors say 23% of people buy groceries online; the rate for Millenials is only slightly higher - 28%.


Listen to the episode about this story on Rabobank's Liquid Assets podcast here.

For more insights, also listen to a discussion and analysis of supermarket alcohol sales in an earlier Liquid Assets podcast episode - Who Can Win in Online Grocery - here.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Napa Organic Vintners Represent 30% of 2 of 3 Top 10 Lots at Auction Napa Valley

Auction Napa Valley 2018
Michael Franti performing
Top tier Napa wineries with certified organic estate vineyards were among the leading wineries raising funds for charities in Napa at the 2018 Auction Napa Valley, the Napa Valley Vintners' big philanthropic fundraising event. 

The auction has expanded to three different platforms - the E-Auction (only online), the Barrel Auction (the day before the main live auction) and the Live Auction.

In the Barrel Auction and the E-Auction, wineries with organic vines comprised 30% of the winning lots (while Napa's organic vines represent just 8% of the county's vineyards) - punching more than three times their weight.


JCB and Raymond Vineyards sponsored a joint offering at the live event
Raymond Vineyards had the 4th highest lot, coming in at $640,000 for its Buy A Spot offering. The winery has 92 acres of organic and Biodynamic vines (with 47 more on the way).

Raymond's first three Biodynamic wine releases were featured in the Grand Tasting at the Biodynamic Wine Conference and included a Merlot, a Cabernet and a Bordeaux Blend field blend (1.5 Acres).

Raymond Vineyards at the Barrel Auction

Barrel Auction
• Staglin Family Vineyard - (3rd out of top 10) $54,150
• Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery - (5th out of top 10) $45,450
• Chappellet Vineyard -  (9th out of top 10) $38,550


Kathryn Hall congratulating a buyer
• HALL - (6th out of top 10) $12,550
• ZD Wines - (8th out of top 10) $12,050
• Acumen - (10th out of top 10) $8,600

All photos courtesy of Napa Valley Vintners.

For more photos, visit NVV's smug mug page here.

Note: None of these wineries is 100% organic, so if you're interested in buying their wines and are looking for organically farmed wines in particular, be sure to ask the wineries which of their wines come from their organic estate vines. 

Friday, June 29, 2018

French TV Exposé on Dangerous Vineyard Pesticides (Used Next to Schools): Cash Investigations Strikes Again

In 2016, winemakers divided the year into two eras: pre Cash Investigation and post Cash Investigation, after the French TV show did a 90 min. special on pesticides and health, especially children's health, that aired nationally. The show is the equivalent of the U.S. program 60 Minutes.

It galvanized the nation against the use of pesticides, especially near schools, and started a national debate that has led to the country's political leaders vowing to end the use of glyphosate.

Well, Cash Investigation is back again here in 2018 with a new show on pesticides - and you can watch it in its entirety here. (It is in French, but you can probably understand a lot of the story.) The video above is a snippet from the production; see the whole 90 minutes below.

Would that we had such reporting in the U.S.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Biodynamic Bubbles: Montinore Estate Releases First Demeter Certified Sparkling Wine from U.S.

Affordable, Handcrafted Biodynamic Bubbles: Vivace

Montinore has just debuted a sparkling, sweet white wine, handcrafted from its Alsatian varietals. Named Vivace, Montinore released it on Saturday, selling it online and in its tasting room. 

It's an Oregon original - sourced from white Alsatian varietals, grown on Montinore's 80 acres of Gewürztraminer, Muller Thurgau, Pinot Gris and Riesling. (The winery's other 120+ acres are devoted to Pinot Noir.) 

Montinore made 2,000 cases of this inaugural vintage. Vivace is made via the charmat method, in which CO2 is injected into the wine. (This is how most Proseccos are made, and it's the reason why Prosecco is much more affordable than Champagne.) 

Montinore also has plans for another sparkling wine - one made via the traditional method - which will be released in 2019.

Vivace is Demeter certified as "Made with Biodynamic Grapes," which means no pesticides, insecticides, herbicides or fungicides (save sulphur, which is approved for organic and Biodynamic farming) are used on the vineyards. It also means the vines' immune systems and health were aided by herbal teas made with anything from chamomile to yarrow along with the obligatory silica spray. 

In the winery, the maximum allowable level of sulfites for this type of Demeter certified wine is 100 ppm.

Montinore is the biggest producer of Demeter certified wine in the U.S., making 40,000 cases a year. Its largest production wine - the Montinore Red Cap Pinot Noir - is regularly listed by Eric Asimov (the NYTimes wine critic) in his 20 Under $20 articles. 

Montinore makes about 20% of all the wines from Biodynamic vines in the U.S. And unlike many other Biodynamic producers, it is (almost) 100% estate and nearly 100% Biodynamic. (The founder, Rudy Marchesi, has a small Italian wine passion project - making a few wines from Italian varietals he doesn't grow - as an homage to his Italian heritage). 

Inside the glass: citrus notes on the nose - lemon, lime and orange blossom, with a touch of ginger - and apple, melon and citrus on the palate.  

Friday, June 22, 2018

Sonoma's Hawley Winery Gets a New Peregrine Falcon - Max

You've heard about predatory birds being used in vineyards before. Owl boxes are commonly placed in vineyards to control gophers and other rodents. Hawks are also effective. Bluebirds have been used to go after the blue-green sharpshooter, which brings the dreaded Pierce's disease.

But to my knowledge, no one - except one guy in Dry Creek Valley - has their own Peregrine falcon.

John Hawley, a legendary California wine pioneer who put Sonoma on the map at Clos du Bois in the 1970's and brought Kendall Jackson's from the table wine era to the fine wine era, has been a falconer since his childhood years, growing up in Mill Valley. 

He got into winemaking early on and spent his first year as a winemaker at Preston in Dry Creek, before his career took off into the stratosphere at Clos du Bois and KJ, where he was the head of winemaking, making millions of cases a year and upgrading the winery to oak barrels. (Imagine that era!)
John in his early winemaking days
Today his sons run the family winery (amping up its social media and video, too), leaving him freer to his falconry on his (organic) Dry Creek Valley estate.

John's new, two month old Peregrine "baby" is named Max. Hear John's talk about his new falcon and how Max will be trained. 


And while you may enjoy  the falconry aspect of Hawley's story, don't forget about the wine!

I was initially surprised to think of a great estate Cabernet coming from Dry Creek Valley, which we more often associate with that California classic Zinfandel.

Yet the hills in nearby Alexander Valley is known as Cab country. The Hawley's site is located on the west side of the valley, near Bradford Mountain, a highly coveted site.


The 10 acres of vines are mostly planted to Bordeaux varietals - Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc - along with smaller amounts of Zin, Petite Sirah and a tiny bit of Viognier. The vineyard was certified organic in 2006. About half of their 3,000 case production comes from their organic estate grapes. They are one of the few in Sonoma to label their wines "Made with Organic Grapes" on the bottle.

Hawley is best known for classic Bordeaux blends. My personal favorite (along with many others) is their 2010-2012 Meritage, which is still sold in a vertical three pack ($180). I bought some of the last bottles of their earlier coveted Merlots and a 2011 Meritage when I visited a few years ago (bottles I'm longingly eyeing, but adamantly aging).


Most people visit Hawley's tasting room in downtown Healdsburg (near SHED), but the better choice by far is to take the vineyard tour. 

For $25, you will have an unforgettable experience up on the hillside estate site. Upgrade to their lunch package for a memorable picnic and tour ($46).

If you're lucky, your vineyard tour could include the sight of a young Peregrine falcon. But at the very least, you're likely to see hawks soaring over the mountain and enjoy the valley views from the barn/winery.

So if you're looking for a great outing this summer, or hosting visiting summer guests, get away from the cars and the crowds, and go to a hotspot for great, under the radar Cabs from a master craftsman and his sons. This is the real Sonoma.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A New Type of Wine Score - Glyphosate Levels - Tells You What's in the Bottle - California's Wine Institute Says "No Problem"?

The nonprofit activist group Moms Across America recently tested 20 bottles of popular wines for glyphosate, using the state of the art testing lab HRI Laboratories in Iowa.

The highest and lowest results?

49.24 ppb for Gallo Pink Moscato

0.38 ppb for Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc

Take your pick.


Question: why did the Wine Institute buy the search terms for a search of "Moms Across America glyphosate" and publish this page?


Why is the industry association representing California's biggest cash crop (by revenue) misrepresenting science? This is not good PR for the industry.

• Glyphosate is legally classified as a carcinogen in the state of California.

• The World Health Organization's IARC - a blue ribbon panel of non partisan scientists (who are not regulators) - found glyphosate to be a probable carcinogen in 2015. And these scientists included some of the most prominent, former senior U.S. health officials.

• Almost all of the entities who have approved glyphosate (US EPA, EFSA, etc.) are regulators, many of whom have been shown to have been lobbied by Monsanto. (Regulators are very different from scientific panels, as any scientist will tell you.)

• More than 6,000 individual plaintiffs (aided by top product liability law firms) are suing Monsanto alleging that Roundup caused them to get non Hodgkin lymphoma.

• Increasingly medical studies are showing the harm of glyphosate at very low levels (1 ppb); here's one recent example.


When it was found - through testing - that Ben and Jerry's ice cream had glyphosate, Ben and Jerry's took immediate steps to try to change the way it sourced ingredients.

How long will it take the Wine Institute to see there is a problem and take action based on the latest peer reviewed science?


The problem in the wine industry is that they are not taking this issue seriously enough. A growing number of consumers do.

Moms Across America, just one of the groups bringing this to the attention of American consumers, has more than 1.5 million Facebook page views each month. And there are many groups with a lot of social media power broadcasting similar messages.

Companies - including vintners - that want to position themselves for growth need to start paying more attention and planning to launch glyphosate free products.

Siding with Monsanto and its dangerous herbicide is not a forward thinking path.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Favorite Biodynamic Animal Photos

Who can resist these? Enjoy these little pick me uppers on your (relaxing?) Memorial Day:

From Analemma Wines in Mosier, Oregon
From Tablas Creek's twitter feed