Monday, March 19, 2018

Must See Movie - Our Blood is Wine - Opens Online March 20

The movie opens March 20 (video on demand): see the trailer here.  
What is wine, really? Movies like Somm tend to perpetuate the crazy idea that wine appreciation is some kind of competitive sport for diners who can afford to eat in three star Michelin restaurants - and not something of the land and for the people.

Salvation comes in the form of Our Blood is Wine, which screened at the super funky (and for that reason wonderful) New Parkway Theater in Oakland last Sunday (after the Brumaire natural wine tasting) with both the filmmaker - Emily Railsback - and the film's leading man - sommelier Jeremy Quinn - on hand to answer questions after the film. (And yes, there's something of a rom-com story to their collaboration - they are a couple). That was followed by a mini tasting of Georgian wines imported by Terrell Wines.

The legndary Iago Bitarishvili makes wine in quevri in Chinuri
The untarnished, old school Georgian wines have become the flag bearer for the natural wine movement, although the Georgians' dedication extends (unlike too many of the natural winemakers in the U.S.) to tending their own vines. Their traditions date back 8,000 years and their wine-celebrating songs and toastings continue to this day (although they have tended to exclude women from the recitations and toasting traditions, Railsback and Quinn say the situation is, slowly, changing). 

The film also features the first woman winemaker, Marina Kurtanidze (Iago's wife) to make exported Georgian wines. 

Restauranteurs also love Georgian wines - not only are they exotic, they are also crazy cheap at wholesale prices. The U.S. State Department has even sponsored Wines of Georgia, to preserve Georgian culture when the Soviet Union withdrew its support.

About one percent of the country's exported wines are still aging their wines in quevri (giant clay pots, buried underground), a tradition that archaeologists believe goes back to the earliest winemaking times we know of (- so far). (See: Areni in nearby Armenia.) Of course, there could always be a new site to be discovered that is older than Areni, and there are several excavations in Georgia hoping to reclaim the notoriety for being the oldest winemaking site for Georgia. But no matter - those country lines didn't exist 8,000 years ago.

But most quevri wine is made and consumed at home and not exported.
Emily Railsback and Jeremy Quinn during Q&A with the New Parkway audience
I had a lovely chat with Emily and Jeremy, discussing our mutual love of ancient wine history. It turns out the two also filmed in Turkey, Corsica and elsewhere but that footage didn't make it into this film. Hopefully there will be another.

Amazingly, Emily shot the entire film on her iPhone. 

The movie screened earlier this year at Berlin Film Festival and got a very upbeat film review in the New York Times this week.

Carla Capalbo, author, and a new friend, who she met
at the tasting; he knew one of the women featured in her book
I was just saying to my friend, Lissy, a great home cook, who came with me to the event that it was a shame that there wasn't a "The" book written yet about Georgian wines - Alice Feiring's book was entertaining but it wasn't a travel and wine guide - when I stumbled up the stairs into the tasting to see Carla Capalbo, a food and wine writer based in the UK and Italy, standing there with her brand new title Tasting Georgia, a collection of recipes and winery profiles from the different regions of Georgia. 

This book isn't entirely about wine, of course - which means there still is an opening for a beautiful photo book of all the wines and wineries and regions - but it's a helluva good start. And its real focus is on food and wine.

It's also an overview tour of the country, including areas where tourists often don't venture. Capalbo shot all the photos herself. 

It's a splendid book and I bought one on the spot. You can buy one on where it's getting crazy good reviews.

Here are some more of the wines we tasted. (No idea where my notes are). Enjoy the film!

You can also read a lovely interview with Emily on Sprudge.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

History Live! Glyphosate Experts Testify on Roundup's Cancer Causing Potential in Federal Court

I attended the gyphosate hearings last week in U.S. District Court in San Francisco - in which science experts for Monsanto and for the 370 plaintiffs suing Monsanto presented their scientific credentials and opinions.

What's remarkable about the hearings is that we can all watch and read what the experts said and the information they presented.

The plaintiffs alleged that Roundup was responsible for giving them non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer. These cases will be heard in jury trials across the country, but the vetting of the experts was bundled together under what is known as multi district litigation (MDL) under Judge Vince Chhabria.

The list of participants in the hearing can be seen here.


This is an historic first - you can see the experts' entire testimony online.

The hearings were videotaped by the court and are online now for all to see.

Although they span five days of hearings, I believe they are very important for anyone who's interested in knowing about the science underlying the cancer risk assessments of glyphosate, including IARC's landmark 2015 ruling. Monsanto has conducted smear campaigns of IARC's findings that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, saying it's "junk science."

The videos will be used by state judges presiding over the 370 cases filed to date which are expected to go to jury trials.


If you'd like a written summary of the proceedings each day, the best source is U.S. Right to Know's live coverage:

• U.S. Right to Know Live Coverage

Another summary version is posted here:

Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman blog


You can also go for a deeper dive into each scientist's testimony. See the full transcripts here:

For the Plaintiffs

• March 5

Dr. Beate Ritz (pages 9-167)
Dr. Dennis Weisenberger (pages 168-213)

• March 6

Dr. Dennis Weisenberger (pages 218-286)
Dr. Alfred Neugut (pages 287-370)

• March 7

Dr. Alfred Neugut (pages 377-401)
Dr. Charles Jameson (pages 402-539)
Dr. Christopher Porter (pages 540-595)

• March 8

Dr. Aaron Blair (pages TBD)
Dr. Matthew Ross (pages TBD)

For Monsanto

Dr. Thomas Rosol (pages TBD)
Christopher Corcoran (pages TBD)

• March 9

For the Plaintiffs
Dr. Nabhan (pages TBD)

For Monsanto
Dr. Mucci (pages TBD)


Limited time? I would prioritize reading and/or viewing the testimony of Dr. Jameson and Dr. Nabhan for the plaintiffs.

Dr. Jameson's video appears beginning in Part 7.
Dr. Nabhan's video appears in Part 17, at 24:00 and extends over subsequent video segments.

For Monsanto, I would recommend the testimony of Dr. Rosol.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Want to Learn About Biodynamic Vineyards and Wines? Come to Biodynamic Producer Day at IBWC

Demeter USA is putting on the first ever day of educational programs about Biodynamic viticulture and winemaking Sunday, May 6 at the Golden Gate Club in San Francisco. It's part of the two day International Biodynamic Wine Conference.

Learn about the latest in the Biodynamic preparations, Biodynamic compost, soil and the microbiome and more from top experts in the field.

• David Montgomery and Anne Biklé, experts on sol and the microbiome, will be keynote speakers at the event

• Biodynamic research scientist John Reganold and U. C. Farm Advisor Glenn McGourty will be speak on a panel of researchers who have studied Biodynamic viticulture

• Bonterra vineyard director Joseph Brinkley, prepmaker Mattias Baker, and Brook LeVan will be talking about the latest in the Biodynamic preparations

• International biodynamic wine expert Monty Waldin will speak about the international Biodynamic perspective - what countries are embracing it

Come and learn more about techniques that Biodynamic growers and winemakers use in the vines and different approaches to marketing and business perspectives from Biodynamic wine community.

Get the details here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Monsanto Glyphosate Hearings - Experts Point the Finger at Carcinogen While Corporate Lawyers Dispute the Scientific Evidence

A riveting showdown of the experts is taking place in San Francisco this week as Monsanto fights against accusations that glyphosate really is carcinogenic.

Take a look at veteran journalist Carey Gillam's Twitter feed to see what's happening. She is posting regular updates to the U.S. Right to Know's web site which provide detailed coverage of the trial which continues this week.

This is a landmark moment in the history of glyphosate findings and Monsanto's attempts to refute the scientific evidence.

You can read her latest story in The Guardian here as well.

The New York Times printed the Associated Press coverage here.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Pro Wein Takes Organic Wine Seriously + 8 Great Biodynamic Table Wines You Can Find Online

As ProWein, one of the largest wine shows in the world, prepares to launch its 25th annual gathering in Germany, with more than 6,700 exhibitors from 61 countries, it features organic wines as a special area of focus.

Read this description of the Organic Wine section from The Drinks Business online here:
"Organic wines will...remain prevalent at the show which ProWein says, is "not just a passing trends," but a fixture of many top producers' portfolios. 
Demeter will host a session debating whether organic wine (I think they mean to say Biodynamic wine since Demeter does not certify organic wines, only Biodynamic wines) is a "product for the elite or a broader audience," while the organic wine association Ecovin will be on hand to offer an overview of the category.   
At Bioland LV Rheinland-Pfalz, they will be asking whether organic wine cultivation can give wine retail an opportunity to raise its profile, while experts at Falstaff will give talks on the future of organic wine in the international context., while the Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux Conseil Interprofessionel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) will provide insights into the organic movement in Bordeaux. (Yes, let's hear more about this - how many wineries are there?)
More than 58,000 visitors are expected to attend.


Regarding the question of whether or not Biodynamic wines are only for the elite, I've organized a whole panel at the upcoming Demeter USA sponsored International Biodynamic Wine Conference (taking place in San Francisco, May 6-7), on affordably priced table wines that are suitable for restaurant Wine by the Glass programs.

This Trade & Media Day is designed to counteract the perception that Biodynamic wines are all $50 or more a bottle and made from grapes in vineyards plowed with horses. These under $20-25 wines actually do exist in plentiful supply in the marketplace.

Wines and wineries in this category include gorgeous red wines from South American producers - Emiliana in Chilé and Chakana (their Inkharri wines are all BD) in Argentina - as well as wines from U.S. producers.

Some of my favorites are from Oregon:

• Montinore Estate's Red Cap Pinot Noir ($20) (as well as its Alsatian varietals)
• Three Degrees Pinot Noir ($20)
Cooper Mountain's Pinot Noir ($21 when you buy it by the case, includes free shipping); or its Cooper Hill Pinot Noir ($15 online) and Pinot Gris ($15 online)

Other great affordable priced Biodynamic wines - from California - are:

Eco Terreno's Sauvignon Blanc ($22)
Beckmen Vineyards Rosé ($25)

One of the best French producers in this category is:

Chateau Maris - La Touge Syrah

Chateau Maris also makes a rosé (of Grenache) that's available in cans. I am really looking forward to trying that one!

Many of these wines will be poured at the IBWC Grand Tastings on May 7 in San Francisco. They will be available at the Trade & Media Grand Tasting from 4-6 (accredited trade and media only) or at the Consumer Grand Tasting - the Demeter Rocks! party (tickets on sale now - $75).

Get details on the conference web site here.

Friday, March 2, 2018

In Video: The Organic Motherlode Just Launched on YouTube

If you're into organics, you've got to go to EcoFarm, the annual gathering of organic farmers (which includes a small contingent of the wine grape growers).

Alas, I have yet to make it to this incredible event, but...Ecofarm just launched videos for the conference keynotes today. Huzzah.

Find them here:

I saw (keynoters) Ray Archuleta at Soil Not Oil, along with David Johnson, and was totally wowed. I can't wait to dive into these videos, which seem like the perfect thing to watch on these cold, dark nights. (Apple TV makes it easy to watch them on the big TV screen at home.)

Thank you, EcoFarm, for the great work that you do and for sharing it out with the wider world.

New Film on Georgian Wine - Our Blood is Wine - Screens March 11 in Oakland

Another year, another wine documentary...this year's latest vintage is Our Blood is Wine, a tribute to Georgia's ancient winemaking traditions. If, like me, you want to go there but haven't made it yet, this film might be the next best thing. Either that or it will make you buy your ticket and get on a plane.

The film will be available in video on demand services starting March 20. But it's coming March 11 to Oakland's New Parkway Theater, in a special Sunday afternoon screening with the filmmaker, starring sommelier and Georgian winemakers featured in the film! Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online now.

There'll be a wine tasting event and Q and A at this event, so don't miss out!

Check out the trailer here:


You can watch an excerpt of the film from the Culinary Cinema web site; the film was exhibited as part of that series at the Berlin Film Festival.

Emily Railsback and crew
The film's collaborators hail from Chicago. Director and DP Emily Railsback made the film; sommelier Jeremy Quinn is the main character, who explores the world of Georgia's ancient and modern wine traditions on camera.

Enjoy these stills from the production.
The mechanics of moving a quivri

A chef's interpretation of a quivri - very clever indeed!

I love this photo from the production:

The film's Facebook page is also fun to look at. You can find it here.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Napa Chronicler James Conaway Completes His Trilogy - A Storytelling Masterpiece - with Napa at Last Light

There are not that many truly great writers who write nonfiction these days, but James Conaway stands as one of the few who can spin a jumble of facts into an enthralling tale. That is why I am so eagerly anticipating his newest book, Napa at Last Light, which will be published March 6.

Sacramento Bee wine writer Mike Dunne captured the essence of Conaway's career and his latest book better than anyone I can imagine in his profile published in yesterday's Sacramento Bee. Here's the link.
"....many of the principal players in the founding of Napa Valley's modern wine trade - several of whom were proponents of measures to maintain the region's agricultural essence - have died or sold out to a 'conglomerate class' that doesn't share their sense of community, sensitivity and vision. 
Conaway laments that many of the family wineries pivotal in establishing Napa Valley's reputation as a fine wine region - Mondavi, Martini, Beringer, Raymond, Stag's Leap, among others - are in the hands of corporate CEOs rather than scions. By contrast, he notes, many French wineries have been in the same family for centuries.  
"The ultimate goal of a corporation is profit - not community, not the environment, not agriculture. They are going to go where the profit is," Conaway said."
This is a conversation that is ongoing in Napa and Sonoma, the latter a place where rural residents are still just waking up to the total transformation of the priorities of the county board of supervisors as more and more Big Money (including the Wagner family from Napa) moves in.

In Napa, citizens were more organized against winery overdevelopment than in Sonoma, but not luckier in outcomes, even after voting in measures that take power over the Ag Preserve out of the hands of the (vulnerable) board of county supervisors and put limited powers in the hands of the voters, requiring public referendums for changes in the Ag Preserve laws.

Still, Napa locals have been unable to stop insiders in the county's (apparently corrupt) government - which forbade a referendum last year over an unusually obscure technicality - who oppose them in their fight to save the 17,000 oak trees that the Halls' (Texas developers who started a winery in Napa) Walt Ranch development want to cut down in order to subdivide a large tract into future ranchettes.

The Ag Preserve is the continuing vein throughout Conaway's trilogy - which if you haven't read yet, you might want to start now. It's winter and rainy and the perfect time to crawl under a blanket with a good book...or two...or three. The first book of the trilogy is also available from Audible.

As citizens and tourists alike contemplate the 50th anniversary of the Ag Preserve (passed, controversially,  in 1968 - the subject of Conaway's first book in the trilogy), there's no finer moment to pick up on the latest chapter of this engaging soap opera, holding up a mirror to 2018 in America.

Read more here:

You can read an excerpt of the book on the publisher's site here.


Conaway will be touring the Bay Area in mid March with scheduled appearances in the following locations:

• Berkeley: Tuesday, March 13, 7 pm
Books Inc. (on Shattuck Ave where Black Oak Books used to be)

• Santa Rosa: Wednesday, March 14, 6-8 pm
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards

Calistoga: Thursday, March 15, 7 pm (advance tickets are free)


Blake Gray has also written a review of the book on Wine Searcher, which has a lot of international traffic. Read it here.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

At Eco Terreno, Chamomile Has Super Powers

Thanks to Jennifer Tincknell at Eco Terreno for posting this beautiful photo today of chamomile flowers, harvested at Eco Terreno's vineyards in Alexander Valley.

In Biodynamic vineyards, Chamomile is used, along with other plants, in making compost as well as compost teas. Strengthening the vine's health makes the plants better table to withstand pests, diseases and climatic variations.

Research conducted at Washington State University with Dr. John Reganold and Dr. Lynn Carpenter-Boggs has shown that the Biodynamic compost preparations have a significant impact on compost and composting - they make compost burn hotter, mature more quickly and yield higher nitrate levels than compost made without the preparations.

Want to learn more about Biodynamic viticulture? Attend the first International Biodynamic Wine Conference. Tickets go on sale March 1 for Biodynamic Producer Day, a day long program with leading experts from the U.S. and abroad.

Compost experts Will Bakx and August York will present a session on Biodynamic compost. Mike Benziger will be moderating a panel of experts on the Biodynamic preparations. The panel features Joseph Brinkley (vineyard director for Bonterra's 300 acres of Biodynamic vines), Matias Baker (a renowned prep expert), and Brook Levan of Sustainable Settings.

Reganold  will also be at the conference, talking about soil and the microbiome and his research.

Mark your calendar and get your ticket starting Thursday!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Save the Date: March 24 - I'll Be Talking in Sebastopol on "What's On Those Vines?"

Wine Water Watch has invited me to speak March 24 in Sebastopol from 1 to 3 pm on pesticides in vineyards.

I'll be showing how to use the public tools and data from state government including the Pesticide Use Report and the Agricultural Pesticide Mapping Tool to find out what is going on close to where you live.

Details here.