Friday, September 13, 2019

German TV Documentary Profiles Bayer's Dilemma and the Scientists on the Right Side of History

Tow days ago, DW, Germany's public television service, broadcast an in-depth 45 minute documentary on the science and ag business impacts of the current controversy over Monsanto's glyphosate based products.

 Level headed television journalists interview a wide variety of participants in the story, from industry officials to farmers who defend herbicide spraying to farmers whose families got cancer.

 Some of the leading scientists, including one who participated in IARC's landmark 2015 ruling that the herbcide was a probable carcinogen, are featured. (I wish some others like, Antoniou from London and Seralini in France, had been included).

 A few of the comments surprised me. Locals who live near Bayer are upset because the company's had to cut back some divisions, meaning their adult children (who parented their grandchildren) are going to lose their jobs over Bayer's lack of financial foresight.

 In another segment, an industry spokesman says court decisions and jury decisions don't matter. Only the rulings of regulators mean something to him.

 Of course, IARC, which is a pure science group (and notably not regulatory), was the only entity initially brave enough to look at the evidence and not be cowed by industry lobbyists pressuring regulators.

 Yet even in 1983, the EPA's toxicologists and regulators, ruled against glyphosate--initially. Enjoy the rest of the story here (in English) on YouTube.


Sonoma's Certified Sustainable Glyphosate: Average of 81,319 Pounds Each Year for Four Years in a Row

The Sonoma Sustainable team has been out in full force today, tooting their horns and telling the uncritical media how green it is. See the Esther Mobley piece in the Chronicle and the North Bay Business Journal article.

In case you think that the program is resulting in meaningful reductions of glyphosate use in the county, here are the Sonoma stats from 2014 to 2017 (a period of drought). Five years ago the county set a (marketing) goal of 100% certified sustainable by 2019.

Pounds Used on Wine Grapes in Sonoma County

2014: 79,000
2015: 92,562
2016: 79,000
2017: 74,715

Total: 325,277

Average: 81,319

And that was during the drought years. 

As my friend Monty Waldin, the English organic wine expert says, "Sustainable means you used to smoke a pack a day and now you only smoke 10 a day. But you still smoke."

In this case, there's not really a real reduction. 

Here's a comment I wrote on the North Bay Business Journal site in response to Kruse's statements.


Karissa fails to mention that in 2017, Sonoma's sustainable wine grape growers used more than 74,000 pounds of glyphosate on their vines. In the meantime, cities in Sonoma and Napa have been banning glyphosate left and right. The entire county of Sonoma banned it from any county owned property as did Petaluma and Santa Rosa. In Napa, American Canyon, Yountville and the city of Napa have all banned its use on city owned property.

In addition, Sonoma's Certified Sustainable program enforcement under the Fish Friendly Farming standard (one of the four Sonoma approved third party standards) appears to be quite lax, with Kruse's boyfriend Steve Dutton using Mancozeb on a Fish Friendly Farming property for many years. (He stopped last year after I wrote about his use. And he publicly-in writing published on a wine industry news web site-accused me of libel for writing what the pesticide use report data said). (This claim was incorrect, as the editor of that site informed him). Mancozeb is prohibited under the Fish Friendly Farming certification program. It is highly toxic to fish.

In addition, Dutton went on to label all of his wines from those Mancozeb vines with little green Sonoma Sustainable labels. And so did all the other wineries who bought grapes from him, who wanted to use the green label. So where's the enforcement?

Kruse says in this article that the organic people aren't getting certified sustainable and that's why it's not 100 percent. Not so. There are others, like Laird Family, which owns vineyards in Sonoma, who are not taking the self assessment test. (And since when did self assessment count as certification?)

Laird is the biggest land owner in Napa with 2,200+ acres (or about 5% of the vineyards) and has never been certified sustainable in Sonoma. (Check the Sonoma Certified Sustainable honor roll in 2019 and you won't find them under their Bayview Vineyards farming company name or under Laird Family.)

It's time that journalists did their homework instead of uncritically just printing wine industry press releases.

74,000 pounds of glyphosate contains heavy metals, arsenic and other toxic ingredients, according to toxicology reports, which have analyzed the ingredients using mass spectrometry. (

It's time for Sonoma Sustainable to start counting more than media impressions and give us meaningful data.

And now Karissa want to talk climate change. Yes, let's! The latest Bonterra study ( shows that organic farming in wine grapes sequesters 9 to 13 percent more soil organic carbon than a conventional control vineyard. Why can't Sonoma both farm organically AND sequester carbon? Or is that too much to ask?

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Roundup in Wine? Please, No, Says Mimi Casteel

Oregon wine's deepest ecological thinker is having a moment. Mimi Casteel, whose family started Bethel Heights, is one of the most thoughtful and well educated people in wine when it comes to the topic of true sustainability.

Her appearance on Levi Dalton's I'll Drink To That podcast has catapulted awareness of her insights into a more prominent dialog among wine writers, wine lovers and wine makers.

You can catch the two hour talk here.

For the short attention span version, there's an article about her in Punch, as well. (But you'd be missing a lot if you didn't listen to the podcast to get the Real Download).

I spoke at length on the phone with Mimi this spring, as I was writing an as yet to published website that includes her current winery, Hopewell.


But many don't know about her kickass video, based on science--she has a master's in forest science--for vintners on Roundup and why you don't want it in your vineyard. It's worth tuning into:

Bayer's Bad News: Asset Selloff and German Ban

The German news publication has two stories on Bayer's strategies for surviving the disastrous, financial meltdown it faces as Roundup lawsuits increase.

It has begun selling assets: See story here.

Meanwhile Germany announced plans to ban Roundup by 2023. See story here. (Austria has also banned it.)

What is the takeaway? Roundup isn't getting any good publicity. What will wineries do about?

The future is unclear.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Beyond "Grower Champagne": Caroline Henry's U.S. Book Tour for Her Book, Terroir Champagne

Matt Cirne (Verjus and Quince), Caroline Henry (author) and
two fans at her book signing event at Verjus in San Francisco
Caroline Henry was in San Francisco this weekend on the tail end of her U.S. book tour, promoting her book Terroir Champagne, which has become the definitive guide to a category that people sometimes call "grower champagne." But is grower the right word?

"I was always intrigued by the idea of terroir in champagne," Henry said, over a light lunch of omelets stuffed with Boursin cheese at Verjus, where we dined before her afternoon tasting there. A book signing and tasting, hosted by Verjus somm Matt Cirne, featured wines from nine producers.

Champagne's major houses have traditionally blended their wines, growing estate grapes and purchasing significant amounts of fruit from local growers. 

Terroir champagne turns the game on its head. The subtleties of grapes and varying blends from tiny plots, grown by vignerons, has reinvigorated the industry and given the little guy independents - usually families - a voice for their soil and winemaking styles.

Eco-luxe is another part of the indie picture. Many of these tiny producers are practicing organic or biodynamic farming and/or have certified organic and biodynamic vines (all of which are listed in Terroir Champagne).

Henry regaled me with her insider stories about Champagne, from its major houses to its tiniest producers. She lives in a small village there (population 750). Her exploration of the vineyards in Champagne began when she took her dog on daily walks.

There, she could see the blue bits of plastic in the ground from the compost routinely exported from the cities to the countryside until 1998. And she could see the spraying and the tell tale yellow strips left by Roundup applications in the spring.

"It wasn't just in Champagne," she said, "that the French garbage compost was applied. It was in all the wine regions." Governments later decided to burn the compost.

Image result for pesticides map franceWhile some producers strive to reduce pesticide use, which is part of French government mandates, the region is still among the heaviest users of herbicides and fungicides in France. (See map - the red spots show the heaviest pesticide regions.)

In the Champagne region, there were two valleys that suffered from water so polluted that residents didn't have drinkable water, Henry said.

Overall, Champagne's markets have shifted from France to export markets.

I asked her about the recent Seralini studies on the taste of pesticides in wine and whether or not they had had any impact on the industry.

"The 30 glorious years, from 1970-2000, in Champagne were the time of chemical farming," she said. "And at the same time, that was when the wine expert degrees like the MW and WSET program, grew more popular. Those flavors (of pesticides) became the benchmarks, so people are used to tasting the wines grown with chemicals."

Henry herself teaches English at the business school in Reims. "That allows me to stay neutral," she said, as opposed to being beholden to the wine industry and its marketing muscle which often makes it hard for writers to share the stories they want to write about.

Many of the wineries in Terroir Champagne are certified organic or biodynamic.

Some of the big guns - like Roederer - have decided to pursue biodynamic practices and certification. The reason?  "They want to make better wine, and places like DRC have convinced them that is the only way," Henry said.

Roederer's Crystal is now sourced entirely from organic or biodynamic grapes, she said.

During her SF visit, Henry also appeared at Foreign Cinema in San Francisco, where she said many consumers attended the tasting (but didn't buy the book). "The trade did buy the book," she said.

Before the tour, she'd sold roughly 2,000 copies. During the tour, she sold 1,500 more books, proving there is interest in this topic in the U.S.


Here are two of the wines from organic or biodynamic vines.

The Reasonance champagne from Champagne Marie-Courtin, made by Dominque Moreau (page 52 in the book), was crisp and precise, with a generous amount of frothy mousse. 

The fresh Thomas Persaval Tradition (page 143 in the book) offers up bright citrus notes and packs in some pucker power to boot.

I've left out a lot of the information about herbicide and fungicides in Henry's book as that's covered in Gwendolyn Alley's blog post about Henry here.

To order the book (available in hardcover or as an ebook), click here.

Image result for terroir champagne book

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Mendocino Wine Competition: Double Gold + Organic Winners

An esteemed panel of judges awarded medals this weekend in the 2019 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition held in Boonville. Judges included Dan Berger, Laura Ness, Mark Bowery, John Sverko, Mike Dunne, Chris Sawyer, Greg Richtarek, Debra Del Fiorentino, Melanie Mann and Donny Sudthisa.

Photo credit: Chris Sawyer
One wine has been a standout year after year, consistently beating out bigger competitors (like Roederer Estate). The McFadden Cuvee Rosé, which has been unavailable for several years, is back and took Best of Show in Sparkling.

Image result for mcfadden sparkling rose brut

From a field of 264 entries, the judges selected 33 Double Gold winners. Ten were from certified organic vines.

Most of these wines (with the exception of the sparkling wine) are on the market for $25 or less.

Cabernet Sauvignon - Double Gold
• Girasole 2017 - Best of Class
• Yorkville - 2016

Chardonnay - Double Gold
• Barra 2018
• Blue Quail 2018

Gewruztraminer - Double Gold
• Handley Cellars - Estate 2018 - Best of Class

Italian Reds - Double Gold
• Chance Creek - Sangiovese 2014 

Other Whites - Double Gold
• Girasole - Pinot Blanc 2018

Rosé - Double Gold
• Boonville Road 2018 

Sparkling Wine - Double Gold
• McFadden Vineyards - Best of Class and Best of Show in Sparkling

Zinfandel- Double Gold
• Bonterra 2017- Best of Class

Dashe Cellars Makes Its Move: Big City Vistas from Alameda

Dashe Cellars, one of the best urban wineries in the Bay Area, packed up and moved from its long time home in Oakland (not far from Jack London Square) to the wilds of the Alameda shoreline.

The views from the new site are stunning -- incredible to see the SF skyline from their "edge land" setting on the Alameda coast. But that's not all - there's also a bird sanctuary right there so you can watch the nesting big birds there in their day to day lives.

Winemakers Michael and Anne Dashe source several wines from organic vines in Mendocino. Their McFadden Riesling is always a standout.

The winery had to move when its landlord decided to rent their old space to a cannabis operation, willing to pay way more in rent -- a common cause of warehouse space "cannabizisation" in Oakland.

Visit soon!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

My Article on Winery POS (Point of Sale Systems) Is Out In the August Issue of Wine Business

While my main passion in wine circles is organic and biodynamically farmed wines, I also come to the world of wine having spent 25+ years in Silicon Valley.

So therefore, when I went to Wine Business IT conference last year, I was wowwed.

Here's the result - an in-depth piece on winery POS vendors and the stories of wineries who use them. POS systems seem like a mundane category until you realize they are the digital nerve center of every winery's direct to consumer marketing ecosystem - i.e. their life blood.

Here's the link. (Free to read, free registration required).

I'll also be moderating the panel on POS systems at the 2019 Conference with panelists who were interviewed for the story -- so you can get the real life lowdown on their user experiences. More info about that here.


Friday, July 12, 2019

Is Bayer Interested in Settling Roundup Lawsuits?

The St. Louis Business Journal reports this week that Bayer is taking baby steps toward settling the 13,400 pending Roundup weedkiller lawsuits.

"Bayer CEO Werner Baumann held a series of meetings with shareholders in Frankfurt, Germany, last week, Bloomberg reported. Bloomberg Intelligence analysts told investors that Ken Feinberg, the high profile mediator appointed to lead settlement talks for some of the cases, met with both parties and wouldn't have agreed to take the job if he didn't think he could broker a deal, Bloomberg said. Bayer declined to comment," the paper wrote.

Bloomberg is closely covering how analysts are calculating the potential financial impacts of the Monsanto lawsuits. See Bloomberg article.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Mendocino Producer Charlie Barra Dies, Age 92, After 73 Harvests; Organic Since 1945, Fought for Growers, Created One of the First AVAs

The legendary Charlie Barra of Redwood Valley and Calpella died this weekend. He was 92.

Born to an Italian immigrant family from Cuneo (in the Piemonte region) in Calpella in 1926, his family grew grapes. His grandfather Guiseppe Rovera came to San Francisco in 1900 when Charlie's mother was three. After the devastating 1906 earthquake, the family moved to Calpella, where many Italians lived. His father bought land for $5 an acre and planted grapes.

There Antonio Barra, also from Cuneo, met and married Marie Rovera. When Charlies was born, he was part of the third generation. He started working in the vines when he was 10, getting paid 15 cents an hour.

In high school, he was student body president and basketball team captain. Barra leased his first vineyards while still in high school, and, as legend has it, he made three times what the high school principal made from selling his grapes. The principal made $3,300. Barra convinced the principal to let him come to school in the mornings and work in the vines in the afternoons. In one season, he made $10,000 on his grapes--and got his diploma.

The year was 1945.

He was organic from the start, saying that when the pesticide salesmen came calling, his family would say, "Why would you even spend the money?"

He started out selling grapes to Italian Swiss Colony down the road. But their wines sold for 59 cents a bottle. He saw that varietal winemakers were commanding almost twice the price for their wines so he started planting varietals they might want to buy. His bet paid off.

By 1955 he'd bought his first 175 acres of vineyards in Redwood Valley, east of Hopland (where the temperatures are more moderate than in Ukiah and Calpella) and grew a variety of grapes.

He sold to the best of them--Mondavi, Wente and others--but soon realized that growers were getting the short end of the stick. He organized the growers into the California North Coast Grape Growers Association to fight for better contracts and they got them.

The group got the California North Coast AVA approved, and raised the requirements on varietal bottle labeling to 75%. Before that, wineries could call a wine a Cabernet if it had 51% Cab in it.

In 1960, he made what was perhaps his greatest contribution to the California wine industry--the idea of spraying vines with water to protect them against frost. He got the idea, he said once when I heard him speak in Ukiah, while he was in the bathroom reading a National Geographic article about Israeli farmers who protected vegetables this way. Wine history was made. Today the technique is used all over the U.S. to protect vines from threatening frosts. replacing the older method of bringing fossil fuel guzzling, propane heaters into the vineyards.

In the mid 1980's, after growing organically for 40 something years. his neighbors at Frey Vineyards encouraged him to get certified organic, which he did. Today, 35 percent of Redwood Valley vines are certified organic, due to the demand initially created by the local wineries, Frey Vineyards and Bonterra, who produce wine only from certified organic vines.

Charlie with a bottle of his second brand, Girasole
As time progressed, many large growers launched their own brands, the route Barra decided to go after yet another downturn in the grape market. He and his second wife Martha went a giant step further than most, however, buying a large production facility, Redwood Valley Cellars, in 1996, which they use for their own wines and as a custom crush facility.

In 1997, the couple launched their own brand. Their first wine was a Petite Sirah. Twenty two year later, their 2016 Petite Sirah got a 90 point rating from Wine & Spirits.

The brand is also known for its Cabernet vines which date back to 1955.

Charlie's favorite, however, was his Sangiovese.

In 2011 Slow Food honored Charlie with a banquet at the elite Masa, attended by Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini and then San Francisco Slow Food leader Lorenzo Scarpone, that was a fundraiser for the Slow Food's youth education programs. Barra's wines were served with all the courses and Charlie was honored in speeches.

On the Barra winery website, Charlie's favorite line is said to be, "Don't ever take no for an answer."

Clearly, he lived by those words.


Martha Barra has posted a page about Charlie here. A memorial service is planned for July 24 in Ukiah.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Heitz, One of Napa's Biggest Organic Producers, Acquires 51 Acres of Vines; Will Convert New Holdings to Organic--And Biodynamic

Gaylon and Lisa Lawrence of Heitz Cellars

Not many people know it, but Heitz Cellars has (quietly) been one of the top most organic vineyard owners in Napa, growing its organic acreage slowly over decades.

Its long time vineyard management consultant, Mark Neal, has gradually shifted all of the winery's 425 acres to organic certification. Now the number will increase to 476 acres.

Under the new ownership of Gaylon and Lisa Lawrence, Heitz has now purchased the 51 acre Wildwood Vineyard, adjacent to its own Trailside Vineyard in Rutherford. (The price was reportedly $25 million, or about $500,000 an acre.)

UPDATE (posted July 10)
The new president of Heitz, Carlton McCoy, Jr., announced that the winery intends to convert all of its vineyards to Demeter certified biodynamic farming, among other changes planned for the brand.

Read more:

Monday, June 24, 2019

Your Tax Dollars At Work: UC Davis Professor Dr. Carl Winters of UCCE Shares Song "I Sprayed It On a Grapevine" with Sonoma Growers at DPR Accredited Educational Event--"No Problems with Glyphosate"

In what some would say is a surprising display of tastelessness and scientific inaccuracy, UCCE staffer and UC Davis Professor Dr. Carl Winter this week demonstrated just how blasé the wine industry is about safety issues when it comes to Roundup herbicide and its listed ingredient glyphosate.

Nichole Warwick, co-founder and executive director of the Sonoma based group FACTS (Families Advocating for Chemical & Toxics Safety), attended the latest Sonoma County Vineyard Technical Group meeting on June 21 where Winter spoke.

"He said there is no definite science to indicate carcinogenicity of glyphosate," Warwick reported.

Winter earned his Ph.D. at U.C. Davis in agricultural and environmental chemistry, not medicine.

His remarks come after three jury trials (one federal and two state) have found Monsanto at fault for not warning of the dangers of using the herbicide. Juries found Roundup use played a role in the plaintiffs contracting non Hodgkin's lymphoma.

More than 13,000 more lawsuits are pending and Bayer's stock has fallen by nearly 50% since the trials began. These plaintiffs' exposure came from applying the product. They say they were not sufficiently warned in advance of its potential hazards.

Some of the authorities testifying in favor of the plaintiffs about the herbicide's toxicity include former heads of the U.S. government agencies overseeing federal toxicology standards.

• Dr. Charles William Jameson, an animal toxicology expert who was formerly with the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health

• Dr. Chris Portier, who directed the federal government's Environmental Toxicology Program and later worked for the CDC. (Monsanto has led well funded efforts to discredit Portier for years.)

Warwick photographed slides from Winter's presentation and reports that during the event he told the group that dietary intake of glyphosate did not pose any danger. See the slides he presented to the growers group below. His slides focus on dietary intake and use data from 2015-2016.

He did not include the fact that the California EPA declared glyphosate a carcinogen in 2017, and, in fact, the California EPA won a lawsuit in 2018 filed by Monsanto, challenging its classification of the chemical.

He did not cite more recent research from:

Dr. Michael Antoniou of University College in London, documenting that levels as low as 2 ppb of glyphosate lead to an increase in fatty liver disease

• The May 2019 UCSD study (from his own UC university system) on the relationship between glyphosate levels in the urine and fatty liver disease

It is true that the Monsanto trials did not include exposure from dietary sources leading to NHL. But there is scientific evidence connecting dietary exposure to a variety of human health impacts, as the latest UCSD study shows.

For a slide deck from Dr. Mills on this topic, click here.  Dr. Mills is Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health and Director of the Center for Excellence for Research and Training in Integrative Health at U.C. San Diego.

Winter also did not address the issue of the toxicity of the unlisted ingredients in Roundup raised by Antoniou or of those clearly documented by French researcher Gilles Seralini, of the University of Caen.

Warwick says Winter dismissed IARC's findings of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen because the IARC scientists gave weight in their assessment to independent (i..e non-industry) studies and excluded known Monsanto-funded study data. (This is noted in his slides). This point as been Monsanto's party line and has been discredited in many news reports and in the trials.

IARC committee members have said that is IARC's regular policy; it uses only data from independent sources, not from industry sources.

"It's a big problem to remove glyphosate from IPM plans," Winter said, according to Warwick.

The Department of Pesticide Regulation granted attendees an hour of continuing education credit for attending the event.

Meanwhile over at the ASEV meeting in Napa, wine industry professionals intent on finding alternatives to Roundup were listening to a lecture from Kenneth Olejar, a research fellow from Lincoln University in New Zealand, on the use of textile mats as weed mats, a promising method of weed control in vineyards.

But in Sonoma, Winters tried to lead the group in song, using the tune from, "I Heard It from the Grapevine" in his rendition of "I Sprayed It On a Grapevine."

Here's Winters performing the song, in video, recorded June 21 (see video above). (As one astute reader noted the song is about an insecticide, not an herbicide, which was supposed to be the subject of the presentation.)

You can see slides from his Winters' presentation here.


I bet you're wondering how I knew
About those bugs' plan to make me blue
The holes in the leaves. They make it clear
That there are invertebrates to fear
It took me by surprise I must say
But this insecticide will save the day so...

I sprayed it on the grapevine
Pretty soon those bugs will be dyin'
I sprayed it on the grapevine
Cause if I didn't there'd be no grapes for wine
Honey, honey, yeah

You know I'd prefer not to spray
But those bugs I've got to keep away
IPM has clearly got a role
And I'm all for biocontrol
But sometimes the sprays work the best
And put my worst fears to rest.
That's why

I sprayed it on the grapevine
Pretty soon those bugs will be dyin'
I sprayed it on the grapevine
Cause if I didn't there'd be no grapes for wine
Honey, honey, yeah

Yes. I'm aware of consumer fear
But the residues will disappear
I understand the environmental view
And worker safety is important, too
But I followed all the rules
And it's one of my best tools...

I sprayed it on the grapevine
Pretty soon those bugs will be dyin'
I sprayed it on the grapevine
Cause if I didn't there'd be no grapes for wine
Honey, honey, yeah

Postscript: Bolding is mine.

• I have contacted both DPR and UCDavis for comment and will post their comments here.
• According to one source, Friday is Winter's last day before retiring - at taxpayer expense!


UPDATE:  Comment submitted by Professor Seralini June 25, 2019

We have demonstrated that glyphosate is present in non organic wines (Seralini & Douzelet, Food Nutrition Journal, 2018) by contrast to organic ones, and it changes their tastes. 

The rats from my lab which received Roundup containing 0.04 microgr/kg (around 10,000 times more than indicated on the slides here) had not only liver disease (my collab with Antoniou, the photographs of the livre in my paper from 2014) but also kidney lethal insufficiencies and mammary tumors. This was due to the omnipresent glyphosate formulants now identified. 

This is why the presentation above is ignorant.



Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

DPR’s process for reviewing and approving continuing education (CE) applications consists of a CE review committee that meets twice a week to review course agendas and content submitted by the course sponsor. The course content submitted is reviewed by at least two program staff including environmental scientists and management to ensure the content meets the requirements in regulation for approval which state in part…

“The instruction must focus on pest management and pesticides including topics as specified in the Food and Agricultural Code section 11502.5 (plant health, organic and sustainable practices, water and air monitoring and residue mitigation, maximum residue levels, quarantine practices, and the on-farm storage of fumigants….. “

For this specific course in question, the application and agenda was submitted with the information on main topics to be discussed. It was not made clear that the  staff would sing a song or claim there is no danger. In fact the title of  Dr. Winter’s presentation was "Glyphosate- a roundup of risks, regulations and reactions."

We appreciate you bringing this to our attention and will discuss the matter with the course sponsor, as well as, watch for and maintain an awareness of any other future problematic courses where opinions on pesticides will be discussed.

Charlotte Fadipe
Assistant Director, Communications. 
Ca. Dept. of Pesticide Regulation
California  Environmental Protection Agency


Sunday, June 23, 2019

Biggest Little Farm Lovers: Here's How to Drink Biodynamic Wine

If you've recently seen the utterly charming feature doc The Biggest Little Farm (and you should see it if you haven't - definitely the feel good movie of the year), you may be asking yourself, "Are there any wineries that grow wine grapes this way?"

Yes, there are.

You can read about the U.S. and a few foreign biodynamic producers in the program guide from the first International Biodynamic Wine Conference which took place last year.

Here's the link.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Summer Reading: Mark Arax's New Book - The Dreamt Land - About California and Water

Mark Arax's new book The Dreant Land looks to be the Big Summer Book on my reading list. It hasn't arrived yet, but I saw a video interview with the author on Manny's Facebook page here that inspired me to take the plunge and buy the book:


You can read an excerpt on the publisher's website.

I also got the audio version of the book, read by Arax and though I have only briefly dipped in so far,  it's always a pleasure when the author reads their own work.

The book is part memoir, part straight nonfiction. It weighs 2.2 pounds. It's got great reviews and was sold out at the local bookstore. And, at 556 pages, it ought to last me awhile.

Although it's about all the growers (oranges, almonds, wine grapes, table grapes, etc.) in the Central Valley, wine grapes do play a role.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Biggest Little Farm Film - A Farm Love Story - Debuts May 10

It's the agrarian ideal for many urbanites—writ large. Take your dog to the country, buy a farm and STAY THERE.

 That's the heartwarming story that audiences at Mill Valley Film Festival fell for, hook line and sinker, last fall when I first saw this new documentary feature.

Now the film is coming out this week in major markets. It will arrive in the SF Bay area May 17.

You can follow developments on the movie website or on Twitter.

Although the film never mentions the word "biodynamic," Apricot Lane is a Demeter certified biodynamic farm. Wine people will want to see the film to see Allan York, a top biodynamic consultant, who appears in the film; he was Apricot Lane's main advisor until his untimely death in his early 60s.

Andrew Beedy, another top biodynamic consultant, also worked  with Allan at Apricot Lane and continued the work after York passed away.

York worked with many northern California wineries to implement biodynamics. Among them:
• Bonterra and Dark Horse Ranch. At Bonterra, many of the beautiful garden structures he created are still present.
• Benziger Family in Sonoma, the first Demeter certified winery in Sonoma County
• Cowhorn, a top Rhone producer in southern Oregon

Beedy is currently working with Troon Vineyards in southern Oregon as it converts to biodynamic practices and certification.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Copper Use in California: Mainly on Conventional Vineyards


Toxic fungicides, pesticides, insecticides and herbicides are routinely used in large quantities and applied most frequently and intensively in the "fine wine" growing regions of Sonoma and Napa as well as in Lodi, as you can see in this map below from the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation's most recent report showing the active ingredients applied to wine grape vineyards in 2016.

(The 2017 report is due out in June).

While sulfur is the most frequently applied active ingredient, glyphosate, copper and oils are commonly applied.

The 2 percent of vineyards in California that are organic may use sulfur, copper and oils, but the vast majority of these materials is used in conventional vineyards (98 percent of vineyards in California).

Despite the widely publicized growth of industry sponsored sustainability programs, pesticide use is increasing, not declining, the report states. It says (page 119), "The long term trend over the last two decades is an increasing area treated for all pesticide types except for sulfur which has tended to fluctuate more annually (Figure 37)."

Copper, this chart suggests, is used on 400,000 acres of grape vines.

California has about 550,000 acres of planted wine grape vines.

Science! New Seralini Study on Copper: Conventional Wines Contain 10 Times More Copper than Organically Grown Wines—And You Can Taste the Difference

I have decided to publish this press release about groundbreaking scientific research from Professor Seralini in its entirety (below) in order to let him and his co-authors speak for their research directly. 

Often people who have heard about the French argument over copper assume that California's organic vineyards rely on copper to the same extent that French organic growers do. The data shows that conventional growers in California use almost all of the copper that is used on wine grapes. 

But Seralini's real point is that regulators should be looking at the ingredients (often kept secret) in many conventional fungicides (that include copper), and should regulate all vineyard pesticides on the basis of toxicity. Singling out copper does not reflect an accurate risk assessment, he says. 

I have also published a companion post with a few excerpts from the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation statistics showing the widespread use of copper and other fungicides in all vineyards in California.


[Editor's Note: I , Pam, have added boldings.]

Citation May 2019: Seralini GE, Douzelet J, Halley JC (2019) Copper in Wines and Vineyards: Taste and Comparative Toxicity to Pesticides. Food Nutr J 9: 196. DOI: 10.29011/2575-7091.100096

Other related research papers:

"Copper is generally considered to be a biopesticide that should be more regulated in organic vineyards, as it is the major treatment applied.

[Editor's note: I would add "in France". In California, pesticide use statistics show that conventional vineyards use far more copper than organic ones.]

There is currently a heated debate on this topic. In order to advance understanding of this issue, the authors studied the levels of copper in organic and non-organic wines and investigated whether this substance modified their taste.

They also compared the toxicity of copper to that of synthetic pesticides at the levels of human health and the environment.

Copper is found at an average level of 0.15 mg/l in organic wines and at a level ten times higher, at up to 1.5 mg/l or more, in non-organic ones. 

This is probably because of its presence in the commercial formulations of petroleum-based synthetic pesticides, which contain several heavy metals that are transferred to the grapes.

Vines are among the crop plants that are most heavily treated with pesticides, except when grown organically.

The environmental impact of copper in organic vineyards under normal treatment (a few kg/ha) appears to be positive, in that it improves biodiversity, in contrast with the impact of synthetic pesticides, which gradually desiccate the soil.

Copper is essential for life. It stimulates the defense systems of plants and the human immune system and is toxic only in excess. Copper is not primarily a pesticide but is an essential element for life.

It is nontoxic at the levels found in wines. However, at levels present in nonorganic wines, it clearly changes their taste. 

For comparison, we found that a favourably judged (awarded 100/100 in the Parker Guide) non-organic bottle of wine contained 146 μg/l of boscalid, a widely used synthetic pesticide.

If we consider the formulants and residues present in numerous pesticides, such as petroleum and arsenic or other heavy metals, the threshold of chronic toxicity will be reached from the consumption of 22 ml of this wine.

Similar results are obtained for fenhexamid and glyphosate in Roundup, which are widely used in non-organic vineyards and have a considerably higher toxicity than an excess of copper.

Copper cannot therefore be considered as being comparable with the synthetic petroleum-derived pesticides that are present in nonorganic wines.

If regulatory agencies are to regulate the use of copper, they should first release the composition of synthetic pesticide formulations, which are currently kept confidential, as they could contain copper together with toxic heavy metals."

New Study Finds Consistent and Persistent Confusion on Greenwashing Labels: 43% Think "Natural" or 'Sustainable" = No Pesticides

Consumers are fairly consistent when it comes to greenwashing in labeling: 43% of those recently surveyed think that natural means no pesticides, according to new research from the Hartman Group published today.


 This aligns with previous studies by Christian Miller's Full Glass Research in which 43% of consumers thought "sustainable" wine was from organic grapes. (See second to last row, right column).

The takeaway? Organic messaging for wine and food products hasn't gone far enough.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Science! New Soil Study Shows Carbon Sequestration 9-13% Higher for Biodynamic and Organic Viticulture Than Conventional

Source: Bonterra Organic Vineyards

Scientists from Pacific Agroecology conducted research on 13 vineyards. Nine were organic, three were Biodynamic and one was conventional.

Their findings? "Vineyards farmed with organic and Biodynamic methods stored 9.4%-12.8% more SOC per acre, respectively, than the conventionally farmed control vineyard."

Here is the full press release:

Source: Press Release


MENDOCINO COUNTY, Calif., March 13, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- America's leading organically farmed wine, Bonterra Organic Vineyards ("Bonterra") continues its legacy of pioneering green viticulture with completion of a landmark soil study highlighting the benefits of organic and Biodynamic® farming on soil health.

Conducted by Pacific Agroecology on behalf of Bonterra, the study analyzed all of Bonterra's approximately 1,000 acres of Mendocino County vineyards, with results showing that Biodynamic sites hold the most soil organic carbon, followed closely by organic sites; both are superior in storing carbon to  conventional farming.

The soil study is the first research step in Bonterra's long-term commitment to understand, practice and promote the important topic of soil-carbon stewardship, and is in keeping with Bonterra's mission to champion regenerative agriculture as an important element in the global effort to address climate change.

Experience the interactive Multichannel News Release here:

Organic and Biodynamic Vineyards Store 9-12% More Organic Carbon

Data from the 2017-2018 soil study1, which measure density of soil organic carbon (SOC), indicate that Bonterra's vineyards farmed with Biodynamic and organic farming methods correlate with 12.8% and 9.4% greater SOC levels, respectively, than those found in a similar vineyard site farmed conventionally. The research took place over 12 months on 13 vineyards (nine organic, three Biodynamic, and one conventional) across Mendocino County, and included more than 500 grapevine biomass samples and more than 100 soil samples from vines planted between 1987 and 2015. The same study reviewed soil and above-ground carbon stores in Bonterra's undeveloped wildlands, demonstrating that total carbon storage in wildlands remains higher than in production lands, indicating that continued conservation efforts are also beneficial.

The Impact of Organic Carbon Stored in Soil

"Soil organic carbon—something regenerative farming strives to enhance—is a signal of how well a landscape captures and stores carbon, and also contributes many long-term benefits to soil health, such as improved aeration, drought resistance, and erosion prevention," said Joseph Brinkley, director of vineyards for Bonterra. Bonterra strives to enhance soil health on its Mendocino farms through a coordinated mix of regenerative practices, including applying compost, planting cover crops, planned sheep grazing, reduced tillage regimes, enhanced insect and wildlife programs, and conservation of nearly 50% of its land in a natural state.

A 2017 report by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations entitled "Soil Organic Carbon: The Hidden Potential"2 states: "As an indicator for soil health, [soil organic carbon] is important for its contributions to food production, mitigation and adaptation to climate change." Elizabeth Drake, regenerative development manager for Bonterra Organic Vineyards, noted of Bonterra's recently completed study, "The results of this study provide early indication that regenerative farming practices lead to healthier, more productive soils, while contributing to the mitigation of climate change by holding more carbon underground."

Bonterra's Long-Term Commitment to Healthy Soil

Recently celebrating 30 years of organic farming, Bonterra remains passionate about building on its history of regenerative agriculture, and the soil study is the first research step in the winery's long-term commitment to understand, practice and promote the important topic of soil-carbon stewardship. Bonterra recently initiated a third-party peer-review process for the study so that its results may be further verified, and is also examining methods to conduct additional soil sampling to analyze vineyard carbon storage and carbon fluxes over longer periods. These efforts underscore a deeply rooted belief at Bonterra that regenerative farming practices offer compelling solutions for healthy soils, improved vine and grape quality, and a positive path forward for farming.

"We're excited about the potential impact of this study, which we hope inspires other farmers to examine the benefits of organic and Biodynamic agriculture," said Drake.

Visit to learn more about the study, and to learn more about Bonterra's organic and Biodynamic farming practices, network of organic farms, and acclaimed wine collection. Follow Bonterra on Instagram and Facebook for informative news on healthy soils and farms, plus tips on organic lifestyle, cooking, and trends.

1 SOURCE: Morandé, J.A., M.G. Vaghti, J.N. Williams, J. Medellín-Azuara, & J.H. Viers. 2018. Carbon Inventory and Annual Increment Analysis of Vineyard Blocks and Adjoining Wildlands of Bonterra Organic Vineyards.  Pacific Agroecology LLC Project Report. Davis, CA. 25 ppd.
2 SOURCE: FAO 2017. Soil Organic Carbon: the hidden potential. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.

About Bonterra Organic Vineyards
Organically farmed and masterfully crafted, Bonterra Organic Vineyards epitomizes wines that are perfectly in tune with nature. A celebration of farm-fresh flavors, the portfolio features wines coaxed from the earth by careful farming practices carried out on a dynamic network of estate and partner farms throughout California. In addition to a widely available collection of organically farmed wines that includes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Equinox Red and Rosé, Bonterra crafts a trio of sought-after single-vineyard offerings from estate Biodynamic® vineyards in Mendocino County, and The Elysian Collection Merlot, an elevated offering from organic grapes. Long before organic produce filled the shelves of neighborhood groceries, the dedicated team at Bonterra was committed to organic and Biodynamic® farming because they passionately believe that farms teeming with biodiversity—encompassing vines, insects and wildlife, and healthy soils—yield organic grapes leading to better wines.

About Pacific Agroecology
Pacific Agroecology LLC is an environmental research and consulting company dedicated to restoring balance between agriculture and natural systems. We believe that with proper stewardship, not only are economically viable cropping systems and natural habitat compatible, but they can be mutually reinforcing.  Humanity and ecosystems are interconnected at multiple levels, and only through an awareness and understanding of these connections can we find ways that both can thrive. Our clients range from worldwide leaders in the agricultural industry, to research institutions, to government agencies and policy makers.

I've asked for a copy of the actual study and will post a link to it here later when it's available.

Monsanto Trial on Roundup Concludes: Jury to Decide Case

Good synopsis of the testimony presented in the Monsanto Roundup trials about to conclude in San Francisco today can be found here.

It includes links to the expert reports and videos of expert witnesses for both sides.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Deep Roots Coalition's SF Tasting: The Organically Grown Wines

The Deep Roots Coalition is a band of Oregon winemakers who dry farm. They held a tasting yesterday in SF at Barcino for trade with "guest stars" John Williams from Frog's Leap. The wines featured here are all grown without irrigation. Many of the producers also label that fact on the back label of their wines.

Deep Roots is a great concept, but like so many wine classifications, it seems one dimensional. Some of the producers are not farming organically, and if wine quality and soil health matter, it's hard to understand that choice. (And do consumers really want to drink wine made from grapes whose roots have been treated with glyphosate?)

So yes, raise a glass to dry farming. But soil health and water retention are enhanced by organic farming. So if you are a lot about water as a resource, it's best to look at more than one dimension. That's true of a lot of one-factor wine movements of our times - Raw Wine (low sulfite levels), Glyphosate free (up to 10 ppb allowed), etc. etc.

Dry farming is a much more complex subject that invites further inquiry from buyers.

• Is it ok to till a lot of tillage in order to dry farm? Are there alternatives to tractor tillage? (i.e. animals)? Permanent cover crops (with just under vine cultivation) is a very popular choice.

• Or is it better to dry farm by planting less densely and on head trained vines, like Tablas Creek has done in its new 60+ acre vineyard in Paso Robles? (And like Philippe Coderey, a traditional vigneron from Provence, has done in new vineyards at Grimm's Bluff and Duvarita in Santa Barbara County?) There's more complexity to the concept of "dry farming" than meets the eye.

Is it good to get water use in vineyards more in the public eye? Yes, but the conversation should be a broader one, and one that's not just about Oregon winemakers. Most Californians would agree.

I'm not sure why Deep Roots is Oregon only since it's our state that traditionally faces drought and where consumer interest is high.

That said, I tasted through the dry farmed wines from certified organic or BD vines at the tasting and found a lot to like.

John Williams of Frog's Leap in Napa gives them hell at the Deep Roots Coalition
tasting in SF. His point? Napa farmers would get better flavors (but lower yields)
if they didn't irrigate and create shallow roots.

The Frog's Leap Zinfandel only gets better and better.
If ever there was an advertisement for Napa
tourists for Zinfandel, this is it.

It was great to finally taste face to face with Evesham Wood
owner and winemaker Erin Nuccio. The estate Le Puits Sec. Yes,
Wow. I get it now. (And for $40? Compared to many
Sonoma or California Pinots, that's a such deal).
We live in amazing times.

This is actually a single vineyard designate from
Temperance Hill. (And it says so on the back label).
Another Temperance Hill single vineyard designate.
The "same" vineyard has so many blocks and so many
expressions and interpretations.

My favorite wine at the tasting had to be the Sparkling
Blanc de Blanc from Johan vineyard's BD grapes.
I'm always looking for sparkling wines from organic
vines and they are few and far between from U.S.
producers. This is my new love! 

A totally new find for me: Eyrie's Trousseau (Noir). Done
as a bit of an experiment, I would say it's a total success.
I don't know of anyone else making this variety and
have only seen the white (Gris) version in California.
Only 300 cases made.
Other producers with organic or Biodynamic vines at the tasting include Brick House Vineyards and Brooks. I wanted to give a shout out to Brooks for their incredible Pinot Blanc from a newly certified Biodynamic vineyard in close proximity to Brooks' estate vines. Congrats on both the wine and the the Crannell family for seeking and getting certification. The best part, of course, is the taste of that wine! A great everyday wine - find it for $16 on

                                                           CALIFORNIA WINES

California natural winemakers Les Lunes and Populis showed four dry farmed wines from Mendocino vines - two of them from old vines at Venturi Vineyards. I especially enjoyed the Wabi Sabi, a $22 red blend that's another great everyday wine.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Sonoma Mountain Book to Debut This Week

For details, click here.

Update on the Glyphosate Case: Hardeman, Santa Rosa Resident, Testifies

Yesterday, I had a chance to visit the current glyphosate trial in federal district court, a year after covering the original Science Week proceedings for Civil Eats and PRI. During Science Week, the leading cancer risk researchers and scientists presented their reports to Judge Chabbria, who determined what was and what was not "junk science." That laid the groundwork for the experts who will be able to testify in future federal proceedings on this topic.

This was scary then and it's still scary to see non-scientists learn about cancer risk assessment and place one's faith in them. Luckily the jury in the first state court case - the one that decided in favor of the plaintiff, DeWayne Lee Johnson - was very engaged and taking notes throughout the trial.

I know Chabbria's learned a lot more about the science of cancer risk assessment than he knew a year ago. Most of the same experts will be testifying again (as they did in the DeWayne Johnson trial) and in other proceedings.

Yesterday I arrived too late and missed getting a chance to see Mr. Hardeman, who is the plaintiff in this case. He used Roundup on his 50+ acre property in Santa Rosa to eliminate or control poison oak. He then contracted non Hodgkin lymphoma. Yesterday he demonstrated - with the use of sprayer - how he sprayed on a regular basis.

When I was there in the morning shortly after his appearance, the courtroom was filled with about 30 observers, many with laptops taking notes. A daily transcript - and daily summary posts - are published and available on the U.S. Right to Know website.

At the lunch break in the court cafeteria, I did briefly meet and say hi to reporter Sam Levin who is reporting on the case for The Guardian. Here's his latest story from yesterday. Hardeman said he sprayed Roundup for 3-4 hours monthly.

My biggest concern is that this jury did not appear as engaged during expert science testimony. No one was taking notes. Two women had eyes that appeared glazed over by the details. That's understandable. The plaintiff's attorneys really have their work cut out for them in this trial.

For reasons I have yet to understand (but hope to learn more about), Judge Chabbria granted Monsanto's request to divide the trial into two phases - one in which the jurors will not be able to learn about the company's ne'er do well involvement in getting reputable journals to publish industry sponsored research.

In phase two, that's apparently going to be fair game. But there will only be a phase two if the decision of the jury is unanimous.

Slow Wine Guide, Part 2: Organic and BD Producers' "Great Wines" From Certified Vines


Fourteen wines from certified vineyards in the U.S. received the prestigious designation of Great Wine from Slow Wine in its 2019 Guide.

In particular, three remarkably young producers appear on this list:
• Analemma, in Oregon, for its Mencia (a Spanish grape) from the Columbia Gorge.
• Grimm's Bluff, in Santa Barbara County's Happy Canyon appellation, for its second vintage of its estate Cab.
• Solminer, also in Santa Barbara County, was recognized for its Rubellite Syrah made with carbonic maceration.

All three are Biodynamic vineyards and the first two wines were featured at the International Biodynamic Wine Conference last year. (Solminer was certified just after the conference).

This kind of recognition for these new producers is unprecedented. And a tribute to high farming and winemaking standards.

Bordeaux Blend
• Eisele Vineyard - Altagracia
Partially BD estate wine, partially purchases fruit.
(Note: the price was listed in error in the guide at $66 - a girl can only dream that it's $66. Luckily it's $25 a glass at a Calistoga hotel near the winery.)

Cabernet Sauvignon
• Grgich Hills Estate - Estate
A Napa cab that isn't $100! (It's $71).
• Grimm's Bluff - Estate | BD
This is a breakthrough for a young BD producer - Congrats! And well deserved recognition. Biodynamic vineyard manager Philippe Coderey planted these vines not so long ago, and look what the result is. This is only the second vintage from this estate.
• Heitz - Martha's Vineyard
One of the most decorated wines from the U.S. for decades.
• Ridge Vineyards - Estate (not the Monte Bello)
(Happy to have two cases of this aging in my cellar)

• Analemma Wines | BD
Another big surprise win! Congrats!

Pinot Noir 
• Brick House Vineyards | Evelyn's BD
Mom (Evelyn) must be proud!
• Eyrie Vineyards - Original Vines
The classic.
• Radio-Coteau - Terra Neuma | BD
Another one of my personal favorites. Swoonworthy.

Red Rhone Blend
• Tablas Creek - Esprit de Tablas | BD
The bet on finding a place to grow mourvedre paid off.

• Solminer - Rubellite (carbonic maceration)
Only 100 cases made.

White Alsatian Blend
• Robert Sinskey Vineyards
One of my favorite whites from Napa.

• Winery Sixteen 600
Only 84 cases made.

Soter Vineyards - Mineral Ranch Brut Rosé | BD