Monday, July 20, 2015

Health and Happiness: 2 Napa Wineries (With Great Wines) Devoted to Funding Medical Research

I spent a long time in the health and medical field - at least 15 years in health information - and I often find that people interested in what I am doing - highlighting organic vineyards and wines from organic grapes - are nurses and doctors (and organic gardeners).

A number of doctors have started wineries (Bob Sinskey, the late ophthalmologist and founder of Robert Sinskey Vineyards, comes to mind as does the Novak family in Spottswoode) in which their heirs converted to organic in the vineyards.

But two wineries in Napa, both of whom farm organically, should be recognized for their dedicated pursuit of both pleasure and philanthropy devoted to medical advances: Ehlers Estate and Staglin Family Vineyards. Both are 100% estate and both are farmed 100% organically.

Both are also the product of small, contiguous estates - not far flung collections of vineyards marketed under one umbrella. All the wines come from one site, one place, one vineyard manager, one winemaker. And both produce outstanding wines, vintage after vintage.

Ehlers Estate: Heart Research


"One of the gems of Napa Valley" - Los Angeles Times

Owned by a French foundation, Ehlers is one of the wineries named for its 1880's founder Bernard Ehlers, a Sacramento grocer. who made a fortune selling tools to miners. (Many grocers owned wineries back then.)

Today it's ever so ably managed by Kevin Morrissey, who spent his internship at Petrus (Merlot country in Bordeaux), where he developed not only his winemaking skills but also his fluent command of the French language. Both of these stood him in good steed when a recruiter came a calling to spirit him away from Stags Leap Winery (where he made 80,000 cases of wine a year) to the boutique and artisanal environs of Ehlers Estate (8,000 cases a year).

With 39 acres in vine, the old stone winery sits amid the vines, smack dab in the middle of Napa Valley just north of the town of St. Helena. It's an area where volcanic soils dribbled down from the Vaca mountains (the range that borders Napa Valley's eastern edges).

There's a small knoll on the property, from which a few blocks of wine are made into the Cabernet Sauvignon named J. Leducq ($75) in honor of the man who restored it in the 1980's and subsequent decades.

Sylviane Leducq and Kevin Morrissey
Jean Leducq made a fortune in the linens and uniforms business. In the 1970s he suffered from a heart attack, an affliction which had killed both his father and grandfather in their 50s. He sought treatment at the Mayo Clinic where he received the relatively new treatment of heart bypass surgery. After the surgery he lived into his 80s.

In 1987, Jean and his wife Sylviane bought 7 acres of the original Ehlers holdings. Gradually over time they reassembled the original, contiguous estate, rather than buying vineyards elsewhere in Napa Valley.

In 1996, grateful for what medical advances had done to extend Jean's life, Jean and Sylviane Leducq founded the Fondation Leducq in France in 1996, to give money for heart research.

The winery's profits go to the foundation's work.

In 2000, the Leducq's started making wine on their Napa property under the Ehlers Estate winery name.

Sadly, just two years after the Ehlers Estate launched its first wine, Jean Leducq died, leaving Sylviane to run the foundation. In 2009 she was awarded the French Legion of Honor for their medical philanthropy.

Sylviane died in 2013, but the work of the foundation continues. Since it started in 1996, it has donated more than $300 million to cardiovascular research.

The Wines

You don't have to know the incredible back story of the Leducq's to appreciate Ehlers Estate wines.


The wines very ably stand on their own two feet.

I am an unabashed fan - and I am not alone.

The Merlot ($55) is exceptional, prompting both Alder Yarrow and Robert Parker to comment on its outstanding qualities over various vintages. Is it inspired by winemaker Morrissey's Petrus internship? Who can say.

The Cabernet Sauvignon (both a regular bottling, $55, and a reserve one, $110) are both very good, and the Cabernet Franc ($60) is another great find.

Tours to Ehlers are by appointment only and are well worth the effort. The seated tastings take place in the historic stone building.

Wine Club Recommendation

I don't recommend that many wine clubs as I can't say that the wines across the board are universally wonderful or that the wines aren't available elsewhere for less than club prices.

But Ehlers is one that I do recommend. Their wines are consistently great - vintage to vintage and varietal to varietal. The club parties look fantastic (judging from the pictures - I can't say I've attended one) and one can visit the winery gratis with friends, and enjoy the club grounds (wonderful picnicking) and bocce ball court. For Ehlers wine club members, life is good.

--------

Staglin Family Vineyard

This Rutherford winery is very much worthy of its own, separate post, so look for more about it in Part 2 of this series.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Trendspotting in Berkeley: Organic Royal Blenheim Apricot Jam

I've been a jam maker in recent years, and it was then that I became acquainted with the Royal Blenheim apricot conspiracy - i.e. a group of fruit aficionados who know a good thing when they taste it.

Today's find: this quick pic from La Fournée, one of the classiest of many classy bakeries in Berkeley. La Fournée is located across the street from the Claremont Hotel.

You know organic is a true trend when the poshest bakery lists this on its blackboard of today's goodies:


I'm waiting for the day when the wine lists conform to this vision of the proper eating and drinking sphere.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Rutherford Cabs - Presenting the 2012's at Day in the Dust

PART 1: THE MEDIA TASTING

The 2015 Media Tasting: Rutherford Day in the Dust

If Day in the Dust conjures up images of vineyard tours, banish the thought. Yesterday's annual tasting, the Rutherford Day in the Dust - Rutherford dust, that is - brought out the vintage Napa's vintners have been living for - the 2012s. It was a great year and a huge relief to those who suffered through the 2011s.

Not that the 2011s were universally bad, but it was a "lesser vintage" for most.

The 2012s were not only a better vintage for quality, they were also a huge increase in quantity, with yields up 40% overall. Some vineyards in Rutherford were up 50%.
Among the 1994s: the Niebaum
Coppola (now Inglenook) Rubicon,
the winery's first vintage under
organic certification (21 years ago)

The media tasting, held at Inglenook, led off with 14 wines from the 2012 vintages selected for wine press to taste, preceded by a six wine flight of 1994s. 

Though educational as to the lasting power of Rutherford appellation wines, the 1994s might not have been the best way to begin, spoiling tasters with the delicate perfumes and tastes that a 20+ year old Cab can bring. When the 2012's were presented, veteran wine writer Dan Berger humorously whined, "These aren't wine yet. These are just babies."
The 1994's
Peju's Reserve Cab ($115)
is organically grown; it placed
third in the overall rankings.

With 45 wineries in the appellation, one might have expected to see the appellation wineries broadly represented. That would be incorrect. The press were invited to taste 14 wines, chosen by a group of somms, that included 3 from Frank Family Vineyards and 2 from Freemark Abbey, wineries located in other appellations that source some fruit from Rutherford. Some other wines had ratings in the mid 80's from Parker, Wine Spectator, et al. (I'm not sure where these somms were from?) 

Inglenook winemaker Philippe Bascaules
Missing were many of the wines that I follow: Caspar Estate, HALL, Neal Family, Staglin, and Tres Sabores. (Dana would also be a notable wine from Rutherford from organic vines, but since it make so little wine and sells it to a small group, it's understandable that their wines would not be included.)

It was hard to conclude that these were all the best wines the appellation had to offer. But let's not quibble.

Fred Dame, who was running the tasting, said a number of wineries declined to contribute wines, saying their wine clubs had already bought most of the 2012 Cabs.

The 14 wines were tasted blind, and then scores from an assorted group of scorers were tabulated. 

My favorite, the 2012 Rubicon, $210, (which received a 95 from Parker, I found out later on; Jon Bonné was also enthusiastic about it) came in seventh, which I thought was extremely odd. (Not that Parker is my arbiter of taste, but he is a data point). It certainly wouldn't be the first time a scoring exercise seemed off the mark. (In this case, way off.)

The wine that placed first on the group list was the one I'd described thusly: "fruit bomb." My (blind) tasting note on the Rubicon: "Starred. Great potential. Fruit without the bomb. A beautiful wine.' Oh well, what do I know...

"These wines are going to do very well in the hospitality industry," said Dame, a Master Sommelier., of the 2012's. "They're big, rich, and approachable young." 

Wine writers Paul Franson and Dan Berger compare notes
at the media tasting

Rutherford Dust Society, media tasting
PART 2: THE TRADE TASTING

The trade tasting, on the other hand, featured a much broader assortment of wines, but without the opportunity to really take them in in the way a seated tasting does. Nonetheless, there were some lovely Cabs and a few other discoveries.

Enjoy these photos from the trade tasting:


Bascaules offered up tastes of the
2012 Inglenook Cask Cabernet ($75); Parker
gave it a 93+ pt. score; and I thought it was
a beautiful wine, especially for the price ($52 for
club members); luckily quite a bit of it was made
(10,000 cases) 
Dan O'Brien from Long Meadow Ranch with the winery's
first red wine from inside the Rutherford appellation: the 2013 Merlot
Holding down the fort at Heitz were these
lovely ladies (sorry, I forgot to write down their names)
providing tastes of the 2009 Heitz Trailside; their 2012
won't be released for several years. This is a wonderful
wine. I would like to taste it again, sitting down
and concentrating more.  
Two lovely people from wineries that were among
the first in Napa (as well as Rutherford) to have
organic vineyards: Enrique Herrero, the vineyard
manager at Inglenook, and Julie Johnson,
proprietor and winemaker at Tres Sabores;
these two properties have a boundary in common on
Rutherford benchland under the Mayacamas and both
make wines worthy of your attention; the dry farmed Tres Sabores
Perspective Cab (restrained, not a fruit bomb) lists for $80;
it's from vines planted in 1971 (only 200 cases made)
Postscript: Later on the day I posted the post above, Dan Berger's Vintage Experiences newsletter landed in my inbox. (An excellent newsletter, by the way, and well worth subscribing to.)

Here is his description of the tasting, which expands upon some of the impressions I wrote about: 

For one thing, all the wines were released far too early to make any meaningful judgment. Decades ago we all waited for four year for Cabs to be released; today it's barely over 2 and 1/2.

The even was coordinated by Fred Dame, a longtime Master Sommelier (MS) and a skilled taster. He used many other MSs to rank all the candidates for Wednesday's tasting. The MSs passed on wines they thought didn't make the grade. 

But no one stated what specific attributes the wines had to display to qualify for the tasting - or what deficiencies the also-rans had that denied their admission to the event.

As a result, "Sommelier Palate" dictated which wines were blessed enough to be thought of as the best in Rutherford. And what is this undefined Sommelier Palate?

Well, for one thing, it is a generally younger-taster profile. Most of the MS folk in the room yesterday were between 35 and 50, and all got their impressions of what a Great Cab was in a post-Phylloxera Parker-dominant era when weight and softness were viewed as king - and when food friendliness, aging and varietal character were less important.

The result can only be a self-fulfilling prophecy: all the anointed wines were pretty much the same weight and density, with little in the way of distinctiveness allowed.

I have long suspected that Napa Valley producers and the societies formed to promote them do not like the word "distinctiveness" to be used when referring to their wines - not even when it's regional character. What are the real differences between Cabs whose appellations are Rutherford, St. Helena, Oakville and Spring Mountain? Are there any differences now that high alcohol, low aide and hang time are all the rage?

Some of the best wines I tasted yesterday were Cabs served at the larger, walk-around portion of the tasting. Some of these wines were submitted to the MS group and were not picked. 

Yet to me a number were exemplary of a great vintage of Napa Valley Cab, even though they were not dense and succulent. 

Dame summed up the tasting when he said the wines "taste good" (is this a requirement for a Cabernet to be great?). And he added, "In terms of the hospitality industry, these are great wines." 

The comment gave me the distinct impression that he was talking of sales: they would sell. But the dependent clause that starts the quote says nothing about consumers. 

Funny. I thought that's who the tasting was really staged for.

Friday, July 10, 2015

"TV" Worth Watching: Sonoma Legends Video with Biodynamic Pioneer Mike Benziger and George MacLeod

Mike Benziger is often seen in the role of Biodynamic evangelist. While that's wonderful - and needed - it's also a great pleasure to hear his own story, told in intimate detail, in this new video series, Sonoma Legends, sponsored by the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance.

This is not yet another tedious winery video talking about family, tradition and terroir, but amazing life stories from people who've spent a lifetime in Sonoma in the wine industry and who collaboratively created the Sonoma wine culture that exists today.

The next video in the series (coming in a few months) features organic vineyard expert Phil Coturri in conversation with Sonoma vintner Richard Arrowood, renowned for his Moon Mountain District Cabernets (and his earlier Sonoma Valley Cabs) - which come from vineyards Coturri has farmed organically for several decades, both at Arrowood and at Amapola Creek. Coturri, a pot smoking leftie, and Arrowood, whose politics are the opposite of Coturri's, agree on one main thing - that organic farming yields more flavorful and nuanced wine grapes and wines.

Interestingly organic and Biodynamic growers play a prominent role in this new video series - far more than their relevant weight in the region.

In terms of numbers, three out of the initial four interviewees have relied on organic farming practices to create many of Sonoma's finest wines. For a county where so few acres are certified organic - 2.4% (or 1,400 acres out of 58,000) - that's nice to see.

Mike's story has so many interesting twists and turns - enjoy the show! And thanks to the SVVGA for creating and sharing these histories.

 


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

New: Virtual Visits with Google Maps

Google's rolling out a new feature it calls Views in Google Maps, integrating pictures even more into the user experience.

Applying this tool to wineries, it's now possible to preview wineries before you go - or visit ones you've not yet been to.

Frog's Leap winery in Rutherford in Napa Valley is one of the wineries you can see online. Since you have make a reservation to visit this winery, and you can't always get in during the summer, it's nice to have the option to check in and get a glimpse.

See the whole winery section featured on Google here.


I put green boxes around the wineries featured here that have organic or Biodynamic vines in some of their wines.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Little Beach Reading: Wine Murder Mysteries

That great pastime - beach reading - calls for a certain type of book. Nothing too heavy and yet nothing completely banal. Beach reading must be intriguing and engaging enough to distract you from your everyday cares and woes.

Luckily the world of lightweight mysteries centered on wine is rapidly expanding. Ah, you can breathe easy, knowing that wine lovers everywhere can sit on blankets over the sand and imbibe the literary equivalent of a rosé.

Three authors have French wine series that invoke different wine locations and winemaker characters in French locales. A fourth author, whose book I have yet to read, has written a novel featuring a biodynamic winemaker in Sonoma.

M. L. LONGWORTH

Following in the tried and true footsteps of long time Provence novel writer Peter Mayle (an Englishman who lives in Provence) who sets his light reading novels in Provence, M. L. Longworth has set her four light novels in Provence as well.

Death at the Chateau Bremont, Murder in the Rue Dumas, Death in the Vines, and Murder on the Ile Sordou (the last takes place off the coast of Marseille) are all based in Aix en Provence. The main protagonist, Antoine Verlque, is a judge; his girlfriend is a law professor.

"Longworth's voice is like a rich vintage of sparkling Dorothy Sayers and grounded Donna Leon," said Booklist of the first book.

I would add a food writer in there, too. Her engaging books have lots of tantalizing descriptions of local cuisine. It might be best to pack some small morsel of fine cheese (and wine, if you can) into your beach basket, unless you think a soft serve ice cream cone from the beach shack will tide you over. You may find yourself searching for "French bistros" on your cell phone once you start reading.

Longworth knows Provence well, living there with her family since 1997. The book explore deep French history and Provencal customs in the background, which may sort of give you a feeling of "I did go somewhere this summer."

JEAN PIERRE ALAIX AND NOEL BALEN

Parisian based Balen and Alaix, who resides in southwest France, cooked up what is now a 22 book series on the Winemaker Detective character of Benjamin Cooker, a critic who writes an annual wine guide. Cooker is quite different from Parker. For one thing, he's half French and half English and is married to a French woman.

Though he lives in Bordeaux, the various books take him to Burgundy, the region where Cognac is made, and other wine areas in France.

Slightly reminiscent of Inspector Morse in his tastes - he has a Mercedes, enjoys cigars and enjoys other slightly Continental tastes - Cooker is a man of heart and soul as well as logic. He loves his wife, his daughter and his dog.

The authors let us know they prefer the French mystery write Simenon's slow expository style to staccato, fast paced, action mysteries (think Daniel Silva), and attract readers with a taste for the former.

The books are short - typically around 150 pages - and generally take me no more than 2 hours to read. Perfect for an afternoon in a beach chair.

For those who enjoy to watch their winemaker detective adventures on the screen rather than on the page, there are also audio versions of the books, and, best of all, a French TV series (subtitled in English) called Blood in the Vines that is available either by DVD or streaming. The TV series is a fast and loose adaptation of the books, so if you've read the books, don't expect the plot and characters of the videos to be the same. Pas du tout.

Reading the novels won't clue you in, as the plots and characters in the TV series have been altered from the books.



LAURA DAVE

A novel, not a murder mystery, Laura Dave's story 800 Grapes - about a Sonoma winemaking family has gotten a heap of praise from Glamour, Marie Claire, and other media. I have it, but haven't read it yet. But that could change this weekend...

There's a video interview, an audio excerpt (from the audiobook version) and an excerpt all on the publisher's web site.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

5 Wines to Order Now: California State Fair's Winners - Gold AND Organic

Hundreds of wineries across the state sent in thousands of wine bottles this year to compete in the annual California State Fair wine competition. Announced last week, some of the best organically grown wines took top prizes. Amazingly, most are affordable. And, on this list, even the splurge wines are worth the price.

DOUBLE GOLD

Graciano
2012 Bokisch Vineyards, Double Gold, Best of California, Best of Class ($20)

A Spanish wine grape that used to be used only for blending, Lodi-based Bokisch was the first winery in the United States to bottle this varietal on its own. As soon as I tasted it, I bought 6 bottles. If you haven't tried it, let this award be your excuse.

Markus Bokisch, half Spanish, runs a vineyard management company in Lodi, and with his wife Liz makes 3,000 cases of wine a year under the Bokisch Vineyards label. Check out their two Albarinos, too - and of course, don't miss their Garnacha.


Petite Sirah
2013 Green Truck, Double Gold ($15)

Wow - what a surprise. Some grower in Mendo must be pretty happy right now. Who had those great grapes? Who made this wine, really? We'd like to salute you.

It's nice to see that the people who didn't rip out their Petite Sirah vines to plant Cabernet still get some respect in the world, isn't it?

This is a supermarket wine so look for it there.


Pinot Noir
2012 Benziger Family Winery, Arbore Sacra ($75)

Benziger Family Winery's Sonoma Coast site in Freestone stands as a testament to their amazing Biodynamic farming. While other wineries say they must use pesticides and fungicides out there in the  coastal areas, Benziger alone persists in resisting that approach - and, look at this - makes great wine. This particular Pinot has racked up quite a lot of awards. And even at the California State Fair.

GOLD

Riesling 
2013 Shooting Star ($13)

It doesn't say it on the bottle, but this wine is solely sourced from organic vines, the grower tells me.

Sherry
NV, Galleano, Mary Margaret Cream Sherry ($40)

Sherry and sweet wines are what made California's wine industry for about a 100 years. The Mission grapes - yes, Mission Grapes - that go into this organically grown sherry are from 70 year old vines growing in Mira Loma and 95 year old vines. Galleano is the Sturbridge Village of wineries - only it's still a going concern, not a museum run by a nonprofit.

This sherry is made in the style of a Pedro Ximenez-Olorosa, from rare Golden Chasselas/Palomino and Mission varieties. Galleano is one of the very few vineyards that still grows them.

Galleano family receiving another award for their Mary
Margaret Cream Sherry 
This is a sherry master's very best sherry, a tribute to their "nona."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

If You Missed It...The Volker Eisele Tribute Video

Environmental leader and land preservation activist Volker Eisele's life is celebrated in this moving video. (He passed away earlier this year). The irascible politico's friends and neighbors describe him in knowing and loving detail.

  

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Grgich Hills Estate's Ivo Jeramaz on Old Vine Cabernet

I'm working on converting all of the apps to books...and the Napa wines and wineries are my current focus.

After doing a section of the Sonoma book on old vines, I went back and revisited the Napa wines in the apps and realized there's some real Napa old vine gems that are farmed organically.

None has a video about itself, though, save one: Grgich Hills' video featuring Ivo Jeramaz, talking about the special old vines found in the winery's Yountville vineyard.

Enjoy hearing him talk about these Cabernet vines, planted in 1959 and thought to be the second oldest Cabernet vines in Napa Valley.

 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sonoma Wine Grape Growers Seminar, Part 2: Streams, Pesticides, Drought Issues - Government Officials Tell It Like It Is

Sonoma wine grape growers face new state regulations on water issues and on pesticides used near schools, state and county officials told growers Friday. Officials spoke to several hundred growers at the Sonoma Wine Grape Growers Annual Seminar held at Shone Farm in Forestville.

Sonoma County Ag Commissioner Tony Linegar updated the group on new county guidelines on riparian corridor management designed to protect streams. "There is no removal of vegetation from 200 feet from the top of the bank for new plantings," Linegar stated. Existing vines are grandfathered in, he said.

Sonoma County Ag Commissioner Tony Linegar
Linegar defended growers against complaints from some Sonoma residents who don't like the wine industry. "I've worked in three counties," he said, "and even with wine grapes, we're still very diversified. We've got a $100 million dairy industry and a $30 million nursery industry."

"I ask people, tell me what crop uses less water and pesticides and has a greater return per acre to the farmer than wine grapes," he said. "I'm all ears." The crowd reacted with spontaneous applause.

"We're the last real agricultural county in the Bay Area," he said.

Linegar provided an update on the issue of schools and pesticides, outlining his opposition to recent developments at the California Dept. of Public Health and California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation.

Linegar said he disagreed with the data in the California Dept. of Public Health 2014 report on schools and pesticide exposure.

The report did not cover Sonoma County, but zeroed in on counties with the highest rates of pesticide application, primarily in the Central Valley. Ventura County was the county with the most school children located near agricultural pesticide applications.

In response, State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, who represents Ventura County, in 2014 put forward legislation SB1411, that would give agricultural commissioners the authority to prohibit pesticide application within a quarter mile of a school.

The bill failed, but Linegar said the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation was now expected to issue new regulations and would soon be holding public hearings around the state on this issue.

"I fought tooth and nail against this," said Linegar.

A calendar for the first round of hearings has been published and is available on the CDPR web site. No North Coast sites have yet been included in the calendar.

On a more positive note, Linegar said the European Grapevine Moth (EGVM) was not found in Sonoma and by 2016 could be out of quarantine. "Chilé lost the battle," he said, "and they will be spraying and managing for this pest forever, which increases their costs." In addition, he said, all Chilean blueberries and plums now had to be fumigated before being imported into the U.S.

Researchers are still investigating pathways that brought the EGVM into the U.S. "We're looking at equipment as a potential pathway from Europe," he said.

Linegar warned that the stink bug, already established in California - in Los Angeles and Sacramento - could affect vineyards. "It has the potential to mess with wine grapes," he said. "It's a pretty serious pest. It's already beyond eradication in California, so we'll be monitoring for it."

Dr. Thomas Harter, of U.C. Davis
Groundwater expert Dr. Thomas Harter, of U.C. Davis, spoke on the new Groundwater Sustainability Management Act and how it will affect grape growers.

"Where this drought is different from previous droughts," Harter explained, "is that cumulative precipitation over the last 14 years has been low. In the last 14 years, only 4 years were at or above average levels." He said the last four years had been the driest since the 1920's.

"Groundwater levels are lower than they have ever been before," he said, "as the consequence of groundwater overdrafts."

Harter compared subsidence risks in Sonoma and the Central Valley. "In Sonoma, we see about 0.1 to 0.2 inches of subsidence, which is arrested now, " he said. "Sonoma is nothing like the Central Valley where there was 6-12 inches of subsidence in this year alone."

Harter provided a detailed view of the recent legislation on water which describes a three step process that will be implemented locally to manage groundwater. Phase 1 calls for the establishment of local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies for each basin that is a medium or high priority. Phase 2 requires the local agencies to make a Groundwater Sustainability Plan. And Phase 3 requires the plan implementation.

"The goal is transparency, transparency, transparency," he said. "If locals don't manage the groundwater well, the state will step in."

Harter pointed to Santa Clara county as a success story where groundwater recharge was successfully accomplished through county action.

Asked about groundwater monitoring techniques, Harter said the remote sensing of satellite technology has a critical role in understanding subsidence, which can be measured within a few millimeters of accuracy. "Aircraft and satellites are better suited to measuring consumptive water use, but they may only be accurate to within 1-10 percent.

"Satellites are good at understanding groundwater fluctuations for large regions like the Central Valley but not as effective for Sonoma Valley," he said. "We have to be monitoring existing wells to better understand the local impacts."

The last two speakers on the agenda were Andrew Hughan, public information officer for California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and Dee Dee D'Adamo of the State Water Resources Control Board.

Hughan is currently overseeing media outreach on the drought in coastal communities and is focused on the plight of salmon. "Sonoma is one of the big three," he said, "with Oroville and Shasta as the other two."

"Sonoma is in a State of Emergency. Everyone helps," he said. "This is about your land, your water, your fish."

"The Russian River is the number one priority right now," he said. "And I'm here today to ask for your help. We'd like access to your land to save the fish when fish rescues are needed."

"We're not asking for any reduction in water use on crops," he said. "We are asking wineries to sign Voluntary Drought Agreements. What that says is that you agree to stop watering ornamentals and not to wash cars and sidewalks."

"Fish rescues are not an excuse for regulatory access," he said. "We just want to rescue the fish."

Andrew Hughan, California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife
Hugh said water regulation is coming, but there may be preferential treatment given at that time to those who sign voluntary agreements. "Plus," he said, "you'll get great media attention. I have reporters every day calling me for drought stories. It's national news. Sign a voluntary agreement, and write "Media OK" and we'll tell the media about you. You could be on national television."

Hughan's accompanying slide showed logos from major media broadcasters including CNN and social media outlets Facebook and YouTube.

Dee Dee D'Adamo from the State Water Resources Control Board, the final speaker at the seminar, represents Central Valley agricultural interests on the state agency, but is originally from Napa, where she grew up as the daughter of wine grape growers.

"We are looking for voluntary agreements, whereever possible," she told the growers. "This is a critical situation. The voluntary agreements are one way to help."

"Some of the challenges that we face are that we don't understand all that's going on in the water system," she said.

D'Adamo said a new regulatory package would be released this week.

"Several wineries have participated in voluntary activities," she said," including Gallo and Jackson Family Wines and about 20 landowners who have signed voluntary agreements. We have to get those numbers up. Voluntary actions will avoid curtailments."

"When people look at the news and they see that urban areas are being asked to reduce consumption by 25%, or even as much as 38%, they say, 'how come ag isn't doing more?'"

Haghan said growers and wineries will be able to put on their web site that they signed a voluntary agreement.

The state is also beefing up enforcement on water diversions, Haghan said, saying that 15 new positions have been created to enforce the law against marijuana growers'  water diversion. "We've got 340 wardens and 50 percent of the are on marijuana enforcement this summer," he said.

In answer to a question from an audience member asking why the state hadn't increased water storage, D'Adamo said, "there are no silver bullets. Desalinization, conservation, storage - we need all of them."

"We are in a new normal - climate change - and there will be more droughts, followed by flooding. Recharging our aquifers will be beneficial."

Speaking during the following Q and A, Katie Jackson, Family Representative of Government Relations and Community Outreach at Jackson Family Wines, said, "It's better for growers to cooperate and collaborate to get around the need for requirements. A voluntary agreement can exempt you from a conservation order. Everyone wants to keep curtailment on the back burner."