Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Biologicals Are B I G: How Big? Pam Marrone Will Tell You All About It...

California's ag community is blessed in many ways...there's the soil science group under Kate Scow...the pesticide use reporting law (no state or country has anything like it) and then, there's Pam Marrone.

Honored by California's diehard organic farmers at EcoFarm, Marrone's contributions in the field of biologicals are deserving of a Nobel prize, for she has created companies and products that have done more to reduce toxic exposures in ag - and help growers and farmers achieve higher yields as well - than anyone on the planet today.

She's also a great public speaker and has been our main evangelist for biologicals for use by both conventional (mostly) and organic farmers. 

Here's one of her many talks, in which she gives you a tour - at warp speeds - through the evolving landscape of this crazy growing industry. Many of her products are used in vineyards.

She recently left Marrone Biopesticides to spawn more offspring - in incubators and other think tanky groups.  

Get the mini course right here in this video of a plenary talk given last year in Belgium. I've heard her speak numerous times, and this version is great - good production values and, of course, great content. Straight from the horse's mouth.

And lest you say, why does this matter: just remember - these are the commonly used vineyard chemicals that are used unless people switch to biologicals:

It's great to say bye bye to these, and hello to biologicals.

Four of California's and Four of Oregon's 10 Largest Wineries Have Organic or Biodynamic Brands

Think of an organic or biodynamic brand and you're likely to picture a small, semi-profitable, all estate winery run by an overeducated wine dude and his family toiling away. 

Throw that picture away!

Although the U.S. is far behind its European counterparts in empowering the organically grown wine marketplace, I looked at a list of the largest wineries in Oregon and in California and discovered, lo and behold, that a surprising number of the "big guys" each had at least a toe hold in the organic sector. Who knew!

Producers with organically grown wines are bolded in the list below:


1. Union Wine Co.
2. A-Z Wineworks - Rex Hill
3. Willamette Valley Vineyards - Bernau Cellars 
4. Sokol Blosser - Estate Wines 

5. Copa di Vino
6. Argyle Winery
7. Dobbes Family Estate
8. Northwest Wine
9. Stoller
10. King Estate Winery 


1. Gallo
2. The Wine Group - Benziger
3. Constellation
4. Trinchero
5. Treasury
6. Delicato - Earthwise (boxed from Spanish grapes, from the producers of Bota Box)
7. Bronco - Shaw Organic (Trader Joe's carries this brand)

8. Jackson Family
9. Deutsch
10. Fetzer - Bonterra (the largest domestic producer of organically grown wines)

So maybe organic is one way to position yourself for the future...or Gen X...or health conscious consumers surviving a mass pandemic. 


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Roundup: Win Some, Lose Some or Stick Your Head in the Sand


The big news today is that Bayer agreed to settle many of its Roundup lawsuits for $10 billion. According to the New York Times, the settlement covers up to 95,000 cases. Writing for the New York Times was business (not health) reporter, Patricia Cohen.

Shockingly (to me), "Individuals, depending on the strength of their cases, will receive payments of $5,000 to $250,000, according to two people close to the negotiations," the paper wrote.

The first plaintiff, Vallejo school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson was awardded $298 million which was later reduced by the judge to $78.

Sonoma County resident Edwin Hardeman's award was reduced to $25 million.
Judge Chhabria oversaw the Hardeman case; Mr. Hardeman (left) got cancer after
regularly using Roundup to kill poison oak on his Sonoma property
Both are in stark contrast to the $2 billion the jury awarded in Oakland to the Pilliods, grandparents who live in Contra Costa County. However, the judge reduced that to $87 million.

Still, these three judgments are orders of magnitude higher than $5,000 to $250,000, so one wonders how these figures were arrived at. If you got cancer, and it's life threatening, $250,000 is inadequate compensation by any standard.


The Times article continues, "This week, a federal judge in California referred to the agency’s pronouncement when it ruled that the state could not require a cancer warning on Roundup, writing that “that every government regulator of which the court is aware, with the exception of the I.A.R.C., has found that there was no or insufficient evidence that glyphosate causes cancer.”"

I am not sure why a federal judge (a Bush appointee) is able to dismiss the world's leading panel on cancer - IARC - with a stroke of his pen as if the scientists involved did not represent the gold standard on cancer risk assessment.

The IARC panel included many former top US government health officials who have spent their entire professional lives studying cancer risks.

IARC is unique in that it is not a regulator and therefore not subject to political influence. The EPA and other governmental groups are lobby-able. Yet, the EPA's very first pronouncement on Roundup in 1985 was that it was a carcinogen. That assessment was based on the same rodent studies that IARC evaluated in 2014-2015. (Strangely, this fact is omitted on the Wikipedia page about glyphosate). The initial lab testing by Monsanto was found to be fraudulent, as dead animals in the initial studies were thrown out, and the lab managers went to jail.

IARC's assessment of the data on glyphosate and the Roundup formula (which also contains many other more toxic ingredients) was exhaustive and definitive and based on dozens of animal studies in labs that clearly show its toxicity. Population studies have also been utilized to show that heavy glyphosate users have as much as a 41% higher risk of getting cancer.

Part of the issue is that Bayer failed to warn in its labeling.

So why on earth would the company still resist labeling and litigate this in federal court?

Even Judge Chhabria in San Francisco, who was initially quite lenient with Monsanto/Bayer in early federal court hearings (I was there in the courtroom and wrote about the initial federal Daubert hearings for Civil Eats in 2018), seems to have become more alarmed. After wading through mountains of evidence, Chhabria says publicly that the herbicide manufacturer was unconcerned about the product's effects on people.
“There’s a fair amount of evidence about Monsanto being pretty crass about this issue,” Judge Chhabria of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco said when he reviewed the Hardeman verdict last summer. “Monsanto didn’t seem concerned at all about getting at the truth of whether glyphosate caused cancer.”

The verdict in the court of public opinion is in, though, and more and more wineries are being asked if they use Roundup.

"I see growers getting off of Roundup left and right," said weed control expert John Roncoroni, who works in the UCCE's Napa office. "Consumer preference is what is motivating them."

Their responses have been twofold - switching to a combination of two more toxic herbicides or adopting organic weed control practices.

"They'll switch to a combination of two herbicides to get the power of Roundup," he said.

Despite medical evidence to the contrary, the Wine Institute still thinks glyphosate is not a problem, posting this inaccurate and outdated information on its website.

Carl Winters, now retired, is not a medical or health professional. His degree was in agricultural and environmental chemistry, not medicine. And he infamously rode out to his retirement leading a song about how he loved to spray at a professional, continuing ed workshop for Sonoma growers.

The Wine Institute has enough funds to hire a consultant who can evaluate the literature and tell them the revised level for toxic dietary effects of glyphosate on humans. It is not 140 glasses of wine per day.

Furthermore, why do they feel the need to say anything on the matter at all? They don't put out "facts" on the toxicity of copper residues in wines, bee and bird toxins used in wine grape growing, or other health and safety matters.

The level of dietary glyphosate intake that leading scientists say is concerning is far, far, far lower than we previously thought, according to the leading scientists working at University College in London, the Ramazzini Foundation in Italy, epidemiologists at UCLA, UC San Diego Medical School researchers and MDs, researchers at Indiana University, and physician scientists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. There is a mountain of evidence in peer reviewed journals.

Why would the Wine Institute shun so many professional opinions that link glyphosate to autism, developmental issues, liver disease and cancer risks? Honestly, why?

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Organic Growers Learn about Biodynamics in CCOF Webinar: Webinar Video Now Online

One of my pet peeves is the lack of education in the wine industry on how to become organic or biodynamic.

My first encounter with U.C. Davis was an ampelography class with Andy Walker. Across the way was the university's first organic vineyard demonstration project but - what a mess. Someone had accidentally sprayed chemicals on it and it would be three years before it could be considered organic. Such was the support for organic wine grape growing at Davis. (I hope this description no longer applies). Instead we visited the "conventional" vineyard, where we saw first hand how fungicide in the fertigation line could perk up a vine overnight. Until then I had not know that the plants were being forcefed.

Therefore, it is with great joy that I saw that CCOF and Demeter had partnered to bring a little bit of biodynamic education to organic growers last week in an online webinar. Now the webinar's been posted to YouTube so you, too, can enjoy it. If you are more interested in farming practices than certification, skip ahead to the presentation by Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estate in Oregon whose talk and slides focus more on the farming aspects.

Rudy is a down home guy who has been farming wine grapes (and making wine) in the Willamette Valley since 2004 on more than 200 acres. Today he is the board chair of Demeter USA. I posted some photos from his presentation earlier this week.

Friday, June 19, 2020

In Photos: To the Skeptics, Here's What Biodynamic Farming Looks Like

This week, CCOF sponsored a joint webinar with Demeter USA, the biodynamic certifier, to help organic growers learn about biodynamics. CCOF now offers dual inspections, in which a farm can be inspected both for organic and biodynamic certification at the same time, thus saving costs and travel.

Demeter USA Board Chair Rudy Marchesi presented photos from research conducted by his Tuscany-based wine grape consultant, Adriano Zago, who is also an agronomist who works with produce farmers. The photos are of Italian lettuce farmers and Italian wine grape growers Zago works with.

Here are some of the photos Marchesi shared, showing the dramatically healthier root systems of the plants treated with fermented horn manure spray (which is known in biodynamics as 500). Vineyard photos illustrating the use of the silica spray (501) follow.

LETTUCE FARMERS - Horn Manure Spray (500)


VINEYARDS - Fermented Horn Manure Spray (500)

VINEYARDS - Silica Spray (501)

Vines have perked up and leaves angled more toward the sun

The CCOF webinar will be posted online. I will add the link here when it is available.


Hear more from Adriano Zago on the Italian Wine Podcast in conversation with Monty Waldin.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Ballard Canyon's Beckmen Vineyards Launches Its First Natural Wines from Its Biodynamic Vines

Steve Beckmen of Beckmen Vineyards has gone natural - as in wine, that is.

Growing biodynamic wine grapes since 2002, Beckmen has produced hundreds of wines from his Ballard Canyon vineyard for 18 years, but this time, it's different - 1Ingredient consists of two skin fermented, white wines under the winery's new 1Ingredient label.

"As its name implies, 1NGREDIENT is wine made from one ingredient, biodynamically certified wine grapes," said Beckmen. No additives or preservatives (including sulfur) are used in the winemaking process.

"Besides the tractors we used to farm the blocks for 1NGREDIENT and the fuel we used to transport the grapes to the winery, these wines were crushed and bottled by hand. Except for the sorting, destemming, and the corker we used to make sure each bottle has the best possible seal, there was no other modern machinery used in making these wines" he said.

The first releases of 1NGREDIENT are both extended skin contact white wines, 2018 Viognier Ballard Canyon ($65) and 2018 Sauvignon Blanc Ballard Canyon ($48).

The grapes were fermented in Amphora made by TAVA in Northern Italy.

Said Beckmen, "We worked with TAVA to create these special vessels for our project focusing on the right mix of sand as well as defining the correct temperature the pots were fired at to ensure the right amount of oxygenation during fermentation and aging."

"We chose amphora as a look to the past as we tried to utilize practices that were used ages ago when wine was made without additives and the fancy machinery that we use in today. These specially designed amphora provided a perfect neutral vessel to ferment and age this type of wine, allowing the character of the grapes, vineyard and winery to shine through in each bottle."

The wine was fermented and aged on its skins for 10 months.

"The 1NGREDIENT wines are not fined or filtered and are bottled with a haze which protects the wines from premature oxidation," Beckmen said,

"This technique is an unusual way to produce white wine," he added. "The skins contain anti-oxidative compounds that allowed us to bottle the wine without the use of sulphur dioxide, the main preservative used in winemaking. White wines with long skin contact not only pick up the anti-oxidative properties of the skins but also extract tannins that help bolster the structure needed for the wine to age over a long period of time."

Beckmen tasted the wines over a period of several days, as they evolved in the bottle. Here are his tasting notes on the Viognier's progression:

Day 1: "Exotic, complex flavors of fresh ginger, caramelized apricot, jasmine, and citrus fruits lead to an elegant, round mouthfeel with balancing acidity and light tannins. Citrus fruits, floral, brisk peach, and a hint of coco highlight the flavors with good length and structure that carry the flavors on a long finish."

Day 2: "This has opened up to reveal more varietal fruits of apricot, peach, flowers, and spice on the nose... still super elegant with nice roundness balanced by some good acid and light tannin. More fruit coming through in the mouth as well with flavors of apricot, stone fruits, citrus, spice, and still a hint of coco...fresh and amazing..."

Day 3: "...still fresh and vibrant both on the nose and in the mouth. The mouth is where it impresses me, it is so elegant and pretty in texture and flavor, and seems like it will continue to develop and age nicely for the long term. A white that should be aged for a year or two, and decanted for an hour or two prior to drinking. This wine will easily age for 20+ years or more."

Watch it on YouTube: Imidacloprid, a Bird and Bee Toxin Featured in a New German News Doc, Doubles in Use on Wine Grapes in California

This week, my YouTube feed offered up this sobering 30 min. documentary on a commonly used insecticide called imidacloprid. It is toxic to bees and birds and in Europe, it is widely banned. Not so here in the U.S. where the corn lobby has made sure to keep it legal so it can continue using seeds coated with the insecticide.

Meanwhile in California, wine grape growers are seeing an increased number of vine mealybugs. Often brought in by ants, vine mealybugs also bring with them leafroll virus, the virus that used to scare the wine industry the most until the current corona virus surfaced.

I've been researching the pros and cons of different farming practices in the fight to combat the vine mealybug in California vineyards.

Imidacloprid use has doubled from 2009 to 2017 and wine grape growers alone used more than 79,818 pounds on 258,653 acres of wine grapes in 2017 (the most recent year that data is available for).

I'll be writing more about this topic in the coming days, but let's start with the video, as it lays the foundation for the rest of the story.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Scientists Find Monarch Butterflies' Food - Milkweed - Loaded with Pesticides in California's Central Valley

Scientists studying milkweed, to better understand how pesticides affect declining monarch butterfly populations found some disturbing results when they sampled milkweed growing in 100 agricultural of sites last year. Pesticides were ubiquitous.


• 64 different pesticides identified

• There was an average of nine types of individual pesticides per sample and as many as 25

• The ubiquity and diversity of pesticides we found in these milkweeds was a surprise.

"One might expect to see sad looking, droopy plants that are full of pesticides, but they are all big beautiful looking plants, with the pesticides hiding in plain sight," said a lead scientist.

Here is the press release the scientists put out. I will also post another article showing a map with where the leading pesticides are found in wine grape growing.


Anna Tatarko, a doctoral student in the University of Nevada, Reno's Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology program, helped with the sampling for the ppesticide study. The beetle in the foreground is the blue milkweed beetle, a milkweed specialist of the West. Credit: Angela Laws, Xerces Society.

New evidence identifies 64 pesticide residues in milkweed, the main food for monarch butterflies in the west. Milkweed samples from all of the locations studied in California's Central Valley were contaminated with pesticides, sometimes at levels harmful to monarchs and other insects.

The study raises alarms for remaining western monarchs, a population already at a precariously small size. Over the last few decades their overwintering numbers have plummeted to less than 1% of the population size than in the 1980s—which is a critically low level.

Monarch toxicity data is only available for four of the 64 pesticides found, and even with this limited data, 32% of the samples contained pesticide levels known to be lethal to monarchs, according to a study released today in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

"We expected to find some pesticides in these plants, but we were rather surprised by the depth and extent of the contamination," said Matt Forister, a butterfly expert, biology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno and co-author of the paper. "From roadsides, from yards, from wildlife refuges, even from plants bought at stores—doesn't matter from where—it's all loaded with chemicals. We have previously suggested that pesticides are involved in the decline of low elevation butterflies in California, but the ubiquity and diversity of pesticides we found in these milkweeds was a surprise."
Milkweed was chosen as the focus of this study because it the only food source for larval monarch butterflies in the West, and thus critical for their survival.

"We collected leaf samples from milkweed plants throughout the Central Valley and sent them to be screened for pesticides," Chris Halsch, lead author of the paper and a doctoral student in the University's Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology program, said. "This study is the first necessary step for understanding what butterflies are actually encountering. Now we can use these data to design experiments to test hypotheses about the relative importance of pesticide use and other stressors such as climate change on local butterflies."

While this is only a first look at the possible risks these pesticides pose to western monarchs, the findings indicate the troubling reality that key breeding grounds for western monarchs are contaminated with pesticides at harmful levels.

"One might expect to see sad looking, droopy plants that are full of pesticides, but they are all big beautiful looking plants, with the pesticides hiding in plain sight," Forister, who has been a professor int he University's College of Science since 2008, said.

Western monarchs are celebrated throughout the western states and especially along the California coast where large congregations overwinter in groves of trees. Population declines also have been documented in the breeding grounds. Areas of inland California, including the Central Valley, offer important monarch breeding habitat throughout the spring and summer, including being the home to the very first spring generation which will continue the migration inland to eventually populate all western states and even southern British Columbia.

Declines in the population of western monarch butterflies have been linked with various stressors, including habitat loss and degradation, pesticide use, and climate change, among others. While pesticide use has been associated with declines, previous studies had not attempted to quantify the residues that butterflies can encounter on the western landscape.

The study's findings paint a harsh picture for western monarchs, with the 64 different pesticides identified in milkweed. Out of a possible 262 chemicals screened, there was an average of nine types of individual pesticides per sample and as many as 25. Agricultural and retail samples generally had more residues than wildlife refuges and urban areas, but no area was entirely free from contamination. Certain pesticides were present across all landscapes, with five pesticides appearing more than 80% of the time. Chlorantraniliprole, the second most abundant compound, was found at lethal concentrations to Monarchs in 25% of all samples.

Understanding of pesticide toxicity to the monarch is limited, and is based on previously reported lab experiments. Thus we have much to learn about the concentrations encountered in field, but these new results raise concerns nonetheless. While this research focused on monarch toxicity, other pollinators and beneficial insects are also at risk from pesticide contamination throughout the landscape.

"We can all play a role in restoring habitat for monarchs," said Sarah Hoyle, Pesticide Program Specialist at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and coauthor of the paper. "But it is imperative that farmers, land managers and gardeners protect habitat from pesticides if we hope to recover populations of this iconic animal."

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Why Does Stolpman Vineyards Lie About Being Organic - Over and Over? And Where is CDFA?

It isn't often that I bring up a specific winery name in public for using toxic chemicals, but when a winery declares on its website that it is organic and clearly does not follow organic practices, it's time to say something. Especially when it has happened twice.


In 2014, I had the pleasure of attending the Wine Bloggers Conference when it was held in Santa Barbara County. I stuck around for a day after the conference to visit wineries and explore Ballard Canyon, which had recently gotten its AVA designation.

Peter Stolpman offered to give me a tour of Stolpman Vineyards' estate, which seemed like a good idea. He gave me a good look at the vines and assured me that everything was organic, praising the good works of his "grape whisperer" vineyard manager, the local legend Ruben Solorzano.

Though he wasn't certified organic, his website sported this reassuring, full screen graphic:

So I was more than a little surprised when I went home and looked up Stolpman's pesticide use report (PUR). Here it is:

Clearly these are not organic materials. They are conventional insecticides and fungicides. And they weren't used to treat a few little spots. They were over the entire vineyard.

I emailed Peter and he said he was under the impression that when they stopped using Roundup, they were now being organic. He said he would change the website messaging.

Two weeks later, I had bad feelings. The website had not changed. I didn't want to be an enabler of bad behavior. I emailed CDFA, who is supposed to enforce organic certification. The use of the word "organic" is limited by federal law to those who are certified organic. More than $1 million in organic certification fees funds organic enforcement and other organic activities at CDFA, the agency charged with enforcing the law in California. I did not hear back from CDFA.

Two months later, the website was still broadcasting the exact same graphic and false messaging. And CDFA had not taken any action. I wrote to CDFA again.

This was not quite the response I was hoping for.

It appears that Steve Lyle was not familiar with OMRI, the list of approved organic materials. The pesticides Stolpman was using were definitely not on the approved list. Admire is an insecticide that contains imidacloprid, a bee and bird toxin banned in the EU. (The UC IPM site has information about Admire.) Flint Fungicide is a synthetic fungicide as is Quintec. Again, the UC IPM site has information about both of them.

Finally CDFA found a way to write a letter to Stolpman warning them about the organic language. And the ORGANIC messaging banner came down.


The year is 2020 and I have just downloaded the Santa Barbara County pesticide use reports for 2017, 2018 and 2019 from the county ag commissioner's site. Someone I know is getting grapes from Stolpman and a few other growers and discretely wants to know what the growers are using.

I look at Stolpman's PUR. 2017 is clean but in 2018 and 2019, lo and behold, they are using Wrangler Insecticide (imidacloprid) on all 157 acres of vines.

I look at their website and I cannot believe my eyes: here it is. More organic messaging. Only this time the language is so much more floral and vivid. Ready?

"The Tunnel of Love...we rarely have to spray even organic fungicides." 

Left out: but we do have to use imidacloprid, a bee and bird toxin banned in Europe.

And there was more on the Stolpman website.

"We employ minimal amounts of organic fungicide and zero herbicide."

That's true, but what about the toxic bee and bird insecticide?

Peter's response this time was that he would immediately change the language on the website. Fair enough. He wanted me to tell him where the language appeared. Hello? But I did.

Stolpman may be organic in practice in 2020, but the wines for sale on his site are from 2018 and 2019.

(Let's hope the video footage of him on the new site home page - with his wife Jessica and their baby and toddler with Solorzano strolling through the vines - was shot when the vineyard was organic. Small children are at heightened risk from pesticides.)

And it would be surprising that after the 2014 interactions with CDFA's takedown letter Stolpman (whose father is a lawyer) was still not aware that the word "organic" requires certification.

The point is - certification matters. And consumers shouldn't "just believe" when someone says they are organic. Certification is not "we're organic this vintage, but not the next two." It means you are committed and consistently organic and there's oversight - inspectors, laws, etc.

I am proud to live in a state that has a pesticide use reporting requirement. We are the only place in the world with this requirement. But I am not proud of the CDFA's lax enforcement of protection for the use of the word "organic," and I am not proud of the way people in the wine industry think organic is something they can self certify.

And let's be clear - covering up pesticide use is just not cool.

Last week, somm, author and now vintner Raj Parr of Sandhi Wines seemed to not know that the beloved Sanford & Benedict vineyard (which he makes wine from and everyone puts in a "hallowed ground" category) is using conventional herbicides - glyphosate and glufosinate ammonium - as well as insecticides banned in Europe. It is likely that he and Sasha Moorman, who worked at Stolpman from 2001 on as the winemaker (according to Sandhi's site) source from clean blocks that aren't sprayed with these chemicals. But when I asked Parr, during the webinar, if Sanford was using pesticides, he said he wasn't sure and that the owners "had spent a bunch of money" on better farming.

Organic Wine History Aside: Let's also remember, sadly, that Richard Sanford started out as the iconic evangelist of organic viticulture in the Sta. Rita Hills, a tradition quickly done away with when Sanford lost Sanford & Benedict to the Terlato family who immediately converted it to chemical farming. When he had reacquired the vineyard, it went back to organic farming and certification. [Richard Sanford is no longer affiliated with with the property or the winery that bears his name.] Sadly, of the 357 acres of vines he planted and farmed organically in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA  over a 25+ year history - at Sanford & Benedict, La Rinconada, La Encantada, and El Jabali at Alma Rosa - none are organically farmed today.

Here's where Sanford and Benedict and Sanford Winery spent a "bunch of money" on their vines (according to the SBC 2019 pesticide use report)

• Spraying Makaze (glyphosate) on 29 acres
• Spraying Forfeit 280 (glufosinate ammonium, another "extra strength" herbicide) on 27 acres
• Spraying Lifeline (glufosinate ammonium) on 19 acres
• Spraying Wrangler insecticide (imidacloprid, the bird and bee toxin) on 70 acres, 9 acres and 30 acres

Since Sandhi, Parr and Moorman's label, may be sourcing from different blocks of Sanford & Benedict, where these sprays are not used, I would not want point at them or Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat (who also makes wine from these old blocks that Sanford planted) specifically. However if I were a vintner sourcing from this vineyard, I would want to know if other blocks of a vineyard were being sprayed, where those blocks were and what they were spraying.

It is high time for all somms to look at the PURs for any California wines they speak of. I can't believe you can be an MW or WSET level whatever and not be taught about vineyard chemicals and learn how to look at an individual vineyard. Collectors should also be as well informed. 

Back to Sanford & Benedict, and Sanford Winery, which we should be looking at.

Here's the glowing language Sanford and Benedict and Sanford Winery use on their own website in describing their vineyards.

We all know that it's legal to use toxics on vineyards. But why try to cover it up in such green-loving language? It's like finding your spouse is cheating on you. It's deceitful. And it gives "sustainability" a bad name.

Glyphosate, glufosinate ammonium and imidacloprid clearly have no place in a "natural ecosystem." And anyone using glyphosate is certainly not producing wines of terroir, as the herbicide inhibits fungi's ability to bring up flavors from the roots and soil.

The question is when will the wine industry stop using eco friendly language to cover up practices that clearly have no place in nature or fine wine?

Guys, you can do better.

Postscript: Guys, it pains me to write about these incidents.  This article was intended to spur discussion in the industry about green marketing and how it is promoting an unhealthy relationship between consumers and wineries - a relationship based on deceit.

There are other options. If you don't have the facts to back up your marketing messages, tone it down. Educate consumers on why you do what you. Don't try to pretend that you don't do what you are actually doing. 

The issue is not how you farm - you make that decision. The issue of this article is about transparency and accountability

Personally, I believe the industry is lucky that this story is just a blog post - it's not a front page story in the New York Times or Medium, which it could easily be. It is an early warning - an alert. The difference between what wineries say in marketing versus the chemicals they use is easy prey for any journalist. 

If you want to say you are organic, make different farming decisions - as many Napa wineries have done - and get certified. More than 10% of Napa vineyards are now certified organic. Of course, everyone will say that those wineries can afford to be. But there are 220 fine wine wineries in California with certified organic estate vines. And 80% of them are not in Napa.

If you want to be a green marketer, recognize the marketing challenges you face in defending the use of bee and bird toxins (boscalid, imidacloprid), pesticides causing the demise of monarch butterflies (upcoming post on this topic) and so many other environmental consequences of agrochemical use. It is not enough to wrap yourself in sustainability messaging if you cannot show the consumer that you are truly pursuing a path that represents the best you can do.

The 220 wine producers in California with certified organic vineyards do show consumers how wine at all price points and quality levels can be made - at no extra cost to the consumers. These growers farm without the most toxic chemicals. These wineries are able to put the word organic on the front or back of the label (depending on how they make the wine). They are able to say the word "organic" on their websites and in their marketing materials. 

One of the saddest facts in this story, to me, is that the Sta. Rita Hills AVA lost 357 acres of organic vines that Sanford farmed organically. What happened to Sta. Rita Hills?

Local Biodynamic Winery Suffers as Hipster Wine Shops Focus on European Imports

I called Martin Pohl, at Beaver Creek Vineyards up in Middletown yesterday, to find him a little down on life. "We have been on the phone trying to get loans," Pohl said.

Pohl of Beaver Creek Vineyards with his "Survivor,"
a Petite Sirah named for the 2015 Lake County fires
He was hit by the Lake County fires in 2015 and proved resilient enough to pull through, even naming his 2015 Petite Sirah "Survivor." A third of his 22 acres of vines burned, but he replanted.

Then more fires closed nearby Harbin Hot Springs, once the source of a steady flow of visitors driving by, for three years. The hot spring resort opened up again after a major renovation in 2019, only to close again this spring due to the pandemic.

"Only our distribution channel is keeping us going," Pohl said. (His wines are distributed by Mountain Peoples Wine.) His wines are sold in a few Whole Foods stores.

The small, artisanal winery makes affordably priced wines from only biodynamic or organic grapes. Pohl vinifies them in a pure way.

Yet he can't get his wines into the Bay Area's hipster wine shops. He's just not one of the "cool kids."

Yet, in my humble opinion, Martin is one of the very cool kids. He dry farms, he uses no sulfur on his vines, he is committed to organic and biodynamic practices (and certification) and his wines are very good especially for the price.

Beaver Creek's Fairytale Cab lists for the reasonable price of $29 and their Merlot for $24. Case prices are lower. Pohl just doesn't have a super hip website or a PR person or a heavy duty marketer. And he's in Lake County.

"We were planning on updating our website and getting new labels this year," he said, "but now...?"

So why won't Punchdown, Bi-Rite and all the others purveyors of local foods buy and carry his wines?

When he tried Dry Farm Wines, they said they do not buy wines made in the U.S.

"They say they would rather buy European wines, better prices. But what about local? I'm local," he said, "and our wine stores aren't supporting that. Why not?"

Good question. Organic and biodynamic, good wine, and LOCAL. Sounds good to me.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

A 100 Point Webinar: Vinous, Phil Coturri and a Cast of a Thousand Sips

For awhile, I was binge watching wine webinars.

With the debut of VirtualWineEvents.com, it was easy.

Who could resist getting up close and personal from the anonymous comfort of one's boudoir with Michel Chapoutier, explaining his approach to terroir driven wines? Or fail to thrill as Elin McCoy revealed wines exemplifying Napa's newer styles?

The hits kept coming..."Master Sommelier Larry Stone [of Lingua Franca] Explores the Volcanic Landscape of Willamette Valley..."Masterclass on Organic and Biodynamic Wines with Britt & Per Karlsson"..."Heitz Cellar with Carlton McCoy"..."Rioja with Tim Atkin"...and on and on.

(Thank you to 67PallMall.com where most of these videos can be found. Note: though the videos are on YouTube, you must enter through the 67PallMall.com website to find them, as they have cleverly marked them as "unlisted" on YouTube so they do not appear in search results on YouTube. Is that just so clubby!)

At a certain point, I hit wine webinar fatigue zone and reverted to my previous programming - my real life - but made it a point to watch one last webinar: Moon Mountain wineries with Antonio Galloni and Phil Coturri, who has made the region an organic heartland for mountain grown Cabs.

And there they were - the gazillionaires and their highly prized blenders. The well heeled guys lucky enough to strike gold and spend their riches on Phil growing their grapes - and on the top tier talent to pick and press and age those purple globes into yielding their refined, subtle, thrilling flavors.

The history flowed, as did the camaraderie. Where else are you going to see screenwriter Robert Kamen egging former Disney chief John Lasseter about getting a case of wine? Or masters like winemakers Erich Bradley and Jeff Baker talking terroir? Or hear what happened the day Moon Mountain Vineyard caught on fire?

And at the center of his world, like a North-South Pole, was Phil Coturri, who persuaded these guys to let him rip soils, break boulders, and tap the volcanic treasures deep in the soils of Moon Mountain.

Galloni's new map of the Moon Mountain AVA was originally supposed to be two sided, showing the Mayacamas and Mount Veeder on the opposite side, but that county line cut it into two - an artificial boundary that annoys everyone on Moon Mountain. On the other hand, for wine buyers, it cuts the price of world class Cab in half.

The map definitely sparks insights. I had never realized just how close B Wise is to Monte Rosa. Or exactly how related Amapola Creek is to it, as well. See for yourself in the map in the video which also reveals the soil types of each vineyard and what's planted in them, block by block. What it doesn't show you is the real place, which you'll have to see for yourself with your own two eyes.

I spent my 60th birthday on Kamen's estate deck and had been totally unprepared for what I would find. Cosmic? Panoramic? Sweeping? Words don't begin to describe it.

The Lasseters spoke about their new Trinity Ridge vineyard, too, and released their first Syrah from it this spring, too. Those mountain grapes don't come cheap - it's $125 a bottle.

So if you're looking for some engaging YouTube wine viewing, and a little more fun than the typical, technical "these are the soil types" webinar, tune in and drop down on Moon Mountain in this special bit of live theater.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Data Driven Marketing In the Wine Industry

We now know that pandemic has launched a revolution in the way fine wine is being marketed and sold.

But just as chance favors the prepared mind, wineries who had already been pursuing digital technology and analysis of their customer data (obtained legally in customer interactions and from social media channels) were more equipped than others to, forgive me, zoom down the online sales path.

I pitched this story on data to Wine Business back in October, after writing a big article on POS providers and moderating the magazine's IT conference's panel on the same subject. It was obvious then that winery POS systems were collecting mountains of data. But what were these wineries doing with their data? That was the story I wanted to tell.

I interviewed the wineries and industry experts in Feb. before the pandemic arose (to meet print issue deadlines). Suddenly now it is even more relevant to the health and wellbeing of the industry.

I am grateful to all of the interviewees in this piece (and to all those whose comments I couldn't fit in due to lack of space) who so graciously shared their time and their insights. My hope is that this article will help wineries small and large prosper during these challenging times and in the future.

Consumers are loving the chance to get closer online to winemakers and wines, through online tastings. May it continue - and grow.

And wineries are finding it isn't hard as they thought to use digital channels, once they focused on them.

Hopefully this two way connectivity will spark more wine love and appreciation.

Read the article in the magazine (starting on page 78) - free with registration (view online or download100 page pdf)

Read just the article here (5 page pdf - no registration)

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Costco Scores on Organic and Biodynamic Wines This Week

I don't often shop at Costco, but, in a new record, I went twice this week. And I was amazed at what I found. Often it's not exciting, but in both the San Leandro and Richmond stores I found some excellent imports.

In San Leandro, I went to buy Prosecco and found none. But I did score a beautiful organic rosé from Provence - Chateau de Beaupre - a classic producer - for $12.99 a bottle.

The next day (today), I went in search of Prosecco (for aperitivos for the summer) in Costco's Richmond store and found, to my amazement, a classic biodynamic Valpolicello from Cort Sant'Alda.  $17.99. Only 2,000 cases made and some came to the East Bay.

I also found other organic producers from the U.S. including Heitz Cellars' lovely Sauvignon Blanc for $22.99. It lists for $23.99 on wine.com, but at least it's at Costco (convenient).

In the red wine department, I found Long Meadow Ranch (Napa Cab) for $38.99 and Laurel Glen's estate Cab for just $59.99 (usually $80).

Costco keeps you guessing, that's for sure.

I will say the selection in Richmond was much better than in San Leandro.

Of course, none of the signage (with the exception of the back of the bottle of rosé) showed you that these wines were from organic vines, so you would just have to know that from having studied this for a decade as I have. That is not good.

Anyway it pays to acquire this knowledge...and I'll be teaching soon, so can share more with everyone.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

And Suddenly There Was Life! Winery Video Genre a Work in Progress - with New Game Changing Network-ability!

March 30 - yes, just a month and a week ago - I posted that we were finally living in the Golden Age of Online Tastings. Suddenly, with Zoom lowering everyone's standards of the level of video production that was required to be seen in public, wineries, even the ones still in the dark ages, were able to find cameras, tripods and more and whip into action.


As this new genre unfolds, it's exciting to see. It's exhibiting the same kinds of stumbling steps that early day movies or talkies did. The first thing the movies did was film theater productions, until they discovered that didn't translate well. Talkies were a similarly transformative transition.

Today's winery video genre is no different. It has started out by imitating a show it already knows how to put on: the winemaker talking about the wines in the tasting room, or, gosh, for real excitement, in the vineyard.

The Wine Show TV Show Air Dates & Track Episodes - Next Episode
Matthew Goode and Matthew Rhys, cast as wine newbies in The Wine Show
Contrast these videos with my other pandemic staple - The Wine Show, a fantastically watchable and incredibly instructive show (on Hulu here in the States) with two knowledgeable wine hosts and two stellar actors - the two Matthews - who play the role (sort of like reality TV, sort of not) of interested novices. Big budget, high production values and some very experienced television hands at the helm here. This must have cost a fortune, and I would say, it's probably the first wine series that didn't suck.

Compare that with the wineries' videos. Now yes it costs more, but winery tasting rooms and staff also cost a lot. Why so stingy with the video budget when that's your new lifeline? And your tasting room is c l o s e d.

Right now some online tastings are incredibly boring, some are filled with food and cooking and dogs in an attempt to be some kind of home based reality series. Some are hosted by humorous characters - I'm thinking of Frog's Leap and Tablas Creek. Frog's Leap's generally humorous personalities shine through in their father son duo. Two characters ARE better than one.

Tablas Creek's videos features the winery's shepherd Nathan in conversation with the winemaker Chelsea. (When I saw Nathan present on the topic of sheep at the 2019 Ecofarm conference, I thought he had missed his calling as a standup comedian. Now it looks like central casting has recognized his prodigious, native talent.) Having an expert and a non-expert play off of each other is a good format, as many a producer will tell you.

Sadly some video tastings just expose how male dominated a lot of wineries are. When you see the four guy lineup in their individual Zoom squares, it can just feel odd that there are no women.


Part of this was well captured in Amber LeBeau's blog post How Can We Make Virtual Wine Tastings Less Sucky? that really struck a chord. And while wineries search for better ways to film stuff (ask your teenager kids, please but don't let them involve models and makeup and a ton of Insta selfies), we can ask them to improve their game. We want to keep watching as wineries host these week after week.

LeBeau published some tips in her post for wineries on how to make better videos. Hallelujah. Having made PBS docs for 5 years (including with Peter Jennings and Joseph Campbell) and more than 50 films for Apple and written a bestselling book on how to make videos (before YouTube.com had even launched), I am grateful. Guidance is needed.

There are people who are actually professionals who can help you and they are very cheap to hire. Wineries CAN have fun drone footage for very cheap. Wineries CAN have restaurant somms come and talk about their wine, their region, their varietal. Wineries CAN have better backgrounds and maps and diagrams.

Singer Johnny Legend with
 Jean-Charles Boisset
If I were still teaching this stuff, as a first step, I would recommend that wineries watch The Wine Show.

While you don't need to hire a great actor or Hollywood celebrity (although some, like Jean-Charles Boisset have, doing tastings with Johnny Legend), but you can do better than you are now.

Look for the characters within. I used to cast documentaries - you meet a 100 people and pick 10 for the hour show or 5 for an Apple product intro on how people are saving the world with Macintosh. We used to look for people who were a little over the top, because when the pro camera went on, most people deflated. But that's no longer the case as everyone is used to video cameras on phones today.

Create little segments to break up the video. Have video roll-ins - i.e. little videos you can bring in to add variety to the show. Interview your pruning guys. Add a chef or a somm or a wine critic or blogger or super fan. Who is your oldest wine club member? Who is your youngest hire in the winery? Where is the furthest place where people are drinking this wine - Japan? China? Stories are everywhere, not just in your tasting room and not just about how your wine tastes. That's how you sell in a tasting room, but not on TV.


Today LeBeau announced that her partner, Beth, a former Googler, has launched a new platform for finding online wine tasting events.

Bravo. VirtualWineEvents.com is a fantastic aggregator for online tasting events all over the world. Sort of like the YouTube we all need to find just the winery tasting videos.

It is free to the wineries to participate and also saves the links to archived tastings in a searchable database. What an incredible resource for anyone researching wines!

It also divides events into tastings versus webinars - a useful distincion.

You no longer have to rely solely critics scores or questionable consumer reviews or the faking it description from a newbie wine store clerk. (There are also great wine store clerks who generously share their knowledge. - find them and keep them!) But now you can go directly to the source. This is world changing for global wine - the sewing that can stitch the quilt together.

I look forward to checking out the scene and seeing how this new genre evolves.


Thanks to Virtual Wine Events, I'm now looking forward to these online events this week:

• In the Bordeaux Vineyard (at 10 am today)

• The Dish on Dirt with the Society of Wine Educators

• Matt Stamp (MW) on Napa Valley terroir with the Napa Valley Vintners

• Taste with Karen - The Great Wines of Oakville

And about so many more.

Sorry, gotta go! I have to join Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW and "dive deep into the Bordeaux vineyard, exploring the climate, soils and grape varieties planted....and look at traditional vineyard practices and how these are evolving and how they shape the styles and quality of the wines produced." (Update: The webinar did not actually deliver on this premise, though).

Bring it on.

See: how it went.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

VIDEO: Enjoy a Love Letter to Biodynamic Agriculture (From Kiss the Ground)

So many videos take a technical approach to trying to explain biodynamic. Who was Rudolph Steiner? What are the preps? Is farming by the moon for real? Our common questions are mostly not on target because biodynamics is not about these bits and pieces.

This video gets it right...it's regenerative agriculture that farms with life.

You can also catch the follow on podcast with Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estate here.

Once you've seen it, hop on over to BD.wine, to explore the more than 50 producers who make wine in the U.S. from biodynamic grapes and check out 250 wines. There are also 100+ wines under $25 for daily drinking.

Visit and subscribe ($25 a year): BD.wine.

And...coming soon...classes on Biodynamic Wines! I'll be announcing more details here soon, or signup for the free email list at BD.wine.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Instagram: It's Not Just Eye Candy Any More

In the era of the pandemic, wineries are waking up to the possibilities of digital marketing.

Here's my new article (featured in the promo photo on the left)
Levels of the Game: Game-Changing Moves on Instagram on how some wineries are powering up their Instagram campaigns and getting results.

Thanks to industry marketing expert, Taylor Eason, and Tablas Creek's social media marketing manager Ian Consoli for their comments.

Monday, April 20, 2020

French Researchers Find Glyphosate Link to Breast Cancer, Leads to More Aggressive Cancer, Also Strikes Younger Women

I missed this study when it first came out, but am glad to share it this week since it's an important chapter in the medical detective novel about herbicides that we are living in the middle of.

French cancer researchers have found that glyphosate causes cancer when it's combined with other risk factors. (Cancers usually develop as a result of multiple factors.)

In studies with rats, the researchers found that when glyphosate was combined with molecules linked to oxidative stress, more cancers resulted. Oxidative stress is the result of aging, smoking, alcohol, diet or other factors. Oxidative stress changes the structure of the genome of the breast, which can accelerate the growth of cancer.

"Especially, herbicides have been increasingly recognized as epigenetic modifiers," the studies' authors wrote in their introduction to the paper published in Frontiers in Genetics.

Glyphosate not only promoted cancer development, it also supercharged cancer both in the disease's severity and target.

• 50% of the rats in the study got cancer

• Cancer growth was more aggressive

• The type of cancer it accelerated is one that attacks younger women

“What was particularly alarming about the tumor growth was that it wasn’t the usual type of breast cancer we see in older women,” Sophie Lelièvre said. “It was the more aggressive form found in younger women, also known as luminal B cancer.”

Lelièvre is a professor of cancer pharmacology at Purdue, which also participated in the study, and serves as the co-leader of Purdue's International Breast Cancer & Nutrition project, a group of medical researchers around the globe.

“This is a major result and nobody has ever shown this before,” says Sophie Lelièvre, professor of cancer pharmacology in Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “Showing that glyphosate can trigger tumor growth, when combined with another frequently observed risk, is an important missing link when it comes to determining what causes cancer. ”

Read the rest of the story from Purdue here or coverage from Sustainable Pulse here.

The scientific article can be found here.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

What to Drink in a Pandemic? Biodynamic Boxed Wines from Italy - And You Can Order Them Online

Pandemic? Don't panic. You can still move the climate change needle towards the good earth citizen end of the dial, avoid in store shopping and drink excellent, inexpensive table wine grown by an Italian coop in the Abruzzo - fair and friendly.

The amazing Lunaria brand winery is my hands down favorite when it comes to recommending a pandemic wine.

Choose your color: red or pink...I am a huge fan of both, though I tend to favor the what I call rosé.

Lunaria's Montepulciano d'Abruzzo

Demeter certified, biodynamic wine from Italy, this wine is $72 for TWO boxes, making it the equivalent of $36 a box or $9 a bottle. It's made by a cooperative on the eastern coast of central Italy  You can order it online from Organic Wine Exchange here.

Lunaria's Pinot Grigio - A Copper Colored "Rosé"

The same cooperative also offers a beautiful crisp, clean Pinot Grigio that is also a lovely balance of fruit and acidity. You can buy it here.

See the comments section for a list of retailers (provided by Mountain People's Wine in California).

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Video on Demand: Seralini on Pesticides and Wine

The most brilliant scientists of our generation who are focused on pesticides and environmental health rarely give public lectures. They speak to their peers at professional conferences and present their research findings in peer reviewed journals, preferring to share the precise data and insights and analysis in those circles.

However, we are lucky to have the Environmental Health Symposium's video of Professor Seralini available to see. For $29 (to defray the professional video production costs), you can see and hear this clear and educational presentation from the leading voice against pesticides and about pesticides in wine.

Have a look here (and click on #11) to order.

Monday, March 30, 2020

After Pesticide Testing Revealed Pesticides in Natural Wines, New French Natural Wine Standard Requires Certified Organic Grapes

A definition for natural wine? For years, wine drinkers have been asking the question, "What is a natural wine?"

There have been many answers. For some, no sulfite additions has been the main criteria. Many objected to that definition alone, saying that the intent was to use organic grapes as well. And no other additions.

Quoted in the French wine magazine Vignerons du Val du Loire (use Google translate to see the article in English), the leader of the certification effort, Jacques Carroget, said the certification was needed to prevent the use of non-organic grapes in natural wines.

Carroget said testing for pesticides in natural wines made the standard necessary and that he and others were shocked by the results of testing.

“We realized that some wines had levels of pesticide residues such that it could not have been caused by the neighbors. Clearly, these were not organic wines. It was unthinkable that natural wines were not organic. So a few decided to launch the Syndicate for the Defense of Natural Wines, with a real commitment charter," he's quoted as saying in the Loire publication.

Jacques Carroget, Loire winemaker
and head of the Natural Wines Union
After ten years, the French have adopted a standard that should prevent that from happening again.

The designation comes just three months after Alice Feiring, the American wine writer who paved the way for French natural wine producers in the US and championed their cause, began publicly criticizing the natural wine movement in an article published in the New York Times in December.

"The movement, built on honesty and simplicity, is being corrupted by opportunists," the article's subtitle read.

But in an article published on Wine-Searcher last week, Feiring applauds the new certification standard, which allows the use of the logo for "Vin methode nature" to be applied under two different standards.

One standard is zero sulfites. (The logo pictured above is for the no added sulfite category). A second allowed standard, with a different logo, allows the addition of sulfites up to 30 ppm.

In addition the standard prohibits mechanical harvesting. No filtration is allowed.

For many, the new French certification comes at a time when boundaries on what is "natural" are needed. In the U.S. many natural winemakers would not qualify to use such a standard as they often do not use certified organic grapes and some of the purchased grapes they use are mechanically harvested (typically in order to make prices lower).

[Current standards in the US for organically grown wines allow for two different sulfite levels. Zero sulfites qualifies a wine to be designated "Organic Wine" while a wine with up to 100 ppm can be labeled "Made with Organic Grapes." While only certified organic grapes are included, natural wine enthusiasts often do not like that these wine standards permit a limited number of additives to be used.]

Another longstanding value in the French winemaking movement was that the winemaker also be the winegrower. In the U.S. natural wine making community, this is rare as most wineries are buying grapes from growers. A few are in transition to growing the grapes and exercising more control in the vineyards.

A few natural winemakers in the U.S. do have estate vineyards that are certified organic or biodynamic. These include AmByth Estate and Powicana Farms, both of which make Biodynamic Wines that are certified sulfite free and additive free. Johan Vineyards in Oregon also makes a Zero Zero Pinot Noir that fits this definition and Cooper Mountain Vineyards has one Pinot Noir (Life) as well.

Frey Vineyards also makes some wines at this standard, but in the past Feiring has claimed that Frey's winemaking process (they make 7,000 cases of biodynamic wine and more than 150,000 cases of organic wine, the latter partly from purchased grapes) is "too industrial" to qualify under her own natural wine definition.

I looked in vain online for a website for the certifying body, the Natural Wine Union, but could not find one. If you find it, can you let me know?

Also, although I found several articles on this new natural wine standard (in Forbes, Decanter, Wine-Searcher and Wine Business Daily), none mentioned the pesticide testing issue. I only found that in the Loire publication. And the Loire story mainly mentioned the pesticide testing alarm bells.

Viva la difference?

Note: In the Wine-Searcher article, Tony Coturri is quoted as saying there are many organic growers who are going off certification. I do not see any evidence of that in my research and so if Tony has examples or data to share, I'm all ears.

Online Tasting Videos, The Golden Age At Last: Part 1 - Porter Creek Vineyards

Congratulations, Wine Industry! You're Making Online Tasting Experiences and Recording Them as Videos!

It's 2020, and for years many of us have been wondering: we're online with video, but where are the wineries?

But finally, the day has arrived when even the most camera-shy of our great producers are doing online tastings and video replays.

 Partly, it's because the tasting room is closed, closed and closed and no one knows when they will be able to reopen. And that means the bar on production values is lower now, and people don't expect polished productions with sweeping drone video footage, vineyard shots and music.

Today the bar is just give us some talking heads! Conversation.

But it turns out those conversations are often better than the experience you would have had on the winery's website or by visiting the winery. You can actually hear the winemaker speak, sometimes at length, as they themselves talk about the growing and the tasting.

A Golden Age has arrived.

I'll be sharing a number of these over the coming weeks. To start off, here's Porter Creek Vineyards from Healdsburg, a producer specializing in Pinot Noir from its biodynamic vineyards in the Russian River.

Porter Creek Vineyards


Monday, March 23, 2020

Biodynamics at Troon Vineyard: The Video

Stuck at home? Want a video break that doesn't include corona virus? Check out the regenerative ag that underlies biodynamic wine grape growing.

 I like this video more than many others about biodynamics because it really does show via drone shots the holistic nature of the biodynamic concept.

It's not just about the herbal and mineral sprays, and not just about biodiversity, and not just about soil health. It is an eco system based approach.


Thursday, March 5, 2020

My Hot Tip from the Oregon Wine Trail

It's not often that I say, "BUY THIS," but at the Oregon Wine Trail tasting yesterday in SF I have to admit I was really wowed by one wine in particular.

The fact that is costs $39 and tastes like wine three times the price is why I feel compelled to mention it here. Purity. Translucence. Finesse.

Here is the wine.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Weed Slayer: Organic Wonder Drug for Weed Control is Just Clove Oil Basically

At Unified Wine Grape Symposium this year, I attended the panel on Weed Control and the big buzz at the end of the 90 minutes panel seemed to be the moment when moderator John Roncoroni asked the audience, "Who here is using Weed Slayer?"

Hands shot up, and most were not from organic growers (who are a tiny percentage of those who attend Unified).

In the race to stop using what Ronconi and others called "the hammer," - i.e. Roundup - growers have been looking for a kinder, gentler replacement for years.

So today's blog post by Craig Camp of Troon Vineyard - a deeper dive into Weed Slayer - is much appreciated.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Slide of the Day | Remember to Count: Chemical Fertilizer Energy Inputs Compared to Compost (Typically Applied in Organic Systems)

Slide from Glenn McGourty presentation

Last week I visited Russell Ranch at U.C. Davis for soil health presentations, including those by Kate Scow and her team who have recently documented the dramatic impact of compost in sequestering carbon.

Today, while searching for something else, I came upon Glenn McGourty's fabulous presentation on soil health and vineyards.

We are often told that "sustainable" wine grape growing is the answer to climate change and soil issues, and that because organic certification does not require regenerative practices, it is not as good for the environment.

Nothing could be further from the truth, as, even though the regulations don't mandate healthier soil practices, most organic growers do use compost.

Tillage turns out to be not nearly as important as previously thought (as long as it's just the top 6 inches, according to the Russell Ranch study's experts).

Slide from Glenn McGourty presentation
The slide above shows that, aside from carbon sequestration alone, compost has HUGE benefits when we look at the resources needed to fertilize soils with chemicals.

You can see McGourty's whole slide deck here.

I guess I haven't yet posted anything about the U.C. Davis trip (except on social media) so here's a link to the published version of their compost research from CalCAN.

And as a slide from the presentation last week shows (see below - the vertical bar on the right) there is vast potential for carbon sequestration in the organic farming example where compost is applied.

In recent years, the U.C. researchers have also added a fourth system in which compost is added to conventional plots with cover crops to see how well soils treated with conventional chemicals sequester carbon.

To date, scientists are divided over what the impacts are of using compost in non-organic systems in terms of the impact on carbon sequestration.

Compost study results from Russell Ranch study, published 2019. The compost (organic) system on the right sequestered
far more carbon - about 0.7% per year which added up to 12% over the length of the study, The study has recently adopted a fourth category - which includes compost with conventional farming. Note that cover crops, while they have many virtues, do not aid in carbon sequestration, according to the researchers.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

IN PHOTOS: Slow Wine Guide 2020 Tasting

Slow Wine Guide 2020 kicked off its annual tour yesterday in San Francisco with a sold out tasting at Pier 27.

The event consisted mainly of Italian wineries (the core of the book's focus) and is based on the book Slow Wine Guide 2020. The Italian version of the book contains more than 500 Italian wineries and 1,000 wines and is the bestselling wine book in Italy.

You can download a free copy of the English edition here.

The English version includes 366 Italian wineries and 245 U.S. wines, including 176 from California and 69 from Oregon.

Enjoy these photos of U.S. organic and biodynamic producers from the event:

Lulu McClellan (right) of Handley Cellars in Mendocino's
Anderson Valley
with Don Neel (left) of Practical Winery & Vineyard
Mitch Hawkins (left) and Jerry Baker (right) of
Hawk and Horse Vineyards, located in Lake County's Red Hills AVA
Rosemary Cakebread's delicate Gallica wines (from Napa, Sonoma
and Amador County grapes) were featured at the tasting.
Jason Drew of Drew Family Cellars in Elk (above Anderson Valley in
the Mendocino Ridge AVA) poured his award winning reds and a Chardonnay.
Ehlers Estate winemaker Laura Diaz Munoz

Jeff Chaney from Grimm's Bluff in Santa Barbara County poured the
biodynamic estate's Sauvignon Blancs and Cabs