Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Best Film About Wine/China/Cabernet You Never Saw: Red Obsession

Somehow this film passed a lot of people by, but don't be among them. Red Obsession is (newly) one of my favorite wine films of all time.

You don't even have to know anything about wine or care about wine to enjoy it.

It's an inside look at the madness of the rage for Bordeaux wines and of the growing enthusiasm of Chinese wine aficionados for the wares of Aquitaine. A story of global proportions and classic syndromes. Visually stunning and completely compelling viewing. 

See the trailer here; you can buy it on iTunes ($12.99).


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Brooks Winery Breaking Ground on New Winery

Last September I had a chance to see Brooks Winery in Oregon's Eola Amity Hills, but I didn't get to tour the vineyards. Now we both can, thanks to the magic of YouTube. 

Hear winemaker and vineyard manager Chris Williams explain what's out there in the winery's vineyards, which you will sooooooon be able to tour. Brooks just started construction on a new winery and tasting room that will sit on the same site. See the second video for a look at Janie Brooks Heuck breaking ground on the winery's new 12,000 square foot building.

Winemaker Chris Williams on the vines...


Proprietor Janie Brooks Heuck breaks ground...

IN PHOTOS: Rhone Rangers Awards Robert Haas Lifetime Achievement Award

Celebrating Robert Haas' lifelong promotion of Rhone wines, the Rhone Rangers this weekend awarded him their annual Lifetime Achievement award. Enjoy hearing what his peers have to say about him this video below...and check out the lovely photos below from the award ceremony held Saturday night.

Haas started Tablas Creek, one of California's top Rhone producers.

The winery makes 10+ highly rated estate wines from its 120 acres of certified organic vineyards.

Robert Haas with former winner Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard

Jason Haas and Robert Haas

Monday, April 7, 2014

IN PHOTOS: Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting: Up and Coming Brands (Part 2 of 2)

This post features younger brands with up and coming wines:

• Chacewater, located in Lake County with estate vines in both Lake County and the Sierra Foothills
• Campovida, located in Hopland, with some wines from organic Mendocino vineyards
• Martian Ranch and Vineyards, a Central Coast producer with 8 wines from its Biodynamic estate

Chacewater makes organically grown wines from its Sierra vineyards;
it also has vineyards (not organic) and raises olive trees in Lake County
Chacewater's Syrah ($20) and rosé of Syrah ($16)
Campovida, located in Hopland, sources 7 wines from
certified organic or Biodynamic vineyards
Campovida's Grenache comes from
the Dolan family's certified
Biodynamic Dark Horse Ranch 
A standout: Campovida's organically sourced Viognier 
Martian Ranch and Vineyards' general manager
Dawn Wilson and proprietor Nan Helgeland
celebrate their latest releases. The Santa Ynez
Valley winery's  20 acre vineyard was certified
Biodynamic in 2014. A number of their 9 wines
have been featured in the LA Times,
the SF Chronicle and the NY Times.

IN PHOTOS: Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting - Part 1 (of 2)

It was a beautiful day by the Bay Sunday as dozens of wineries and hundreds of tasters gathered for the annual Rhone Rangers grand tasting held in a new venue this year.

See this post and the following one for photos of the event. 

This post focuses on established brands with Rhone wines including Big Basin, Morgan, Quivira, Qupé, and Tablas Creek. See the second post for smaller, up and coming brands.


1. Quivira's new Biodynamically certified rosé - a lovely first release…I look forward to trying this out all summer long. 

2. Tablas Creek's En Gobelet - a Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre blend with 24% Tannat - my personal fave of the day.

3. Cassoulet from the Girl and the Fig catering - how perfect a pairing with Rhone wines.

[Not pictured: Bonny Doon which has two Biodynamically certified wines - both of its Le Cigare Blanc wines.]

Ferries hired specifically for the event brought attendees
from the city to the East Bay venue at Craneway Pavillion
Morgan's Double L estate vineyard, certified organic, is the source
for Morgan's Double L Syrah (the 2011 garnered 90 pts. from Parker).

Pictured below: Big Basin's Bradley Brown with his Old Corral Syrah
sourced from certified organic estate vineyards;
Antonio Galloni (Wine Advocate, Vinous) rated it 94 pts.

Quivira's Ned Horton, vineyard manager, and Andrew Fegelmen,
Director of Marketing, with Quivira's impressive Rhone lineup. A third
of Quivira's wines (12 different wines) are sourced from certified Biodynamic
vineyards, making it the second largest Biodynamic producer
in Sonoma County. New this year: an all BD-sourced rosé.
Instead of the usual grand tasting fare (cheese nibbles, etc.) attendees were
treated to cassoulet from the Girl and the Fig's catering program
 a perfect pairing with Rhone wines.
Central Coast producer Qupé's booth was the most popular booth at the
trade and media tasting, with its decade long reputation for top drawer
Syrahs and other Rhone wines. (That's winemaker Bob Lindquist in the
blue shirt on the right.) The winery sources 25% of its production from its
Demeter certified (Biodynamic) Sawyer Lindquist vineyard in Edna Valley.
Qupé's finest Syrah was recently voted California's best by a
New York Times tasting panel.
Tablas Creek was the other popular spot with a
continuous crowd sampling wines.
Well known for its "real" Rhone roots, it famously
imported vines from its parent company,
the Perrin Family in France's Rhone valley.
Founder Robert Haas was honored with a
Lifetime Achievement award for his role in
promoting U.S. grown Rhone wines.
Pictured above: winemaker and vineyard manager
 Neil Collins and Jason Haas, general manager.
My favorite wine of the day was their En Gobelet, a GSM
blend with the added excitement of 24%  Tannat.
(It could have been the cassoulet speaking,
as I tasted both together, but regardless, it
was the wine of the day for me.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

California's Best Rhones - Grand Tasting This Sunday in Richmond

Credit: Anagram Press
The annual love fest of Rhone producers and Rhone wine lovers takes place this weekend in the Bay Area's premiere waterfront location in the historic Craneway Pavilion in Richmond. (It's a breaktakingly beautiful spot.)

Credit: Anagram Press

In addition to the Grand Tasting on Sunday afternoon (3 pm for general public; 1 pm for weekend pass holders and trade), there are seminars Sunday morning (one on microproducers; another on grenache - $75).

Saturday evening there's a $150 winemaker dinner (benefits scholarships; currently sold out) at which Robert Haas, partner and co-founder of Tablas Creek, will be awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to American grown Rhone wines. (He should also get an award for having 120 acres of certified organic vines - 100% of the Tablas Creek estate is organic.)

All inclusive weekend passes are sold out but there's still plenty of room for the Grand Tasting ($65).

There are lots of organic and Biodynamic producers attending this annual Rhone Rah Rah. Here's a list. (Producers who are 100% org/BD in brand are in bold.)

1. Morgan - Estate grown Syrah (Double L)
2. Big Basin (Estate Syrah)
3. Bonny Doon (its Le Cigare Blanc wines are certified Biodynamic)
4. Campovida (some wines sourced from organic or Biodynamic vines)
5. Martian Vineyards (Santa Barbara producer with certified Biodynamic vineyards; up and comer with affordable prices; 100% of wines in brand are from its BD estate vines)
6. Morgan (a few estate wines are organically sourced)
7. Quivira (7,000 cases - 1/3 of production - comes from three BD certified vineyards; 10 wines are certified BD wines)
8. Qupé (100% of estate wines are all Biodynamically grown and certified BD)
9. Tablas Creek (star producer when it comes to Rhones - all estate wines organically grown; the only exception is its Patelin wines which are sourced from estate grapes as well as grapes from neighboring vineyards)

Getting to the event itself can be easy and/or fun. Ferries are running from Pier 43 in the city directly to the venue, which is in the historic complex of World War II ship building monuments, including the NPS's Rosie the Riveter museum (next door to the Craneway). You might also want to check out the restaurant in the complex - Assemble. (Reservations would be a must this weekend; get one on Open Table). In addition to the ferries, the event producers will be running a shuttle bus to and from the nearest BART station.

Click here for all event details.

If you go, here are a few of my favorites (though I haven't tasted all of the wines from the producers listed above):

• Enjoyed (Tasted)

Qupé/Verdad's Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, Edna Valley 
***Qupé's Sawyer Lindquist Syrahs - and everything from this vineyard (indeed this is my favorite California Syrah to date - coincidentally it is New York Times' wine critic Eric Asimov's as well)...some of the other Qupé wines from Bien Nacido are in the certification pipeline...don't miss the rosé (of Grenache) from Qupé's sister label Verdad

***Tablas Creek - I'm not sure what they will be pouring (maybe not their version of a Chateauneuf de Pape), but pretty much everything is top flight..

• New to Me

Martian Vineyards - I haven't tried these (yet) but am looking forward to - you can buy these in the Mission at BiRite Market (one of the few California BD sourced wines available there)

Monday, March 31, 2014

Mike Grgich's 91st Birthday News

Napa vintner and partner in the largest Biodynamic winery in America, legendary winemaker Mike Grigch announced this week that he's paying it forward with a new wine studies scholarship program, in partnership with the James Beard Foundation.

To honor his new philanthropy, his photo appeared in Times Square today.

To Mike we say, Happy Birthday and thanks for making all of your 300+ acres of prime Napa vineyards organic.

Sri Lanka Bans Roundup; Brazil May Follow

Roundup is (rightfully) under siege, yet again.

Sri Lanka implemented a countrywide ban two weeks ago following a scientific study that presented convincing evidence that Roundup appears to combine with toxic pesticides (applied to plants and soil) which in turn leach into hard water (containing heavy chemicals) to create a toxic brew that causes a lethal kidney disease.

Reuters reports that authorities in Brazil are also considering a countrywide ban on the widely used Monsanto herbicide Roundup (which contains glyphosate). A ban on 2, 4 D is also being considered in Brazil.

Both glyphosate and 2, 4 D are widely used in the US in agriculture, including in wine grape growing regions in California, but there has not been an epidemic of chronic kidney disease as the other factors in the deadly combo may not be present. Sri Lanka also uses a lot of Mancozeb and chlorpyrifos.

In addition to Brazil and Sri Lanka, thousands have died in the southern India province of Andra Pradesh and in Central America from chronic kidney disease. Studies correlating the incidence of hard water and glyphosate in these regions have not been released. There are still a number of competing hypotheses in the Central and South American populations.

It's estimated that more than 25,000 have died in Sri Lanka so far; thousands more have died in other regions.

The chronic kidney disease outbreak has puzzled researchers studying the problem from a number of institutions including Stonybrook, Boston University, and Harvard.

But a paper published in Feb. in the  International Journal of Research and Public Health by authors from Sri Lanka and Long Beach, California seems to have cracked the riddle of this multifactorial epidemic explaining the mechanics of how glyphosate combines with other compounds. The report's summary states,
"Although glyphosate alone does not cause an epidemic of chronic kidney disease, it seems to have acquired the ability to destroy the renal tissues of thousands of farmers when it forms complexes with a localized geo environmental factor (hardness) and nephrotoxic metals."

The study's authors believe the same pathway is at work in the other tropical regions where chronic kidney disease is at epidemic levels. In addition, Reuters reported, the researchers, "noted that earlier studies had shown that typical glyphosate half-life of around 47 days in soil can increase up to 22 years after forming hard to biodegrade “strong complexes with metal ions.”

Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, has also been under siege in Argentina for glyphosate, as Reuters reported earlier. A combination of factors has led to conflict there. 

The Associated Press found numerous instances of improperly applying the herbicide too close to homes and schools. 

But aside from misuse of toxics, the respected scientist Andres Carrasco - a University of Buenos Aires medical school professor, head of the Molecular Embryology Laboratory at University of Buenos Aires and chief scientist at the National Council for Science and Technology - has conducted tests using Roundup on embryos and documented glyphosate's negative health effects. He spoke at the University of California, Irvine at a public health conference about his research, which you can see on YouTube here or below:

Obviously these stories relate to third world, heavy pesticide use applications. If anything these are more typical of the intensive applications of glyphosate in the corn and soy heartland of the Midwest where Roundup is used in higher concentrations than wine grape growing in California.

However, it's good to know what's happening with the widely used herbicide in the broader context and how it changes when it comes in contact with other substances. The Sri Lanka story is a dramatic medical detective story - possibly writ large.

Friday, March 14, 2014

In Time for Earth Day: Organically Sonoma, Organically Napa…Stay Tuned

The apps will be available in the Apple App Store and on Google Play. will soon be transforming into home base for all the apps and the blog will continue to be connected at

Organically Sonoma is progressing well - 170+ wines from more than 40 producers…the latest additions I am writing about now are from minimal intervention wineries like Kivelstadt, Horse & Plow, and (now) Preston - but there is a wide variety of producers to choose from. Wine giants like Korbel and Jackson Family Wines' Arrowood Winery have featured wines as well as itty bitty producers like Old World Winery and Atascadero Creek.

Stay tuned for details - sign up for our blog posts delivered via email (upper right of this page) to find out when apps launch.

(If you're wondering who SutroMedia is, that's our wildly fabulous technology developer and app platform maker.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wine & Spirits Top Picks: Restaurant Wines from Organic Vines

Wine & Spirits published its Top 50 Restaurant Wines list in its newly released April issue, which includes five organically grown wines.

All five in the top 50 were from Napa: Frog's Leap Winery, Turley Wine Cellars, Heitz Wine Cellars, Robert Sinskey Vineyards and Grgich Hill Estate. In individual wine sections, Storybook Mountain Vineyards and Calera also joined the list.

The wine survey covered 218 restaurants in the U.S. in the fourth quarter of 2013.

In individual wine sections, the wines broke out this way:

Cabernet Sauvignon
Heitz Wine Cellars (which wine was not indicated; certifications on its wine vary), 10th most popular
Grgich Hill Estate, 30th most popular

Pinot Noir
Calera - Mount Harlan de Villiers, jointly 14th most popular
Calera - Mount Harlan Jensen, jointly 14th most popular
Robert Sinskey Vineyards - Carneros, 20th most popular

Sauvignon Blanc
Frog's Leap, 10th most popular

Storybook Mountain, Eastern Exposure, 3rd most popular
Frog's Leap Winery, 5th most popular