Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Wine Australia Tasting: Three McLaren Vale Organic Producers To Watch

At the annual Wine Australia tasting this year, held at The Pearl, it wasn't easy to find the organic producers (no printed indications or even A-Z lists in the handouts), but after a lot of asking around, I located three, all from the McLaren Vale region outside of Adelaide, one of the oldest and most well established of Australia's 65 wine areas. Twenty two regions were represented at the event.

Like many a New World wine region, Australia's focus on higher end - and higher priced - wines in the last decade was evident. Aussies have clearly moved up - and it's not just to the Penfold stratosphere.

I found a lot to like with excellent value in $20-30 wines from organic producers' vines, making Australian wines a top choice for consumers.

Mark Davidson of Wine Australia with Phillip Anderson of Mountain People's Wine

1. Angove
Organic acres: 503
Organic since 2008

A giant in the Australian wine industry and one of the country's largest organic producers, Angove was founded by a Cornish immigrant who first harvested grapes in 1893. The fifth generation of the family has now begun to manage the winery.

Angove's organically grown wines range from $25 bottles (Angove Family Crest brand) to $75-100 upscale wines from its Warboys Vineyard (Angove McLaren Vale brand). It's also recently expanded into the Riverland region, buying a large chunk of vineyard acreage there.

The winery's low end Shiraz and Rhone GSM blend and high end Shiraz and Grenache impressed.

The wines are imported into the U.S. by Trinchero and are available on wine.com.

2. Spring Seed Wine Co.
Organic acres: 70
Organic since 1995

2017 Forget Me Not Sauvignon Blanc Semillon $20

This white Bordeaux blend has 57% Sauvignon Blanc and 43% Semillon. Grown in a Mediterranean climate, it's a refreshingly unique white wine that's a change of pace from white Bordeaux from Bordeaux. Very few in the U.S. make a Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend. (Volker Eisele's Gemini from Chiles Valley in Napa is one.) So if you want to try a wine that's off a little bit off the beaten path but from a very good producer (and organic since 1995) this is a good choice.

Fun fact: the wine is available with three different labels (the wine inside the bottle remains the same), with graphics that echo summer seed packets.

Spring Seed has quite a few other wines to try, but they weren't being poured at the event, so I look forward to trying them another time.

3. Paxton
Biodynamic acres: 300+
Organic and Biodynamic (100%) and certified since 2011

One of Australia's leading Biodynamic producers, Paxton was founded by a first class viticulturalist, David Paxton, who also grows varieties apart from the usual Shiraz and Grenache (including Graciano and Tempranillo), selling grapes to other wineries. The winery's first vintage was in 1990.

Today it is a major producer, with an extensive portfolio and impressive scores as well. Four of the wines rated mid 90's scores from James Halliday and ranged in price from $20 to $30 - very good value indeed.

The marketing gang from Paxton;
global marketing director Brian Lamb  is on the right
The winery's new no added sulfite wines - NOW (NOW standing for "Natural Organic Wine") - are available in several varietal bottlings. The NOW Shiraz is sold at some Whole Foods stores in the U.S.

More impressive were the 2017 Cabernet ($20, 94 pts. from James Halliday) and the Shiraz ($20), which were bargains in my book. My favorite was the 2017 Quandong Farm Shiraz, a single vineyard designate ($30).

About 2,000-5,000 cases are distributed by Wine Warehouse in the U.S.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Organic Vineyard Consultant and Farm Advisor Amigo Bob Says Pesticide Residue Testing "Is a Fraud," Urges Activism

Organic farming advisor and activist Amigo Bob Cantisano at Ecofarm
In a rousing speech at Ecofarm, the organic farming conference, Amigo Bob Cantisano, one of the founders of CCOF, accused the state and federal government of fraud in testing food for pesticide residues, claiming that state officials test only 181 out of 1,048 active ingredients.

"This pesticide residue testing that they tell you everything's okey-dokey - it's not," he said. "Not one of the top ten most widely used pesticides is tested for."

Cantisano, who has been battling cancer for the last six years, said he was concerned about health effects of pesticides. "We're all being mollified that all that conventional food, which most of us are eating most of the time is safe. It's not," he said.

Official procedures for determining food safety are flawed from start to finish, Cantisano said. 

Cantisano said he came to his conclusions after repeatedly touring the California Dept. of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), where, he said, the testing machines are unable to analyze two thirds of commonly used pesticides.

Gaps in measurement

Firstly, Cantisano complained, the testing process for residues begins with washing produce for 15 seconds, a process which he says doesn't reflect the way consumers treat produce.

"These are all water soluble pesticides," he said. "The majority of the pesticides are washed off before they ever get into the [testing] machine." 

Secondly, the government tests aren't performed on pesticide combinations or on the inert ingredients.

"There are 1,058 active ingredients in pesticides used in California," Cantisano said. "But that doesn't count tank mixes, that doesn't count the products which are multiple mixes together," he said. "The government doesn't test the inert ingredients."

In the recent glyphosate cases against Monsanto and Bayer for Roundup and other herbicides, university researchers in France and the U.S. have found that the inert ingredients are more toxic than the listed active ingredient - glyphosate - alone.

"It's documented that inert ingredients in many pesticides are as toxic or sometimes more than the pesticides themselves or increase the toxicity of the active ingredients combined and inert ingredients to much greater toxicity levels," Cantisano said. "No inert ingredients are tested for on a routine basis by the government." 

Inerts are routinely used as 75 to 90 percent of the ingredients in pesticides, he said.

Thirdly, Cantisano said the CDFA tests for only 343 of the listed 1,058 active ingredients, according to lists provided to him by CDFA officials, of which he claims only half are actively used.

He said 16 of the 343 were metabolites or byproducts of pesticides that break down, bringing his count to 327 substances. 

Furthermore, he said, 146 of the active ingredients have not been registered in the state for 10 years and are no longer being used on California farms.

"So if you do the real math," he said, "it's actually not 343 of the 1,050 pesticides, it's a 181."

"That's what they're testing for on a regular basis. This represents less than 17% of the active ingredients used in California agriculture. So the vast majority of stuff applied in farming is never ever measured."

“Of the top ten, including sulfur and the other nine, which didn't even include glyphosate - which is probably way up there now - but at any rate, they don't test them. The lab analyzes three of the top 20 and nine of the top 50 pesticides used in California....They're not looking, folks. And when they look, they wash it first and then use this equipment that doesn't find it."

Fourthly, Cantisano also said the solvent used to extract the pesticides produces inconsistent and inaccurate results. 

"The efficacy of the solvent to extract the pesticides ranges from a high of approximately 90% of the active ingredient to a low of less than 10%. So some pesticides - they only get a very small portion of the extractant. The solvent is not able to pull it away from the produce. So the machine can't identify it."

Encourages more organic

Cantisano called for the organic farming community to step up efforts to support the use of fewer pesticides in all forms of agriculture and to fight for improved and more accurate testing. 

"Farm workers need to be protected, the environment needs to be protected. Two hundred million pounds of pesticides are being sprayed right now on farm land in California. Just keep that in mind. All this work you're [organic farmers] doing and all this coalition building, and all these organic farmers -  we're just pissing in the wind."

"We need to increase the consumption of organically grown food. We need to increase the growing of organically grown foods. We need to encourage - start it up again - the development of biological and non-toxic pest management," he added. "I'm telling you that even a cursory look at this shows that pesticide residue testing is fake."

Health effects of eating food with pesticide residues

Cantisano said communities were at high risk of diseases from pesticide use on food crops. "There's a cumulative effect. Our livers, our kidneys are all paying the price for this. Pancreases, too. 

"All this cancer stuff is from trying to clean your blood out...you are constantly being assaulted every time you eat something. Even though they told you there's nothing on there, we're being fooled and the health system and your body - my body right now dealing with cancer - is dealing with this stuff, but we're not capable of fully dealing with it."

Cantisano was deeply inspired by Dr. Van den Bosch, a Berkeley professor whose life was cut short by an apparent heart attack just after giving a galvanizing three hour interview on talk radio on KGO on pesticides, Cantisano said in a followup interview. "He was naming names of what he called the pesticide mafia."

"Van den Bosch was just about to embark on a nationwide speaking tour to promote his new book, The Pesticide Conspiracy, published by Doubleday [in 1978], when he died jogging at Berkeley High School's running track, where he usually ran everyday," Cantisano continues. "This scared me and a whole lot of people from speaking up about this issue." 

"Twenty five years ago I wanted to talk about this," he said in his speech on the podium, "but I was afraid of being killed, like Dr. Van den Bosch from U.C. Berkeley's Division of Biological Control. I just didn't have the balls then," Cantisano said. 

Van den Bosch, a world renowned scientist in the field of biological control, was widely credited with being the founding father of the integrated pest management (IPM) program in California, but his career ended with his death at the age of 56. Later his lab disbanded. "All the copies of his book back then were taken off the market immediately," said Cantisano. (The book is now available as a reprint).

Cantisano, who is 67, has been a farm advisor to more than 800 organic farms and vineyards. He said he himself almost died last month from his battle with cancer. "That's why I am speaking out now," he said. "We need young people and middle aged people to continue the fight."

An expert on organic farming as well as organic vineyards, Cantisano has helped dozens of wineries grow wine grapes organically, advising Frog's Leap, Tres Sabores, Long Meadow Ranch, Preston, Martorana, Skipstone and many more over a 40+ year trajectory in the organic movement.

"I urge us to work more - more farmers together, more farm workers together, more scientists together, more environmentalists together. And in your lifetime: please clean this damn place up," he said in his closing remarks.

A group of attendees signed an email list to come up with ideas to increase awareness and develop programs to broaden education about the issues Cantisano raised. 

Cantisano founded the Ecological Farming Association or Eco-Farm in 1981 when a group held its first conference in Winters. The group says it has reached more than 60,000 people with its educational programs. It also gives out awards to prominent organic and ecological farming visionaries including Robert Rodale, Vandana Shiva, and Alice Waters.

New science research studies support organic health claims

On other fronts, new scientific reports released this winter from prominent authorities echo the health risks of pesticides in the food supply and mishandling of risk assessments by regulators at the EPA. 

In January, Consumer Reports and the Washington Post reported on a recent French study (published in the respected medical journal JAMA) that people whose diet is mostly organic reduced their cancer risk by 25 percent. The study followed 70,000 people over a four and a half year period. 

In January, a noted health researcher, Charles Benbrook, former executive director of the National Academy of Sciences board on agriculture, cited discrepancies in EPA's data sources, using data submitted by pesticide makers that conflicted with data from peer reviewed scientific journals. His article, published in the peer reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe, says the EPA overlooked critical data on glyphosate.

In his article, Benbrook wrote, "the EPA relied mostly on registrant-commissioned, unpublished regulatory studies, 99% of which were negative, while IARC relied mostly on peer-reviewed studies of which 70% were positive (83 of 118)." 

Benbrook also says the EPA looked only at glyphosate on its own, while the UN's IARC experts looked at formulated products that contained glyphosate (the listed active ingredient in Roundup) in combination with inert ingredients. 

In addition, Benbrook said the EPA looked at general population health risks, not specialized risks for workers or residents who used glyphosate based products on a regular basis.

[Representatives from Pesticide Action Network and CDFA did not respond to requests for comment on Cantisano's remarks.]

Friday, February 1, 2019

Sheep Evangelists Aren't Sheepish: See the Latest Video from Tablas Creek

Image result for tablas creek sheep vimeoLast week at Ecofarm, it was great to hear Nathan from Tablas Creek and Kelly Mulville from Paiscines Ranch speak about their experience with sheep in vineyard settings - year round.

While many wineries use a "rent a sheep" service for sheep grazing before bud break, a few pioneers have figured out how to use sheep to graze year round.

 At Tablas Creek, sheep also graze non vineyard areas munching on brush that would otherwise be potential forest fire fuel. But sheep do more aside from the obvious "tillage" and fertilization, they also affect vine root structure, as you'll hear in this video.

  Tablas Creek Sheep Program from Shepherd's Films on Vimeo.

I'll be writing more about the Ecofarm session at OrganicWineInsider.com. Click to learn more and subscribe. Our Organic Wine News Briefs are free.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

At the Press Conference: Unified's State of the Industry Panel Sees "Continued Growth" of the $1.4 Billion Organic Sector

L to R: Mike Veseth, Danny Brager, Melissa Lange, Jeff Bitter, and Glenn Proctor 
While organic vineyard acreage is expected to surge by nearly 6,000 acres in this year, it barely got a nod from speakers on the podium at the industry's annual State of the Industry panel session, a popular gathering that is part of Unified Wine Grape Symposium in Sacramento this week, attended by an estimated 14,000 participants.

On the podium, Glenn Proctor of The Ciatti Company mentioned organic bulk wine sales were up in Italy and in Spain, but there was no mention of organics in the U.S., which the picture is dramatically different, experts said at the press conference after the public event.

The organic sector's revenues (2 percent of U.S. off premise sales) are growing at 10 percent annually, according to Nielsen figures (from June 2017 to 2018). Two percent of California's vineyards are certified organic, and if the wine industry overall is valued at $70 billion (according to bw166 estimated from tax receipts data), the organic sector's net worth - at 2 percent of $70 billion - would be $1.4 billion annually (including both domestic and imported wines).

At the press conference after the session, speakers briefly touched on their perceptions of this market.

"We will continue to see growth in that segment," said Danny Brager, SVP of Alcohol Beverages for Nielsen, which collects the bulk of available wine industry scan data on sales revenue and volume. "I don't have the exact numbers, but it's certainly growing."

Looking to softer data culled from social media sources, Brager said, "at the messaging level, I think there's a receptive audience. In social media conversations, younger people - or people when they're talking about health stuff - the other topic that comes up is about the environment and sustainability. Organic pops up pretty heavily in terms of those conversations, which are largely younger people."

Mike Veseth, wine economist, said he was watching Shaw Organic, Bronco's new label, which launched in 2018. "They are making an effort to produce about a four or five dollar wine in Trader Joe's...a Trader Joe's buyer is likely to be interested in the organic designation. I'm keeping an eye on that."

Jeff Bitter of Allied Grape Growers said growth is moderate in terms of grape buying for those already in the organic sector. "We see the same organic buyers in the marketplace and we see moderate growth within those same groups of people. I don't have a lot of experience with new entrants coming into the market to buy a lot of grapes that for an organic program."

"I think some of the growth is either the big guys that already exist - the Fetzer's [Bonterra's] of the world, Winery Exchange [WX, whose brand Daily Red, is also sold at Trader Joe's] - people that are kind of have these brands that are already established.

"Franzia is probably going to expand internally, but in terms of new entrants into the market, I don't get a whole lot of buyers call me looking for organic grapes that are not currently in that business."

Currently Bonterra produces about 500,000 cases of "Made with Organic Grapes" wine, making it the top selling wine in that category according to Nielsen data. However Nielsen does not include Costco or Trader Joe's sales nor sales in most natural food stores throughout the country.

While Bonterra dominates U.S. sales in this category, with a 25 percent market share, seven of the top ten bestselling wines in the Made with Organic Grapes category are from foreign producers.

Frey Vineyards sales on revenue growth

Nielsen data says that "Made with Organic Grape" wines are 80% of the wines sold with organic labeling in the U.S.; the remaining 20 percent is split between the other two categories: "USDA Organic" or "Ingredients: Organic Grapes."

But no added sulfite wine producers' "USDA Organic" wines are often sold in Costco and natural foods stores not covered by Nielsen's scans.

No added sulfite wine producers at the Organic Growers Summit said sales are increasing more than 10 percent a year. Frey Vineyards' production was 270,000 cases, according to Katrina Frey, who spoke at the December summit in Monterey. Sales of Our Daily Red were up as well.

Featured in Costco in Nevada and California, Frey says the winery can't keep up with demand and has recently started importing organic grapes from Argentina. "We don't have enough wine to fill all the potential Costco markets, but with our new winery (which will be completed in May 2019), we are looking at approaching a few other regions now."

Argentina's Domaine Bousquet, which makes a line of more than 10 "Made with Organic Grapes" wines also reports that its U.S. sales are also up 10% a year.

For more industry coverage of this market sector, sign up for free Organic Wine News Briefs or subscribe to premium content at Organic Wine Insider.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Organically Grown Chardonnays Featured at Unified Wine Grape Symposium Panel

Those attending the Chardonnay panel at Unified Wine Grape Symposium blind tasted six Chardonnays
ranging from UK bubbles to Chablis to natural wine to Kendall Jackson's $16 Chardonnay at a panel session
From left to right, Virginia Philip (The Breakers), Jason Lett (Eyrie), Shaunt Oungoulian (Les Lunes), Greg Brewer (Diatom), Gary Fisch (Gary's Wine, NJ), and Ray Isle (Food and Wine).
Moderator Ray Isle, editor of Food and Wine magazine, injected humor and variety into a 90 minute exploration of the many faces of Chardonnay.

The audience first blind tasted the wines before the session began.

The big reveal brought many surprises - wines that were not among the usual suspects.

 Two of the six wines tasted were from organic vines - Jason Lett's Eyrie Vineyards Estate Chardonnay and Les Lunes' Barra Vineyard Chardonnay (140 cases, no added sulfites), a natural wine.

Note: For in-depth coverage, see Organic Wine Insider's coverage in the new Feb. issue.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Rosé Revealed: Organic Rosé Winemakers Speak at Unified Wine Grape Symposium Panel

The Rosé Revealed panelists presented details about their approach to making rosé. Organically grown rosés featured include Dianthus from Tablas Creek (left), Quivira Vineyards' rosé (center left), and DeLoach Vineyard's Estate rose of Pinot Noir (center right).
Nathalie Longefay of Provence shakes hands with panel moderator; 80% of her Provencale
clients are organic
From left to right, Brian Maloney of DeLoach Vineyards, Hugh Chappelle of Quivira Vineyards,
Chelsea Franchi, assistant winemaker, Tablas Creek; Jason Haas, Partner and General Manager, Tablas Creek
Nathalie Longefay of Cabinet d'Agronomie Provencale
Note: Subscribe to Organic Wine Insider for in depth coverage of the event and the winemaking presentations. 

Saturday, January 26, 2019

EcoFarm Celebrates Organically Grown Wines in Conference Tasting

Thursday night's celebration of organically grown wines at Ecofarm, held as Asilomar in Pacific Grove, brought cider and winemakers together for a grand tasting that included more than 30 producers. Here are a few of my top choices from the event:

Susan Feinbloom and George Davis  from Porter Creek were pouring the beautiful Pinot Noir that comes from their 17 acre estate in the Russian River Valley. George had the good fortune of buying land there early on and planting what are now some of the oldest Pinot Noir vines in California. His son Alex Davis is the wine maker, and he and his helpers usually pour. In years of being a fan and an ardent buyer of their wines, I had never met George. So that was a pleasure!

Zoubeida and Remi Zajac's Powicana Farms is among my newest favorites, since I only found them in 2018, but news of their incredible Petite Sirah had gotten around to me earlier when the couple won a double gold for their reserve Petite Sirah in the 2017 Mendocino Wine Competition.

Dan Berger was inspired to write about their 2015 wine, a rarity because it's seldom that a wine critic ventures into writing about wines from Redwood Valley. The area is the organic heartland, with more than 25% of the acres certified organic - a higher percentage than any other appellation. Much of the area was originally planted by Italian families; today the Barra's and the Frey's are the biggest growers and vintners.

The Zajac's, who are French emigres, made their first wine in 2013 from the 10 acre vineyard they purchased, converting it to Biodynamic certification in 2015 after they settled here. They dry farm and practice no till in the vineyard.  Powicana's wines - made with ambient (or native) yeasts from grapes they grow themselves - are gems that truly reflect the red clay terroir.

They make Petite Sirah five ways - as a rose, a sparkling rose pet nat, a still red wine, a reserve still wine and a port. Word got around - that sparkling pink was the wine of the night!

Another fine winery whose lovely wines are too often under the radar is Manzanita Manor, a project of Jutta Thoerner and Cynthia Douglas, who mostly raise organic walnuts on 100 acres of land. They also lease 30 acres of public land in San Luis Obispo County, growing wine grapes on 5 acres.

From the traditional Portuguese varities they planted there, they make a port style wine that is the only no added sulfite port in the U.S. It's also the only all organic port as well, fortified with organic brandy.

The two sell walnuts, too - including both their raw organic walnuts and their chocolate covered organic walnuts, another hit. (The chocolate is organic and fair trade, to boot).

For those who are crazy about walnuts, their online store sells sprouted walnuts, walnut flour, walnut oil, walnut butter and a wide variety of flavored walnuts.

They recommend pairing the chocolate walnuts with the port. There was standing room only at their stand when I visited at the tasting, with people only too delighted to try the combo.


Other wineries with wines from certified organic vines pouring at the event included:

Made with Organic Grapes (bottle labeled)
• Bonterra Vineyards
• Chance Creek Vineyards
• Preston Farm & Winery (Biodynamic)

No Added Sulfite Wines (bottle labeled)
• Frey Vineyards
• La Rocca Vineyards

Ingredients; Organic Grapes
• Frog’s Leap Winery
• Robert Sinskey Vineyards (bottle labeled)

Wineries that have some organically grown wines (but not all of their wines are organically grown); no bottle labeling
• Raymond Vineyards & DeLoach Estate (Biodynamic) 
• Storrs Winery & Vineyards (certified organic in the estate vineyard in 2018)
• Winery Sixteen 600 (negociant)

Thursday, January 17, 2019

French TV Explores Glyphosate Debate: See a Clip Here

Vallejo's Dewayne Johnson, the first plaintiff to successfully sue Monsanto for cancer related to Roundup use, is featured in this brief excerpt from the two hour French TV documentary that aired last night in France.


 See more (38 min. excerpt) from the whole documentary online here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Your Weekly Dose of Glyphosate News: Reuter's News Source Faked, German Regulators' Possible Plagiarism, A Professor's Exposé, a French Court's Ban and a Prime Time Debate

France 2 will air a major documentary about the pros and cons of glyphosate Thursday night
It's been an action packed week in the Dept. of News About Glyphosate with five major developments:

1. Was a Reuter's News reporter reporting on the facts? or acting as a puppet promoting Monsanto's point of view? Litigators find new evidence of possible deception and questionable journalistic ethics.

2. Did EU regulators plagiarize Monsanto documents in reviewing the health risks of glyphosate based herbicides? EU members of Parliament say yes, after examining key documents from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR)

3. In a parallel universe in the U.S. how did IARC find glyphosate to be a probable carcinogen while the EPA did not? One professor's analysis boils down to the data each body considered. With the EPA, Monsanto presented only data from private industry studies; IARC's team of experts looked only at studies that meet peer reviewed scientific journal standards.

4. A French court found that French environmental protections failed to be enforced in the matter of the most widely used weedkiller and banned its use in France effective immediately.

5. France 2 will air controversial documentary on the pros and cons of glyphosate, sparking national debate.


Lawyers combing through Bayer and Monsanto documents for pending litigation have found new clues that Reuters' top reporter on glyphosate may have been less than honest about her sources when she wrote about Monsanto's herbicides.
Image result for kate kelland reuters
Kate Kelland, Reuters

The current court cases pending against Bayer by plaintiffs (who claim that Monsanto's glyphosate based herbicides caused them to get cancer) have turned up evidence that revises the narrative a Reuters News reporter, Kate Kelland, published earlier, suggesting that the journalist may have promoted a biased view supporting Monsanto's talking points.

Reviewing new material in the matter, plaintiff's attorneys say that court documents do not support an earlier claim by Reuters reporter Kate Kelland that evidence in her reporting was based on court documents. Rather, the lawyers say, Kelland relied upon internal documents promoting Monsanto's point of view - documents that are not in the public record.

For more on this story, see U.S. Right To Know's coverage here.


Did European regulators perform their analysis of glyphosate based formulations in a pro-active manner? Or did they regurgitate Monsanto's point of view?

See the story in The Guardian for more coverage.


Have you wondered why IARC and the EPA could come to such different conclusions about the health risks of glyphosate? A new analysis of the data sources presented says the devil's in the data presented - and omitted.

Fellow scientists point out that IARC is an independent body of scientists with no regulatory power while both EFSA and the EPA are regulators, subject to political pressure.

According to the Guardian, U.S. pesticide expert Charles Benbrook found that:
"EPA regulators used unpublished industry reports in 63% of the studies they evaluated, whereas the IARC relied solely on publicly available literature. 
"Almost three-quarters of the peer-reviewed papers looked at by IARC found evidence of genotoxicity in glyphosate, compared with just 1% of the industry analyses, according to the study published in Environmental Sciences Europe."

See Benbrook's full analysis here.


Claiming that French environmental officials failed to enforce health and safety protections against glyphosate adequately, a French court in Lyon banned the agricultural chemical.

For more on this story, read France 2's coverage here.


France 2 will be airing a major television report on glyphosate Thursday, Jan. 17. For more on that story, click here.

French Court Bans Glyphosate Use in France

Image result for Court of Lyon france

PARIS (Reuters) - A French court canceled the license for one of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weedkillers on Tuesday over safety concerns, placing an immediate ban on Roundup Pro 360 in the latest legal blow to the Bayer-owned business.

A court in Lyon in southeast France ruled that the approval granted by French environment agency ANSES in 2017 for Roundup Pro 360 had failed to take into account potential health risks.

“This is a great first, which must be repeated,” Corinne Lepage, a former French environment minister and member of environment association CRIIGEN that brought the court case, said of the ruling on Twitter.

Read the full story on the Reuters web site.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

My New (FREE) Industry News Blog Launches! Check Out Organic Wine News Briefs

Organic Wine News Briefs has now officially launched. This is my new blog for industry news.

It's the first wave of a broader initiative I'm launching called Organic Wine Insider, a newsletter for the wine industry that covers news about the organic sector of the wine industry.

This paid subscription newsletter - with fresh, original news content - will launch later this month, but the FREE news (culled from the internet) is available for subscription now.

Check both of them out here!

Monday, December 31, 2018

What Readers Wanted to Know About: 2018's Most Popular Posts

This blog took a giant leap forward in 2018!

Overall traffic increased a lot though the data is a bit imprecise. (Blogger's analytics doesn't let you specify a date range to measure, unlike the more powerful Google Analytics). But it's clear 2018 was the most popular year by far.

Thank you, readers!

That Mancozeb Story

The peak traffic in August was a record breaking 17,000 plus page views for that month alone (although I have never written anything for the sake of increasing page views).

The August spike was for several posts I wrote here questioning the lack of enforcement in Sonoma's and others' sustainability programs that got picked up by Wine Industry Insight and WineBusiness.com headlines' pages.

A prominent certified sustainable vineyard owner was using Mancozeb, a dangerous chemical not permitted under Fish Friendly Farming certification, the sustainability program he was certified under. (Therefore he was not in compliance with the requirements for Sonoma's Certified Sonoma Sustainable program).

That sparked a controversy, a response from the Sonoma Certified Sustainable program spokesperson and changes in the vineyard company's behavior. And the story was the inspiration for the Hosemaster of Wine, who wrote a blog post on being sorta sustainable that reached an international audience.

The grower has now stopped using Mancozeb, so I have removed the post about this for now.

My hope is that other growers will think twice before using chemicals that are among the more toxic options.

Unfortunately, the grower's grapes from the Mancozeb period (and his family winery) continue to be sold as Sonoma County Sustainable; no censure has taken place.

This affects not only the vineyard owning family's wines, but all the wineries that buy those grapes.

Since the family has about 1,000 acres of grape vines and more than 50 wineries purchase grapes from them, the misrepresentation affects hundreds of wines that may display the Sonoma County Sustainable labels.


• Pesticides 
Roundup wins in court, glyphosate test results for wine published, pesticides' tastes detectable in French wine study
This blog is the only place I know of that provides coverage of pesticides and wine, so perhaps it's not surprising that this topic alone was the biggest share of page views. 

It was also a very big year for stories about glyphosate in particular, and I was privileged to get a front row seat on some of the scientific proceedings related to these cases (which I wrote about in an article published on Civil Eats). 

A big thank you to the world class scientists who testified for their research and for their voices.

• Wine Culture
The movie Somm, the new book The Sommelier's Atlas of Taste
Does organics need to get a bigger voice in projects like this? Yes. 

What should happen next? 

In my dreams, Somm 4 would replicate the French tasting research on the taste of pesticides in wine. Wouldn't that be fun? 

And 60 Minutes would do an exposé on the use of pesticides in vineyards, just like their French equivalent - Cash Investigations - has. 

• Biodynamics
Should Jancis Robinson bone up on BD? Where to learn more (conference schedule)
Demystifying the basics of required farming practices and the economics of Biodynamic wine grape growing should be high on everyone's to do list. It's not voodoo; it's your great grandparents' farming.

• Green Wine  
Consumer insights from a pro, and the top organic growers in Sonoma
Younger consumers want greener wines, preferring organic and regenerative practices to "sustainable."


Here were the hottest posts and topics of the year (with page view counts in bold).

1. A New Type of Wine Score - Glyphosate Levels | 3,439

Could consumers care about glyphosate in wine? Yes they could. The most popular blog post of the year was on this subject.

Moms Across America's second round of wine testing (in 2018; the first was in 2016) found 150X differences between conventionally grown wine and an organically grown brand and soon all of their FB audience (and its extended reach) knew.

(Postscript: When I wrote the blog post about the Moms' testing findings, the Wine Institute had bought an ad for the search results people might use to find out about the ad which I mentioned in the blog post. After that post was published, the Wine Institute removed its ad buy for the terms "Moms Across America glyphosate.").

Now the Moms group is actively promoting the first wine certified "Glyphosate Free" (although the cap is only 10 ppb, not 0, which could allow many organically grown wines to qualify if this labeling becomes popular with consumers).

2.  Monsanto Roundup Trial - Closing Arguments - Slides + Photos | 2,830

Trial documents from the case of DeWayne Lee Johnson versus Monsanto showed vividly how exposure to glyphosate led to a fatal diagnosis of non Hodgkin lymphoma. By year's end, stock in Monsanto's new parent company, Bayer, was worth half as much as it was a year ago.

Public opinion about the herbicide's safety also shifted following the jury's decision to impose fines of $289 million in damages against Monsanto. Though the fines were reduced, the stock price has not bounced back, amounting to a loss of billions.

More than 8,000 additional cases are pending in U.S. courts.

3. French Wine Study Finds Wine Lovers Can Taste Pesticides in Wine | 1,498

Is something missing in WSET and MW exams? French pesticide researcher Gilles-Eric Seralini and chef Jerome Douzelet found that top tasters could write tasting notes describing the flavors of various commonly used wine grape pesticides, a topic not frequently studied but with potentially serious implications.

4. An Organic Business Model: Napa's Shining Star - Ted, Laddie and Chris Hall's Growing Organic Enterprise | 1,107 

When the Halls bought the iconic Napa white wine (and celebrated Chardonnay maker) producer Stony Hill, it was the latest step in their path to building a multigenerational, organic-as-a-family-value winery and vertically integrated company.

5. Somm 3: Yes You Must See This Movie | 835

Published less than a month ago, this story generated 800+ views. Somm 3 is fun - and elitist. And you should see it.

6. Jancis Robinson Sings Biodynamic Wine's Praises - But Is More Education Needed? | 835

After seeing yet another bonafide wine writer at the top of her game write a piece about Biodynamic wine and painting it with a little bit of the Harry Potter/Hogwarts brush, I decided enough was enough. It's time for all wine professionals to be better grounded in their education about Biodynamic's agronomic basis and why it matters - especially in the time of climate change. Time to put away the old tropes.

7. Biodynamic Association's 2018 Conference in Portland Will Feature Biodynamic Vintners and Wines | 621

Here was one place to learn more (in October) and get the information people need to write intelligently about Biodynamic wineries.

Of course, the best place was in May at the International Biodynamic Wine Conference in SF. See that web site for a list of speakers, topics and the Grand Tasting program guide with a list of wines and wineries. It's a great online resource.

8. Raj Parr and Jordan Mackay's New Wine Book: The Classic European Wines You - and Millenials Raised on Natural Wines - Need to Know | 598

When the meme / pendulum swings too far toward the sulfite debate (i.e. natural wines), a top somm and food writer champion the great estates of Europe and traditional fine wines, which come from terroir driven vignerons.

9. Green Wine Insights: An Interview with Eco Wine Survey Author and Sonoma State Wine Business Professor Liz Thach, MW | 573 

A wine business professor's students poll finds preferences for organic and Biodynamic wines rate higher than for sustainable wines. And respondents say they're willing to pay more for these wines.

10. Top 10 Organic Vineyards by Size - Sonoma | 500

Few people know who's who in organic wine grape growing in Sonoma (or Napa) so I compiled this basic list. (I published a Napa list in 2017.)

Wishing you a happy and healthy wine loving year in 2019!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Bonterra and Biodynamics Star in New Amazon Prime Wine Series

Biodynamics gets a starring role in the new wine series launching Jan. 4 on Amazon Prime.

Episode 3 of the new series It Starts with Wine showcases the Biodynamic wine program at Bonterra in Hopland. It couples the story of Joseph Brinkley, vineyard manager at Bonterra, with a local burger shop chef, adding in the natural beauty of northern California in Mendocino and Sonoma. Food, wine and travel - all together.

See the trailer here.

While the series is aimed at a general audience, it's no old-white-men-on-wine series like most wine shows. This one's for you, Millenials! 

As Wine Enthusiast knows (and they created the series), the wine industry needs to convine Millenials to buy wine. The wine industry needs to hang on to as much market share as it can, in the face of more competition from wine and spirits drinkers in the Millenial generation.

Wine Enthusiast created the three episode series - which includes Uruguay, Argentina and California (organic) - as an episodic program; more episodes to come. 

The series couples wine people (vineyard guys, winemakers, owners) with low key home chefs (and semi-pros) enjoying wine with meals, surfing, riding horses, having cookouts, playing guitars and cooking with family and friends - lifestyle marketing at its finest. Characters, more than wine, figure prominently.

In the California Organic episode, expert comments from U.C. Farm Advisor (and organic and Biodynamic expert) Glenn McGourty, Wine Enthusiast editor Jim Gordon and Fetzer winemaker Bob Blue (founding winemaker of Bonterra) add enjoyable heft to the California show.

Little of the program focuses on the taste of wine, but focuses rather on selling wine as part of a groovy family lifestyle.


• The down home film stands in contrast to the rarified, complicated world of wine in the Somm films - selling wine as part of everyday enjoyment in life
• It features real wine experts including Glenn McGourty Jim Gordon, and Bob Blue
• It showcases the natural beauty of Sonoma and Mendocino (welcome to see after the fires have dented wine tourism in the North Coast)
• Nice drone shots!
• Reminds one of the way Bonterra originally sold organically grown wine - with organic food - at its early days Food and Wine center in Hopland (long gone), where the greats like Julia Child came to cook


• It focuses on a lot of lifestyle shots as opposed to flavors of wine or really any information about wine
• Bonterra's Biodynamic wine program is the film's focus (290 acres of vineyards and 2,000 cases of Demeter certified Made with Biodynamic Grapes wine), but the wine brand's main production is 498,000 cases of Bonterra wines that are actually organically grown and are Biodynamic. There's really no explanation of organics.
• The film doesn't show the animal integration or other holistic elements that are at the heart of the Biodynamic concept.

All in all, it's a pleasure to see an Amazon Prime series bring the word "Biodynamic" and "organic" in wine in a positive light.

The Press Release

Wine Enthusiast Media is pleased to announce the launch of It Starts With Wine, an original series premiering on Amazon Prime Video January 4th, 2019.

The episodic series travels the globe and follows the world's best winemakers, growers, producers and personalities, along with prominent chefs and celebrities, to offer viewers an inside look at the people, locations, cuisines and cultures that surround the wine lifestyle and the world's finest wines and spirits.

The first episode in the groundbreaking cinematic series features famed chef and restaurateur Francis Mallmann, with acclaimed "flying winemaker" Alberto Antonini, set against the beautiful backdrop of Uruguay and one of the country's premier wineries, Bodega Garzon.

"We felt that the best way to convey these stories was in episodic fashion," says Jay Spaleta, Executive Producer and Wine Enthusiast SVP. "Wine Enthusiast has long been an innovator in wine information, reviews and content, this is the next bold step in that content leadership."
"It Starts With Wine is a docuseries that tells a personal story and shares deep insights in a way that is very approachable, engaging and revealing," continues Spaleta.

Wine Enthusiast Media will be simultaneously releasing episodes I, II and III for viewers binge-watching pleasure. The series will be available on Amazon Prime Video in North America and Vimeo's On Demand premium video service globally.

Episode II of It Starts With Wine follows doctor / vintner Laura Catena and musician / chef Deborah De Corral on a visit to Bodega Catena Zapata, the renowned Argentine Winery. Founded in 1902, Catena is known for bringing traditional European winemaking methods to South America.

Episode III travels to California to look at biodynamic viticulture with Joseph Brinkley, vineyard director at Bonterra Organic Vineyards and explores the simplicity of elemental food with chef Garrett Sathre.

About Wine Enthusiast:

Wine Enthusiast Media creates innovative long and short-format content in the wine, spirits, travel and lifestyle categories. Wine Enthusiast Media is the production division of Wine Enthusiast Companies founded in 1979, and publisher of Wine Enthusiast magazine.

For more info visit: https://itstartswithwine.com

For media inquiries, image, footage and interview requests:
John Van Dekker

SOURCE Wine Enthusiast Media

Bottom Line: The Biggest Little Farm, a film that had audiences at Mill Valley Film Festival weeping over the beauty of the whole farm approach, is the real deal film about Biodynamics, even though it doesn't show the preps, etc. The documentary has spring 2019 release date and even though it's not about wine, it's the best introduction to the whole farm approach one could get.

Perhaps someone will have the brilliant idea of showcasing the two films together - Double feature, anyone?