Wednesday, December 28, 2011

26 Million Pounds of Insecticides and Herbicides Used in 2010 to Grow Wine Grapes

The news that California's use of pesticides increased, including insecticides and herbicides, on wine grape acreage today was - obviously - not good.

The state Dept. of Pesticide Regulation published the statewide statistics on pesticide use for 2010 today.

The statistics are somewhat complex and will take me awhile to dive into. (And I may have to wait until after the holidays to get to it.)

In the meantime, read the state's report on 2010 usage - click here. Go to page 69 for the wine grape section.

In a nutshell, Roundup (glysophate) was down 9% - a good thing - but other substances were up, some rather dramatically, including copper and sulfur (used against powdery mildew), which are both allowed under organic regulations.

Click on the image below to increase its size.

All the More Reason to Celebrate: Sparkling Wines Going Green

Terra Savia's Blanc de Blanc, $23
Tis the season to raise a glass of the bubbly, so I am rerunning this post (originally published in the spring of 2011).

Celebrating with a glass of "green champagne" is getting easier.

I counted up the number of producers offering organic bubbly this week and came up with 8 current vintages (with more on the way).

Mendocino, the greenest wine region, currently leads the pack with a total of six - count 'em - six CCOF certified "made with organic grapes" sparkling wines:

Sparkling Whites

1. 2006 Blanc de Blanc, Terra
Savia, organic, $23 (usually available at Whole Foods)
2. Brut, McFadden, $25
3. NV Brut, Paul Dolan, organic, $27.99
4. 2005 Brut, Jeriko Estate, organic, $38.95

Sparkling Rose's

5. 2005 Brut Rose, Jeriko Estate, organic, $48.95
6. 2006 Brut Rose, Handley Cellars, $40

Russian River and Napa

Other organic sparkling wines from California include:
1. Organic Brut, Korbel, organic,  $15 (Russian River)
2. 2007 Rose Cuvee de la Pompadour, Domaine Carneros, organic, $36 (Carneros)

Newer vintages from Domaine Carneros (starting with 2010) will be organic.

The Difference

A Tale of Two Vineyards
This is why I do what I am doing. The field on the left is organically grown. The field on the right is not. Can you see a difference, and then, which grapes would you like your wine to be made from?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Trendspotting in Mill Valley: Organically Grown Wine Sightings On The Rise

On the little side street in Mill Valley which gave birth to such trendy spots at Tartine Bakery lies a wonderful pizza eatery - it's called Small Shed Flatbreads.

Enjoying a light pre-theater holiday meal with friends there the day before Christmas (and then tooling down the little lane to 142 Throckmorton Theatre around the corner to see our stage designer friend's sets for A Christmas Carol), I was shocked to see no less than 4 organically grown wines on the wine menu - 3 of them certified (Ceago Rose of Syrah, Jeriko Pinot Noir and Chance Creek's Sauvignon Blanc) and one that I am not sure if it's certified - Zero Manipulation - from Tollini. All are grapes from Mendocino and Lake County.

That is 4 out of 14 wines or 28%.

I am still looking for a restaurant that has more than 50% but at least the numbers are creeping upward.

After the play, I sauntered over to the Mill Valley Market, the village's foodie heartbeat, where I saw no less than 10 organically grown wines for sale - ALL PROPERLY LABELED (save one). I spoke to the wine guy on duty Christmas Eve and asked him if he had many customers asking for organically grown wines. His answer was not very clear or to the point, but he did say he tasted a lot of them and mostly didn't find the quality he was looking for. However, he may have been presented with USDA no sulfite wines. I told him about my The Map and gave him a card, so he could find this blog and The Map to further his options.

On sale in the store are the usual suspects with good distribution - Grgich Hills (estate only), Frog's Leap (not CCOF because they blend in some uncertified grapes they purchase), Qupe (estate only), and a few others. may be only a matter of time now that organically grown wine becomes The Thing To Do.

View Mill Valley Market in a larger map

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Organic Sommelier Association? What Do You Think?

I am thinking of putting together an Organic Sommelier Association to help promote wine education of organically grown wines for sommeliers. What do you think? Would you be interested?

Or would wine education classes for consumers be something you would be more interested in?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Winter Wine Trip? Stay In a Winery/Lodge on the Way to Ski Country

El Dorado County's only organically grown wines can be found at Fitzpatrick Winery and Lodge, a five bedroom log cabin bed and breakfast located in Fair Play, south of Route 50 and north of Route 88.

If you're heading to South Lake Tahoe, it's a 45 minute detour off Route 50 to get to the winery which boasts a roaring fire and a giant Christmas tree in the lodge.

View Larger Map

Owner and founder Brian Fitzpatrick, a U.C. Davis graduate with a degree in soil and water science, arrived in the region in 1980 and started the first winery in Fair Play, which is located in the southern portion of El Dorado County. There are now 19 wineries in Fair Play and 34 total in the county.

Fitzpatrick's is the only organic one among them. Here's a view of the vineyards.

Fitzpatrick, who is Irish, and only to happy to explain the contribution of the Irish to the history of wine in America, and his wife Diana, who is of Basque descent, offer plenty of hospitality in the lodge, which is located at the top of a hill at 2,500 feet of elevation. There are 360 degree views from the property.

They also name their wines with homages to their native traditions - their Sauvignon Blanc is named "Eire Ban Sauvignon Blanc," their Basque Heritage Red "Tippitonia," and, most uniquely of all, their Sangiovese is named Tir na nOg or "our Irish Chianti."

Ah America.

And as if that wasn't enough frivolity to make you curious enough to visit and try their wine (tasting is free), check out their friend's fire breathing dragon, from this video made at the winery.

There are many more videos about Fitzpatrick Winery and Lodge on YouTube. Click here for more.

China and USDA Organic Wine

Earlier this year, I featured a photo with Katrina Frey in her family's Redwood Valley winery with cases of Frey Wine destined for China.

Following up on that conversation, this week I was able to connect with her distributor in China, Hidden Valley Cellars, run by "Morris" Wang (his self-given American first name - his real name is You Wei Wang), to learn more about the reception for wines labeled with the USDA Organic symbol that he is importing.

Fore more information about Hidden Valley Cellars, click here.

So far, Wang, who's based in LA when he's not in China, has sold 4-5,000 cases of wine from three California wineries, or about $500,000 worth of imports.

But he says it's an uphill battle. "People in China do not care about the organic concept. It is more of a time to do education," he says. Because wine education is in such an early stage, consumers are not yet savvy enough to grasp the organic versus regular difference, he says.

However, organic food is a big topic.

"The government is promoting the organic concept a lot," Morris said. "Food safety is a big priority for the government and they talk about it a lot." This, he said, is in response to the many recent scandals where fake things have been added to food - and to wine - in China.

Brian Goldbeck, Consul General of the United States in Guangzhou
holding a bottle of Marilyn Merlot auctioned at the
Quangdong International Wine Spirits Expo in Pazhou
Wang has been promoting both Frey and Madonna Estates certified organically grown wines along with a Napa label called Marilyn Merlot (which apparently contains some organic grapes blended in).

Katrina Frey was invited by Wang to participate in a big symposium and conference on Wine in China, in a program about organic wines, but the event was cancelled.

Another obstacle for California wines in China is the Chinese preference for French wine. "People don't know that much about wine from California," Wang says.

Wine is also very price sensitive in China, he says.

Wang's wife works with a trade group affiliated with the U.S. Consulate in South China.

Quoted on the Chinese news web site Life of Guangzhou, Cecilia Cai, president of Pearl River Delta American Wine Import Association, which promotes American wines in China, said that "American wine has better cost performance than French wine, and has a rich flowery fragrance and strong taste." - Great Site, Bad Labeling

I never thought when I started this blog, that I would spend so much time and energy looking at labeling issues. But they turn out to be a crux issue right now - where so much of the wine industry is in denial about certification.

Saying you are organic in the food world won't get you very far. Certification gives you entree to higher prices for your wares, in general, so there's a clear incentive to get that seal of approval and government labeling.

The wine world seems to have thrown that model out the window. Everyone and their mother can be not only "sustainable" and "earth-friendly" but also "organic."

Witness the guidance given here on the wine country tour and reservations site GoVine. I like GoVine's functionality and it should be a great resource for helping you locate wineries with certified organically and biodynamically grown wines. Instead I visited the site this morning and witnessed this strange screen guiding me to organic and biodynamic wineries:

Unfortunately only Araujo has any certification (they're biodynamic, but are very elite, their wines allocated to a small group of buyers with unlimited budgets, and don't accept tours or visitors so you couldn't really visit). 

None of the other wineries mentioned has any wines made from only certified grapes, so to call them organic or biodynamic is very strange indeed.

Unable to find a phone number for GoVine, I've emailed them about this labeling and will provide an update after hearing back from them.

A New Label in Small Lots: Reinking

Scott Reinking once worked at Whole Foods where he was the wine buyer in the Marin stores. Now you're more likely to find him in a vineyard, working the land.

He started his own small label, Reinking, in 1997 and purchases grapes from organic sources, including McFadden in Mendocino's Potter Valley, Testa (near Ukiah) and the Upton's, also in the Ukiah area.

Reinking makes a Chardonnay and a Riesling from McFadden grapes.

(He also makes a Zin but the grapes are not certified).

Reinking's wines are made in small lots - only 100-150 cases each - and are affordably priced for supermarket sales. For instance, the Chardonnay above sells for about $12.

He also tends a vineyard in Sonoma County, where he says he enjoys working without having to wear a mask for spraying.

Visit Reinking's Facebook page to ask where Reinking wines are sold.

Monday, December 12, 2011

In Pictures: Chardonnay and Syrah

Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka continues to amuse and inspire with her visual wine tasting notes. She's lately turned out a few about various varietals. And added color! Enjoy:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Let's Make The Whole Thing Up: Down the Rabbit Hole with Natural Foods Store's Wine Labeling Madness

Yesterday I explored a wine bar in Palo Alto and asked if they carried any organically grown wines.

They said they didn't have much but suggested I visit the natural food store across the street. So I traipsed across the street, eager to see if they had any new-to-me organically grown wines.

I was quite surprised to find a number of wines with shelf talkers created and posted by the store for wines that claimed to be organically grown that I had never heard of.

Upon closer inspection, I saw a lot of errors.

This was definitely a Down the Rabbit Hole experience where everything I know to be true about wine labeling was suddenly re-purposed with wild abandon.

There is a moral to this story (skip to the bottom for it).

In this wine department, things are not usually what they appear to be. (I wish they'd passed out the Kool Aid.)

Bear with me through a few examples and you will see what I mean.

1. "Made with Organic Grapes"

This is the language that can appear on bottles that the federal government and a certifier have certified as containing wine made only from certified organic grapes.

At this store, however, the wine manager uses this term to mean "practicing organic" - no certification involved - an interesting case of re-appropriating a commonly used legal term and turning it into quite another descriptor. However there's no explanation anywhere in the store that says that this phrase means "practicing organic."

2. "Made with Certified Organic Grapes"(invented term by this natural foods store)

This wine retailer has created this term to mean what the feds mean by the above term (Made with Organic Grapes). Confused yet? Wait - it gets better.

This is assigned to wines that are NOT made with certified grapes. (I don't think this was necessarily intentional on the part of the store, but it is certainly not accurate.)

See here: Leojami Wine...which has not one certified organic grape in it:

The grower claims to be practicing organic but nothing is certified organic in this bottle.
Just to confuse matters further, the Girasole Pinot Noir, which is actually certified organically grown (and HAS a CCOF label on the back) is listed with a shelf-talker that says it is in this wine retailers' practicing organic category since it does not say certified organic grapes.

So to recap: the ones that is not certified (Leojami) says it's certified and the one that IS certified (Girasole) says it's not certified. Are you with me so far?

This natural foods store uses the language the USDA applies to certified organic grapes - which is legally "Made with Organic Grapes" to mean "Made with Practicing Organic Grapes" yet falls down because this bottle is actually made with certified grapes (with the CCOF label on the back) - Go figure! 
3. "Made with Certified Biodynamic Grapes"

This term the wine retailer assigns to wine which is not biodynamic at all.

Labeled "Biodynamic" on bar code (it is CCOF certified grapes) but it is not biodynamic nor has its grower ever said it was biodynamic
This bottle is made with grapes that are not certified organic or biodynamic but this retailer labels it Made with Biodynamicallly Grown Grapes

The moral of the story?

1. Don't believe the shelf talkers.
2. Read the certification labels on the back of the bottle (CCOF, Demeter, etc.)
3. When you see a problem, tell the wine retailer.

To their credit, this wine retailer has agreed to correct these inaccuracies, once I spoke with them about the wines that were clearly labeled in error.

But we the consumer shouldn't have to play this role.

And retailers should face meaningful fines when they mislabel things so broadly.

Organic Option at BevMo: Rare Earth

Fred Franzia (of Bronco Wine, the folks behind two buck Chuck and their organically grown Green Fin wine, both available at Trader's Joe's) appears to be branching out into BevMo with a new label of organically grown wines sourced from Mendocino grapes.

I'm not sure why they are called Rare Earth - makes me think of rare earth minerals from China which is not a good association with the wine.

Any tasting notes from the audience yet?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Attention Organic Connoisseurs: Another Great Gift Idea - A Gift Card from Yield Wine Bar

There's not many wine bars that offer gift certificates, and fewer still that are exclusively organic - but we're lucky. We have Yield and Pause, both in the city, and each offers locally grown organically farmed wines.

Visit either location to pick up a gift card for you and yours this holiday season. Makes a great business gift, too!

Pause is also the perfect place to host your holiday or other party. Contact them for details.

Click below for more info.


Dec. 10-11 (This Weekend) in Santa Barbara: Bottle Signing with Jim Clendenen

Au Bon Climat winemaker Jim Clendenen

Want a SIGNED bottle of wine? Winemaker Jim Clendenen, who makes some organically grown wines, will be in his Santa Barbara tasting room this weekend from 1-4 pm on both Saturday and Sunday to pour wine and sign bottles. 

Clendenen is famous for making Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays with great finesse and balance.

Some of the wines from Clendenen Family Vineyards are made from certified organically grown grapes. (Clendenen has about 6 different labels - only this one is organic.) The organically grown list includes Pinot Noir (which he's famous for), Chardonnay (also famous for), and the Syrah/Viognier blend. These range in price from $35-60.

Not all of the wines available in the tasting room are in the online wine shop listings on his web site so be sure to contact the tasting room in Santa Barbara for more information about library wines.

If you can't make it this weekend, you can stop in any time for tastings, The fee to taste is $10.

Here's the tasting room location: 813 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.

Note: The winery does not offer vineyard tours; it is open twice a year for warehouse sales (in spring and fall) for one day only.

Turning Water Into Wine: 430 Gallons of Water for One Gallon of Central Valley Wine

I just finished reading Wine Wars over the weekend - it's a breathless, breezy read on a smattering of topics. No real wars mentioned, but fun to read anyway.

One of the most interesting sections to me was the one on water use. Mike Vesreth, professor of international political economy at the University of Puget Sound, better known for his blog, The Wine Economist, says "It takes 75 gallons of water in the vineyard to grow the grapes for one gallon of California North Coast area wine. That seems pretty inefficient until you compare it with Central Valley production, where the ratio is 430 gallons in the vineyard to one gallon of wine!"

(These stats come from the Wine Business Monthly 2008 article The End of Cheap, Plentiful Water.)

California doesn't regulate groundwater, in contrast to Oregon and Washington which do have some regulations.

Understandably, Europeans find it hard to understand the notion of terroir in the U.S. since for the French and the rest of Europe, terroir is not applied to irrigated crops. Terroir is the essence of the land, the grape, the geography, the climate, and other factors expressed in the wine.

It was really only in the 1970s that U.S. wine grapes were irrigated - both to grow them in a desert (the Central Valley for instance) and to increase yields (everywhere in California). Frost protection is another water use for colder climate growers in Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake County as well as Napa.

The industry is addicted to water as much as it is to chemicals. (Fewer than 3% of all wine grape acreage in California is certified organic).

In 2009, the California State Dept. of Water Resources fined Gallo $70k for diverting the Russian River to fill an illegal irrigation pond in Sonoma County. Activists in Anderson Valley and elsewhere have been even more alarmed about frost protection practices.

Coincidentally, the day I originally wrote this post (May 31, 2011 - I just published it today), the New York Times' Science Times section, ran a story entitled "Groundwater Depletion Is Detected From Space," appeared on the rapidly declining water table in California's Central Valley, tellingly revealed via satellite data.

As you can see in the infographic on the right, the darkest areas are the ones with the greatest level of decrease in the last 7 years. The Central Valley is the darkest area in the state, having reduced its groundwater reserves 11 feet in the last seven years.

And just what is California's major crop - what is it that we are making with all our water? Wine grapes and almonds are our two biggest cash crops (after dairy).

The state produced $2.2 billion in wine grapes alone (not counting wine) in 2009-2010 on 489,000 acres of land, according to the California Dept. of Food and Agriculture's annual report.

While other crops use water at higher rates (rice and cotton), the story of water use in the wine grape industry has not really been told. The overall water use is a subject we, the public, know little about.

Alice Feiring wrote about coming water issues in a 2007 article that is one of the more insightfully written pieces on the subject:

Those who endorse dry farming see things in a starker light. "The mind-set of irrigation needs to be challenged. It is just like the great gas-guzzling cars that we have decided are our God-given right to drive," says John Paul Cameron, an Oregon winemaker who's a founding member of the Deep Roots Coalition. 

Writing in the notoriously opinionated Anderson Valley Advertiser, Will  Parrish reminds us that our wine industry is highly concentrated:

An overwhelming majority of grapes are purchased and made into wine by a mere seven corporations.

Here's more about that from a New York Times overview of our wine industry:

Some California wineries are huge. The E. & J. Gallo winery, for example, the largest in the world, produces 75 million cases a year, or one in every four bottles sold in America. The second largest is Constellation Wines U.S., part of Constellations Brands, the world’s largest wine company. Constellation’s United States properties, which include Robert Mondavi, Franciscan and Simi, produce about 50 million cases a year. The Wine Group, which includes Franzia, Glen Ellen and Concannon, makes 25 million cases, and Bronco, the parent of Charles Shaw – better known as “Two Buck Chuck” – produces 9 million cases annually.

The 25 largest California wineries produce 90 percent of the state’s wine...

(It's worth noting that only 3 of the 123 winery brands listed in The Map below of organic/biodynamic wineries is owned by one of these seven companies.)

Isn't it time for a better understanding of California's water supply and the largest water users in our wine industry?

I know there are stories of improving water use out there from the top corporations - but so far most of the stories I've heard are about greening the winemaking side of their operations (which is laudable but not the whole story) - not the grape growing.

How is this sustainable?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Think You Know Napa? Think Again - Special Napa Secrets Tour in the Works!

I am planning a special tour for the new Meetup group that will take place on a weekend day in Jan. or Feb.

We'll go to visit three of the valley's great organic viticulturists - one on a mountain top, one on a mountain side and one in the valley - and all of these are certified organic.

One is a great environmentalist, with high scores from Robert Parker, and two are well known vineyard managers whose own wines have gotten rave reviews, including Top 100 Wines from the Chronicle's annual picks.

So ... stay tuned for details!

In the meantime, you might want to join the Meetup group to get information about this and other upcoming tours. Click here.

The Secret to Keeping Your Everyday Wine Buying Organic and Simple

DON'T: Don't try to buy wine at the store - the organically grown wines are usually not there
I was just talking to an organic personal chef today and was reminded from their comments how confusing it can be to "do the right thing" in drinking organically grown wines.

At a certain point in the conversation, I realized: I can make this super simple for people. So I'm going to share the secrets of ordinary wine drinking at everyday prices with you.

Here's the easy on ramp:

1. Don't look for wine in the store. The best, affordable options are rarely here. 

Order wine online.

You can get it by the case from the winery (or buy it at winery) or from the lowest priced online provider. 

It's the Farm box concept applied to wine - the wine box.

It would be nice if we could all buy our wine at the farmers market, but that day seems aways off, doesn't it.
DO: Do buy wine online from 4-5 main wineries
until you've sampled their wares and decided what you like
2. The Basic Three

Visit the wineries in the Ukiah/Hopland that have only organically grown and affordably priced wine: McFadden, Terra Savia, Barra.

All three are run by long time growers (from 2 to 4 generations on their vineyards) who have gotten into the vinification business and make great, everyday wines - along with the occasional super star standout varietal.

If you like, you can taste their wines within a ten mile radius of Hopland, which is two hours north of the Bay Area, or order some sampler cases from the wineries.

Shop their sales, join the wine clubs - and you can wind up paying 30-60% below retail prices.

Terra Savia
Best bets: Chardonnays and Blanc de Blancs under $20

Best bets: Brut, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Riesling

Become a wine club member and buy what you want at big discounts; 30-40% off sales for members. You'll also get invited to parties at the vineyard/ranch. You can also buy grassfed beef from the ranch at the tasting room (whether you are a wine club member or not.)

Best bets: Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Muscat and Girasole Pinot Noir

Shop the sales - right now Zin is 60% off ($8.25 a bottle) in a year end sale or join the wine club for discounts.

You could also add Ceago to this list as well. It's in Lake County and well worth a visit.)

3. Plus One 

Buy Bonterra.

It's the biggest selling wine in America when it comes to organically grown wines. If you don't want to buy wine by the case from wineries, this is the way to go. However, I personally can't always find it in the store and end up buying cases from the winery online.

Best bets: Riesling

4. Explore More

Once you've tasted your way through the wines above, branch out. You've got hundreds of options. See "The Map."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Buty Winery - A 2011 Wine & Spirits Winery of the Year - In Transition to Certification

We're halfway there! Add another top winery to the certification pipeline...and future BUY list.

This rock star winery, one of Wine & Spirits magazine's top 100 Wineries of the Year award, has two vineyards at different stages of the certification.

Wave One: Rockgarden Vineyard in Walla Walla - 10/2010

Buty's Rockgarden Vineyard in Walla Walla Valley was certified organic by Oregon Tilth on October 15th, 2010 (just before harvest) look forward to releases made from those certified grapes. These wines will be released in fall 2012.

2010 Syrah Rockgarden Estate
2010 Mourvedre Rockgarden Estate
2010 Syrah & Mourvedre Rockgarden Estate (50/50 blend)

Wave Two: Phinny Hill Vineyard  in Horse Heaven Hills (Anticipated 20120)

This vineyard will complete the three-year organic certification process in 2012. So you can look for certified wines a few years out from 2012 from that vineyard.

Verdad/Qupe: Good Deals on Holiday Gift Packs!

Holiday Gift Packs are great - it's the no-brainer present. Some wise person at the winery has been up all night for weeks trying to devise the perfect selection of their wines (so that you don't have to).

Some gift packs are too big - like 6-8 or even 12 wines. That's a lot of liquid to give. (Okay, if it's someone in your own household, no problem - because you'll be there to share the load of drinking up all that wine. But for those you have to carry or ship the wine to...well...)
Qupe/Verdad celebrated the third anniversary of its tasting room  recently
The wine packs from Qupe and Verdad seem very right-sized to me. 

The husband and wife wineries of Qupe (his, as in Bob Lindquist) and Verdad (hers, as in Louisa Sawyer Lindquist) span vineyard sources from both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties and have some of the best wines in California. His Syrahs and her Albarino (both grown biodynamically) climb into the stratosphere in terms of style, transparency and complexity.

So it's worth a minute or two to review their gift pack offerings:

From the master of Syrah...

Hillside Syrah Vertical, $125
2005, 2006, 2007 

Qupe, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard 3-pack, $110
2009 Sonnie's Syrah
2009 Syrah
2009 Grenache

From the mistress of Spanish wines...

Verdad Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard 3-pack, $65
2008 Tempranillo
2010 Rose
2010 Albarino

Verdad Santa Ynez Valley 2-pack, $30 ($6 savings)
2008 Tempranillo
2010 Albarino

And if you just can't decide, the wineries each offer Reserve Tasting gift certificates. These special tastings are for 4-6 people and take place in a private room (in the back of the tasting room in Los Olivos, a block from some of the famous Sideways scenes). Guests taste their way through 6 wines paired with cheeses.

Reserve Tastings:
4 Person, $75 (a $100 value)
6 Person, $115 (a $150 value)

For more info, call 805.686.4200 or email

(Note: Qupe seems to be in the process of redoing it's web site, so if it doesn't work, don't fret. Just call.)

Amapola Creek Holiday Gift Packs - Free Shipping!

If all the email blasts about holiday gift packs came on the same day, I could have done a roundup, but somehow, somewhere, all the wine gift pack fairies must have gotten together on a staggered outflow of holiday sale emails.

Here's today entry: from Amapola Creek, in Sonoma, the winery of Richard Arrowood. Arrowood is committed to organic viticulture on the estate, which is managed by Sonoma organic veteran Bill Coturri.

Amapola Creek gift packs are vertical tastings ranging from estate-grown Cabernet (2005, 2006, and 2007) for $150 ($35 off) to Syrah ((2006, 2007, and 2008) for $125 (no discount).

(There's also a Zinfandel gift pack, made from the vines of the adjacent Monto Rosso vineyard, which is not part of the Arrowood vineyard holdings, and I haven't listed the Zin pack because the Zin is not organic.)

Parker gave the 2006 90+ points and the 2007 Syrah 94 points.

The wines come in lovely gift boxes with an embossed card. Makes a classy business gift, doesn't it?

Monday, December 5, 2011

$108 a Case for a 2005 Zinfandel, $69 a Case for Unoaked Chardonnay

Charlie Barra, Mendocino wine grower/vintner
APRIL 2013 UPDATE: The sale originally mentioned here is over - BUT THERE'S A NEW SALE. See here.

Big big big sale at Barra/Girasole Wines today - call now to stock up on party wines or your year round house wine needs.

Santa arrived early for those of us who have yen for the Charlie's Zin. The 2005 Zin, one of my personal favorites, is now $108 a case, down from $240 a case. Is that about 60% off?

(Just bought three cases including one to gift to friends' who frequently have me for dinner.)

The 2006 Petite Syrah is priced the same.

On the Girasole (unoaked) side of the house, the Chardonnay is on sale for $69 a CASE, as are the Girasole Zin and Cab.

Hopefully this eliminates buying nonorganic wines for those people who say organic is "too expensive." The Girasole sale puts the per bottle price at about $5.75 a bottle.

On the Barra reserve wines, the Cabernet is $21 a bottle and the Pinot Noir is $19. (Just bought one case of the Cab - which got a pretty darn good rating from Vinography's Alder Yarrow - see here - of between 8 and 8.5.)

Carlo Petrini, Slow Foods
Barra's wines were featured this summer in a Slow Foods benefit dinner at Masas where chef Gregory Short built the menu around five of Charlie Barra's wines. See here.

Here's a link to a diner's experience of that most memorable meal - with Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini in attendance.

The sale continues now through the end of the year or whenever these wines sell take advantage of the sale for your party wine shopping - and your gift shopping.

Call now - you can have the wines shipped or pick up later at the winery (right next to 101 in Ukiah) -


Part 1 of 3: Holiday Party Wine Recommendations: Mulled Wine

Come the holidays there's gift giving wines (maybe the expensive ones?) and then...there's the much less written about need for Party Wines! I.e. wines that DON'T cost the farm.

I spent this morning happily emailing with two friends in Marin who are hosting holiday parties on wine recommendations for their party needs and budgets.

So I might as well pass on to you some of the options for affordably priced party wines for your holiday (or any occasion) big volume, low price wine needs - all with 100% certified grapes and from the U.S.

Mulled Wine

I've never made mulled wine. All I know is that it's red and that people used to mostly drink sweetened or flavored wines for most of human history. Since you're going to be adding spices and changing flavor of the wine, you don't need a high quality standalone wine. I hope the wineries I am recommending won't be offended, but the recommended choices I've come up with are the most inexpensive organically grown reds I could find and three of them happen to be sulfite free as well (the first three listed):

• Pacific Redwood, $8.99 a bottle
 Generally in stock at Whole Foods

• Our Daily Red, $7-9 a bottle
Generally available at Trader Joe's 
Orleans Hills is another of their wines and would be a comparable buy

• Badger Mountain Pure Red - 3L box, $24 online
This works out to the equivalent of $6 a bottle. Haven't seen it in a store yet, but one can order it online for sure.

• Preston's Guadarni, $34 for a jug (equal to 4 bottles or $8.50 a bottle) - available in person from winery on Sundays only; limit one per person
A personal favorite for me (get the matching glasses there, too) but very limited in terms of availability (i.e. you must purchase at the winery only, only one per person, and only available on Sundays). Nevertheless, if you plan (and shop) ahead, a steal.

POSTSCRIPT - Barra's also have a very big sale. So I'd definitely add their sales wines. (See preceding

Part 3 of 3: Holiday Party Wine Recommendations: Reds

1. The Pizza Party Wine!

• Badger Mountain Pure Red, 3L Box, $24 ($6 a bottle)
• Preston Guadagni, gallon jug, $34 ($8.50 a bottle)

Okay, if it's just a pizza party, and price/volume is everything, revisit the post about Mulled Wines and reds to use. The two above are good picks.

The Preston obviously has the big access restrictions. But both are at unbeatable price points.

2. Zin Zin Zin for Holidays

• 2005 Barra Zinfandel, $20 (or case discount; 25% wine club discount gets it down to $15 a bottle) - ON SALE RIGHT NOW for $8.25 a bottle or $99 a case

It's made by this 80+ year old Mendo organic legend, Charlie Barra, anti GMO fighter! I love this wine and am buying at least two cases for myself and maybe an extra couple cases to gift.

3. Pinot Pleasin'

• Girasole Pinot Noir, $16 (case discount; wine club discount)
• Cooper Hill Pinot Noir, $13-14

Girasole's Pinot Noir has rated highly with Vinography's Alder Yarrow in his tastings, so maybe you should give it a try? It's only $16 a bottle. Again, if you joined the wine club, that would be 25% off, bringing it down to $12 a bottle.

The other Pinot I'd put on my party list would be the Cooper Hill (sister of the Cooper Mountain brand) available online for $13-14. Cooper Mountain is a Matt Kramer favorite (and a favorite of mine as well).

4. I Love a Merlot

• Bonterra Merlot

I have to say I had a very, very, very fine Merlot this weekend (okay, 1988 Pomerol, $98 a bottle, at the Kermit Lynch tasting at Solano Cellars) which I think should be required tasting for anyone who ever saw Merlot disparaged in the movie Sideways, and it rekindled my sweet spot for Merlot.

In China, they're drinking Marilyn Merlot (from Napa.)

I'm not saying there's anything remotely like the Pomerol here in the Party Wine category, but Bonterra makes a decent Merlot. This is for people who just don't want to serve a Cabernet all the time.

5. Rhonishly Red

• Beckmen's Cuvee le Bec, $15-16 online

The perennial standout good deal Rhone red, made with 90% biodynamically grown estate grapes, this has always been one of Robert Parker's favorite bargain wines. You can't beat it. It's the classic Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre (GSM) blend with some Counoise as well. Currently sold out at the winery, but look around online or in wine stores. There's plenty around.

Part 2 of 3: Holiday Party Wine Recommendations: Whites and Bubblies

White and Sparkling Wine "Party Wine" Picks

1. Let Them Drink Chardonnay!

Terra Savia's Chardonnay, $12 a bottle
Terra Savia's Reserve Chardonnay, $15 a bottle (by the case - ON SALE)
Usually available at Whole Foods
Always available from the winery

A fourth-generation Chardonnay growing vigneron. Need we say more? They know their Chard. And they are all about being organic.

2. Arise O Riesling!

Bonterra's Riesling, $12-14 a bottle
For an everyday, affordable house Riesling, Bonterra's a great pick. Their Riesling took a double gold prize a few years back at the Mendocino Wine Competition. We drink it by the case at my house.

Bonterra is a company you want to support. Historically it has done more than any other U.S. vintner to promote organically grown wines, has a well earned reputation for excellence, and has worked with hundreds of growers to help them go organic.

Available in better supermarkets and wine stores everywhere, or, if you're like me and can't find it around town, just buy it online from the winery. Online here or call 888.618.0535.

3. Bankable Bubbly!

You don't have to pay for Champagne (like bankers) when it comes to sparkling wines.

While others are flitting between expensive imports (if you can afford it, fine, but that wine did have to get here all the way from wherever), savvy shoppers in search of affordable luxury, go for the McFadden Brut or the Terra Savia Blanc de Blancs, both of which have tied with Roederer's Brut in the past two years of the Mendo Wine Competition. (Since that's a 400-year-old, Champagne, France-owned California winery, being in the same league is high praise indeed.)

Join the McFadden wine club and the Brut can be yours for $17 a bottle (or thereabouts, depending on the current deals of the month). The Brut includes a hefty amount of Pinot Noir - 50%.

McFadden Brut
• Order it online at or through McFaddens tasting room in Hopland. Call: 707.744.VINE.

Terra Savia Blanc de Blanc
• Terra Savia's all Chard sparkler is about $23 at Whole Foods. Or order from the winery directly ($20.70 a bottle) and have it shipped to your door.

This is 100% Chardonnay.

Here's winemaker Jim Milone (before winning the Gold at the Mendo Wine Competition) on this wine:

Welcome To Our New Meetup! Become a Charter Member

Organic Wine Uncorked has gone live with our Meetup group! We launched this week on and have more than 23+ members in just two days!

We will be having:

• Monthly wine tasting events
featuring budget wines and splurge wines

• Winery tours to Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Santa Cruz and more (I know the people and the places)

• Wine country hikes and picnics

• Fun get-togethers to share our common love of organically grown wine and food

Please join us - click here to visit our Meetup site and stay tuned for news about upcoming events. 

Drinking more organically grown wines in 2012 is a great new year's resolution, don't you think!

Join the Organic Wine Uncorked Meetup

Congratulations to the Chron's Top 100 Wines List - The Organics!

Organically grown wines continue to show up on the year's best lists. The Chronicle's top 100 Wines list came out yesterday (online here) - and these were the organically grown (certified) among them:

Verdad Sawyer-Lindquist Vineyard Edna Valley Albarino, $22

Horse & Plow North Coast Rose, $15

Sauvignon Blanc
2010 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Fumee Blanc, $30

NV Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Carneros Brut Rose, $36


In addition, the following wine is in transition towards certification:
Cabernet Sauvignon
2008 Chappellet Pritchard Hill Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $135
(in transition)

Friday, December 2, 2011

USDA Scientist's Research Finds Roundup Damaging Soils (and Plants)

Prof. Robert Kremer,
University of Missouri
New USDA research is showing that Roundup is harmful to soils and plants.

Midwestern corn and soybean farmers are damaging their soils by using large amounts of Roundup, says USDA researcher microbiologist Dr. Robert Kremer of the University of Missouri.

You can read more about his remarks in the Reuters coverage of the event here. 

The article begins: "The heavy use of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide appears to be causing harmful changes in soil and potentially hindering yields of the genetically modified crops that farmers are cultivating, a government scientist said...Repeated use of the chemical glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup herbicide, impacts the root structure of plants, and 15 years of research indicates that the chemical could be causing fungal root disease..."

Kremer's research has found that Monsanto's Roundup-ready GMO plants exhibit the following:

"This [Roundup-Ready] system is altering the whole soil biology. We are seeing differences in bacteria in plant roots and changes in nutrient availability. Glyphosate is very systemic in the plant and is being released through the roots into the soil. Many studies show that glyphosate can have toxic effects on microorganisms and can stimulate them to germinate spores and colonize root systems. Other researchers are showing that glyphosate can immobilize manganese, an essential plant micronutrient."

Granted, wine grape growers in California aren't using Roundup-Read (GMO) seeds. But they are using a heap-o Roundup, according to the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation - about a pound per acre on 450,000 acres, across the state.

Kremer's research was unveiled in the European Journal of Agronomy in 2009 (link to issue home page here) and he spoke about this year at the August conference of the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), a farm-based nonprofit, in Kansas City, Missouri.

Here is what the journal's introduction to the special issue says: (Note: glysophate is Roundup)

"Although glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide worldwide (Woodburn, 2000), several problems associated with glysophate interactions with plant nutrient availability, transfer to and effects on susceptible crops, indirect effects on rhizo-sphere microorganisms and plant pathogens, and development of glyphosate-resistant weeds have raised serious concerns regarding the sustainability of cropping systems in which glyphosate is the primary weed management strategy."

Read the full text of his research in the European Journal of Agronomy here.

For years Monsanto has been telling farmers, growers and the public that Roundup quickly dissolves leaving no trace behind. Untrue, says the scientific literature.

As Kremer's article states:

"In contrast to generalizations that glyphosate is tightly bound and inactivated in soil, numerous studies show that glyphosate is available to soil and rhizosphere microbial communities as a substrate for direct metabolism leading to increased microbial biomass and activity (Haney et al., 2000; Wardle and Parkinson, 1990). Indeed, Simonsen et al. (2008) recently demonstrated that agricultural soils amended with phosphorus fertilizers are high in unbound glyphosate because soil sorption sites are occupied by competing phosphate ions; thus, glyphosate remaining in the soil solution is vulnerable to potential uptake by plant roots, microbial metabolism, or leaching into groundwater [bolding mine]."

(This seems to be illustrating the basic concept, once again, that nothing in nature is ever separate.)

Here is coverage from OCM's own Sept. newsletter (see page 11) about Kremer's remarks at the 2011 conference:

"Dr Bob Kremer of Missouri University discussed his research that indicates a possible change in soil health due to accumulated glyphosate residues in both soils and plants...all the indications are that increased levels of glyphosate result in plant nutrients being tied up in the soil and unavailable while fungal diseases thrive for the same reason.

Dr. Kremer said, “We need to develop an agro-ecological approach” to better manage the impacts of relying so heavily on one or two types of crop pest control. Dr Kremer added that potential soybean yields could be much higher than the current mid forty-bushel nation- al average, perhaps up to 100 bushels regardless of genetic modification, if good soil management is applied."

Prof. Kremer says the solution to the over use of Roundup is - surprise, surprise - organic farming. "More farmers are interested in using cover cropping to maintain soil quality and other organic amendments. But it’s a steep learning curve for them,"he said.

[That makes publication of the new U.C. published Organic Winegrowing Manual all the more praiseworthy.]

Now... how/can we get an organic viticulture class and an endowed chair at U.C. Davis to speed things up?