Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Map

I've been working for awhile on putting together a map of all the wineries in California and the Pacific NW that offer at least one certified organically or biodynamically grown wine - so it is. Enjoy and pass along.

View Organic Wineries in a larger map

If you have any additions or corrections, please let me know.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Mark Your Calendar: A Taste of Redwood Valley - Open House of 5 Organic Wineries June 17-19

The annual Taste of Redwood Valley takes place on Father's Day weekend every year - June 17-19 this year. Five wineries in the event offer organically grown wines.

Oster (generally not open to the public)
Testa (generally open only by appt.)

(Graziano also has one organically grown wine - the Eddie's Vineyard Zin.)

There will be a winemaker dinner on Friday night anx two days of tasting, art and music. The cost is $80 for all the events (advance online ticketing) or $55 for the winemaker dinner and $35 for the two day tasting pass.

Redwood Valley is just east of Ukiah. It's about 2 hours and 15 minute drive from the Bay Area.

Grgich Celebrates 35th Anniversary of Judgment of Paris

I will be heading up to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Paris Tasting tonight and tomorrow. Sunday there will be a tour of some of the estate vineyards.

In the meantime, you can enjoy a virtual visit of Grgich Hills here in this very nicely done professonal video made by UPS:

GOOD: Green Winery from on Vimeo.

If you'd like to know more about the Paris Tasting, read George Taber's famous account of the event here. It is one of the best books on California wine.

Bliss State: Batic Wines - Natural AND Organic

With Miha Batic and Batic's Rose
I don't usually blog about foreign wines, since my aim is to promote the local organic and biodynamic wines of California (and the Northwest) but that's certainly not to say I don't enjoy wines from other regions.

The burgeoning natural wine movement here is making some exceptional wines, sometimes using organically grown grapes (though they are often not certified). I hope to see them move more into certified sources as we the consumers do our part to move the growers, vintners and industry in that direction.

It was a great pleasure to taste the natural, organic wines from a very old  winery and vineyards in Slovenia, an important place in wine history, since the wines of Slovenia tell us a great deal about how wines from the past taste - in addition to being fantastic wines you will be sure to want to try. Batic was founded in 1594. The wines are mouthfilling, flavorful, and decidedly unlike anything from the U.S.

I'd say the patrons of Punchdown were fairly unanimous in falling in love with the wines of Batic (located in the Vipava Valley). Wednesday we also got extra tastes of the Pinot Gris and a blow-you-away red dessert wine Valentino.

I have already posted the list of wines in the tasting, but just so you know, the Batic flight will continue to be offered at Punchdown so if you haven't tried to taste the past in the present, there's still time.

Batic is distributed here by Blue Danube Wines. You can purchase the wines at Punchdown or online Blue Danube Wines.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

More GeoSpatial Goodness

I am a big fan of maps, and today had the pleasure of visiting Bucklin Old Hill Vineyard in Sonoma (more on that later).

One of the many pleasures of the day was seeing this map of the vineyard, said to be the oldest vineyard in Sonoma, which has no less than 26 varieties growing in it. The uber-field blend, as it were.

Owner, grower and vintner Will Bucklin had this beauty of a map made of the vineyard. Enjoy. Click on this image to see "embiggen" or go to the site.

Thought of the Day: It's Not a Wine Club, It's a CSW

This week, I wrote a post urging people to consider joining wine clubs at wineries that make great wine at reasonable prices.

Sadly, we're not yet at the stage where one can reliably find organically or biodynamically grown wines in local markets, large or small, or even specialty wine stores, whether it's Bevmo or K & L.

We the good-for-the-environment-wine drinkers have to change our buying habits.

No more Trader Joe's - even when it's organic, it's like from Spain, or whatever, or it's a $4 Fred Franzia organic Green Fin which is made from Thompson Seedless grapes, not known for its varietal charm. (Franzia says it will be a 1 million case a year brand, exclusively through TJ's.) And let's pass on the Franzia Family's newest Panther Rock created label: the organic CottonWood Creek wines, even if they come in eco-friendly bottles, because they, too, are mostly Thompson Seedless (Sultana) because we don't know enough about Franzia's viticulture and water use. It's likely these grapes come from Central Valley sources, which four times as much water to grow as irrigated grapes in other regions of the state.

The time has come to rename the Wine Club to the Community Supported Winery or CSW. It's the same concept at "the box" you get from your CSA. You support farms/wineries doing good work, and you give them your business.

In exchange, you create a relationship. You are invited to visit and dine and drink at the winery on occasion. You are cultivating a long term partnership, in your own small way. And you know where your wine is coming from. All good stuff.

Yes, it takes a little more effort, but the payoff is Very Big.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Favorite Winegrape Growers Web Site

What is it about the regions whose wines aren't as well known as the frontrunners like Napa? They try harder - and often smarter. I'm developing underdog loving affections for both Mendocino and for Lake County, my new love. And, as often accompanies being drawn to the edge and emergent, I'm looking for bargains and the undiscovered.

My new favorite wine industry web site is the Lake County Winegrape Growers because it has a vineyard map. It's the only site I've seen from growers that does this very simple thing.

It lets you see where the vineyards are and contact the grower.

Check it out here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Kudos to Napa Valley Wine Exchange

It isn't every online wine shop that has a special section of organically or biodynamically grown wines. But when someone does, I think they should get a moment of glory.

So here's the link to Napa Valley Wine Exchange's web site where you'll find a number of selections.

Napa Valley Wine Exchange specializes in California wines and wines you haven't tried yet.

Slovenian Wine Flight at Punchdown in Oakland - 5/25 (Wed.)

Last minute notice from Punchdown - rare opportunity to taste Slovenian wines, a region famous for its tradition of making natural wines:

"Please join us on Wednesday May 25th from 6-9 PM as The Punchdown welcomes Miha Batič of Batič Winery from the Vipava ValleySlovenia. Miha runs the Batič Winery (and farm), which places a special emphasis on natural production and maintaining traditions inherited from a winemaking legacy dating back to 1592! The Batič Winery is exemplary for creating pure, natural wines reflecting a sense of place!

The cost of the flight is $25 for members of the mailing list, Facebook fans, & Twitter followers (just tell me on flight night)!  $30 for everyone else - and consists of four two ounce tastes (possibly a surprise bonus as well!). All wines are available by the glass & retail while supply lasts. These are special prices for flight night only!

-2010 Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon $12 per glass / $23 retail bottle
-2009 Rebula $12 per glass / $23 retail bottle
-2008 Cabernet Franc $14 per glass / $30 retail bottle
-2009 Zaria (55% Pinela, 20% Zelen, 10% Rebula, 8% Vitovska, 4% Klarnica) 
(“Zaria” translates to “dawn” as in a new dawn to an ancient wine culture. It is a true orange wine where all the varietals are co-fermented on the skins.) $18 per glass / $38 retail bottle

Come on down to The Punchdown this Wednesday, May 25th for a chance to taste the wines of Batič Winery and meet the man behind them! Let’s take a little voyage to Slovenia ...  one sip at a time!"

I looked up the winery on Google and found this writeup online as well as these tasting notes.

More about the Vipava Valley.

Vipava Valley is in the southwest corner of Slovenia, close to the Adriatic. 

Perusing the Supermarket Aisle OR Why You Should Join a Wine Club

You know the feeling - it's 4 pm or 5 or 7 or 9 pm (or whatever) and you've got to run to the store to pick up something for dinner and you think you just might take a little amble down the wine aisle, just to see, if, perhaps, perchance, some miracle has occurred and there's more to choose from than 50 kinds of Gallo (labeled Barefoot, or whatever) or something more than Mondavi Woodbridge or something else you might even later be ashamed to cook with. All that lies before you at every single level of shelving is a vote with your dollars for a huge corporation that practices total monoculture, uses pesticides, isn't known to take good care of field workers, uses precious water resources to grow crops where they normally wouldn't grow, and denudes the landscape of any remaining biodiversity.

Aside from this bleak set of hundreds of "choices," there may be the occasional Italian Pinot Grigio or other European import (organic status unknown but unlikely to be organic in any way) in a heavy glass bottle that traveled on a ship halfway around the globe to arrive at your neighborhood market.

Is it time to consider stocking up on a supply of good "house wine"? Join a local wine club from an organic and biodynamic winery and you can drink fabulously well for as little as $12 a bottle.

Keeping it simple, here are two wine club suggestions to get you started: Yorkville Cellars (all organic) and Ceago (all biodynamic). Both feature nothing but organic or biodynamic wines so there's no confusion over which bottle to get. Both have been in business for 20 years or more and both are unlikely to be found on your supermarket's shelves (alas). So just go direct.

I visited both this weekend and I have to say you can't go wrong with the full lineup of either of these wineries. Both are set amidst landscapes of biodiversity in exceptionally scenic spots, too, so you could definitely skip the shipping by visiting and buying in person.

Best of all, prices are a steal for wine club members.

Yorkville Cellars

• Located at the southern end of Anderson Valley
• Run by an English woman and her American husband (they both lived in France and their brand is heavily oriented to Bordeaux, er, Aquitaine, one and the same place, the latter name being the one the English gave to the area when they ruled it).
• Hillside and flatland vineyards
• 100% organically grown; CCOF certified since 1986

Yorkville Cellars Wine Club: 3 bottles per quarter. About $60 to $75 per shipment, including shipping and applicable sales taxes. Annual costs = $180-225 at the minimum wine club level. 20% off on all wines for the case a year club; 30% for case a quarter members.

So for the same price that you would spend on a stupid supermarket wine (if you succumbed), you could get (all prices at the 30% off price):

• A Sauvignon Blanc raised on a beautiful hillside surrounded by biodiversity, birds, wild grasses, and trees for $12.60
• A Rose (just in time for summer) of Cabernet Franc (unique) for $12.60
• A Cabernet Sauvignon rated as a Best Buy by Wine & Spirits magazine for $19.60
• A Bordeaux blend of all six noble grapes (called Richard the Lion Heart) for $26.60.
• List of all wines here

They also make a lovely white Graves blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc called Eleanor of Aquitaine.

While I am not in love with the way Yorkshire Cellars markets its wines (the list of awards on its web site is not my cuppa), just get beyond the web site and marketing and get your nose into a glass of their wine.

I do like the product - see if you do, too.


• Located in Lake County in the small lakefront town of Nice (Route 20)

• A gorgeous Spanish style estate with scenic grounds and lakefront boat dock
• Elegant tasting area with umbrellas in a picture perfect courtyard
• Vineyards in Mendocino and Lake County
• Started and run by Jim Fetzer in 1993
• Demeter (biodynamic) certified since 1996

Ceago Wine Club: 4 bottles three times a year. About $115 per shipment, all inclusive. Annual costs = $345 at the minimum wine club level. 20% off on all wines for all wine club members.

While Ceago's wines are priced very reasonably without any discounts, but with a club membership you could get (all prices at the 20% off price):

• A Sauvignon Blanc from Kathleen's Vineyard (named for Jim Fetzer's famous mom) for $12.80 (it was on special at the winery this week for an additional 10% off)
A lovely Lake County Chardonnay for $12.80
• A Muscat Canelli (a little on the sweet side) rated People's Choice in Lake County for $12.80
• A Syrah for $20.60
• A white dessert wine (I'm a sucker for a biodynamic dessert wine, of which there are very few) of late harvest Semillon for $17.60
List of all wines here

All this - and these wineries are farming at the highest levels of viticultural practices, with experienced hands in the cellars, and exuding natural goodness - all without pesticides, herbicides, or other odious practices - and in settings of lush biodiversity and surrounding intact landscapes. Not to mention the wines' myriad beautiful flavors.

So tonight - don't go for the Italian Pinot Grigio at the supermarket. Get online (or in the car) and toodle over to these web sites to check out the wares and order yourself up some house wine that properly honors the grapes and the land on which they were grown. At everyday prices.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Napa Watersheds Conference: Thursday May 19 (Tomorrow)

Water conference? It might sound boring to the average wine aficionado but it's anything but. Water has everything to do with how well wine grapes are grown (either too much or too little) and the evidence suggests way too much is being used - more than what is needed both in the vineyard and in the cellar.

Thursday, Napa County, state and EPA officials, winemakers, and local people will gather to discuss the state of the art on water management in Napa County.

The conference takes place from 9 to 4 at the Yountville Community Center. Info at Cost is $25 for the day and includes lunch.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

June 11: Home Winemakers Contest in Santa Ynez

Home Winemakers have their own competition these days - it's an annual event in Santa Barbara County held to benefit the charity People to People.

This year will be the fourth anniversary of the Home Winemakers Hidden Gems of California competition.

Tickets are $50 and benefit People to People. The event will be held at the Clover Creek Ranch in Santa Ynez with professional wine judges.

For more information, read the Santa Ynez Valley News article here.

Calera Wine Tasting in SF Wednesday

Calera, the legendary wine outpost located in Hollister, will be featured in a tasting Wednesday afternoon and early evening at San Francisco Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant.

If you have ever tried to visit the winery, you will know it is quite a drive so being able to taste their wines here in the SF Bay Area is a treat.

They have many wines rated 90+ point by the inestimable Mr. Parker.

Here are some photos from my recent stop at Calera, so if you want to visualize where these wines come from, this is a start.

Here's the Facebook invite from Wine Merchant site (I couldn't find the info online):

The Great Calera Wine Company Presents Old and New Pinot Noir!

Join us Wednesday, May 18th, from 4:30-7:30pm, when we welcome Marta Rich of Calera Wine Company to our Wine Bar. Calera Wine Company is one of the gems of the wine business. They have been around a long time, over thirty years, and hail from the unlikely location of Mount Harlan, at 2200 feet of elevation, on the Central Coast. They are fairly isolated from their fellow wineries of that region. Let's put it this way, it is not on the way to anywhere. You have to want to visit Calera, and many people seek them out due to the stellar quality of their wines and their longstanding reputation as one of the best in the business. Gregarious and eccentric, Josh Jensen, the flamboyantly dressed owner, is a character you will never forget once you meet him. You could easily describe the color pallet for his wardrobe as electric florescent! His shirts are a masterpiece of over the top fashion. Which, oddly, is just the opposite of his Pinot Noirs.

Calera has always been known for their focus and restraint when it comes to Pinot, not overly indulging in ripeness and wood as has become the fashion. The curious point though is they have also been known for their ability to age. It has been our experience that the big, jammy, woody monsters don't do very well after any length of time in the cellar. They may be impressive out of the gate and get big scores, but for the long haul give us the subtlety, the restraint, the understated. Give us Calera!

Come taste two well-cellared Pinot Noirs side by side with two young pups and you be the judge. We think you will appreciate the complex developments of the older wines and understand the structure in the younger ones and how it gives them the ability to last.
We know you will enjoy the rare opportunity to compare and contrast aged and young Pinot Noir from such an esteemed producer. So come join us and help us welcome Marta Rich of Calera Wine Company to the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant.

The featured wines are served as two ounce glasses. If you find a favorite and would like a full glass just ask your bartender. The wines will be available for retail sale while supplies last…

The cost of the flight will be $28 and will include the following wines:

2010 Calera Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, Central Coast
Retail $19.50, 5oz. glass $8.25

2001 Calera Pinot Noir, Mills Vineyard, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County (certified organic)
Retail $60, 5oz. glass $18.25

2002 Calera Pinot Noir, Jensen Vineyard, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County (certified organic)
Retail $84, 5oz. glass $24.25

2007 Calera Pinot Noir, de Villiers Vineyard, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County (certified organic)
Retail $38, 5oz. glass $12.75

2008 Calera Pinot Noir, Ryan Vineyard, Mt. Harlan, San Benito County (certified organic)
Retail $41, 5oz. glass $13.50

Monday, May 16, 2011

Discovering New Wine Everyday

I am deep into writing my book Drink Green: 101 Organically Grown Wines for $20 or Less and getting more and more excited as each day brings new discoveries.

Sometimes it's a winery that makes high end wines - but has one or two wines that will fit in this price profile. Lemelson Vineyards comes to mind - today while perusing the wonders of, I discovered that its Pinot Gris wa at a price point I could include. (Alas, the Riesling is not 100% organic.)

Other times, it's discovering new (to me) wineries - two that come to mind are Testa and Trinafour Cellars.  I ate dinner at Ubuntu last week, sampling tastes of organically grown wines, and Trinafour's Muscat was by far the best.

Another (new to me) is Horse and Plow. And Poco a Poco, the low budget label of Porter Bass. And Bink. And Urban Legend. There, now, I've given it all away.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Jess Jackson's Legacy and the State of Wine Journalism in California

Kendall Jackson surveying his mountaintop hillside vineyards from his helicopter

Will Parrish, Anderson Valley Advertiser
I have to say journalist Will Parrish has hit it on the head. Sometimes the Anderson Valley Advertiser is overboard, but this article about the state of wine journalism is right on the money - literally.

I've often thought the way the media covers the wine industry is unusual. But with 3 out of 4 journalists losing their jobs in the last decade and environmental journalism slashed at most papers...what can we expect? More, let's hope, than wine reviews.

This topic of declinng environmental coverage has been much lamented by those of us in the Society of Environmental Journalists. Here's an even more alarming piece of news - even training for environmental journalists is being cut.

Parrish spells out Jackson's autocratic behavior and the battles that resulted when both government officials and environmentalists opposed him for cutting down hundreds of oak trees, deforesting hilltops, and causing massive erosion. Of his hilltop vineyards, Parrish writes:

"Most of the acreage was previously forested, so the trees were removed and their roots ripped out prior to the vineyard plantings. Often, the hilltops were flattened out by massive bulldozers, removing vast amounts of soil and rock. Pesticides were applied in copious amounts. The vineyards not only require irrigation, but they com mand a massive amount of frost protection water due to their cool climates. That often means damming up all the available streams and building huge water reservoirs. Soil erosion invariably has resulted from the removal of trees and other anchoring vegetation. With the steepness of the sites, the soil washed down into creeks and streams."

What does it mean when a guy like Jess Jackson can buy 14,000 acres of vineyards - with 11,000 of them on land classified as mountaintops or hillsides (as Parrish says) - and care for them this way? This way of running our wine industry is, despite its assurances, not sustainable. One can ask where are the county and state environmental laws that protect against this type of land use? And where is the enforcement of existing legislation? Culture plays a large role in land use as well. And, of course, consumer pressure could play a role. That's part of the reason this blog exists - to help consumers make the market reward the best actors by buying from them and spreading awareness about their practices.

Ironically, a piece in the SF Chronicle about the future of the company in a post-Jackson world, includes this comment from CEO DOn Hartford, Jackson's son in law:

"We're trying to make characterful wines that tell a story of a place," Hartford said.

Hilltops flattened to make vineyards remind one of the coal companies' outrageous mountaintop removal projects. Surely this is not where we want our wines, our plaisir, to come from. What kind of pleasure is this? 

Read Will's piece on media coverage of Jess Jackson (California wine baron/titan) and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sideways, The Organic Sequel: Organically Grown Wines from Santa Barbara County Vintners, Part 1

Blame it on the Rhone Rangers event for finally getting me down to the likes of Lompoc for the Santa Barbara County Vintners annual spring festival, a gathering of more than a 100 wineries in a park along the river - a park with extremely uneven ground, which can make you walk like a drunk even if you haven't imbibed. The day of the festival was also quite windy. It was not relaxing.

But the Rangers event - where I'd seen the Green Rangers panel that Bob Lindquist was part of - had introduced me to a few great wines that made me want to know more about the territory and the terroir.

Of course it's a region made famous by the movie Sideways, which changed the course of Pinot Noir (and Merlot) and Santa Barbara County wine tourism, viticulture, and real estate values forever, but the Rhone varietals (not mentioned in the movie) and now Spanish varietals (courtesy of Verdad) are part of the mix.

The April vintners festival was a great way to get introduced to and connect with the region's organic vintners, most of whom were there in person pouring. That's the great thing about festivals - the real people often show up.

Renowned winemakers Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat and Bob Lindquist of Qupe/Verdad were pouring at their respective booths. I also tasted biodynamically grown wines from Ampelos Cellars (BD), Beckmen Vineyards (BD) and Demetria (not certified). (Presidio is another local certified organic producer, but I didn't get a chance to taste their wines since they weren't at the event).

Organically grown wines in the region started with the pioneer of the Sta. Rita Hills, Dick Sanford, now of Alma Rosa, who famously drove down Santa Rosa Road (between Lompoc and Buellton), west of 101, in an old VW van until he found the spot where the temperature gauge he was holding out the window told him what he wanted to know. That was the beginning of the now historic Sanford Benedict Vineyard (sadly, the entire vineyard , taken over by his former business partners, is no longer organic).

Today Sanford, who famously made the Pinot Noirs so beloved in the film Sideways, continues to make wines at his winery Alma Rosa. (He lost his original Sanford Winery to the former business partner). Here's a great overview of Alma Rosa and its wines. Alma Rosa is the premier organic producer in the Sta. Rita Hills:

In the next post (#2 of this series), I'll introduce the biodynamic pioneers of the Sta. Maria region to the north of the Sta. Rita Hills.

May 14/15 - Rare Chance to Visit and Taste at Amapola Creek

One of the reigning rock stars of California Cabs and Syrahs is Richard Arrowood, whose new winery/home is Amapola Creek on the western side of the Mayacamas Mountains. The winery is not open for tours in general, but this Saturday and Sunday the Sonoma Valley Vintners is having a special weekend of theme tours and Amapola is featured on two of the tours.

Arrowood will be hosting the tastings himself.

Details here.
Note: you must be on a tour to visit the winery. 

Amapola's 2007 Sonoma Valley Syrah got a 94 point rating from Parker. Read more about Amapola's wines here.

Veteran organic viticulturist Bill Coturri is the vineyard manager at Amapola.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Quote of the Week: Andy Beckstoffer

"The vineyards are the next Robert Mondavi. The vineyards are what matters," he said. 

Read the entire Beckstoffer profile in the Wall Street Journal -  "The Most Powerful Man in Napa" - here

(He owns 3,000 acres of vineyards, including 1,000 in Napa, and 2,000 in Sonoma, Mendo and Lake Counties.)

Celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the Paris Tasting: Grgich, Chateau Montelena AND Muir Hanna Vineyard

The original Paris Tasting took place May 24, 1976.
Chateau Montelena

The winning bottle
By now the story of the famous Paris tasting of 1976 is well known. A panel of French judges in a blind tasting rated Napa wines more highly than their own countrymen's. 

A young Napa Valley winery, Chateau Montelena, is part of the tale. Its entry into the famous contest was a 1973 Chardonnay, made by then winemaker Mike Grgich

Grgich will be celebrating (I'll be there, too) on May 28 and 29th, with a Saturday night dinner and a Sunday tour at his biodynamic winery Grgich Hills Estate.

Everyone knows these parts of the story, but has anyone ever celebrated the vineyards where these grapes came from? Some of the grapes came from the Muir-Hanna Vineyard at the south of the Napa Valley, just a few blocks off Highway 29. I drove there several months ago, just to see the spot.

It seems that vineyards that aren't owned by wineries rank a great deal lower on the status scale than vineyards owned by wineries.

For instance, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and the S. L. V. vineyard where the winning Cab was made are hallowed ground for Napa tourists, while Muir-Hanna remains obscure.

If you want to find it, it's searchable on Google Maps. A real piece of history. By the way, in those days, all of the wines in the competition, like all Napa vineyards, were dry farmed. 

Last year one of the last remaining bottles of the winning chardonnay was sold at auction to a British collector who designs software to make sports cars. UK software engineer Jason Corcoran bought the 1973 Montelena Chard for $11,325. It was the last bottle he needed to round out his collection of all 20 of the original Tasting of Paris wines.

He got the idea to collect all of them after seeing the movie Bottle Shock

You can get your own (current vintage) bottle of Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena for $50 (made in part with Muir-Hanna grapes) or a biodynamically grown, estate Chardonnay from Mike Grgich for $42. The Grgich wine is made with indigenous yeast and sees 10 months in 40% new French oak. The Montelena Chard is aged 11% in new French oak.

Sadly, Hollywood's Bottle Shock movie wrote Grgich out of the story, but history won't. Let's be sure to pay homage to the terroir - Napa's river valley lands, and Muir-Hanna Vineyard - too.

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

The Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting on Saturday, May 21 is sold out. However, if you're a truly dedicated fan, you can make it to the May 20, Friday event featuring a winery tour and a tasting with Karen McNeil, author of The Wine Bible.

While the world famous Williamette Valley in Oregon offers many organically grown Pinot Noirs (Sokol Blossor, Brick House, Cooper Mountain, Montinore, Maysara - to name a few), Anderson Valley wineries currently offer only two (certified) organically grown Pinots.

One is from Santa Rosa producer Lutea Wine Cellars which has a certified organically grown and processed 2008 Lutea Pinot Noir ($25) made with organic and biodynamically grown grapes from Filigreen Vineyards.

Handley Cellars has an estate Pinot Noir - the RSM vineyard designate - which is also certified organically grown.

Philo Ridge offers a "practicing organic" Pinot ($28) and Segue Cellars had one Pinot made from Filigreen Vineyards' grapes awhile back.

For rose lovers, grab it while you can - Handley Cellars also has a Pinot Noir Rose ($20); the 2010 vintage will be released at the Festival.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Hopland/Mendocino County: America's Greenest Wine Region and Best Deals!

Part of the fun of wine country road trips is discovering new territory and terroir. I had a chance to visit Hopland a few weeks ago during its annual spring Passport event and was amazed to find out that the region's slogan, "America's Greenest Wine Region" wasn't just greenwashing; it was true. The region has more than a dozen wineries making organically grown wine. The percentage of organic vineyards here is 25% (compared to total wine grape acreage in the county). By comparison, the statewide average is estimated by both the Wine Institute and CCOF to be 2-3%. And vineyard giant Andy Beckstoffer, who the Wall Street Journal calls The Most Powerful Grower in Napa (he owns 1,000 acres in Napa and 2,000 acres of vineyard in Napa, Sonoma and Mendo, recently bought up 300 acres of pear orchards near Ukiah and is planting in organic chardonnay vines.

(Quick geography review: Hopland and Ukiah are located two hours north of San Francisco on Route 101, about 30 minutes north of Healdsburg, in the Upper Russian River Valley. That's the right half of the map below.)

I don't know how I managed to miss it in the past. Oh, er, actually I do know - it's a little further to drive (but not much) and it's not as famous (or crowded or expensive). For those of us who remember bucolic days visiting Napa (20+ years ago when picnicking was legal and tasting free), a trip to Hopland is a step in the right direction, a place where you feel like you've been someplace rural, not like you've been to the Hamptons.

For decades, Hopland has been a hotbed of organic grape growing; many of the region's grapes wind up in Napa's finest, some in single vineyard designated wines. The Fetzer family brought nationwide attention to organic wines with their forward-thinking Bonterra Vineyards, the largest organic brand in the country with annual case production of more than 300,000. Yet, for years, Hopland/Ukiah's growers' corridor has played second fiddle to Anderson Valley to the west, where cool region grapes have succeeded and where out of town hotshots and corporations own most of the (non-organic) wineries.

But that may be changing. Over the past decade, several of the most prominent growers along the Hopland/Ukiah corridor as well as the revived Fetzer clan (which had to stop making wines for 8 years after selling Fetzer to Brown-Forman in 1992), have started to make their own wines over the past decade. More than a few are making notably fine wines. (I"ll be writing about them in more detail soon).

In contrast to Napa, Sonoma, Santa Cruz Mountains, Paso, and Santa Barbara County, Mendo's Hopland area winemakers offer value pricing and, if you taste your way through their offerings, you'll discover some incredible deals. Terra Savia's Blanc de Blanc [Whole Foods, $23], comes to mind, as well as award winners like Paul Dolan's Sauvignon Blanc, $18, winner of a gold medal at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition or Patianna's Sauvignon Blanc, another gold medal winner, $16.

All of the vintners featured make organically grown wines (and mostly only organically grown wines). Here's an impressionistic slideshow of my Passport adventures.


Hopland Inn (the one and only place there is to stay in Hopland, run by the Pomo tribe, $139 to $179/room)
McFadden Wines, organic for 40 years; tasting room in Hopland; vineyards in Potter Valley
Graziano, maker of many Italian varietals, and one organic (practicing) old vine Zin
SIP Mendocino, this wine bar and wine shop, offers only Mendo wines, and includes a large selection of organically grown Mendo wines, the best selection you'll find anywhere; it is also the tasting room for Patianna
Terra Savia, makers of fine wines, including two Chardonnays, one Meritage, a reserve Cab and the aforementioned, affordable Blanc de Blanc
Jeriko Estate, with a wide lineup of varietals
Saracina, run by John Fetzer, former CEO of Fetzer, where David Ramey (formerly of Dominus) is the winemaker
McFadden Vineyard, a real working farm and vineyard, with grass fed cattle, organic herbs, and more than 100 acres of organic vineyard

Not pictured here but worthy of mention (more on them soon) are Paul Dolan Wines (organic and biodynamic), Barra of Mendocino, Girasole Vineyards, Parducci, Campovida/Magnanimus Wine, Trinafour, Testa, Philo Ridge (practicing), Lolonia, Frey (USDA organic and biodynamic) and Chance Creek.

Click on the arrow and then click on the lower right of the Flickr screen to see the photos full screen (recommended).

For more on Mendo wine, visit the Mendocino Wine Country web site.

I'll be listing my best deal wines from Mendo stay tuned. (Signing up for the email list will keep you up to date). I'll also be covering more about Anderson Valley separately.

Washington's Organic Wines

I am doing research for several books on organically grown wines and today called the Washington State Wine Commission for information on Washington wineries producing organically grown wines. Here's the list they had:

1. Badger Mountain
2. China Bend
3. Columbia Gorge Winery
4. Memaloose
5. Naked Wines/Snoqualmie
6. Pacific Rim

As for Biodynamic, the Washington list included:

1. Cayuse

The Demeter site lists Cayuse and several vineyards including Walla Walla and Wilridge.

Do any of you Washington wine mavens know of any more I should be contacting?

Friday, May 6, 2011

"A Wine to Call Our Own"

This New York Times article about making a backyard vineyard is lovely to read - and includes a short bit about why the author opted out of chemically dependent (i.e. disease prone) grape varieties choosing Marquette (below) instead.

The article is full of gentle humor about the path of learning to grow one's own wine...and tells you a bit about what it was like in the old days - back when people only grew enough grapes for wine for their own families - and when they wouldn't think of adding poison to their property.

To read it, click here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Five Great Summer Wines - Organically Grown, Under $20

My new book Drink Green: 101 Organically Grown Wines for $20 or Less will feature the best American wine values that are organically or biodynamically grown.

Here's a sneak peak at some of the world class wine listings:

1. Albarino, Verdad, biodynamic, $18
2. Tocai Friulano, Cooper Mountain, biodynamic, $14 (free shipping on $200+ orders)
3. Muscat Canelli, Barra, organic, $16
4. Vermentino, Tablas Creek, organic, $15 (older vintages available online)
5. Grenache Rose, Cowhorn, biodynamic, $19

To learn more about when the book comes out, sign up to receive blog postings via email. It's coming in May or June!

Free the Grapes - Maryland Now to Allow Direct Shipping of Wine

Next week the governor of Maryland will sign legislation making it okay for people to ship wine to the state. Wow - so 21st century!

Read about it in Wines & Vines.

This is the culmination of a decade-long lobbying campaign - huzzah! Good organically grown grapes made into wine can now be shipped to Maryland.

To find out about the status of legislation in other states, check out the Napa-based Free the Grapes, which is a coalition of the Wine Institute and other industry groups.

It's Hot Here in Oakland

Yesterday's 84 degree weather put it at just 4 degrees away from the all time high of 88 degrees. Time for some of those cooling summer wines. I'm dipping into Barra's organically grown Muscat Canelli - a great way to chill.

The "Other" Globalization: America's Largest Organic Winery Now Owned by Chileans

Too often Americans think globalization means when We buy Them. We have an inkling we'd better get used to different rules of engagement, what with our economic downfall and all, but's sobering.

I don't know what to make of the acquisition of Fetzer by global giant Vina Concho y Toro. Although former CEO John Fetzer had a positive reaction to the announcement, it makes me nervous...

Fetzer is among the top ten wine brands in the U.S., and sells 3 million cases a year, of which 10% is organic wines from its Bonterra brand. Bonterra is the largest premium organic winery brand.

Fetzer praised the deal, saying the Chilean company's primary business is the wine business, not spirits, which is the focus of Fetzer's former owner Brown-Forman.

Value wines, under $14, the Fetzer and Bonterra price range, are in demand now.

Vina Concho y Toro's purchase will double its U.S. holdings to 6 million cases a year.

I'm just wondering if this means the Ukiah and Hopland sports teams will get new uniforms and if so, which sports will be favored...

Organic Wine Labeling Frustrations - The Neverending Story

More on the current organic wine labeling issues from blogger David Duman on here

Sonoma County Grape Growers Meet for Organic Workshop at Preston Vineyards

Organic farm consultants Amigo Bob and Rose Roberts were the featured guests at Preston Vineyards' gathering of the Sonoma County Grape Growers' organic producers meeting April 27.

Amigo Bob and vineyard manager Jesus Arzate walked hedge rows to help vintners learn more about beneficial insects while Rose expounded on the innovative use of hedge rows at Preston.

Visitors also saw the extensive compost operation at Preston and enjoyed a lunch accompanied by Preston wines. About 30 vineyard grower attended the event.

For information about future meetings, click here.

Mendo Winemakers Gather Friday

Part 3 of the Viticulture Forum: The People and Wine Styles of Mendocino County will take place Friday, May 6, from 11:30 to 5 with local luminaries in attendance. The program looks to be quite special - panels of Mendo's historic grape growers and vintners including Charlie Barra, the history of Italian Swiss Colony in Asti, the introduction of international varietals, the coming of cool region grapes, and green viticulture.

Cesar Toxqui's Winning Zins: Grapes from the Wilder Yonder

Hopland's Passport weekend, at $35 for unlimited tasting at more than a dozen wineries, is a steal. But then there's the deals. Hands down the best deal of all the wineries offering deals was the Alexander Valley Zin offered at Cesar Toxqui (pronounced TossKey). This award-winning producer, who's latest entry in the ZAP festival garnered him a rating of 9 out of a possible 9.5 points, has proven his strengths as a winemaker.

The Alexander Valley zin was available at a giveaway prices - $100 for a case. Dry farmed and practicing organic, and made in an organic winery. Cesar's wife Ruth said the vines are untouched, and untended - wild even.

Cesar is the winemaker at Jeriko Estates. He formerly worked at Campovida.

Cesar Toxqui is moving towards biodynamic certification, he told me today, and will be releasing a biodynamic Grenache this summer, a rarity in California.

If you want to get in on more Hopland deals like the $100 case of primo Zin, you can pencil in the date on your calendar for the next Hopland Passport festival, to be held the fourth weekend in October.

If you're a lover of organic and biodynamic wines, as I am, Hopland's Passport is The Passport event to go to. Mendocino's famous for its organic viticulture, with 28% of its winegrapes grown organically or biodynamically. That is more than 4 times as much as any other county in the U.S.

Parducci Tour: Gimme Those Old Time Redwood Tanks

Tim Thornhill and I
About a month ago, I visited Charles Krug winery in preparation for a telephone interview with Peter Mondavi, Jr. for an article I am writing for an environmental publication on organically grown wines.

I was impressed with the fabulous Redwood Room, constructed from old redwood tanks.

I was even more amazed this past weekend, while in Hopland for its Passport festivities, to visit Parducci and interview Parducci owner and Mendocino Wine Co. partner Tim Thornhill to see the incredible redwood tanks at Parducci. I know of no other first and second growth redwood tank farm in the state. (If you do, let me know.)

Apparently Tim, when he bought Parducci around 2003, had the bright idea of selling off the redwood. "Our winemaker practically chained himself to the tanks," said Thornhill, who realized the errors of his ways and has now left the tanks in place. They, of course, no longer impart a wood flavor, being some 40-50 years in age, but remind us of a bygone era.

While Parducci has many things to recommend it (which I will be writing about later) I have to say I found the redwood tanks, in number, size, and vintage, to be absolutely awesome and worth the visit alone. Of course, there was much more to enjoy here, but this is one show stopper on the tour.

Mike Lee, Kenwood's Organic Pioneer, Dies

I met Mike Lee on Sunday at the Hopland SIP Mendocino tasting room. This delightful man poured a flight of four Patianna wines and urged me to meet Patty Fetzer, giving me her number, when I told him I was writing a book about organically grown wines.

It was obvious he was a special kind of person and within a few seconds of hearing about his experiences, running Kenwood, and converting its 250 acres from conventional to organic, I realized I could learn a lot from him. We said we'd talk later this week.

I read the news on Tuesday of his death on Monday - at 66. He'd had a heart attack while playing a golf game in Santa Rosa.

Life is so precious.

Although I only had 15 minutes of time with Mike, it was clear he was a special person with a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience. I only wish we'd had more than 15 minutes.

My heart goes out to his family, friends and Patianna pals. I am sure he will be deeply missed.

A bit of his legacy, according to the Patianna web site profile:

"Reflecting on his 40 years in the wine business, Mike describes the enormous changes he has witnessed. “When I started in 1970, 80% of the tanks in Sonoma County were made of redwood,” he remembers. There have been important improvements in crushing, pressing, aging and cellaring, but Mike thinks that the changes in the vineyard have produced the most dramatic, positive changes in wine quality. “Today,” he says, “the focus is on the vineyard, not the celebrity winemaker.”