Thursday, August 4, 2011

Trendspotting: Organic Wine in Mendocino's Supermarkets

I recently had an exciting three hour coffee meeting with a new Slow Foods friend who is a tour guide. We were discussing her experiences taking foreign food boards on weeklong trendspotting tours in California.

Today, I saw the future of organic wine in supermarkets in Mendocino County. I am in the beautiful coastal town of Mendocino (where I am on a writing retreat this week, writing my guide to Organically Grown Wines for $20 or Less). Both coastal and inland natural foods stores are an organic supermarket wine shoppers' mecca.

Supermarket Shopping

The local Harvest Market, which has a small store in Mendocino and a large store in Fort Bragg, carries many of the usual Mendo suspects - from Barra and Bonterra to Paul Dolan and Terra Savia. Even McFadden and tiny Naughty Boy are represented.

In Ukiah, the Ukiah Coop's Natural Foods store also has a fine selection and the highest ratio of organic to nonorganic wines I have seen ANYWHERE in the state. I would have to say it has hands down the best selection, bar none, of organically grown wines (since most of them are so close to Ukiah.)

Whole Foods is way behind both of these stores as is Berkeley Bowl and other fine leading Bay Area groceries that have some - but not very many - organically grown wines. I have found in the Oakland Whole Foods that most of the organically grown wines are a. not in the eco-friendly section, b. from Europe, c. not labeled organic, and d. are outpromoted by Whole Foods promotion for its nonorganic answer to Two Buck Chuck - Three Wishes.

If one had wishes for the Ukiah Natural Foods store and Harvest Markets, it would be that the organically grown wines had a separate section AS WELL as being intermingled in the regular sections. However the great majority of these wineries aren't afraid to put the "Made with Organic Grapes" label on the bottle (unlike a large number of other wineries). In Mendo.

Wine Store

Stepping up to the more upscale dimension of wine distribution,  there's The Wine Shop on the Mendocino village waterfront. Focusing on Mendo wines, it has a great selection of the under $20 as well as higher priced organic wines from the above as well as Testa and others. 

Contrast this with the Oakville Grocery in Healdsburg (or their Napa brethren): I think I only found one organic selection (La Neblina Pinot Noir from Radio Coteau) when I stopped in on my way up north.

Shame on them. There are so many great producers to choose from.

The Corner Stores and Groceries
There's certainly a sinking feeling when you go into corner store in Hopland, for instance, and find the usual Gallo suspects - Barefoot, et al - and none of the local fare. We're in the Heartland of Organic Wine, people! Wake up! You want to sell local maps, crafts, and other doodahs - then why isn't the biggest agribusiness crop (wine) in the store?

Though the bigger shame belongs to the wine distribution system - for continuing to be controlled by distributors who only want to do business with the five top producers (Diageo, Gallo, Constellation, The Wine Group and Jackson) - none of whom offers an organic wine (except for two wines from Constellation's Sterling Vineyards, which offers a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc, and Bronco's TJ exclusive Green Fin).  Why build those big Safeways with the huge wine aisles, when there's no organic wine to choose from?

It's kind of like cable - hundreds of channels to choose from and yet, the Internet/Youtube/Netflix will win.

You'd think the altfood network, which was the first to step up to organic, would fill the slot for organic wines, and they are getting there, I suppose, but a lot more slowly than I would have imagined.

So that's it - you've had the trendspotting tour. We'll see what's to come.

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