Saturday, September 24, 2011

Randall Grahm at Google Talks

Yes, a ONE HOUR interview with Randall Grahm from Google's Authors at Google talks - originally presented July 20th, 2011.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ken Burns Prohibition Documentary FREE Today Only in iPhone and iPad

Check out the one time only online offer for iPhones and iPads today! Otherwise catch the show on PBS starting Oct. 2.

You can play the episode on the PBS app.
(You can download the app here

Watch a 24 minute show about the series here:

Here is the Wine Spectator article about the series:

Bee Colony Collapse Likely Related to Commonly Used Systemic Pesticides

I don't usually blog about pesticides unless they relate to wine grapes but this story got my attention and I wanted to share it.

Dan Rather's news reports recently (in 2011) returned to examine bee colony collapse and the use of systemic pesticides, following up on an investigation it had aired in 2006.

The pesticides are suspected as the primary culprit in bee colony collapse and have been banned in a number of countries in Europe.

 In the story, there is an interview with bee researchers at UPenn who have found that bees they are looking at have as many as 38 different pesticides in them - a chemical cocktail that scientists point out has never been studied.

See the video for more. (There are three segments - interspersed with another news story).

 Especially alarming is the fact that the EPA is not moving to take action against a substance which, experts in the video say, may be responsible for the collapse of the food chain.
Bee Aware from Greg Stanley on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cowhorn Vineyard - A Lil Piece of Southern Oregon Heaven

I was in Ashland all last week on vacation (if watching 10 plays in 5 days can be called a vacation) and on the 6th day I "rested" by taking a trip down some country roads to the delightful biodynamic Cowhorn Winery nestled in a lovely little valley in the Applegate Valley.

The winery, started by two beer drinkers who knew nothing about wine, was originally going to be just a farm, where the Steeles would raise food, but after purchasing the property, they discovered much of the site was ideal for wine grapes, among other crops. And thus, their winery was born.

The Steeles grow Rhone varietals in the hot, rocky soil of this former river bed, along the banks of the Little Applegate River.

If you're visiting Ashland, it's about an hour to this country lane, where blackberry bushes crowd the road's edge (you might find some the birds overlooked) - a reminder of the Steele's first 18 months on their land, in 2003, clearing nothing but blackberry bushes, old metal parts, and brush before they could plant their first crops.

Today they grow and sell thousands of tons of fruits and vegetables, most of which is sold at the Ashland Food Coop.

They purchased their land after having lived in Novato (in Marin County) in the Bay Area and having developed a relationship with Capay Valley's organic farmers. 

Barbara and Bill Steele left Novato for this sweet spot nestled in a valley in southern was the site of  cattle and cattlefeed farm that lay fallow for 15 years when they purchased the 117 acre property. It's surrounded by thousands of acres of BLM land, and no neighboring vineyards that spray pesticides (no vineyards at all in this little microclimate.)

The entrance to the low-key, laidback winery - where beer drinking Barb and Bill went to grow food - and discovered that wine grapes were the perfect crop (among others) for their rocky, sun-baked soils

Bill Steele with the vineyard in the background; 17 acres are planted in Rhone varietals including Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne as well as Grenache and Syrah.

Organic viticultural rock star Alan York is the consulting viticulturalist in this biodynamic vineyard. The grape vines were so vigorous that they yielded fruit in one year (not the usual three).

A lovely outdoor patio has a beautiful view of the vineyards. Birds abound.

Barbara Steele had to rush to get the winery built in year 1 - ahead of schedule - as no one had expected the grape vines to bear fruit until year 3.


And more viognier - it goes into Cowhorn's Spiral 36 white Rhone blend (a wine that will be featured in my Organic Wine Uncorked app)

Bill Steele shows the roads on the property which delineate both different soils and varying crops. The farm also grows Asian pears and cherries as well as asparagus.

Bill Steele says "I'm not a winemaker" although he does make the wine here. "It's all native yeasts - we just keep the temperatures right inside the winery for fermentation to proceed. And then we age and bottle."

The current lineup of wines: the reserve Syrah, Syrah, Grenache and Spiral 36 (white Rhone blend). Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator recently wrote about the wines of Cowhorn as one of his new interests.

The Littel Applegate River in Applegate Valley (where Cowhorn is located) has, unlike California wine country, abundant water - and the Steeles' property has excellent water rights.

Coming soon: videos of Cowhorn - stay tuned!

Organic Ag - Biggest in California

From the United States of the Environment (link here)

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Massively Good Deal on Tablas Creek Beaucastel Blanc

Right now Tablas Creek is running a great special on its acclaimed Beaucastel Blanc from 2008. The full bottles are sold out, but half bottles are now on sale for 10% AND free shipping...YES. Go now.

The 2008 vintage got a 94 rating from Parker.

If you're not familiar with the history of Tablas Creek - and it is one of the most interesting origin stories of California wineries - enjoy this video with manager Jason Haas, son of one of the co-founders. 

Congratulations! Tablas Creek's Organically Grown Wines Win High Parker Praise

Robert Parker loves Tablas Creek. Probably it's from his long term love of all things Rhone - and his historical adoration of the Perrin family's Rhone wines.

(I'm not generally a Parker points person myself, but it doesn't hurt to bring it up.)

Click on the image to make the red wine scores appear and the image display larger

Parker's adoration has transferred to American soil, and the wines of Tablas Creek, perhaps the most outstanding winery in Paso Robles (and one of the very, very few in that area that has certified organic grapes). So hats' off to the fine scores Tablas Creek's wines have been raking in from the Wine Advocate of late, including the 6 Tablas Creek wines I am writing about in my app (the ones you can buy for $20 or less from retail outlets).

  • Cotes de Tablas Blanc - 88 pts
  • Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc - (1/2 bottle) - 90-92 pts
  • Roussanne - 89-91 pts
  • Vermentino - 90 pts
  • Cotes de Tablas - 88 pts
Although the Patelin wines are also wonderful, they are sourced from a variety of vineyards including some that are not organic. I am sorry to see yet another organic brand source its affordable blends from non organic vineyards when hundreds of tons of organic grapes get blended into nonorganic wines. (Can't we figure out a better way to do this?) I hope Tablas Creek will look harder at sourcing Patelin with all organic neighbors.

(Other brands that drive me nuts about this - much more because they loudly proclaim their greeniness, whereas Tablas does not - are Benziger and King. If you're going to build a brand identity around organic or biodynamic, please don't dilute your brand by offering mostly nonorganic or nonbiodynamic wines. It may take awhile but people will notice. And, Note to Benziger - don't make us pay more for organic or biodynamic. Paul Dolan does this a bit too with his biodynamics.)

Kudos to Beckmen for putting only biodynamic estate fruit into its red Rhone blend - Cuvee le Bec - a continuing and now preferred alternative to Tablas' Patelin - that Parker also loves - and one that's priced under $20.

EPA to Study Banning Roundup

A 2009 article published in Scientific
American on the toxic impacts of Roundup
Link to this article
The Pesticide Action Network's latest email is all about Roundup - and good news from the EPA that the government agency will look into the potential health impacts of this commonly used herbicide.

• Roundup has health impacts

Previous studies have focused on residues in food, but the agency has not examined other impacts including:

• groundwater contamination (as well as air)

• ingestion when metabolized to N-nitroglysophate

•"inert" ingredients on human cells (found to be toxic by a French study published in Scientific American)

"One specific inert ingredient, polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, was more deadly to human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells than the herbicide itself – a finding the researchers call “astonishing.”
Studies on animals have found that it causes birth defects in lab animals.
Meanwhile, the wine industry in California alone is pouring 450,000 pounds of Roundup across the state every year - about a pound an acre where it's used.

Monsanto has done a magnificent job of convincing most people in the wine grape growing world that Roundup is safe and "goes away" - disperses quickly. But where does it go?

We need more answers before allowing this toxic substance to be so widely used.

If you care about restricting the use of Roundup, there are steps you can take - ask your grocery, restaurants, and wine stores to put more pressure on wineries to offer them organically grown alternatives.

• Drinking Organically Grown Wine - Costs the Same as Pesticide-Grown Wine

At the moment, organically grown wine is no more expensive than other wine in the marketplace  - which is a great deal for those of us who care about health and the environment. (Using Roundup is banned under organic certification.)

And as I am finding out in the process of writing my app about 200+ organically grown wines for $20 or less, the organic segment of the industry has a wildly disproportionate number of spots on Top 100 Wineries (Wine & Spirits), 90+ pts ratings (even from Robert Parker), and other high-quality characteristics. Leave out the non-organic wines, and you suddenly discover a pool of mostly better wines (along with better feelings about what you're drinking). And you're not paying for the privilege - you're just getting the benefit.

• Costs to Growers: $10 an Acre for Certification

If people tell you that it is too expensive for them to get certified - ask them how much they think it will cost. According to Lake County's CCOF certifier, the costs are about $10 an acre (after government rebates - which refund 75% of certification fees to the grower).

• Paperwork for Growers: Yes There is Some

Perhaps we could set up an intern-run service bureau to help growers get certified. The paperwork is not that awful - hundreds of growers do manage, provided they have incentives. About 40% of Mendocino County growers are CCOF certified. That may be because they have had - for the last 20 years - a major organic-only buyer (Bonterra) or it may be that they also have - hand in hand with a local buyer - developed a different culture and group norm.

• Action Beyond Consuming Alone

If you want to expand your sphere beyond individual actions, read on to learn more about what PAN's most recent newsletter says:

Like many people, I once believed in the safety of RoundUp. Back in the 1980s when I was a young graduate student in ecology, it was the “safe” herbicide of choice for clearing weeds from study plots.
Monsanto would like us to continue to believe their flagship product is safe, but the data are increasingly saying otherwise. The latest? Widespread exposure is a near certainty, since RoundUp — now linked to birth defects — shows up regularly in our water and air.
Glyphosate, RoundUp’s active ingredient, was found in every stream studied and in most air samples taken in a recent study conducted by government researchersin Mississippi and Iowa. And it's undoubtedly in other states too. Across the U.S. it's used commonly on corn, soybeans, cotton and rice, to the tune of 180-185 millions of pounds in 2007 — more tonnage than any other pesticide.
And that's only use on farms. RoundUp is also the second most commonly used pesticide in homes and gardens across the country.

Scientists bust Monsanto's safety myth

Glyphosate is now known to cause birth defects, and at extremely low levels it can kill placental cells and disrupt the human hormone system. Yet regulatory authorities still only formally recognize its potential to contaminate groundwater
SafeLawns recently pointed out that while glyphosate is not listed by EPA as highly toxic when inhaled, it may become highly toxic in the human digestive system where it is metabolized to N-nitrosoglyphosate — a chemical known to cause tumors.
It can be expensive to test for pesticides in air and water, which is why we haven't before seen the kind of data recently collected in Mississipi and Iowa. Independent testing for health effects can also be costly. Yet these are precisely the kind of data that should be required for continued use of any product. Are we exposed? Does it harm us? How does it affect children's health and development?
One common-sense solution: manufacturers should be required to fund (through not conduct) such testing if they want to keep their pesticides on the market.

EPA agrees to take action — eventually

EPA has set 2015 for deciding if glyphosate should continue to be sold, or should have its use in some way limited.
We know the regulatory process can be woefully slow, even when science is very clear that a pesticide is harming human health. Yet this remains one important route for grassroots efforts. Meanwhile, educate yourself and your friends about the serious threats posed by Monsanto's biggest seller, and help build the public voice to get rid of it once and for all.
There's a LOT more dirt on glyphosate — from additional impacts on human health to serious impacts on plant and soil health (my bailiwick). Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Why Greenwashing? Because It Works

I recently went to a local cultural event (West Coast Live at SFMOMA) a few weeks ago and while waiting for the show to begin, two women seated nearby struck up a conversation. I told them about the wine app I'm writing which prompted one of them to start telling me about the wonderful heirloom tomato event at Kendall Jackson (Sept. 10).

She said they had organic tomatoes.

I said, did she know how many thousands of hilltop acres Kendall Jackson clearcut to make vineyards? About the hundres of oak trees they cut down in Sonoma and Santa Barbara Counties, prompting angry public outcries from the locals who tried to pass legislation to prevent such abused in the future?

And how KJ had nary a single organically grown wine for sale? Which meant it was using large amounts of Roundup on its 14,000 acres...

She was quiet. Literally speechless. Her enthusiasm had turned to shock. Not disbelief - just the anger at having been greenwashed.

We're besieged with all that folksy, wine dog, aw jes folks here imagery over and over - so many distractions. Not reality.

I've found not a single photo of pesticides being sprayed or of pesticide protection gear in searching online.

If you have photos, please send them. Their absence says it all. Even the search engines have been scrubbed.

And the next time a winery puts on a tomato festival, ask yourselves why.