Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Better Than Black Friday - Half Price Sale at Yorkville Cellars through 12/5!!

You can't go wrong with wine for holiday gifting (not to mention celebrating) and wineries where every single wine is organically grown make shopping super simple - and that would be a good thing.

That's why the Half Price sale at Yorkville Cellars promises to be a great way to buy wine - to celebrate the end of Prohibition, which took place on Dec. 5, the winery is offering half off on wines purchased online through 12/5. By entering the code "nomorepro", all prices will be halved when you check out.

If you prefer not to use the internet, you may purchase wine at the winery or over the phone on Dec. 5 only.

This bit of Bordelais in California is the only winery that grows all six of the red noble grapes of Bordeaux - (pictured above) - both in blended form and as single varietals. That sounds like a great gift - something truly unique - for the wine lovers in your life.

The winery's owners lived in Bordeaux and when they got into the wine world in Mendocino decided to bring Bordeaux's traditions along with them in the New World. The winery is located at the very southern end of Anderson Valley, just north of Cloverdale.

Twenty five years later, their winery is one of the few that offers only organically grown wines, a trend that's worth repeating, and the kind of wineries we like to see.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Volker Eisele's Terzetto ($75) Outranks Joseph Phelps Insignia ($225) in Wine & Spirits Year's Best Cabernet Blends List

Wine & Spirits Magazine just announced its Year's Best Cabernets and Blends list.

While a number of the usual outstanding organic Napa cabs made the list, a standout achievement from my point of view was the long overdue and appropriate recognition for Volker Eisele's Terzetto.

When I first got interested in organically grown wine, Volker was the first person I met who embodied the ideals I imagined a grower and a winery should have. He's been organic since the 1970s. He fought to preserve the valley from development - in fact, he was one of the two main champions of the fight to save Napa from pro-growth forces (which included many famous wineries who have profited mightily from the restricted growth. Read James Conaway's wonderful book Napa for the whole story).

Joseph Phelps is a great winery and world famous for its Insignia blends. It is like a Ferrari, while Volker's outfit is home grown and family run, yet very sophisticated when it comes to growing great grapes and making wine.

If you haven't been to visit the winery, located up in beautiful Chiles Valley, in a remote and gorgeous setting, this might be a good reason to go. (Just give them a call up there).

The winery makes only 3 wines - a Cabernet Sauvignon, a white Bordeaux blend called Gemini (Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc). and the Terzetto (equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot all co-fermented together).

This wine rated 93 points from the judging panel (which blind tasted the wines) consisting of Josiah Baldivino of Michael Mina, Ian Becker of Arlequin and Absinthe, Rebecca Banks of Balthazar in NY, and others.

Organics On Wine & Spirits List of Year's Best Cabernets and Cab Blends

Frog's Leap's 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (92 points)
Wine & Spirits Best Cabernets of the Year
Ahead of Staglin Family (91 pts.,/$185) and Ridge
At $45 ($40 online) a W&S BEST BUY
Is this the Olympics of California wine?

Each year, we wait to see who will get the best cabernet ratings in various competitions. In this case, it's the Wine & Spirits year's best rankings.

The overall ratings game is not quite as exciting since Parker stopped tasting California wines himself for the Wine Advocate, but it's still a tiny thrill to see where the organically grown wineries wind up on this and other year's best lists. 

Here are the organically grown ones from the Wine & Spirits list.


94 Points

• Spottswoode
2007 St. Helena Napa Valley, $136

92 Points

• Frog's Leap
2008 Napa Valley Cabernet, $45
Best Buy
(Not 100% certified grapes as Williams buys grapes from "practicing organic" growers)

91 Points

• Rubicon Estate
2007 Rutherford Napa Valley Cask Cabernet Sauvignon, $75

• Staglin Family
2008 Rutherford Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $185

90 Points

• Chappellet
2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $135
(midway in the 3-year transition to certified organic)

• Peju
2007 Rutherford Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, $105


For comparison's sake, the top wine was Ridge Montebello (95 pts./$146) while Rothschild-owned Dominus 2008 Napa Valley ($149) came in at 93 pts.

93 Points

• Benziger
2008 Sonoma Mountain Tribute, $80
100% biodynamic
79% Cabernet Sauvignon with Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, and Merlot

• Rubicon Estate
2008 Rutherford Napa Valley Rubicon, $200

• Volker Eisele
2007 Napa Valley Terzetto, $75

91 Points

• Joseph Phelps
2007 Napa Valley Insignia, $225
100% biodynamic grapes (even though they don't like to advertise this, they are)

90 Points

• Rubicon Estate
2007 Rutherford Napa Valley Rubicon, $145

Sunday, November 27, 2011

20 Years in the Making! U. C. Davis Publishes Its First Organic Winegrowing Manual

It only took 20 years, but Monsanto-ridden U.C. Davis has finally published its first organic wine growing manual! Raise your glasses, please!

Author and editor Dr. Glenn McGourty
Authored by a variety of expert contributors, the in-depth volume was edited by U. C. Davis professor and U.C. Ag Extension advisor for Mendocino and Lake Counties, Dr. Glenn McGourty, who, for decades, has been the go-to guy for answers to organic viticulture questions.

The book has extensive coverage of all aspects of organic viticulture and was written for California growers.

Today only about 2% of California's 500,000 acres of vineyards are certified organic, although about another 2-5% may also be practicing organic.

In contrast, France has 10 times the certified organic acreage that California does, with 7% of its vineyards organically certified, and a different wine culture with consumers seeking out these wines. Wine lists in restaurants often list organic and/or biodynamic wine options.

To order a copy of the manual, visit this link.

For more details about the manual, you can visit Wines and Vines to see their coverage.

Organic and Dry Farming John Williams of Frog's Leap's Surprising Start

This month's Wines and Vines has a lovely interview with the man most people think of first when they think "Napa and organic" - John Williams of Frog's Leap who started on the organic path in 1988.

Raised on a dairy farm in New York State, he thought he would go on to pursue the family business. And even for the first ten years in the winery business, he only bought grapes.

When he first bought land in Rutherford (Frog's Leap has 250 acres today), he needed help to actually grow the grapes. It took Amigo Bob, who the Fetzers recommended at the time, to set Williams on the path that lead him to certify all of of his land as organic - and Frank Leeds, the legendary grower, to show him how to dry farm it as well.

Here are a few of the best bits from the interview:

"Upon loosening the soil, returning organic matter and stimulating the soil organisms, we almost immediately see health returning to the vines, and within three years we are usually able to disconnect them from their water and fertilizer dependencies."


"...the truth is that easily 90% of the Napa Valley vineyard sites neither need, nor benefit from, irrigation. We know this because for more than 100 years that’s how grapes were grown here. All the great and fundamental wines that established the reputation of the Napa Valley, every one was from a dry-farmed vineyard."


I personally think history will show that the introduction of drip was the primary cause for the phylloxera crisis of the late ’80s and early ’90s."


We believe that not only are irrigation systems in most Napa Valley vineyards unnecessary, wasteful and costly, but indeed they have been detrimental to wine quality and a primary contributor to a changing wine style characterized by lower natural acidities, higher pHs, much higher alcohol contents and a greater adaptation of winemaking intervention....we have grapevines with root zones the size of basketballs living on a “Coke and candy bar diet” of fertilizer and water applied weekly until the day they are picked? 

Read the full interview at:
Copyright © Wines & Vines

Organically Grown Cottonwood Cellars Makes Wine & Spirits Magazine's Extreme Value Wines Picks List

Wine & Spirits Critics Picks for Extreme Value +
It's Organically Grown!
I just this morning finished reading George Taber's excellent new book on bargain wines (more on that in a later post) when I opened my new issue of Wine & Spirits to the page on December tastings where there was a big, colorful, picture-laden, one page spread on "Extreme Values."

Judged by Wine & Spirits magazine, the 9 bargain wines featured include one of the wines in my new app (it's coming, it's coming) - Cottonwood Creek's Red Table Wine.

The $7 wine (from Bronco's offspring Panther Rock, comprised of the Franzia's next generation of sons) merits this description: "A soft, herbal claret from organic grapes. For pork chops."

(I am not sure why "pork chops" would be amended to a wine description. The wine's web page on the Cottonwood Cellars web site says "pairs nicely with seafood (heavy), cheese, pasta, ham, beef, spicy foods, and lamb.")

I am glad that Wine & Spirits selected this as a Critics Pick, but since the wine is not really a claret, am curious as to where this language came from. 

A claret is an English term for a Bordeaux blend. 

According to the Cottonwood Cellars web site, this wine is 29% Merlot and 71% Organic Red Wine. What is "organic red wine"? And is it from California? The answer to the second question is yes, since the wine is certified by CCOF as 100% organically grown. (I don't think CCOF certification applies to bulk wine purchased from other countries but if someone knows otherwise, please speak up.) 

"Organic Red Wine" means bulk wine, not cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc or other varietals that most likely would have been called out. 

Anyway I don't mean to digress too far into the "claret" issue, but I do wonder if this is part of the well known Franzia aspiration to be more Napa like. I guess it's no different from the Chinese naming one of their wine regions the Nava Valley, but it does strike me as odd to call a red table wine, in all likelihood from the Central Valley, a claret without having to back up the claim with a list of what grapes are truly inside the bottle. 

Is there now a little bit of Bordelais (French) in Madera (Portuguese) made by southern Italians (Franzias) and Mexican-Americans (California vineyard workers)? 

And made by a chemist from Cal. State University-Stanislaus? (Joseph Allbaugh is listed as the winemaker.)

Welcome to the global wine world - all right here in California.

Anyway....Please sample and let me know what you think of this wine. 

I am happy to see producers who can move large quantities of organically grown wines in the market and Cottonwood Cellars should be very successful. 

And as large organic wineries like Bonterra discontinue their low-end blended table wines (Bonterra's red table wine is no longer being made), it's good to see another heavyweight taking this role on. And who better than the Franzias to get into the market?

Personally I am curious as to where the Franzias are getting their organic grapes for the Cottonwood Cellars line as well as Bronco's Green Fin wines ($4 at Trader Joe's only) - since this must be a large quantity that they are purchasing.

If you haven't read George Taber's new book A Toast to Bargain Wines yet, there is an excellent chapter on Fred Franzia and Bronco you can look forward to reading.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What's Not Organic: Gather Restaurant's Wine List - Wake Up The Wine Director, Wudya!

Just 4 out of 29 wines are organic and only 1 or 2 of those are biodynamic
Gather restaurant is one of the leaders in the local and organic food movement - no question about it. And where else can you get such nice organic cocktails?

But what's happening with their wines? Whoa, Nellie. Their leadership position in all other areas leaves one scratching one's head.

I have gotten so frustrated, I've taken to posting this Yelp review:

"I used to like Gather. Until...I started to study the wine list and realized it was phony baloney!  While the food may be organic, the wine is not! (organically grown, that is).

On its web site, Gather says: "The wines on this list have been selected...because the producers who made them demonstrate their commitment by practicing organic, biodynamic and/or sustainable viticulture."

Alas, less than 15% of the wines listed are organic (certified) and only 1-2 out of 29 wines are biodynamic. That means that more than 85% of these wines are neither certified organic nor biodynamic."

The list on the site today (Nov. 27, 2011) contains the following wines that I know are made with 100% certified grapes: Handley's Estate Chardonnay ($48 for a $20 wine), the Robert Sinskey Pinot Gris, and the Beckmen Le Bec Blanc ($48 for an $18 wine). In the reds, there is one - the Preston Zinfandel. 

Don't you think Gather - given its role in advancing environmentally friendly practices - should be expected to do better than this?"

If you think Gather should do better, please email them. With so many incredible certified organic producers and wines locally, it's ridiculous to see a wine list like this one at a restaurant that has such an opportunity to showcase what's really going on in the local and organic side of wine. And there are plenty of reasonably priced wines (like the ones in their $20 retail price point) that could be served.

(And why do they bother to say their wine choices are organic, biodynamic, etc...? Do they count on us not knowing who is and who isn't? Perish the thought.)

UPDATE: It's Dec. 5 and Gather has responded to my Yelp review, pointing out many of these issues, by saying that 7 of their wines are certified organically grown. I've asked them to validate those certifications, since there isn't any input that I have had from the wineries in question that the wines Gather says are certified are in fact certfied. I am waiting for their reply and will publish a new post when I hear back with more information that resolves some of these questions.

UPDATE: It's Dec. 11 and Gather has submitted a comment which I just published here. In answer to their questions, I already did email the wine person there 9 months ago (I have now sent Gather the email exchange between us). Gather sent me a list of wines with their certification status. According to them, there are 3-4 more wines that are made with certified grapes. I have asked each of the wineries to provide verification that these wines are certified. I haven't heard from the wineries or from Gather that the wines Gather would like to add to the certifieds list are in fact certified. 

So best case scenario, if we gave Gather the benefit of the doubt, 7 out of 29 wines are certified, which is not a very impressive record. There are more than 150 wineries with certified organic viticulture making hundreds of wines. Some rate from 100 points from Parker all the way down. Most hover in the $10-40 price range, and many rank in the low 90's from 

And while it's true it's great, as Gather notes, that big chains should offer us organically grown choices, it's also true that most movements rely upon small movements to become mainstream market influencers. That is why we look to the edge, trend leaders, like Green's and Gather, to be demonstrate to the rest of their industries, how it can be done. I hope Gather will branch out on its path of showing us how good organically grown wine can be and that this interaction has been educational about organic viticultiure's importance and promise. Certification is an essential part of building a movement. And those who have gone down the route of certification (paperwork and a small amount of cash - about $10 an acre) should receive our support and attention.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Celebrate Organically! Black Friday Special! Buy A Gift Certificate for a Great Day in Wine Country

Get to know the right people and wines - put your wine money where your mouth is.

Are your wine drinking experiences matching your local/organic values (organic foods, farmers markets, avoiding pesticides, etc.)?

This year, give the gift of an experience - the gift of a special day or weekend in wine country learning about and visiting organic vineyards, biodynamic vineyards and winemaking experts who embody the values we want to grow in agriculture.

We'll take you to places you haven't been before - guaranteed!

Trips are designed for you and/or group and can be taken in your vehicle or ours and can cover any of the following areas. Multiday tours are also available.

One day rates range from $300-600. Call 510.213.9525 or email (winecountrygeographic @ for more information. 

We can also plan your entire getaway.

(We can also provide non-alcholic, wine grape juices to children and nondrinkers on family tours).

Your gift certificate can also include a complimentary bottle of your recipient's favorite varietal (organically grown, from somewhere on the tour destination region) delivered in time to be gifted on Christmas Day, the holiday of your choice, or their birthday.


  • Napa - Cabernets and More
  • Napa - Hidden Napa Hill Country (select organic vineyards in the mountains)
  • Sonoma - Dry Creek Rhone Blends and More
  • Sonoma - Russian River - Pinot Noir Heartland, ZInfandel
  • Mendocino - Hopland-Ukiah- Organic Heartland Tour (all varietals)
  • Mendocino - Anderson Valley - Pinot and Chardonnay
  • Santa Cruz and Central Coast - Various
  • Santa Barbara County - Rhone and More
  • Paso Robles - Rhone, Biodynamic and More
  • Central Valley and Sierras - Hidden Gems

Theme Tours

  • What's in a Label? Sustainable, Organic and Biodynamic (can be for any region)
  • France in California
  • Europe in California
  • California Wine History (Napa or Sonoma)
  • Tasting of Paris Tour (the wineries and people who won in the famous contest)
  • Dry Farming Tours (wineries that are organic and dry farmed)
Organic wine tours make great gifts!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Foodshed, Milkshed...When Will We Get to the Wineshed?

Cowgirl Creamery's Milk Bar at the SF Ferry Building
Today I was at the ferry building in San Francisco and came across this lovely graphic depiction of where Cowgirl Creamery's milk comes from. Beautiful.

Recently the SF Chronicle published an article about a local food shed event - see here - and described what the term "food shed" means:

"The term was coined in 1929 in Walter Hedden's book "How Great Cities Are Fed" to refer to the physical area defined by a structure of food supply - where it's produced, how it's transported, where it's consumed.

The tomato patch in your garden is an intimate part of your personal foodshed. So is the Chilean orchard that produced the avocados you bought at Costco."
So we could start to think about the wine shed - which is why I started this blog, and am writing the app I am working on.
I can't wait to go to a wine store or supermarket wine dept. one day that has a map of its "Wineshed" on the wall.

The Science of Wine: Kermit Lynch and Randall Grahm at City Arts and Lectures

The two most exciting figures in wine in California gather onstage Tuesday, April 3 for what promises to be a very exciting wine conversation event.

The dynamic combination of Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm (left), founder of the Rhone Rangers, author of Been Doon So Long and proprietor of Bonny Doon Vineyard together onstage with French wine importer Kermit Lynch, (right) proprietor of Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant and author of the French wine book Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer's Tour of France, should be fun.

The interviewer will be Karen MacNeil (left), author of The Wine Bible.

One conversation between the two is also chronicled in the book An Ideal Wine by David Darlington.

Years earlier, Kermit famously suggested (decades ago) that Grahm try growing Rhone varietals in California, since the climate here was much more akin to that of the Rhone region in France (as compared to Bordeaux or Burgundy for example, where many of the varietals grown in northern and central California come from) - and the rest is history as Rhone varietals spawned a new era in California winemaking.

Tickets ($22) are now on sale. For more info, see here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Wines: My Personal Picks

What will YOU be drinking this Thanksgiving?

I haven't quite narrowed it down - I am bringing some to family dinner at friends - but here are the likeliest  organic picks that I expect to whittle down from.

Since I will be bringing 3-6 bottles, price is a consideration. I've tried to limit the costs to $20-30 per bottle at most.

Sparkling Wines: 

McFadden Vineyard's Brut, 2010, $25
Terra Savia's Blanc de Blanc, 2010, $23

These are the two Davids who have gone head to head with Goliath Roederer in the county contest and beat the French giant.

McFadden's current vintage has got a full 50% Pinot Noir in it. Last year's vintage won the county contest in 2010 and came in second in 2011, within a month of bottling. I look forward to its flavors mellowing. This one is a buy at the winery wine. (Stock up - I got four cases to last me the year - and this wine always sells out.)

Terra Savia's 2007 Sparkling Chardonnay was the 2011 county contest pick, tying with Roederer. You can generally find it at Whole Foods.

White Wines:

Sauvignon Blanc: Neal Family, $18
Riesling: Dashe Cellars, $20
Chardonnay: Handley, $20
Albarino: Verdad, $22
Rhone Blend: Saracina/Atrea's The Choir, $20ish
Bordeaux Blend: Volker Eisele's Gemini, $25

In California, most Sauvignon Blancs are grown in climate that's too hot in soil that's too rich. Not so with the Neal Family, who are famous for their organic viticultural management of many a Napa tycoon's vineyards, but who also grow their own grapes, mostly Cabernet, up above Napa in Angwin. There on Howell Mountain, they indulge in Sauvignon Blanc as well - and theirs is uniquely far more subtle than the average Cali SB. And their prices aren't off the wall either.

Bonterra's Riesling won double gold in the Mendo County wine competition. I've gone through a case already and am on tap to get another.

Another noteworthy organically grown California option would be Dashe Cellar's Riesling, grown by McFadden.

I am not really big on Chardonnay, personally, but if I were, the Handley Chard would be an excellent choice.

Verdad, a winery specializing in Spanish varietals, has a lovely Albarino which would also be a great choice for Thanksgiving.

Or try the Rhone blend of Saracina's The Choir, a blend of 70% Roussanne and 30% Viognier, often on the wine list at leading restaurants.

Volker Eisele, one of Napa's organic pioneers, has a lovely Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc (82/18% respectively), blended by legendary winemaker John McKay.

Red Wines: 

Pinot Noir: Cooper Mountain, $20
Pinot Noir: Porter Creek, $32

Pinot Noir seems to be the go to red wine for most wine writers, when it comes to turkey, but I like to take a broader approach and include grenache as well.

In the Pinot department, Oregon's biodynamic Cooper Mountain's 2008 vintages represent a highly rated vintage. Parker scored it 90 points, making it probably the only $20 Pinot Noir in that category. It's an amazing value and deserves to be on a lot more restaurant lists in California.

I also love Russian River-based Porter Creek's way with Pinot. (As do many). The estate Pinot is the most moderately priced one on the market at $32. It's also been on the wine list at Chez Panisse and French Laundry.

Grenache: Qupe, $35
Grenache: Horse and Plow, $22

Qupe has a lovely biodynamic grenache. I hesitate to mention Horse and Plow's since so little is made - so don't buy it all. (I need to get some!)

Bon Appetit!

Awardmania: Wine and Spirits' Top 100 Wineries of the Year

Of 40 U.S. wineries on the list, 9 - or nearly 25% - grow their estate grapes organically (although some purchase grapes from non organic sources for some of their wines).

Starred wineries are exclusively organic in their offerings:

Frog's Leap (not certified)
King Estate
Storybook Mountain*

Read the full list here.

If you know which of the foreign wineries listed is organic, please let me know.

Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines: Organic Tablas Creek Wins #37

Tablas Creek's Cotes de Tablas (Red) 2009 placed 37th in Wine Spectator's 2011 top 100 wines from around the world. Parker rated it an 88 earlier this year, while Wine Spectator rated it 93 pts. in its current issue.

Earlier this year, critic Robert Parker commented:

"The 2009 CĂ´tes de Tablas is soft, silky and beautifully perfumed. Sweet
red fruit, flowers and spices flow from this graceful, supple wine. This is an
excellent choice for near-term drinking. In 2009 the blend is 43% Grenache,
24% Syrah, 18% Counoise and 15% Mourvedre. Anticipated maturity: 2011-

I can't say which of the non U.S. wines is organic, but mostly likely there were a number of foreign organic wines among the winners.

Very few Rhone reds were among the top tier. Since I am a Grenache fan, I was happy to see this listed as high up on the list as it is. However, it's also strange that nothing from its more complex cousin/French partner, Chateau de Beaucastel, rated in the top 100, since their wines are generally more complex (more varietals) (yet much pricier).

The Wine Spectator top 100 is a little hard to understand. Higher rated wines - like Peter Michael's $175 a bottle Les Pavots - got 98 points from WS, but placed 50th on the top 100 list, while wines rated 95 and 96 took top honors.

The whole list is here.

One also has to wonder how much these awards have to do with the advertising pool - i.e. those who advertise in the magazine - do they get priority?

Personally, I don't think the rating system is much help, no matter who it comes from, since most of the rankings generally put all wines within about a 10 pt. range of each other (mid 80s to low 90s) despite price variations of 10x+.

If you're a bargain hunter, the good news is that many of the bottles in the top 100 are less than $20 (but I don't know if they are organic).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

FREE (and buy at 10% off) Tasting of Preston's Organically Grown Wines - Saturday in Berkeley

Wines from Preston of Dry Creek - one of the shining examples of a commitment to organic viticulture, land stewardship, and community values - will be available to taste for free this Saturday at Vintage Berkeley locations on both Vine St. and College Ave. (See above graphic for details).

All wines will be on sale this weekend only for 10% off as well, so get thee down to the shop. These prices can't be beat.

Bravo - The Graphic Style Comes to Wine Reviews!

Tired of reading the same old wine descriptions that don't begin to describe the sensation of having wine in your mouth?

Viva the arrival of Hawk Wakawaka in her newly famous graphic wine reviews.

I was researching wines of Bugey for my U. C. Berkeley Extension class on Country Wines of France (I am working on getting a certificate in wine studies in this program) when I came across this lovely depiction of a Bugey wine sold by Kermit Lynch (where all the wines in the class could have come from).

This is not an organically grown wine so I'm not including it as a recommendation per se, but the style of the wine description is just grand, don't you think?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Amapola Creek's New Rhone-ish Blend - Only 95 Cases Made

Amapola Creek's new estate grown (certified organic) wine - named Cuvee Alis, for proprietor Richard Arrowood's wife - is a blend of 55% Syrah and 45% Grenache - which marks a departure for Arroowood who built his previous brand on the California reliables of Chardonnay and Cabernet.

The new Rhone blend sells for a more affordable $48 a bottle (compared with his Cabs at $80). Only 95 cases were made.

Cuvee Alis the first Rhone blend from Amapola which already has been making Syrahs, Cabernet, and Zinfandel on a mountainside in Sonoma.

Richard Arrowood

The grenache was grown on 8-year-old Syrah vines that were rebudded.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Coturri's Harvest Party

Coturri Wines, in Sonoma, recently got star billing in Alice Feiring's book Naked Wine, about natural winemaking.

Nature was having its way with Coturri's delightful, homey harvest celebration party (Nov. 5) which must surely be the only winery party that's a combination of host-provided chili and guest-provided potluck.

Gathering on the mountain (that would be Sonoma) were a small, but cheerful band of celebrants, who also got to get premium wines at a bargain ($200 a case, for most of Coturri's wines) and to mingle and make merry under the sheltering patio umbrellas as stormy rains threatened (and later did douse) the gathering.

Walking up the hill to the Coturri winery/barn/home was a great way to take in the fall foliage in the vineyard and surrounding hillsides.

To get on the Coturri email list for notification about future sales and parties, click here.

All of these fabulous wines were on sale for $200 a case!

Holiday Wine Discount Deals

The emails are flying fast and furious - with some good deals in them thar digital doodoo!

Don't miss out on chances to buy organically grown wines at great discounts:


On these dates only - Nov. 14-21: 25% off on cases (mixed or singles)

code DCPF25

The organic offerings include:

Dashe - McFadden Rieslings (organic) (2010 and 2011)

Dashe - Heart Arrow Zinfandel (biodynamic)

(I don't advise getting Dashe's Thanksgiving bundle as it includes mostly non-organically grown wines).

One of the great plusses about Dashe - they are right here in Oakland so you can drop by and pick up the wines yourself - no shipping charges.


Bonny Doon is running three special deals - choose from different bundles - or packs, as they call them.

Pack 1 - 4 wines for $80

The sparkling Moscato is a great aperitif or goes well with the meal or dessert.

The Clos de Gilroy is a grenache, a red on the lighter side (and one of my personal favorite varietals) that pairs well with turkey, ham, or other fare. But it is not whole-ly organic (partially).

The Muscat is not your usual muscat and is definitely on the dry, dry side (not sweet). It comes from the Italian moscato giallo grapes, a yellow muscat found in northeast Italy.

Vinferno is clearly a sweet wine and great for dessert.

Pack 2 - 4 wines for $90

I am not sure if the following are organically grown (pending winery response): This pack includes a new sparkling Riesling (again, a great aperif or accompaniment to the meal), a viognier (light white), a carignane/mourvedre blend (medium bodied red) (might not be fully organic - to be confirmed pending winery notification), and a light port (viognier with added eau de vie and raw grape spirit (also unknown if this is certified organic).

There's also a Holiday Brunch pack - 5 wines for $78

This one includes:

• a nonalcoholic grenache, which can be drunk as it or mixed with sparkling water.

• a hard sparkling cider, which is a blend of apples (51%), pears (40%) and quince (9%)

• a rose (70% grenache and 30% cinsault)

and the aforementioned dry (yellow) muscat and grenache blend.

In addition, Bonny Doon is offering free shipping on orders over $125.


Amapola Creek is offering free shipping on any order of 6 or more bottles - offer good until 11.23.11.

All of their estate grown wines are certified organic. (They offer a Monteo Rosso Zinfandel which is not estate grown). 

Their estate grown wines include a new Rhone blend of grenache and syrah (Cuvee Alis), Syrahs, Cabernet, and Zinfandels. 

Gold Star Wine Retailer: Ashland Food Coop

In recent posts, I have been ragging on wine and grocery retailers' casualness in labeling organically grown wine. Wine merchants who are a cut above average aren't doing a good job of it (except for the exceptions) and even leading organic food retailers (from giant chains like Whole Foods to local trendsetters like Berkeley Bowl) are casual to the point of crazy-making.

Let's put the accent on the positive and showcase a great example of how organically grown wine SHOULD be showcased in a retail setting.

The top two retailers I've met who are clearly labeling organically grown wines so far are food coops located in the heart of liberal-lands - Ukiah Food Coop in Mendocino County in California and the Ashland Food Coop in Ashland, Oregon.

Here's the wine shopping experience at the Ashland Food Coop, where not only are organically grown wines given their own section, but locally grown wines are given a little extra love in labeling and callouts.

Ashland Food Coop is certified by Oregon Tilth as an organic facility

The organic certification is displayed to customers when they walk in the door

The section of organically grown wines is front and center in the wine area;
behind the end cap on both sides of the rows are nonorganic wines;
another end cap to the right of this photo showcases imported organically grown wines

This wonderful, local, organically grown wine is front and center as well;
raised by a local grower, the grapes are vinified by the southern Oregon winery Cowhorn
under their subbrand - Sullivan and Steele 

Cowhorn's lovely biodynamically grown wines (certified) also get showcased nicely

In addition to shelving with all the organically grown brands, the local brand
also gets its own special display section

The accompanying signage lets customers know it is local and certified organic;
no wine director is trying to tell you it's organic if it's not certified (unlike in
wine stores and restaurants)

One of the lovely wine directors is on hand to tell you more about the wines
or answer any questions - she pro-actively looks for customers to engage with
I am so impressed - and yet it's so simple. Let's hope more retailers will get with the program - Whole Foods, are you listening?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Wine and Mushroom Festival in Mendocino Nov. 5-13

Lovely chantrelles I picked last week -  and made into
mushroom tartlets and cream of mushroom soup
Last week was my first fruitful mushroom picking in many a year, guided by a couple of my friends who are expert.

But you don't have to be an expert or have friends who are in order to enjoy the glories of the mushroom season.

Enjoy the Mendocino Wine and Mushroom Festival which starts today and runs through next weekend. You can explore all the events on the festival web site here. Lots is happening - wine and food events, kayaking specials, mushroom hunting (some with horseback rides) and more.

My Top Pick of the Events

The foray with renowned mushroom expert and author David Aurora which takes place Saturday, Nov. 12. Click here for info.

Events that feature wineries with organic viticulture include:

-Anderson Valley

Handley Cellars
Nov. 5-6 and Nov 12-13: In Anderson Valley, Handley will be featuring food and wine pairings featuring mushroom dishes. They are of course famous for their estate grown Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wine.

Yorkville Cellars
Nov. 5: Yorkville Cellars will be featuring Mushrooms and Malbec.

-Ukiah/Hopland/Redwood Valley

SIP Mendocino
Nov. 10 (Thursday): The SIP Mendocino tasting room in Hopland will be serving local Pinots paired with mushroom appetizers. They usually carry a wide selection of organically grown wines including Barra, McFadden, and smaller labels.

Jeriko Winery
Nov. 5: Special food pairing with sausage-stuffed and rice-stuffed mushrooms. Details here.

Frey Wines
Nov. 10, 5 pm: Special dinner - details here.

-On the Coast

Fort Bragg/Willits
Nov. 5: The Skunk Train will be offering a special trip which includes a catered meal accompanied by the top 20 gold medal winning wines from the Mendocino Wine Competition.

Many of these are organically grown: Patianna's Sauvignon Blanc, Paul Dolan's Cabernet, Yorkville Cellars' Sweet Malbec, Barra's Cabernet, Testa's Black, Saracina's Old Soul Red, Terra Savia's Sparkling Wine and Masut's Pinot Noir.

See the video below for more details:


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

EcoFarm Conference - Registration Open

The 32nd annual EcoFarm conference will be held Feb. 1-4 at Asilomar. Conference information here.

This is one of the premiere events for the organic farming and viticulture community.

Check out the agenda!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Watch Them - Every Single Step of the Way

It is heartbreaking to have to be so vigilant about organically farmed wines, if you're making (as I am) an attempt to support the wines that are made 100% from certified grapes.

So many of the leading wineries in organics and biodynamics also buy grapes from other vineyards that are not certified.

Today I just found out that Bonny Doon's Contra, a highly praised $14 bottle, which won great kudos from Robert Parker, is not 100% organically grown. Mostly but not wholly.

So it's out of the app.

Other wineries that have big org/BD branding but are not organic (certified) all the time include Frog's Leap (buys grapes from those who are "practicing organic") and Tres Sabores. Benziger is another big "organic" brand except when it isn't.

Parducci is also not organic - although they like to make much of their own estate organics, they purchase many grapes from other sources that are not. Therefore none of their wines is 100% organically grown.

One wishes everyone would clearly label what's what on the websites. All too often, they don't.

Kudos to the places that do buy grapes and who only buy certified grapes - like Bonterra, for instance, which has done probably more to promote organic acreage increases than any other winery in the country through its grower programs.