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.


  1. Hi Pam,

    First let me say that accountability in promoting green & environmentally friendly practices and/or products is deeply important to us as well, and we applaud you for focusing on that in your blog. 'Greenwashing' is certainly something we all need to be vigilant about, but you are mistaken to accuse us of that. We spend many hours deciding which wines to bring into our small program. We would have loved it if you had called us or actually come into the restaurant and talked with us about your concerns, as we have lots of information to share with you and others. I have a spreadsheet that is available for the servers and managers to share with customers if they have questions.

    Very clearly our menu says that,"the producers who made them demonstrate their commitment to the environment by practicing organic, biodynamic, and/or sustainable viticulture." It does not say that we offer Certified Organic or Certified Biodynamic wines only. We don't use labels to validate the choices we've made for the wine list, as we build relationships with our producers and talk to them regularly about their practices. Our business is also about supporting other small businesses, and as small business people the winemakers have to weigh the costs and benefits of certification. For many farmers as well as winemakers, the high cost of certification for their size is just not feasible. The basic stats of our wine list are:

    Of the 25 producers on our list:
    7 Certified Organic
    5 Non-Certified Organic
    3 Certified Biodynamic
    2 Non-Certified Biodynamic
    3 in transition to become Certified Organic
    1 Fish Friendly Certification
    The remaining 4 use many organic methods and are what we have deemed Sustainable.

    We appreciate what you are trying to do by highlighting the issue of organics in the wine industry. It would be so great to see someone like you take on some of the big restaurant chains - just think what kind of beneficial environmental and financial impact a large chain could have if they decided to get just 2 wines on their list to start with that were organic!

    Sarah Cain
    Beverage Manager, Gather Restaurant

  2. Only 4 of the wines on the list are certified organically grown, not 7. But we belabor the point. The point is Gather's branding and positioning is as a leader in the green space, but when it comes to the wine list, we need to ask Gather to step up to the plate - or, er, wine glass - and start considering how wine is grown.