Monday, October 31, 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rachel Carson's Timeless Message

I will be traveling to Pittsburgh on business soon and am excited about the prospect of paying homage to Rachel Carson by paying a visit to her homestead, an hour outside the city.

For those of you who don't know who Rachel Carson was, she was an influential author who brought pesticide use to popular awareness with the publication of her landmark book Silent Spring which later sparked the founding of the EPA. Read her wikipedia listing here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rachel_Carson

Play about Rachel Carson
To prepare for my pilgrimage, I've been ordering up and reading some of the lesser known books (of her
Documentary
early essays) and am about to start watching two DVDs of her life - one a documentary and one a play by the remarkable Kaiulani Lee who does a one-woman show of Carson's life that captivated me in my car last year when I heard it on NPR (coming across the Bay Bridge). I was astonished to learn of the incredible family responsibilities Carson faced in caring for her niece's young son and the financial pressure on her to support numerous relatives.

Here is a clip from the PBS American Experience documentary - you can actually watch the whole show on youtube for free! Just keep clicking through the segments posted by this user.

Or buy the DVD on Amazon.



Here's a clip from the rather slow-paced narrative film (shot by the famed cinematographer Haskell Wexler).



Film info here: http://www.bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/sense.html

I bought a copy on Amazon.

The virulence of the chemical industry in opposing her writings is incredible - reminiscent of the vehemence of climate change deniers today - only much worse.

In 2007, Bill Moyers did a lovely segment which you can watch on the PBS web site about Rachel Carson (broadcast when she would have turned 100 years old) here:

http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/09212007/watch.html

Here's the promo trailer for the segment - but really, tune into the whole thing. It's much better than the promo trailer:




I am not insinuating that the current use of pesticides on vineyards today is equivalent to the uses shown in these clips, because pesticide use has changed so much, but rather to illustrate the folly of knowing so little about using substances so widely and being so sure that everything is okay.

Having worked on some of the leading genetics research web sites (DNA.com, DNADirect.com) as well as launching two channels on WebMD (one for consumers and one for physicians) in 2001, I remember hearing over and over from experts (Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Stanford, UCSF and more) about how most risk was probably still "environmental" (meaning non genetic) compared to genetic risks.

Every month brings another research article in major peer reviewed journals about the links between pesticides and disease, birth defects and other health problems that should never have become part of modern life.

Our wineries need so much commitment to be organic - it's the path less traveled for many reasons- and we need to support them for making the effort they do.

If you are doing that, thanks. And if you are not, watch some Rachel Carson videos. :)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Organic Grenaches

Just scored a case of 2008 Qupe Grenache on sale from Suburban Wines for $19.99 a bottle. It's biodynamic and gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous. Later vintages cost much more.

Today's prices for Qupe's Grenache are up to around $30 a bottle.

And crazy as it may seem, Beckmen's grenache can be found for $47 a bottle!

In addition to Qupe's, if you'd like to try another locally made grenache, Testa's old vine grapes (organic) go into Horse and Plow's organic grenache - and the 2010 has just been released. It's $22 a bottle. Very limited production (last year only 60 cases) so be sure to act now.

The other affordable option is Bonny Doon's 2010 Clos de Gilroy ($18/bottle - free shipping on cases right now). Almost 2,400 cases made. But it's only partially organic.

If you prefer a French grenache, Kermit Lynch has the following two (organic) as well:

Domaine Gramenon wines are organic and bio-dynamic. Prices are $$27.00-35.00
Catherine Le Goeuil, $22.00

Monday, October 24, 2011

Alsatian Organic and Biodynamic Wineries - The Wine Spectator List

I think this (Nov. 15, 2011 issue) may be the first time I've seen Wine Spectator publish a list of organic and biodynamic wineries from a region - that's a good start. The article states:

"Today, about 11 percent of the region's total acres under vine are certified organic, with many of the area's most lauded estates, among them producers who regularly earn outstanding ratings in Wine Spectator tastings, employing organic or biodynamic viticulture."

If you're into Alsatian wines, check out the following organic/biodynamic producers mentioned in the magazine. Thanks to Wine Spectator for labeling some things correctly - the transitional wineries are called out and the biodynamic one separate from the organic.

The magazine also contains a list of practicing organic or biodynamic wineries (not listed here) but it doesn't say which is which. Oh well.

Certified Organic
Francois Baur
Leon Boesch
Domaine Gresser
Jean Ginglinger & Fils
Josmeyer
Domaine Mittnacht Freres
Mure

In Transition to Organic Certification
Emile Beyer*
Domaine Seilly*
Sipp Mack
Paul Zinck*

Certified Biodynamic
Barmes Buecher
Clement Klur
Ostertag
Marc Tempe
Winebach
Zind-Humbrecht

In Transition to BD
Francois & Phiullippe Ehrhart
Kuentz-Bas
Albert Mann
Gerard Neumeyer

Organic Winners - Wine & Spirits: American Wineries of the Year

Eight wineries out of 100 top wineries made Wine & Spirits' list of American Wineries of the Year. Kudos to the following:

Beckmen*
Bergstrom
Calera*
DeLoach
Frog's Leap
Flowers
Qupe*
Storybook Mountain

* = wines included in the iPhone app I'm writing: Organic Wine Uncorked.

Of the Top 100 Best Buys, the two organic winners were:

Chardonnay, Bethel Heights
Pinot Noir, Cooper Mountain/Cooper Hill

Both of these are also in the app.

Lissy's Concert Event & Organic Wine Uncorked's Big Wine Tasting - The Photos Are Here!

Piedmont Piano in downtown Oakland - there's a fabulous view of the civic buildings right beyond this point
Check out their ongoing concerts here

Lissy rehearsing - support her Kickstarter project - her next CD - Wonderland

The gorgeous Fazioli piano - $175,000 - only 100 are made each year in Italy

Thanks to all the wineries who donated wine, including the eldest among them - Charlie Barra of Barra of Mendocino

This was the most popular wine of the evening
Just helping Lissy's Kickstarter campaign...


Thanks to all who came and loved the wine - I don't think anyone was aware of how many pesticides are being used in California's vineyards until they took the handouts and listened to the schpiel.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Why Is It Just Plain Wrong? "Discover California" Wine Map Missing Most of the Organic Among Us

Bad Data.

The Wine Industry of California, voice of the industry, recently undertook an update of its wine map and told me it would be correcting the wineries listed as organic. That was about 6 months ago.

I visited the site today hoping to see that what the map brings up for organic might turn me on to a few new places. Instead, I was dismayed to find uncertified wineries coming up - as well as all the certified wineries NOT on the list - more than 17 wineries. (I suspect some of them are members of the Wine Industry.)

I would therefore not recommend using the Wine Industry map since it is inaccurate and not comprehensive at all.

Here are a few screenshots that paint the picture.

Napa Organic Wines/Wineries

Wine Industry's Map of Wineries with Organic Wine - Napa

According to this map, there are 13 wineries that are organic, but I know that 2 of these are not: Outpost and Viader are not certified. Frog's Leap, although a leading light, cannnot label any of their wines organic because they buy fruit from noncertified wineries (they say the wineries are "practicing organic") that is blended into their wines.

Then I went to compare my map to their map.

View this map (without red circle) in Google maps by clicking here

On my map there are more than 30 Napa wineries that are organic. Granted, the Wine Industry list is meant to support tourism to wineries and is not a buying guide. So I have only listed wineries belowthat invite visitors. Still that's 17 wineries that weren't on the Wine Industry's Napa map.

Tourable Wineries with Organically Grown Wine Not Featured on the Discover California Map


Adastra
Casa Nuestra
Domaine Carneros
Elizabeth Spencer
Hagafen Cellars
Hall
Joseph Phelps (they don't like to tell people they are organic or biodynamic but they are certified)
Madonna Estate
Monticello
Neal Family
Neyers
Peju
Robert Sinskey
Rutherford Wine Co.
Sterling
Storybook Mountain
White Rock

When are the wineries that are making organically grown wine going to stand up and announce themselves? When are they going to form an association and tell us their stories? And the truth about pesticides in the wine industry?

Until then, please use The Map - and tell your friends to use it too.

Collective Denial, Collusion or Sheer Laziness: Why Do Wine Directors, Wine Merchants, Grocery Stores, and Even the Wine Industry Treat Organic Wine Labeling So Casually?

There are two main problems in the world of labeling wine organic.

The first one, which everyone likes to talk about, is those crazy U.S. labeling laws. That's about the government and nothing the government does about wine labeling is casual. So I will leave that topic for another day.

What I really want to address is what I see as the second problem in labeling organically grown wine - the widespread misinformation that is spread by restaurants, retailers and even the wine industry itself. There is just not enough attention to detail and many, many mistakes are made. There is a collective denial about the importance of labeling what is what.

It's not because of the certifiers. They have done their job and the wineries that are certified are free to put certification labels and language on their labels. Many do. Some certified wineries do not (but should).

First - a question. When you go to buy grape juice at the store, do you ask the grocer if it is or organic or not? No. You look at the label to see if it has been certified organic. If the grocer were to tell you the wine is organic, but it doesn't say it on the label, you might be deeply suspicious.

However, transfer that whole situation to the wine world, and you've got an entire chain of information gone totally awry. Wine directors and wine merchants misinform buyers all the time - unwittingly at times, secretly at others, and out of sheer laziness some of the time. Their intentions are muddled. (But yours should not be.)

Examples:

Wine Directors and Wine Lists

Recently I wrote a post about the labeling issues at Green's Restaurant, where I found wineries that were not only not certified but not even organic mistakenly labeled "organic" on the wine list. (Wine director Mike Hale is calling all his suppliers and revising mistakes). But this brings up a widespread practice - common among wine lists - which is to label organic many wines that are not made from certified fruit.

Wine directors often take it upon themselves to determine when a wine is "organic" - without certification. Even prominent wine bars in SF (like Yield, Pause, for instance) take it upon themselves to assure us that some of the organically grown wines they serve are in fact not certified but organic nonetheless.

What does this do to us the consumer? It puts us in an uncomfortable spot. Because when a wine director tells you that a wine is organically grown, shouldn't they be relying upon a certifier to back up that claim? Or do they have a webcam on every winery that's not certified?

If Joe Wine Director's sales rep or winemaker buddy tells him the grapes are raised organically, that's good enough for him to choose to label it on the list as "organic." This has got to stop - or at least be labeled differently. It should be labeled accurately - i.e. this winery says they are organic but they are not certified. Or "this guy is my buddy and I know he wouldn't lie to me."

People need to make informed choices, and right now, the industry is trying to make our choices for us instead of letting us make them based on the information we need.

Note to Wine Directors: please make a clear distinction in labeling wine organically when a wine is not certified but YOU think it is organic and let us make our own choices. Please label only certified wines "organic."

Wine Merchants

K&L Wine Merchants: Recently I bought some wine at this very reputable chain, and told the very experienced clerks I would like to buy organically grown only wine. They looked up organic in their database and sold me two wines that were not organic. The sloppiness of databases that are not tracking this in a wine-specific way.

OTHER wines from the same wineries were organic, but the wines they sold me were not estate-only fruit. I have yet to return the bottles.

Another costly loophole.

Wineries
Visit any winery tasting room, and you'll be greeted by tasting room employees who want you to find what you are looking for. Unfortunately, as I have learned from trial and error, they often cannot be trusted to provide accurate information. Examples:

Campovida - I visited this winery, one of the birthplaces of the organic food movement (when it was owned by the Fetzers), during Hopland Passport last spring and was greeted with a lot of marketing messages about how green they are. I was poured wine that was allegedly organically grown, but in fact it was not. Most of Campovida's wines are not. It took a lot of digging around to find out which wines were actually organically grown.

Parducci - I visited Parducci last spring as well and while all they make Big Claims about their greeniness and raising only organic winegrapes on their estate, none of the wines is in fact organically grown. They blend in nonorganic grapes they purchase from others. So "Sustainable White" is only sustainable if you think pesticides are sustainable.

Demetria - This winery is in a worst-offender category all its own. Demetria flagrantly flouts the law which says that if you want to say you are biodynamic, you must be certified. I bought four cases, under the impression they were biodynamic (Demeter - Demetria - get it?) because they told me they were, only to find out when I got home that they were not certified.

When I tried later on to return the wine, the marketing director said she would not take the wine back despite the false claims. So I spent close to $800 on uncertified wine. It may indeed be biodynamic. But since Demeter has a trademark on the term that requires those using it to be certified, it would behoove Demetria to comply. In the meantime: Buyer beware.

Grocery Stores

Whole Foods puts organically grown wine, organic wine, and "sustainable" wine all in an Eco-Friendly section. These are generally low-cost wines and it's hard to tell which is which. To further confuse matters, most of the best organically grown wines are mixed in with the regular wines in both the foreign and domestic sections, so you won't find Grgich Hills in the Eco-Friendly section despite the fact that they are among the leading Napa wineries practicing organic viticulture (and their wines are top notch).

Berkeley Bowl, my usual local paragon of virtue, separates organic produce from conventional by putting the two types in entirely different areas so you won't inadvertently pick up some conventionally raised carrots because you weren't paying close enough attention to the labels above the items.

However, when you visit the wine department, the organically grown wines are poorly marked and often mislabeled and the section which contains some of them is mixed in with other wines. The labels may be there but the separation of sections is not enforced. Light years away from the enforcement around the food sections.

Why is organic wine certification and its labeling,  treated so casually - compared to food labeling?

I have heard vehement protestations for most of the last year from any number of vintners who say, "Why bother to get certified? I know my vineyards are farmed without organic-designation-banned pesticides."

Sommeliers get cozy with their wine sales reps - who seem to have a very blurred distinction as well between organic versus sustainable - and want to be all buddy buddy with their suppliers. That's only natural - until, you know, we really can't tell if the wineries are being honest. Are they perhaps blending in a few nonorganic purchased grapes into their supposedly estate, supposedly organically farmed wines? We'll never know - and no one will ever show up to make them accountable.

I hear two other Big Reasons why self-reportedly-organic wineries can't be bothered to get certified: cost and paperwork. You would think the paperwork was an onerous as a tax return. It's true it could be simplified, but get an intern to handle it if you need to. Plenty of fools think the winery business is glamorous. There are lots of out of work people who could help.

The bigger reason mentioned is the cost. The cost, according to the Lake County CCOF certifier, works out to about $10 an acre, since government rebates pay for most of the certifying fees. The average 3-ton yielding vineyard would produce 225 cases of wine (2,664 bottles). That would work out to a per bottle cost of certification of less than 4 cents, if I have done the math correctly.

You and I, my friend, need to change this industry, which some how doesn't think it has to play by the regular rules of the road.

It's time to start asking some questions.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Friday Night Concert and OWU's First Public Tasting Event a Success!

Lissy Walker's amazing concert Friday night showcased her beautiful jazz/folk vocals to an enthusiastic audience at Piedmont Piano.

Before and after the concert, the audience enjoyed a selection of five fine organically grown wines.

Since it was my first time pouring at a public event, I was interested to see first hand what people liked and wanted to drink.

In a totally unscientific survey, out of five wines (Bubbly, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sangiovese, and Zinfandel), the top pick was probably Sangiovese followed by Chardonnay and Sparkling in a second place tie.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Unreal Deals at McFadden Vineyards This Weekend ONLY! 40% OFF

Flyer About Organic Wine Uncorked


See what we'll be handing out tonight at the Lissy Walker Concert and Wine Tasting! Click here.

Fantasy Restaurant Wine List

#1
I have decided to engage in a new wine game - Fantasy Sommelier. What would you put together for a wine list of organic only wines from the U.S.?

#2
Second challenge: make a second list using only "affordable" (under $20) wines.

#3
I'll also be doing an upcoming poll - to find which restaurants you think do the best job of offering organically grown wines!

#1
Email your fantasy sommelier wine list - I'll share good uns on the blog. Email: winecountrygeographic at gmail.com. Or just post your suggestions in a comment.

Pinot on the River Festival - This Weekend in Healdsburg

Pinot Lover? Get thyself to Healdsburg this Sunday for what Vinography's Alder Yarrow calls "One of the best wine tasting events."

While the vast majority of participating wineries do not have organically grown wines, a few of them do. Here's who to look for:

All organic:

Canihan
Masut

Some organic (ask about each one):

Big Basin
DeLoach
Handley (Anderson Valley Estate wines only)
Landmark
Morgan

Tickets are $75-85. VIP Plaza tickets are $150 and get you into a special 9 am Sunday seminar with Pinot Report editor Gregory Walter and will feature wineries and wines from the "undiscovered" Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot producers.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reminder - Organic Wine Uncorked's Wine Tasting Oct. 21 in Oakland!

Let's celebrate!

      Lissy Walker's first CD was Life is Sweet
      which won rave reviews from the jazz/folk world. 
      She's started a Kickstarter campaign to 
      record a second CD called Wonderland.
In celebration of harvest time and Lissy Walker's upcoming, sure-to-be-a-night-to-remember Friday night concert at Piedmont Piano, Organic Wine Uncorked will be pouring a featured selection of fine, organically grown California wines before and after Lissy's concert at Piedmont Piano. Please join us - and tell/bring your friends.

All the wines are from my forthcoming app Organic Wine Uncorked: 200 Wines for $20 or Less (coming fall 2011).


To learn when the app is released, please subscribe to our email list (see blog email signup in upper right of blog home page.)







Concert Wine Tasting Menu

BUBBLY

• 2010 McFadden Sparkling Brut

Since Rack and Riddle's come to town (in Hopland), Mendo's inland wineries have been making sparkling wines that compete (and sometime surpass) the bubbly created by French-owned, Champagne-country giant Roederer (at least they beat or tie Roederer Brut's in public competitions).

McFadden's current vintage is not to be missed and will definitely sell out. Try a bit before and after the concert to celebrate Lissy's concert (and hopefully her second CD).




WHITES

Terra Savia Reserve Chardonnay
Bonterra Riesling



Terra Savia's Reserve Chardonnay is made by a fourth-generation Mendocino vigneron. Jim Milone grows his own grapes (on family held in his family since around 1900) and makes some great certified organically grown Chardonnays. (You can often find them in Whole Foods wine departments).







Bonterra's Riesling, made from Lake County certified organic grapes, won Double Gold in the 2010 Mendocino Wine Competition which is a pretty big honor. (They're pretty stingy with the Double Golds).

Rieslings from California aren't exactly common and the best ones from the state come from Mendocino and Lake counties. See what a great California riesling tastes like.





REDS

Barra Sangiovese
Barra Zinfandel



Who else grows an organic Sangiovese in California? The answer is hardly anyone except for Charlie Barra, a legend in his time, now on his 65th harvest. Yes, you read that right - 65th harvest. A long time Mendo grower who started a winery in recent decades, Charlie's Italian roots run deep, deep, deep. Sample this one to see what a California-grown Sangiovese from an old time Italian is like.

Charlie's also famous for his Zin and we will be pouring that as well.
Earlier this year, Barra's wines were honored when they and they alone were featured in an exclusive gourmet dinner at Masa's with international Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini.

Masa's Chef Gregory Short (formerly of the French Laundry) featured Barra's Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir and planned the meal around the wines.

Perhaps these two wines on our tasting menu will inspire you to plan meals around them, too! (Pizza, spaghetti, hamburgers...and much more...)

Concert Info

Tickets to the concert are $15.

The event will be held at Piedmont Piano on San Pablo in Oakland.


View Larger Map

Showtime is 8 pm. Come early for a little bit of tasting. After the 75 minute performance, join us for more wine tasting.

Lissy Walker

To hear some of Lissy's music from her first CD, visit www.lissywalker.com.

Enjoy her Wonderland video promo here:


Lissy Walker - Life is Sweet from Lissy Walker on Vimeo.

Hope to see you at the concert!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Green's Restaurant in SF Labeling Nonorganic Wines Organic?

I spent a lovely warm evening enjoying the new Happy Hour at Green's restaurant tonight - I was especially excited to see a number of new wines that were labeled organic on their Happy Hour wines by the glass list.

I was so excited I started calling the wineries I had not known were organic to see if they had wines I could include in my app or on my Google Maps map of organic and biodynamic wineries.

Imagine my dismay and later horror when several of the wineries (marked organic on Green's list) I called told me they not only were they not only not organically certified - they were not even organic.

It's one thing to say you're organic and don't believe in certification (I don't agree, but...) but it's quite another when the wineries even say they're not organic.

Shocking indeed - if you can't trust a Zen vegetarian pillar of the community, what has the world come to? I've emailed Green's wine director Mike Hale to find out the rest of the story.

After that, I started perusing the full wine list and saw many more entries of wines listed as organic that are not.

If I hear back from Mike, I'll keep you posted.

I would recommend asking any restaurant that labels a wine as organic if it has an organic label on the bottle and to show it to you.

UPDATE 10-18


Mike very kindly replied by email and is making needed corrections on labels on the Green's restaurant wine list to remove organic labels from wines that are not organic. 


They may consider three different labels - i.e. certified organic, biodynamic, and another category for the wines that say they are organic but are not certified.

Phone calls and emails I sent out to a number of wineries are also being answered by the wineries.

Most of the wines listed as organic are not certified, and at least a few that are marked organic are not.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Best Wine Buying Trip of the Season: The Organically Grown Wines at Hopland Passport (Oct. 22-23)

Hopland's Passport is the only regional wine festival in California where you can sample more organically grown than pesticide-raised wines!

Make sure your trunk is EMPTY when you go - this event is also one of the best ways to stock up on wines that are organically grown - and affordable due to the special discounts that are offered during the spring and fall Passport weekends.

I'd plan two buying trips a year - one in fall and one in spring - around Passport. It costs $45 for tickets (purchased online in advance; otherwise, pay $55 at any of the wineries) and you can easily recoup that in food and tastings alone. What makes it even better is the amazing discounts offered at a number of the leading vintners who make organically grown wine.

Here's "Pam's Guide" to what to prioritize on your weekend visit.

• WHERE TO STAY
I recommend staying in Ukiah (10 minutes north of Hopland) at the Motel 6 - $40 a night - if you want to prioritize spending the money on wine instead of a room (which I do). I stayed there in the spring and while it was indeed no frills, it was clean, safe and very quiet and the clerk was one of the friendliest and nicest I have ever met.

If you like hot springs, check out Vichy Springs hotel ($195 a night - pricey but a favorite) or the primitive and remote Orr Hot Springs.

Many big chain hotels in the $90-100 a night range can also be found in Ukiah (Quality, Comfort, etc.).

WHERE TO EAT

If you don't mind driving, the best places are Diavola in Geyserville (about 30 minutes south of Hopland) or Table 128 at the Boonville Hotel in Anderson Valley (an hour drive from Hopland). (Can you tell I prefer to spend more on the dinner and wine than the hotel?)

Right in Hopland, don't miss the Bluebird Diner (a local fave and a fun spot) or the new pizza joint. In Ukiah, there's Patrona (the fancy in town place) or Oco Time for sushi - both have a wide selection of Mendo's organically grown wines.

• WHERE TO TASTE AND BUY

The wineries with green underlining or bars are 100% organic - i.e. all their wines are organically grown. This includes (in order of Must-See-Ness):

TOP PICKS

Saracina*** - the most impressive winemaking team in Mendocino's Sanel Valley (Ukiah-Hopland corridor as opposed to Anderson Valley's Pinot Country) - gourmet in every way - what they produce is beautiful. The Sauvignon Blanc is a top pick in the under $20 category.

Run by industry icon John Fetzer, Saracina is raising the bar on vinification in Mendocino County - with the expert help of Napa legend David Ramey who is the consulting winemaker - and succeeding. Plus they have a great cave tour and could not be more convenient (right next to 101). Classy. Check out the modern take on ancient amphora - very au courant.


Terra Savia*** - Don't judge a wine by the winery tour. Terra Savia's been making lovely, affordable Chardonnays for generations - and their bubbly also kicked ass at this year's Mendocino County Wine Competition - tying for first place with French-owned and run champagne firm Roederer Estate of Anderson Valley.

The winery itself is a big warehouse, shared with an olive oil company (a hugely and increasingly popular combo around the state) with a selection of high-end olive oils.

During Passport, Terra Savia opens its doors to local crafts people/friends who offer their wares in the cavernous warehouse.

I am also fond of the winery's red wines - its Meritage is a very good value. Be sure to visit winemaker/proprietor Jim Milone out in his private tasting room/shed for a taste of his high-end, limited distribution Hoplander - a Cabernet that should give Napa the willies (because Hoplander is priced very reasonably).

Jim Milone rightfully calls himself a fourth-generation vigneron, a rare claim to fame in California, because he both grows the grapes and makes the wines, organically, as his Italian family has done for a 100 years in the same Hopland location, a minute off of 101 and next door to Rack and Riddle.

Since Terra Savia is not open to the public regularly (it is open by appointment), and because it puts on such a festive scene at Passport, seeing it during Passport is a good opportunity to enjoy the winery and some hoopla.

WINE BUYING - Usually they offer some discounts during Passport. Take advantage of them. I'd stock up on the Reserve Chardonnay for sure, but take your pick. It's all good stuff and mostly under $20.

McFadden Vineyards*-*** McFadden has been growing organically up in Potter Valley (about 10-15 miles north of Hopland) for more than 40 years. While you can't visit the actual vineyards, they do have a very conveniently located tasting room in Hopland.

WINE BUYING -  I would definitely snag remaining cases of their wonderful bubbly which made a very impressive showing in the Mendocino County Wine Competition in 2010 - placing ahead of world famous French champagne makers Roederer Estate from Anderson Valley - a feat not easily accomplished. I myself have bought no less than four cases of the 2011 vintage.

McFadden usually has some incredible discount deals during Passport - so don't miss out!

FOOD BUYING - Since McFadden also raises grass fed cattle on its farm, you can definitely find lovely BBQ on hand at Passport - and you can even buy some beef to take home. I love taking it out of the freezer months later and thinking fondly of which McFadden wine I want to pair with it. This year proprietor Guinness McFadden will be out back BBQing up a storm.

McFadden also makes a very, very lovely Riesling, along with many other fine wines.

OTHER PICKS

Cesar Toxqui*-***
Cesar makes a number of fabulous wines, including a Pinot Noir noted English wine god Hugh Johnson praises in his bestselling pocket guide. However, many of Cesar's wines come from grapes that are either not organically grown or not certified, so it's always necessary to check with him on where the grapes for any particular wine came from.

WINE BUYING
At the spring Passport, Cesar had an unbeatable special on a case of Zin (organically raised but not certified) for $100 - wow. It's a lovely wine. I also have some of their Pinot - sometimes sourced from biodynamically certified grapes. Just ask what's what.

Jeriko* - A lovely spot - where the BBQ will be great - but not one of my favorite wineries. However, their first crop of biodynamically grown wines is coming out for the first time, so that would be worth a stop.



Green means "all wines made are organically grown"; yellow means "a few organically grown wines so be sure to ask"
Other wineries to consider (in order of a worthiness of a visit) - that have at least one organically grown wine:

TOP PICKS

Rack and Riddle - Since Rack and Riddle came to town, many Mendo wineries have discovered the joy of offering bubbly and the world is a better place for it - McFadden, Terra Savia, Jeriko, and Paul Dolan now all offer sparkling wines, opening up new markets and giving the old guard (the French-owned wineries in America) a run for the money - most have been selling out each year well before the following years' releases are available.

It's a rare treat to get inside Rack and Riddle since the facility is not open for individual tours. If you have a group of 6+, you can call ahead for a tour, but the facility is open during Passport which is good.

Campovida - more is organic, than used to be - you might think all their wines are from their green marketing spin - but the site is a modern, stylish destination retreat center. (It's especially sad that most of the wines are not organic as the site was the birthplace of Mendo's organic wine making movement in the Fetzer days.)

Since the original flower and vegetable gardens - formerly of Fetzer/Bonterra - were the landmark that led Mendo's winemaking community on to the organic path - stop in to see the garden for sure! Ask at the winery where the garden is - you can easily miss it since the location is not beside the tasting room area.

In the past, I have had many wine pourers at Campovida assure me things were organic when they were not, so be sure to ask to see the CCOF label certification or keep asking until you get a manager if you want to verify. (Don't fall for the sustainability rap if it's not organic.)

Nelson Family Vineyards - the new generation of this generations-old winemaking family is, like many of their age, taking a deep dive into organic and is currently in transition to becoming organically certified. Stay tuned. While the food they're going to be serving is organic, the wine is in transition - and that would be a good thing.

ALSO VISIT IN THE UKIAH AREA

Just north of Hopland:
Nearby recommendations that are all organic: Barra of Mendocino (great Muscat, and more) and Parducci, where you can taste organic Paul Dolan wines. These are right up Route 101. A little further on, you can visit the Redwood Valley wineries - Frey and others - but call to see if they're open.


Another local favorite is Testa - call to make an appointment. Their rose is great. Their "Red" took high honors in the Mendocino Wine Competition and is also organic (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon). Testa is one of the most storied and historically authentic spots to visit - it's makes the Ken Burns Prohibition series come to life! (Since the Testa family made wine all through Prohibition and has the old stills and winemaking tools in the basement - which you can visit.)

BUYING AT THE UKIAH COOP - BEST ORGANICALLY GROWN WINE SELECTION IN THE STATE

No buying trip would be complete without a stop at the Ukiah Coop in Ukiah, which has one of the best organically grown wine selections in the entire state.

I always make a point of stopping in to stock up on Testa's Rose, Naughty Boy Rose, and Trinafour Muscat and Carignan, and other wines - all are very fine, smaller producers that are hard to find out of the area. Plus, there's always something new to explore on the Ukiah Coop's wine shelves.

IF YOU GO
Let me know if you go to Passport and send me your photos!

Barra to Offer Harvest Picking Party - Oct. 28

I for one will be heading north Oct. 28 to learn about how one of organic viticulture's most famous growers picks his grapes.

That would be the legendary Charlie Barra, whose Barra winery is offering a morning visit to learn about harvesting (and experience some) followed by a gourmet lunch.

It's only $25 to participate - seems like a good deal. Details here or here:

Free Wine! Yes You Heard That Right

Organic Wine Uncorked will be pouring some of our favorite wines from my forthcoming iPhone app Oct. 21 in Oakland. Click here to visit the Facebook event page for all details.

Admission to the concert is $15 - but the wine - from Bonterra, McFadden, Terra Savia and Barra of Mendocino - will be flowing for free. Learn why you too should drink organically grown wine - come hang out and chat with me at this event!

Harvest Party at Coturri - Nov. 5

Come one, come all to Coturri's postponed party (the earlier one in Sept. was one of those freak rain days)  - Alice Feiring is a huge fan, as are a number of other big wine critics. Coturri is one of the oldest wineries in California making "natural" wine (meaning, in part, sulfite-free or low, low sulfite).

Here's the email invite sent out to their mailing list members (you can join the list, too - click here).

It's a rustic spot on a mountain in Sonoma above Glen Ellen - so dress warmly. Wine can only do so much to keep a body warm. :)


Attention-Getting Neal Sauvignon Blanc


Neal Family Vineyards is a quiet, tucked away, little-known, mountain winery above Napa Valley in Angwin - known among insiders for its Cabernet Sauvignon. 


But the winery is making a big play for its Sauvignon Blanc as well.

Steve Heimoff in Wine Enthusiast raves:

92 Points-Maybe it's the 100% certified organic grapes that make this wine so pure, or the fact that it never saw oak. Probably both. The fruit stands front and center with flavors of lemons, limes, Asian pears, lemongrass and gooseberries. A superior Sauvignon Blanc, at a great price, but production unfortunately was less than 1,000 cases.

The price: $18 a bottle. 

Learn more here (click) or sign up for emails on their site to be in the know going forward.


I am looking forward to visiting the winery up there sometime soon - it's always fun to explore new haunts away from the madding crowd and this is at the top of my to-visit list.

Monday, October 10, 2011

California and NY Vineyards Mobilize to Fight Fracking


A story in the latest issue of Wine Business Monthly (available to subscribers only) follows up on this earlier story from Wines & Vines (link here).

A Santa Barbara vintner bought and planted his vineyard on land where the mineral rights were retained by the previous owner and sold to Venoco, a Denver-based energy company.

The two wells affected were deep - below groundwater. No EIR was done previous to fracking. Toxic wastewater was released as well. The vintner claims the wastewater did not touch his vines; he says Venoco-owned pipes took the water away.

In New York state, wineries are starting to engage in fighting against fracking big time. See this article: New York Cork Report: Fracking: Big Questions Still Remain.

Green Wine Summit: Nov. 29-30 in Napa

The Green Wine Summit kicks off in Napa Nov. 29 and 30 at the Marriott. It's not specifically focused on organically grown wine, but many aspects of sustainability are not addressed by organic standards.

In a perfect world, we'd all be on the same page in terms of defining organically grown as a requirement for "green" but it's all part of moving the ball down the field one step at a time from the industry perspective.

From the consumer's perspective, you can vote with your dollars already and ask the industry to move at the speed of light in converting to organic viticulture as quickly as possible.

Link to conference site here.