Friday, March 23, 2012

May the (Ladybug) Force Be With You: Join the Earth Day Celebration at Yorkville Cellars

Yorkville Cellars will celebrate Earth Day Sunday April 22 with a three-hour tour and tasting with owners Edward and Deborah Wallo.

The owners will be celebrating 26 years of certified organic growing (1986-2012). 

At noon participants can "be a farmer for the day" and join in releasing hundreds of ladybugs.

Vintage wines and organic food will also be served.

Get more info here.

And enjoy this recent interview with Edward Wallo on Organic Wine Review (part 1 of 2).

Monday, March 19, 2012's Top 10 Organic Wines List: NOT's list of top 10 organic wines sparked my interest a few weeks ago when I was researching a wine mentioned on it that's a wine in my iPhone app...but then I started to notice something fishy.

Some of the wines in the top 10 are not organically grown.

I emailed the editor and then we spoke on the phone. I told him which wines weren't organic.

It's two weeks later and I just casually circled back to see if the list had been updated. It hasn't.

So here, for your information, are the wines on the " Top 10 Organic Wine List" that aren't (according to the wineries themselves):

#3 Sokol Blosser Evolution (totally not organic)
#4 Frog's Leap Sauvignon Blanc* (they buy fruit from "practicing organic" vineyards)
#5 Benziger Chardonnay (not listed on their site as organic) doesn't care?

It brings up a common problem - the three brands listed here have made being organic and/or biodynamic such a big part of their brand that they have skillfully branded nonorganic wines as organic.

There is however no certifier label on the bottle saying they're organically grown, however, which should at least have prompted a call to the winery to double check.

I look forward to the day when things are clearer and brands protect against that perception - hopefully by offering only organically grown wines.

Personally I try to support the ones who are ONLY organically grown. That way I don't have to keep up with so many niggly details.

Brands that make their entire line of wines from 100% organic or biodynamically certified grapes include:

Barra of Mendocino
Grgich Hills
Horse and Plow
Madonna Estate
Paul Dolan
Porter Creek
Staglin Family
Terra Savia
Volker Eisele
Yorkville Cellars

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Video of the Day: The Ultimate Corkscrew

Do you visit friends' houses and not quite "get" how to open a bottle of wine using the host's corkscrew? Then consider gifting them this Rube Goldberg gadget:


Thursday, March 15, 2012

U.S. Lags in Organic Viticulture

Europeans are leading the way in organic viticulture, according to a statement released early this month at the Prowein conference in Dusseldorf.

In France, the report says, organic viticulture is 6% of the total acreage. The Alsace region in France is the leader at 9%.

Compare that to California, where only 2-3% of vineyards are certified organic.

There are more than 2,800 wineries in France that have organic viticulture. The number I have found so far in the U.S. is a roughly 200. (See the map for the list).

All countries have many vineyards which practice organic viticulture but are not certified.

This was the first year Prowein had a separate exhibition area for organically grown wines. Can we hope that the U.S. will follow suit?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Video of the Day: Mike Grgich - "Developing Feelings for Wine"

Grgich Hills is still one of the best - and greenest - wineries in Napa Valley.

 Last year, I attended the 35th anniversary of the Paris Tasting celebration dinner at the winery. (Although I know there are more glamorous events, for me it was like being at a Napa ball).

 Someday I hope to use this material as the opening to a book. But, I digress.

Here's the lovely video I just discovered in the proces of researching my app. Grgich Hills has three wines in the app.

If you have not read George Taber's classic book about this 1976 tasting that put Napa on the map, it's high time to consider it.

UPDATE: George Taber himself will be at Chateau Montelena March 19 from 1 to 4 signing copies of the book.


Video of the Day: Tres Sabores, Rutherford's Secret, Rustic Winery

Julie Johnston runs one of Napa's secret hideaway wineries - Tres Sabores, a personal favorite of mine for its rusticity and authenticity.

No anonymous tasting room here - no, you get that farm/vineyard feel complete with barnyard where you'll find guinea fowl and polyculture - with olives trees and pomegranates growing abundantly.

You can even sit outside and eat your own sandwich.

And the wines are fabulous - the estate-grown Zinfandel recently took a Top 100 Wine of 2011 from the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle's annual list.

The name is Spanish (although the grapes are not) and comes from a song about the three things it takes to make good wine - the terroir, the vine and the artisan.

Supporting Johnston's work these days can help the winery stay afloat - it was severely impacted by the Vacaville warehouse fire, when it lost an entire uninsured vintage.

Tres Sabores was featured today in a brief Oregon Live writeup from Oregon wine writer Katherine Cole.

The Zinfandel is one of the wines featured in my new app (still "coming soon")!

Reading the reviews on Yelp will have you getting in your car this weekend and heading north (after the rains have passed).

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Side by Side Riesling Tasting: Four Vintners, One Vineyard

Four vintners are making wine from Potter Valley Riesling grown by Guinness McFadden - up in a sleepy (and they like it that way) corner of Mendocino (near the western border of Lake County).

McFadden has been selling his certified organic grapes to the creme de la creme of Napa wineries (Chateau Montelena's just one of them) for four decades.

If you want to do an interesting side by side tasting, consider this line-up:

1. McFadden's own Riesling ($18), 2009
89 pts., Wine Enthusiast
Off dry

2. Dashe Cellars McFadden Riesling (2009/2010)

3. Napa's 2010 Elizabeth Spencer Vineyards' Potter Valley Riesling ($30) (there's only one Riesling grower in Potter Valley and that's McFadden)
Bone Dry

4. Chateau Montelena's Potter Valley Riesling ($25)

And if you want to add one more - include not one but several vintages of McFadden's own. The 2006 was showing petrol last year - quite a bit - while the latest vintages are hugely different in character and style.

A great experience in seeing what different vinification does to the same grapes... (if you keep your vintages the same)...

March 31-April 1: Oregon's Cooper Mountain to Host Biodynamic Group

The North Willamette Wine Trail weekend takes place at the end of the month (in Oregon). 

Biodynamic poster child Cooper Mountain Vineyards will be hosting the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association at the winery. Contact Cooper Mountain Vineyards for more info.

Charcuterie from Feastworks will also be on hand.

And if you are not yet hip to Cooper Mountain's incredible Pinot Noir (the reserve is priced at about half of what wines of similar quality go for), get some to put to your taste test.

The event takes place 11-4 Saturday and Sunday.  Event details here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Doubleheader: Two Good Green Hits - March 7, Friday

This blog is about preventing us from degrading our environment and endangering the health and beauty of this earth and our bodies. So I'm happy to share with you a wonderful film I went to see last night, by an old documentary-days pal - Mark Kitchell.

It's a called A Fierce Green Fire and it's a 110 min. history of the environmental movement, featuring a huge list of participants and an overarching story of what's happened in this movement over the last 150 years, with a focus mostly on the last 30-40 years. (It's great to see the contrast between our heroes when they were young and how they look today - as well as see the impact of their work).

Paul Hawken and Stewart Brand share some very wonderful insights and Carl Pope is spectacular in describing how environmentalists were conned by "industrial America" into abdicating a huge opportunity. It's a heartfelt look inside a movement (that can't possibly be contained within one film - but it's fun to try).

Also speaking at the event was Polly Higgins, a London-based (formerly) corporate attorney who's had the brilliant idea to incorporate a new legal concept - Ecocide - into the UN legal system, making it a crime for company executives to harm the earth.

Earth Island Journal is covering the idea extensively in its current issue and on its blog (see here).

Just like genocide, ecocide recognizes environmental degradation of the commons as a crime against life.

The group's gotten coverage in the Guardian.

Polly Higgins and Paul Hawken will be appearing with the film Friday night at the Cowell Theater in SF from 7-10 pm. Details here.

Here's more about the movement:

March: It's Time to Tend to Your Rose (Wine) Garden

My rose gardening needs pruning and fertilizing right now but right now I am focusing on another kind of rose - rose wines.

It's March and many boutique organic or biodynamic producers have just released their 2011 roses. Many  sell out early. (Horse and Plow - among my favorites - just did. Last year the Chronicle chose it as a Top 100 Wine of the Year - they only make about 75 cases of it.)

Biodynamic Oregon wineries Cowhorn and Maysara regularly sell out on their roses early. So does biodynamic Saracina. Roses are so popular - they're often the lowest priced wine a winery offers, and they're so versatile. There's not much it doesn't go with. It's perfect for picnics, brunches, sipping on its own and the season ahead.

So - a word to the wise: get online and order up a few cases now, before your favorite producers are sold out.

Some organic producers are:

• Beckmen (Santa Barbara County)
• Bonterra (Mendocino, Lake Counties)
• Coturri (Natural, Sonoma)
• Cowhorn (Near Jacksonville, Oregon)
• Heller Organic (Monterey County)
Horse and Plow (Sonoma/Testa/Mendo) (2011 already sold out)
• Lucas (Lodi)
• Maysara (McMinnville, Oregon)
• Medlock Ames (Near Geyserville)
• Naughty Boy (Potter Valley, Mendocino)
• Pheasant Valley (Oregon)
• Saracina (Hopland, Mendocino)
• Testa (Calpella, Mendocino)
• Verdad (San Luis Obispo County)

Believe it or not, there are even more in my iPhone app (coming soon).

Generally roses are priced from $14 - $20.

Monday, March 5, 2012

"Newly Discovered" Organic Wines: Carol Shelton, Tyler

I am always scouting for new organically grown wines and am happy that I found two new-to-me wines/wineries last week to add to my Google map of organically grown wines/wineries.

Carol Shelton, renowned for her Zins, has a rose that in some years is all organic (ask her which years), and a couple of Zins (Wild Things 2000-2007 and then 2009, and Monga - all vintages) that are sourced from certified organic fruit (solely)

Tyler Wine, at higher end price points at the western edge of the Santa Rita Hills AVA in Lompoc is also sourcing a few wines organically (from La Encantada and Presidio vineyards).

Synchronistically, Tyler got a big writeup in the Sunday Chronicle. It's here for those of you who want to read more. I like the quote from Dick Sanford (the godfather of this AVA) in it myself.

Italy in California

I've had the pleasure of taking the North American Sommelier Association's Italian Wine Specialist class (no, I am not becoming a sommelier - just expanding my wine education) this weekend and it got me thinking about the Italians who came here and the wine regions they represent.

All the producers here are organic and/or biodynamic certified only. (For a full list, consult, the Consorzio of Cal-Italia site at


There's the heritage Italians, whose ancestors were immigrants:

Asti's Italian Swiss Colony Wines
Piemontese must roll over in their graves, but this place supported thousands of poor immigrants from this northern Italian province.

If you haven't been to visit, go. It's not about the wine that's currently produced - it's about the incredible history that's still quite alive here in the old structures.

(The wine is not organic.)



John Chiarito/Chiarito Vineyards

Chiarito's family is from the south of Italy.

His own small lot winery and vineyards are as authentic old World as you can get - dry farmed, all by hand. Nero d'Avola and Negroamaro are stars. Also does Zin and Petite Syrah as well. (Not certified, but practicing organic.)

• Maria Testa/Testa Vineyards

There is no better way to return to the days of yesteryear (alive and kicking) than to visit Testa, where during the Taste of Redwood Valley event (Father's Day - in June) the Italian grandmothers and great aunts come out to cook polenta and watch their grandson's make BBQ (not too tough or dry).  Testa is dry farmed - as well as certified organic.

Their grapes go into their own wines and those of Horse and Plow (Old Vine Carignan and Old Vine Grenache).

Varietals: Grenache (in Italy this is called Cannonau), Carignane.

Barra of Mendocino

Charlie Barra's family came from Cuneo, in Piemonte, just over the border from France. He loves to drink (and grows/makes) Sangiovese.

Jim Milone/Terra Savia

Jim Milone's family came to Hopland and operated the first winery there before Prohibition. He is a fourth generation vigneron. With Greg Graziano, he started Milano Winery in 1975, the first winery in Hopland after Prohibition. (There were 9 wineries in Mendocino County then - now there are 70+).



Located in Dry Creek, this brave biodynamic Italian wine producer is making Sagrantino, a noble effort.

The wines are too young to know yet.


Bucklin Zinfandel is the most famous and apparently oldest heritage field blend vineyard in the state. It has more than 15 old varietals. Talk about biodiversity - it was even in the wine, in the old days. See for more info - and sample a bottle of the field blend wine.


• Casa Nuestra

The current owners, the Kirkhams, purchased this estate in 1956. It's notable because it has one of the original field blends in it - at least four major varietals are included. It's bottled as Casa Nuestra's Tinto Classico.


This family grows grapes and sells some of their own wines (alas - all French varietals) from the land the family has owned since the 1800s in Oakville.


Then there are those who just love Italian wines and want to grow them here:

Paul Beveridge/Wilridge Winery

Near Yakima, Washington, this Seattle attorney's vineyard grows many Italian varietals (small scale) including Nebbiolo.

Pavi Wines

The Lawsons (he grew up in Napa Wine Co.) in Napa are in love with Italian varietals and doing Pinot Grigio and Dolcetto, the everyday wines of the North, and a Vin Santo. I had the Pinot Grigio last week at the Calistoga Inn on one of those hot, sunny days, sitting out on the terrace, and it was lovely.

If you get a chance in the future to take this class, which is held at Perbacco in SF, I highly recommend it. You will discover, as I did, a lot of great, very affordable wines from Italy that you might want to try - just for the sake of comparison, of course!



Perbacco (restaurant) and Barbacco (enoteca/trattoria)
Perbacco Wine List (oriented toward northern Italian cuisine; no less than 5 Nebbiolos by the glass)
Barbacco Wine List (don't miss the dessert wine made from Nebbiolo and herbs: Chinato - sold by the taste - $15)

Downtown Financial district. Owner is from the Veneto.
Good selection from across Italy.
Tastes (3 oz) available in either Perbacco or Barbacco (as well as glasses, half bottles, etc.)

Ottimista Wine List

Union Street enoteca and restaurant. Pizzas and more. More casual than Barbacco.

SPQR Wine List

Trattoria (usually quite a wait unless you have a reservation).

Flour + Water
Wine List

Rising star, Beard award nominee. Ceci from Biondivino wine shop does the wine list.


Wine List

I can definitely recommend the Moscato d'Albi and the outstanding Chianti Classico (available by the glass) from the Panzano area (the best subzone in the region) in the Golden Bowl of Chianti Classico from Il Modilino di Grace.

Rockridge cafe (informal) with restaurant upstairs (formal). Northern Italian emphasis.

Of course there are a number of wine stores (Biondivino, Italian Wine Merchant, KLWines) and  restaurants with good Italian wine lists.

Rivoli Wine List
Trattoria Corso Wine List (Florentine)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Rutherford Love: The Video

Rutherford is the one subregion in Napa that has truly achieved an appellation identity that is well known - as the Cab heartland. "Cab Is King" they say here - and it's true.

Now the group has put together a dynamic video showing off the region. Featured are organic growers and winemakers from Staglin Family Winery, Beckstoffer, and Frog's Leap. Enjoy.

Note: Unfortunately, nonorganic viticulture is not the predominant form here - see this map, showing the application of Roundup in Napa in 2009:

Organic Guide to Enjoying the Rhone Rangers Tasting (3/23-3/24)

March 24-25 is the annual Rhone Rangers weekend in San Francisco. Tickets for the grand tasting on Sunday are $45 and you can buy them here.

Organic Rhone Rangers include (take this list with you):

• Ambyth (all wines)
• Beckmen (all wines)
• Big Basin Vineyards (a few wines)
• Bonny Doon (some wines)
• Cabot Vineyards (all)
• Landmark Vineyards (some)
• Lone Madrone (a few)
• Morgan (a few)
• Montemaggiore (all)
• Quivira (one)
• Qupe (some wines)
• Tablas Creek (all except Patelin)

I went last year - these wineries are absolutely awesome. In particular, I was bowled over by Qupe's legendary Syrahs from their own estate vineyard (Sawyer Lundquist), Tablas Creek's entire line, and biodynamic all star Montemaggiore (queen of the Syrahs). 

Biodynamic wineries Ambyth and Beckmen are also star producers (and priced accordingly).

Bonny Doon - responsible for starting the Rhone Ranger movement in California - fills out the more affordable end of the spectrum and on up.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

French Decry Weird American Wine Laws

Very good article in Palate Press today about French organic vintners' reactions to the ridiculouness of America's USDA regulations (recently reaffirmed) on labeling organically grown wines.

See here.

My favorite quote in it is this from Jacques Frelin, a French wine exporter and leader of the Languedoc organic viticulture movement:

“Organic wine is wine without chemical products, it’s not wine without sulfites. People who don’t want sulfites in organic wines are against the organic wine movement."

I would like to hear a response from Frey, the biggest beneficiary of America's strange laws, sometime on why they don't see the logic of this argument. 

Frey has done more to promote pesticide use in 500,000 acres of American vineyards, however inadvertently, than anyone else in the world. If they would use their contacts on the National Organic Standards Board for the ultimate good, the world would be a better place.