Thursday, April 26, 2012

Napa Valley Historical Atlas Featured in NYTimes

This week the New York Times covered the release of the new historical atlas of Napa. (See here).  While I'm waiting for my copy to arrive, I thought I would let you know that a. this is a great project and b. if you want to see what a lot of Napa used to look like, visit the Hopland-Ukiah corridor. Many areas are filled with valley oaks, the likes of which Napa can only make historical books about.

I will probably be posting about it later.

The first weekend in May is also Hopland Passport - when all those made-with-organic-grapes wineries spring to life and offer amazing deals.

Of course if you really want to go back in time, this beautiful book is your best bet. And enjoy its companion video:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Wine Grape Insecticide Imidacloprid Linked to Bee Colony Collapse

If you have been following the news lately you might have heard about scientists' discovery linking bee colony collapse to an insecticide named imidacloprid

Good recent coverage of this linkage can be found in the current New Yorker article Silent Hives by Elizabeth Kolbert (read it here). You can also listen to the Living on Earth podcast coverage with Harvard professor Alex Lu who conducted one of the definitive experiments.

Further underscoring the cause and effect relationship, Lu and other researchers note that bee colony collapse coincides with the introduction of Imidacloprid in the 1990s.

Imidaclorprid is widely used, applied to more than 140 food crops.  According to statistics collected by California's Dept. of  Pesticide Regulation and published in their annual reports, California wine grape growers have been increasing their use of this neurotoxin dramatically. 

The 2010 report on pesticide use by commodity shows that this insecticide was the second most widely used pesticide on wine grapes. (First place went to oils, which are generally non toxic.)

In 2009, some 34,000 pounds of imidacloprid was applied to 182,000 acres of wine grapes - about 36% of vineyards.

Bayer, the maker of most Imidacloprid, is disputing the three studies (a British one and a French one in addition to the Harvard study).

UPDATE - MAY 3, 2013

The EPA and USDA's recent study concluded that this and other neonicotinoids are implicated as one of many factors contributing to bee colony collapse. However, among nations in Europe where these insecticides have been banned (Italy, Germany and Slovenia), Italy has reported that bee populations were restored to normal balances after banning the neonicotinoids.

Imildacloprid is a common insecticide in the U.S. and in California. It is used in California on a number of crops, including wine grapes.


New research has now linked imidacloprid to negative effects on child development.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Followup on Does Argentina Have Better Pesticide Protection Than We Do?

Goldman Prize winner Sofia Gatico of Argentina
A few days ago I posted about Goldman Prize winner Sofia Gatica and her fight against Roundup spraying of soybean crops. I asked Paul Towers from Pesticide Action Network to weigh in on the question of whether or not Sofia's efforts meant that Argentina was now protecting its citizens against Roundup than in the U.S..

In an earlier interview with Paul, he said that the Wine Institute in California has been fighting against pesticide buffer zones and aerial spraying bans (successfully, alas, enough to kill legislation).

Here's his response (bolding mine) to the question of whether Argentina now does a better job at protecting against pesticides in light of Sofia's efforts:

"To be clear, Sofia and her mothers group helped pass a buffer (health protection) zone in only one municipality and are working to expand to other municipalities and the entire country. This buffer is larger (~8,200 ft total) than most buffer zones used in agriculture in the United States. Pesticides like Roundup must be applied according to their labels (the "label is the law" -- this is how EPA regulates pesticides), and a quick scan of a couple Roundup variations suggest that most national aerial application buffers are about 100 feet.

In addition, in states that can impose greater protections, there are additional buffers for specific regions or crops. Sutter County, e.g., has 4 mile buffers for prunes (from this short report I co-authored). However, since I don't believe Roundup is a "restricted use" pesticide, meaning that it is considered more hazardous by EPA, it is more difficult for state or local governments to impose any additional restrictions like buffers. 

In short, the comparison isn't exactly apples to apples, but it is fair to say that one Argentina municipality has instituted some of the strongest protections for residents from aerial applications of Roundup."

So, one wonders, why does the Wine Institute tell us they're green and sustainable and yet fight against protections against pesticides that even third world countries have?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Italy in Paso? A Mille Grazie for Giornata

Brian and Stephy Terrizzi
Italian wine in California for years has meant Zinfandel. But Zinfandel plays almost no part in wines in Italy.

There the big red grapes are Nebbiolo (which makes Barolo and Barberesco), Dolcetto, Aglianico, Sangiovese (which is the grape in Chianti), and international varieties (Cabernet, etc.) along with others.

Experimenters here in California have cultivated Cal-Italian varieties - see for a list - but without hitting many home runs.

Among the organic producers, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon did Malvasia, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo (which he is only offering library vintages of now) but seems to have backed out of all (except Muscat).

Pavi wines in Napa also offers a few great Italian varietals - organically grown Dolcetto (a medium-to-light bodied red wine) and Pinot Grigio. But for the most part, growing and making the big Italian reds have been abandonned.

Along comes Giornata, the brainchild of Brian and Stephy Terrizzi, in Paso Robles.

Paso Robles is a region famous for its Zins - and there are very few organic producers in the area (Castoro, Lone Madrone, Ambyth, and Rhone-growing Tablas Creek).

This makes the Terrizzis all that much more unique in the region, which they came to after visiting a nursery in Santa Rosa to find Nebbiolo vines (rarely grown in California), which lead them to a unique vineyard here in the Paso area.

They were astonished to visit the Luna Matta vineyard here, one of only three sites growing nebbiolo. The owners had no market for the grapes. They were happy to let the Terrizzis tend them and later buy the grapes.

The Terrizzis were excited - they'd found calcium in them thar limestone hills - which they say is a close match to the soils of Piedmont where Nebbiolo excels. Nebbiolo famously likes fog (the word Nebbiolo comes from the word "nebbia" which means fog in Italian.) The vineyard is located not far from the Templeton gap in the hills that passes cooling marine influences along.

The Terrizzi's are growing certified organic Nebbiolo ($40) in Luna Matta vineyard, which became certified organic last year. They also produce a Sangiovese ($30) and an Aglianico ($30).

The couple are a unique partnership - she's the vineyard manager and he's the winemaker - which seems like the perfect combination (and one I haven't come across before).

Stephy, a graduate of Santa Rosa Junior College with a degree in viticulture, worked in Napa previously. She grew up on an organic farm in Wisconsin and is a passionate local expert in Paso on organic viticulture, sharing her knowledge with locals. She is also a certified master sommelier and conducts wine tastings locally. She is committed to polycultural approaches and growing her own family's food on the property. The Luna Matta vineyard also has an extensive walnut grove.

Brian, a graduate of Fresno State, in enology, also studied winemaking in Tuscany, and toured Italian wineries - including on Sicily, where he has distant relatives. The two love Italian wine and decided to make them their professional passion.

Read more about them in this recent Wine & Spirits magazine article - or just check them out in person. Visitors (by appointment) are welcome.

Their wines are available from their web site at: You can also find some of them at Arlequin Wine Merchants in SF. The organic ones are those from the Luna Matta vineyard, pictured above.

I for one look forward to visiting their vineyard soon!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Does Argentina Have Better Pesticide Regulations Than We Do?

On Monday night environmentalists gathered from around the world to honor winners of the Goldman Awards, one of the world's highest environmental prizes. Among them was Argentinian Sofia Gatica who won the prize for the continent of South America for her work in documenting the devastating effects of Roundup (which contains glyphosate) in her local community.

This is, of course, the same toxic herbicide California wine grape growers spray 400-450,000 pounds of annually on state vineyards.

Gatica herself lost a daughter, who lived only 3 days, before asking other mothers in the area about health problems in their families. When the group of mothers found that their area had more than 41 times the number of birth defects as was normal in Argentina, 16 of the mothers formed the Mothers of Ituzaing√≥ to organize against the indiscriminate use of the pesticide in Argentina where 50 million gallons are used annually, mostly in soybeans.

In the U.S., $5 billion is spent on the Monsanto-produced herbicide, more than a quarter of global sales by  price. In 2007, the EPA estimated that 180-185 million pounds of it were used in the U.S. It can be applied by hand-sprayer or in aerial spraying.

Argentinian scientist and researcher Carrasco (featured in the video above) has documented the harmful effects of glysophate in Argentina, including birth defects.

Gatica and allies worked to pass legislation outlawing the aerial fumigation of glyphosate and other dangerous agricultural pesticides and herbicides. Legislation also does not allow spraying within 2,500 meters of residents.

That would appear to be better than we have it in here in California. In a recent interview I conducted with Paul Towers of the Pesticide Action Network, Towers said the Wine Institute has opposed Californians' attempts to pass legislation creating buffer zones and to restrict aerial application of pesticides.

You can, of course, help grow California's organic viticulture movement (where no Roundup can be used) by buying wines made with organic grapes.

Watch Gatica's story here (below in the video) or read more on the Goldman Prize site here:

Gatica with mothers, studying chart of diseases and birth defects in their neighborhood
Photo of tumor caused by glysophate in Argentina, from Dr. Graciela Gomez
I've contacted a pesticide expert to find out more specific information on dosage comparisons and will followup with a post later.

The Ecology Center has a good, succinct fact sheet on Roundup.

The GLS Bank of Germany has a good review of the scientific literature on Roundup.
GLS Report

Celebrate Earth Day: Free Wine Tasting in Hopland!

Hopland area organic wineries will be pouring wine this Saturday - Earth Day - at the Solar Living Center on Highway 101 in Hopland from 11-5 pm. The event is free!

Participating wineries with organically grown wines include Barra, Bonterra, Frey, McFadden, Patianna, Saracina, Terra Savia and Testa.

The event also features live music, organic food, organic food/wine pairing, and more. There will also be demonstrations and classes.

For more information, see the Solar Living web site or the writeup in Sunset Magazine.

You could also head over to neaby Yorkville Cellars to join in their celebration as well, releasing live ladybugs in the vineyards at noon on Sunday, and offering library wine tastings, food and wine pairing and more in honor of Earth Day.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

First Ever Release: Bonny Doon's Banana Slug Roussanne! Benefits UCSC Arts Students

Judging from the bottle labels/covers, you may have thought Bonny Doon's previous wines were art student oriented, what with their flashy graphics and all. Well now it's official - there's a Bonny Doon wine to benefit (in part) the arts students at UC Santa Cruz, named, appropriately enough, Banana Slug Roussanne. 

Of course the designs also come from the students.

(The banana slug is the official mascot of U.C. Santa Cruz.)

The 2010 vintage, sourced exclusively from the winery's estate Beeswax vineyard (100% biodynamic), sells for $16. (Wine club member price is $13.60). Only 600 cases made - get some now!

For more info about the project, see here.
 Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon with UCSC Arts Dean David Yager
UCSC student Louise Leong designed the winning label - runner up art work will be on display at the Bonny Doon tasting room

Monday, April 16, 2012

$18 Bottle Sale - Yorkville Cellars (Secret Website)

Yorkville Cellars is celebrating its 18th birthday on April 18. You can celebrate with $18 a bottle wine now through April 18.

Or get the assortment of 6 bottles for $108 - $67 off.

You'll save more than $10 a bottle, including on shipping.

Check out the secret url here.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Greenhorns Night in SF's Hipster Heartland (The Mission)

The Greenhorns presented two short films, a three person panel, community Q and A, and social time tonight. I learned about Napa bees from Rob Keller, Mendocino Organics from Paula Manalo, and Little City Gardens (for-profit urban farm) from Brooke Budner, all embodying novel and innovative approaches to agricultural issues.

From the wine/vinelands perspective, Napa Valley Bee Company works with wineries and local municipalities to reintroduce bee-friendly plants into the landscape, where monoculture has decreased their numbers. Rob Keller, proprietor and bee expert, talked about his mobile bee education lab (in a converted Airstream) which invites public participation - and fascination.

He is currently working on breeding bees particularly suited to the local conditions.

Stanford-educated Paula Manalo, one of the editors of the new Greenhorns Book, highlighted what she and her partner Adam Gaska, a Redwood Valley native and local farmer, are doing on vineyards in Redwood Valley and Potter Valley in Mendocino (both places near and dear to my heart). The two are Mendocino Organics, which is sort of "infill" agriculture (my made-up terminology), bringing livestock and poultry into symbiotic relationships in vineyard fields. They also grow vegetables, primarily at Heart Arrow Ranch, a biodynamic vineyard and farm. Mendocino Organics is the couple's CSA, providing locally raised meat and vegetables to 22-40+ members seasonally, as well as supplying Bar Agricole, a restaurant in SF, with produce, lamb and pork.

Brooke Budner of Little City Gardens talked about her 1 acre SF garden, which is a for profit company that grows vegetables for sale. She distinguished it from other urban farms, which are run by educational or nonprofit organizations. Brooke was instrumental in getting the city to overturn and rewrite ordinances that prevented people from growing food (as a business) in residential areas.

Here's the night in pix:

The Greenhorns also released their new book (a DVD was already available) - which you can find out more about here:

Bonny Doon in Photos

For those of you who drink Bonny Doon's wines, or enjoy Randall Grahm's perspectives and dazzling marketing, or may just be heading to Santa Cruz, here's a virtual tour of the Bonny Doon tasting room and restaurant, which occupy a large warehouse-y space in a little gourmet ghetto in Santa Cruz.


Friday, April 6, 2012

Santa Cruz Tasting Room Scene: The Organics Among Them

As I mentioned just a short bit earlier, I finally got to Bonny Doon's tasting room and restaurant in Santa Cruz last week - a hip, trendy spot with lots of fun wine graphics and ambience. I was there on a mission - to visit "mainstream bohemian" wine mecca Bonny Doon as well as to answer the question, hopefully once and for all, as to which Bonny Doon wines actually are organically grown (having failed to find answers via traditional channels - i.e. calling and emailing).

Part 2 of the quest answered (in this here post). And now onto the next frontier - visiting Bonny Doon and the Other Wineries with Organically Grown Wines in the vicinity. Turns out Bonny Doon's location is now a little Mecca village of its own - with several other winery tasting room adjacent in the same shopping/warehouse area.

The two of interest to The Organically Inclined are Silver Mountain with three organically grown wines (now) and Vine Hill, which will be offering its first certified organically grown wines in 2013.

Here are the winery tasting rooms in photos.

Silver Mountain

From the Pinot region of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Silver Mountain offers the following organically grown wines:

• 2007 Pinot Noir Miller Hill Vineyard ($38)
• 2007 Pinot Noir Estate ($38)
• Chardonnay Estate (not listed on website)

The winery/vineyard in the Santa Cruz mountains is open 12-5 on Saturdays (or other times by appointment). The Santa Cruz tasting room is open 12-5 Thursday through Sunday.

Vine Hill

Starting in 2013, Vine Hill will be releasing organically grown wines (now aging in the barrel). Stay tuned.

In the meantime, enjoy these photos of the Vine Hill tasting room, around the corner from Silver Mountain and Bonny Doon.

Tonight - Last Chance to Catch Our Land Wine Land Tour in Bay Area!

See here:

Heller Organic Wine in Photos

I met friends from LA at Big Sur last week and traveled with them up the coast to Santa Cruz via Monterey. I stopped off in Carmel Valley to check out Heller Organic Wines. Here are some photos of the winery's tasting room (open to the public daily).

The vineyards themselves are not open to the public.

I'll add more notes about the visit later but am sharing these photos for now.

I've added five of their wines to my app!

Bonny Doon: The Definitive Organic Versus Not Organic List?

Last weekend marked my first trip to Bonny Doon, the mothership of Santa Cruz wineries. I wanted to get to the bottom of what has been a difficult quest - to understand exactly which wines were sourced from organic grapes (because, despite its green-friendly image, many of its wines are not).

I have repeatedly called and emailed the winery for answers, but haven't gotten any responses. Since I was traveling in the area with friends, I decided an in person trip to the tasting room might be the best approach to getting answers. At least the bottles might have certification seals.

After a long and complicated Q and A process with tasting room staff, the "final" tally of organically grown wines (100% certified grapes), as best as can be determined by tasting room staff, is as follows:

• Albarino Ca del Solo (2009 only; 2010 vintage is not)
• Grenache Blanc (2009 only)
• Le Cigare Blanc (white Rhone blend of Grenache Blanc and Roussanne) (2009)
• Muscat Ca del Solo (2009)
• Paso Robles Viognier (sourced from Chequera)
• Vinho Grinho Ca del Solo

Dolcetto Ca del Solo (current release - 2007)
• Nebbiolo Ca del Solo (current release - 2007)
• Syrah from Bien Nacido X Block (all)

• Vinferno (dessert wine from Grenache Blanc and Roussanne) (2008)
• Le Vol des Anges (dessert wine from Roussanne) (2007)

In transition to Biodynamic:
• Imagine (a Freisa/Sangiovese cuvee)

In the future
Look for Alamo Creek sourced Syrah.

So less than half of Bonny Doon's output is organic/biodynamic - most is not.

What is not (100%) organically sourced: Cigare wines (including the Vin Gris rose), Grenache, Carignane, Vino Rosso, Contra, Rose, Moscato, Riesling, Mon Doux Mourvedre, Viognier Port, Cuvee ET and more.

This one is sourced from Biodynamic grapes and has a Demeter seal on the front label

This one still has the water crystal image but is not sourced from Biodynamic grapes and does not have the Demeter seal on the label
Of note: the Albarino that is NOT biodynamic still carries the crystal on the cover, which is a symbolic analysis typically associated with biodynamics. There is a danger in using this kind of imagery for this meaning, when, in fact, not all the grapes inside are biodynamic. It might be good for Bonny Doon to think this through. I, for one, am tired of seeing biodynamic imagery extended to non-biodynamic wines (Paul Dolan uses more overt biodynamic symbols as branding - three cowhorns - when in fact the wines they apply the symbols to are not biodynamic versus Cowhorn Winery - a brand where every wine is always biodynamic).

We need that clear labeling of "Made from Organic (or Biodynamic) Grapes" on the front of every bottle to be mandatory so it's simple for everyone. For now, check the seals!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

CPB Stands for Corporate Publicity Bonanza

It's a sad day when CPB funds a pro-Big Ag show without mentioning dead zones, pesticide issues, or other issues - AND then sells DOW Chemical ads on the show web site. 

Big Ag's Answer to Food, Inc.? America Revealed: About Food

Only collusion at CPB with some big bucks in agriculture could possibly have given us the new PBS series America Revealed's first episode on food. Perhaps they took a cue from the old series In Search of Excellence playbook (covering "brilliant" CEOs in the 1980s) that made American capitalists look like rock stars.

Today, Big Ag gets its closeup in this series. Here's the trailer:

We get glowing aerial video postcards of pesticides being sprayed over cornfields, an industrial-scale farmer from California's Central Valley talking about how high his water costs are, and a tour of a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) in Colorado.

There are NO pesticide experts in the film, just an ag pilot who tells us how the chemical arsenal has grown from 1-2 chemicals in his predecessor's time to 50 products today. There are NO water experts in the film - just glossy aerials of the host flying over Shasta Dam (with no mention of how the combination of ag's profligate water consumption and agricultural pesticides have killed off the salmon).

There is one comment by a large-scale beekeeper on bee colony collapse being linked to pesticide use, but the narration tells us "the jury is still out." There is no mention made of groundwater depletion by big ag in the Central Valley (see NYTimes map and coverage here) and not one scientist or alternative point of view about the destruction of our soils, water and environment by industrial ag fertilizers or chemicals.

Though there are whizzy graphics showing how much transportation is built into the entire food system, there is no discussion about the carbon costs of such a system.

This show is a perversion about everything we know as responsible journalism. This is not a documentary - it is a love letter to Big Ag - with a few pretensions at covering the local and organic/urban ag/farmers market scene.

You can watch the full show on The sponsored ad on the web site on the series home page is for DOW Chemical.