Monday, December 30, 2013

Napa's 2013 Grower of the Year: Frank Leeds

Throughout the year, we give thanks to those who grow our grapes - organically.

One of these often unsung heroes - Frank Leeds, vineyard manager at Frog's Leap, got to take a bow this year, when he was voted Napa's Grower of the Year for 2013. Leeds manages Frog's Leap 130 acres of estate vineyards - and he's all for dry farming, a tradition Napa has so far forgotten to bring into the 21st century.

(All of Napa's wines from the 1860s to the 1970, including all the international award-winners that established its world class reputation, were grown without irrigation.)

At the time, I didn't know about this lovely tribute video to Leeds, which is a pleasure to share with you here.



As a side note, in 2012, the Napa Grower of the Year award went to Pat Garvey, vineyard manager and proprietor at Flora Springs, where he converted 360 of the estate 650 acres of vineyards in Napa to organic certification.

The 2009 winner, Andy Hoxsey of the Pelissa family, is Napa's largest organic grower with 635 acres of certified vineyards in Oakville and Yountville.

So in the last 5 years, 3 out of the 5 Growers of the Year (voted on by fellow Napa grape growers only) have been among the valley's largest organic growers. May it continue.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Holiday Gift for You

As 2013 wraps up, you may find yourself with some spare winter evenings to spend with family and friends.

If you're looking for some quality entertainment on the tube, I've got a holiday gift for you.

Assuming you have a way to stream PBS offerings on your tube, have a look at What Plants Talk About, PBS Nature's program on fascinating plant research - guaranteed to delight viewers of all ages and (indirectly) cause to reflect on the magic of grape vines.

You can watch the whole show online here.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Dossier Zinfandel: A Great New Wine Movie

It's not going to be part of the crush of Christmas season movies - and that's a shame - because the as yet unreleased Dossier Zinfandel (made by Croatian television) was really one of the most satisfying and compelling movies I've seen this year.

It screened in Napa as part of the Napa Valley Film Festival a few weeks ago, with a wonderful expert panel on stage after the screening - Carole Meredith, the U.C. Davis researcher who helped make the connections and verify the final discovery of the origins of Zinfandel, and David Gates, vineyard manager for Ridge Vineyards, who oversees the care of some of Sonoma's most treasured old vine Zin vineyards.

The film's subject? The search for the origins of the grape that Americans call Zinfandel. It's a detective story like no other and it takes about 20 years of ups and downs before the treasure is found. 

The filmmakers travel everywhere to get their story straight - they see Joel Petersen, of Ravenswood, travel to the Oriental Library in Vienna to learn about Zinfandel's travels to the New World as a table grape, and get the history of what was then called Black St. Peter's from California wine historian (and Zin fanatic) Charles Sullivan. Sullivan recounts how Capt. McCordray brought the grape west to California where it was planted in Napa on the Osborne Estate (before Harasthy may have brought it to Sonoma, a myth perpetuated by his son Arpad Harasthy, who mastered the art of making Zin into a sparkling wine years later).

Zinfandel is still the most widely planted grape in California - mainly due to its success during Prohibition as a shipping grape that could be sent East by the trainload to home winemakers there. Zin was the most versatile of grapes - made into table wine, brandy, sweet wine, sparkling wine or just into raisins. 

After Prohibition when 75-80% of wine was sweet wine, Zin lingered.

For most Americans, the film recounts, their introductory wine was white Zinfandel. 

One clue to the mystery of Zinfandel's origins emerged in Bari in the Puglia region of Italy in 1967 with the Primitivo clone. From Primitivo, the hunt continued to Croatia and the Plavic Mali grape that Mike Grgich grew up with. When Grgich arrived in America and worked for Lee Stewart at Souverain Cellars on Howell Mountain (today Burgess Cellars), he thought that what Americans called Zinfandel looked an awful lot like Plavac Mali. In the end, he was right.

David Gates, vineyard manager for Ridge, and Carole Meredith, retired
genetics professor from U.C. Davis, who released her first vintage of
Tribigdrag this year
In the hunt for Zin's origins, there were some unbelievable synchronicities. Carol Meredith, a key player in the unfolding story, told the audience afterwards how she had been yearning to find someone in Croatia who was a genetics researcher when an email popped into her inbox from a Croatian genetic researcher who wanted to know more about Zinfandel's origins. She traveled to Croatia with her U.C. Davis research assistant - who just happened to be Croatian and could, of course, translate for her.

I won't go into all the details here, but the film does a fine job of twisting and turning this way and that just like the best detective movies. 

In the end, it turns out that as a varietal Zinfandel has a more ancient known history than Cabernet Sauvignon, dating back to at least the 13th century. It's thought that Zinfandel was in fact the noble grape of the Dalmatian coast, treasured by the Hapsburgs.

I loved this movie most of all for the Croatians in it - a big, fat, sweaty peasant turns out to harbor a few remaining vines of Tribidrag (Zin by any other name) in his vineyard (the researchers checked hundreds of individual vines) that lead to the key discoveries. A wonderful old lady sings a hilarious little song about how all the women smile and laugh when they drink the new batch of Tribidrag. 

After the film, there was a reception at Grgich Hills Estate to celebrate with Zinfandel and Plavac Mali wines (the latter from Grgich's vineyards in Croatia). 

Croatian Television's last California film followed the adventures of Mike Grgich, winemaker and world famous celebrity. It was never officially released here, although some kind of deal was struck that allowed Grgich Hills to provide copies to the press and its wine club members. 

This new film was every bit as good and a great followup. Let's hope someone finds a way to release it here. However long that takes, it will be worth the wait. After all, how many great wine stories like this can there be?

PS Blue Danube Wines, which imports wine from Croatia, also blogged about this film (and attended the same screening, as I can see the back of my head in their photograph of the event) and wrote a good post about the chronology of the discovery.

If you want to raise a glass to Zin, Grgich Hills' Zinfandel is widely available and a very suitable toast.


Happily Grgich Hills has begun distributing this DVD in the U.S. It's for sale at the winery for $15. It's also for sale at Ridge Vineyards tasting room.

Top 100 Wine Picks from the Chronicle's List: The 7 Biodynamic or Organic Among Them

I read today's Chronicle and almost missed the Top 100 Wines article in the magazine, what with all the shopping season fillers. But I did see the headline on the front page of the paper saying it was inside, so dug around deep into the shopping inserts' innards and finally found it.

I was happy to see a few Biodynamic® or organic vineyards and vintners in the winning spots. Here they are (below).

All of these are in my forthcoming apps on Biodynamic or organically grown wines (coming soon - really and truly).


Ceritas - Porter Bass ($55, unobtainium - mailing list only - only 150 cases made)

Made by the guy (John Raytek) who's married to one of the family members (Phoebe Bass) whose vineyard this is. It's been farmed organically for several decades and a certified Biodynamic® vineyard since 2009. Every critic goes goo goo ga ga over this. I wish I could try it. The couple got married in this vineyard even - so what a love story it is that the wine is so special, too.

Other Whites

Cowhorn® Spiral 36 ($28) - 650 cases made

A highly lauded wine, this white Rhone blend was also rated by the Wine Advocate extremely highly recently and has become a perennial favorite with critics (and wine drinkers). (The Wine Advocate even called Cowhorn's prices "alarmingly low" - oh no!)

One minor correction to Bonne's article - the Steeles were beer drinkers when they bought their land, intending to grow vegetables and fruits. They quickly discovered they had two types of soils - one good for produce and one that was a perfect match for growing Rhone varietals. That is when they brought in Alan York, a Biodynamic viticulturist, to help them plan their vineyard which was certified Biodynamic in 2008.


Heitz Cellar-Grignolino ($19)

This historic Napa producer has begun converting more and more vineyards to organic certification, with the help of their very able vineyard management company Jack Neal & Sons, run by Mark Neal. It's nice to see this trend.

This particular wine was the only one I could afford to buy when I first visited the winery about 30 years ago (and I have been enjoying it ever since). It's a grape rarely grown in California - there are only 50 acres at most; Heitz has eight of them.

Pinot Noir

• Brick House-Les Dijonnais ($52) - 620 cases made

Brick House is one of those wonderful boutique Willamette Valley wineries - and it makes Pinot Noir from a number of different clonal combinations. I visited in Sept. and this one was my favorite, so I am happy to see that Bonne also likes it.

Brick House has bene organic for 23 years and Biodynamic for 8. It is also dry farmed.

Longoria La Encantada ($50)

It was a sad day when Richard Sanford first lost his Sanford winery (from a bad business deal) and later when his second winery had to declare bankruptcy, but his legacy lives on in his vineyards (and his Alma Rosa winery will recover - we hope). At least he was inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame.

This wine is made from his organically farmed vineyard by the Longorias. Sanford was a pioneer in organic viticulture in Santa Barbara County - and was of course, the first guy to figure out how right a place it was to grow Pinot Noir.

Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot (nice to see the M word mentioned)

Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon - 2010 ($145) - 2,596 cases made

A perennial Napa standard bearer. It's been called the Grace Kelly of wines. And the Spotteswoode estate vineyard (where this is grown) has, of course, been an organic pioneer, certified back in 1992 and this past year hosting the Organic Napa Grape Growers conference. Keep up the good work!

Robert Sinskey POV ($38) - 8,000+ cases made

This wine is a Carneros grown Merlot-Cab Franc blend with some Cabernet in it (the percentages are "proprietary") from Biodynamic vineyards (certified from 2006-2012). While Napa's Rutherford- and Yountville- and Oavkille-ites strut their stuff about their sunshine and warm temps, Bordeaux wine grapes in the Carneros have not gotten their due.

I must say I was very happy and surprised by this wine making it to the Top 100. It's about time Sinskey got more rave reviews like this one - he does not submit his wines to points-rating critics and has relied on word of mouth among the wine and food cognoscenti (leading chefs, etc.) to make his wines' reputations. That's a hard row to hoe. I am very delighted to see this wine getting this kind of attention - especially as he makes beaucoup cases of it! (About 8,000 cases, according to his web site - almost a third of his production.) And because it's in the realm of affordability for people who are not one percenters.

As he says on his web site, "From our point of view, certain parts of the “upper” Carneros region will one day be known as the “Right Bank” of Napa and recognized for how Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon respond to cooler climate and marine influence for bright and distinct expressions that, when blended together, make for a particularly supple and elegant, cuisine oriented wine."

And, as Sinskey pointed out to me in a recent interview (to be published in 2014), the Carneros is still not as cool - temperature wise - as Bordeaux. So there. One needn't pay a king's ransom for decent red wine from Napa. Bravo.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Goodbye to the Old Terroir and Hello to the New Microbial Terroir?

I don't know if you read that fascinating article by Michael Pollan in the New York Times magazine earlier this year (Some of My Best Friends are Germs, May 15, 2013) but it made a big impact on me and a lot of other people. Subtitled, "Say Hello to the 100 Trillion Bacteria That Make Up Your Biome," the article details the revolution in scientific thinking about what plays a much bigger role in human health than we have known - bacteria.

As the former editor of (a startup created by Netscape founder Jim Clark, with James Watson on the board) when genetics was health's new poster child, I am vastly relieved to see more and more emphasis on our current activities rather than on genetic destiny (of which there is very little, in terms of known diseases, a fact that the much touted ignored at its peril as it discovered this week when the FDA shut it down for unsubstantiated interpretations).

In his article, Pollan writes:

Justin Sonnenburg, a microbiologist at Stanford, suggests that we would do well to begin regarding the human body as “an elaborate vessel optimized for the growth and spread of our microbial inhabitants.” This humbling new way of thinking about the self has large implications for human and microbial health, which turn out to be inextricably linked.

One of the stranger immediate applications of the new "Our Biome R Us" thinking is fecal transplants that may help the obese, who have a hard time losing weight, by introducing bacteria into their biomes from skinny humans. (Read the New York Times article Gut Bacteria From Thin Humans Can Slim Mice Down to learn the details; I won't repeat them all here).

Not that anyone's forgetting about genetic manipulations - just look at those engaged in the brave new world effort of bringing back extinct species. But it's good to see bacteria getting more of their just desserts - they haven't gotten enough respect. The amount of time needed to conduct research studies on fast acting bacteria is much more attractive than the amount of time needed to establish genetic linkages, establish tests and apply preventive measures.

When it comes to bacterial interventions, as go the humans, so goes the wine world. New thinking is coming forward about the implications of the role of microbes in wine taste and how it might be used as a new tool in the winemaker's arsenal.

New research published this week from U.C. Davis says wine terroir is partly a function of the microbial life of grapes who share similarities and differences in bacteria regionally or even from vine to vine in the same vineyards.

As any good Biodynamic® winemaker can tell you, native yeasts ain't all the same. They act differently and give different qualities to wine. (Most wine is made with commercial yeast which introduces a whole other factor to the winemaking equation.)

The U.C. study has tremendous implications.

“The study results represent a real paradigm shift in our understanding of grape and wine production, as well as other food and agricultural systems in which microbial communities impact the qualities of the fresh or processed products,” said Professor David Mills, a microbiologist in the Department of Viticulture and Enology and Department of Food Science and Technology.

One big question is: will wineries attempt to do the equivalent of a fecal transplant on vineyards - i.e. importing microbes from the world's best known vineyards? 

Other questions that arise - at least for me - are what is the impact of organic and Biodynamic practices on microbial life in wine grapes? We know that organic matter stimulates microbial life. Biodynamic practices do, too. The study was conducted with the help of Constellation Brands. I don't know if they have any organic or Biodynamic vineyards or if they were part of the study's considerations.

I'll be interviewing one of the intrepid U.C. Davis researchers this coming week and will let you know what they say about these and other topics.

Friday, November 15, 2013

New Wine Doc: A Year in Burgundy

If you can't make it to the Napa Valley Film Festival, you might want to indulge your film longings with this enchanting documentary about life in France's Pinot Noir and Chardonnay heartland - Burgundy. 

The film is called A Year in Burgundy. Here's the trailer.

Don't miss the wonderful quote from Lalou Bize-Leroy, the noted Burgundian grande dame, whose family owns Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. She established her own Domaine Leroy with all biodynamic vines, which prospered while her neighbors withered with mildew in the wet 2007 and 2008 seasons.

"You have to be a part of the life of the vine and the life of the soil, too," she says (in French).

Enjoy the trailer:


The film is made by David Kennard (with whom I used to work when I made PBS documentaries for a living.)

The film is available on iTunes, Amazon and on DVD.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Napa Valley Film Festival's Two Wine Documentaries Screen Next Week - On Vina and Zin

The rather posh looking Napa Valley Film Festival, a 5 day affair, launches Wednesday with two films on wine screening. (The catalog's ads are much more upscale than the Mill Valley Film Festival's).

Dossier Zinfandel 

From the Croatian TV, and the folks who made the film Like the Old Vine about Mike Grgich last year, comes a second film - on the history of Zinfandel. It screens twice:

Thursday, Nov. 14 at 1:30 pm in Yountville - followed by a receiption at Grgich Hills
Sunday Nov. 17, 8:30 pm in Calistoga

The Monks of Vina

John Beck's new documentary on the historic Vina winery will show. Having just purchased one of the few remaining new copies of the one and only book on Vina ($125!) this month and having visited Vina for the first time in Sept., I am very much looking forward to seeing this film on a piece of wine history people don't really remember.

Here's the movie trailer.

The Monks of Vina from Beck Media Productions on Vimeo.

It also screens twice:

Thursday, Nov. 14 at 2 pm in Calistoga
Sunday, Nov. 17 at 10 am in Napa

For more info, see the web site.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Best Halloween Costume EVER!

Thanks to Babes Against Biotech with Lauryn Rego and Nicholas Efremov-Kendall at Alantown

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Big Decanter Win for Porter-Bass: A Biodynamic Vineyard in Sonoma's Russian River AVA

Porter-Bass is one of the most beautiful vineyards in California - one of those dreamscapes which, once visited, is not forgotten.

I posted this video from Porter Bass last night because I just liked it.

Imagine my surprise this morning then to read in the latest  news from Decanter online that the Littorai Chardonnay Luke grows in his vineyard (Littorai calls it Mays Canyon) just won Decanter's top pick in the list of the top 10 California Chardonnays with a 93 point rating. Huzzah!

If you're lucky enough to get a bottle of this very "inobtainium" wine, enjoy. Otherwise, head out to see this beautiful clearing in the woods of Guerneville and imbibe the atmosphere - along with Luke Bass' own Chardonnay made from this same vineyard.


Both the Littorai Mays Canyon Chard and Pinot and the three Porter-Bass wines from this vineyard are all featured in my forthcoming (next month!) Biodynamic Wine Finder apps - in the Biodynamic Vines Finder app (wines from certified vineyards) and in the Biodynamic Wines: Tasting and Touring.

(To be notified when the app launches, sign up for the emails from this blog (see signup on top right of page).

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Shoutout to Tres Sabores for the Fab NYTimes Coverage

Thank you New York Times for bringing attention - of any kind - to one of my favorite Napa wineries - a long time organic vineyard pioneer, and producer of wonderful Zin and Cab - Tres Sabores.

Tres Sabores proprietor Julie Johnson showing tourists punchdown.

Best 2013 Harvest Picture Yet

Kudos to Beckmen Vineyards for posting this one which just kind of says it all:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Cost of Carbon: Oct. 22-23

Al Gore's latest project - 24 Hours of Reality - is a powerful broadcast (online on Ustream) showing us the way we could do better when it
comes to discussing environmental topics.

The basic format is sort of like Fox News - i.e. hot looking news people - coupled with powerful guests - and disaster weather footage that made the Weather Chanel what it is today.

Tune in to see what I'm talking about:

It's got everything that makes TV so compelling: great guests (World Bank president, a NJ housewife) and international appeal, along with international show hosts from Asia, Europe, Africa, North and South America, and more. The footage is undeniable. And the calls to action compelling. See what you think.

Along with this comes the news today from CalCAN (California Climate and Agriculture Network) that is has new fact sheets on its web site showing the impact various agricultural approaches have on climate change. Of course organic is best - no nitrogen fertilizers from fossil fuels. See the fact sheets here.

New York Times Sings Praises of Film Symphony of the Soil

A spectacular review for the film Symphony of the Soil came out this month from the New York Times. Read it here.

Upcoming screenings with filmmaker Deborah Koons Garcia:

TONIGHT - Oct. 22, 7 pm - Oakland, Parkway Theater with Q and A with filmmaker

SATURDAY - Oct. 26, 1 pm - Summerfield Cinemas, Santa Rosa with Q and A with filmmaker

The film was a hit this past weekend at Bioneers.

DVDs are now on sale.

The film will screen in LA in early Nov. For more screenings and dates, see the web site.

From Staid to Studs: Envolve Winery's Think Pink-Breast Cancer Fundraiser Photos

Sometimes it's nice to see a fresh approach to women primarily - and young women especially. Here's how the three groovy guys (do they remind you of The Monkees?) promote their rose - in support of breast cancer prevention and free mammograms for under or uninsured women with their local hospital in October.

Tickets to their big fundraising party - Real Men Drink Pink - in Sonoma Oct. 26 ($60) are available online.

Their 2011 rose is made from a certified biodynamic vineyard; the 2012 is organic.

Envolve is a new brand that opened its door in 2012 formed by three childhood friends (L to R) - Mike Benziger of the Benziger wine clan, British born Danny Fay, and Ben Flajnik, reality TV star on the 2012 season of The Bachelor - who all grew up together in Sonoma.

For more details, check out the Press Democrat article about Envolve's founding here.

Friday, October 18, 2013

McFadden Wine Sale This Weekend - Join the Wine Club OVER THE PHONE - 40% Off

I know that there is one winery whose wares I have touted over the years more than others - but that's because they make wonderful everyday wines (and a few special bottles, too) at sale prices that can't be beat.

THIS WEEKEND the twice a year rock-bottom sale prices are on again at McFadden's (vineyard in Potter Valley; tasting room in Hopland), which should make you pay attention and get on the phone. Prices are 40% off.

You must be a wine club member to get this incredible prices, but there's basically no commitment if you're buying a case a year - which is pretty easy to do when the sale price of a bottle of Double Gold winning (SF Chronicle Wine Competition, not some unknown county fair) Chardonnay is $9.60 - i.e. $115 a case.  (And remember - wine is a great holiday or hostess gift.)

My friends have already learned to ask me to get them a case or two. But you don't need me to be your intermediary. I am just the messenger. You can go direct.

Here are some of the deals I think warrant your attention:

• Chardonnay, $9.60 a bottle, $115 a case (regularly $16 a bottle)

Unoaked, food friendly and the perfect weekday wine.

Riesling, $10.80 a bottle, $129 a case (regularly $18 a bottle)

These are the same grapes that go into rieslings from Dashe and Chateau Montelena. Again another great weekday wine.

NV Brut, $15 a bottle, $180 a case (regularly $24 a bottle)

I am a regular drinker of the McFadden Brut which to my knowledge is the cheapest (when on sale like this) and best organic sparkling wine in this price range as it's made (unlike other sparklers in the price category - like Korbel Organic, for instance) with the grape varietals that go into French champagne: 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir. Forgo the TJ's Prosecco (imported from Italy) or Spanish Cava and get into the real deal - organic is good for our ecosystem right here - and good for you to serve at your table. (And save 50% of the wine's carbon footprint - which comes from shipping across the Atlantic).

At this price, you can haz bubbles all the time. Sparkling wine always makes a great gift and is the most versatile food-friendly wine - it pairs with so many different dishes from quiche to salmon to sushi. One famous wine writer (Jay McInerny who writes about wine for the Wall Street Journal without endorsing its editorial views) likes it with popcorn. (Ok, since it's sparkling, it is sort of more like soda - perhaps.) One of my friends sent a friend of hers who was turning 60 six bottles - one for every decade.

This Brut won a gold medal in the Mendocino Wine Competition (which features a lot of sparkling wines now that Rack and Riddle, a sparkling wine facility, is located in Hopland). I think I have about 5 cases of it in my cellar. It's always a big hit during the holidays - and you can bring along more than just one bottle to your hostess at these prices (which might make you look like a properly appreciative friend to your hostess who has gone to the effort of cooking for you). Of course, sparkling wine is great in the winter - and great in hot weather.

You can also think about the European tradition of having aperitifs made from sparkling wine mixed with a little juice...most cultures over the pond have come up with a wide variety of sparkling wine cocktails of one sort or another. (Good stress reliever after you get home from a huge Bay Area traffic jam from the BART strike - like I did today). I make little wine cocktails with peach juice or a little swirl of mango juice in summer. For a Valentine's Day party last year, I made sparkling wine cocktails with St. Germain, soda water and sparkling wine. They were very well received and could hardly be simpler to make.

2009 Reserve Brut, $24 a bottle, $288 a case (regularly $40 a bottle)

Stepping up a notch, the Reserve Brut spends 18 month on the lees, making it richer in flavors than the regular Brut.

Moving on to the reds:

2009 and 2010 Coro Mendocino-McFadden wines, $22.20 a bottle, $266 a case (regularly $37 a bottle)

Zin-based blends with Syrah and Petite Sirah - of course these are wonderful paired with meats, pizza, pasta with red sauce, etc. etc. Or cheese and crackers. Another great gift, too, or nice to have on hand for the holidays when everyone is sitting around the fire place sipping hearty soup.

Enough said. Get on the phone and talk to John Cesano, the friendliest tasting room manager in the world. Think of him - and Guinness McFadden and gang, on their 200+ acres of organic vineyard up there at the source of the Russian River - as your personal wine pit crew, at the ready with your everyday vino - and then some. This is wine as it was in the old days - organic, local and grown with pride and without pesticides in your own ecosystem, a place you might call home.

McFadden Vineyard web site
Tasting room phone: 707.744.VINE

Sale ends Sunday.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Oregon Wine Documentary - FREE Online

The history of wine isn't often the subject of a documentary, so it's quite a treat to when these stories are told. On my recent trip to Oregon, I picked up a DVD copy of Oregon Public Broadcasting's hour long program Oregon Wine: A Sense of Place, which was for sale in the Eyrie tasting room (fitting indeed as Eyrie started the whole Willamette Pinot thing).

David Lett of Eyrie in the early days
What I just discovered today is that the whole show is online for FREE. So you can enjoy this history from the comfort of your Apple TV (or whatever).

It's interesting to note that many of the Oregon originals, particularly observant of the soil and terroir, now have certified organic vineyards for at least some of their wines - Eyrie, Sokol Blosser. Long may they live.

To see the hour long show (which, sorry, I cannot embed here due to OPB coding of their Vimeo player), go here:

Monday, October 14, 2013

Reinvention: Randall Grahm's Latest Quest to Succeed with Pinot Noir

Pinot has been the sought after, elusive grape that has caught so many. Its finicky grapes make wines filled with finesse. Most famously most recently Randall Grahm, of Bonny Doon Vineyard has been the California winemaker's whose quest to grow and make the Great American Pinot Noir has been thwarted, by fire, by finances, by fate. (It's all been written about spectacularly, scribed by the subject hisself.) But watch as the Phoenix rises - again.

Here is Grahm's newest vineyard - Popelouchum (it's a native American word meaning "Paradise") - a 280 acre property in San Juan Batista, of which 80 acres has been planted - some to Pinot Noir grown from seed.

He is with the new Pinot Noir seedlings here.

Planting Pinot Noir at Popelouchum
Is this a sign? It seems to me that the stage right now is set for massive reinvention - as the government is shutdown, the economy still in a ditch, and - most importantly - ecosystems are more at risk than in the entire history of the planet. And that means going to the root of things - the origins, which is what growing grapes from seeds is.

It's nice to see a sign like this - of trying to replant, of trying to get it right, of not giving up on worthy ambitions.

To see a photo gallery of the 2011 blessing and celebration at Popelouchum with Ohlone leaders and the Bonny Doon wine club, click here.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

K & L Wines - Insider Deals on Organic and BD Wines

Join the mailing list for "Insider's Advantage" and get these great deals:

AmByth Estate

Natural wines from the only biodynamic Paso Robles winery:
Priscus White Rhone Blend - $45/$39 on sale for $28
Syrah, $45/$39 on sale for $28

Grgich Hills

The classic from Napa Valley (also biodynamic):
2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay - $38 on sale for $28 (that's less than at Costco)

Rocca Family

A unique Cabernet flavor profile from Napa (organically farmed)
2008 Grigsby Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - $75 on sale for $56

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Dooniverse Moves to Davenport

Until last year, a highlight for Santa Cruz wine tourists was to visit the Bonny Doon tasting room and restaurant in Santa Cruz's mini wine ghetto. Until last year. The tasting room closed. The restaurant closed. And Dooniversians were left adrift with no experience to share with the world of Randall Grahm.

That's all changed with the opening Thursday of the new Bonny Doon tasting room - in Davenport. Davenport? The trendy Davenport Roadhouse, a restaurant and inn north of Santa Cruz, with a commanding view of the ocean from this village on a bluff overlooking the Pacific is in Davenport. Bonny Doon's new spot is conveniently located across the street from the roadhouse. It's open Thursday through Monday from 11-5.

So if you need to buy a pumpkin down there (there are lots of pumpkin farms in the area), you could definitely make a detour...

Bonny Doon no longer farms as much organic or biodynamic vineyards as it once did. Though most of the 35,000 case production is now devoted to purchased (and chemically grown) grapes, you can still find a few good bottles from vineyards the winery once farmed biodynamically - Syrah from Chequera, the Ca' del Solo Nebbiolos, Le Cigare Blancs from Beeswax, the Ca' del Solo Muscat (dry not sweet and only $120 for a case in the closeout special), the sparkling wine Riesling to Live, the Picpoul, the Banana Slug Roussanne (named for the UCSC mascot - the banana slug), and the Viognier. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Find Your Everyday Wine - Occupy Hopland!

The annual Hopland Passport weekend is coming up Oct. 19 and 20th.

This is the single most concentrated and cheapest way to buy affordable, organically grown wine!

For event details see here.

Among the tasting rooms where wine will be on sale (below already affordable prices) are McFadden, Saracina, Golden Vineyards, Naughty Boy, Jeriko, Frey and Terra Savia.

Here are some top picks to look out for:

In downtown Hopland

McFadden - Chardonnay, Brut
Naughty Boy - Pinot Noir, Rose
SIP Mendocino - Golden Vineyards - Coro (Zin blend)
Terra Savia - Chardonnay, Sparkling Rose (of Malbec)

In the area

Saracina - Sauvignon Blanc

Discounted wine prices often range during the sale weekend between $12-20 a bottle. These are the wines that should be in Bay Area food markets - but somehow aren't (unless you live in Mendocino).

Monday, October 7, 2013

IN PHOTOS: Montinore Estate, Willamette Valley, Oregon

On my visit last week to Oregon wineries, I had a first hand look at the deluge that interrupted the 2013 Willamette Valley harvest for a few days, but the harvest appears to be a good vintage. Grapes were picked all over after I left.

Here are some photos from my trip to Montinore Estate on a rainy Sunday (a week ago). Montinore figures prominently in my new Biodynamic® Wine Finder app, with lots of affordable Alsatian and Pinot Noir wines, along with high end, small lots of Pinot Noir from Montinore's best vineyard blocks.

Enjoy this virtual visit. Many thanks to the tasting room staff for their hospitality and to Ben Thomas, Montinore's red wine winemaker, who took me on a brief tour.

On a very rainy day last week
With 240 acres in vine, Montinore is the largest Oregon producer
of wines made from Biodynamic® estate vineyards (roughly 40,000 cases)
and the second largest biodynamic producer in the U.S.
(after Grgich Hills in Napa) - it's an ocean of grapes

Arrive at harvest time and you can take home
a bottle of fresh, biodynamic wine grape juice - a real treat
Ben Thomas makes Montinore's red wines (including four single vineyard
designate Pinot Noirs and two other estate Pinot Noirs) - here he
shows his collection of native yeasts from different vineyard blocks;
each yeast will be paired with the grapes from those blocks -or perhaps he'll pick
a few favorites - the things a Biodynamic winemaker thinks about! (*Because they
primarily use native yeasts)
Where wine starts - with freshly picked grapes!
The cellar at Montinore: originally it was created to hold sparkling wine.
 Today it houses a wide variety of white Alsatians and red Pinot Noirs
On a day when it's raining cats and dogs outside, the tasting room sofa
looks like a good place to sip and stay awhile. It also has great views.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Brooks Wines' Inaugural Vintage of 2012 Estate Riesling

Janie Brooks Heuck with inaugural
2012 Brooks Estate Riesling
Brooks Wines has a new riesling release - its 2012 Estate Riesling ($22). I try not to buy wine on the road any more - I have too much - but I was too intrigued and delighted to go away empty-handed, so I came home with a case.

I will write more about Brooks Wines later, but for now, suffice it to say, this is the first vintage of this wine, and only 100 cases are made.

It's the fruit, in part, of vines planted in 1974 - and if you know about Riesling, you know Oregon used to grow a lot of it - as much of 23% of Oregon's wine production 30 years ago was Riesling (before it was thrown over by Pinot Noir).

It's just about to hit the wine press so look for ratings for it in the near future. (Or just go wild and order a case now before it gets discovered.)

There are only a few organic or Biodynamically farmed rieslings. Bonterra makes a widely available one; Buty makes a barely obtainable one as does Montinore Estate (106 cases); Pacific Rim makes some organic and one rare and pricey Biodynamic one; and McFadden makes one under its own label while Chateau Montelena makes one sourced from McFadden fruit under the Chateau Montelena label. So it's nice to see the club grow. Brooks is one of only three wineries making riesling from a Demeter-certified Biodynamic vineyard (the others being Pacific Rim's Wallula Vineyard Riesling and Montinore Estate's Riesling).

In the riesling department, Brooks also makes a Sweet P Riesling (sweeter, as you might imagine) and a lovely late harvest dessert riesling called Tethys.
Brooks Riesling on the vine

In addition, its Willamette Valley Riesling was just a wine pick of the week in the LA Times and its Ara Riesling was served at the White House. (Both are blends of non-estate wines - i.e. not organic). Their reputation for fine riesling is bound to grow with this new estate wine.

Aside from Randall Grahm, founder Jimi Brooks was one of the biggest fans of both Riesling and biodynamic farming. The estate vineyard doesn't produce much riesling, so it's really a treat to get this wine that is made 100% from certified Biodynamically farmed grapes.

The winery is also growing. According to general manager Janie Brooks Heuck, Brooks has submitted plans for a new winery and tasting room down the road to local authorities, and if all goes well, the new facilities would be open in 2014.

Maysara's New Sparkling Wine Debuts at Wine Club Party

On my recent trip to Oregon, I happened to stop in at one of the state's largest Biodynamic vineyards - Maysara Winery and Momtazi Family vineyard. It was raining heavily, but the wine club pickup party (scheduled for what would usually have been a good weather day) was in full swing.

On hand was a new sparkling wine ($35) - made from 100% Pinot Noir.

It was only available for wine club members this past weekend, but the Momtazis said it will also be for sale to the public at the winery.

Just a note: more Pinot Noir in France is grown for sparkling wine than is bottled as Pinot Noir. Just so you know.

It's nice to see more vintners here making sparkling wine - one of my favorites.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Another Oregon Star - Soter - Pursues Organic Certification

It's no secret that Tony Soter was one of the first Napa evangelists for organic grape growing. In 1985 he converted Spottswoode's estate to organic farming.

Nadine Basile, the new vineyard manager
at Soter Vineyards in Oregon
So I wandered into his Oregon winery, Soter Vineyards, last week for a morning tasting (they are also one of the few Willamette Valley wineries open before noon or 11 am) just to see what was up with his now famous Pinot Noir winery in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA.

I was surprised and delighted to hear from the tasting room staff that Soter Vineyards is now in year one of their three year transition process to organic certification.

Soter's hired Nadile Basile, a former Demeter Biodynamic inspector, as its new vineyard manager.

A U.C. Davis viticulture grad, Basile started her organic and biodynamic viticultural career at Napa's Robert Sinskey Vineyards (a 200+ acre Carneros vineyard planted largely to Pinot Noir) in the mid 2000's when Sinskey was in the process of getting biodynamic certification. (In 2012 Robert Sinskey Vineyards ended its participation in Demeter certification but says it will continue farming in the same manner, citing certification fees cost as the issue - of that, more later).

So it was exciting news to hear that Soter Vineyards intends to pursue Biodynamic certification as soon as possible (Biodynamic certification requires organic certification as a requirement).

May it continue.

I was struck on my trip by how many Oregon vintners go straight for the Biodynamic certification, instead of plain old organic. I don't know what to make of it just yet, but there it is.

It could have something to do with the nuances of Pinot Noir and the Willamette Valley's close ties with Burgundy, where experienced vintners have embraced biodynamic farming both as a way to replenish spent soils and as a way to get the more expressive qualities from their vines.

In my own stumble-and-bumble personal tasting journey, I'm recognizing more and more how biodynamic farming does truly allow for more expressive fruit, but that it puts more pressure on having the right terroir to begin with. Biodynamic farming can help winemakers get the best fruit, and the most resilient vines, but it can't make great wine unless the soils, exposure and winemaking are first rate. But when it sings, it sings.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Biodynamic Wine Finder Web Site Launches!

My three apps on Biodynamic® wines are set to launch later this month. In preparation, has launched with a few details about the three apps. Have a look!

Two of the three apps are wine-buying guides. The third is a tasting and touring guide.

1. Biodynamic® Wine Finder - covers 150 Demeter certified wines (Biodynamic® Wine or Made with Biodynamic® Grapes)

2. Biodynamic® Vine Finder - covers 125 wines from Demeter certified vineyards (Biodynamic® vineyards, organically certified wines)

3. Biodynamic Wineries: A Tasting and Touring Guide - a wine visitor's guide to 40 wineries that offer wines from certified vineyards.

Each app includes detailed filters to let you select wines and wineries by a variety of key criteria. More details to come when the apps go live in the Apple App Store and Google Play. Stay tuned - get on the app launch email invite list by subscribing to this blog's email (see upper right) or sending an email to

Oregon's Star - Eyrie Vineyards - Goes Organic - PHOTOS

I've just returned from a whistle stop winery tour in Oregon, arriving in the heart of what's a raining-cat-and-dogs harvest season up north.

Out of nostalgia for my last trip up north (2010) to Eyrie and environs, I decided to drop in and see what was new at Eyrie. It was a delight to discover a sign on the way saying the vines are organically farmed - and now certified, according to the tasting room staff. Although the winery's farmed organically, it says, for 48 years, the vines were officially certified in 2013.

This covers all the wines from the Eyrie estate vineyard - all of which are located in the Dundee Hills AVA. Eyrie, famously, was the first Pinot Noir winery in the Willamette Valley and won against the French in an early days blind tasting.

Eyrie's known for its estate blend Pinot Noir. (I have three cases from 2008 aging in the cellar - acquired in the 2010 trip - that I am just starting to enjoy).

Tasting room treats - a Melon de Bourgogne and the reserve Chardonnay. The winery's 2012 Chardonnay is just being released; I took home the last 6 bottles of the 2011 (which were on sale for 30% off).

Enjoy this virtual visit in photos.

Eyrie Vineyards tasting room in downtown McMinnville
The humble entrance in downtown McMinnville (the building was once a turkey processing plant)
The founders - the Letts - were the first to plant Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley
Lobby photo
A complete vertical - of empty bottles (alas) greet you in the lobby
area - but you can get tastes of some of them in the tasting room
Uniquely Eyrie offers library tastings of vintages from 10-20+ years ago
The extremely helpful and knowledgeable tasting room staff stand
in front of a vineyard map of the four estate vineyards
Eyrie's modern classic - its estate Pinot Noir - from vines planted in the 1980's

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Top Scores for Organic Wines in Wine & Spirits Magazine

This month's issue of Wine & Spirits magazine's new releases section features these organically grown wines:

94 Points

Storybook Mountain, Zinfandel, Eastern Exposures ($48)

93 Points

Qupe, Syrah - Sawyer Lindquist ($35)

92 Points

Qupe, Grenache - Sawyer Lindquist 2011 ($35)

Marimar Estate, Pinot Noir, 2009, Sonoma Coast Chico's Run ($48)

91 Points

Frog's Leap, Zinfandel ($30) BEST BUY

90 Points

Flora Springs, Trilogy ($75)

Qupe, Syrah - Purisima Mountain ($35)

88 Points

Beckmen Vineyards, Cuvee le Bec ($18)


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Coming to Your Town: MUST SEE MOVIE Symphony of the Soil in Theatrical Release

You may recall my mentioning that my friends made the film Symphony of the Soil...which I have been enthusiastically telling people about since it first came out in 2012. Well, now it's about to hit the theaters - giving you a chance to see what all the fuss is about!

Here's the schedule of screenings (below).

For more info and to join the email list, go to There is a detailed and continuously updated calendar of screenings here.

The film will screen in Chicago and New York in addition to the local screenings below.


• San Rafael - Sept. 27-Oct. 2
• San Francisco - Roxie - one night only - Sept. 28
• Bioneers (for conference attendees only): Oct. 18
• Oakland; New Parkway, Oct. 22


I will be going to the Oct. 2 show at the 400 seat Napa Opera House where Demeter will be co-hosting a Biodynamic® wine tasting at the show. Join us there! Filmaker Deborah Garcia, U.C. Berkeley microbial biologist Dr. Ignacio Chapel and winemaker John Williams of Frog's Leap will all be there.
 You can buy tickets online now.

Warning: seeing this film could endanger your ability to drink or eat food from poorly treated soils... i.e. anything not organic or it so makes the case for how well we need to treat our soils. It's a great and engaging upper of a movie as well.

Decanter's Tasting Panel's High Scoring Napa Cabs: The Organic Among Them

Decanter, the international wine magazine based in the UK, published its list of top 2009 Napa and Sonoma cabs today, including among its 18 top picks three from producers with certified organic vineyards. It's nice to see Oakville Ranch getting some acclaim alongside established superstars.

Here are their organic selections:

Oakville Ranch, Cabernet Sauvignon, 95 pts., $82, SOLD OUT
This hidden gem up on the eastern hills of Oakville (I visited recently and it's featured in my forthcoming Napa app) production. The 2008 is still available. Take a trip there - the vineyard is among the most beautiful I have seen in Napa. Shelia Gentry is the marketing person and leads vineyard tours and tastings. Incredible views! Be prepared to buy - it's pretty much the only place you can get their wines.

Spottswoode, Cabernet Sauvignon, 90+ pts., $165
A perennial favorite with critics.

Staglin Family Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, 92 pts., $185
Also a perennial critics pick.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

SALE: In Celebration of the Harvest: Qupe's Grenache and Rose on Sale

When Biodynamic® (and organically grown) wines go on sale, I take (and give) notice. Qupe is one of the top Rhone producers and their sales make buying their wine direct from the winery on par with dealing with retailers. Which means more of the profits go to the winemakers and less to the middle-people.

So support your eco-system heroes (they don't use pesticides, herbicides, and hydroponics to grow grapes) and give them your wine dollars. I can heartily recommend both of these wines - their Grenache and their sister label Verdad's Grenache Rose - as they are among my staple recommendations. They're each on sale for 25% off, making the $35 Grenache now $26.25 a bottle and the Rose $13.50 (down from $18).

Let's get ourselves out of being prisoners of the chemical-industrial-wine complex that surrounds us along our freeways and in the aisles of our supermarkets. Give the winemakers your money!

Order wine here:

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Trendspotting: Chefs Becoming Vintners

In researching my new app on BD wines (made from Biodynamic® vineyards and/or wine processing standards), I've come across two stories of chefs moving to the countryside with their spouses to start vineyard/farms.

One is Big Farm Table in Oregon. The other is Shinn Estate on Long Island's north fork.

See more about life at Big Table Farm here:

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Worth A Read: Randall Grahm At His Best

Randall Grahm - where would California be without him? - has yet another piercingly brilliant piece - his talk from July's Conference on Wine Quality at Asilomar on his favorite topic - the pursuit of vins de terroirs in America. It's definitely worth a read. See here.

Friday, August 30, 2013

A Tale of Two Vineyards: The Davis World View

Teaching vineyard at U.C. Davis
I had occasion last week to see the alpha and omega of California wine grape growing - touring the U.C. Davis teaching vineyard with Professor Andy Walker and touring a vineyard on Spring Mountain in Napa with renowned biodynamic consultant Phillipe Armenier.

I went to Davis for a two day class on wine grapes - ampelography - or the study of wine grape varieties. Mornings were spent in the teaching vineyard to see the grapes growing - whites one day and reds the next.

As we entered the vineyard, Walker apologized. "We'd be in our new vineyard," he said, "at the new Mondavi center, but someone put herbicide (Oust) at the edge of the property and it leached into the field, so we can't plant there for two years."

"Was there going to be an organic vineyard there, as well?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

So, Davis had killed its own vineyard before it was even planted. Oh my.

After our vineyard time in the morning, we would come back to the classroom for a quick lunch and then on to an hour and half of lecture. On Day 2, one of the topics was viruses, in particular the new scary one - Red Blotch - and the state of virus-infested new vines in California.

I'm not going to go into how the Davis-approved "clean" vines have been nothing but, causing a great deal of angst and economic loss to unsuspecting growers. And it's not for the first time that Davis has misrepresented the goods. We have Davis' rootstock advice to thank for the phylloxera epidemic of the 90s - and now the 20-year-later widespread replanting wave, as worn out vines have to be replaced, often accompanied by fumigation, likely one of the worst toxic side effects of chemical wine grape farming.

Red blotch wiped out the U.C. Davis' Oakville vineyard in Napa as well - necessitating taking out the whole vineyard and replanting it.

When will they learn? When will we have studies on viticulture ecology as the way to farm? We're not really studying the proper defense mechanisms. Unlike Oregon, Washington and Utah - where professors have been researching the effects of biodynamic farming and finding it's surprisingly helpful in boosting microbial activity and plant resilience.

One look at this "sanitary" Davis teaching vineyard - hard pan soils, no compost applied ("we did it for awhile but then it was too much work," Walker says), no other life forms besides grapes on trellises - sick vines, I might add. "Yes, we were seeing some mildew so we've turned on the fungicides last night." Walker says of the fertigated vines. (Fertigation is the process of adding fertilizers and other chemicals to the vines via the irrigation water.)

To the naked eye, this system of farming looks more like a marijuana growers' hydroponics setup. Soil isn't needed. Man controls the environment here with fertilizers and evil things to keep the predators at bay, as the vines are now totally defenseless and dependent on the "system."

Coming soon - pictures from another vineyard and another system.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Washington Pioneer: Wilridge Winery

I am researching the non-Oregon and non-California wines in my new Biodynamic® Wine Finder app (coming in September!) and amazed at the variety and pioneering spirit of so many of our next generation wine spots. The whole country has gone wild for local winemaking, it would seem.

A companion on my journey now is the wonderful book American Wine written by Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy. If you don't own a copy, run to your favorite online store (or local book shop) and get one. I think it's probably the finest book on wine that UC Press has published.

Jack Rabbit Hill Wines, Shinn Estate Winery and Wilridge Winery are among the wineries in the app I am currently writing about. I thought I'd post this video from Wilridge about their winery to give you a sense of what lies beyond our (California) borders - some pretty interesting wine experiments with terroir by bold settlers! See here:

Monday, August 26, 2013

Today Only: Wine Spies SALE on Hawk and Horse Cab

There's a 24 hour sale from The Wine Spies on Hawk and Horse's 2009 Block Three Cabernet Sauvignon.

The discounted price is available by typing in HAWKEYE on the site.

For more about the offer, click here.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Bi-Rite Wines: Martian Ranch Tasting Tonight

BiRite is hosting a tasting of Martian Ranch & Vineyard's biodynamic and organic wines tonight! Details here.

They will also be carrying several of these Rhone varietals, farmed in Los Alamos, in the Santa Ynez Valley (Santa Barbara County).

It's nice to see our local hipster grocery chain serving up local and organic/biodynamic!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

If You Like Syrah...Two Items of Interest

I was just writing up all the wine descriptions for the sumptuous Syrahs from Qupe for my new Biodynamic Wine Finder app (coming Sept. 10, 2013) and at the very moment I thought I was done, a new email popped up in my inbox from K&L Wine Merchants. Usually I am not driven to open such emails, but...

When I opened it, what should appear but a notice of a brand new K&L Selections series, co-branded with various vintners. Number one in the series? A Qupe/K&L Sawyer Lindquist Syrah...for $19.99.

You usually can't touch Qupe's single vineyard wines in this price range...but you can now.

I'm looking forward to trying it.

For those who don't know their Syrah well, Bob Lindquist is known as the dean of California Syrah, planting the first Syrah in Santa Barbara County (now Syrah Central with Paso Robles) in 1982. He's been making stellar Syrah ever since. Qupe's been a Wine & Spirits Top 100 winery for 8 out of 9 years.

Lindquist and his wife Louisa (who has her own label - Verdad) grow the grapes on their 40 acre Edna Valley estate (certified Biodynamic in 2009, with Phillip Armenier as consultant), making the wine in Santa Maria at their Clendenen-Lindquist winery. The winery is located in one of the most beautiful spots in California - at the entrance to the fabled and justly famous Bien Nacido vineyard.

Phone orders: 877-559-4637.

But wait - that's not all. Qupe is having its own Syrah sale on all Sawyer Lindquist vineyard Syrahs - all are 25% off through August. That gets you their top drawer stuff - the regular Sawyer Lindquist ($35 - on sale for $26) or their Reserve - "Sonnie's" ($55 - on sale for $41).


IN PHOTOS: Napa Valley Wine Library Tasting

The Napa Valley Wine Library Association's annual tasting
 held on the grounds of Silverado Resort's golf course 
Organic wineries pouring included: CADE (Cab only), Grgich Hills, Heitz Wine Cellars, Long Meadow Ranch, Madonna Estate,  Robert Sinskey, Rocca Family, Storybook Mountain and ZD
Pouring at ZD Wines
The Wine Library's illustrious past on display