Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter and Wine: Satisfy Your Inner Bunny

Easter is Sunday. What wine will you be serving?

Personally...and in part because I just went to Domaine Carneros this week...I am opting for their Cuvee de la Pompadour - a beautiful bubbly rose.

Here are a few photos from my visit to Domaine Carneros (more on that later) to enjoy for now:
Tasting with Domaine Carneros CEO
and winemaker Eileen Crane 
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder:
Cuvee de la Pompadour - displayed alongside
its CCOF certification - nice!
The Domaine Carneros brut rose is the only certified organically grown pink bubbly made in California by an offspring of one of the premier French Champagne houses (in this case Taittinger).

This was on the Chronicle's 2008 top 100 wines list.

If you're lucky, your Easter bunny might bring you some. Or you could make sure and get it for your own Easter basket.

Happy Easter!
It would be such a wonderful place for an Easter egg hunt...wouldn't it?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Happy Easter from Wine Country

Enjoy these fine window displays from St. Helena's favorite chocolatier: Woodhouse.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Beekeepers Sue EPA Over Bayer Neonicotinoid Pesticides Associated with Bee Colony Collapse and Bird Deaths

Last week commercial beekeepers filed a lawsuit in U.S. Federal District Court in San Francisco charging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to ban two pesticides associated with bee deaths. The pesticides - clothiandin and thiamethoxam - are classified as neonicotinoids and are also the focus of a proposed EU ban.

The suit comes a year after commercial beekeepers filed a legal petition asking the EPA to ban clothiandon.

While most of the insecticides are used in the Midwest, the wine industry in California in 2010 contributed 2,389 pounds of clothianidin over 19, 553 acres and 537 pounds of thiamthoxam over 9,308 acres.

Bayer makes the insecticides in Germany where its use has been banned. More than $262 million worth of the neonicotinoids were sold in 2010. The insecticides were introduced in the 1990s.

France and Italy have also already banned neonicotinoids in order to prevent further harm to honeybees. The European Food Safety says that the insecticides harm bees; further research says the insecticides also harm butterflies and ladybugs.

A recently released 100-page overview of 200 studies shows the insecticides pose a serious threat to birds and persist in aquatic ecosystems. You can read the executive summary and full report here. The EPA has ignored its own scientists' warnings on this group of insecticides.

Coverage from AP said, "Experts say some beekeepers have lost up to 50% of their colonies."

Bees are responsible for pollinating 760,000 acres of almonds, which is 80% of the world's almond supply, in addition to pollinating a third of other American crops.

The suit also says that allowable levels are harmful levels of exposures.

new peer-reviewed study released in the UK found that the insecticides makes bees fail to associate food with floral scents.

Joining the Center for Food Safety in filing the suit were four beekeepers, the Sierra Club, Pesticide Action Network, Beyond Pesticides and the Center for Environmental Health.

UPDATE: Bayer has now proposed a new program for bee health to avoid the proposed EU ban - environmentalists decry the program. See article here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Black Banners Are Out at Chateau Montelena: Honoring Jim Barrett's Death

Chateau Montelena owner and vintner Jim Barrett passed away March 14, at the age of 86.
Barrett in the 70s
The irony of his life: He hadn't wanted to make Chardonnay, but became famous around the world for the one he created in 1972, with Mike Grigch as winemaker, for Chateau Montelena, that won the Judgment of Paris in 1976. They were buying time - making a product to sell, while waiting for their red wine vines to grow.

Barrett went on to make excellent Cabernets, as well as wonderful Chardonnays.

The movie Bottleshock was loosely (very loosely) based on Barrett's story.

Just a month before Barrett's death, the winery itself achieved a piece of immortality - it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

I visited the winery Friday on the Napa County Historical Society's first historic wines tour, devoted to the heritage wineries built by Hamden McIntyre (in the 1880s).

By the front door and over the central doors, black banners were hung in honor of Barrett's passing.

A public memorial service for Barrett will be held April 2 in Napa. Donations can be made in his memory to the Napa Valley Community Foundation at

Note: Although the winery will tell you they have no organically grown wines, their Riesling is, in fact, made (solely) from certified organic grapes grown by Guinness McFadden up in Potter Valley whom they graciously mention in their literature and on the bottle.

Heitz - Free Tasting - And an Open Bottle of "The Martha"

Heitz is one of the lucky ones - "lucky" enough to have won a top spot in the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris, with its Martha's Vineyard Cabernet.

If your wallet is fat, you can find a bottle of some famous vintage at the French Laundry for $4,400.

Or you can get lucky yourself. And find an open bottle of The Martha in the tasting room (where there's not even a charge for tasting at all). That's right - a whiff and a sniff and a swizzle and a swallow of pure Martha.
"The Martha"
That is the wine Wine Spectator named one of the top 12 wines of the century. Ah Napa - you haven't lost all your magic. 

I have to say, I've been tasting Cabernets all week pretty intensively across Napa and I was surprised at how distinctive "The Martha" was right away. It's got a mint smell that's not usually found in a Cabernet. It turns out this comes from eucalyptus trees in that vineyard. The latest release is $200 a bottle but there's a sale on now for the 1998 which has aged about enough. Perhaps it was not a great year then, but at this point, it's selling for $110 a bottle - you'll have to try it and tell me how it's drinking. 

A bit of background about Heitz: 

• It's widely recognized as the first American winery to focus on single vineyard wines. 

• While their tasting room looks historic, the tasting room person told me it was not. She said the building was only 11 years old.

• In the 30th anniversary rematch of the Judgment of Paris, Heitz's Martha moved up even higher in the competition, placing fourth. 

• It's a perfect, easy, no-appointment-necessary stop on Highway 29.

On the certified organic front: more and more of the vineyards they source from have become certified organic over time. The Martha, their Trailside cab, and their port come from certified vineyards. The sales person said that a few more vineyards have also been certified, but the certification has not yet been updated on the tasting room maps or in the online listings, so check at the winery.
Unlike some of their neighbors on Highway 29,
Heitz doesn't just certify the vineyards that front
the highway but has a major portion of their vineyards certified
Even their very fun and light (and distinctive) rose, a Grignolino, comes from a certified vineyard, according to the tasting room hostess. (It's out of stock right now - but will be released shortly).

Another unique wine from Heitz is their port (extreme right, above), which is grown in their Ink Grade vineyard. I was unable to resist, and came home with a little bottle and a big bottle. One is a gift. I'm not sure which size I will part with.

The other competing fragrance was the beautiful wisteria, which are just peaking now. Step outside on the back deck at Heitz and sniff away. It's free, too - and oh so beautiful.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Rare Grgich Documentary Screening April 15 in St. Helena

A film about famed Napa vintner Mike Grgich, who will turn 90 on April 1, will be shown April 15, Monday, in St. Helena.

Produced by Croatian television, "Like the Old Vine" is a biographical documentary of Grgich's life. Shot in Napa Valley, the Smithsonian and Grgich's birthplace in Desne, Croatia, the film features interviews in Napa with Tim Mondavi, Margrit Mondavi, and historian Charles Sullivan.

To learn more about the film, read the Napa Valley Register's coverage of its Napa debut in 2012 here.

To purchase tickets, go to the Cameo Cinema web site.

Grgich was the winemaker whose 1972 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay won the Judgment of Paris in 1776, besting France's greatest Chardonnays and putting Napa on the map, along with several other Napa wines.

His winery has converted to 100% certified organic and certified biodynamic practices over the last decade.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Cade Winery to Release Its First Organically Grown Estate Cabernet

It takes time for the fruits of the vine to bear fruit and be harvested.

When I first visited Cade Winery on Howell Mountain, the year was 2011 and they were just getting things going. Now in 2013, their first fully organically grown wine - their 2010 Estate Cabernet ($150) is set to release in the spring of this year.

Cade has one of the most amazing views of any winery in Napa Valley

They will begin pouring this wine at the winery in April - so you can soon taste and tour, and get in on their first organically grown release.

Elizabeth Spencer's Two New Biodynamically Grown Wines

In Napa a lot lately for research, I was happy to take a peaceful break stopping by Elizabeth Spencer's as-always haven of charm and grace. It's located in the old Oakville Post Office, a small brick structure, and has a spacious garden outside with tables and couches, even. Add to that lovely views of the valley hills from the valley floor, and you've got yourself an oasis, an escape from tasting room madness.

It's a far cry from your average bland tasting room, combining the charm of the old brick building  with the natural soothing qualities of garden setting.

I was there to sample two new wines this year - the old Sauvignon Blanc from Norma's vineyard in Mendocino no longer on offer (I'm happy I have a case left in my cellar).

Two merry reds are among the current releases, and both are grown and vinified biodynamically in Ukiah (Mendocino) with the certifications listed on the label - Hurrah. Aside from Grgich Hills, these may be the only bottles in Napa to carry the BD certification on the bottle. It would be great if this trend expanded.

Petite Sirah 2009, $45
8 barrels

 • Cabernet Sauvignon, $40
12 barrels

Great Cabs of Napa - Organics Among Them

I've been going to a lot of Napa's swankiest Cab producers for research for my new guidebook on Napa's organic vintners and how to buy organically grown wines there.

Sometimes I get so sick and tired of people thinking "organic" wine is not good. So let's review the high end.

Here's a brief list of the 95+ Parker points 2010 Cabs that are (certified) organically grown:

100 Points
Dana Estates (only 300 cases made; don't count on getting any - limited to mailing list members only)

98 Points
Araujo (limited to mailing list members)

96 Points
Staglin $185

95 Points
Chappellet Pritchard Hill $135
Kelly Fleming $98
Spottswoode $145

Other great organically grown Cabs (and more affordably priced) from Napa Valley include:

93 Points
Favia (sold out)

92 Points
Ghost Block $60 (sold out)

Not Listed in Parker (But Should Be Included)
These are among my favoritest Cabs and come from great viticulturists who know a thing or two about great winemaking as well:

Neal Family $75
Volker $75

I'm also offering a tour of these great spots - see

Friday, March 15, 2013

Napa's Organic Vintners: 21 and Counting

I am doing research for a likely book, and have been quite doggedly contacting, visiting and tasting at Napa wineries of late. What a great time of the year to be there - no crowds, and great weather.

As I've been making spreadsheets and counting up thises and thats, it's a pleasure to be able to share with you some of my tallies - I've found 21 wineries that offer all or almost all organically grown wines, using certified fruit.

Not all are made in an organic winery (a new CCOF certification requirement in order to label one's bottle "Made with Organic Grapes") but organic fruit nonetheless, which is generally the international standard for what's called by the rest of the world an organic wine.

Another 15 wineries offer at least 1 and sometimes a few more organically grown wines.

In addition, I've identified 145 wines made from certified organic grapes, many of them among the highest ranking wines in Napa. (I'll be publishing a battle of the high scorers post in the future - [as if wine were an Olympic sport] to highlight some of these creme de la cremers.)

This is all very gratifying to know - we have an amazing group of vintners who take organic viticulture seriously and are making premium and superpremium wines. It's nice to see people at the top of their game - from the roots and vines to the critics' scores.

I've also (shhh) found some new wines for my $20 and under app - I could hardly believe it, but yes, it is possible to go to Napa and actually BUY a LOT of wine there. More on that soon!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

It's the Bees Knees - EU Voting on Pesticide Ban for Bee-Killing Chemicals

New York Times coverage of upcoming EU vote on banning pesticides associated with bee decline - Read it here.

Update: Two nations abstained from voting Friday so no decision was reached - yet. Here's the full article.

Pesticides in Paradise: 30,000 Pounds of Roundup in Napa

I'm writing a guidebook now about organically grown wines (and the wineries that grow and make them) in Napa and spending a lot of time in the beautiful valley. And what weather to be there in! The crowds haven't arrived and the warm temperatures and sunshine have made it a joy to simply be there.

As I've wandered through my days there, and people have asked what my journey there is about, I've gotten so many positive reactions from the younger people in town about my project and tours. I'm heartened by their enthusiasm.

On the other hand, older folks seem to not know that pesticides are actually present in Napa. I can't blame them. The subterfuge is compelling - there are so many CCOF signs on Highway 29 that one would think this was The Organic Promised Land. But those signs are an anomaly - if only the non organic vineyards all had to be labeled. There's also a certain practice of people wanting to get their acreage fronting on Highway 29 certified and forget the rest, assuming people will think that all their vineyards are farmed and/or certified organic.

The industry has succeeded beautifully in making a lot of noise about sustainability - and nowhere more so than Napa, which created its own certification program called Napa Green. Like the grandaddy of California's wine industry sustainability programs, it doesn't address pesticides, except to say please don't use them if you don't need to.

Only organic certification is a legal standard, a fact which the average person, visitor, or tasting room clerk may not know.

Tonight I went to the St. Helena Library to hear my favorite wine book writer James Conaway speak. He's written a new book (duly noted here a few posts ago). It turns out the wonderful land use issues the valley thought solved by the creation of their Ag Preserve are under attack again. A hedge fund has bought up two wineries - one grandfathered in to the old unregulated status and one newer winery that had restrictions placed upon it. A fight is rumbling through the valley and the oldtimers who created the original Ag Preserve are mustering their community and legal forces to fight off the challengers. Like my hero Huey Johnson says, the enemy only has to win once. You have to win every time. It's a long range endeavor.

In the Q and A after Conaway's remarks and reading, the subject of organics came up in a question from an audience member. Responding to that topic, a leader of the group (from a winery family) said growers didn't like organic certification because it meant someone from the state would come on to their  (the growers') property. This is actually not to my knowledge true. Someone from a certifying agency comes to inspect the property. You can pick which certifier you want to work with - there are several that have USDA approval  - CCOF is just one of them. No one at CCOF works for the government although they do comply with federal standards.

My response to this discussion was to announce that this very topic - organics - was one I am writing about, and blog about. I suggested that people go to look at the pesticide statistics provided by the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation (online), and to use the state's Dept. of Health agricultural pesticide mapping tool to see where the pesticides are being applied in Napa County.

1. For the benefit of others, as well as those who attended, the Napa county statistics are these (for the year 2010, the most recent year the DPR has published them online): PDF link here.

Basically, for starters, it says that 30,000 pounds of Roundup were applied to winegrapes in Napa County in 2010. 

Much more dastardly chemicals were also applied.  

But just to keep it simple, we now know ROUNDUP is not as benign as it was once thought to be.

2. The agricultural pesticide mapping program from the California State Dept. of Public Health can show you data by county for a variety of pesticides, not just Roundup. Here are the three maps I looked at recently:

Endocrine Disruptors
Known and Probable Carcinogens
Developmental or Reproductive Toxicity 
I don't know what the levels of exposure are to these chemicals. I just know I don't like seeing these maps. And I think we should be having a public conversation about what these maps are telling us.

The U.S. is famous for doing the research on pesticides and then not having the political will (unlike our European counterparts) to do something about the research.

Currently only 2% of our vineyards in California are certified organic, while in France (where it is much harder to grow winegrapes organically due to summer rains) 6% are.

We have hundreds of acres of certified organic wine grapes growing in Napa Valley (Pelissa Hills/Napa Wine Co. and the 1,000+ acres of certified vineyards Mark Neal manages, to name but a few) and those growers don't seem to be experiencing economic woes compared to their pesticide-using counterparts. And they don't even charge more for the wines made from those grapes in the marketplace.

So let's not talk about "sustainability" and bird boxes. Let's talk about chemicals and pesticides and let consumers make the personal choices that politicians and regulators seem to be unable to.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Rhone Rangers is This Weekend

A quick reminder - if you haven't noticed - the annual gathering of Rhone-istas, the Rhone Rangers, takes place this weekend at Fort Mason in SF. The usual organic gang will be there for tasting, including:

AmByth Estates
Campovida (some are certified organically grown)
Fields Family (has one)
Landmark Vineyards
Morgan (certain vineyards only)
Tablas Creek

Since many of our best Rhone producers are from Paso or Santa Barbara County, the event is an excellent place to get acquainted with wines from some of our great producers - Beckman, Qupe, and Tablas along with AmByth (biodynamic) and Ridge are all wineries you should get to know.

Interestingly this is a special subgroup that has also often embraced biodynamics (AmByth, Beckman, and Qupe have done so).

Learn more about Rhone varieties and get event details at the Rhone Rangers web site.

Napa Historic Wineries Tour - March 21-22 - Extravaganza!

There are history tours - and there are History Tours! The Napa Historical Society's epic two day gourmet-filled tour looks to me to be about the most extravagant and exciting history tour I've seen put together.

Over two days, visitors will explore five historic wineries in Napa Valley all built in the 1880s by one man - the "maker" guru of his day: Hamden McIntyre.

Until I read about this tour, I had never heard of him, but apparently we owe these historic gravity-flow systems (and much more) to his design know how.

The tour features the following (ultra distinguished) wineries:

• Beaulieu
• Chateau Montelena
• Del Dotto
• Far Niente
• Trefethen

At Beaulieu the historic Rutherford House will be open for the tour.

For a complete list of events, click here.

Also included are lunches by celebrity chefs Christopher Kostow from Meadowood (three Michelin stars) and Joshua Schwartz, formerly of the French Laundry. Lunch will be served at Meadowood and at Del Dotto Winery.

For a complete list of the docents (I would say that some of them are celebrities in their field as well), click here.

Ticket purchase information is available here. General admission for two days (including lunches with famed chefs) is $425 or $235 for one day.

There is a Wednesday evening opening reception and welcome at the Napa Opera House for attendees as well.

Don't miss this - the Napa Historical Association hopes to make this an annual event - but we need to help them make this first one a HUGE success, so I hope you will be able to make it for what appears to be a very unique opportunity.

I'll be blogging about my adventures on the tour (and taking lots of pictures) and hope to see you there.

PS And, of course, remember these were all organic wineries (back in the day). (The chemical pesticides used today did not come into use until World War II.)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Photo Essay on Mondavi Worker Housing

Today's Napa Valley Register has a good photo essay on farmworker housing. See it here.

In addition, a big new documentary just released today on Latinos in America. It's called Harvest of Empire.

Here's the trailer (below) and a link to the LATimes review.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

McFadden Wine Sale! As Low as $11 a Bottle (25-30% Off)

Guinness McFadden is having a St. Patrick's Day Sale 
Free shipping and discounts of 25-30% off on some of my favorite everyday wines - jump on this one.

One of my pet peeves is people who buy their wine at Trader Joe's. Not only is 99.9% of it not organically grown, it's also mostly imported. It is not locally grown and if it is, it usually represents some poor grower's near bankruptcy.

Support your native ecosystem - buy wine from wineries that don't dump toxic chemicals into local lands and wine that doesn't require massive infusions of carbon to ship halfway around the globe.

The feel good alternative is buying great local organically grown wine - like these - when they're on sale (like now).

McFadden is one of my go-to wineries for fantastic affordable wines. This year they've done extremely well in the Chronicle wine competition for their Chardonnay as well a new wine - a Late Harvest Riesling (dessert wine). And a wine that I've bought at least 6-8 cases of is also on sale - their NV Sparkling Brut.

From Monday March 11 through Sunday, March 17 (St. Patrick's Day), order a minimum of 6 bottles and receive free shipping and 25% off the normal prices. Order 12 bottles and receive 30% off.


2011 Chardonnay (Double Gold winner in Chronicle competition)
Regular price: $16
Sale price: $11.20-12

McFadden is one of the few organic sources for these two German varietals:

2011 Riesling (dry)
Regular price: $18
Sale price: $12.60-13.50

• 2011 Gewurztraminer
Regular price: $16
Sale price: $11.20-12

Organically grown dessert wines are also hard to find. Here's theirs, a new entry in the field:

• Late Harvest Riesling (Best of Class in Chronicle competition)
Regular price: $24
Sale price: $16.80-18.00


My go to Brut (and my friends all love it when I serve it to them) also makes a great birthday gift. (Friend turning 50? 60? At these prices you can afford to gift them their decades in bottles - i.e. 5 or 6 bottles - one for each decade).

• NV Sparkling Brut
Regular price: $25
Sale price: $17.50-18.75


And if you're looking for a red, here's the one:

• 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel
Regular price: $24
Sale price: $16.80-$18

Or get a sampler of all the wines.

Free shipping just makes this an unbeatable deal.

If you are in the area, stop by on St. Patrick's Day to enjoy some good old-fashioned Corned Beef and Cabbage and a free tasting.

Order some cases and tell your friends. And A Happy-A-Saving-of-the-Green to You. Sales like this don't come very often, so don't hold back, don't be shy, and don't wait too long.

You can reach their sales/tasting room maven extraordinaire John 10-5 daily (707.744.8463)
or 24/7 via email to

Listen Up - Red Wine Compound the Key to Slowing Aging? Harvard Professor's Research Suggests It Might

On March 8, National Public Radio's Science Friday show will interview Genetics Professor David Sinclair, of Harvard Medical School, whose recent study on red wine and aging in mice demonstrated that a compound in the skin of grapes activates an anti-aging gene in his experiments with mice.

You can hear Sinclair, an Australian researcher interviewed on Australian Broadcasting News' web site here.

The NPR show airs nationally on Friday. You will also be able to listen to the audio archive online or download as a podcast. Details here.

His work has been very controversial in the past.

He does say that reservatrol is indeed the key to anti-aging, but that one would have to get it in higher doses than wine provides.

Here's his 2011 talk from Ted Med:

And an earlier interview with Barbara Walters:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Verdad Wine Sale! Don't Miss - 15-33% Off

Verdad Rose
Winemaker Louisa Sawyer Lindquist
might be the only biodynamic vintner
making Spanish wines in the US
Qupe and Verdad - the ever amazing husband-wife wineries - are having a significant sale! It lasts through the month of March.

The Albarino on sale won a Wine of the Week pick from the LA Times and a top 100 wine of the year pick from the SF Chronicle (for the previous vintage).

You can mix and match wines in the sale.

Single bottles are 15% off; 8 bottles are 25% off; cases are 33% off.

Choose from these organically or biodynamically grown wines in the sale:

2009 Tempranillo Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard

Buy it by the case and the price goes down from $35 a bottle to $23. It's aged for two years, 40% in new French oak. Eight percent grenache and 8 percent Syrah are added to the tempranillo.

2011 Albarino Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard

This is one of my favorite wines to bring out when I want to introduce people to a really good white wine. It never fails to impress. I've bought several cases (other vintages) in the past - and where are they now? All gone! It's goes fast.

The previous vintage made the Chronicle's Top 100 Wines of 2011 list.

Case price reduces the per bottle price from $22 to $15. A fantastic everyday wine.

2011 Rose of Grenache Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard

This $18 rose is only $12 when you buy it by the case during the sale. I think I might need to get a case myself. This another great everyday wine.

It won a gold in the Sunset International Wine competition in 2012.


To taste any or all of these wines in the Bay Area, come to the March 23 annual Rhone Rangers event at Fort Mason. The public tasting is Saturday from 3-6 pm.

Visiting the Winery - Open House Sale

The winery's annual open house/sale (2 days a year only - in spring and fall on SBC Vintner festival weekends) will take place Sunday April 21 from 11-3 in Santa Maria. The winery is located near the incredible Bien Nacido Vineyard (not open to the public). The open house is $20 for the public (free to wine club members).

Amazon's New Wine Dept: A Place for Organically Grown Wines

Buying organically grown wine has been a bit of a challenge. Online, one can't always be sure that wine is grown from certified grapes (unless it says it on the label), and the checkout method for each winery or wine merchant is its own process.

Fortunately there's's new Amazon Wine department. This new wine outlet has some pros and cons.


You can accurately identify and order organically grown wines at a glance. I found 87 wines listed for U.S. organic.

Check the organic box on the left and up pops Paul Dolan, Patianna, Bonterra, Benziger, Snoqulamie and Pacific Rim, all solid domestic offerings. Other U.S. brands include high end Long Meadow, and low brow Orleans, Green Truck, Organic Wine Works and Cottonwood Creek (the Franzias' brand). Other listed brands include Carol Shelton, Yorkville Cellars, Heller Estate, Jeriko and Barra of Mendocino.

While Sterling is phasing out its organically grown wines, these are still for sale here; and Korbel's one and only organically sourced Brut was also offered.

No Added Sulfite (NSA) wines are available from Frey and Badger Mountain.

The ordering and shipping costs are displayed very quickly and in an easy to read visual format.


No Added Sulfite wines are not a listed category nor a subcategory in the organic category - i.e. so if you are looking for "Made with Organic Grapes" (which you should be) on the label, you have to look more carefully. Frey and Badger do not make these wines, but are a significant portion of the bottles offered.

Despite the ease and convenience, shipping charges are only marginally cheaper than buying direct from the winery on the winery's own web sites - about $10 for 1 to 6 bottles. No merchants are offering wine via Amazon's Prime service (which ships all merchandise free after you pay an annual fee).


For everyday wines
You're still better off becoming a wine club member at a moderately priced winery with ridiculously good wine - like McFadden or Horse and Plow - and getting wine club discounts. Most of the small winery clubs will let you pick your own selection instead of taking quarterly shipments and will let you buy cases as you need them. You'll get discounts in the 25% range (by the case) and when sales happen up to 40% off.

Case shipment runs about $20.

For special wines
Shop online; the best prices are often from wine merchants but they don't provide the online know how to help you find and select wines (nor do clerks in most wine stores).

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Grgich Birthday Cause to Open Some 1972 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay!

Napa's Mike Grgich, the legendary Croatian emigre winemaker who made one of the two American wines that won the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976, turns 90 April 1 and a whole series of events are planned at Grgich Hill winery in honor of the occasion.

There's a $295 a plate dinner, parties around the country, and best of all, as far as I'm concerned, a trade tasting and luncheon at the winery where a bottle of his pivotal Chardonnay will be tasted. I've got my invite!

In the meantime, Chateau Montelena made headlines last week by being named to the National Register of Historic Places. It's made history twice - once under the leadership of Alfred Tubbs (1888-1920) who brought high standards to the winemaking operations there, and again in the 1970s when Grgich was the winemaker there and Jim Barrett owned the winery.

Grgich later left to start his own winery.

Bo Barrett's father Jim Barrett bought the Montelena winery in 1972 and it has remained in the family, after a 2008 deal with potential French buyers soured. (At about the same time, the other Paris Tasting winery Stag's Leap Wine Cellars was sold to American-Italian winery partners in 2007 for $185 million when its owner Warren Winiarski retired).

Grgich was written out of the plot of the movie Bottleshock (very loosely based on the events of the famous 1976 tasting), but was included in a new Smithsonian exhibit on food. At right you can see the suitcase he brought with him when he arrived in Napa.

If you want to see some of the Tasting of Paris history first hand in Napa, I have launched a Organic Wine Adventures tour of Napa Valley that visits the wineries of the major players and vineyards where the grapes come from. You can find details here.

Both Grgich and Winiarski have been honored as members of the Vintners Hall of Fame.