Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Napa's Ag Preserve Celebrates 45th Anniversary and Eyes the Future: Farmland Preservation Conference This Friday

This Friday the Napa Valley Ag Preserve celebrates its 45th birthday with both a party (Sat., sold out) and a day long conference taking place Friday.

The first Ag Preserve in the country, Napa's foresighted land use planning preserved its land for agriculture and protected it from urban development despite being near major urban settlements.

The occasion also marks the 100th anniversary of the Napa County Farm Bureau.

See the full conference agenda for a look at what's planned for the Aug. 2 conference and enjoy the video below:

Update on the Napa Organic Conference

Wines and Vines' Paul Franson did a thorough report on the conference which you can read here.

And the presentations from the event are also now available online. The complete day's schedule is on the Napa Valley Grape Growers site. Here are the presentations:

Walt Mahafee, USDA

Seth Schwebs, Coastal Viticultural Consultants

Paul Jepson, Integrated Plant Protection Center, Oregon State University

Kelly Mulville, Holistic Viticulture

Monday, July 29, 2013

Mendocino's Annual Wine Competition: Celebration BBQ This Friday

No wine region has more organic vineyards than Mendocino's Hopland/Ukiah/Sanel Valley/Potter Valley region. So Mendocino's annual wine competition is the most fertile competition for excellent wines from organic vineyards.

The 2013 competition, one of the oldest in the nation, takes place this Friday, August 2 and will be judged by an impressive list of wine experts including Adam Carmer, Ben Pearson, Dan Berger, Ellen Landis, Forrest Tancer, John Sverko, Laura Ness, Mark Bowery, Mike Dunne, Greg Richtarek, James Wasson, Rolf Thorson, Ziggy Eschliman, Tom Simoneau and Virginie Boone.

After the judging's completed, the public is invited to the Celebration BBQ which will be held at Scharffenberger Cellars in the town of Philo in Anderson Valley. Tickets are $45 per person and include wine and dinner.

The event will begin with a wine reception serving all of the wines submitted. Dinner will be prepared by The Zinful Chef, Sean Thomas. Tickets are available online - click here.

Coming Up: August 10th Dinner and Dance Performance at Tres Sabores

Up for something different in wine country? Skip the crowd scene at the Big Corporate Winery Music Concerts and head for an intimate gathering at one of Napa's most farm-to-table and vine-to-glass friendly wineries - Tres Sabores.

Pioneer of eclectic, artistic nights at the farm/vineyard/winery, Tres Sabores has partnered with the up and coming SF dance company Project B for a night of dining amid the vineyard coupled with a dance performances.

Chef Sean Baker of GATHER restaurant in Berkeley, voted top chef of the year by Esquire magazine in 2010, will be making what is sure to be an exquisitely prepared meal accompanied by Tres Sabores wine.

A special lighting installation will showcase the dance performance.

The cost is $195. For more see the video below or click here for details.

Sitelines from Cinestra on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

U.S. Organic Vineyards Lag Behind Europe's

Napa's Organic Conference: (Re)Defining Organic Farming

Ted Hall spoke at Thursday's Organic Conference held at Spottswoode Winery in St. Helena by the Napa Valley Grape Growers, urging growers to reimagine the way they portray organic farming. 

"It’s not about the not," Hall said, speaking of organic growers tendency to define organics as no pesticides, herbicides or nitrogen fertilizers.

Hall suggests this definition instead: "Every organic system basically is populated by large numbers of participants, heterogenity of species, operating in an environment of competition that results in a desireable outcome."

For his complete remarks, see the transcript of his speech here.

Friday, July 26, 2013

IN PHOTOS: Napa's Organic Growers Annual Powwow

More than 150 people attended the annual Napa Valley Grapegrowers Organic Conference Thursday listening to a wide cross section of experts very much focused on the latest thinking and evolving knowledge in the organic viticulture industry.

In his keynote, Long Meadow Ranch CEO and organic entrepreneur Ted Hall, whose background is in corporate business consulting, stressed the need for organic viticulture to get away from being about what he called the no's - i.e. no pesticides, no herbicides, etc. - and toward the pro's of organic vineyards. "We produce better products at lower prices," he said, speaking of his sizable integrated organic operations, encompassing vineyards, olives, farming, cattle and restaurant businesses.

Professor Jepson spoke about IPM Prime, an online tool for pesticide risk assessment and mitigation that models a variety of options from low risk to high risk IPM choices to help users balance IPM needs and environmental impacts. The tool is currently in beta.

Part of Jepson's findings show that organically approved IPM products can have greater adverse effects on beneficial lacewings than more toxic (to humans) alternatives.

Professor Kate Scow from U.C. Davis, Deputy Director of Agricultural Sustainability Institute, presented the latest research on soil processes, in a presentation called "Soil Microbes, Carbon and Nitrogen Cycling in Agroecosystems," saying that new methods of observation have now created new models, supplanting older models that have been used for decades. The new models present a far more dynamic picture of soil formation and cycles.

Another fascinating presentation came from livestock expert Kelly Mulville of Holistic Viticulture, who says his work on using livestock in vineyards can dramatically reduce suckering costs and other variables by grazing animals in vineyards in the springtime, rather than just winter.

I audiotaped some of the sessions and hope to post transcripts from several of the talks online later.

Update/July 27, 2013: Ted Hall's opening remarks are now online here.

Ted Hall of Long Meadow Ranch

Professor Paul Jepson from Oregon State
Kelly Mulville of Holistic Viticulture
Vineyardists panel on organic hillside vineyards
In addition, there were two grower panels - one with three growers across three counties (Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino) and another on the unique aspects of hillside organic vineyards.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bee/Bird Toxic Wine Grape Pesticide Short Lived? Not So, Says Top UK Expert

UK Biologist Dave Goulson, of the University of Sussex, has just published research in the Journal of Applied Ecology showing that neonicotinoids - commonly used in California vineyards (as well as across the U.S. and Europe) - kill earthworms and stay in the soil for one to four years.

Goulson is one of the UK's leading conservationists and founder of the 8,000-member Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

Quoted in Nature, Goulson says. "If you apply these chemicals once a year on crops, they will accumulate. All of these studies suggest the half-life of these chemicals is between one and four years," Goulson.

While pesticide proponents often and confidently proclaim that the newer pesticides are much more targeted in their impacts, Goulson's summary states"...the current use of neonicotinoids is likely to be impacting on a broad range of non-target taxa including pollinators and soil and aquatic invertebrates and hence threatens a range of ecosystem services."

Wine grape growers used more than 47,000 pounds of neonicotinoids in California in 2011.

Just one more reason to seek out organically grown wine grapes in your wine - organic growers, unlike 90 percent of California's nonorganic growers, don't use neonicotinoids in their vineyards.

Goulson spoke at Berkeley in April of this year on the Ecology and Conservation of Bumblebees

He is the author of the newly published book A Sting in the Tale. You can read a review of the book from the UK's Guardian here.

The EU has imposed a two year ban on the use of neonicotinoids after initial research in Italy and other countries showed a positive impact on bee populations when the insecticides were banned. In the U.S. the EPA has decided against banning neonics.

Top California Whites from Wine Spectator: Organic Rhones Among Them

Wine Spectator's latest California Whites roundup (in the Aug. 31 issue - out now) features organically farmed wines among the winners - with all three organically grown wines are white Rhones.


• 91 Points

Bonny Doon - 2010 Le Cigare Blanc $50
Blend: 56% Roussanne, 44% Grenache Blanc
Cases made: 494
Alcohol: 12.4%
From Bonny Doon's biodynamically farmed Beeswax Vineyard, an anomaly in Monterey County
For free shipping - enter SUMMER13 for discount.
The 2009 lists for $24.

• 90 Points

Tablas Creek - 2011 Cotes de Tablas Blanc $27

Blend: 27% Viognier, 26% Grenache Blanc, 25% Marsanne, 22% Roussanne
Cases made: 1,475
Alcohol: 13.1%
Organically farmed from a winery co-owned by a famous French Rhone producer in Paso Robles with choice vines imported from their Rhone vineyards


Bonterra - 2011 Viognier Mendocino County $14
Blend: Viognier with a little Muscat (percentage unspecified)
Alcohol: 13.9%
Organically farmed and widely distributed; grown in Mendocino County. Bonterra is a perennial pick in Wine Spectator's Top Values.

Friday, July 19, 2013

In Photos: McFadden Wine Club (and Public) Party

The 2013 McFadden Wine Club (and open to the public) Party was again a wonderful event at one of my favorite vineyards.  While the tasting room is open all the time, in Hopland, the vineyard is only open this one day of the year.

This was my second year attending - and this time I stuck around for the overnight camping followed by picnicking in the grass and swimming in the river (with a bunch of enthusiastic SF hipsters) on Sunday. 

What a great way to enjoy this beautiful spot - 200 acres of organic grapes. Many of McFadden's grapes go into famous fine wines - including Napa's. (For instance, the Chateau Montelena Riesling comes 100% from McFadden Vineyards.) But at such prices. If you want to find a way to indulge your organic hedonistic side while not breaking the bank, you can do no better than McFadden's:

Everyday White
• If you're looking for everyday wine, must trys include the 2011 Chardonnay (Double Gold winner in SF Chronicle Wine Competition) - currently $16 a bottle for wine club members. (The other Double Golds are way more than that.)

Dessert or Aperitif Wine
• For dessert or a sweet aperitif sipper, get your hands on their Late Harvest Riesling. (And be glad that there is still some left!)

• For bubbleheads, celebrate every day with Bruts - where else can you get local, organically grown top quality sparkling wine for $16-7 a bottle (wine club sale prices) or $25 list? (It ties with Roederer Estate in competitions). McFadden also now has a Reserve Brut, too.

Break your convenient-but-bad-voting-with-your-dollars addiction to TJ's and support great organic viticulture and vintners in California.

Join this wine club and consider it your "wine box" - like the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm box - only it's your wine farmer/maker.

And like McFadden on Facebook, Yelp and Trip Advisor to spread the news.

(And forgive the strange irregular white background in the photo display below - God only knows what Google's Blogger thinks it's doing.)

Tasting Room Manager and Wine Club Director John Cesano at the registration
table armed with a bunch of lottery goodies for the giveaway
The wine table...and when they say Welcome to the Farm, they mean it:
McFadden's really IS a farm complete with grass fed cattle, organic herbs, corn and other veggies.
A selection of McFadden's white wines
ranged from the original Pinot Gris to
their 2011 Chardonnay - which won
Double Gold at the SF Wine Competition
Fontaine McFadden, Guinnness' daughter, catered the
dinner. Fontaine runs catering in SF,
a paleo food service serving 6 SF gyms.
Kelly McFarling and her band provided entertainment.

Proprietor (and New York native) Guinness McFadden celebrated his 75th birthday
in June; he's grown wine grapes organically here for 41 years,
settling in Potter Valley after returning from Vietnam.
To the crowd's delight, he blew his mess whistle to announce dinner.

Sipping the McFadden Brut before the main meal
Fontaine's spicy slaw
The 2011 Chardonnay

After dinner, dancing under the stars to the beat of DJ Hal Wagenet
(formerly in the band It's a Beautiful Day)
That's the Magruders (lady in the orange dress dancing with partner), who
raise grass fed beef and lamb, as well as a unique breed of pig
on their nearby 5,000 acre Potter Valley farm. You may see the Magruder
name on your next trip to Chez Panisse or Oliveto as they have long been a
staple supplier there and at Berkeley's Local Butcher Shop.

Here's what it's all about...

Free Shipping on White Rhone Blend at Bonny Doon and Flora Springs' Trilogy Magnums

Bonny Doon is having a free shipping sale on summer whites, which means you can get some of the 2011 Le Cigare Blanc (100% biodynamic grapes) at the usual price o $28, but with free shipping.

This is a blend of 62% Grenache Blanc and 38% Roussanne from Bonny Doon's Beeswax Vineyard in Monterey County - part of "California's Rhone Region."

Just enter the discount code: Summer13.

Flora Springs is having a one-day only sale on magnums of it 2008 Bordeaux blend Trilogy It's a blend of 79% Cabernet, 16% Merlot, 2.5% Petit Verdot and 2.5% Malbec. Today's special offer is free shipping on magnums ($170 for the wine; $0 for shipping).

The wine is rated 91 points by Robert Parker, who says the 2008, "exhibits a beautiful deep ruby/purple color along with sweet blueberry, black raspberry and black currant fruit intermixed with some floral notes, well-integrated oak and spice, medium to full body and silky tannins. Already complex and delicious, this blend should continue to drink well for 10-15 years."

Monday, July 15, 2013

North Coast Wine Awards: Organically Grown Winners

Judges: winemaker Paul Dolan and Virginia Boone of Press Democrat
the 2013 competition.

What's a newspaper in northern California without a winery competition?

The Press Democrat's was held last month with a public tasting held yesterday.

The organically grown winning wines were:


94 points
Naughty Boy Rose ($16)

Happy to see a small local mom and pop winery in Potter Valley rate this highly! This has been one of my go-to house roses ever since I visited and tasted their wines with them down by the river behind their house. That was back in 2011.

Today they have a tasting room in Hopland (next to McFaddens) on the main drag, across from the Bluebird Cafe.

The name Naughty Boy comes from their dog.

91 points
Hagafen Riesling, Devoto Ranch (Lake County) ($21)

90 points

Barra/Girasole Hybrid Red ($13)
From longtime organic growers, who produce a variety of organically grown wines from 200+ acres, this affordable everyday red did well in the competition.

Masut Pinot Noir, Block 7
Masut Pinot Noir, Block 1

Masut, run by third generation Fetzer brothers, is the biggest challenger to the notion that, in Mendocino, only Anderson Valley produces great Pinot. This unique site in the western side of the Sanel Valley is one of the most beautiful vineyards I've visited in all of California. Recently the winery has been experimenting with single block bottlings. (Not for sale on their web site - alas). You can find their estate Pinot online for $40 or available by the magnum for $88.

Friday, July 12, 2013

In Photos: Napa's Dutch Henry Winery - A Hideaway

I visited Dutch Henry Winery yesterday. I've driven past it how many times so I was glad to poke my head in quickly and get the nickel tour.

With the hot weather yesterday, one could find cool within the tasting room - and in the 4,500 sq. ft. wine caves, entered through a Hobbit-like set of doors set under the hill above.

While the winery makes 4,000 cases a year (and buys a lot of grapes from other growers), 40% of the grapes come from the winery's own estate vineyards which include the onsite Syrah vineyard and an estate Cab vineyard in St. Helena.

Founded by the Chafen Family in 1992, Dutch Henry's organically grown options include its Estate Cab (available) and its Syrah (sold out).

The vineyard management is done by Jack Neal & Sons, which takes care of many organic vineyards in Napa.

Dutch Henry also offers shaded picnicking at tables under the trees and a bocce court and additional picnicking (in the sun).

A dog-friendly winery, Dutch Henry's two lovely winery dogs will greet you in the parking lot upon arrival. The dogs are featured - of course - in the Winery Dogs book.


The greeting committee

Assistant Winemaker Will Mendoza with the estate Cab 

Plenty of room for a picnic in the shade
The tasting room
Entrance to the wine caves
The tasting room and fermentation facility
Come for the wine, stay for the bocce ball and picnic area
The airstream is here for its good looks

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rutherford Dust Society Tasting - In Photos

The Rutherford Dust Society held its annual tasting for trade and press today with several hundred people attending.

There was exquisite if sparsely distributed food - tiny bites prepared by Meadowood, sumptious when you could find them, but delivered parsimoniously to the crowds - and toilets that one would not expect to see in a posh (primarily) Cab tasting event -
portapoddies in an outdoor loading area adjacent to the Beaulieu barrel room. Paradox city.

Highlights/new to me:

Jody Hill of Caspar Estate
Caspar Estate - a knockout Cabernet from legendary Julien Fayard, who used to work with Phillip Melka, the French guru, after working in renowned French Bordeaux houses. Restrained. It's the boutique winery's third vintage and will be released this fall. Highly recommended for those who want to see that Napa's not just about fruit bombs. Only 320 cases. It's $325 for a 3-bottle box.

Tres Sabores Rose
Tres Sabores 2010 Zin
Tres Sabores - Rose and Zin were knockouts.

The 2010 Zin from Tres Sabores (their Zin is always noteworthy) is a particularly fine vintage. It will be released later this year.

Sampling Raymond's estate Cab
Raymond Vineyards - Certification completed as of May 2013! Another great winery goes organic and biodynamic in the vineyard. Spicy notes in the Cabernet.

Flora Springs - Also completed 100% certification of two of its estate vineyards (for its estate wines). Four of Flora Spring's current wines are from organic vineyards including its flagship Trilogy.

Shari Staglin of Staglin Family and Cory Gowan of JJ Buckley
David Heitz of Heitz Cellars 
Frog's Leap's Sauvignon Blanc on offer
Frog's Leap's winemaker Paula Moschetti with the Rutherford Cabernet
Julie Johnson of Tres Sabores 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Fun Things to Do in [Organic] Wine Country: Coming Up

This weekend is filled with events in Wine Country, including:


Outdoor Movies at Tres Sabores, in Rutherford

$45 gets you food from the taco truck and a view of the Mystery Movie. All proceeds benefit the nonprofit Nimbus Arts. BYOC (Chair) and something warm to wear should the evening turn cool. Tres Sabores is one of my all time favorite Napa spots. Go there and you will see why.

I also recommend investing in a case of outstanding Tres Sabores rose (I am) - something you can enjoy under the sun or stars.

Also save the date of August 10th for a dinner and dance performance event at Tres Sabores featuring Sitelines and food from Gather restaurant in Berkeley (where I wish they would start serving Tres Sabores wines - nudge, nudge). Gather's chef Sean Baker has won outstanding accolades, including the 2010 Chef of the Year from Esquire magazine.

Call or email the winery for details. The event is not yet posted on the web site.


Wine Club (and Anyone) Party

Where does Alice Waters get her pigs from? Why Magruders, of course. Mr. Magruder himself will be roasting the pig at McFadden's annual wine club party (open to all, not just members) with dining and dancing under the stars. $50 gets you in the "door." Mr. McFadden is celebrating his 75th birthday, having grown wine grapes organically for 40+ years at this secluded paradise at the head of this gorgeous valley. if you want to get his personal farm tour (wonderful), come by 5 pm.

McFadden has been growing grapes for many of Napa's finest wineries for decades. I am quite partial to his own label's Brut and Late Harvest Riesling. Chardonnay lovers will want to indulge in his highly rated Chards under the McFadden label as well.

If you care to camp overnight, you are welcome to. You can also bring your swimsuit for a river dip before or after the event (i.e. Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning).


Pairing Tablas Creek Wines with Prospect Restaurant

Get ready for the Rhone invasion when Jason Haas of Tablas Creek comes to Prospect Restaurant (sister to Boulevard) in San Francisco on Wednesday, July 31. Feast like a king or queen on the five-course meal which features Maine diver scallops, pork belly, melons and more paired with five of Tablas' highly regarded wines including Vermentino, Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, Esprit de Beaucastel, Cote de Tablas, and Quintessence. The full menu is here. It's $135 per person including food and wine. For reservations, call Prospect at 415.247.7770.

Rutherford AVA - The AVA With the Most Certified Organic Vintners?

I'm heading up to the Rutherford Dust Society tasting (a press event) at Beaulieu today to sample the wines of this renowned Napa region, located just north of the Oakville AVA and just south of St. Helena AVA.
To see this map bigger, click here.
It's home to some of the most historic vineyards in the valley - Inglenook, the George de Latour vineyard (part of Beaulieu today, but alas, not organic), and others. And it's still home to some of the greatest names in wine today: DANA, whose wines received 100 points from Robert Parker and Staglin Family, another supersonic scorer.

André Tchelistcheff, the French-educated Napa
pied piper who led the valley on the path
to great winemaking liked Rutherford's red
soils so much he coined the famous and
often repeated observation, "It takes
Rutherford Dust to make great Cabernet."
Of course, others would dispute that today,
but Rutherford can be a hallmark of high quality.
I've been looking at the society's detailed map showing (almost) all of the vineyard names in the AVA and noticing that a large number of organic vintners in Napa are from this region. (You can purchase a print version of the map online if you're interested - or buy it in Napa). Specifically the following vineyards are certified organic:
Caspar Estate
Chavez and Leeds (sells grapes to Frogs Leap)
DANA Estates
Flora Springs
Frogs Leap
Grgich Hills (biodynamic)
Heitz Cellars (mostly organic)
Long Meadow Ranch
Neal Family Vineyards
Peju (partially organic)
Raymond (partially biodynamic)
Staglin Family
Tres Sabores

Usually in a tasting event, there are just a few organically grown wines I can find. So it's a pleasure to contemplate going to a tasting that, uniquely, has this high a percentage of wines grown from organic vines.

If you're interested in tasting Rutherford wines, the Rutherford Dust Society will be holding its annual Rutherford Block Party Sunday August 4. It's open to the public. Tickets are $45 and may be obtained online here.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

In Pictures: Organic Vintners at Pinot Days SF

From last week's Pinot Days held at Fort Mason, here are some of the prestigious organic vintners who exhibited at the event and have at least one organically grown Pinot Noir. All of these wines are rated 90 points plus by major wine periodicals (Wine Spectator, Robert Parker, etc.)

Together the organic vintners exhibiting here cover a nice cross-section of California. From south to north, they are:

Santa Barbara County:
• Alma Rosa (La Encantada and El Jabali vineyards)
• Tyler Winery (La Encantada) (no photo)

Monterey County:
• Morgan (Double L vineyard only)

• ZD Wines (Both estate wines)

• Benziger (Several)
• DeLoach (Estate only)

Mendocino/Anderson Valley:
• Handley Cellars (Estate only) (no photo)

Pinot Days was last Sunday at Fort Mason
More than 140 exhibitors turned out 
The SF Pinot Days is the original home of the event
which now travels to other cities

Morgan's Double L Ranch - where this Pinot comes from - is one of the few
certified organic vineyards in Monterey County
Napa's ZD Wines has two organically grown Pinots
from its Carneros vineyards - below is the regular Pinot ($48):

And this is the ZD Wines Reserve Pinot Noir ($68)
Alma Rosa's Richard Sanford was there in person
pouring - a real treat since he is the man
who put the Santa Rita Hills on the map as a
winegrowing region. He was elected to the
Vintners Hall of Fame in 2012 for his extensive
contributions to the industry. The Sanford's
have been organic for decades and are well known
for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Alma Rosa was the only vintner to display
their CCOF sign - thank you for putting it out there!
I wish all the other certified vineyards/vintners would follow suit -
it makes it easier for those of us who want to find these
 wines to know who you are.

In contrast, JCB Wines, part of the Boisset label, is NOT
organically or biodynamically grown but puts out
their booklet on Biodynamics (some of Boisset's other properties are BD).
However, their sister label, Napa-based Raymond was just certified last month,
so we can look forward to seeing more Demeter-certified
biodynamically grown wines from them soon.
Kudos also to Benziger for bottle labeling their Pinots
on the back...their de Coelo Quintus ($75) is made from
Demeter-certified biodynamic grapes 
Their Signaterra Bella Luna and San Remo Pinots ($50 each) are
also Demeter-certified biodynamically grown
DeLoach's Estate Pinot ($50) is also made from Demeter-
certified biodynamic grapes