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 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Rex Hill Wine Tour: Let's Talk About Soil

I've been on a lot of winery tours, but only one (Tablas Creek) has shown me the soil...the terroir...the soil types...the minerality. This photo from Oregon's Rex Hill winery is inspiring! This is how they give wine tours. Wouldn't it be great to see other wineries follow suit?

At the Biomonitoring California Meeting: Toxics Are Us

At the Biomonitoring California meeting today in Oakland...this is the body charged with telling the citizenry what chemicals have made their way into our bodies. Some of these are wine grape pesticides. Just so you know.

If you were born during the DDT era, it's still there - because it doesn't go away. Others - like chlorpyrifos - are being applied today. More than 27,000 pounds were applied over 15,000 acres of vineyards in 2011.

You can listen to a livestream of the all day meeting online. See the Biomonitoring California home page for details.

While the CDC has a biomonitoring program, California is one of the few states to monitor pesticide use and chemical exposures and the only one with a state biomonitoring program.

For a basic introduction to Biomonitoring California watch the video below.

Biomonitoring California also has a YouTube feed you can subscribe to.

Monday, August 12, 2013

New Science: Plants Evolve Differently When Sprayed with Insecticides

I was driving to the Napa Valley Wine Library's annual tasting (my maiden voyage to this storied event) and listening to the latest podcast of Living on Earth, when I heard this rather jaw-breaking news.

Give it a listen and see what you think. Or you can read it here.

Basically, what researchers found is that by eliminating insecticides, plants rapidly stop producing the toxins that they naturally produce to keep insects at bay.

Says Cornell plant scientist Anurag Agrawal, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University: "I think that what it [the experiment] tells us is that when we take insects out of the picture – using things like insecticides – we are encouraging plants throughout the evolutionary process to relax their defenses.

And, in fact, this is a story that I think is unfortunately really a big part of worldwide agricultureand that is that we tend to select varieties of plants to grow that are diminished in their natural defensive capacities. If you take a wild plant that has survived out there for millions of years, it typically has a remarkable array of toxins and defense tactics to ward off pests."

Friday, August 9, 2013

Meet Tucker

Two weeks ago I went to the Organic Conference in St. Helena where Napa's organic growers go for their annual knowledge fest...there were vendors, speakers, academics, and a lot of the top vineyard managers and winemakers.

One of the presentators, herdsman Kelly Mulville of Holistic Agriculture, focused on bringing back animals to agriculture, focusing on how to use sheep more frequently in the vineyard to reduce labor.

I happened to stand in the lunch line next to Kelly and said I'd only seen one winery that used draft horses in California - and that's Diane DiRicco's up in Lake County (where she keeps rescued Percherons).

Kelly said, "Pam, Spottswoode's got one right here. Turn around." And so it is. Meet Tucker.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

What Goes Onto the Bottle

What happens when a screenwriter's wife and the screenwriter create a [newly biodynamic] vineyard and a winery together? Stuff like this.


Oh the power of music editing!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Biodynamic in Brooklyn

The New York Times today features a brief on the new biodynamic wine store, Passage de la Fleur, which has opened in Brooklyn. According to the Times, it features mainly French imports. Sigh.

Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times
Still waiting for the day when someone will get hip to our American beauties! Local and biodynamic. Although perhaps NYC considers France local compared to California.

Here's a link to the Times story.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Medals in Mendocino: Organic Winners in the County's Annual Wine Competition

McFadden's sparkling Brut
took Gold - again
This year's annual Mendocino Wine Competition took place on Friday (Aug. 2) in Ukiah with what seemed to be a smaller crowd of participants.

Gold awards went to Paul Dolan's Zinfandel and to McFadden's sparkling Brut, which competed, again, against the likes of French-owned Roederer giving the Champagne-based giant a run for its money, tying for gold.

Medals went out to the following wines sourced from organic vineyards:

Cabernet Sauvignon
Paul Dolan ($25)
Girasole ($13)

Barra ($18)
Paul Dolan ($18)

Late Harvest Riesling
McFadden ($18)
(Odd, since this wine took Double Gold in the SF Chronicle competition)

Bonterra ($16)

Pinot Gris
McFadden ($16)
Barra ($13)

Pinot Noir
Bonterra ($15)
Naughty Boy ($24)
Paul Dolan - Potter Valley ($30)
Barra ($20)
Jeriko Estate ($39)

McFadden ($18)

Naughty Boy ($16)

Jeriko Estate

Sauvignon Blanc
McFadden ($16)
Paul Dolan ($18)

Paul Dolan ($25)
Bonterra ($15)

Red Blend
Bonterra - The Butler Single Vineyard ($55)
Bonterra - McNab ($55)

McFadden Brut ($25)

Notably absent was Terra Savia which usually has some great Chardonnay and bubbly.

Who's Organic at Wine Lands?

Wine Lands is coming up in San Francisco, part of the big music festival Outside Lands Aug. 9-11 in Golden Gate Park.

Pairing specific bands or songs with wines is just one of the games wine lovers are playing in advance of the festival.

A few of the wines served to our hipster and trendy crowd will be from organic vineyards - hurray!

Hopefully one day hipsters will "get" that organic vineyards, not just microlabels, are the real hipster heaven. Perhaps we'll have hipster microlabels who understand why [certified] organic vineyards matter. [Hint: it does not cost more for many folks out there.]

In the meantime, if you're attending, seek these out:


Long Meadow Ranch

All organic, all the time, all the way - from the veggies on the plate to the wine in the glass. And the wine's just fine - no Napa fruit bombs. Low alcohol, food friendly wines.

(Certification not bottle labeled.)

Robert Sinskey Vineyards

Tight, refined wines from 100% organic vineyards, mostly in the Carneros (which is still warmer than Bordeaux). They are best known for the Pinots, and their whites (Alsatian varieties) but the Bordeaux blend (POV) is also a big volume seller. Their Vin Gris (a rose) is their most popular coin of the realm with the wine cognoscenti.

Certification bottle labeled on the back ("ingredients").


AP Vin
This SF-based Pinot devotee has one organically sourced wine: its Turner Vineyard Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County's Santa Rita Hills AVA.

The next gen wine label from the Benziger clan and friends. They'll be pouring their organically grown Sauvignon Blanc and their biodynamic Rose.

A Santa Barbara County winery that makes conventional, organic AND biodynamic wines. They'll be pouring their Albarino at their booth. Yowsa. It's biodynamically grown and a former winner of the LA Times wine pick of the week. (It's also recommended as a great wine to accompany salads with vinaigrette dressing.)

Turley Wine Cellars
The historic White Zin appears to be the must serve at this event.