Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hopland Passport SALES Are THIS Weekend - Cases of Organically Grown Fine Wines for Under $100

From the same folks whose grapes goes into a LOT of major Napa brands, you can buy fantastic everyday (and some special occasion) wines at big discounts - this weekend.

See details from my previous post about Hopland Passport.

Check out the food, drink and entertainment offerings this year right here.

My Organically Grown Wine/Winery Picks:

1. Guided garden tour at Campovida - an organic wine grape (and veggies) landmark, now one of the most amazing ornamental gardens
Wines: a bit on the high side for their organically grown ones; and not all are
2. Rock and roll at Saracina - the only Mendo winery with a cave tour
A leader in vinification in the region with David Ramey as consulting wine maker.
3. Asparagus frittata at Terra Savia
Wines: a great source for sparkling wine, Chardonnay and Meritage and Cabs
4. Rose (and Pinot) at Naughty Boy
Wines: stock up on rose for summer.
5. Cesar Toxqui
Wines: Organically grown Grenache, Old Vine Zin, and Chardonnay - 20-40% off on wines
6. McFadden's beef, rice and artichoke hearts salad - made with their own grass fed beef - and bottle signings from Guinness McFadden himself.
Wines: Late Harvest Riesling, Brut, Reserve Brut - and great prices (under $100) on their whites - 20 to 40% off on wines
7. Tours of sparkling wine facility Rack and Riddle
Wines - Buy organic labels elsewhere, but this is where many organically grown sparkling wines are made (but not sold under the RR label)
8. Wood fired pizza at Nelson Family
Wines: their orange muscat, viognier, and pinot grigio are all made from certified grapes
9. Frey Wines will also be pouring at the Real Goods/Solar Living center on 101
10. Jeriko will be releasing several new biodynamic wines

Further north, stop off at Barra of Mendocino for their sales (on 101 in Ukiah).

Monday, April 29, 2013

Feel the Buzz - European Beekeepers Popping Corks Now

Today the EU today decided to ban - for two years - three of the leading pesticides suspected in bee colony collapse.

While bee advocates failed to secure the majority of 14 votes needed to outright ban the substances, they did achieve 13 votes - which outnumbered the nine nations who voted no to oppose the measure, and the five who abstained.

The banned pesticides include clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam.

In 2010, more than 45,000 pounds of imidacloprid was used on wine grapes in California, over 194,000 acres.

Overall in the state, 67 million pounds were used over 1,164,808 acres.

See Associated Press coverage here.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Shoutout to 2011 Pinot Noir from Horse and Plow's New Label The Gardener

SF Chronicle's wine critic Jon Bonne has a nice review of Horse and Plow's new label, The Gardener's 2011 Pinot Noir in today's paper.  Have a look here.

As you know, if you've read this blog over time, I am quite a fan of these folks.

I am excited about their new tasting room in Santa Rosa - haven't been yet but hoping to make it in a few weeks from now.



Friday, April 26, 2013

May 11: Masut Release Party

From the Bay Area, it's a little less than a
2 hour and a half hour drive.
Fine Pinot Noirs from organic vineyards in Mendocino are not that common in California - so it's worth taking note of one of the top two organic Pinots from this region.

Masut, who the American Wine Society's Wine Journal calles "one of 21 wineries to watch," is an up and coming winery to be reckoned with.

They're not open to the public for tastings or tours, but this one day of the year, they have a sweet release party up in their very unique piece of heaven.

I went last year and can assure you it's well worth the $45 price of admission. Great food, fabulous music, and the setting is something you will have dreams about the rest of the year. And I didn't even mention the wine!

Get your tickets now before they sell out.

For more info and links to pix from my trip, click here.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

2012 Crop Reports Say Organic Vineyards Up in Napa, Sonoma

Regions with the highest reputation for wine are increasingly becoming organic, according to crop reports from the Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.


In Napa acreage for organic vineyards was up 500 acres, or 17%, putting total certified organic acreage at 9% of all county vineyards. The 2011 organic acreage was 3,536; that's now up to 4,032 in 2012.

In Sonoma acreage for organic vineyards increased from 678 acres in 2011 to 1,163 acres in 2012 - an increase of 58%. Sonoma's recent increase put it at about 2%, just under the statewide average (2.7%), with its 58,300 acres of vineyards.

In Mendocino, the Ag Commissioner's office reports 3,735 acres now, down from 2011's 3,994 acres. In 2011, 28% of vineyards were certified organic or biodynamic.

Preliminary figures from the state show that statewide organic vineyards were about 12,700 acres, give or take (I'm waiting for clarification on some numbers that seemed inconsistent to me), or about 2.7% of the state's 462,023 acres of wine grape vineyards.

Overall, Napa supplies 32% of the state's organic wine grapes, Mendocino 31% and Sonoma 9%. The three counties combined account for 72% of organic vineyards in California.

Lake County had more than 500 acres of organic wine grapes in 2012, according to the California Dept. of Agriculture.

Using the state's data, organic wine grapes accounted for $72 million of wine grape sales in 2012.

Sustainability, Meet Pesticides

The California Wine Institute is painting organic as a government program that doesn't do as much as its own sustainability program which it says is so much broader. Really?

On KCRA in Sacramento, Allison Jordan, executive director of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance,  and Steve Lohr, of J. Lohr Winery, appeared to talk about their efforts in honor of the wine industry's monthlong celebration of sustainability.


I can't embed the video here but you can see it here.

The interviewer's first question was to ask what's the difference between organic and sustainability. Without ever using the word "pesticides," Jordan responded that organics deals with soil and pest management issues, while sustainability is so much broader.

"We think of environment, people and economics,"said Steve Lohr, who goes on to talk about sheep in the vineyards (J. Lohr still uses plenty of Roundup and other herbicides) and solar energy installations (much of which we as the taxpayer subsidize through tax breaks).

No one mentioned pesticides - which we know to be responsible for many toxic effects on "the environment" including birds, bees and people.

Yesterday the media was filled with news generated by California's newly launched CalEnviroScreen tool that pinpoints where clusters of environmental health issues are located.


As you can see the most dangerous communities to live in (in blue and orange) are where pesticides are aggressively applied on wine grapes and other crops. Pesticides are one of the ten factors counted in the environmental health hazard tool's rating system.

This map from the California Dept. of Public Health shows the use of carcinogens used by the wine grape industry.
It's time for the wine industry to come forward with a frank and honest conversation about reducing pesticides and tell us what progress their sustainability programs are making on that front. And not to fill the airwaves with interviews like this one about how much bigger and better sustainability is than programs with legal teeth (organic) that require growers to stop using cancer-causing chemicals that create huge swaths of pesticide zones where childhood cancer rates, autism and ADHD soar.

While I commend the CSWA for its progress, it's not fair for them to give the impression that organic programs don't compare in scope or impact or importance with their voluntary, industry standards.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day SPECIAL: Celebrate Our Unsung Wine Heroes - Organic Growers and Vintners

A shoutout today to the viticultural heroes and heroines who are making organic viticulture a way of life for their employees and area residents.

Here's a list of some of the people and wineries making a difference by keeping harmful pesticides out of our ecosystems and making fine wines.

VINEYARD MANAGERS

Organic viticulture is not without pressures - making sure those grapes are grown well, meeting multiple winemakers' requirements, and yet getting the most from the harvest. Delivering satisfying result is these guys' job. It's a high wire act that depends on a lot of experience and judgment calls as well as client relationships.

And it's often a pivotal relationship in helping vintners convert to organic - knowing that the vineyard manager can get the job done. They are the unsung heroes of wine country.

Here's to four of the many vineyard managers in Northern California who do this year after year:

Mark Neal, Jack Neal & Sons - 1,000+ acres in Napa
Phil Coturri, Enterprise Vineyards - 1,051 acres in Napa and Sonoma
Amigo Bob - founder of CCOF and EcoFarm, and organic viticulturist par excellence in Napa and other regions
David Koball, Vineyard Director, Fetzer Bonterra - 915 acres in Mendocino

TEACHERS AND TRAINERS

A shout out to the following for teaching and supporting organic growers with know-how:

Ann Thrupp, Manager of Sustainability and Organic Development, Fetzer/Bonterra
Glenn McGourty, Viticulture and Plant Science Advisor, UC Cooperative Extension (part of Davis), Ukiah (author of the first UC Davis textbook on organic viticulture)

[I am sure there are many more people who should be on both of the above lists and in future years, I hope to add them.]

WINERIES

Bonterra Vineyards - 1,420 acres of certified vineyards

The only organically grown wine you can reliably find in supermarkets, this Mendocino giant sources grapes from its own 915 acres of vineyards and more from growers in Mendocino and Lake counties who own their own combined 505 acres.
Ann Thrupp oversees organic
development at Bonterra, bringing
growers into Bonterra's organic program;
Dave Koball directs vineyard management
and oversee the estate's acreage 

Napa Wine Co. - 635 acres of certified vineyards

A giant grower in Yountville and Oakville, the historic family holding has the biggest chunk of organic acres in Napa. They sell their fruit to others and run a custom crush facility for many boutique wineries in the valley. They also make their own wines under the Ghost Block, Napa Wine Co. and Elizabeth Rose labels.

Andy Hoxsey of Napa Wine Co., a leader in
sustainability and organic practices
3. Frey Wines - 550 acres of organic vineyards

This Mendocino winery, located in Redwood Valley near Ukiah, owns 220 acres and buys grapes from grower farming 330 more acres.  Their no added sulfite wines are widely distributed and a staple at Whole Foods.

4. Domaine Carneros - 316 acres of organic vineyards

This French-owned sparkling wine producer is the largest organic grower in Napa's coastal Carneros region, where it also makes Pinot Noir and treasured for its terrace tastings and vistas.

5. HALL Wine - 283 acres of organic vineyards

HALL Wine has 200 acres of organic vineyards in Napa and 83 more in Sonoma. They were also the first GOLD LEED certified winery in the state.

6. Inglenook - 253 acres of organic vineyards

This classic, historic winery, founded in 1879, has gone back to its roots - i.e. historically, pre WW2, all wine was farmed organically. (While Inglenook's accomplishments are significant, it's sad that Coppola is not making his other brands - in Geyserville -organic.)

7. Heitz Cellars - 252 acres of organic vineyards

I have to say this one was a complete surprise to me. But now I know. Heitz's had 139 acres certified in 2005 and has now added its Ink Grade (with 99 acres) and Heitz Winery (15 acres) to its certified acreage.

8. Barra of Mendocino - 220 acres of organic vineyards

This Italian-owned family winery grows many of the grapes that go into other wines. It makes it own wines under its two value-priced family labels - Barra of Mendocino and Girasole, the latter being its unoaked line, both of which can be found at times at Whole Foods.

9. Nevada County Wine Guild - 220 acres of organic vineyards

This Sierras-based winery makes Our Daily Red (a Trader Joe's staple) and two other labels - Orleans Hill and Well Red. All grapes are purchased from organic growers. The winery was recently bought by The Wine Exchange of Novato.

10. Grgich Hills - 360 acres of biodynamicaly certified vineyards

The largest Demeter certified biodynamic grower in Napa, this classic Chardonnay and Zinfandel powerhouse, is one of Napa's most prestigious and historic wineries. Croatian-born winemaker Mike Grgich was one of the two American winermakers to win in the blind tasting with French critics in 1976. His nephew, Ivo Jeramaz, also from Croatia, has been instrumental in the winery embracing biodynamic viticulture.

10. (TIE) McFadden Vineyards - 200 acres of certified vineyards

An organic grower for 40 years, Guinness McFadden's heavenly Potter Valley location is perfect for growing grapes that need cooler temperatures than those found in Napa or the Hopland-Ukiah corridor.

A SHOUT OUT TO MORE

The following are listed by county and include mostly CCOF certified wineries.

There are also other counties with organic acreage, but this was not an encyclopedic study - just a brief survey of four counties - Mendo, Napa, Sonoma and Lake.

[I apologize to those who used other certifiers - acreages are not listed online by Stellar/Demeter and others so I was unable to list them here. I also didn't list holdings under 5 acres.]

NAPA - CCOF

Overall there's good news in terms of organic viticulture's growth in the North Bay: Napa County's organic vineyards increased from 3,536 acres in 2011 to 4,032 in 2012. That means that 9% of Napa's vineyards are certified organic.  

KUDOs to the growers and vintners behind that statistic.

• Robert Sinskey - 175 acres (biodynamically certified through 2012; now organically certified through CCOF)
• Madonna Estate - 159 acres
• Frogs Leap - 155 acres (also dry farmed)
• De Coninck - 148
• Turley - 149
• Flora Springs (Komes) - 119
• Chappellet - 96
• Long Meadow Ranch -75
• The Napa Valley Reserve (at Meadowood) - 64
• Jackson Family Wines - 59
• Dana - 58
• Volker Eisele - 57
• Burgess - 50
• Storybook - 43
• Spottswoode - 42
• Staglin - 42
• Ehlers - 39
• Araujo Estate - 38 acres (biodynamic certification)
• Truchard - 35
• ZD Wines - 31
• Usibelli Ranch & Game - 31
• Rocca Family - 29
• V. Sattui - 29
• Harris Ranch  - 28
• Navone - 27
• Gamble Family - 25
• Lantz/Sam Brannan - 23
• Peju - 22
• Adastra - 20
• Ovid - 18
• Neal Family - 15
• Hawk and Horse - 15
• Neyers - 12
• Tres Sabores - 12
• State Line Vineyards - 12
• Anomaly - 8
• Juliana Vineyard - 8
• Johnston/Helena View - 6
• Rudd Wines (Edge Hill) - 5
• Wilde Wolf - 5

SONOMA - CCOF

Sonoma's total organic vineyard acreage in 2012 was 1,163 acres, compared to 678 in 2011, according to the Sonoma County Crop Report. That's an increase of 58 percent.

However, the percentage of organic vineyards as a part of overall vineyard acreage (roughly 58,300 acres) is low: just 2 percent of the total.


• Benziger - 98
• DeLoach - 91
• Hambrecht - 74
• Marimar - 60
• Medlock Ames - 55
• Topolos  - 50
• Palo Alto Vineyard Management - 38
• Amapola - 36
• Ravenswood - 14
• Lisa's Vineyard - 12
• Stone Edge -10
• Feingold Vineyards - 9
• Cohn - 8
• Forenzo Vineyards - 7
• Barham-Mendelsohn 5
• Wild Hog 5

MENDOCINO - CCOF

Statistics for Mendocino's 2012 crop report will be available soon. I hope to add them later today.

In 2011 the county had 3,994 acres of organic vineyards, which constituted about 25% of total vineyard acreage.

• Cox Vineyards - 292
• Barra/Girasole/Redwood Valley Vineyards - 220
• McFadden - 200
• Haiku -165
• Thornhill Vineyards -139
• Ricetti -114
• Neese Vineyards -107
• Parducci/Mendocino Wine Co. - 93
• The Poor Ranch - 82
• Patianna Organic Vineyards - 74
• Milani Vineyards - 68
• Welch Vineyard Management - 65
• Saracina - 55
• Beckstoffer - 50
• Elkfield Vineyards - 48
• Davis Drive Organics - 46
• Chase Vineyards - 45
• Rosewood Vineyards - 41
• Tomki Vineyards/Oster Wine - 41
• Vecino Vineyards  - 40
• Hillside Vineyards - 40
• Vau Investments - 35
• Yorkville Vineyards - 33
• Handley Cellars - 29
• Rack & Riddle - 29
• Lorenzi Vineyards - 28
• Grider Home Ranch - 27
• Light Vineyards - 23
• JCP Farming - 22
• Graziano Vineyards - 21
• Ulysses Lolonis Vineyards - 21
• Upton Vineyards -18
• Nelson Family Vineyards -17
• Testa-Grieve Vineyards - 17
• Donald Lucchesi Ranch - 16
• Gibson Ranch - 16
• Tournour Vineyards - 15
• Johnson Orchards & Vineyards - 14
• Caballo Blanco - 13
• Inland Ranch  - 12
• Wolford Vineyard  - 10
• Trimble Vineyards - 10
• Gusto Vineyards - 10
• Hartje Vineyards - 10
• Thompson Vineyards - 10
• Cold Creek Ranch - 9
• Embros Wine Co. - 9
• Harrison Vineyards - 8
• Damiano - 6
• Hoover Vineyards - 6
• Goforth - 6
• Miralago Vineyard - 5
• Naughty Boy - 5

LAKE  - CCOF

• Bartolucci -166
• DeVoto Vineyards - 116
• Beaver Creek - 39
• Nova Vineyards - 36
• Elk Mountain Vineyards - 25
• Cat's Paw Vineyards - 7
• Wild Hare Vineyard - 6

Where the Bees' Toxic Soup Is: California's Wine Growing Regions

Pesticide Research, a Berkeley company founded by PANNA database creator and pesticide expert Dr. Susan Kegley, has launched a detailed map showing the townships where neonicotinoids, the pesticides linked to bee colony collapse, are located.

The map was developed for beekeepers and is part of the company's Bee Resource Center.

Red areas are for the 95th percentile; orange for 75-95% percentile

The map is similar to the State Dept. of Public Health's Agricultural Pesticide Mapping Tool (from the Environmental Health Investigations Branch) but the Pesticide Research map is visually clearer and goes to the level of the neonicotinoids (which are not presented on the state tool as a default). Both tools have 2010 data (since the state department of pesticides is changing to a new computer system and has not released stats for 2011-12 - they should be available in June).


While the worst concentrations of neonicotinoids are found in the Central (San Joaquin) Valley and Salinas Valley (see the top 5% of usage in red squares on this map), our North Bay wine country is still alarmingly high.

The orange areas above show sites in the top quarter of the state from the 75th to 95th percentiles.

As you can see, a wide swath around Healdsburg and a township centered in Napa on the Rutherford-Oakville-Yountville AVAs are in this top 25% of users statewide.

In Sonoma, the state Dept. of Pesticide Research data for 2010 shows 2,362 pounds of imidacloprid (a neonicotinoid) spread at 424 sites over 8,166 acres.

In Napa, 796 pounds of imidacloprid were spread over 199 sites and 2,405 acres. From the map below, one can see that the area of highest concentration is over the AVAs of Rutherford, Oakville and Yountville.


Beekeepers and environmental groups recently sued the EPA over the use of other neonicotinoids linked to bee colony collapse. The EPA has said it will take 5 years to study the matter.

Neonicotinoids are used on more than wine grapes but wine grapes are among the top five crops in California where they are used.

FOr further reading, consult the Wines & Vines article, Wine Grape Pesticide Facing Greater Scrutiny

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Story Charming And True: Middle Schooler's Research on Organics Published by Major Science Journal, Finds Organic More Nutritious

Ria Chhabra, a teenager living in Plano, Texas, conducted a school science project that has catapulted her and her findings into an international scientific journal and the New York Times.

Her research looked at whether fruit flies fed organic food fared better than those fed nonorganic food.

Her findings were conclusive - fruit flies fed organic got more nutritional value from their food.

See more details here.

The catalyst for starting her research was a debate between her parents over whether organic was better or not. After her study, her family says they now eat only organic produce.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Toxic Soup Killing Bees, Says U.C. Davis Researcher - EPA: We'll Get Back to You in Five Years

EPA says it will take FIVE YEARS to study and rule on pesticides suspected of causing bee colony collapse.

Ohio State University graphic

What? Hear from U.C. Davis's bee expert, Cooperative Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, in this CBS News Report. He says the pesticide collision/collusion (including neonicotinoids) is what's killing bees. (So do leading experts around the world). Beekeepers point out the urgency of the issue to agriculture and business.
 

See Mother Jones coverage for more.

California's almond crop is at risk this year as there are not enough bees to pollinate it. In her article "Troubling Honey Bee Shortage in California Almond Orchards," U.C. Davis Entomologist Kathy Keatley Garvey says this could be the worst year yet for honey production. Almond growers should anticipate that they will have access to one third fewer bees this year, affecting almond production.

Wine grape growers across the state use neonicotinoids, one of the primary suspected culprits so far. Statewide, the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation reports that wine grape growers applied 45,515 pounds of imidacloprid in 2010 across 194,000+ acres.

Want more details on the latest studies? See the Pesticide Action Network story here with links to the journal articles and BBC News coverage.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Iberian Vintners in Lodi? Yup. And Robert Parker Is Loving It


"The number of California wineries working with Spanish varietals is small, but if this impressive trio (Bokisch Albarino, Graciano & Tempranillo) is an example of what's possible, I think we'll see an explosion of Spanish varietals." - Robert Parker

Such high praise from Robert Parker is difficult to come by, but for pioneering Bokisch Vineyards it is confirmation of their special relationship with Spanish varietals and California soils.

Co-founder Mark Bokisch's mother was born in Spain, making him half Spanish by blood (and half German on his father's side), and he spent summers there as a child. He studied plants in college and then worked at the prestigious Cabernet producer, Joseph Phelps, in Napa where he focused on Rhone wines.

Mark and his wife Liz Bokisch lived in Catalonia in the mid 90s, while Mark worked in the Spanish wine industry, before coming back to the U.S. where he was raised and starting a winery together, planting their first vines in 1999.

Today the Bokischs have surrounded themselves with Spanish varietals - bringing Albarino and other cuttings with them from Catalonia - and make both red and white Iberian wines.

Uniquely, some of their wines are (certified) organically grown from their own vineyards, increasing my knowledge of Spanish, organic producers from two (Verdad, which has many, and Bonny Doon which has an Albarino) to now three.

Spanish wine grape growers in the U.S. tend to wax enthusiastically about the climate-appropriateness of Iberian varietals - and no wonder. Looking back it's surprising that the early padres in the missions brought with them the Mission grape and not Tempranillo, Albarino and other wines that might have fared much better in California soils.

IBERIAN VARIETALS - INCLUDING GRACIANO

The Bokisch Vineyards' organically grown wines include albarinos, garnachas, and the rarely grown Graciano (usually a blending grape added to Tempranillos in Spain) which they were the first to bottle on its own.

"We loved it when we tasted it on its own. It does very well as a standalone," says Liz Bokisch. "It's more difficult to grow than other grapes, requiring more passes in the vineyard, so in fact some Spanish producers are ripping it out - but winemakers are protesting - because they love it."

In Spain, Bokisch said, Graciano is referred to as a "spice box wine," which producers add to Tempranillo for its aromatics and dark color. Here the Bokischs have found they love it on its own, pioneering a new, only-in-America wine.

ORGANIC VINEYARDS

The Bokischs have two certified organic vineyards, from which they make a total of five Spanish varietal wines.

Their original Las Cerezas vineyard, in the Mokelumne River AVA (a subappellation of the Lodi AVA), was the site where they initially did test plantings of Albarino, Garnacha and Graciano - tests that were successful.

That led them to acquire the much larger vineyard in the foothills, in the Clements Hill AVA (also a subappellation of the Lodi AVA) which has more volcanic/clay loam soils. It's also higher in elevation, inspiring them to name it Terra Alta ("higher ground" in Spanish). There they grow 30 acres of grapes, some of which they sell to others.

WINES

Of the five wines the Bokischs make from their organic vineyards, three contain only organic grapes - the Las Cerezas Albarino and the Graciano (which comes in two types).

Like many organic vintners, the Bokischs don't bottle label their 100% organically grown wines.

They also make two more wines - their Terra Alta Albarino and their Garnacha - that are 90-95% organically grown grapes.

WHITE WINES

Bokisch has two Albarinos - one from each vineyard. "We call the Las Cerezas 'the mother block' because those were our first cuttings - from Spain," says Liz Bokisch. "It's very interesting to see what the same clone does in two different vineyards. Since we make the wines the exact same way (fermented in stainless steel), it's interesting how distinctly different they are.

"The Mokelumne River vineyard ("Las Cerezas") has more tropical notes, with tangerine and melon components. The Clement Hills vineyard ("Terra Alta") is to the east, towards the foothills, and there we get more bright apple and pear notes, and more minerality."

Both albarinos retail for $18 a bottle.

Albarino - Las Cerezas Vineyard

Because this vineyard is so small, quantities are limited, and it is sold only on their web site. The vines were planted in 1999, so these are older vines than their Terra Alta. This is their 100% organically sourced albarino.

Albarino - Terra Alta Vineyard

The Terra Alta Albarino has 5% of verdelho blended in from a non-organic vineyard, but is still 95% from certified organically grown grapes.

RED WINES

Bokisch offers the aforementioned, rarely grown Graciano, traditionally a blending grape, as a standalone varietal. It's made of fruit from both of their organic vineyards.

Graciano ($21)

When the English wine magazine Decanter came to town, they named the 2008 Graciano one of Lodi's top 10, rating it a 17 (on their scale, which goes from 1-20 with a 20 as the highest rating).

Graciano Single Barrel ($23)

This is the "reserve" Graciano. No filtering or fining for this wine - it goes straight from barrel to bottle.

Other red wines include a Garnacha from their Terra Alto vineyard - a blend of 90% Garnacha (certified organic) blended with 10% of non-organically grown Monastrell (more commonly known by its French name, Mourvedre). And Tempranillos (not organically grown).

TASTING

While the winery is located in Victor, the Bokischs' tasting room is at the Cellar Door in Lodi. The tasting room serves food and also hosts live music and other events. Call ahead to check on the availability of wines you're interested to make sure they are available in the tasting room.

BAY AREA TASTING

The enthusiastic California-based Iberian wine group TAPAS (think ZAP but for Tempranillo) will be hosting a public tasting Sunday, June 23 in San Francisco. Tickets are on sale now.

[TAPAS stands for Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society.]

You can get more info on an ongoing basis from Bokisch by signing up for their emails, or following them on Facebook.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Earth Day Open House (This Saturday) and Online $5 Shipping Sale at Qupe and Verdad All Month

The winery is here!
ONLINE SALE - APRIL ONLY

Qupe and Verdad are having an online shipping sale right now on all orders of 6 bottles or more - shipping is only $5!

Everything from Verdad is organic and/or biodynamically grown. Some of the Qupe wines (usually the costlier ones) are.

The Sawyer Lindquist vineyard wines are all certified biodynamic.
The Ibarra Young vineyard wines are certified organically grown.

For Verdad, I am a huge fan of their Albarino and their Rose. For Qupe, it's all about the Grenaches and Syrahs, for me. They also do great white Rhones (Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne).

CELLAR OPEN HOUSE, RELEASE PARTY AND SALE

Normally Qupe and Verdad (husband and wife wineries - he's a Syrah and Rhone master and she's queen of the Spanish varietals) allow visitors only to their tasting room in Los Olivos, a charming little town that's filled with wine tourists and tasteful tasting rooms.

But twice a year they have open house at their actual winery located near the legendary Bien Nacido vineyard in Santa Maria. (Near, not in.)

The site is about as amazing as it gets - this canyon reminds one of the great European valleys with its steep hillsides. It's famous for growing some of the best grapes in Santa Barbara County and California.

The open house sale is from 11-3 (wine club members admitted at 10:30 am). The event is $20 for the public, free to wine club members.

The new (organically grown) 2012 spring wines that will be released at the event include:

• 2012 Viognier - Ibarra Young Vineyard (organic)
• 2012 Viognier - Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard (biodynamic) - wine club members only

The telephone is 805-686 4200.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Friday, April 12, 2013

Forbes Wine of the Week Pick: Barra's Port

In addition to the Big Sale on its regular wines, here's a shout out to Barra for its Petite Sirah Dessert Wine, a port from Northern California, which was a recent pick as Wine of the Week from Forbes.

Read about the wine's success in a recent tasting or order it online here.

Bargain Hunter's Bonanza: Cases $49-99 in Barra's Big Sale

People often complain about spending $15-20 for a bottle of wine. We don't get California, organically grown wine for much less than that at retail.

But local organic producers should be the ones supplying our markets, not cheap imports (usually subsidized by their governments and not organically grown).

If you want to buy local and organic, and pay no more than you would at the supermarket checkout line wine price (or Trader Joe's), my answer is: hit the sales at Barra of Mendocino.

Muscat Canelli
Located in Ukiah, this winery (all organically grown wines, and bottle labeled as such) is sometimes distributed in Whole Foods stores - but not at closeout prices as low as their own winery sale.

This seasonal closeout sale makes their wines even more affordable. The only trick is you have to a. know about the sale, and b. order online. Even with shipping, you'll still be saving beaucoup de bucks.

If you're having a party (graduation, birthdays, whatever) these are great wines to serve. Whether you like red or white, they're perfect for a basic house wine to have on hand. I've bought cases of the Zin over the years as a house red.

Having pizza? The Zin is great. Serving up cheese and crackers on a hot summer evening, bring out the Pinot Grigio or one of the red wines. The muscat cannelli is a perfect summer sipper - just a little bit of sweetness (not the in your face BIG SWEET).

You can mix and match wines below so order a sampler case for yourself, see what you like and then stock up.

Even if you shop at Bargain Outlet, you can't do better pricewise than this sale.

Zinfandel
$49 Case ($4 a bottle; sold by case only)

• Sweet Thang (too sweet for me)

$69 Case ($5.75 a bottle)

• Muscat Canelli (usually $16 a bottle)
• Pinot Grigio (usually $18 a bottle)

Their Girasole brand has the following wines on sale:

• Zinfandel
• Cabernet Sauvignon
• Merlot
• Hybrid Red (Cab, Merlot and Syrah)

$99 Case ($8.25 a bottle)

• Barra Zinfandel (usually $20 a bottle)


Barra was started by Charlie Barra, a grower who has been growing grapes for more than 50 years in Ukiah. In addition to his many accomplishments in the history of California grape growing and wine making (starting the first AVA, organizing growers, and more), he has been a great friend and supporter of Slow Foods and its scholarship fund, a very worthy endeavor.

He has about 200 acres of vines in Ukiah and a tasting room there by the side of Highway 101 where you can try all of these wines and more.

Winery is located at www.barraofmendocino.com or call the tasting room at 707.485.0322.

NOTE: This sale is not noted on their web site so you will need to contact the winery directly.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

In Photos: Mike Grgich's 90th Birthday - Media Wine Tasting and Luncheon

Wine press can be a jaded bunch - they've seen a lot of "events." But I think April 8 was a day to remember for many of them, for this occasion was a chance to witness and honor something historic.

Grgich Hills rolled out all the stops to celebrate Mike Grgich's 90th birthday with a memorable tasting of his 41-year-old 1972 Chardonnay, which he generously shared with about 30 press, bloggers and tweeters in attendance.

The Judgment of Paris judges didn't know they picked
California wines as the best in the famous 1976 Paris Tasting.
One of the winning wines was the 1973 Chateau
Montelena Chardonnay made by Mike Grgich.
The esteemed audience in attendance at yesterday's tasting, tasting
Mike Grgich's 1972 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay
along with and Grgich Hills'  2010 Paris Tasting Vineyard Chardonnay
"I want to thank you all for coming," Mike said "I see old friends here; there's two who have been tasting my wines for more than 30 years."

The event kicked off with a brief video, highlighting the span of his life, from fleeing Croatia under Communist rule to getting an honorary degree from the University of Croatia a few years ago. His lifetime of fine winemaking started under the tutelage of Lee Stewart at Souverain then on Howell Mountain (now Burgess) and Andre Tchelistcheff of Beaulieu. 

In 1973 his Chateau Montelena Chardonnay won the top spot in the historic Tasting of Paris, a feat repeated in many other international, blind tasting competitions under his own winery brand started a year later with Austin Hills. (A brief timeline of his life and accomplishments can be found here.)

Mike Grgich, 1972-3 Chateau Montelena winemaker
Following the tasting, guests enjoyed a lovely catered lunch of salmon, lamb and chocolate-covered strawberries accompanies by the 2010 Paris Tasting Chardonnay (I had already bought two cases a month ago - for posterity's sake) and the Croatian zinfandel relative Plavac Mali, grown at Grgich's Croatian winery on the Adriatic.



The tasting line-up starting from left to right: 2010 Paris Tasting Chardonnay
($90, current release, winery only or wine club), 2002 Chardonnay,
1972 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay  (the uncovered one)
The reds (left to right): a variety of Zinfandels, dating back to 1987
Mike on the right, with his winery partner Austin Hills (left) and Mike's nephew Ivo (center)
Tasting in honor of Mike Grgich's 90 birthday (which was April 1)
Panoramic shot of the event
I have to admit - I was a virgin: this was my first 1970s Chardonnay -
look at the color! (The 2010 Paris Tasting Vineyard Chardonnay
is on the left and the 1972 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay is on the right). 
Mike tasting the 1972 Chardonnay
(the vintage before his Judgment of Paris award-winning 1973)
He had saved 5 cases of it and decided this was the time to open it.
Mike says his proudest accomplishment in life is his
daughter, Violet; here savoring both his wine and Violet.
Under the direction of Mike's nephew vineyard manager, Croatian-born Ivo Jeramaz (his official title is vice president of vineyards and production), all of Grgich's 366 acres of vineyards are farmed biodynamically and all of its wines made only with certified biodynamic grapes, easily making it the largest Napa winery to follow these practices. Even more reason to celebrate.

Croatian television's special on Mike Grgich will screen Monday night in St. Helena. The winery will also make DVDs of the film available to wine club members.

NOTE (ADDED 4.14.55) In addition, for more on the particulars of Chardonnay and Grgich's approach to it, see Dan Berger's article in the Napa Valley Register here.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Read This New York Times Editorial - Please: Calamity for Our Most Beneficial Insect

If I could, I would just copy and paste this oped piece into my blog. But you're not supposed to. So please read this on their site:

New York Times Editorial: Calamity for Our Most Beneficial Insect.

And ask your local winemakers not to use neonicotinoids and ask your local, state and federal legislators to pay attention to what the EU is doing (close to banning it) and what the EPA is not doing (and has been sued by beekeepers to do).

My journalism mentor when I first entered the profession, shortly after graduating from college in 1977, was a NYTimes editorial board member, James P. Brown, a Quaker, who wrote oped pieces. (He's long since passed away.) I am proud to see them continuing to say the right thing.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Earth Day Barrage Set to Begin: Beware the Wine Institute's Message of "Sustainability"

The California Wine Institute's getting gussied up for Earth Day - all ready to tell you why they and their sustainability campaigns are great (they are - it's true) and to avoid the subject of pesticide use in wine grape growing in California. They've been holding webinars with vintners to help all of them communicate the message - aided by their professional marketing consultant.

And launching their Earth Day video on Youtube.


Sustainability, as defined by the industry group, consists mainly of limiting the inputs they use - water, energy (they get big rebates for going solar - rebates that taxpayers pay for), and other resources that cost them money. This is the win-win zone for the bottom line - and it gets them within the guidelines of retail giant Walmart's sustainability requirements. All good - but not the end of the story.

If only the Wine Institute would take equal interest in ridding us of the pesticides they are using - 411,000 pounds of Roundup annually. Is that sustainability? Maybe for the grapes but not for the humans.

You can see what a typical Napa vineyard shopping list at the local farm supply store is in this  2012 U.C. Davis report on wine grape growing in Napa which describes local vineyards practices:

• Twice a year, vineyard-wide application of Roundup (that's 30,000 pounds annually in Napa County) a systemic herbicide now so widespread that a 2012 German study found it in city dwellers' urine at concentrations higher than allowed in drinking water

Fighting vine mealy bug with neonicotinoids (the chemicals most widely credited with bee colony collapse) [this week a group of British MPs added their voices to others in the EU calling for a ban]

SpreadinRally (myclobutanil), a known reproductive toxin, annually [the insecticide was recently cited by the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation as in need of a toxicity exposure update]

All this - in spite of the fact that between 10 and 30 percent of Napa vineyards are either certified (9%) or practicing (estimated to be another 20%) organic and don't use or need any of these inputs in order to make a tidy profit on their most-expensive-in-the-nation agricultural land.

If only the organic vintners and their professional marketing consultant were organized and speaking up - with the help of professional marketers - on Earth Day. (They don't have a YouTube video).

Two years ago when I first started asking wineries if their wines were organically grown, any that were not never said, "No." They always said, "we're sustainable."

If you ask again, why they're not organic, they'll usually say being organic costs too much, and takes too much paperwork.

I recently interviewed a prominent winery president (at a winery with more than 300 acres of certified organic vineyards) about this issue. The reply was that after all was said and done, it cost the winery about 4 percent more - in the overall cost of the winery - to grow grapes organically and be certified. Other consultants say the cost is 10% higher; others who are organic say it costs less than chemical methods.

Yes, there is paperwork, but wineries already have a lot of paperwork. Filing pesticide reports with the state is paperwork, too, and strangely nobody every mentions that. Shopping for pesticides and hiring pesticide control advisors is work and money, too - at least $100 an acre.

So beware the Earthy Day messaging barrage. Hurrah for sustainability - it's just not the end of the eco-trail. Keep asking for organic grapes in your wine.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Buying Now: Because Botrytis Doesn't Happen Every Year

I have to admit, I'm partial to organic growers turned vintners - Guinness McFadden, Volker Eisele, Charlie Barra. So it's no surprise I'm raving about a few more incredible wines from McFadden Vineyards - again.

I've often mentioned their sparkling Brut here - a house wine in my house. And with good reason. As everyday wines go, organic bubblies are not that affordable, but if you're a wine club member and you shop the sales, you can get this beauty for 40% off - which makes it a mere $14.

And it's not just me who thinks it's great - it won a Double Gold in the 2012 Mendocino Wine  Competition (and the year before).

This past year McFadden's had two breakthrough wines - a 2011 botrytis beauty, Late Harvest Riesling, which took a Best of Class award in the dessert wine category in the SF Chronicle Wine Competition and their 2011 Chardonnay which won a Double Gold.

While other botrytis dessert wines in 375 ml bottles (Far Niente's Dolce, for example) go for $55 and up (I just tasted another winery's $80 one today), the McFadden retails for $24 for a 750 ml (full size) bottle (with a 25% discount for wine club members putting it at $18). And it's so lovely.

Smaller bottles - 375 ml - will be available soon.

I've just placed my order for five cases of each of the dessert wines so this can be my new house dessert wine.

And now that I've made my purchases of this soon-to-be-completely-sold-out wine, you should get on the phone and get yours right away. There will be no Groupon coupon - you don't need one at these prices/quality.

And botrytis, the lovely sweetening agent of late harvest grapes (that gives birth to the historically desired Sauternes and Tokay's), doesn't come every year.

I might be able to give some of the little bottles away (birthdays, Christmas), since I find that dessert wines make good gifts that pretty much everyone likes, but then again - I might not. It's really, really good.

For Chardonnay lovers, you better get on the phone, too, as the supply of this unoaked, superstar Chard is about to run out.

Winery number is 707.744.8463.

Also a reminder: Hopland Passport, with the best deals on the most organically grown wines (at everyday prices) is coming up - the first weekend in May. To prepare, read my perennial post on Hopland Passport here. And - book the hotel, and empty the trunk. And tell all your friends to come, too. It's partying without the pesticides!