Monday, March 31, 2014

Mike Grgich's 91st Birthday News

Napa vintner and partner in the largest Biodynamic winery in America, legendary winemaker Mike Grigch announced this week that he's paying it forward with a new wine studies scholarship program, in partnership with the James Beard Foundation.

To honor his new philanthropy, his photo appeared in Times Square today.

To Mike we say, Happy Birthday and thanks for making all of your 300+ acres of prime Napa vineyards organic.

Sri Lanka Bans Roundup; Brazil May Follow

Roundup is (rightfully) under siege, yet again.

Sri Lanka implemented a countrywide ban two weeks ago following a scientific study that presented convincing evidence that Roundup appears to combine with toxic pesticides (applied to plants and soil) which in turn leach into hard water (containing heavy chemicals) to create a toxic brew that causes a lethal kidney disease.

Reuters reports that authorities in Brazil are also considering a countrywide ban on the widely used Monsanto herbicide Roundup (which contains glyphosate). A ban on 2, 4 D is also being considered in Brazil.

Both glyphosate and 2, 4 D are widely used in the US in agriculture, including in wine grape growing regions in California, but there has not been an epidemic of chronic kidney disease as the other factors in the deadly combo may not be present. Sri Lanka also uses a lot of Mancozeb and chlorpyrifos.

In addition to Brazil and Sri Lanka, thousands have died in the southern India province of Andra Pradesh and in Central America from chronic kidney disease. Studies correlating the incidence of hard water and glyphosate in these regions have not been released. There are still a number of competing hypotheses in the Central and South American populations.

It's estimated that more than 25,000 have died in Sri Lanka so far; thousands more have died in other regions.

The chronic kidney disease outbreak has puzzled researchers studying the problem from a number of institutions including Stonybrook, Boston University, and Harvard.

But a paper published in Feb. in the  International Journal of Research and Public Health by authors from Sri Lanka and Long Beach, California seems to have cracked the riddle of this multifactorial epidemic explaining the mechanics of how glyphosate combines with other compounds. The report's summary states,
"Although glyphosate alone does not cause an epidemic of chronic kidney disease, it seems to have acquired the ability to destroy the renal tissues of thousands of farmers when it forms complexes with a localized geo environmental factor (hardness) and nephrotoxic metals."

The study's authors believe the same pathway is at work in the other tropical regions where chronic kidney disease is at epidemic levels. In addition, Reuters reported, the researchers, "noted that earlier studies had shown that typical glyphosate half-life of around 47 days in soil can increase up to 22 years after forming hard to biodegrade “strong complexes with metal ions.”

Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, has also been under siege in Argentina for glyphosate, as Reuters reported earlier. A combination of factors has led to conflict there. 

The Associated Press found numerous instances of improperly applying the herbicide too close to homes and schools. 

But aside from misuse of toxics, the respected scientist Andres Carrasco - a University of Buenos Aires medical school professor, head of the Molecular Embryology Laboratory at University of Buenos Aires and chief scientist at the National Council for Science and Technology - has conducted tests using Roundup on embryos and documented glyphosate's negative health effects. He spoke at the University of California, Irvine at a public health conference about his research, which you can see on YouTube here or below:

Obviously these stories relate to third world, heavy pesticide use applications. If anything these are more typical of the intensive applications of glyphosate in the corn and soy heartland of the Midwest where Roundup is used in higher concentrations than wine grape growing in California.

However, it's good to know what's happening with the widely used herbicide in the broader context and how it changes when it comes in contact with other substances. The Sri Lanka story is a dramatic medical detective story - possibly writ large.

Friday, March 14, 2014

In Time for Earth Day: Organically Sonoma, Organically Napa…Stay Tuned

The apps will be available in the Apple App Store and on Google Play. will soon be transforming into home base for all the apps and the blog will continue to be connected at

Organically Sonoma is progressing well - 170+ wines from more than 40 producers…the latest additions I am writing about now are from minimal intervention wineries like Kivelstadt, Horse & Plow, and (now) Preston - but there is a wide variety of producers to choose from. Wine giants like Korbel and Jackson Family Wines' Arrowood Winery have featured wines as well as itty bitty producers like Old World Winery and Atascadero Creek.

Stay tuned for details - sign up for our blog posts delivered via email (upper right of this page) to find out when apps launch.

(If you're wondering who SutroMedia is, that's our wildly fabulous technology developer and app platform maker.)

PS…Update: April 22, 2014: well, we got a little waylaid by a family medical emergency. But the apps will be here soon…stay tuned...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wine & Spirits Top Picks: Restaurant Wines from Organic Vines

Wine & Spirits published its Top 50 Restaurant Wines list in its newly released April issue, which includes five organically grown wines.

All five in the top 50 were from Napa: Frog's Leap Winery, Turley Wine Cellars, Heitz Wine Cellars, Robert Sinskey Vineyards and Grgich Hill Estate. In individual wine sections, Storybook Mountain Vineyards and Calera also joined the list.

The wine survey covered 218 restaurants in the U.S. in the fourth quarter of 2013.

In individual wine sections, the wines broke out this way:

Cabernet Sauvignon
Heitz Wine Cellars (which wine was not indicated; certifications on its wine vary), 10th most popular
Grgich Hill Estate, 30th most popular

Pinot Noir
Calera - Mount Harlan de Villiers, jointly 14th most popular
Calera - Mount Harlan Jensen, jointly 14th most popular
Robert Sinskey Vineyards - Carneros, 20th most popular

Sauvignon Blanc
Frog's Leap, 10th most popular

Storybook Mountain, Eastern Exposure, 3rd most popular
Frog's Leap Winery, 5th most popular

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Napa Winemaker Dinner in Oakville: Ghost Block Winemaker Rob Larson and Vintner Andy Hoxsey

It's a rare dinner invite indeed - a chance to dine with Rob Lawson, winemaker, and Andy Hoxsey, proprietor (and grower) of Ghost Block Wines.

Hoxsey is a member of the Pelissa Family, the largest organic growers in Napa Valley. The Pelissa family's surviving members (no longer named Pelissa) also own Napa Wine Co., a custom crush facility that's home to 40 indie brands in Napa. This is a family whose Napa roots run four generations deep.

Don't miss this unique opportunity to dine overlooking the very vines the wine comes from at one of Napa's landmark restaurants.

The Ghost Block wines are featured in the forthcoming app Organically Napa: Wine Finder (coming very soon - about to be submitted to App store and then it take 2-3 weeks for them to release it).

Here's the wine listing from the app:

• Aromas: bright floral aromas, including rose petals and tobacco

 Flavors: with dark berry fruits, cocoa and nutmeg followed by black cherries and coffee on the finish

• An insider's wine - sells out early

• Sourced from the historic Rock Cairn vineyard


Robert Parker, Wine Advocate, 91 pts. (2010): "...well-made, impressive Cabernet Sauvignon…"


Cases made: 3,000

Alcohol: 14.5%

Aging: 24 months in French oak (60% new)

Vineyard Certification: Organic

Wine/Label Certification: Ingredients: Organic Grapes

AVA: Oakville AVA



• Sources grapes solely from 52 acres of certified organic estate vineyards in the Oakville and Yountville AVAs

• The winery and tasting room are located in Oakville at Napa Wine Co. (next to Oakville Grocery) originally built in 1877

Location for this wine

• The west facing Rock Cairn vineyard in Oakville with 32 acres of highly coveted Cabernet Sauvignon vines

• Named for: the rock cairns first placed by Native Americans to protect against evil spirits; the original cairns still stand there today

 Soils: deep, gravelly loam

Best known for

• Top tier, all organic brand from the descendants of the Pelissa family, Napa's largest orgranic growers, making two highly rated Cabernets (91-93 pts., $60-100)

• Also makes a small lot Sauvignon Blanc (160 cases, $33)

• Known for their deep roots in Napa agriculture, dating back to 1903, the descendants of the Pelissa family recently celebrated their 110th harvest
• The family has 557 acres of certified organic vineyards; they sell 88% of their grapes to local vintners

• Vineyard manager and proprietor Andy Hoxsey was voted 2009 Napa Grower of the Year; in addition, his massive, state of the art compost making operation is the envy of organic growers everywhere

• The extended family's current estate originates from their 1938 post Prohibition purchase of 1,000 acres of land originally home to Napa settler George Yount who planted the first grape vines in Napa in 1838 

• Their other two in house labels include Oakville Winery and Elizabeth Rose, a value brand

• The Pelissa descendants also run Napa Wine Co., a custom crush facility that's home to 40 independent winery brands

Organic vineyard case production

4,000 (out of 4,000 total)