Thursday, May 29, 2014

Italian Restauranteur and Vintner Lorenzo Petroni Dies

I was just putting the finishing touches on the profile of Petroni Vineyards in my new apps Organically Sonoma: Wine Finder and Organically Sonoma: A Tasting and Touring Guide (coming in June) when I read that Petroni was hospitalized for esophageal cancer. Sad.

I was even sorrier to read today of his death.

His accomplishments as a man of the city (San Francisco), hosting celebrities, tourists and politicians at his celebrated North Beach Restaurant, will be noted.

But perhaps less well known are his contributions to organic wine grape growing and winemaking and his devotion to his 2,700 olive trees.

The Petroni family has 42 acres of vineyards on (or near) Cavedale Road in Sonoma - on the "back side" of Mount Veeder (to put in purely Napa-ian terms [as a New Yorker cartoon might]). It's a neighborhood where organic viticulture and fine wines go hand in hand. (Think Phil-Cotturi-farmed Kamen Estate, Stone Edge Farm's Silver Cloud vineyard and others.)

I stopped in for sips at the family winery's tasting room off the square in downtown Sonoma just two weeks ago. It's an unpretentious wine bar, sharing space with Wine Hardware, a custom wine storage shelf outlet (like "California Closets" but for wine) and a fair number of specialty wine books.

Petroni Vineyards makes about 7,000 cases of organically grown wine from its two estate vineyards, making it one of Sonoma's largest organic producers - just behind Benziger (9,000 cases), Marimar Estates (8,800 cases), Quivira (8,000) and Preston (7,000 cases).

The Sonoma property's olive oil is on every table of the restaurant.

It's a way of being that's uniquely Italian - making the house wine and olive oil for one's own restaurant. Maybe one day others will follow suit.

Until then, I'll raise a glass of Petroni's Brunello - like its Italian counterpart, released only when it's 6 years old - and give thanks for a Sonoma vineyard owner who cared enough to be organic. May it continue.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Biodynamic Wine Lovers: Don't Miss A Cow's Life

The best films make us see with fresh eyes, as this endearing, narration free movie - A Cow's Life, by French director Emmanual Gras - does. It's available to rent on iTunes.

 Here's the trailer:

As Biodynamic farming fans may know, cow energy is thought to be important in the life of the farm, providing benefits on many levels. Enjoy this movie!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

New! Hit the Organic Wine Trail - in Napa

Our newest app Organically Napa: A Tasting and Touring Guide is now out!

Just released on the Apple App Store (the Google Play version should be appearing any minute), it leads you to the best of the best - wineries that make wines from certified vines.

To clarify: none of the wines featured are no added sulfite wines (or what the USDA, unique among nations, calls "Organic Wine"). All, however, come from certified organic (or Biodynamic®) vineyards. About 40% are bottle labeled with certification ("Made with Organic Grapes" or "Ingredients: Organic Grapes"). Another 60% are not, but could legally be labeled, "Ingredients: organic grapes." A few are single vineyard designates - meaning that 95-100% of the grapes came from a certified organic vineyard.

Visit our site at to signup for the email list for upcoming events, special offers, and celebrations along with tours we'll be launching with our partner

Preview wineries using the photos feature

Location aware maps let you see where you want to go or just
what's nearby 

Use hundreds of filtering combinations to find wineries by
price (some are even free), region, wine type, or activities

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What Biodynamically Grown U.S. Wine Made New York Times' Eric Asimov's List of 20 Favorite $20 Summer Wines?

Eric Asimov selected 20 wines priced $20 or less for his article this week. Which Biodynamically grown U.S. wine was among them?

Hint: See the photos below to see if you can jog your memory. Or check out our Biodynamic app - which will tell you about this and other great affordably priced wines from Biodynamic vines. Click here.

New York Times: 20 Summer Wines Under $20
Rudy Marchesi and Paco
Winemaker Ben Thomas selects which
native yeasts to use from the winery's
vines to make his 2013 vintages 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Our New App " Organically Napa: A Tasting and Touring Guide" Has Released!

Sign up for emails to get on the list…(box on upper right).

There are so many incredibly beautiful spots to enjoy there - and being able to seek out these wines in their homeland, see the vines, and enjoy world class tours and tastings is a delight. I myself am looking forward to a trip to see HALL's spectacular, new art filled St. Helena tasting room and gardens - next week.

We have an ultra basic web site at with links to all of our apps (4…soon to be 5…and counting). We'll be upgrading it over time and adding a Napa specific blog and more background info as well. Like I said - over time.

We are partnering with to offer trip planning advice and tours as well as offering special new content including in-depth winemaker interviews and more.

Sign up for the email list at for Napa specific updates.

Two more apps on Sonoma wines and wineries should be launching soon as well. About to submit Organically Sonoma: Wine Finder next week!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Benziger's Joaquin's Inferno Blend - VIDEO

Here's to more videos like this - honoring more of the equally real winemakers - i.e. vineyard experts - who tend the vines.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

IN PHOTOS: Vine Huggers Unite - Historic Vineyards Society's 2014 Tour Visits Old Vines in Napa

I've often wondered what Green Hungarian actually looked like.

One reads old accounts of Lee Stewart making it up at Souverain and getting awards for it. You can read about it in Jancis Robinson's giant Wine Grapes encyclopedia, but it's more fun to actually see it.

Or what does Alicantay Bousshay (hint: not a rapper) (and it's actually spelled Alicante Bouschet) look like? After all it was the grape that kept Napa's vineyards (and many others in California) from being pulled out and planted instead to prunes.

These and the famous Pets (Petite Sirah) and Zinfandel - and even Sauvignon Blanc - were the stars of the show on Saturday during the Historic Vineyard Society's annual tour which took place this year in Napa. (The 2012 tour covered Sonoma's historic vineyards.)

An all star lineup of vineyard managers, vineyard owners, and vintners - all who work directly with these vines and their wine grapes - took three busloads of fans (each paying $225 a head for the fundraiser) to four sites to see some of Napa's oldest vines - all head trained and dry farmed. (At least two of the sites were farmed organically [but were not certified].)


To Kalon is known mostly for its Cabernet Sauvignon vines, so it was a delight to hear about its old vine Sauvignon Blanc (the parent varietal of Cabernet) in what is called the I Block, planted about 1945 or in the 1950s, on ground that was part of the Crabb estate in 1878. The grapes from these 70+ years old vines go into the Mondavi Reserve Fumé Blanc ($90).

In the I Block with David Gates (left, vineyard manager at Ridge Wine) and Mondavi vineyard manager 
Interestingly, the vines had been tested for some of the current viruses (leaf roll, red blotch) and did have them, but were completely tolerant of them, according to the vineyard manager (whose name, unfortunately, I neglected to catch but will insert here later).


Second stop was the Hayne vineyard planted in the 1900's and owned today by Otty Hayne and his descendants including Lawrence Talbott (who was present for the tour) and the Simpsons (who also make wine from its vines). [The vineyard is practicing organic.]

The vineyard had been in the same family since 1873.

Turley Wine Cellars' winemaker Tegan Passalacqua, who led the tour, makes both a Petite Sirah and a Zinfandel (generally available by mailing list only) from this vineyard. Mike Carlisle of Carlisle Winery also makes a Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel (which can be purchased online).

The Historic Vineyard Society was started in part over issues when a 13 acre portion of the Hayne Vineyard was sold by Otty's brother to Andy Beckstoffer in 2010. The price? A record setting $3.6-3.9 million for 13 acres (or about $300,000 an acre, one of the highest prices paid for a vineyard in Napa).  In 2011 Beckstoffer released its first vintage of Cabernet - Kata  ($175) - from the vineyard which was renamed Bourn after an earlier owner.

On the tour Passalacqua praised Petite Sirah as the varietal most perfectly suited to Napa. It was in fact the most widely planted grape in the 1950s and 60s in Napa - the glory days of Gallo wines.

But since Petite Sirah typically dies after a 20 year lifespan (it often succumbs to a fungi), these 60 year old vines are precious indeed. The fact that these specific vines have survived is due to the pruning practices used in the vineyard, Ridge Vineyards manager David Gates later explained.

As was not uncommon back in the day, the vineyard also has a few table grapes planted here and there -  a practice done to feed the help. As workers harvested the wine grapes, they could also munch some Flame Tokay here and there.

Petite Sirah's history is intriguing - it was a stealth grape of its day. "No one was making it but everyone was growing it," said Passalacqua, tongue in cheek, of the variety. Hayne's Peite Sirah grapes were sold to Martini, Phelps and Beringer. It was widely used throughout California as a blending grape because of its stable color and tannin.

After laws changed mandating that varietally labeled wines had to contain 75% of the stated variety, Petite Sirah became fell out of favor.

"But Petite Sirah was the match made in heaven for Napa," said Passalacqua who has been a passionate champion for the variety.

Lawrence Talbott, Tegan Passalacqua and Otty Hayne 
Hayne Vineyard - Zinfandel planted around 1900 
Hayne Vineyard - Petite Sirah - Otty Hayne planted it with
his dad in 1953

Winemaker Mike Carlisle escorted the tour of the St. Helena Library Vineyard (the only one open to the public) which is on land owned by the city of St. Helena next to the library.

Turley also makes a single vineyard designate wine from these vines. (Leased on a year to year basis from the city, it's practicing organic").

Since this is public land, one may tour the library vines without jumping over fences or breaking the law. (But please do not enter the vineyard; stay on the established path).

The vines here (and near the Napa Valley Vintners as well as the neighboring bank) date back to the 1890's or the 1909 (when they were part of the Jackse winery, started by an Austrian couple whose winery later became the Napa Valley Vintners offices).

The Library name is fitting not only for its location but also for the contents of the vineyard - a collection which is a complex field blend. It's here that the tour participants saw a wider variety of old vine wine grapes including Alicante Bouschet, Aramon, Berger, Carignane, Colombard, Grec Rouge, Green Hungarian, Muscadelle, and more.  In fact, Carlisle said, he has identified 22 different varieties here.

If you wander over to the old vines by the Napa Valley Vintners building you'll see some of the old Valdigue - or Napa Gamay - another popular old vine. (Frog's Leap "Pink" wine is a rosé of Napa Gamay.)

Library Vineyard - David Gates and Mike Carlisle of Carlisle Wines
Green Hungarian
David Gates displays one of the identifiable characteristics of Green Hungarian 

The last stop on our tour was the Old Kraft Vineyard which has been lovingly restored by its current owners Bill and Margie Hart with the help of vineyard manager Bill Pease. Winemaker Robert Biale makes a single vineyard designate wine from these 110 year old Zinfandel vines.

Pease estimated that probably about 50% have been replanted, over time.

Unlike Petite Sirah, which dies after a few decades, Zinfandel (and Carignane) are naturally long lived.

In 1989, Ridge used to make a wine from its vines but the vineyard had drainage problems until the Harts purchased it and, with Pease's guidance, had a new drainage system installed.

Purchased by Frank Kraft in 1871, the vines sit on what was the original Spottswoode estate. (The Old Kraft winery is now Spottswoode's barrel room.) The Kraft vineyard was laid low by phylloxera in the 1880s and then replanted in the 1890's (boom times) when Zinfandel and Petite Sirah were widely planted (as they were until the 1960's). (It wasn't until the Mondavi era in the 1960's that Cabernet took off.)

Today the head trained vines, on St. George rootstock, continue to be dry farmed.

Biale, whose father was a grape grower in Napa, recalled the era when he was growing up in Napa and Petite Sirah and Zin still reigned. "In the 60s and 70s," he said, "it was all about the St. Helena Coop. Fifty percent of all Napa grapes were purchased by a sole purchaser - Gallo. And we were all happy about that."

Pease complimented the Harts' for their determination to preserve the old vines - physically as well as financially. "They come out here and dig up the baby olive trees that spread," he said, "for fun."

Old Kraft Vineyard tour with vineyard manager Bill Pease (center)
and Robert Biale, winemaker (extreme left)
Bill Pease with the old vine Zinfandel - planted as early as the 1890's
In old vine Zin, the centers often become hollow

U.S. Surpasses France as Biggest Wine Drinking Market

Today's news that the OIV says that America's overall wine consumption is bigger than France's says something about wine today - but what, exactly?

I'm not sure, but it definitely calls for a celebration as the same news story also states that Americans wine intake has increased 17% from 2004 to 2011.

I've been thinking of what seems to be the right wine to drink for this occasion. Should it be a Domaine Carneros sparkling wine (French and American owned winery in Napa's Carneros region)…or a Paso Robles Rhone from Tablas Creek (the Perrin and Haas, French and American owned winery)?

Any suggestions?

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Biodynamic Wine on Amazon's Top Ten?

See S. Irene Virbilia's (my former next door neighbor in Rockridge) coverage in the LA Times of Amazon's Top 10 Wine list here to learn more about insights into how buyers are responding to wine offers from the world's biggest online retailer.

It's a whole new ball game.

PS If you can't figure out which of the ten wines is Biodynamic you can get help here.

Do U.S. "Drinkers" Need to Catch Up With "Eaters"? Alarming Statistics on Declining Organic Vineyard Acreage

The newly released crop reports from CCOF and from the Ag Commissioner's office in Napa point to a disturbing trend. California is losing organic vineyards - yes, losing.


When it comes to food, consumers are embracing organic foods in record numbers.

According to the latest CCOF statistics, the number of organic baby food products was up 33% from 2012 to 2013. Organic spirits are also up. Pastures and field land acreages are way, way up. (One the pastures issue, if anyone can help me understand why, please add a comment below; queries to CCOF by phone and email have not been answered.)

Fueled almost entirely by pasture land increases, organic acreage overall increased nearly 300% from 2010 to 2013 from 734,000 acres to 2.1 million in 2013.

At the same time, wine grape acreage has been declining 5% from 2010 and 2011 highs (11,906 acres in 2011) to 11,237 in 2013.

Unless the decline is accounted for by a possible scenario in which vineyards are shifting away from CCOF to other certifiers, organic vines are losing ground.


Local statistics from Napa's newly released 2013 crop report show that the trend is (depressingly) happening in the North Coast. 

Napa's practically maxed out on growing more wine grapes as most of the marginal lands have already been put into production. But people have to replant. About 360 new acres were added.

However, the number of organic growers decreased from 135 to 133 from 2012 to 2013 and the number of organically certified vineyard acres decreased from 4,032 in 2012 to 3,670 in 2013 - a decline of 362 acres or 9 percent. 

What accounts for the decline? Is it new pests? A lack of consumer demand or interest in organically grown wines? A change in the way organic acres are counted?

One local observer thought it might be pests like the Virginia creeper. Another prominent vineyard consultant said none of his clients had suffered losses or taken any land out of certification.

If you can share any insights or facts, please do. (Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section below). I've asked the Napa Ag Commissioner's office for insights as well. I'll share any news I get from them here.

Sonoma's 2013 crop report is due out on June 10. Last year about 1,000 out of 60,000 acres in Sonoma were certified.


Meanwhile, there's good news from Europe (new post acoming). There consumers have never confused no sulfite wines with organic certification (they usually call no sulfite wines "natural") and are drinking organically grown wines in record numbers. Organic vineyard growth is growing rapidly - a dramatic difference from the confusion in the U.S. marketplace over what organically grown wine means.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

An $18 Syrah from Napa? People's Wine Revolution's Massa Ranch Syrah is a Steal

Massa Ranch in Yountville is a certified organic vineyard (and vegetable farm) that sells not too many grapes, here and there.

Sometimes the Syrah grapes go into The Prisoner. Sometimes they get sold to Matt Reid who's the winemaker at Seavey and Quixote and the custom crush winemaker at Failla. (In short, he's worked at top notch houses.)

With his wife, Marcy Webb, Reid launched People's Wine Revolution, several years ago, which is dedicated to making affordable wines.

His 2012 Massa Ranch Syrah is organically grown, lovely, and at $18, one of the best deals around. It's whole cluster pressed and, as his tasting notes say, filled with blueberry, bacon fat and pepper notes.

You can age it (of course it will get better), or drink it now. I think any host would be happy to have a guest arrive with it - if you don't drink it up at home first.

Only 150 cases were made. Call or email the winery to locate some and scoop it up before it's gone, gone, gone.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Our New App - Organically Napa: Wine Finder - is Now LIVE

Our long awaited app covering 235+ wines from certified Napa vineyards is now LIVE in the Apple App Store.

More details to come. But you can get the app now!

Here's the app store link.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mother's Day Outing? A Travel Suggestion

Is there a better place to take your mom for Mother's Day than to a fine sparkling wine producer? I can't think of one.

 Call ahead to reserve a terrace tasting and a tour.


Friday, May 2, 2014

Get.On.The.Road: Hopland Passport May 3-4

I've blogged about it every year - and here it is - that time of year again…time for Hopland Passport. Look up north.

If it's affordably priced, organically grown wines you seek (instead of giant German conglomerate owned Trader Joe's), just get in the car (or on the phone) and drive to Hopland Passport this weekend. It's only a half hour north of Healdsburg.

This weekend the sales are unbeatable on everyday wines and some finer wines. For $55, visit both one or two days. It'll be a good time with food pairings and entertainment and warm weather.

Wineries with organic vineyards and certified wines include: Campovida (lovely viognier!), Frey, Jeriko, McFadden (don't miss the sparkling), Naughty Boy (good rosé), Nelson Family, Saracina (fine wines from John Fetzer - esp. the Atrea wines) and Terra Savia (a great sparkling wine, in addition to its Chardonnay).

Mendocino's wine culture is often outshined by its neighbors to the south, but Get. Over. It. This is still North Coast wine - and it's damn fine wine for the price. Need I remind you that McFadden's sparkling wine tied with Domaine Carneros' finest in this year's SF Chronicle Wine Competition? Etc. etc.

Lodgings: Want to linger a while? Make a weekend of it? Or take Monday off? You might still be able to snag accommodations at one of these spots (includes enticing vacation rentals).

Location: See where Hopland is.

Can't make it up to Hopland in person? Many wineries will tell you about their specials over the phone and let you buy over the phone. Call the wineries to see where the deals are and get some cases shipped to you. I'm talking everyday, non corporate wines priced from $10-25 a bottle. Sweet.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Cesar's Last Fast: Film Documents How the Lack of Progress on Pesticides Sparked His Last Fast

 I just saw this fine new documentary film Cesar's Last Fast Monday night at the SF Film Festival - a valuable contribution to California and U.S. agricultural history.

The film was a wake up call to Chavez's recognition of the dangers of pesticides in his time - a piece of history that is in danger of being lost and known only to UFW members. This film restores it to the public sphere.

A classroom teaching guide was also created for educators - helping to continue the teaching of this important chapter of California life.

If you're interested in learning more about Chavez, Miriam Pawel's fine biography, The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, is an excellent place to start.

Find out how to see the film on the film's official web site here.

And if you want to read more about Cesar and Gallo, you can read Chavez's speech to Gallo (after the giant winery tried to break the UFW by making deals with the Teamsters) here.

 Here's the trailer:

State Health Study Identifies Students at Highest Risk From Pesticides Near Their Schools

A new state study used pesticide use report data to identify which students in California are most at risk from pesticides. 

The highest risk of danger came from fumigants, but the use of carcinogens, reproductive and developmental toxins, and other harmful substances was spread over 25% of schools.

The report is especially helpful since it looks solely at substances with known harmful effects (instead of all substances).

Find more coverage about the report's assessment of Monterey County from the Monterey County Weekly here. Of all 15 counties evaluated, Monterey County had the highest proportion of students near the most pesticide applications. 

Listen to the California Report's radio coverage here.

Reaction in San Joaquin County to the report by the county's ag commissioner aptly portrays the ag culture  in the heavily pesticides region. Here's a brief excerpt from the San Joaquin County coverage:
"Gary Caseri, who as interim county agricultural commissioner regulates pesticide use locally, said the report released by the California Department of Public Health "leaves a lot to be desired." 
"Growers in general are not going to be applying materials when school is in session or due to be in session. They can schedule their applications at other times," he said.
And, again, the report saying pesticides are used on fields near schools does not mean students are being harmed 
"There's no relationship between materials moving between Point A to Point B and getting on school grounds," Caseri said Tuesday."
Protests took place in Salinas in Monterey County this week over pesticide use near schools, supporting the report's findings. A proposed law (SB 1411) to require notification over pesticide application timing failed in the California legislature. Retired teacher and coach Patrick Egan and student Miguel Valdivia, a 17 year old school athlete, were among those at a Monterey County protest, talking first hand about pesticide interference in school athletics. See the video here.

The's coverage quoted UFW leader Jesus Valenzuela as saying,“The children demonstrate the effects of pesticide poisoning before anybody else. It’s time to stop treating our children like society’s canaries in a coal mine when it comes to pesticides, as Cesar Chavez used to say.”

The state report only looked at the top 15 pesticides counties and does not include info on North Coast regions. However many of the same concerns apply.

Moms Advocating Sustainability has recently opened a new Napa chapter to educate county officials and parents on removing pesticides, herbicides and fungicides from school property. Their blog provides a video and report on the group's first workshop. You can read/see it here.