Monday, June 30, 2014

Eric Asimov's Rosé Picks - Kudos to Two Organically Grown Rosés Featured Last Week

Being featured on the pages of a New York Times wine review is nice - very nice. Two of the wines featured in Organically Napa: A Wine Finder made Eric Asimov's list of recommended California rosés.

He doesn't list them as organically grown. Can you tell which ones are organically farmed? (Hint: if not, check out the app.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What Is This?

Answer: Syrah (see Tablas Creek Facebook page).

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

IN PHOTOS: A Trip to HALL Rutherford - Napa's Most Glamorous Chandelier Cellar

It's hard to know where to start in describing HALL in Napa.

Focus on the glamor, the Texas connections or the stunning, art filled presentation? The 200 acres of certified organic vines, the LEED certification (first to be both LEED and certifed organic in the vineyard)? Or just the world class touring experience with thoughtfully designed hangout areas, the historic winery and sculptures among the gardens? Or should it be the wines alone - which have captivated both Parker (who gave its Exzellenz a 100 pt. score) and the Wine Spectator (which placed Kathryn Hall Cabernet #1 on its Top 100 List)?

With more than 200 acres of organically farmed vineyards in Napa, HALL is one of Napa's biggest organic vineyard owners. All of its organic grapes go into its estate wines (along with grapes from other sources). For wine lovers seeking wines sourced solely from organic vines, look for HALL's two wines from its Alexander Valley estate in Sonoma and two of its most expensive single vineyard designates (Bergfeld and Sacrashe).

I spent yesterday at each of HALL's two locations - St. Helena and Rutherford - to understand the wines and the experiences offered for my app Organically Napa: A Tasting and Touring Guide. I came away deeply impressed with HALL's attention to detail, the quality of experiences, the wine and the art.

While the St. Helena experience provides both walk in and by appointment options and is conveniently located on Highway 29, the Rutherford estate is by appointment only ($60, three tours a day offered at 11, 1 and 3) on a private road above Auberge du Soleil.

Judging from the comments of my tour companions, reservations take awhile to get. On my tour, 2 out of 4 couples were from Texas, including two couples from Dallas (where the Halls have their business offices and real estate investments; Craig Hall, involved in many enterprises, was a part owner of the Dallas Cowboys). One couple said they had called in March and were unable to get on the 11 am or 1 pm tour on June 24 - those times on date three months in advance were already booked.

The winery is also offering a combo tour including lunch ($250 per person; available on

Our guide said that Madeleine Albright and Nancy Pelosi had recently held a dinner at the estate. Clinton is also a regular visitor.

Here are some photos from the tour yesterday. 

The rear of the house with the winery below…Hall makes most of its
wines in St. Helena but the cellar and winery here are for single
vineyard designate red wines
The most spectacular aspect of HALL Rutherford for many people
is the Swarovski chandelier in the cellar  
The chandelier armature is made of bronze in the shape of a
grape vine root system
There are some 1,800+ crystals, each representing one day in
Kathryn Hall's tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Austria in 1997-2001
In a town with stiff competition on glamor, HALL's cellar might
just be Napa's classiest. It's constructed solely out of imported,
antique Austrian bricks, each bearing the seal of the Hapsburgs.
Antique bricks provide the structure; niches on the side feature art
from the Hall's personal collections
The tasting set up inside the cave…yesterday's featured a WALT Pinot
Noir ($65), the Ellie Cab ($80) and the Jack's Masterpiece Cab ($125)
The entrance to the cave features art commissioned by Kathryn Hall
in the winery's signature red color
Austria had quite an influence on the overall winery;
the stainless steel fermenters were hand crafted by German and
Austrian artisans
A tour at Rutherford includes a quick stop at the vineyard's edge -
the Sacrashe vineyard here is the site from which HALL makes
its Sacrashe sourced Exzellenz Cabernet, which Parker awarded a score of
100 pts. last year for the 2010 vintage ($200, 160 cases; sold out). 
The Sacrashe vineyard's distinctive volcanic ash soils are unique in Napa.

It's lovely to see an estate that's both elegant and committed to organic viticulture, even if all of the wines are not from organic vines.

Because HALL is not an estate only winery, almost all of HALL's production is a blend of organic and non organic grapes with the overall blend around 50/50. The winery is committed to a program emphasizing Cabs from a variety of appellations. Its own vineyards are in St. Helena, Rutherford and Pope Valley in addition to newly planted vines on Atlas Peak. It buys fruit from Mt. Veeder, Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain, and other locations.

Enjoy this great new addition to the organic landscape in Napa. With 200 acres of organic vines in the county, HALL accounts for 5 percent of the county's organic acreage - a number that increases as the Halls purchase additional vineyards in the area.

This winery is sure to rise quickly to the top of Trip Advisor's lists - it's done all the right things to promote visitors to share in its vision and bounty. More than 60% of the wine is sold directly to consumers at the winery or via its three clubs. It makes four (out of 19) wines for general distribution.

It's #1 on my list of wineries to recommend to friends and family heading to Napa. All of the visitors on my tour yesterday booked it based on the recommendations of friends.

The Halls have succeeded in creating a destination spot that caters to a broad market, with many different experiences in St. Helena aimed at making the wine newbie comfortable and conversant with wine and food as well as serving the needs of collectors - and all in a spectacular environment in which all wine tourists will enjoy being engaged with the landscape, the art and the wines.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Kudos to McFadden's Sparkling Brut - The Little Wine That Could - Best of Show at California State Fair

Once again, the little winery that could - McFadden Vineyards in Mendocino's Potter Valley - grabs a great big prize at yet another wine competition. This time it's the California State Fair's Commercial Wine Competition.

Proprietor Guinness McFadden will pick up a DOUBLE GOLD and a BEST OF SHOW for the winery's nonvintage Brut ($25) (a wine I've been enjoying and championing for several years and have blogged too often about, but what can you do when it wins yet another major award?)

McFadden also received Double Gold medals for both this wine and its reserve Brut from the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition earlier this year.

On sale, as a wine club member, you can buy the regular Brut for $14-15 a bottle. Discounts also apply during the Hopland Passport weekends (once each year in the fall and again in the spring). The next Passport weekend is Oct. 18-19.

The McFadden annual Wine Club party (open to non club members as well) is a farm-and-vineyard extravaganza not to be missed. In fact, it's coming up in early July - the date is Saturday, July 12, 2014 from 5-11 pm. Tickets can be purchased online or over the phone at (707) 744-8463. Guinness takes guests on a walking tour of the farm, then there's a big feast prepared by his daughter Fontaine (a caterer in SF), serving locally raised grilled pork and lamb from famed Mac Magruder's farm down the way.

The winery also promises to serve a new 2012 McFadden Brut Rosé, its first Brut Rosé.

After dinner, there's dancing under the stars to the sounds of the fabulously talented Kelly McFarling Band.

To me, this party celebrates the best side of California's wine industry - local, organically grown award-winning wines, beautifully farmed vineyards, community, and great food! You can also bring a tent and sleep overnight at the winery on a grassy lawn and stick around Sunday for swimming in a bit of the Russian River, which flows right by the dinner spot.

Guinness McFadden, leading a tour in 2013 for the wine club
on his Potter Valley property

Sunday, June 22, 2014

2014 Sunset International Wine Competition Winners - The Organically Grown Among Them

Sunset magazine's April 2014 wine contest judged thousands of wines to present hundreds of awards. In May, award winners were notified of the competition results. Here are the wines made from certified organic vineyards that won awards in the 2014 event.

But first, a few highlights:

• The CalNaturale Cabernet - which comes in a picnic-ready, to-go box - won a Bronze

• The $12 Lucinda & Millie Cabernet Sauvignon (from Mendocino), sold at Trader Joe's (and Whole Foods) won a Gold in its category

• Golds went to Domaine Carneros' 2009 Brut, Lucinda & Millie, Imagery Estate Winery's Pallas, Carol Shelton's Monga Zin ($21), and Hagafen's Napa Valley Riesling ($24), which also won a Best of Class award

• For consumers looking for bargains, three of the Gold Medal wines under $25 are
---Lucinda & Millie's Cabernet ($12)
---Hagagen's Riesling (Napa) ($24)
---Carol Shelton's Monga Zin ($21)

Wines listed in our current apps are underlined. You can find more info about them in the Biodynamic Wine Finder (BDWF), Organically Napa Wine Finder (ON) and Organically Sonoma (OS) Wine Finder apps. (The app is abbreviated at the end of the listing).





• Benziger, Signaterra, Three Blocks - Silver ($32) (BDWF, OS)
• Grgich Hills, Napa Valley, Silver ($60) (BDWF, ON)
• Long Meadow Ranch, Cabernet Sauvignon - Silver ($47) (ON)
• CalNaturale, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Paso Robles, French Camp Vineyard - Bronze ($13)


• Bonterra, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, North Coast, Made with Organic Grapes - Bronze ($15)

• Lucinda & Millie, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County, Made with Organic Grapes - Gold ($12)



• Bonterra, Merlot, California, Mendocino County, Made with Organic Grapes - Bronze ($15)

Pinot Noir


• Benziger, Signaterra, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, La Reyna, Demeter Certified Biodynamic - Silver ($49) (BDWF, OS)
• Masut Vineyard and Winery, Pinot Noir, Mendocino County, Block 6 - Silver ($60)
• Benziger, Signaterra, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Bella Luna Vineyard, Demeter Certified
Biodynamic - Bronze ($49) (BDWF, OS)



Retzlaff Port, California, Livermore Valley - Silver ($30)

Bordeaux Blend


• Imagery Estate Winery Pallas, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley - Gold ($65) (BDWF, OS)

Red Blend - Rhone


• Tablas Creek Vineyard, Esprit de Tablas, Paso Robles - Silver ($55)
• Tablas Creek Vineyard, Cotes de Tablas, Paso Robles - Silver ($35)



• Petroni, Syrah, Sonoma Valley - Bronze ($40) (OS)


• Chacewater, Syrah, Sierra Foothills - Silver ($18)



• Carol Shelton, Monga Zin, Cucamonga Valley, Old Vine, Lopez Vineyard - Gold ($21) (OS)



Bokisch Winery, Terra Alta - Silver ($18)



• Bergström Wines Sigrid Chardonnay, Willamette Valley - Silver ($85)
• Bonterra Chardonnay, California, Mendocino County, Made with Organic Grapes - Silver ($13)
• Lucinda & Millie Chardonnay, North Coast, Made with Organic Grapes - Bronze ($11)



• Hagafen White Riesling, Lake County, Devoto Vineyard - Bronze ($21) (ON)
• Hagafen White Riesling, Napa Valley, Coombsville, Rancho Wieruszowski Vineyard -
Best of Class and Gold ($24) (ON)



• Tablas Creek Vineyard, Roussanne, Paso Robles - Bronze ($35)

Sauvignon Blanc


• Retzlaff, Sauvignon Blanc, California, Livermore Valley - Bronze ($23)


• Petroni, Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma Valley - Bronze ($24) (OS)


• Long Meadow Ranch, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, Rutherford - Bronze ($20) (ON)



• Bonterra Viognier, North Coast, Made with Organic Grapes - Silver ($13)

White Rhone Blend


• Tablas Creek Vineyard, Cotes de Tablas Blanc, Paso Robles - Bronze ($27)



• Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, Cuvée de la Pompadour, Brut Rose - Bronze ($36) (ON)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Raise a Glass of Zin: Organically Sonoma Apps Now Live!

Our Organically Sonoma apps just went live in the Apple App store! (Android versions should launch within a day or two, too!)

These are the first and only guides to fine wines from certified organic or Biodynamic vineyards in Sonoma!


• More than 200+ wines from Dry Creek Zins to Sonoma Coast Pinots and Moon Mountain Cabernets

• All are from certified vineyards, but most are not bottle labeled with their organic certification

• Wines range from every day wines ($10) to world class collector wines ($150+) and everything in between

• Old vine wines from historic Sonoma vineyards

• More than 50 wines are rated 90+ points by major wine critics

The companion app Organically Sonoma: A Tasting and Touring Guide is a comprehensive guide to finding and visiting the wineries behind these fine wines.

Both apps update often with new releases and ongoing information.

Enjoy these screens from Organically Sonoma: Wine Finder.

Coronation Day: A Russian River Centric View of the Spanish Monarchy's Transition

You can't plan these things, but as the old New Age teeshirt used to say, "Synchronicity happens."

In researching the Organically Sonoma apps, I finally caught up with Marimar Estates yesterday, visiting this piece of organic Russian River heaven on a glorious day.

On top of the Chardonnay (anointed with a 90 pt. score from Robert Parker) and the Albarino (another rave review from Parker), and the delicious tapas (the final installment in the winery's plan to seduce you) is the feeling of Spain that permeates every aspect of the estate's personality (except for the Burgundian varietals - a when-in-Rome change that was a must for grapes grown in this cool climate vineyard region).

Not only is the Torres family Spanish wine aristocracy (with a $1 billion wine empire across several continents), they know the real Spanish aristocracy.

Below the family portraits depicting the powerful parents of proprietor Marimar Torres, I came across the photos on display of Prince Felipe of Spain on a visit to the winery in the 1990's. Only on that day, yesterday, at that moment, he was becoming King Felipe VI of Spain.

Enjoy these photos of Marimar's estate and if you haven't been there yet, make a plan now to visit this western Sonoma getaway - fit for princes and kings alike. Raise a glass…of which Marimar wine? It's up to you.

Here's CNN's coronation coverage.

For fashion coverage of the event, click here.

For more about the actual wines at Marimar, check out the Organically Sonoma apps.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Needle in a Haystack: Ravenswood's 650 Cases of Wine from Organic Vines (Out of 1 Million)

Doing research for the Organically Sonoma apps (out in a few weeks) has been so illuminating. You never know what you'll find.

For instance, wine giant Constellation Brands, Inc., owner of Ravenswood, certified 14 acres of organic vineyards in 2010, right next to the tasting room. The site, planted to Merlot and Zin  in 1993, has been going into Ravenswood wine from the time when it belonged to Joel Peterson, who founded it.

There's a prominently displayed CCOF sign on the vineyard fence, at the edge of the parking lot at the tasting room in the outskirts of Sonoma near Mt. Raven.

Of course, you'd have to have the Organically Sonoma app to know that only 650 cases (out of 1 million) are from certified vines. To the casual passerby, a CCOF sign in the parking lot might make you think all of the wine inside is organically grown…or something like that.

No one in the tasting room will mislead you, and these estate wines are not labeled organic on the bottle or on the tasting room list. They're not on the tasting menu but they are available on the available wines to purchase list there. A little stealthy, but for those who persevere - well worth the effort.

These two wines are bold, spicy takes on Merlot and Zin. You'd expect no less from the Ravenswood brand, known for years for its slogan "No Wimpy Wines."

Both of these wines are featured in the apps, which - did I mention - will be out in a few weeks. We'll be launching this Friday…so you can get a peek at some sample screens and get ready to for a Sonoma road trip this summer…or fall…or whenever.

PS Ravenswood's also selling the (previously blogged about) DVD Dossier Zinfandel (in the tasting room), which features interviews with Ravenswood's Joel Peterson, known as the godfather of Zin.

Peterson was made a member of the Vintners' Hall of Fame in 2011 for his winemaking achievements, which include promoting Zin as a worthy wine.

Today we almost forget it's the wine that formerly got no respect. Today's it's a historic and popular grape - and California proudly grows 47,000 acres of it (out of 300,0000 acres of red wine grapes). It's second only to Cabernet in acreage.

Ravenswood Estate Merlot

Ravenswood Estate Zinfandel

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Great Napa Cab - Under $50? Neyers "A Downright Bargain" Says SF Chronicle's Bonné

Kudos to Neyers Vineyards for getting a rave review for its estate Cabernet in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle. Writing about the "difficult" vintage of 2011, wine critic Jon Bonné found 17 2011 Napa Cabs to like, including Neyers's estate Cab, calling it….
"...a pitch-perfect expression in the hands of winemaker Tadeo Borchadt…An oregano-like herbal side frames it meaty structure and subtle blackcurrant fruit. It finds that great Cabernet sleekness and dense flavor - and by current Napa economics, it's a downright bargain."
As an aside: this Neyers Cab is one of three Cabs praised by critics that's under $50 in the app Organically Napa: Wine Finder.

Friday, June 13, 2014

#1 Sonoma Best Buy: Carol Shelton's Historic Monga Zin ($21)

If you read Sunday's wine article in the San Francisco Chronicle, you noticed that wine writer Jon Bonné's romance with California wine history continues to blossom (hurray) and his latest piece focuses on the tantalizing tendrils left by southern California's once prolific wine region - Cucamonga. Since I've been gradually writing several apps on California wine history for about 6 months or more now (there'll be a Sonoma Wine History app, a Napa Wine History app, a Bay Area Wine History app and a California Wine History app, when I'm done), I'm happy to see his respect and interest for California's incredibly rich wine history. (I'd like to see him tackle some of the more difficult topics, though - like Cesar Chavez, Gallo and the history of farmworker movements to reduce pesticide use, for instance - in due course, let's hope).

But Cucamonga is alluring. 

And since I've just finished up the first version of the Organically Sonoma apps, it's a delightful coincidence that the Cucamonga vines go into what I think is probably the best wine buy in Sonoma (from certified organic vines) - Carol Shelton's Monga Zin.

1940's view of Cucamonga [Courtesy Paul Hofer III]; the vines
are no taller today than they were then
Shelton is one of the very few producers with the good sense to snag some of the wine grapes from the Cucamonga's José Lopez Vineyard, planted in 1918. The vines there get to be only 18 inches high, surviving in near drought conditions year long and yielding a small crop (only a half ton per acre) of wine grapes.

But these grapes make Shelton's renowned Monga Zin ($21, 91 pts., 1,300 cases made), a perennial medal winner in the SF Chronicle wine competition. The 2010 got a much deserved Double Gold medal.

It's refreshing to find such a fine wine in this price range. Of all of the 200+ wines in the Organically Sonoma: Wine Finder app (out in a few weeks - it was submitted to the Apple App Store and Google Play store last week), I'd have to say that this is the #1 Best Buy. (It's not from Sonoma vines, but it's made by a Sonoma vintner and vinified in Sonoma).

Part of the reason for this frugal price is that the winery - while not quite garagiste (it makes 13,000 cases of wine a year) - is set up for low overhead. Housed in an industrial warehouse in Santa Rosa, the no frills tasting room has walls covered in ribbons and awards - and not much else.

The Monga Zin is the only Carol Shelton wine sourced 100% from certified vines, but there are two other mostly organic options as well. 

The Wild Thing Zin is about 95% from organic grapes, according to Shelton. The Rendezvous Rosé is about 90% organic (but it's all sold out right now).

Since the winery is right next to the freeway, you can duck in en route to whatever else you're doing on Highway 101. 

For an even bigger bargain, join the wine club. While anyone can join, locals (or those who pickup at the winery) can customize their club selections, selecting the wines they want at reduced prices. You could get the Monga Zin for 20% off - or $16.80 a bottle. 
Santa Rosa winery in warehouse district

Postscript: The Monga Zin also won a Gold Medal in the Sunset magazine's 2014 wine contest (winners just announced).

A Fabulous New Wine Movie - "Dossier Zinfandel" - Now For Sale on DVD!

Back in December, I posted an enthusiastic article about the new film Dossier Zinfandel, which is definitely one of my two favorite wine movies of 2013 (along with Red Obsession). I lamented at the time that its producers, a Croatian television channel, had no plans to distribute this absolute gem in the U.S.

Well, I was very happy today to see the DVD for sale in Ridge Vineyards' Lytton Springs tasting room (for $15). [A few days later I saw it for sale at Ravenswood, as well.] On the back cover of the DVD it says that Grgich Hills is distributing it in the U.S.

It stars all of the heavy hitters in the Zinfandel universe - wine historian Charles Sullivan (he wrote the book Zinfandel), winemakers Paul Draper (of Ridge) and Joel Peterson (of Ravenswood) who embraced the grape when others had left it for dead, and U. C. geneticist Carole Meredith, one of the heroines of the story of the discovery of Zinfandel's origins. It's a thrilling bit of intense, decades long detective work and a tale well told. Definitely a don't miss.

Come to think of it, it might just make the perfect Father's Day gift, if you're in the market. If you need an excuse.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Vintage Video: Julie Child and Ridge Vineyards' Paul Draper

I'm on the home stretch of writing the Organically Sonoma apps and today spent a few hours researching Ridge's Lytton Springs vineyard and Ridge's single vineyard designate Sonoma wines.

In the course of reading about this classic winery, I came upon this classic video from their YouTube channel. We forget how our icons were in their younger days.

Enjoy this blast from the past in which Julia Child and Paul Draper discuss the wines for a memorable meal.