Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tempranillo Day Cometh

One of the best red wines you never heard of, Tempranillo is one of California's great unknown successes. Its producers celebrate Tempranillo Day on Nov. 13.

Only a few brave souls grow it, but once you've experienced a good one, you'll bow down to their wisdom.

Originally from Spain, this is a grape that's far more appropriate for California's climate than many of the more widely grown varieties planted here.

There are five pioneering vintners with organic vines who make Tempranillos. Surprisingly, three are from San Luis Obispo County from vintners in Edna Valley and Paso Robles.

Wines I Know

1. Verdad, $30*

My hands down favorite Tempranillo, this is made with Biodynamic grapes from the vintner's estate vineyard in Edna Valley (in San Luis Obispo County). I've even found it at the hipster Cafe 123 in Berkeley on tap.

Says wine critic Stephen Tanzer in his review of the 2009: "Musky red berries, cherry and herbs on the nose...lively red currant."

2. Martian Ranch & Vineyard, $35

A great winemaking team at Martian produces just 200 cases of this Tempranillo. It's made on native yeasts.

Wines I Know Of

1. AmByth Cellars, $45

This natural wine producer adds no sulfites to its tiny lots of wines. It's also a Biodynamic grower and it  makes all of its wines in the Biodynamic Wine category.

2. Castoro Cellars, $24

Castoro Cellars is one of the largest organic growers in the country. It makes 300+ cases of this organically grown Tempranillo from its Whale Rock Vineyard in Paso Robles.

3. Upper Five Vineyards, $28

This Oregon vineyard is tiny - just 5 acres - but is located in the hot, sunny Rogue Valley in the southern part of the state. About 150 cases are made. Most is sold locally, including at the Ashland Food Coop.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Montinore's Riesling Makes Eric Asimov's Thanksgiving Wine List in New York Times Today

Eric Asimov's Thanksgiving Day wine roundup published today in the New York Times includes Montinore's Almost Dry Riesling ($16) as one of the recommended wines for serving with the holiday feast.

It's the only organic or Biodynamically grown wine on the list. As usual, the readers' comments are as interesting to read as the article.

Here's the link...

Slow Money Conference: Good Ag on the Menu

Fabulous livestreaming online of the Slow Money conference today and tomorrow.

This morning Elizabeth Candelario from Demeter USA spoke on a panel. Throughout the day there are lots of great leaders and new ag luminaries and real food foodies in the lineup.

Check out the speaker list at:

Livestream is here:

Twitter stream: #slowmoney14

Here are the opening night presentations: Douglas Gayeton of the Lexicon of Sustainability and the farm entertainer of all time Joel Salatin.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

A First in Wine Labeling: Ingredients Labeling Pioneer Ridge Vineyards to Put "Organic Grapes" on Bottle Label

California's prestigious Ridge Vineyards, an industry leader with a history of advocating for honesty in wine labeling, announced yesterday that it will start to label its organically grown wines with the words "organic grapes" on the back of the bottle, effective in the spring of 2015. 

Scheduled for release in April of 2015, this is the first Ridge vintage
to display the words "organic grapes"on the bottle.

The winery began transitioning its estate vines on its Cupertino and Sonoma sites to certified organic farming (under Organic Certifiers) 7 years ago and has now certified 270+ acres of organic vines.

Announcing its organic farming direction in its Fall 2014 Trade newsletter, CEO and Head Winemaker Paul Draper said, "We decided to farm organically because we believe it leads to better grapes and higher quality wines. True organic farming focuses attention on the health of each individual vine, and on the soil's microbial life....This approach in the vineyard, plus our traditional approach to winemaking, will provide the finest possible wines for our customers."

Draper has called for wineries to state wine ingredients on the label (including additives and commercial yeasts). Bonny Doon has also advocated for ingredients labeling as well. The only other winery I have come across that does ingredient labeling is Beaucanon Estate in Napa, run by the de Coninck family of France. The Beaucanon wines all contain commercial yeast; the Ridge wines are all vinified on native yeast. With the exception of these two wineries, most wines do not say what kind of yeast is used or what additives are in their wines.

One wine writer recently spoke up at an industry gathering saying she could not wait for the day "when wineries will have to label all of the pesticides used in making this bottle of wine." While that day is still probably far off, the wine industry is an anomaly - while food shoppers have learned to read ingredients labels, the powerful political forces in the wine industry have kept ingredients labeling at bay.

Up to 25% of grapes in a bottle of wine labeled as from California may be from abroad. Typically those added grapes come from Chile. Even wine labeled Mendocino AVA, for instance, may contain up to 15% foreign grapes. (An exception is Demeter's "Biodynamic Wine" standard which ensures that 100% of the grapes come from the winery's estate).

In the U.S., many higher end wine producers certify their estates as organic and publish that information on their web sites, but do not put the words "organic grapes" or "made with organic grapes" on their labels, making it difficult for consumers seeking organically grown wines to find them.

In Napa and elsewhere, about half of the fine wines that could be labeled with the words "Ingredients: Organic Grapes" - including estate grown wines from Araujo, Chappellet, Frog's Leap, Hall, Inglenook, Spottswoode, Staglin, Tablas Creek, and Turley Wine Cellars - do not put the words "organic" on the wine label.

Is it possible that Ridge's announcement signals a change in marketplace trends on the labeling of fine wines? Let's hope so.

Other prestigious vintners who do put organic labeling (but not ingredients labeling) on their bottles include: Brick House, Ghost Block, Grgich Hills Estate, Porter Creek, Quivira, Qupé, Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Sokol Blosser, Storybook Mountain Vineyards, Verdad, and Volker Eisele Family Estate, among others. 

Note: Any wine certified as Biodynamic Wine would automatically designate a wine that is vinified on native yeasts and, except for the addition of up to 100 ppm of sulfites, does not contain any additives; this certification standard functions as an indirect ingredients statement.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

VIDEO - Soil: It's a Happening Thing

Soil - it's not just dirt and it's not just inert below ground. Recently Dutch researchers captured the action of three worm species over a month to show just how alive the soil system is with observable worm activity. (Much more goes on at tinier levels, too).

Enjoy this rarely seen view of what happens underground...

Bioturbation - Worms at Work from Wim van Egmond on Vimeo.

Organic Vines Inside: Five of VWM's 20 Most Admired Winemakers Have Organic Estates

Vineyard and Winery Management's latest issue of the 20 Most Admired Winemakers is a prestigious list indeed, featuring a real who's who of U.S. winemaking.

Is it worth remarking upon that 25% of the winners have organic estate vineyards?

Those winners include two of the state's grand, old men - pre-eminent winemakers Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards and Josh Jensen of Calera - who pioneered terrain that was not yet proven when they began. Now those spots - Monte Bello in Cupertino, Ridge's heritage vines in Sonoma County and Calera's lonely, limestone laden outpost in Mount Harlan in San Benito County -  are hallowed ground.

John Williams of Frog's Leap has taken the path less traveled as well, farming organically since 1981 and making dry farmed wines that truly do express terroir, growing on vines that are more deeply rooted.

These three all have certified organic estate vines - 83 acres at Calera, 277 acres at Ridge, and 200 acres at Frog's Leap.

Two more farm organically but are not certified - Cathy Corison of Corison Winery (on the 8 acre Kronos vineyard surrounding her winery) and Ted Lemon of Littorai (on his 3 acre Pivot vineyard surrounding his winery).

(One could even say Joel Peterson of Ravenswood has organic vines, too, but since those 14 acres only amounts 650 cases of wine [out of 1 million], we will resist.)

And on the list of six honorable mentions, one more - Paul Dolan - has been a pioneer of the Fetzer and Bonterra brand, the largest U.S. producer of organically grown wines as well as his own brand, Paul Dolan Vineyards (which now continues under new ownership).

Bravo for Team Organic.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Montinore's Borealis Featured on Rachael Ray's Thanksgiving Wine Recommendations

Congratulations to Montinore Estate for being included in Food Network television cooking star Rachael Ray's list of recommended holiday wine pairings in her magazine Everyday with Rachael Ray. 

Borealis (4,500+ cases/$16 list) is a wonderfull, one of a kind blend of Biodynamically grown Alsatian whites from Oregon's Willamette Valley. The wine's made from Gewürztraminer (39%), Muller-Thurgau (37%), Riesling (19%) and Pinot Gris (5%).

Now the winery is offering discounts of 20% on purchases of 6+ bottles through Nov. 11.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Napa, Myth and Nature: A New Napa Cuisine by Meadowood's Christopher Kostow

Christopher Kostow's new book A New Napa Cuisine is going to be a big hit - and deservedly so. It's gorgeous, giving nature a glamorous, Zen-like look both on and off the plate.

It marries the philosophy-trained, three star Michelin chef's "back to the land" aesthetic with award-winning haute cuisine and soulful photographs - all introduced by a line from nature's American poet laureate Ralph Waldo Emerson. It's designed to, like wine, promote an appreciation of the good life as that which comes from healthy, vibrant, fertile ground, be it domestic (in the St. Helena Montessori school garden Kostow frequents with his daughter and his dog Charlie) or wild (foraged herbs and mushrooms from the woods).

(Let's remember that it was the local 1968 Agricultural Preserve, which many vintners opposed, and the Sierra Club's lawsuit in 2000 against the county and the vintners that saved these woods from destruction. James Conaway chronicled both of these worthy battles in his two superb nonfiction books Napa: An American Eden and its sequel The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land and the Battle for Napa Valley.)

Bees play a role - Kostow cooks potatoes in beeswax and carves tiny slivers of honey (presumably sourced from Napa) to accompany dishes. The video's images evocatively hark back to a time of natural purity. (Sad it is to find then that in 2012, Napa's vintners and growers applied 1,219 pounds of imidacloprid, the bee killing fungicide banned in Europe, over 4,358 acres - a tenth of the county's vineyards).

But back to the beauty…the photographs in A New Napa Cuisine are shot by Peden+Munk, who Kostow partnered with on the publication, taken as he was with their style. Indeed, the food photos look more like art than food. This is tweezer cuisine. (This is not a holiday present for a hearty eater or a quick cook - better to buy Mark Bittman's newest cookbook How to Cook Everything Fast for hungry and in-a-hurry-types).

When it comes to the wine, does Kostow's nature aesthetic carry through on the wine list at The Restaurant at Meadowood? It's not usually a chef's prerogative to oversee this hallowed ground, particularly in wine country, but one can always see if the wine program is in sync with the chef's aesthetic.

For those who are looking for organically grown wines, a few from certified vines do appear on the Meadowood wine list (though you would have to be an expert to spot them).

For those who would like to enjoy Kostow's cooking aesthetic paired with wines that echo these values, here are some beautifully farmed wines, on the restaurant's published wine list, to consider:

• Araujo: Cabernet, Syrah and Viognier
Dana: Cabernets
• Domaine Carneros: Brut, Le Reve (Blanc de Blancs)
Niebaum Coppola: Rubicon
• Neyers: Merlot (Conn Creek)
Pavi: Pinot Grigio
• Robert Sinskey Vineyards: Pinot Blanc, Rosé (Vin Gris)
• Radio Coteau: Terra Nuema Pinot Noir
Spottswoode: Cabernet (library selections)

There's always a leading edge and a trailing edge. Let's hope A New Napa Cuisine, in its real and symbolic effort to replace formal white plates with hand thrown pottery plates, might one day contribute to a new aesthetic about wine and the way it's farmed - i.e. a soil and earth centered approach that doesn't say "let's reach for the Roundup."

Kostow acknowledges, near the end of the book, the history of Napa's environmental trials and tribulations, writing, "Although I have not been here that long and am thus blessed by the ignorance that fact brings, I have read about the battles of the 1980s and 1990s pitting development against ecological preservation [editor's note: the Ag Preserve battle was in 1968], vintners against the farm bureau, and old farmers against an influx of Silicon Valley wealth. Although I have my opinions about these issues, and the embers of these battles are still warm, these things are no more than the landscape that I have found - much like the collective history of a country and a world created the place into which we were all born.

"Is this not the secret to America's success, a collective amnesia that allows us to build on what we find without the shackles that the past creates? Maybe this is the reason that regeneration happens here…"

It's a pleasure to find such a thoughtful and intelligent voice in Napa Valley - someone who's intimately tuning into its present and reimagining its future anew.