Monday, December 28, 2015

Winter Reading: Organic and Biodynamic Books, Part 3: Vino Business - The Cloudy World of French Wine

Hypocrisy, poisons and lies! J'accuse. That's the theme of French reporter Isabelle Saporta's dishy book Vino Business about the dastardly deals, scandalous squabbles, and racy ripoffs that pepper the French wine world. Alors!


Most of it centers on Bordeaux, which, like Napa, is ripe with contradictions and angling - marketing has taken over and quality has been left behind, argues Saporta, writing about the French situation. I must say, the French take on getting ahead makes Napa's power grabs look like child's play in comparison. I would call the book a kiss and tell story - but there are no kisses.

In the chapter "The Sharks Divide Up the Land," Saporta tells us some of the tactics used to destroy a rival. 

Have a neighbor whose vineyards you'd like to buy? Run them into the ground. That's what Saporta says Christian Moueix, the prince of Petrus, did (he also runs Dominus in Napa) to his neighbor, Baroness Aline Guichard-Goldschmidt, who had coveted vineyards adjacent to Mouieix's at Petrus. 

In "The Long March of the Pomerol Exiles", Saporta recounts just some of the uproar going on in Saint-Emilion over the new rules of the game.

Don't want to have so much competition in your world famous and very pricey appellation? Just write new regulations, disallowing vintners who grow - but don't vinify - in the appellation.  That, too, happened in Saint Emilion, Saporta says. So even if your grapes are from the appellation, you can't use the appellation name? Say what?

Making a winery to make the estate wine on the estate costs a mere fortune - 500,000 Euros. That's nothing to a billionaire but everything to the small producers, some of whom have no land to build on. That rule, established in 2009, knocked out 23 out of 150 wineries in Saint Emilion. (Until some fought back.)

Nicely played, sharks. Here in the U.S. it might remind us of Republicans' voting laws in the South. If you're the competition, let's "rule" you out.

Want to win in the en primeur Bordeaux sweepstakes? Make a special batch of your wine for the event - just for journalists - who are mostly sycophants, Saporta reports. It's not the cuvee you will actually bottle - just the best barrels masquerading as the real thing. At even higher levels of the game, you can offer a "single journalist designate" - i.e. a futures sample made for tasting by a particular wine writer. (Will you ever believe a wine magazine's ratings again?)

"Winemakers are wonderful storytellers," writes Saporta. I couldn't agree more.

But she really won my heart when she describes the various ways winemakers create quasi-governmental groups that appear to be authoritative, while, in fact, wineries often do everything they can to strip any real  governmental decree of power. She calls the INAO, a quasi-regulatory entity run by the wineries, "a fairy tale invented to convince us that this inner circle is regulated by strict rules and monitored by undisputed ethical authorities. The reality is quite different."

"Wine [industry] has always been an uncontrollable troublemaker," she says.

Ah, it does my heart good, for the Wine Institute's sustainability program - as marketed in Sonoma and elsewhere - has even the Slow Food folks in Sonoma believing the sustainababble initiative amounts to something substantive. (It doesn't.) (And it's not just in Sonoma - but everywhere in California and other wine growing states.)

"The winemakers were always able to get their hands on the organizations that were supposed to monitor them," she observes. "...The fox is in charge of the henhouse." 

Saporta spares no one. Michel Rolland's meteoric rise, the pandering to the Million Dollar Nose (Robert Parker), the Chinese brand bandits (who register well known French wine brands in China and charge a king's ransom to the real wineries to get their name back in China) - all are skewered.
"Gossip as poisonous as pesticides, anonymous informants, rampant greed...Vino Business...has caused a firestorm for its criticism of the French wine trade." 
-Wine Spectator
Saporta also touches briefly on one of my favorite subjects - pesticides - writing, "...wine enjoys a level of impunity that is hard to believe. Indeed it's one of the only products exempt from maximum residue levels. These are required of our fruits and vegetables, our flours and our breads, but not our wine.

Laws require MRLs for grapes but, says Saporta, "once it's in the bottle, monitoring ends. It's as if all the residues evaporated through the magic of Bacchus."

Saporta summarizes the findings of four separate studies from 2005 to 2013 that document that dangerous amounts of residues found in French wine. Some found chemicals that had been banned for 30 years. The worst offenders in the most recent Que Choisir study from 2013 singled out Mouton Cadet and Chateau Roquetaillade as loaded with poisons. In fact, Agreste, the statistics department of French equivalent of the USDA, said Bordeaux ranks first among all regions in France when it comes to the use of chemicals on vineyards, Saporta writes. 

Hervé Justin of Champagne
Saporta documents how chemical wine grape growing backs many winemakers into a corner where they have to use more additives and added yeast in the wine. 

She quotes Hervé Justin, an oenologist in Champagne specializing in organics, who says, "'Once you have residues, fermentation quality is lower and the wines are less pure. Most of the chemicals used [in Champagne] are fungicides. Yeast, which is a fungus, doesn't like this kind of product.' 

"So what to do? Add industrial yeasts! This is the magic of modern oenology which can provide winemakers with turnkey solutions to replace what the pesticides have eradicated.

"You won't see any of these additives or residues on the labels of our fine wines. This divine nectar is not subject to the laws that apply to common folk."

The chapter "Maintained by Curious Methods" travels even further into the dark heart of what I call Pesticidelandia, profiling Magali Grinbaum, the cleaning lady of the chemically farming growers; she is known as "Madame Residues."

Magali Grinbaum - "Madame Residues"
Grinbaum heads pesticide analysis for the French Winemaking Institute. According to Saporta, her lectures are designed to throw journalists and the public off the scent, so to speak, of pesticided wines, giving talks entitled "Residues of Chemical Products in Wine? Oenological Methods of Reducing Them." (One of her recent papers on this subject can be seen here.) There's no course from the wine authorities on how not to use the pesticides in the first place. Of course we want her to get the pesticides out of the wine, but is that the first step vintners should take? And does filtering make wine taste better?

Rudy Kurniawan (real name Zhen Wang Huang), the most famous wine dupester of our time, has nothing on the French vintners when it comes to the art of deception. Saporta writes that when Pomerol vintners use so much herbicide in the spring that the soil is red, vintners try to camouflage the poisons with techniques used by organic farmers.

Saporta says, "The soil is napalmed from below [by herbicides], [but] the branches are draped with these eco-friendly tools [pheromone traps] to give the locals the impression that [the vintner]...is green."

The author, a former television journalist who has also written an expose on toxic agriculture, goes on to point out that vintners also plow the herbicided soil to add to the impression that they are mechanically removing the weeds. They are, in fact, just regurgitating the soil that has already been pummeled with Roundup.

Saporta documents an incident where journalists were taken on a tour of one estate's eco friendly gesture - bee hives - placed in a wooded area. The hives were not placed in the winery's very pesticided vineyards adjacent to the woods.

Who hasn't been bamboozled by these clever charades?

You can see eco-masquerades every day in California, too. Napa's Round Pond is just one of a thousand examples. The winery uses plenty of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, but advertises its "organic"veggie garden and "biodynamic" sensory garden. (Does anyone want to explain how hard it is to be organic or biodynamic on the grounds of a pesticided estate?)

In the end, Saporta's tirades against the INAO, France's wine oversight group, grow a tad tiresome. (There are only so many stories one wants to hear about the problems in Saint Emilion.) And her sources are few. But, like a good old fashioned Perry Mason show, the devilish deeds of the rich and powerful taking aim against the little guys are indeed dastardly and entertaining - but, unlike Perry Mason, in her book, the bad guys rarely get caught.

The French journalist has a way of cutting to the chase when she characterizes a new, in-a-hurry Chinese vineyard as "hydroponic agriculture where the grapevines are blasted with products [fertilizer and pesticides] and the wines are, too." (Those are my exact impressions of the teaching vineyard at U.C. Davis when I took a class there.)

Saporta quotes leading winemakers who see the loss of both agricultural knowledge and the taste of terroir happening in their lifetimes. And she profiles an oak chip maker, who points out that only two to three percent of the world's wines are made in oak barrels. For the rest it's mostly chips and for the "better" quality wines, it's staves.

But worst of all, many say, is that the French can no longer afford their country's finest wines. Bordeaux is too expensive for the French to buy, vintners say, and the American market has been off its game since the financial setbacks. It's the Chinese who matter most. Saporta says the Chinese don't buy the wine to enjoy it but to gift it, currying favor in their favor-hungry society, or to hold it as an investment. She says that many Chinese who now own Bordeaux wineries just export their wine directly to China.


Hubert de Bouard, the proprietor of Angelus
Saporta is at her best in describing the Fellini-esque (or is it Kafka-esque - or a bit of both?) absurdities of the wine world. My favorite is when she describes the man she paints as pompous and power hungry - Hubert de Bouard, the proprietor of Angelus (a famous grand cru estate in Saint Emilion known for its bell tower and bells) - giving a tour to Chinese wine lovers. "They stop by the bells," she writes, " and, with a magical touch of the remote control, the Chinese national anthem begins to play."

A worker spraying toxic pesticides in Champagne

Napa and Sonoma residents will empathize with the struggles of the local mayor in the town of Saulchery in the Champagne wine region; he demands that wine grape growers stop spraying heavy doses of pesticides next to the local school when students are outside for their recess. (A current battle has been raging in Sebastopol over a similar issue and in Napa one of the school board members is leading a push, in conjunction with Pesticide Action Network, to get herbicides out of school yards.)

And others will be shocked to hear of how much the helicopters pelt Champagne with pesticides, an approach that hits more than just the vineyard targets. (You can see the helicopters at work spraying toxics on vineyards in the film A Year in Champagne, although little is explained about the chemicals).


In Bordeaux, Marie-Lys Bibaran, the sister of a vineyard worker who most likely died from pesticide exposure, wants to get to the bottom of what caused her brother's death, Saporta reports. Bibaran funds, at her own expense, lab tests sampling hair from residents who live near the pesticided vineyards and a control group. Though the sample size is small (15 vineyard workers, 5 residents who live near the vineyard and 5 who do not), the results seem clearcut.

Residents and vineyard workers who are very close to chemically treated vineyards have high levels of pesticides in their bodies. Those who live far from vineyards in the same region do not. And yet her neighbors ostracize her and the authorities, oddly, do not wish to connect the dots from her brother's death to his occupation. (Sound familiar?)

One of the local women who lives near the vineyard was found to have pesticides, endocrine disruptors and a carcinogen in her hair. Saporta reports that, "over 45 percent of the products that were identified by the lab are classified as probable carcinogens in Europe or the United States and 36 percent are suspected of being endocrine disruptors." (Similar studies using biomonitoring techniques in the U.S. have also found a direct connection).

In the end, Saporta calls for two major actions in the French wine industry to help it change course - reform of the French wine authority INAO and raising awareness about the issue of pesticides in wine to wider public attention.

"How is it possible," she writes on the book's last page, "that when we are so concerned with the environment and so risk averse, wine can enjoy such impunity regarding pesticides and ignore the rules that regulate all other foods?" How indeed.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Winter Reading: Organic and Biodynamic Wine Books, Part 2 - Saving Our Skins

The second book I read over the holidays is Caro Feely's highly entertaining Saving Our Skins, the second in her series about becoming a grower and vintner in the Dordogne.

From South Africa by way of Ireland, she's got the Irish gift of gab, and her everyday chronicles of the ups and downs of starting a vineyard and a wine label in a country not your own is filled with details about class, money, viticulture and entrepreneurship that any one - not just the wine cognoscenti - can enjoy.

At the beginning of the book (which follows on the heels of her first book Grape Expectations), Caro explains she and her husband can't afford to buy shoes for their children, and the cost of a new tractor sends her over the moon. But strange angels appear - an entrepreneur from America wants her biodynamic grape skins for a new nutritional supplement product; a government assistance program makes up for some of the losses an early frost has inflicted on the vines; and Caro manages to give the odd wine tour of organic and Biodynamic wineries in Bordeaux and her region to make a few extra bucks.

Today her family winery manages two holiday vacation homes on their property (gites, as they are known in France) welcoming tourists to come and stay awhile. She also offers wine tours to organic vineyards in St. Emilion and Bordeaux as well as Dordogne.

Her style is warm and personal and you may find yourself booking a trip to France to explore the terroir, bicycling and foie gras of the region. Or just armchair traveling while you sit by the fire.

This book will appeal to wine lovers as well as those who prefer other libations. It's strong on story and not in the least technical, although you may find yourself learning new things along the way.

The best thing about the book is that it is written by someone who has a deep passion for organic and Biodynamic vineyards.

I had not known, but according to Feely, "Saussignac, our commune appellation, had one of the highest percentages of all the appellation wine ares, in France," a fact she and her husband had not known when they settled in the area. [In a 2013 podcast, Feely says that 60% of Saussignac is organic, compared to 4 percent across all of France; those nationwide statistics have grown now]. Their 30 acre estate has 25 acres of vineyards.


Like Randall Grahm's Biodynamic vintages, Terroir Feely put sensitive crystallization images on their Merlot wine bottles at one point (Grahm stopped using them, too), but Feely worries that they're going to be thought of "as insane treehuggers."

Her transition from organic to Biodynamic farming at first involved stinging nettles, used as a mildew suppressant. "We use stinging nettles as a soil fertilizer, or dried and made into tea, as a leaf spray to help keep the mildew where it should be - on the ground rather than on her leaves." That was her gateway drug to Biodynamics.

The book should help readers understand the critical role direct wine sales make for small vintners and why they cannot live without them. By 2014, Feely was selling 80 percent of their wines direct to consumers.

Her wine research on where to take visitors involves meeting other vintners - including Jean-Michel Comme, proprietor and technical director of the 200 acre Chateau Pontet-Carnet, the only certified organic and Biodynamic Grand Cru vineyard in Paulliac. The Comme family also has 10 acres of organic vineyards just ten minutes away from Chateau Feely, at Champ des Treilles. The family's roots, surprisingly, are Italian. They came to France in the 1920's. But it wasn't until the generation of Jean-Michel and his wife Corinne that their vineyards became organic.

Writes Feely, "their conviction to work organically and biodynamically was solidified when Corinne became sick from pesticides used by farms neighboring their house. They had not been welcomed by the locals for their strange ways of natural farming, were even victims of tire-slashing on their car in the yard."

Feely draws inspiration from Corinne's stories of communing with her vines. "I pictured the scene, enchanted. She was like a wine sorceress - full of intuition and deep spiritual knowledge over her place and her wines."

In passing, Feely offers up small bits of organic viticulture and winemaking knowledge. "Organic practices also help reduce the need for SOs," she writes. "In the process of protecting themselves naturally through the season, the vines create additional elements that a chemically protected vine does not, like more reservatrol, the powerful antioxidant in grape skins..."

She goes on the explain more: "A key factor driving the SO2 level required to protect a wine is the level of acidity. Ironically," she writes, " chemical fertilizers used by conventional winegrowers contain a potassium dose that means the chemically farmed vines have lower natural acidity...so they need more sulfites."

I am grateful for this readable book not only for its portrait of life on a small winery, but also for Feely's heartfelt distress over the wine world's lack of appreciation for why organic vineyards matter - so much.

Towards the end of the book, she writes, "Often I feel the world is in a deep sleep, unaware or unwilling to face the dangers of pesticides, herbicides and systemic fungicides..." I, too, share that concern and am always bewildered by the lack of recognition of the importance of organic wine grape growing. In California, wine grapes are our biggest agriculture crop (in terms of revenue) and yet we pay so little attention to the organic choices available to us. "Organic" is almost a dirty word in the wine world - and why is that?

At one point in the book, Feely's husband Sean answers an aspiring winemaker guest who asks if the couple has found what they were looking for by settling in France and becoming winemakers.

Sean answers, "There's no question that being a winemaker is tough. You have to have a sacred fire for it, a passion, and ideally a bit of money put aside, since it always costs more than you expect and brings in less than you hoped. I think that if I hadn't pursued organic and biodynamic, I would not have had the will to persevere."

If you've ever thought the life of owning a vineyard and being a winemaker was for you, read this book. It doesn't make everything sound romantic - in fact, au contraire. But it will give you an honest look at the life of the daily struggles - and small triumphs - of a tiny, up and coming producer. And you'll spend a little bit of time - while you're reading - experiencing life in the Dordogne. Could that be so bad?

And a note for Caro Feely: if you read this, please know that yes, there are still plenty of cowboys in America (but they don't live in Paso Robles). And if you want to know which organic or Biodynamic producers to visit here, please get in touch with me next time you visit. I'll tell you the best places to go.

To listen to a podcast featuring Caro Feely, click here.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Winter Reading: Organic and Biodynamic Wine Books, Part 1 - Wine, Moon and Stars

I don't know why, but the last two years have seen a number of wine memoirs by organic or Biodynamic vintners in France and the U.S. They represent a disproportionately high number of vineyards, given the low percentage of vineyards that farm this way. But I digress.

It's the holidays, and I intend to spend some of it reading wine books by the fire to catch up on the collection I've been accumulating over the year.

Here's book number one in this series.

Wine, Moon and Stars by Gerard Bertrand
Biodynamic in the South of France

Languedoc native son Gerard Bertrand's autobiography is filled to the brim with his values and philosophies. He was a star rugby player until he was 30. Since then, he's become the Robert Mondavi of the Languedoc, raising the quality of winemaking and wines regionally as well as in his own estates.

Judging from his web sites, about half of his acreage is Demeter certified Biodynamic - 523 acres. That is larger than any U.S. winery. The biggest in America is Bonterra with 290 acres. If you combined the two biggest biodynamic wineries in Oregon - Montinore and Maysara - you'd get up to 500 acres combined. So his commitment is on a significant scale.

Still, it appears that at least half of his holdings are farmed "sustainably" - i.e. not certified organic or Biodynamic, a fact which he does not mention in his book.

Every week I go to a coffeehouse in Temescal in Oakland to meet a group of friends who celebrate the cafe's legendary croissants - made only two days a week. Today we met and one of them, a French artist from Languedoc, showed me photos of the region. It is every bit as beautiful as Provence but with affordable stone cottages and few tourists. Plenty of garrigue, limestone, rivers to swim in, caves and lakes.

The Languedoc, together with the neighboring region Rousillon, has become ground zero for the organic wine movement in France and has carved out a niche for itself on the basis of that identity.

Bertrand's book shows his love of this landscape. He clearly has a very spiritual connection to his work and his land. He is also a great wine marketer - as handsome as a rock star, and 6 foot 5. The locals call him "Le Grand."

The book consists mainly of his life story, which sounds like a lot to fun - no dark edges are revealed - but it also sounds at times suspiciously like a clever marketing ploy written by his marketing department. Nothing bad, save for his father's death when Gerard was 22.

All of the book aligns with the marketing on his web site.

Cleverly Languedoc has been rebranded "the South of France," since no one knew or cared about Languedoc as Languedoc, which most considered purely a plonk producer.  (The region made more wine than in all of the U.S. in 2001)

The plonk heritage was the only one until Bertrand and other champions of this generation went on the attack. They have raised the bar - and some of the prices. While most of the wines are very affordable, the high end has expanded. There are now "Languedoc Grand Crus" and one of them made the Wine Spectator Top 100 Wine list in 2014.

If all of this reminds you of Robert Mondavi, you would be forgiven. For there are many similarities here, leaving the family split of the American aside.

In Mondavi's day Napa was a plonk producer, supplying Gallo with grapes and Napa was nowheresville in wine world.

Like Mondavi, Bertrand is very handsome and has a lot of charisma. Like Mondavi, Bertrand started a jazz festival at his winery, Chateau l'Hospitalet. Like Mondavi, Bertrand recognizes the power of wine tourism and has a showpiece winery. He's gone one step further - with a hotel and a first class restaurant. But, like Mondavi, he is working hard on behalf of the winemakers of the region.

Bertrand is also a formidable salesman. For instance, in 2014, he bought out the cover of Wine Enthusiast magazine and several full pages inside devoted to editorial about his wineries. (See a video where the magazine awarded him European Winery of the Year in 2012 here.)

While he may be quite sincere, he doesn't give a lot away in this book. (Like why are not all of his estates organic or Biodynamic? And how much wine does he make? Which ones are the great ones? And which the not so great?)

On the other hand, it was a pleasure to sit by the fire reading the book and "travel" in my mind to the Languedoc.

Unlike Mondavi, Bertrand professes a deep seated spirituality. He has a mediation room for visitors at his showpiece winery. He translates quantum physics into the concept of quantum wine, which would make a New Age audience in California feel in harmony with him.

His abook highlights the Roman heritage and historic importance of the Languedoc region over time. I had no idea that Narbonne was a bigger port than Marseille in Roman times, nor that the Goths made it their capital or who the Cathars were. (I was inspired to read up on Wikipedia. where I found out that the Greeks made wine here in the 5th century BC.)

He praises Rudolf Steiner, but doesn't really tell us how he adopted Biodynamic practices nor what the transition was like (aside from that the grapes and wine taste better).

Wine, Moon and Stars is still a book worth reading - light reading - but enjoyable nonetheless.



For a video introduction to the estates of Gerard Bertrand (in French) click here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Last Minute Gift Idea: Wine Consult on The Best Organically or Biodynamically Grown Wines to Buy

I'm offering a 30 min. consult/gift certificate for $50 - a great gift for anyone on your list.

For more details, see here:

http://winecountrygeographic.blogspot.com/p/wine-advice-services.html

Alternately, you can gift someone a tour with me to some of the best spots in organic and Biodynamic wine country!

http://winecountrygeographic.blogspot.com/p/trip-planning-tour-guide-services.html

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What Does It Cost to Be Certified Organic or Biodynamic? Wines and Vines Has the Answer

It's a great pleasure to share the first article I've written for Wines and Vines, the leading wine trade magazine, with you: "What It Costs to Be Certified Organic or Biodynamic: Certifying Vineyard and Winery Sites Amounts to Cents Per Bottle."

The article helps the wine industry learn more about the actual costs of certification, dispeling the widely spread myth that organic certification is "too expensive" when in reality is pennies per bottle for certification fees.

Let's hope the article can broaden the circle of certified vineyards and wineries by showing them successful real world peers who are quite happily certified as well as wine industry leaders.

Thanks to these producers and organization who were interviewed and are quoted in the article:

• Brooks Wine
• Ehlers Estate
• Frog's Leap
• Inglenook
• Napa Wine Co.
• Pacific Rim
• Ridge Vineyards
• Tres Sabores

• CCOF
• CDFA
• CogPro software
• Demeter USA
• Stellar Certification Services

Raise a glass to Wines & Vines for bringing news about organic producers to the trade and to growing both awareness of the organic producers in the marketplace and information about the opportunities for more wineries to enter this market.

May it continue.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Pilgrims: Roots of a Cautionary Tale?

Last night I watched the wonderful two hour PBS special The Pilgrims, which tells the story of the religious separatists who settled, however unexpectedly in Plimoth (earlier the Wampanoag village of Pawtuxet). They had originally been bound for Manhattan. It was just one of the many surprises of their journey. 

The story of these settlers and how they came to be identified in the American consciousness as the national origin myth (which happened only on the verge of the Civil War, after colony governor Willam Bradford's history of the colony surfaced after a 70 year absence) isn't one that was taught in schools when I was growing up.

The program is a slow unfolding of who the Pilgrims were, in England and in Holland, before they left Europe, and who they became after they set forth on their perilous journey.

It's a tale that has more than a few similarities to the more famous survivalist story of modern times - that of the famous ship The Endurance. 

More than half of the colonial settlers died, many of them on the ship, which became a deathbed for them, or a living hell, depending on whether you lived or died. 

The great strength and pleasure in watching this two hour special is the telling of the tale from the point of view of a new generation of historians, including a few who are Wampanoag, who lift the veil of sentimentalism and patriotism to show the Pilgrims for who they really were - a complex and shifting community over time. 

But the main point of the Pilgrims' journey, in the eyes of those who financed their trip to America, was to bring home the bacon - or the beaver fur - i.e. to extract the wealth from natural resources and send it on a ship back to England where the goods could be sold. 

Sound familiar?

 


So instead of a purely religious pilgrimage, the Pilgrims were the first in a long line of settlers to be beholden to the financial interests of the merchant class and financiers and one of many colonial settlements who struggled to extract something of "value" - other than corn to live on - from the land.

Sound familiar?

As an Ecologist article states, "In the last 50 years, a staggering 140 million hectares (325 million acres) - the size of almost all the farmland in India - has been taken over by four industrial crops: Soya bean, oil palm, rapeseed and sugar cane. And this trend is accelerating..."

This is much the story of modern wine, in America, where in California alone, 615,000 acres in California are planted to grape vines, the vast majority of which go into mass produced, industrial wine (even many grapes from Sonoma and Mendocino) - extracting "value" from the land. Each year the number of chemically farmed vineyard acres increases - along with the amount of toxics in the form of fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers.

Whether the wines are "value wines" or fine wine destined for collectors' cellars, almost all wine in California and the U.S. has one thing in common - the application of glyphosate or Roundup. Close to 500,000 pounds - yes, pounds - are applied on bearing California vineyards each year. While most scientists would categorize Roundup as a carcinogen, despite Monsanto's protests, no one doubts that it kills micro organisms in the soil.

There is one group that is an exception to the toxic farming system - growers who are organic.

Their care for the land contrasts with the way modern farmers - the Pilgrims' offspring, and the offspring of other immigrants who settled here later - have treated the soil. Their neglect of soil health caused them to move from the exhausted soils of the Southeast and the Eastern seaboard to the West. Until there was no more land. (Or water).

David Montgomery

For more on the story of soils as a moving force in American history, see this week's NOVA series on PBS. The episode Making North America: Human features a segment with David Montgomery, soil historian and MacArthur fellow, showing how Virginia's tobacco growers depleted their native soils, which encouraged and led to Western expansion.

(If you haven't yet read David's book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, check it out. It's a fascinating read and also available as an audiobook. You can also see him give an hour talk on it here.)

For those who are interested in exploring David's latest work, check out The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health. Publishers Weekly gave it a glowing review as did Kirkus. (I just ordered it). It focuses on yet another aspect of why soil health is so important.

And for a deeper dive into soil health, see Symphony of the Soil (available as a DVD or on Vimeo on Demand, too) which features David and a wealth of other experts on this topic.

So soil - it's the root of all society. The Pilgrims survived only because a native American helped them plant corn - in good soil. The Virginian colonies survived only as long as their soil was in good shape.

Today, one might ask: how long will consumers continue, unwittingly, to support the chemical vineyard system that "extracts value" by growing wine grapes with chemical fertilizers and application of toxics? Many are indebted to financiers - via bank loans - and Big Wine, the four companies that control most "value wine" in the U.S. and are focused on expanding into higher priced labels. Are we, like the Virginian tobacco growers, unknowingly contributing to soil suicide?

So this year, once again, I am thankful for the organic growers in our land and for the care and respect with which they treat soil, one of our most precious substances.

I'm celebrating the dedicated growers who give us wine worthy of praise - and a great deal of pleasure. Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Grand Crus Classés of St. Émilion Tasting: The Organic and Biodynamic Producers

Few people understand why one looks for the certified organic vineyards as part of the search for the best in wine...but for those of us who understand what that means (i.e. that far less toxic substances are used in farming, soil retains its vital and alive health and dynamism, and the wines are more expressive of their unique terroir), it's so lovely to find wines that are worthy of the journey to discover them.

Or, you can have your cake and eat it, too.

At least that's how I felt during lunch time today, when I went to Terra Gallery in SF to taste through wines from three organic or Biodynamic producers (out of 50-60 wineries) from the region. Each is a Grand Cru classé estate.

It's also a reminder that fine wine doesn't have to cost as much as it does in California. The wines featured here sell in the $30-50 range - and are truly world class. 

One should say much more about these wines than the facts about their farming certifications, and they deserve that. But mostly, when it comes to wine, the best way to understand them is to drink them. Like Eric Asimov says, tasting notes are as dull as describing music through its frequencies - technobabble applied to something that really is not about words. Instead, it's about sensations - which is what we love about wine, music and other sensory experiences. So let's just say, you will be rewarded by trying these wines...they are worthy of your attention.

Let the games begin...a quiet moment before the crowds arrived.. But even as it grew in size, this was a very civilized tasting in terms of the ratio of space to people. The event even offered casual seating in a lounge area (not visible in this photo), a rarity at trade tastings - and very much appreciated as a place to take a break and reflect on the wines or as a place to confer with other attendees. I hope it sets a new norm.
My first stop was Chateau Fonplegade, owned by the American couple Stephen and Denise Adams. They purchased the estate 12 years ago and began converting it to organic farming then. Certified in 2005, it is now on the path to Biodynamic certification. The Adamses also own a Bordeaux estate Chateau L'Enclos (next to Petrus), which they bought later, and have a Napa estate on Howell Mountain - Adamvs (already certified Biodynamic). The 2010 Chateau Fonplegade is outstanding. (Parker gave it a 94+ pt. rating which is surprising because often I do not agree with his palate - but
 in this case, it's a happy meeting ground.) This wine is my new love. Sometimes one tastes the very best wine on the first sip at a tasting...and then roams around the room hoping to repeat the experience, and trying new things, but not hitting that high note again...forcing you to return to the place where you started the journey - and linger.

Chateau Fonroque was the first St. Emilion estate to be certified organic and the first (and still the only) with certified Biodynamic vines. It has been in the Mouiex family since 1932. The estate found that the shift to Biodynamic viticulture brought out more (good) acidity in the wines as well as more minerality, expressive of the terroir.
 You can see a lovely video about the estate (in French), by clicking here.

The wines are bottle labeled with the
certification.
Winemaker, tractor driver, vineyard manager - Vincent Ligne is the one running Chateau Guadet, owned by his family since 1844. It's certified organic in the vineyard; Biodynamic certification is in process. Starting with the 2015 vintage, Ligne said the wine will also be bottle labeled with the word organic - this is a new legal requirement of certified producers in France, he said. (I'll have to find out more about this.)


By the time the afternoon ended, the air was filled with the sound of laughter and life - thanks to the wine?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Wine Movies, Continued: The Ways of Wine (By Way of EatDrinkFilms.com)

Movies, movies, movies - since when has wine become such a popular subject for movies? It's only recently.

 I'm keeping up to date on the movie screenings of them in the Bay Area, and although I wasn't able to attend a recent screening of The Ways of Wine, I did find it online.

The story centers on a Uruguayan  sommelier who loses his palate and tries to get it back again. The setting is in Argentina, where the real life somm, who did in fact lose his palate, goes to search for the region's best wine, in the magical hope that it would bring his palate back again.

He retreats from the glamour of wine to the basics - a love of soil and the families who tend the vines and make the wines.

Enjoy the Hollywood reporter review here.
The feature film came to my attention from my friend Gary Meyer, one of the Bay Area's leading champions of great films and a man who brought art house movies to the Bay Area for decades.

Gary's latest venture is starting a film festival and web site EatDrinkFilms.com.

Before this, Gary started Landmark Theaters, got the Embarcadero Cinema built (a five year project) and co-curated the prestigious Telluride Film Festival; he still runs the Balboa in San Francisco while hatching his latest project.

EatDrinksFilms.com recently launched its first film screenings, timed to celebrate Food Day Oct. 24. A bigger EatDrinkFilms festival is planned for this spring/summer, Gary tells me.

Although I wasn't able to attend the Sat. night screening at the Roxie that was part of the Food Day/EatDrinkFilms festival, I did find the movie trailer and the entire movie online. (I would have been happy to pay for that privilege but I wasn't able to find the film on iTunes, Netflix, Amazon or other online outlets.)

So here's a peek (below). If you like what you see, check out the full movie here.

This is a film that screams to be watched with a good bottle of Malbec, si?

 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

VIDEO - Sonoma Valley: Organic Grower Phil Coturri and Star Cab Winemaker Richard Arrowood On Their Historic Collaboration

The video/film/TV stream continues with this brand new episode from Sonoma Valley Wine - a series of YouTube videos highlighting the collaboration of Sonoma Valley's celebrated organic vineyard manager Phil Coturri and Sonoma Valley's most famous Cabernet winemaker Richard Arrowood of Amapola Creek.

Enjoy all the episodes here. Or tune in to Episode #2, which is about organic farming, a bond between the two.

Arrowood talk about the benefits of going organic in the vineyard: "the difference is - it's amazing - the life, and the tilth, all the health of the soil - and the difference it makes to the fruit. When you're not applying low level nuclear waste, it makes a difference."

 


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

TV Series Based on SOMM Debuts First Episode Free

Continuing our movie and TV theme this week...The folks behind the film SOMM have brought a TV series based on the life of somms to the smaller screen. Their series UNCORKED debuts on Esquire Nov. 10.

Have a look at the first episode online free - here.

Or get a little taste in the trailer below:

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Somm: The Sequel

Movies are the theme this week, and as the Mill Valley Film Festival ends, another film festival rises in the east - or the north. The Napa Valley Film Festival's opening night will feature the new film from the makers of the popular documentary Somm. (If you missed it, read the New York Times review here.) It's called, imaginatively, "Somm: Into the Bottle."

Here's how film's makers describe the new film (on their Facebook page):

"Into the Bottle is about wine. It is also about world wars, prohibition, why we drink what we drink, the cost, and cutting through the bullshit of what's in your glass. Wine is simple...It's about every thing."

That's a pretty wide - and wide-eyed - view of what to make a movie about.

I, for one, like the quote in the trailer from Carole Meredith: "Can there be any other business where there is so much bullshit?"

See the trailer here:


Only VIP tickets remain for the Napa premiere. But don't worry - since the film is now being distributed by Samuel Goldwyn, rest assured it will be in movie theaters everywhere. And online.

I don't think the filmmakers yet have enough savoir faire to understand why organics matter, but they should get credit for tackling the demystification of wine and where it comes from.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

New Belgian Feature Film La Tierra Roja Debuts at Mill Valley Film Festival - Eco-Thriller About Argentina and Agrotoxics



I've been attending the Mill Valley Film Festival all week and today was able to see the North American premiere of Argentinean/Belgian director Diego Martinez Vignatti's film on the largely untold (at least in film) pesticide disaster happening in Argentina and the workers' revolt against agrotoxics.

"It's one of the best films we've seen on chemical agriculture," said festival programmer Janis Plotkin, in her introduction to the film at the Christopher B. Smith Film Center in San Rafael. "And this is the North American premiere."

A scene from La Tierra Roja, a new feature from director Diego Martinez Vignatti
The love story pits the two protagonists on opposite sides of
the fence on the pesticide issue
It's unknown at this point if the film will get a U.S. release. It also been released in Belgian, where Vignatti resides, and in Chilé.

It is also appearing at the Nouveau Cinema festival in Montreal which had this description.

The film tells the story of a community divided - some workers have good jobs at the paper mill, which engages in slash and burn timber cutting. The government is in cahoots with the mill owners. The community opponents, who have seen the devastating effects of agrotoxics first hand, unite behind the village doctor, who sees case after case of pesticide poisoning - high rates of cancer and an unusually high number of babies born with birth defects, along with workers' respiratory illnesses and other diseases.

An all out battle between the two camps soon ensues.
The director (center) and cast on location in Argentina
Uniquely, unlike most documentaries on this topic (of which there are hardly any), the film shows the full circle of the community, from the children to the rugby team to the workers and the unionists and medical clinic.

It might send you to the internet afterwards in search of the real stories the film is based on.



To keep up with the film's releases and news, join their FB page here.

The way that pesticides have been applied in Argentina is an ongoing horror story and reminds one of earlier eras in the U.S. where huge amounts of organophosphates and Roundup were applied at much greater levels of concentration.

In a way, the film shows the progress, in comparison, that we have made since the days when Cesar Chavez fasted because he felt powerless to protect farmworkers (including vineyard workers) from the effects of the highly toxic organophosphates and other agrotoxics).

Today's wine grape growers have cutback a lot from the 1970's levels of the most toxic substances.
But, as one organic vineyard expert put it, "we've cut back on using the things that kill you right away, but wine grape growers who use chemicals [that are not approve for organic farming] are using the things that kill you over time."

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Wine & Spirits: Cumulative List of Top 100 Wineries Since 1988: 27% Have Organic Vines

Wine & Spirits Annual Buying Guide is now on newsstands, featuring the Top 100 Wineries and the Top 100 Best Wines and Best Buys.

Each year the magazine selects from an international list of wineries for the year as well as a recap of which wineries have won Top 100 Winery Awards year over year since the rankings were developed beginning in 1988.

Selecting only those wineries with certified organic estate vines, which are used in their best wines, the following list of U.S. wineries emerges:

17 Awards

Ridge Vineyards (in transition; will be 100% in 2016)

14 Awards

Qupé (Sawyer Lindquist wines)

12 Awards

Storybook Mountain (all wines)

8 Awards

Frog's Leap (all wines, )
King Estate (500 acres of vines; 3 small lot wines, 2,000 cases are organically grown)

7 Awards

Benziger (7% of 100,000 case total production)
Grgich Hills (all wines; 70,000 case production)

I am not as familiar with the foreign entries, but a few stand out as being wineries I know that are Biodynamic (and organic) and that is Chapoutier (12 awards over the years) as well as Domaine Zind-Humbrecht. Add to this list Dr. Loosen in Germany, a renowned organic Riesling producer, and Schuchmann, an organic vintner from Georgia (in the former Soviet Union).

That makes a total of:
7 U.S. wineries
2 French wineries
1 German winery
1 Georgian winery

What percentage of the total number of wineries on this list do the organic vineyards represent? 11 out of 37 is 27%, or 10 times more than the average. (Organic vineyards in the U.S. amount to just 3% of all vines.)

Do organic grapes make better wines? I'll leave that question up to you to answer.

In addition, five of these wineries - Benziger, Chapoutier, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Grgich Hills and Qupé - are Biodynamic, which means 5 out of 37 wineries are "BD." That makes 13.5% of the top wineries over time, again more than ten times the average (fewer than 1% of all vines in the U.S. are from Biodynamic vines).

Wine & Spirits: 100 Best Wines of the Year - Newcomers Lumos and Laurel Glen

Wine & Spirits' Top 100 wines for 2015 was unveiled this week and the list includes nine wines from organic vines. (There are probably more among the foreign producers; I just am not as familiar with those wineries as I am with the domestic ones.)

Many are from repeat producers (and huzzah for them), but a few are new to the list - Laurel Glen and Lumos.

Bettina Sichel at Laurel Glen Vineyard (April 2015)
Laurel Glen

Laurel Glen is going through a revival. I visited the vineyard with proprietor and general manager Bettina Sichel this spring. Once a great vineyard (and still a stellar site), the 16 acre, dry farmed Sonoma Mountain estate had declined, due to neglect, over the years when Sichel and her business partners bought it in 2010.

Organic vineyard manager Phil Coturri was brought in to bring the vines back to their glory, and top tier winemaker Randall Watkins (formerly of Carmenet) now mans the cellar. The results from this all star team are just beginning to show.

The site is a special spot on Sonoma Mountain, at 800-1,000 feet of altitude on a sunny site above the fogline. The soils are complex, shallow, thin and rocky, yielding a beautiful Cabernet.

And not that price is the determining factor, but compare this $60 bottle with Napa prices (generally $100+). A thousand cases were made.

Dai Crisp at Temperance Hill Vineyard (March 2015)
Lumos Wine Co.

Lumos Wine Co. proprietor and winemaker Dai Crisp may be one of the only vintners more famous for wine grape growing than for winemaking (yet). Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that says something about great wine making; wine is made in the vineyard.

As the vineyard manager of Temperance Hill Vineyard, a 100 acre organic vineyard in Oregon's Eola-Amity Hills that regularly produces award-winning bottles of Pinot Noir from 10+  wineries, his own production of grapes from this vineyard is just a fraction of the overall wine made from this star site. And yet...his is on the list (and the others are not).

And not that price is the determining factor, but both the 2010 and 2012 vintages of this wine were featured in the prestigious International Pinot Noir Festival in Oregon - a very high bar as this is a very competitive category. And this wine lists for $38 a bottle (or $35 only at KLWines.) Only 415 cases made.

DOMESTIC WINES

U.S.

Cabernet

Ridge Vineyards, 2011 Monte Bello ($165), 96 pts. (about 95% organically grown at this point, heading toward 100% within a year)

Laurel Glen, 2011 Sonoma Mountain ($60), 95 pts.

Pinot Noir

Lumos, 2012 Temperance Hill ($38), 94 pts.

Syrah

Radio Coteau, 2012 Dusty Lane ($60), 96 pts.

Zinfandel

Storybook Mountain Vineyards, 2012 Estate Reserve ($68), 94 pts.

FOREIGN WINES*

FRANCE

Alsace White

Zind Humbrecht, 2012 Alsace Goldert Grand Cru Gewurztraminer ($80), 93 pts.

Ostertag, 2012 Alsace Heissenberg Riesling ($48), 93 pts.

Rhone Red

Domaine Jerome Gradassi, 2012 Chateauneuf du Pape ($50), 93 pts.

GREECE

Domaine Sigalas, 2014 Santorini Asyrtiko ($24), 94 pts.

*As I am not as familiar with these producers, let me know if you find a wine from this list that is from certified organic vines.

Monday, October 12, 2015

On the Movie Front: Kamen to Tell 1976 Paris Tasting Story in New Feature Film

Is it the story that could never actually be told in film? Or will one more try get it right?

Warren Winiarski and Mike Grgich's Big Win, in 1976, in that Paris blind tasting has become the stuff of legend - and a tale told in many a medium.

First it was a George Taber book - The Judgment of Paris. That was true to the facts, as we know them.

Taber was the only American journalist at the actual event, in which the Napa wines win against grand crus from top French estates in an upset victory that made the fortunes of Napa and California's fine wineries and helped the U.S. industry grow to its current $32 billion size.

Next, the story was hijacked for an indie revisionist history film, writing both Grgich and Winiarski out of the picture, when the story became the Chateau Montelena version immortalized in Bottle Shock, a 2008 indie pic that was produced by the founders of the Sonoma film festival and focused on the story of the Barretts alone in a highly fictionalized account (a boxing match staged at Kunde, a girl winery intern at a time when there weren't any, etc.). Memorably, the movie starred British star Alan Rickman, who had appeared in one of the director's earlier movies, as a snobby version of the British wine tasting organizer Steven Spurrier.

Then the Grgich story came to life, courtesy of Croatian television, in a documentary on Grgich, Croatia's most famous native son.  Grgich's story is now in the Smithsonian Museum in D.C. (where the suitcase he came to America with is on display). The film is called Like the Old Vine. It's a very good film - but you can't find it anywhere except the winery.



Croatian television followed up with a second documentary that was even better than the first - Dossier Zinfandel - a ripping good yarn about the search for the genetic origins of Zinfandel, a story in which Grgich plays a leading role. (Sadly, this film is also only available on DVD at the following tasting rooms: Grgich Hills in Rutherford, Ravenswood in Sonoma and Ridge Vineyards in Healdsburg.) It is well worth searching out. (Apparently Croatian television is not very into international distribution - and more's the pity.)
Mike Grgich (left), Robert Kamen (right)

Now it's time for another indie feature film take.

The latest twist is that Sonoma screenwriter and vintner Robert Kamen (writer of Karate Kid as well as the Taken series and the 2005 wine romance film A Walk in the Clouds) is working on a new feature to be produced with Jonathan Rotella, a medical entrepreneur (with a chain of wound care clinics). Rotella has fallen in love with Winiarski's rags to riches wine story.

Kamen's version promises to tell the story of both Winiarski and Grgich through the "outsider" eyes of the American journalist George Taber.

Recently Kamen visited Mike Grgich (now age 91) to shoot some footage for the project. Enjoy these photos from their shoot.

The $10 million project is currently seeking investors. For more information (and a brief trailer), click here.

And, for those who are interested, both Grgich and Robert Kamen's Kamen Estate make beautiful wines that are quite different from each other stylistically but both are a.) organically grown in the vineyards and b.) recipients of top ratings from critics.



Kamen makes wine on an estate (50 acres of vines) on the Sonoma side of Mt. Veeder, in what is now the Moon Mountain District AVA. The site has stunning views of the San Pablo Bay.

I highly recommend the vineyard tour - it's by appointment only, but well worth it. It's on my list of the Top 10 Best Wine Tours in Sonoma.

Kamen also offers walk in tastings in its downtown Sonoma tasting room.

Grgich Hills Estate has a wide variety of wine tours on offer ranging from walk in wine bar tastings to special seated tastings where visitors may even get to hold a bottle from the Paris Tasting. Check the web site for details.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bordeaux - with a Side of Blue Angels

Ever wondered how all those Bordeaux wines end up on your local restaurant wine list? It's from industry trade events that ply restaurants, club directors and more with tasting events like the one I attended today at San Francisco's Gold Gate Club.

It's an interesting idea to market all the NON Grand Cru Bordeaux wines as a group as Bordeaux Under One Roof does. The trade group says the Grand Crus represent just 3% of Bordeaux. Today was about meeting a few of the other 97% of wines made in Bordeaux. 



You know it's a French wine trade tasting
when there's a bouquet of roses...
China and Asia rank as the #1 consumer of Bordeaux wines. The U.S. ranks as 5th largest consumer of Bordeaux wines by volume, 4th by value (i.e. $ spent). 

The takeaway from the organizers: Bordeaux offers value AND you don't have to age the wines (although many are age worthy). The price point for this tasting was under $60 (retail price).

Organics

About 2 percent of Bordeaux is farmed organically (fewer are certified), according to Mary (sorry, I did not catch her last name), Master of Wine, who works for the Bordeaux trade group and served as the expert in today’s seminar, which preceded the tasting. As in the U.S. the Bordeaux region has its own sustainability programs as well which she said 20% of the vintners and growers were participating in. 

Nice to see old pals like Kermit Lynch there. And Martine's Wines - which I had never met before, but with whom my old Brit documentary colleague David Kennard (we used to work together on a national PBS series) has made films with (A Year in Burgundy, A Year in Champagne). The latest film is A Year in Port - and it should be out very soon…(So very British of them to choose Port for the final part of the trilogy. Or perhaps the Port producers chipped in on the film.)

I couldn’t get information from the Bordeaux tasting event organizers ahead of time about which wines came from certified vines, but I will keep trying to sort that out. 

Comparing Napa and Bordeaux 

In the meantime, Napa should gloat - although it’s only 1/6th as big as Bordeaux, about 8 percent of Napa’s vines are certified organic. Interestingly, many of those are from French wineries. (Araujo Estates comes to mind - its owned by the same group that owns Chateau Latour; until this year, Domaine Carneros was also among that number, with 300+ acres of organic vines, but they recently decertified; and the de Coninck family’s Beacanon Estate wines - the family has 94 acres of vines in Napa).
On the other hand, you can’t find a decent bottle of Cabernet or Merlot in Napa for $20 - organic or not. Oops - I’m going to correct myself here. There is ONE and it comes from that Bordeaux family’s estate - Beaucanon Estate. You can find it on their web site (it's not a winery one can visit but you can order the wine) or on Total Wine (where it's $25).

The Major Attraction

By 1:30 pm, attention had shifted away from the wines and towards the heavens - the Blue Angels were putting on quite a show over the water, and many sailing boats were out to enjoy both the perfect weather and the air show. (It's a commercial for their coming show during Fleet Week.)

(When I was in my late 20's, I got to go on a press flight with them - something I'll never forget. Seeing them there brought back a lot of memories.)

If you're into making new memories over a bottle of Bordeaux, check out the tasting booklet here.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Attention Table Wine Shoppers: Hopland Passport is Coming Up (October 17-18)

Drive to Hopland, Save Money on Wine and Have Fun

Tired of going to winery events where only people richer than you can afford the wine? Hopland Passport is the event for you.

Earlier this year, I posted a piece about the best, affordably priced, organically grown wines - it got more than 3,000 views.

So for all of you wine lovers who read it or for anyone who's in search of table wines ($10-25) from organic vines - and your numbers are legion - set your sights on Hopland. Go with an empty car trunk.

Twice a year Hopland's wineries put on a party - and for wine lovers who prefer organic vines, it's a party with a purpose - wine buying. Because this is a weekend when the wineries offer big discounts on affordably priced organically grown wines. Many make it a point to stock up on their yearly supply of table wines at this event. (There are also plenty of fine wines, too.)

Paula and Adam Gaska, Mendocino
Organics, raise produce and livestock
on Golden Vineyards' land.

And, where else can you find locals raising organic, grass fed beef and heritage breeds at a wine event? Meet McFadden and Greenhorn farmers Paula and Adam Gaska. They'll both be serving forth.













Don't know where Hopland is? Calibrate: Healdsburg plus 20-30 minutes further north on Highway 101. Straight through.


Passport costs a mere $45 (2 days) for wine drinkers (free for designated drivers, who won't get free wine but will get plenty of free eats).

Learn Something

This year there's something new at Passport - SEMINARS. Wineries are sharing their expertise with the public, and you can learn a lot about what makes organic farming important as well as Mendocino traditions.

Organic veteran wine grape grower and vintner Guinness McFadden, a grower in Potter Valley farming organically for 40 years, will be doing chats on organic farming at the tasting room on both days. Many of his grapes go into high end Napa wines.
Sebastian Donoso - his Grenache
from Paul Dolan family's Dark Horse
Ranch should be on your list of wines
to taste during Passport

Chilean born winemaker Sebastian Donoso from Campovida will also be on hand to talk about white Rhones.

And Nelson Family Vineyards will be talking about viticulture (growing wine grapes). They farm both organically and non organically, so they are a great resource to learn from in terms of understanding the differences between the two approaches.

Terra Savia will also be offering an olive oil seminar. You can see its impressive (no pun intended) community olive oil presses, too.

Eat Local

Also new this year: SIP Mendocino, Hopland's wine store focused on local wines - is under new management. Now owned by Joe and Julie Golden, who have farmed their vineyards Biodynamically since 1999 (Heart Arrow Ranch and Fairbairn), the wine shop will be featuring heritage, grass fed meats, raised by Greenhorn farmers Adam and Paula Gaska who run a local CSA farm, Mendocino Organics, and raise livestock on the Goldens' Redwood Valley land.

Have fun - there's free eats at most of the wineries and some also have music - and support organic vineyards (the people who don't use toxic pesticides in contrast to the other 95% of the wine industry in California which generously spritzes Roundup under each and every vine) by visiting the wineries offering organically grown wines.

Find a complete list of the wineries and menus here.

Visit These

Wineries with organic vines include:

All Organically Sourced Wines:
• Jeriko Wine (known for Pinot Noir)
• McFadden Vineyards (30% discount if you buy a case or more)
• Terra Savia (Specialties: Chardonnay and sparkling wines)

Some Organically Sourced Wines:
• Campovida
• Nelson Family
• Saracina
• Toxqui Cellars (Zinfandel-Split Rock)

Also swing by Barra of Mendocino, which is in Ukiah, not Hopland - another great table wine producer (with a few finer wines, too) and beloved by Charlie Barra's northern Italian friends (where the Barra family is from),  Slow Foods founder Carlo Petrini, who gave Barra an award of appreciation in the Bay Area several years ago.

Nelson Family's Orange Muscat
My Best Bets List

• McFadden Chardonnay, old vine Zin, and sparkling wine (30% discounts for case buyers in the wine club)
• Terra Savia sparkling wine (Chardonnay based; sold at Bay Area Whole Foods the rest of the year)
• Campovida's Grenache from Dark Horse Ranch - truly a great wine (and it costs like one, too but treasure the bottles - they go fast as this is a very small lot wine)
• Nelson Family Vineyards orange muscat - a rarity and a fun treat - also makes a great gift for your non serious wine friends



While You're in the Area: Shop the Ukiah Natural Foods Wine Dept.

My favorite place to shop for organically grown table wines is Ukiah Natural Foods which has 30+ local organically grown wines - the best that I have seen anywhere. Beats BevMo by a mile for this category. You can also mix and match here from different local wineries. Want to try ALL the different Chardonnays from organic vines? Go for it. In Mendocino, most of the wineries (except for Campovida, Nelson, Saracina, and Trinafour) do bottle label their wares.

You'll find lovely rarities like Alex McGregor's 2012 Trinafour Carignane from the historic Niemi Vineyard there (under $20, only 150 cases made). One of Mendocino's top tier winemakers, McGregor's Trinafour doesn't have a tasting room, so this is the most convenient way to find it.