Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Wander in Glen Ellen

Sonoma  - it's 1.5 times the size of the state of Rhode Island and nearly as big as the state of Delaware. There's a lot to explore there, and as I set off on a new travel book project, I've decided to drive and hike around it a lot more. Starting with Glen Ellen.

The sherry barn built by Kohler and Frohling on Sonoma Mountain above Glen Ellen
Glen Ellen's Claim to Foodie Fame

Is there anyone alive who doesn't know that foodie pioneer and memoirist M. F. K. Fisher lived in Glen Ellen? Not in the village proper, but just outside on the Bouverie Preserve. And no, you can't see her house. But you can see Jack London's house...and that's what I did.

Jack London Ranch Remembered

Saturday morning several hundred of the old-timers from the Jack London Ranch, during the era when it was a guest ranch, congregated in the old Kohler and Frohling winery ruins, those stone walls that stand like sentries looking out upon the higher reaches of majestic Sonoma Mountain.

Docents and old timers enjoyed several hours of Jack London Ranch stories and remembrances in the old Kohler and Frohling Winery ruins on Sonoma Mountain
In pairs and threes, they were interviewed, one after another, on life on the ranch in the 1930's-50's and a little beyond (into the 60's). I'd wanted to hear all of this real life storytelling straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Much mention was made of idyllic summers, with lots of horseback riding and swimming in the lake for the kids, and hunting for the men, followed by hours of evening card playing.

In terms of wine, there was a considerable history before London bought the ranch, but when he owned the ranch hay sold for higher prices than wine grapes so the wine grapes were mostly torn out. The property became a dairy farm under his heirs. Perhaps a little bit of pot was grown there, too, some say.
Charmiane London's house, built after Jack's death

The London's cottage, where they lived while at the Ranch, enlarging it an
office for Jack after their new house burned down
You can easily spend the better part of a day exploring the park. There's the House of Happy Walls, the house built by London's wife, Charmiane, after his death, which is now a museum to the two of them. And then there's the tragedy still standing in ruins -  Wolf House, the site of their grandly planned home, which would have looked like a miniature version of the Awahnee, had it not burned down in a freakish fire.

Then there's the whole cottage and London's office to visit. Listen to Enrico Caruso sing opera on a victrola in the study. Docents will guide you through that room and the whole cottage, as well as to the Wolf House. The park is blessed with amazingly well informed docents, and, surprisingly, most of them are men. Charmingly one volunteer plays piano in the House of Happy Walls, just as Charmian would have done, on weekend afternoons. (Speaking of whom, there's a Charmian tour coming up in the park once a month throughout the summer. Click here for details.)

While there's so much cultural history and life to explore, there are also miles and miles of trails to hike.

Jack London's version of "yellow sticky notes"
Benziger Family Winery, the Old Wegener Winery

Up on the hill near London's ranch is Benziger Family Winery, the county's Biodynamic leader, with four Biodynamic vineyards in the county, including one surrounding the winery tasting room on Sonoma Mountain. This is the former home of the Wegener Winery, which is apparently where London got the white wine he liked to drink with duck every night.

Terroir made visible: the soil cases at Benziger's tasting room
Today Benziger's famous for its tram tours, but it also offers some other new experiences that are worth a visit, if you've already had the vineyard tour and tasting.

Like many Sonoma vintners, Benziger's ventured into Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast vines. Its are located in Freestone, right next to Joseph Phelps. The winery makes three different Biodynamic Pinots from that single vineyard (as well as a few more), and displays the varied soil types in a beautiful case in the tasting room. You can see why each wine tastes so different. Visitors can book the new Pinot Noir tasting, housed in the winery's elegant, historic private tasting room, and taste five Pinots.

The Village

Drive back down the hill into the village, and you can wander awhile from tasting room to tasting room.  They're small and it doesn't cost a fortune to taste.


I stopped in at Talisman, a Pinot house specializing in single vineyard designates. Winemaker Scott Rich got his start long ago working under Tony Soter at Etude.

Talisman does a beautiful job with Adastra's organically grown grapes (from the Carneros) and on Saturday just happened to be serving several vintages.

Korbin and Kameron 

Korbin and Kameron offers wine from  its estate vines, which are planted on the opposite side of Sonoma Valley in the Moon Mountain District. The winery was started in 1999 by Jenny Ming and her husband Mitchell Ming. Jenny Ming was formerly the head of Old Navy and has been a mover and shaker in the fashion retail industry.

Farmed by Phil Coturri, Korbin Kameron (the winery's named for two of the Mings' children) is in the process of transitioning to organic certification and will receive that this year. Two in-transition wines are its whisper light rosé and its Sauvignon Blanc. They were grown during the three year transition to certification when no chemicals are used.

Laurel Glen

My favorite of the organic grape vintners in Glen Ellen among the walk in tasting options is Laurel Glen. Sonoma's higher elevation Cabs compete with the best of Napa, and being on the Sonoma Mountain "vibration" for the day, this was the wine to pair with the day and the place. The vines are located a short distance above Glen Ellen on Sonoma Mountain (and are not marked nor open to the public). The Laurel Glen is restrained and lithe. Justly the Cabernet was awarded a 95 pt. score from Wine & Spirits. (Not that scores mean so much, but it's nice when the overblown Cabs don't hog all the high ones). The Laurel Glen tasting room is just off the main drag on Carquinez.

Further Afield - By Appointment - Lasseter Family Winery

If you're headed to Glen Ellen, don't miss a tasting and tour at Lasseter Family Winery (by appointment only). Disney and Pixar fans often already know all about the winery, but for wine lovers, too it's a must. And apparently for Bill Gates, as well, since, when I went a few weeks ago, our guide told us he'd been there the day before.

Its cobbly soils, remniscent of Bordeaux, produce wonderful red blends.  The tour includes generous cheese pairings as well (tasting, tour and pairing are $25). Not to put too fine a point on pricing, but the same experience and equally beautiful wine and cheese in Napa would easily cost double (or more). It just makes you appreciate Sonoma more. (And maybe it increases your ability to buy some of their wine.)

North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park

One more great reason to visit the area is the new park in the hood - the North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park, the Bay Area's newest park. It's part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. The road up's a lovely, windy country drive which you won't soon forget - with vineyard vistas and horses and trees and all of nature's creations. When you get in the park and climb a short ways, there are killer views. I only had a chance to run up the hill briefly. But there will be a next visit - and soon.

Be sure to pick up a worthy bottle of wine from one of the tasting rooms and some artisanal cheeses from Sonoma from the local Glen Ellen market in town before you ascend to the mountaintop.

Glen Ellen's Second Annual Block Party - May 17

Four of Glen Ellen's tasting rooms are hosting a block party on Saturday May 17. Tickets are $20.

Wine club members from any of the four participating wineries get club privileges at all of the other participating Glen Ellen Block Party tasting rooms. Food's available from two food trucks - Tips Tri-Tips and Drums & Crumbs. There's be live music from two bands as well.

Postscript: I did return to the North Sonoma Mountain trailhead yesterday, May 3, and hiked to the Bennett Valley Overlook. I have to say, this is one of the greatest hikes I've explored in wine country - or the Bay Area for that matter. There are picture perfect views of Bennett Valley with vineyards and green fields and rolling hills and distant vistas. It makes you think you're on a European vacation. It reminded me of the views in the hills near Tivoli in Italy, the summer palace of the Roman emperors.

From the parking lot, it's a 2.2. mile hike to the turnoff for the overlook. The overlook is a few hundred yards further.

Directions: Heading out of the trailhead parking lot, take the trail that goes to Jack London State Park, which begins by crossing a creek and bridge amid redwoods. (There's a picnic table by the creek in the shade).

The trail then enters a beautiful meadow where views begin immediately, with picture perfect vistas of vineyards and a historic farmhouse below. You walk across the meadow for aways before starting to zig and zag up hillside switchbacks in the oak covered hillsides. Yes, it's a bit of a workout.

After 2.2 miles, there's a trail marker, pointing left/straight towards Jack London or right to the Bennett Valley Overlook. Take the overlook spur, which soon leads nearby powerlines. You can enjoy the view at the flat section of trail here, or proceed to the ridge top for further views.

It can be cool and windy up here - be sure to bring adequate gear.

And if you have a trail you'd like to nominate for Best Wine Country Hike, please add it here in the comments section.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Head to Hopland This Weekend, May 2-3: Good Deals and Good Times

Tired of all that fancy wine country stuff? Get thee to Hopland, for an unpretentious, good time and a lot of great wine - some at fabulous discounts during the event. Those discounts would more than pay for the $50 attendance fee (covers two days).

Hopland's Passport weekend is this weekend May 2-3, and the town's wineries put on quite a show. Holland's a mecca for organic vine lovers, with many small family run wineries with certified vines and wines.

No need to study wine history here - Hopland's alive with second, third and fourth generation vintners (including some who've never used chemicals) and down home folks.

The organically grown wines are all worthy of your attention - some more than others, but find out for yourself which ones you're drawn to. I'd say don't miss the three sparkling wines at McFadden (award winners all around) and the wines at Campovida are very fine indeed, made by Italian born Sebastian Donoso. Don't miss the garden tour at Campovida either - it's famous for many reasons. Master gardener Ken Boek will explain why.

If you're in the area, I'd also recommend visiting Saracina, another good spot for fine wines. They're not participating in this event, but are just next to Jeriko, and well worth experiencing. A little further to the north, you can also visit Barra of Mendocino and sample their wares, too (although they're not in Hopland per se; they're in Ukiah and so therefore cannot participate in the Passport program). I always appreciate a stop at the Ukiah Natural Foods market in Ukiah, too, which has one of the largest selections of organically grown wines in the country, reflecting the wealth of grapes nearby.

In addition to Passport, the Hopland Volunteer Fire Dept. and Beckstoffer Vineyards are putting on a the fire dept.'s annual BBQ dinner and dance Saturday night. Dinner is $20 for adults and $10 for kids over 6 with beer and wine on sale. The dinner gets started at 5; the dancing to live music begins at 8. Details here.

Here are a few of the vintners to put on your bucket list:

Wineries with Only Organically Grown Estate Wines

Jeriko Estate
Specializes in Pinot Noir; the vines and wines are Biodynamic
For Passport: usually puts on a great BBQ; this year's description calls for "mixed meats, cheeses and condiments" to pair with Pinot Noir and Sangiovese
Also features: barrel sampling, music and special wine prices

McFadden Vineyards 
Great table wines, and a standout for sparkling wines
For Passport: serves up organic grass fed beef, from its estate, with a red wine reduction of mushroom demo-glaze, assorted salads and sliced baguettes
Also features: 40% off sale for wine club members (the club is fully customizable so you can decide what you want to buy)

Terra Savia
Specializes in Chardonnay and sparkling wine; also has organic olive oil
For Passport: grilled Tri-tip in a  Pinot Noir sauce, with roasted beets and toasted walnuts, bowtie pasta and kale with pine nuts and goat cheese
Also features: dessert assortment from Pacific Cookie Company (chocolate cranberry, lemon and more)

Wineries With Some Organically Grown Wines

A gorgeous retreat center featuring beautiful vegetable and ornamental gardens
For Passport: wine and olive oil tasting, live music and pizza pairings
Also features: special garden tour with master gardener Ken Boek (don't miss this; I've been on it - and it's great)
Organically grown wines here: Cabernet Sauvignon-Heart Arrow Ranch, Grenache-Dark Horse Ranch, White Bordeaux Blend-Campo di Stelle, Viognier-Campo Dos Robles

Cesar Toxqui
For Passport: Cesar Toxqui is a Mexican-American vintner who married a Filipino wife; hence, the winery will be serving traditional Filipino roasted pig and lumpia
Organically grown wines here: Zinfandel-Split Rock Ranch ($34)

Nelson Family Vineyards
A family of growers who also make a number of wines from their own vines
Organically grown wines here: Chardonnay, Orange Muscat, Pinot Grigio, Viognier

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day: Celebrate With This Infographic

I'm happy to be able to share Wine Enthusiast's Earth Day infographic on organically and Biodynamically grown wines with you to celebrate Earth Day.

I consulted to Wine Enthusiast editor Marina Vataj who visualized, with her artist, Chris Delisle, a simple way to help people understand what green wines labels mean.

Thanks to all of the hundreds of farmers, winemakers and vintners who care so much about soil, vine balance. eco-friendly farming and wine to be organic and who understand why certification matters to consumers. Grow, baby, grow!

Source: Wine Enthusiast Magazine

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Organic Lover's Guide to Dry Creek Valley's Passport Weekend (April 24-26)

Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma's popular hot, sunny Zin and Rhone loving region just west of the town of Healdsburg, opens its door this weekend for three days of music, food and wine.

This is a fun, albeit crowded, way to experience this 16 mile long valley (2 miles wide) covered with 9,000 acres of vines. The region's wine history stretches back 140 years. Zinfandel is the local religion.

Sunday only tickets are already sold out; be forewarned that the entire area will be mobbed. (Drive carefully and don't ride a bike on Westside Road this weekend). If you're planning to attend, you may still purchase a two day Passport ticket for $140 per person which gets you free tasting and food on at the wineries from 11 to 4:30 on both days. Friday there is a quieter day planned with winemaker dinners and vineyard tours, but most are already sold out.

More information is available here.

While the Dry Creek Valley promotional web site says that the valley has "a majority of the producers following sustainable, organic and biodynamic practices in the vineyards," I'm not sure the facts actually back up that claim. "Sustainable" is a standard in the eye of the beholder (and in general, the beholder is the wine industry).

While Dry Creek Valley has 9,000 acres of vineyards, fewer than 400 acres are certified organic or biodynamic. The entire county of Sonoma has only 1,000 acres of organic vineyards out of 60,000 acres in vine.

What sets Dry Creek apart is the organic vineyards of just three of the largest producers with organic or biodynamic vineyards - Preston Farm and Winery (70 acres), Quivira Vineyards and Winery (88 acres), and Ridge Vineyards (157 acres).

In honor of Earth Day this week, raise a glass, and sample some of the wines from Dry Creek's organically farmed vines.

DaVero Vineyards and Winery
12 acres of organic and Biodynamic vines in Dry Creek Valley AVA

One of the first to make gourmet olive oil, DaVero uniquely grows wine varietals from Italy. A large olive tree graces the garden. Only Club members get their prized Sagrantino, but there's lots to entertain on the biodynamic vineyard and tasting room property which is conveniently located on Westside Road at the intersection with W. Dry Creek Valley Road. A visit to DaVero is a veritable agrotourism experience, where you can stroll to see pigs happily resting in their pig shack and perhaps see sheep in the fields. About half of the wines come from the estate's organic and biodynamic vines.
For Passport:  DaVero will be serving their own lamb, pork and veggies raised on the farm. One of the proprietors is a former gourmet chef; expect the food to be sensational. 

Martorana Family Vineyards
29 acres of organic vines in Dry Creek Valley AVA

The family started by making olive oil in the late 1990s and gravitated to wine. It's a great spot for relaxing by the creek where they have picnic tables on the edge of the banks. The easy going tasting room is in a cave structure nested inside a berm and has a living green roof. Everything is estate grown and organically farmed.
For Passport: The pizza oven will be fired up and cranking; there'll be live acoustic mandolin as well.

Quivira Vineyards & Winery*
88 acres of organic and Biodynamic vines in Dry Creek Valley AVA

One of Dry Creek's major Rhone hot spots, Quivira's focused on Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre as well as the Dry Creek regulars - Zin, Zin and Zin. They're also famous for their Sauvignon Blanc and their Petite Sirah. About a third of their wines are grown organically and biodynamically and are bottle labeled with certification.
For Passport: To celebrate Rhone wines, taste southern French food. A small market will also be featured, with wares from local artisans. Don't miss the rosé.

Ridge Vineyards*
157 acres of organic vines in Dry Creek Valley AVA (and 47 acres more in Geyserville; and even more in other locations)
A classic, not to be missed winery that is one of the defining wineries of the region, Ridge was born from Sonoma's heritage vines and proudly carries the tradition forward today, making super wines at its Healdsburg and Geyserville sites. Some of the vines are more than 100 years old. And they're converting all of these vines to organic farming and labeling the new East Bench Zin with the words "organic grapes" for all to see.
For Passport: You can bet that Ridge has been searching for the perfect food pairing with Zin for decades. This year they're serving forth a Korean clay pot beef and spring onion dish along with Zin, Grenache and more.

* = Top Pick: Don't Miss

See where these and other wineries are on the Passport to Dry Creek Valley map here.

Preston Farm & Winery, another prominent Dry Creek Valley producer devoted to Rhone wines and Zinfandel, has 70 acres of organically grown vines (and certifies their wines). Hawley Winery has 9 acres of organic estate vines, and the focus is on Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet). Neither participates in Passport although Preston is open to visitors (as it is on a regular basis). Hawley has a tasting room in downtown Healdsburg open to visitors; vineyard tours are by appointment. In addition, Syrah specialist Montemaggiore, with 10 acres of vines, has for years been certified biodynamic (and is now transitioning to organic certification). Visits are by appointment.

Can't make it to Passport? You can, of course, visit any of these wineries the rest of the year. Most are featured in the Dry Creek Valley Green Trail, a listing of only organic or biodynamic producers. (It used to list "sustainable" ones). You can find a map of these producers here.

Monday, April 20, 2015

IN PHOTOS: Volker Eisele Memorial, Tribute to 47th Anniversary of Napa's Ag Preserve

Napa Valley's stars from the world of wine and politics turned out yesterday to honor the memory of Volker Eisele, the "lion of land use" in Napa who was a champion of protecting ag lands from over commercialization, a threat that continues today.

Eisele died in Jan. at the age of 78 from a stroke. (Here are some brief excerpts from an interview I did with him in the summer of 2014).

The memorial program featured brief remarks by U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson, who said Volker helped to get him elected and worked closely with him on legislative issues. Hugh Davies, whose father Jack Davies preceded Volker in land preservation leadership, spoke on behalf of the Jack L. Davies Napa Valley Ag Land Preservation Fund and its continuing efforts.

Author James Conaway, whose two classic books on Napa have chronicled the hard fought battles to preserve Napa's agricultural character, entertained the audience with the humorous story of his first meeting with Volker.

Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon (a fifth generation Napa resident) thanked the Eisele family, as did others, for the time Volker spent on political battles.

Napa County Farm Bureau President Norma Tofanelli closed the program with a reminder that battles lie ahead in the protection of Napa's ag lands, calling for the attendees to continue the movement Volker and his allies created to preserve this precious region.

Note: Don't miss...Napa Broadcasting recorded an interview with James Conaway, reflecting on the past and present preservation challenges. You can listen to it here.

The event was held in the historic carriage
house at Charles Krug Winery (owned by the
Peter Mondavi family) in St. Helena
A crowd of wine industry and political leaders packed the hall
The program opened with a brief video tribute to Volker; the video will be posted
soon on the Napa Farm Bureau's web site and YouTube.
Host Marc Mondavi welcomed the group
Congressman Mike Thompson told several humorous stories that illustrated
Volker's tenacity in trying to rid his vineyard of wild pigs and wild turkeys
The reception outside featured classical music 
Guests mingled on the lawn amply supplied with food and drink, including
Volker's 2010 Cabernet

Monday, April 13, 2015

Symphony of the Soil: FREE STREAMING

This year is the United Nations' International Year of Soil. My friend Debra Koons Garcia is one of soil's true champions and her film Symphony of the Soil has won acclaim from farm folk as well as the Washington Post, Village Voice and the New York Times.

"This film raises the bar. It makes you care about our earth's precious skin, so rare among planets."
                                                                      -Barbara Damrosch, Washington Post
"Stimulating and visually engaging..."
                                                                      -John Oursler, Village Voice
"Unfolding with gentle joy and an unexpected beauty, this ode to the miracle of the Earth's topmost layer gives us a newfound respect for the ground beneath our feet."
                                                                      -Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times
Deborah will be speaking at the U.S. Congress at a congressional briefing on the soil-carbon Connection, courtesy of Congressman Jarred Huffman who represents Marin County.

In honor of that occasion, she has decided to make the film free on Vimeo for two weeks, starting today. So be sure to see it and get that Earth-Day-feel-good glow! And tell your friends.

Your free screening comes with subtitles - Spanish ones for April 13-19 and French ones for April 20-26.


If you don't make it for the free version, you can still rent the film on Vimeo or buy a DVD to share with others.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Our Visitors' Guide to Santa Cruz Mountains' Organic Wine Trail (April 18)

Four wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains have teamed up to help visitors celebrate Earth Day by touring the Organic Wine Trail with special events offered on April 18.

While it's wonderful to bring attention to this undervisited region, it's also important to note how many of the wines at each destination are actually grown organically (a small minority in most cases). Be sure to pay special attention to these wines from these participating wineries (that are open to the public):

*** = 50-100% of production

• Cooper Garrod Vineyards (3,000 cases out of 3,000 total)

Cooper Garrod's current releases are from its organic vines. (It has older library wines that are not).

** = 10-50% of production

• Ridge Vineyards (10,000 cases out of 80,000 total; an additional 15,000 cases, including its flagship Monte Bello and Lytton Springs Zinfandel, are made predominantly [80-90%] from organic grape during the transition to full certification).

Ridge is now the biggest organic vineyard owner in both the Santa Cruz Mountains and Sonoma County with 277 acres (all of its estate vines) certified organic (or in the three year transition period to organic certification).

Ridge also sources from historic vineyard properties that it does not own.

Note: Although grape buyers can appeal to vineyard owners to certify their vineyards as organic, ultimately certification is the owner's decision. With historic vineyards, the leverage a winery has over getting grapes certified is harder to come by. (Turley is in the same boat - all of its estate vineyards are certified but historic vineyards it buys from may be farmed organically but not certified).

* = less than 10% of production

All of the one star wineries have small estate vineyards or buy grapes from a certified grower. They all buy the bulk of their grapes from nonorganic sources.

• Alfaro Family Vineyards (332 cases out of 10,000 total)
• Silver Mountain Vineyards (250-650 cases out of 3-5,000 total)

A Guide to the Wines


*** Cooper Garrod
Organic estate acres: 28
Bottle labeling: "Made with Organic Grapes"
  • Cabernet Franc ($29)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon-Lone Oak Vineyard ($32)
  • Chardonnay-Gravel Ridge Vineyard ($29)
  • Syrah-Finely Vineyard ($29)
  • Viognier ($29)


** Ridge Vineyards

Organic estate acres: 277
Bottle labeling: "Ingredients: Organic Grapes" (East Bench only)
  • Zinfandel-East Bench ($28)
  • Zinfandel-Geyserville ($38)
In addition, the current releases of Ridge's Monte Bello Cabernet and the Lytton Springs Zindandel are both 80-90% organic.


* Alfaro Family Vineyards
Organic estate acres: 8
Bottle labeling: no certification on label
  • Chardonnay-Mary Katherine Vineyard ($29)
  • Gruner Veltliner-La Playita Vineyard ($25)
  • Pinot Noir-Mary Katherine Vineyard ($35)
* Silver Mountain Vineyards
Organic estate acres: 10
Bottle labeling: Made with Organic Grapes
  • Chardonnay-Estate ($38)
  • Pinot Noir-Estate ($38)
  • Pinot Noir-Miller Hill ($38)

Wine Industry's Widespread Use of Glyphosate and Neonicotinoids "Sustainable"? European Commission Says No on Neonics; U.S. Companies Start to Test for Glyphosate in Food Products


It ain't just the bees. Pity the poor ladybug as well, pesticide experts in the EU say, in their new report on the injurious effects of using neonicotinoids, an insecticide banned in Europe in an effort to help declining bee populations recover. The insecticides are used widely in the U.S. where there is no ban. Though they are predominantly used on corn seeds in the Midwest, neonicotinoids are also used widely in wine grape growing in California.

Yesterday the New York Times reported the following about a new report from European Union expert scientists on neonicotinoids:
"An influential European scientific body said on Wednesday that a group of pesticides believed to contribute to mass deaths of honeybees is probably more damaging to ecosystems than previously thought and questioned whether the substances had a place in sustainable agriculture."
The story went on to report:
"A growing body of evidence shows that the widespread use of the pesticides 'has severe effects on a range of organism that provide ecosystem services like pollination and natural pest control, as well as on biodiversity,' the report's authors said. 
Predatory insects like parasitic wasps and ladybugs provide billions of dollars' worth of insect control, they noted, and organisms like earthworms contribute billions more through improved soil productivity. All are harmed by the pesticides."
EU scientists had previously linked neonicotinoid use to health problems in humans, reporting that the chemicals affected children's developmental capacities.

Neonicotinoids are not prohibited under the Wine Institute's sustainable wine definitions nor under any other sustainability definition.

Here's where the neonics are used in California (on vineyards alone).
Latest state data mapped by the state's Dept. of Public Health showing the use of neonicotinoids in wine grapes in California
One of the most intense concentrations of neonic use in the North Coast is the area around Healdsburg and Geyserville, as you can see in the map below. Another area of intense use is along Highway 29 in Napa.

An earlier report on Dutch birds also pointed to the severe damage done to bird populations by the use of neonicotinoids, where university researchers found that as many as 35% of farmland birds died over a 10 year period due to low levels of neonicotinoids releasing into water supplies.


Also in the news, today's Reuters Health reports that labs are getting lots of new business from the recent announcement by the United Nations' World Health Organization (WHO) that Roundup and its main, active ingredient glyphosate, are probably carcinogenic. Wrote Reuters:
"Scientists says requests spiked after a World Health Organization research unit said last month it was classifying glyphosate as 'probably carcinogenic to humans.'"
The story reported that testing is revealing the presence of glyphosate in honey, soy sauce, infant formula and breast milk.

Glyphosate is a giant in wine grape pesticides used in California. More than 645,000 lbs. were applied in 2012, according to the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation. (California has more than 500,000 acres of vineyards).

The map below shows the application of one of the most popular forms of glyphosate.


If you LIKE insecticides and herbicides being used massively over the state, by all means, keep buying that non-organically grown wine on the supermarket shelf. Support the growers who put these chemicals into our ecosystems in the soil, air and water.

Otherwise, it's worth your while to seek out alternatives, grown by people who care about not using toxics. And when it comes to wine, you won't pay any more - there's no price premium to buy the ones that are organically grown. 

Can't find organically grown wines on the shelves? Talk to your supermarket's wine director about getting some of the GOOD, organically grown table wines in the store. There's no reason for stores not to offer plenty of alternatives. They just have to make the effort and work with their distributors. So, don't suffer from bad Choice A or bad Choice B. Get the great wines - from affordable to collector quality - on the shelves.

Monday, April 6, 2015

TAPAS: America's Tempranillo Producers' Grand Tasting April 26

Spanish varietals grown in California rarely get their due, but April 26 is your chance to redress this imbalance and discover or pay homage to producers from the U.S. who grow climate appropriate wine grapes and make stellar wines (including Albarino, Grenache and Tempranillo).

The Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society holds its grand tasting April 26 at the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio (with fabulous Bay views). Tickets are now on sale - $45-75 - depending on the number of events selected. Don't miss the Tempranillo Shoot Out comparing top Spanish and American tempranillos. 

(Volunteers are still needed, so you could also attend for free if you are willing to participate in this way.)

TAPAS producers who make organically grown wines include:

• Bokisch (Albarino, Graciano, Grenache)
• Castoro Cellars (Grenache, Tempranillo)
• Martian Ranch & Vineyards (Grenache, Tempranillo)
• Upper Five Vineyards (Tempranillo)
• Verdad (Albarino, Grenache Rosé, Tempranillo)

For details on the tasting, click here.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

IN PHOTOS: Saturday Seminars - Savoring the Great American Rhones

The Rhone Rangers two day extravaganza this past weekend featured two morning seminars, both led by Wine & Spirits magazine editor Patrick Comiskey, the author of the forthcoming book American Rhones, which U.C. Press is publishing.

Both featured an all star lineup of Rhone winemakers from California.

The first seminar was on rosés, the second on ageworthy Rhones
Bob Lindquist's Marsannes - featured on the left - dramatically
 illustrate the effects of aging Marsanne
The 2013 (left) and 2005 Marsanne (right)
from Qupé (Santa Ynez Valley AVA) -
a world of difference in appearance and
taste; you might want to start buying more
Marsanne for aging, Lindquist suggested.
Neil Collins from Tablas Creek (left) described the
original vision for Tablas Creek (planted in 1992)t
 that he observe now coming to fruition after 20+ years.
On the right is David Gates from Ridge Vineyards.
The two middle wines are the Esprit de Beaucastel (2003)
in the back; the front middle is the Esprit de Tablas (2012);
both are blends of Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, and Counoise.
On the right are the 2002 and 2012 Ridge Vineyards'
Petite Syrahs.
The 2003 Esprit
After tasting the 2022 Ridge Petite Sirah, I
finally see what all the fuss was about...
Petite rocks! And isn't that what a great tasting
should do - open your eyes? Mission accomplished.