Monday, October 26, 2015

Wine Movies, Continued: The Ways of Wine (By Way of

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

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. 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.




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.


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


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



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.


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).


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.