Monday, February 22, 2016

Long Meadow Ranch's New Mendocino Vineyard Soon To Double Anderson Valley's Organic Vines: From 46 Acres to 116 Acres

Long Meadow Ranch proprietor Ted Hall with winemaker Stephane Vivier
Long Meadow Ranch, an integrated farming, restaurant and winemaking company founded by Ted and Laddie Hall in Rutherford, has been a very important leader of the organic community in Napa, where it has 86 acres of organic estate vines on two properties.

But these days, no Napa vintner can be without a Pinot Noir, and for the past several years, Long Meadow Ranch has been put in the position of buying non organic fruit for its Pinot Noir.

For founder Ted Hall, this didn't sit well. The son of an ardent organic gardener, Hall has followed the organic path in his Napa business. There he and his wife, Laddie, and their son, Chris, have created a vertically integrated organic mini-empire comprised of:
• Market produce farms, including 4+ acres on the Napa Valley floor (that has never been planted to wine grapes)
• A cattle operation raising local beef
• An olive grove and olive oil operation
• The mostly organic restaurant, Farmstead, in St. Helena, which uses produce and beef the Halls raise
• Vineyard holdings on the valley floor and on their Rutherford hillside estate
• A large winery on the valley floor
• A tasting room in St. Helena adjacent to their Farmhouse restaurant

To augment their wine portfolio to include organically grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and to source it from an area where these varietals excel, Long Meadow Ranch purchased 120 acres of land in Anderson Valley in Mendocino from the Corby family. More than 70 acres are planted.

According to John Cesano, of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers' Association, the going rate for Pinot Noir vineyards in Anderson Valley is around $100,000 per acre.

The Long Meadow Ranch vineyard is located just north of the Apple Farm in Philo and south of Edmeades, and fronts the Navarro River near Hendy Woods State Park.

While their grapes are in the middle of the three year certification process (on track for 2017 certification), Long Meadow Ranch's new holdings more than double the organic acreage in Anderson Valley AVA.

The site consists of 50 acres of Pinot Noir, 17 acres of Chardonnay and 2 acres of Pinot Gris.

Previously the only certified vineyards have been Handley's 29 acres and Filigreen Farm's 17 acres, which makes for a total of 46 acres. (Drew Family, in the adjacent Mendocino Ridge AVA, has 7 acres.) Adding 70 at Long Meadow Ranch brings the new total for Anderson Valley AVA to 116 acres.

"We aren't organic to be evangelical about it," Ted Hall said in a brief conversation when I visited his booth at the Alsace Festival Saturday. "It's just the way we farm."

Stephane Vivier, originally from Burgundy, will be overseeing winemaking for the Anderson Valley portfolio. His French bonafides are top flight: he worked under the owners of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) before coming to work in Napa as the winemaker for Hyde de Villaine (HDV), DRC's Napa collaboration.

Vivier will make the Long Meadow Ranch wines at Sonoma's Eighth St. facility.

At the Alsace Festival Saturday, Long Meadow Ranch  poured its inaugural releases from Anderson Valley - a 2015 rosé of Pinot Noir ($25) which was everything a rosé should be - lovely, crisp and light - and a new 2015 Pinot Gris (which hadn't been officially bottled yet).

2015 is the inaugural vintage for the Long Meadow Ranch rosé
Barrel sample bottling; new vintage releases
this spring

IN PHOTOS: 2016 #AlsaceFest: Organic Producers at the Grand Tasting

Yesterday's Grand Tasting of Alsatian Wines held a few surprises for me - I hadn't remembered the breadth of producers of these wines before, since I'd never seen them in the same room together. Oregonians pay a great deal of attention to Pinot Gris, but not much to other Alsatian whites, and here in California, red wines get pretty much of the glory.

So it was great to see all these producers in one room.


Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Alsatian Powerhouse in Napa's Carneros

I put Robert Sinskey Vineyards first on this list because I think it grows far more Alsatian vines - 30 acres - than any of the other California organic exhibitors at the grand tasting.

Its vineyards are in the southernmost reaches of Napa and Sonoma - in the Carneros. Longtime winemaker Jeff Virnig poured RSV's extensive line of Alsatian whites.

That list includes Muscat Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and a blend of Alsatian whites called Abraxas, which changing in composition each year. In addition, more adventurously, RSV has recently started to make a skin contact Pinot Gris, Orgia, which I liked quite a lot.

In the sweet wine department, there are several offerings - a late harvest Pinot Gris and a relatively new (to me) I.Q. (short for Ice Queen), which was made in 2011 from frozen grapes. Both were winners.

2. ANDERSON VALLEY ESTATE PRODUCERS: Handley Cellars, Long Meadow Ranch

•  Handley Cellars, Iconic Anderson Valley Benchmark

Handley, in its estate wines or in other wines, has long been a beloved producer in Mendocino's Anderson Valley. It has also, for many years, been the only winery with an organic estate.

While most of its 29 acres of organic estate vines are planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, it sets aside 3 acres for its Gewürztraminer, which is currently the only organically grown Alsatian it makes.

Long Meadow Ranch, The "New Guys" in Anderson Valley

Long Meadow Ranch poured 2015 inaugural releases of their new Anderson Valley wines, made by Stephane Vivier. Owned by the Hall family in Napa, this newly organic vineyard (on target for final certification in 2017) more than doubles Anderson Valley's organic output from 46 acres to 116. It's nice to see the organic community here grow. For more see here.

At the event Long Meadow Ranch  poured its inaugural releases from Anderson Valley - a 2015 rosé of Pinot Noir ($25) which was everything a rosé should be - lovely, crisp and light - and a new 2015 Pinot Gris (which hadn't been officially bottled yet).

2015 is the inaugural vintage for the Long Meadow Ranch rosé
Barrel sample bottling; new vintage releases
this spring

Balo Vineyards: Organic Farming Fans

Alex Crangle of Balo Vineyards makes one Pinot Gris made from Filigreen Farm in Anderson Valley, the only Biodynamic vineyard in the region.

Filigreen Farm is managed by Australian born Chris Tebbutt and his family. This integrated farm grows a variety of crops and sells Biodynamic olive oil and more. Its grapes are highly coveted.

In addition, Tebbutt is one of the leading authorities on the aquatic fern Azolla, which shows a great deal of potential in combatting climate change. (For more on that, you can see his video on from the 2015 California Climate & Agriculture Summit here.)

(The wine, though sourced solely from Filigreen, is not labeled a single vineyard designate.)

I had to return home after the Grand Tasting instead of lingering longer in Boonville, so I missed a chance to see Balo more in-depth, I hope to visit in May when the Pinot Noir festival offers another opportunity to take a closer look.

Panthea: Up and Coming

Touting its recent spate of three gold and two silver medals from the 2015 SF Chronicle Wine Competition, Philo-based Panthea looks to be a rising star in the close knit winemaking community in Anderson Valley. One sip of its 2013 Filigreen sourced Pinot Gris (again, no vineyard designated on the bottle) was enough to make me pay attention. I have too much wine, I cannot buy any more wine, and yet, this is a wine I think I might have to get. I was so distracted I forgot to take a picture of the winemaker  Kelly Boss at the event.

I look forward to trying Panthea's Filigreen Pinot Noir in May at the Pinot Noir Festival.


Barra of Mendocino - North Italian Influences

Listening to the speakers at the 2016 #AlsaceFest it was easy to forget how important Alsatian varietals are to Italian producers. Luckily Barra of Mendocino was there to remind us, purely by example.

This Redwood Valley producer, founded by a northern Italian family, makes affordable Pinot Blanc and a medium sweet Muscat Canelli, perfect on a summer's day.

Proprietor Martha Barra handed out sticky bumblebee cloth pins to remind people that organic producers are bee-friendly.

Bee Love from Barra of Mendocino


Brooks Wine, Oregon's Riesling Leader

Winemaker Chris Williams of Brooks Wine
A leader in Oregon's Riesling Renaissance, Brooks Wine is also a regional pioneer in Biodynamic farming and winemaking, going back to the earliest days of the winery. For many, its founder Jimi Brooks (deceased) was synonymous with a love of Biodynamic farming and it's to his credit that so many Oregon wineries followed in these footsteps (Maysara is among them).

But Brooks was more in love with Riesling and an equally big part of his legacy is that the winery makes three estate Riesling (and a very fine estate grown Pinot Gris). Today  the estate wines are made in the Biodynamic Wine standard, a high bar (i.e. vinified on native yeasts and made without additives except for sulfites).

Brooks built a spectacular new tasting room and winery in which opened in 2015 and has been getting more serious attention since then. If you're planning a trip to the Willamette Valley, don't leave Riesling out of the equation. It was the grape Oregon loved most before Pinot Noir came along and Brooks has been an important player in preserving its old vines as well as popularizing a wide variety of its Riesling styles in the U.S.

Pacific Rim: The Original Riesling Rules Producer

Pacific Rim winemaker Nicholas Quillé (right) at the tasting
Burgundy born winemaker Nicholas Quillé of Pacific has been with the Washington winery from the start, when it was the brainchild of Bonny Doon proprietor Randall Grahm. (Grahm later sold it to its current owner Banfi Wines). Quillé's dedicated the last decade of his life to Riesling in its many different styles and has overseen the winery's remarkable dedication to organic farming.

Today Pacific Rim grows 40 percent of its grapes organically but makes only two of its wines solely from its organic vines.

Its organically grown Riesling is subtly sweet. It's fermented on native yeasts alone, even though this level of certification does not require it. I am always interested in wines to pair with salads; Quillé recommends this Riesling for its ability to pair with salad or vegetables.

I've also enjoyed its version of an ice wine, Vin de Glaciere (French for "wine from the icebox"), which is an excellent dessert wine (with cheese especially) or, as Quillé suggests, this wine can just be the dessert.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

2016 #AlsaceFest Seminars Show the Love for the Many Faces of the Four Alsatian Noble Grapes - Part 2: U.S. Dry Riesling Winemakers

More than 160 people attended the sold out educational seminar at the 2016 Alsace Festival in Boonville
John Winthrop Haeger's morning session on Riesling featured dry Riesling winemakers and wines from four different U.S. wine regions. Included were:

• Oregon
Willamette Valley: Brooks Wine (which has a Biodynamic estate; it makes a few Biodynamic estate wines)

• California - Central Coast
Santa Barbara County: Tatomer  

• Washington State
Yakima Valley, Washington: Pacific Rim (it makes two organically grown wines)

• California - North Coast
Anderson Valley, Mendocino County: Balo Vineyards

Wines from Brooks and Tatomer in the dry Riesling flight
Winemakers Chris Williams/Brooks, Greg Tatomer/Tatomer, Nicholas Quillé/Pacific Rim and Alex Crangle/Balo Vineyards

First up was Brooks Wines, which is at the forefront of the reinvigoration of Oregon Riesling.

Winemaker Chris Williams, who took over the winemaking reins when founder Jimi Brooks died (all too young in his mid 30's) to keep Jimi's winery alive, has grown from making a few Rieslings - including one Estate Riesling from old vines (dating back to the early 1970's) that Jimi loved and wanted to preserve - to today offering 14 different Rieslings from Brooks.

Chris Williams of Brooks
"We've been approached with more Riesling fruit from growers with small Riesling plantings," Williams told the audience. In response Brooks has created a single vineyard designate program that showcases these many site-specific flavors. (None are organic except for the Brooks estate vineyards). These makeup most of Brooks' 14 different single vineyard designate Rieslings.

"Two years ago we made only eight Rieslings," Williams said. "I've got one nearby farmer, Bob Bailey, who planted an acre of it a few years back. He said he'd been thinking of me when he planted that acre."

Crop levels are in the 2.5-3 tons per acre range.

Williams said the estate Riesling vines were farmed Biodynamically as early as 2002, and were certified in 2008. The winery was certified in 2015, and new vintages going forward will be bottle labeled Biodynamic Wine.  

Asked about native fermentations, Brooks said he does about a third of Brooks overall production on native yeast fermentation. (All of the wines that are certified Biodynamic Wines are - and must be -fermented on native yeasts.)


By contrast, Greg Tatomer in Santa Barbara County is not blessed with many local Riesling sources, but manages to make three different wines from his one and only source (not organic), a 1.6 acre section of a local Riesling vineyard. 

After making wine in Austria for a number of years, he follows what is a common practice there - making wine from several different passes in the vineyard, using increasingly ripened grapes in one wine (his Kick-On Riesling), while reserving less ripe grapes picked earlier for a second wine (his Vanderberg Riesling). (In addition to his two dry Rieslings, he also makes one sweet riesling from grapes with Botrytis.)

Tattooer says he hand sorts his grapes right in the vineyard. He gives credit to vineyard owner Steve Lyons for supporting Tatomer's three waves of picking. 

Riesling is making a bit of a comeback on the Central Coast, he said. "Riesling is started to get a little buzz on down here," he said, with others now competing for grapes. "That Summer of Riesling event really helped us," he said. "Every sommelier wants people to grow and drink Riesling."

Asked if one can make dry Riesling from vines with Botrytis, he said yes, that could be done. Haeger added that that practice was more labor intensive. "The tolerance for Botrytis has gone down for making dry wines," he said.


The local representative on the panel, Alex Crangle, of Balo Vineyards, a leading advocate for organic farming practices in Anderson Valley (but one who does certify his vineyards nor those of his vineyard management clients), featured Balo's wines from Wiley Vineyard (not organic), presenting two different vintages for the sake of a 2013 to 2014 comparison. 

From left to right, Greg Tatomer/Tatomer, Nicholas Quillé/Pacific Rim, Alex Crangle/Balo Vineyards
and John Winthrop Haeger

French born winemaker Nicholas Quillé, who has been the winemaker of Pacific Rim ever since it was started by Randall Grahm (who later sold it to Banfi Wines), represented the U.S.'s largest Riesling region - Washington State, where giant Chateau Ste. Michelle (CSM) is by far the biggest producer, making more than a million cases a year. CSM's "Johannesburg Riesling" style - a sweetish Riesling - "has defined Riesling in the U.S.," Quillé said. 

Pacific Rim makes a few single vineyard designate wines, including two from organic vines, which were not presented at this tasting. (Both are sweet or slightly sweet; one, Pacific Rim's dessert wine Vin de Glaciere, is quite delicious). Quillé featured two contrasting vintages of dry Rieslings from Solstice Vineyard, comparing the agreeability of the 2008 with the 2014.

Francois de Melogue's lovely food pairings

After the morning tasting, the seminar continued with a wine and food pairing menu, created by the very entertaining chef Francois de Melogue, author of a new self published cookbook called Cuisine of the Sun.

De Melogue expressed his love for Riesling as the wine that is easy to pair with food and pairs with a wide variety of dishes.

Let to right; Michael Ireland, Evan Goldstein  

The final morning session, entitled Grand Cru Grapes, Globally Interpreted, was led by MS Evan Goldstein with Michael Ireland, the former sommelier at the French Laundry. (Ireland has now started a new wine bar in San Francisco called High Treason.)

Goldstein presented a brief overview of the four noble grapes of Alsace and the criteria for the 51 Grand Cru vineyards in the region.

"Most have been recognized as outstanding from the 14th century," he said.

Goldstein characterized Alsatian wines as "wonderful expatriates," saying they show their colors well around the world where they are planted.

Their history in the U.S. goes back - way back, said Goldstein, "The first bonded winery in the U.S., in 1860, was in the Finger Lakes."

A flight of eight dry and sweet Alsatian wines circled the globe, from Chile to Michigan, and from Mendocino to Sicily.

The most surprising was a Gewurztraminer from Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula - a 2011 Manigold Farm from Left Foot Charlie - which wowed the audience.


Although this wasn't presented at the educational seminar (some of it may have been part of the Friday night Welcome Dinner which I did not attend), for most in Anderson Valley, the money's in Pinot Noir; the Alsatians, except for Navarro and a few other wineries, rarely get the limelight. Out of the county's 67 acres of Riesling, just over half - 38 acres - are in Anderson Valley.

As Haeger writes in his new book, Riesling Rediscovered, "Sadly the runaway success of Pinot Noir since the 1990s has all but eradicated Riesling from Anderson Valley, despite local winegrowers' nostalgic and symbolic attachment to what they call 'Alsace Varietals' and to the International Alsace Varietals Festival."

The original 1968 vines planted in Anderson Valley by Tony Husch are still bearing, Haeger says. The main Reisling vintner is Navarro, which makes a dry cuvee that Haeger describes as quite variable from vintage to vintage.

Elsewhere in Mendocino, Haeger mentions Cole Ranch as the source of 30 acres of Riesling, along with McFadden Vineyards in Potter Valley, a cooler valley than other inland areas closer to Ukiah, where some vines are thought to be the oldest Riesling in the county.

McFadden, which makes only organically grown wines, was not included in the morning's festivities, as they are not located in Anderson Valley and did not take a booth at the afternoon Grand Tasting.

Today McFadden's Riesling grapes are the exclusive source for Chateau Montelena's Riesling. In addition, Dashe Cellars make a single vineyard dry Riesling from McFadden's vines. In some years, McFadden makes a regular, dry Riesling and, less frequently, a lovely late harvest sweet Riesling dessert wine.

2016 #AlsaceFest Seminars Show the Love for the Many Faces of the Four Alsatian Noble Grapes - Part 1: John Winthrop Haeger on Dry Riesling

I have to say, I learned a ton at the Anderson Valley Alsace Festival held yesterday at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville.

This annual event is put on by the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association. It's the winter cousin of their more famous Pinot Noir Festival, which takes place every May.

Some of the charm of the day was due to simple, noncommercial beauty of Anderson Valley, which remarkably is pretty much the only outpost in California wine country with great wine without a lot of pretense.

It's a reminder of how rustic and uncommercial Napa and Sonoma used to be - but Anderson Valley has better grown and better made wine than in those olden times.

While Anderson Valley has lagged significantly behind other Alsatian wine growing regions (Oregon and Alsace for instance) in organic and Biodynamic viticulture, there are signs that times may be changing here - albeit slowly.

The 160 AlsaceFest educational seminar attendees were fortunate to have John Winthrop Haeger lead a morning session that began with his take on the current scene in all things Riesling.

In his new book Riesling Rediscovered: Bold, Bright and Dry (read Stuart Piggot's review of the book here), the latest wine book from U.C. Press, Haeger's focused on a broad array of Riesling producers from around the globe. It's being widely acclaimed as the leading serious wine text of this generation to focus on Riesling - and what a story there is to tell.

Riesling Rediscovered author John Winthrop Haeger at the Alsace Festival
A few highlights:

• Riesling is the 7th most grown varietal in the world
• It's stress tolerant as well as drought resistant
• Like Pinot Noir, it's very expressive of the site where it was grown
• It lends itself to a very wide spectrum of styles (sweet to dry)

Surprising to me was the fact that it wasn't until 1950 that sweet Riesling became the popular style of Riesling. And it was only when it became sweet, said Haeger, that Germany became a wine drinking country.

That was true - until 1975, when the whole style changed during the "the dry wave" - or the Trockenwelle. In that period, dry Riesling reasserted itself, and today 75% of riesling is made in this style.

That's true only in Europe, though. Here in the U.S. 80% of riesling sold is sweet or sweetish. But in Haeger's tasting session, the focus was on dry U.S. Rieslings from several diverse regions.

The morning panel of winemakers featured wines from Willamette Valley in Oregon, Yakima Valley in Washington and two California regions - Santa Barbara County and Mendocino County. For more on them, see Part 2.


To read chapter 1 of Haeger's Riesling Rediscovered, click here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Bordelais Protest: 600 March on Sunday Telling Vintners To Stop Using Pesticides

Six months ago, I attended a Bordeaux wine tasting here in San Francisco and asked the moderator what percentage of wineries in Bordeaux were organic. The official had no tally (the number is very small), but of course, was pleased to mention the region's sustainability program and growing membership.

This type of response is typical of the wine industry, which prefers to tout its progress in lowering its use of water and energy instead of addressing the health issues for workers and residents when it comes to the use of pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and fungicides, which are classified as carcinogens, neurotoxins and other toxic classifications.

The situation in France is becoming more heightened. Following the France2 television broadcast of a two hour special on pesticides and children's health risks, the burgeoning citizen movement in Bordeaux launched a protest march Sunday.

According to Decanter, more than 600 people participated, taking to the streets to tell vintners they are angry about the use of toxics and linking it to putting their children at risk.

This citizens coalition involves a number of nonprofit groups which are listed on their organizing pamphlet above.

Viva La France. What will it take for Californians to wake up, too?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Anderson Valley Alsace Festival This Weekend: Here Are the Organic Highlights

I'm looking forward to this weekend celebration of Alsace varietals this weekend in Boonville as the Anderson Valley Wine Association puts on its annual Alsace Festival, hosting an educational seminar and grand tasting on Saturday, followed by winery open houses on Sunday.

While the seminar and grand tasting are sold out events at this point, you can easily enjoy a day of tasting on Sunday at the individual wineries, a few of which feature organically grown wines.


Unfortunately the educational seminar is filled to capacity (as a press person I was lucky to secure a last minute cancellation) and the quality of the seminar looks to be quite high.

Glenn McGourty, U.C. Extension Farm Advisor  for Mendocino and Lake Counties, will be moderating the morning sessions. (He is also a leading expert on organic and Biodynamic farming, expertise both counties rely on since 25% of Mendocino county's vineyards are certified organic. Expect to see new research he's been conducting with U.C. Davis on organic farming costs in the near future.)

Pinot Noir expert  John Winthrop Haeger, who has a new book coming out, Riesling Rediscovered, will be moderating a panel of four stellar winemakers. Two of the four - Nicholas Quille of Pacific Rim (in Washington) and Chris Williams of Brooks Winery (in Oregon) - work with organic and Biodynamic grapes.

Sommelier extraordinaire Evan Goldstein will also lead a tasting of what the event organizers are calling the four Noble varietals: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Muscat).  Two leading sommeliers are featured on this panel.


The Grand Tasting is also sold out. Wines from many regions - including the Finger Lakes and Alsace - will be exhibiting.


One thing that's not sold out is the winery open houses on Sunday. 

Of these, several wineries have at least one wine from organic vines on the list.

For Alsatian wines, I'd suggest starting with these two wineries:

• By far the largest organic producer in Anderson Valley, and a benchmark winery there dating back to its early days, Handley Cellars makes a Pinot Gris and a Gewürztraminer,  from organic grapes, as well as a Chardonnay and an estate Pinot,.You can also check out its Viognier, a novel Orange Muscat, and on occasion, a memorable and sought after sparkling wine.

• Panthea Cellars makes a Pinot Gris, as well as a Pinot Noir, from Filigreen Farms' Biodynamic grapes, which are grown on a beautiful farm in Anderson Valley. Filigreen Farms has been selling their grapes to a variety of vintners, from Paul Dolan Vineyards (two vintages of treasured Pinot Noir, now gone) and to Donkey & Goat in Berkeley.

Others in the area that make organically grown wines - from Bordeaux varietals - are:

• Yorkville Cellars produces 7+ organically grown wines from their own estate; specializes in Bordeaux varietals both in blends and bottled individually so you can find out what each actually tastes like on its own.
• Bink Wines makes a Sauvignon Blanc from Yorkville Cellars' organic vines (called Randle Hill).

Other area producers include:

• Donkey & Goat - these Berkeley based winemakers, who are members of the Anderson Valley vintners group, make a Pinot Gris from Filigreen Farms' Biodynamic grapes
• Drew Family - apple farmers as well as winemakers, they are the only producers in their tiny appellation who are organic and are just releasing their first vintages from these estate vines
• Long Meadow Ranch - a Napa winery, it's recently purchased a 60 acre vineyard in Boonville where its raising Pinot Noir, organically; its Napa estate vines are certified organic. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Organic Wine Tasting and Panel at SF Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants with CAFF: Monday, Feb. 22

Next Monday in downtown San Francisco, the Community Alliance of Family Farmers (CAFF) is putting on a panel discussion "How Green Is Your Wine" focusing on dry farmed and/or organic or Biodynamic vintners.

Organic and Biodynamic pioneer Paul Dolan will be moderating a panel of four leading vintners, including:

• Jason Haas from Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, makers of fine Rhone wines from organic vines

• David Gates from Ridge Vineyards, whose Sonoma and Cupertino estate vineyards have recently become certified organic (or will be later this year); the winery's known for its outstanding Cabernet and its old vine Zinfandels
• Boutique producers Steve Gliessman and Roberta Jaffe of Condor's Hope, which has newly certified organic vineyards in Santa Barbara County

All of the above vintners have certified organic vines.

In addition, Stu Smith from Smith-Madrone in Napa, will also be a panelist.

After the panel you can enjoy small bites and a wine tasting from the panelists's vineyards as well as wines from these organic producers: AmByth, DaVero, Frog's Leap, Porter Creek, Quivira and Preston Farm & Winery.

The event is $20 and tickets can be reserved here.

This is a rare chance to hear from organic producers in San Francisco. Hope you can make it. See you there!

Friday, February 12, 2016

FINALLY...A Television Documentary on Pesticides That Is Freaking Out the [French] Wine Industry

On Feb. 2, France2TV aired a two hour documentary, entitled Chemical Products: Our Endangered Children, that has the wine industry freaking out.

The show, which was seen by 3 million French viewers, is a thorough investigation of the effects of wine grape pesticides on the health of French children.

It names Bordeaux as the place that uses more pesticides than any other, and overall the documentary paints a less than glowing (but accurate) picture of the practices vintners use that endanger the health and safety of children and residents.

According to Decanter, a protest against the wine industry's use of pesticides, particularly near schools, by parents and residents, in Bordeaux is scheduled for this weekend.

You can read a good summary from French News Online's web site here or watch the entire program (part of a series entitled Cash Investigation) on YouTube. Here it is:


It's interesting that the French investigative reporters had to find a "secret" database of the pesticides sold in France. Here in the U.S., such information is easy to find public information. And yet 60 Minutes et al has never touched this subject.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Organic Winners in the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

This year the country's largest wine competition - in which judges selected the winners from more than 7,000 wines entered - will hold its annual public wine tasting day this Sat., Feb. 13 at Fort Mason.

In this past Sunday's edition of the Chronicle, a pullout section featured a list of all the winning wines. Here are the organically grown among them.

All of these will be available to taste at the event.

What's interesting overall is that a lot of these wines win year after year (McFadden, Bokisch, King, Benziger's Pinots, Campovida's Dark Horse Grenache). Some win less consistently (Montemaggiore, Canihan) but deserve it each year. Which should tell you something about all of these wines (i.e. they ARE really good).

Newcomers: Viluko Vineyards, Petroni, Hawk and Horse, Beaver Creek.

And who would have thought that out of 26 wines, two would be from Lake County's only Biodynamic vineayrds (Hawk and Horse and Beaver Creek.)


Sweepstakes Winner

Korbel, N/V, Brut, Organically Grown Grapes, California AVA, $13.99

• This was a bit of a surprise. What's good about this wine: a lot of it is made - about 34,000 cases a year. And it's affordably priced. What's curious about this wine: it's made with French Colombard, Sangiovese and Chardonnay (probably sourced from the Central Valley), not your usual sparkling wine blend, but a unique concoction that apparently was tasty enough for the judges' palates. The AVA is "California."

Korbel makes 1.5 million cases of wine a year. This is the only organically grown wine Korbel makes, so, in a best case scenario, perhaps this could be a sign for them that organic grapes are a win.

Double Gold

Cuvee Brut, McFadden Vineyard, NV, Potter Valley AVA, Mendocino, $25

• This has been one of my personal favorites for years and a lot of my friends have now gotten turned on to this as well, having sampled it at my house at various gatherings. Become a wine club member of McFadden's (they'll customize your membership so you just buy what you want) and this goes on sale for a price twice a year at a price very close to what the Korbel costs.

This is a winery you'll feel good about supporting - a grower in Mendocino for more than 40 years, Guinness McFadden became a vintner as well in the last decade. And this wine is his best, in my humble opinion. It's consistently performed exceptionally well at this competition (and others). It's got great farming behind it and a well deserved track record of winning (meaningful) medals.

Sauvignon Blanc 

Best of Class

• Petroni, 2014, $28 (Moon Mountain District AVA, Sonoma County)

From deep in the Moon Mountain District AVA comes this white wine from the mountain lair that is Petroni Vineyards. Founded and run by an Italian restaurant family from North Beach.

Pinot Gris

Best of Class

King Estate, Domaine, 2014, $29 (Oregon AVA)

• A perennial favorite from southern Oregon (just outside the Willamette Valley boundary in southern Oregon).



Bokisch Vineyards, Clement Hills, Terra Alta Vineyard, 2014, $18 (Lodi AVA)

• One of the best in the state.



Barra of Mendocino, Pinot Noir Rosé, 2015, $18 (Mendocino AVA)

• A surprise win - I look forward to tasting this one from long time grower turned vintner Charlie Barra.

Pinot Noir

Double Gold

Canihan Cellars, 2013, $50 (Sonoma Valley AVA)

• Nice to see this family owned vineyard (and vintner) getting kudos for its Pinot Noir.

Alma Rosa, 2013, $55 (Sta. Rita Hills AVA, Santa Barbara County)

• A classic.

Benziger, Arbore Sacra, 2013, $75 (Sonoma Coast AVA)

Benziger, Quintus, 2013, $75 (Sonoma Coast AVA)

• Both of these Benziger Pinot Noirs are Biodynamic Wines, meaning they have been farmed in Demeter certified Biodynamic vineyards and that nothing has been added to the wines (save sulfites to preserve them).


Benziger, Bella Luna, 2013, $49 (Russian River Valley AVA)

McFadden Vineyard, 2013, $19 (Potter Valley AVA, Mendocino)

• A tribute to McFadden's farming and Potter Valley's unique climate.



Grgich Hills Estate, 2012, $36 (Napa Valley AVA)

• From a famous Napa family that's long known a lot about Zinfandel (and fine winemaking overall).


Best of Class

Montemaggiore, Paolo's Vineyard, 2013, $38 (Dry Creek Valley AVA)

Double Gold

Montemaggiore, Syrafina, 2013, $45 (Dry Creek Valley AVA)

• It was very sweet to see that Montemaggiore got a little bit of glory. The family has been focused on Syrah and the vineyard sits on a spectacular and semi-secret spot above Dry Creek Valley. If you haven't been, it's well worth the visit.


Canihan Cellars, 2013, $49 (Sonoma Coast AVA)

Petite Sirah


Beaver Creek Vineyards, 2013, $24 (Lake County AVA)

• Nice to see a Lake County winery get some recognition, and especially in a year where Lake County bore the brunt of the wildfire that spread at lightning speed through a number of vineyards. This was one.



Bokisch Vineyards, 2013, $20 (Lodi AVA)

Campovida, Dark Horse Ranch, 2013, $38 (Mendocino AVA)

• Both of the above are favorites of mine. The Dark Horse, at $38, is a bit spendy but the biodynamic grapes from the Dolan families' gorgeous hillside estate shine through. The Bokisch is affordable enough to drink a case of. Winemaker and grower Marc Bokisch is half Spanish and his Grenache is a perennial winner.



Bonterra, 2013, $15 (Mendocino AVA)

• A great buy at Costco ($10 the last time I was there). Good weekday wine.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Double Gold

Viluko Vineyards,  Split Rock, 2012, $35 (Sonoma Valley AVA)


Viluko Vineyards, Mayacamas Mountains, 2012, $50 (Sonoma Valley AVA)

• It's lovely to see Viluko getting this kind of recognition. Another great spot to visit during one of their annual release parties. Another secret, tucked away golden spot with a creek and hillsides and a charming old wooden barn. This is a family headed by a very successful Chilean; they're taking the slow road and doing things right.

Long Meadow Ranch, 2012, $52 (Napa Valley AVA)

• From the Hall family in Napa, long time organic leaders in Napa Valley.

Bordeaux Blends

Best of Class

Lateral, 2013, $42 (Napa Valley AVA)

• A nice win for Lateral, from select Napa vineyards. This wine hasn't gotten its due in recent vintages. This medal is well deserved.

Red Blends


Benziger, Tribute, 2013, $80 (Sonoma Mountain AVA)

• Traditionally Benziger's flagship wine, this is also a Biodynamic wine.

Dessert - Red Wine

Best of Class

Hawk and Horse Vineyards, 2010, $45 (Lake County AVA)

• This Lake County Biodynamic vineyard has a unique site, perched on some east facing hillsides. The vines were magically protected from the fire (not even the firefighters could explain why), which spread all around the edges of the vineyard this fall just days after the grapes had been picked. The vineyard features the famous "Lake County diamonds," quartz crystals that sparkle in the red dirt.

Dessert - White Wine

Double Gold

Campovida, Campo des Robles, $28 (Lake County AVA)

• Made from Viognier from the Campovida estate adjacent to Bonterra's vines in Hopland.