Thursday, May 26, 2016

Organic Week in DC: Organic Hot Spots Provide Economic Benefit

The twitterverse is alive with OTA tweets as the Organic Trade Association and other organic groups meet this week in DC, paying homage to the Congressional and USDA authorities who can plead their case.

The OTA provided a white paper showing the economic gains that occur in areas where organic agriculture holds sway and pointed to the current trends with this poster:

There's a lot of good info here: who knew that 75% of supermarket product categories boasted an organic choice? (Not much in the wine aisle, for the most part). Or that Millenial parents were doing such a good job in choosing organic for their kids.

The real issue at stake is the fact that the U.S. does not grow, for all its ag land acreage, enough organic to satisfy the domestic demand. Hence, the recent story that Costco is paying farmers to grow organic, even loaning them money to buy land in Mexico. (What - there wasn't enough land in the U.S.?) The company has become the biggest organic retailer in the U.S., dethroning Whole Foods in 2015 - and with that demand comes supply issues.

The OTA's white paper, "Organic Hotspots and Their Benefits to Local Economies," released this week, makes the point that organics lift all boats, lowering county poverty rates on average 1.35 percent.

The OTA's study also gave Congressional Representatives fodder on the economic impact of organic farming and handling to their district.

But the report shows some other revealing aspects as well - political schisms that reflect agricultural ones. Take a look at where the organic hotspots are - and aren't.

Do these red and blue blotches remind of you of the red and blue states, only with the colors reversed? Apparently, overall, the country does farm as differently as it votes, a fact I had previously not taken note of.

Do you think the blue states (in the political map above) get as much Big Ag welfare as the red states? I am still looking for a map that can tell me the answer to that question.

Until then we can be grateful to the supporters the organic movement has in high places - among them Sen. Jeff Merkley (below) of Oregon and Rep. Sam Farr (further below), from Carmel, who is retiring this year after 12 terms in the House of Representatives.

Merkley is the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and a supporter of GMO labeling. Farr is the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Agriculture. Farr's involvement in organic legislative support dates back to 1990, when he was in the California State Assembly and sponsored the groundbreaking legislation that created the state's first organic standards.

Two good guys to know - and each has organic ag in their districts, especially Farr. Both received awards of recognition from OTA.

Sen. Jeff Merkley from Oregon
Sam Farr from California's Central Coast
The group also heard from Ambassador Darci Vetter, the Chief Negotiator for U.S. Trade Representative. She spoke on international trade opportunities for the U.S. organic industry.

The organic industry is now a $43 billion industry, providing 13 percent of the nation's fruits and vegetables. (And just two percent of its wines).

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Anderson Valley: The Good Stuff

There were wonderful Pinots everywhere you looked in Anderson Valley's 2016 Pinot Fest, but among my favorites were the ones from Handley Cellars as well as Panthea Cellars. The first - a classic. The second - a rising star.

Panthea, which is run by Kelly and Jessa Boss, had four wines from Filigreen Farms' Biodynamic vines: an orange Pinot Gris, the 2012 and 2013 Siren (these vintages were from Filigreen, but the Siren is not always sourced from this vineyard), and the 2013 Filigreen.

The 2013 Siren was my favorite - light on its feet and ethereal the way a Pinot Noir should be.

These are all small lot wines and they can be ordered directly from the winery. They were doing a pretty brisk business on Sunday selling the wine directly at the Boonville Hotel.

Kelly and Jessa Boss in the Panthea Cellars "tasting room" at the Boonville Hotel

A "find": the Siren grape source varies from year to year, but for two vintages it's all
Filigreen Farm, the local certified biodynamic vineyard
The Panthea tasting setup at the Boonville Inn
The 2012 Siren ($32), from Filigreen Farm fruit, was bigger, from a warmer vintage

Down the road, Handley served forth its lovely 2013 estate Chardonnay;
I was wowed by the 2013 Estate Pinot, an Anderson Valley classic

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Anderson Valley's New "Eco Chic" Tasting Rooms: Where the Fungicides Are

Anderson Valley's two newest tasting rooms - Domaine Anderson and Pennyroyal - showed off their charms to their first visitors of the summer season over the Pinot Noir festival weekend, a prelude to Memorial Day and the steady stream of tourists who will soon start heading to the valley.

These two beautiful showcases demonstrated several aspects of Anderson Valley's growth.

One, these are no rustic little shacks, where you have the sense of discovering a 94 pt. stunning Pinot Noir in a country parlor. No, these are big budget tasting rooms, worthy of being in Sonoma or even Napa. They're evidence of the rising sums established houses are ready to spend (and their banks are willing to loan) on wineries that can attract tourists - who are drawn by eco-friendly values.

Alas neither delivers - at least not yet - on its green promise, although both are good at looking like they're green. And therein lies the heartbreak.

Two, these are second labels from long time valley success stories. Domaine Anderson comes from the valley's largest landholder, Roederer Estate, owned by a French family. The other new brand is Pennyroyal Farm, owned by the same family that famously started Anderson Valley's best known winery, Navarro Vineyards. Each has a gorgeous new facility and each is located in a much better site for attracting drive by tourists than each parent company's main facility.

Three, these are not corporate run companies. These are family run operations. This is not Kendall Jackson (which owns significant acreage in the valley) or Duckhorn (which owns Goldeneye in Anderson Valley).

Domaine Anderson and its bee garden 
Domaine Anderson: Going Biodynamic (at a Glacial Pace?)

Domaine Anderson is part of Roederer, the French Champagne house that owns about a quarter of Anderson Valley's 2,400 acres of vineyards.

The green part: The new facility is a rustic yet elegant tasting room with a few choice tables for enjoying the view.

The label is anticipating courting the eco-friendly crowd, it would seem.

Right now it has 17 acres of vines (out of 620 acres total) that are on track to become become Demeter certified Biodynamic in the near future.

The tasting room has a bee garden outside and sells Kate Frey's bee friendly gardening book (prominently displayed) in the tasting room. Marketing is sending all the right messages.

And yet....only one wine will be sourced from the 17 acres of in transition to certification vines - the Dach Ranch Pinot Noir, which currently sells for $72.
Use of Pristine fungicide at Roederer Estate
(2013 Pesticide Use Report)

The heartbreaking part: Alas, most of the Domaine Anderson wines come from grapes sprayed with Flint or Pristine fungicide, strobilurins linked to brain diseases.  (A recent peer reviewed scientific study published in Nature show links from the strobilurins to autism and Alzheimer's; it was featured in my previous post).

While showing off bee friendly gardens and books, how can the winery justify using Pristine fungicide, which contains not only the dangerous fungicide but boscalid, as well - a known bee toxin and a possible carcinogen?

Domaine Anderson's Conversion: How Long Will It Take?

I wanted to write a piece about how Anderson Valley's Biodynamic vineyards were doubling in size (from the 17 acres at Filigreen, out of 2,400+ in the valley, to 34, with the addition of Domaine Anderson), but I just couldn't do it. Why? Because it hasn't happened yet. And worse still, the large scale use of seriously, harmful chemical faming continues on 300+ acres at Roederer.

Roederer has long had ambitions to convert more of its acreage to organic and Biodynamic farming, prompted by the marketing ambitions of its home office in France. And that's a good sign. Great for making the highest quality wines, great for neighbors who live in the valley.

Given that Biodynamics is so popular in Pinot Noir's Burgundy homeland - and that the grape is Anderson Valley's calling card - it's not hard to imagine a headquarters marketing department full of desire for the highest wine growing standards for Domaine Anderson. The question is always: is the vineyard management team ready, willing and able - and committed?

As we have seen at Domaine Carneros, which recently decertified all of its 200+ acres of organically grown vines due to poor vineyard management, the team's skill and expertise is the issue. (Domaine Carneros decertified while other large certified organic vineyards in the Carneros, like Madonna Estate, did not.)

One can only speculate about the reasons why things like this happen. Is it the case that sometimes wineries don't want to use the vineyard consultants who specialize in organics? It might be.

Committed vintner families in Oregon have pulled off large scale vineyard conversions to Biodynamic - Maysara (286 acres), Montinore Estate (248 acres), and Cooper Mountain (104 acres) come to mind. In Mendocino, Bonterra (290 acres) did too, when it was under the ownership of the Fetzer family. (Later corporate owners kept up the Biodynamics, which had become a community value.) But it remains to be seen if corporate run wineries have the political, economic and agricultural skills to truly commit.

The more usual tactic in corporate Demeter certified Biodynamics is the approach that Jean Charles Boisset took in Sonoma, at his DeLoach Vineyards. There he certified 17 acres around the tasting room, while sourcing 99 percent of his wines from hundreds of acres of purchased grapes from chemically farmed vines.

DeLoach makes just three, small lot estate wines from Biodynamic vines - less than one percent of its total output. But the Biodynamic branding is everywhere - the Biodynamic calendar is even featured on the home page. (But there's not a word about Biodynamics on the bottles). Out of a case production of 150,000 (or more), just 1,500 cases are from Biodynamic vines. Let's hope Roederer and Domaine Anderson are not following in his footsteps.

Locals said that Domaine Anderson's winemaker Jerry Murray left after just three vintages, going back to Oregon, because he wasn't permitted to do his best work at Domaine Anderson. He had formerly worked at Boisset's Biodynamic estate in Burgundy as well as in Oregon so he has an extensive background in Biodynamic approaches. One wonders what the frustration was.

I certainly wish Roederer well, but making change will require major skill and manpower in Biodynamic viticulture - skill that's out there among the consultants who have a lot of experience. It's something they might have to consider if they want to speed up the conversion. They've got at least 300+ acres to go.

It would be great if they did turn their entire operation into the state's largest Biodynamic vineyard. King Estate in Oregon, another family owned winery, is certifying 465 acres of Biodynamic vines (expected in late 2016). (They had been certified organic for years). It can be done.

Pennyroyal Farm: Farmstead with Fungicides?

Pennyroyal Farm has a 22 acre vineyard in Boonville, with a farmstead cheesemaking operation on the same property. (Farmstead means the cheese is made from the maker's own animals.)

The green part: Pennyroyal is known mostly for its cheese - and now it's added wine to the equation -along with a perfectly situated tasting room with sweeping views of valley from the valley floor in Boonville.

For tourists traveling north on Route 128, it's bound to be the first stop for many. It has goats and sheep, in a picture perfect setting. Outside the metal sign advertises "Patio Food," which seems like a surefire way to get tourists to slow down and stay awhile.

Inside is a rustic yet modern tasting room where one can buy Pennyroyal cheeses, a tasting plate of cheeses, and the newly release Pennyroyal wines. You can see the critters frolicking among the vines. What could be cuter?

Sheep grazing in the vines in May; for several years running this is same the
month Pennyroyal applies fungicides on these vines that are linked to brain diseases 
The heartbreaking part: The big "miss" here is farmstead marketing without the organics. Calling itself "sustainable," Pennyroyal uses the strobilurin fungicide Flint that's linked to brain diseases - plus another strobilurin fungicide, Pristine, that includes Boscalid, a fungicide that is classified as a bee toxin and a possible carcinogen.

Pennyroyal's Pesticide Use Report for 2015 

The grapevines, which are a stone's throw from the goat and sheep barns, are sprayed with the systemic fungicides Flint and Pristine.

Worst of all, this spraying typically takes place in May, when the baby goats and lambs are cavorting and the sheep are grazing on the vineyard floor (as they were at Friday night's Pinot Noir Fest BBQ.)

When I spoke to one employee on the site about this on Sunday, she said, "well, they must put the goats in the shed then when they spray." Is there anyone who thinks an open air barn prevents sprays from reaching the animals?

One can only ask: why can't 22 acre Pennyroyal be organic - at least in the vineyards? There are plenty of others (at least a dozen) growing the region's best wine grapes who are not using these fungicides.

(By the way, Navarro also uses these fungicides on its large estate up the road. It tells people it doesn't use herbicides or pesticides. Kudos on that score. It does not mention the word fungicides, because it does use them.)

All in All

It's great to see consumers ready to support better farmers and more artisanal products. But at these price ranges - $72 for a bottle of Pinot Noir from Domaine Anderson and $9.50 for 6 ounces of goat cheese - can't we expect producers to deliver on truly green practices?

Artisanal products made with pesticides just don't sound all that appealing.

The tragedy is: appearances can be deceiving. But consumers should know what is really on offer.

There are other producers (Handley Cellars and Cowgirl Creamery come to mind) that are living up to better practices and are proud to put certified organic on their web site or their label. I wish certification didn't have to be the way we learn to trust our farmer's agricultural practices; we all want to "know your farmer" and believe them. But too often, they have betrayed our trust.

Consumers shouldn't assume the sheep cavort fungicide free and the wines come from lovingly farmed vines without either reading the pesticide use report or looking for the O (organic) word. Too many people - people you really want to trust - take advantage of appearances.


While these two new showcases have been singled out in this blog post because they're raising the bar on green marketing with beautiful new facilities, they are by no means the only wineries in the region or the state who use chemicals with dangerous side effects in the vineyards. 

For a complete list of pesticides used in Mendocino County, you can visit the Ag Commissioner's web site, where the Pesticide Use Reports are posted online. The 2015 report can be found here. Other years are also available from the same site.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Anderson Valley's Pinot Noir Festival: Sunday Open Houses - Avoid the Fungicides, Support Organic Growers

I spent Friday in Boonville, attending the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival's technical day. There I was able to preview a number of the wines from organic or Biodynamic vines that will be featured at area open houses on Sunday.

Wineries with Organically Grown Wines

1. Handley Cellars

This is among Anderson Valley's most historic and classic wineries. Run by Milla Handley, who started it in 1982, it was one of the first wineries to open in the region. It was also one of the first to have a certified organic vineyard.

Today it makes a Pinot Noir, a Chardonnay and Alsatian varieties from its own organic estate and an Orange Muscat from a Hopland vineyard that is organic. (Other wines are not from organic vines).

2. Filigreen Farm - Bink, Panthea, Yamakiri

This isn't a winery - it's a vineyard and farm - but local producers make some of my favorites, year after year, from its grapes, so I've learned to follow the flavor. This year look for single vineyard designate bottlings from Bink Wines ($55), Panthea Cellars, and Yamakiri ($27).

You'll find a huge variation between these bottling.

• Bink's tasting room is next to the Madrones

• Yamakiri doesn't have a tasting room, but the Pinot Noir may be found for sale in Anderson Valley at Boontberry Farm, the Navarro Store, and Lemons Philo Market or in Yorkville at the Yorkville Market.

3. Drew Wines

Drew also has an estate wine from organic vines.

Other Wineries: Buyer Beware

Unfortunately, a high percentage of Anderson Valley's prestigious vineyards use Flint fungicide or Pristine fungicide. Both are from the strobulin family. Flint contains trifloxyfluorin. Pristine contains pyraclostrobin as well as boscalid, a bee and bird toxin.

In 2016, a new study published in Nature Communications found links from the strobulins to autism and Alzheimer's.

To read more about this study, read the Guardian's coverage here: Agricultural Fungicides are bad news for neurons, study suggests.

For the research article, read the full paper: Identification of chemicals that mimic transcriptional changes associated with autism, brain aging and neurodegeneration.
Correlations found in the study for Pyrcloastobin, one of the active ingredients in Pristine fungicide
Correlations for  trifloxystrobin, the active ingredient in Flint fungicide

Among the wineries that use large quantities of these fungicides in 2013 (and previous years) are:

• Roederer Estate (on more than 350 acres)
• Navarro and Pennyroyal (on more than 70 acres)

Other wineries that used Flint fungicide in 2013 are Black Kite, Bradford Wiley, Byer,  Duckhorn, Ferrington, Helluva, Lazy Creek, Londer/Kendall Jackson, Mariah, Sattui, Scharfenburger, Valentine, and Wendling.

Wineries that used Pristine include Roederer, Estate Navarro and Pennyroyal, Goldeneye, Philo Ridge, and Scharfenburger.

It would be great if wineries paid attention to studies like the Nature Communications article and changed their farming practices. Until then, wine lovers might feel happier about drinking wines grown without the strobulins - wines that offer even more pleasure.

I'm not recommending these wines just because they're organically or Biodynamically grown. I like to choose from the vineyards that are being farmed without synthetic chemicals - and then select the best.

Map from California Dept. of Public Health showing pyraclostrobin used on wine grapes in Anderson Valley
Map from California Dept. of Public Health showing trifloxystrobin used on wine grapes in Anderson Valley

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Italian Wine Lovers Going Organic: Double Digit Growth in Consumption and Production

Bio Wine producers featured at VinItalyBio; for the third year in a row, VinItaly featued a special Bio section, showcasing wines with organic vines

Italians are drinking organically grown wines in increasing numbers, according to a survey released at VinItaly Bio in April by Nomisma Wine Monitor.

And Italians are growing organically and making organic wines in growing numbers, too.

While the southern Italian regions of Sicily and Puglia experienced the most dramatic growth in organics, Tuscany also grew its organic vineyard acres rapidly, increasing organic vineyard acreage from 2011 to 2014 by 40 percent.

Speaking at VinItalyBio, Wine Monitor Nomisma representative Silvia Zucconi's presentation, prepared for FederBio, provided an in-depth overview of many aspects of the market for Italian organic wine producers and growers.

One valuable piece of information is that the market value of organically grown wine in Italy is now $228 million (or 204 Euros). One third of that is domestic sales; the other two thirds are exports, primarily to Germany and the U.S.

While Germany represents the biggest current market for Italy's organic wines, the report said that nearly a third of Italians believe the biggest growth market for organic wine exports in the future will be the U.S.

Regional Growth

The three regions responsible for the most organic growth are Sicily, Puglia and Tuscany.

Sicily is home to 38% of Italy's organic vineyards, growing 43% since 2011. It has a total of 66,977 acres of organic vines.

Second is Puglia, with 25,375 acres, or 14 percent of the country's organic vines. This southern region's organic vineyards grew 22% in the last five years.

Tuscany was not far behind with 22,395 acres of organic vines. The land of Chianti is responsible for 13 percent of Italy's organic vines, up 46 percent since 2011.

By comparison, in the U.S. CCOF, the country's largest organic certifier, reported that the U.S. has roughly 11,000+ acres of organic vineyards. Other certifiers' reports may add 3-4,000 additional acres  for a total of roughly 14-15,000 acres, less than a quarter of what is grown in Sicily alone.

The chart below shows the total organic vineyard acres in each region of Italy in 2014.

While the southern regions have been faster to embrace organic wine grape growing, high quality, higher priced wine regions like Tuscany are also increasingly going organic.

Domestic and Foreign Markets

Most of the Italian organic wine is exported - 67 percent, according to the study.

Among Italians, Zucconi reported that the number of consumers who have tried an organically grown wine has nearly doubled in the last year alone, increasing from 12 percent to 21 percent.

Millennials in Italy are the group most inclined to drink organic wines, with 27 percent reporting that they've tried organic wines. Gen Xers were second and baby boomers were third with 22 and 16 percent respectively.

Asked to describe what characteristic was most appealing in the decision to chose an organic wine, 44 percent said the fact that it was natural appealed to them. Quality was the number one reason for 17 percent of respondents.

More than 75 percent of the organic wine consumers surveyed said they would be willing to pay more for organic wines. Some were willing to pay as much as 20 percent more.

Abroad, Germans and Americans make up the two biggest export markets for organic wines from Italy. Germans consume 38 percent of the organic exports with Americans accounting for another 15 percent.


Asked which countries they expect to be the most promising new market for organically grown wines from Italy, respondents overwhelmingly chose the U.S. (31 percent) with the EU coming in second (21 percent).

To download Zucconi's entire presentation, or to see other presentations from the VinItalyBio conference, click here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Where to Find Organic Vines and Wines? Europe, Home to 84% of World's Organic Vineyards

While U.S. wine grape growers wax poetic about being "stewards of the land" through "sustainability" measures while using Roundup and toxic fungicides, Europe's organic vineyard owners are quietly zooming ahead in organic vineyard and wine production.

Statistics released at VinItalyBio in April by Nomisma Wine Monitor show that  EU growers have 84 percent of the world's organic vineyards.

While the global average for organic vineyards is 4.5 percent of all vineyards, in Europe that number is 7.8 percent.

Three countries are responsible for 70 percent of the EU's organic vines - Spain with 26.7 percent of the organic vines in the EU, followed by Italy with 22.9 percent and France with 21 percent.

Austria has the highest percentage of organic growers with 10.7 percent. Italy is in second place with 10.3% organic vineyards.

Spain follows with 8.9 percent, while France has 8.7 percent and Germany has 7.6 percent. Bulgaria has 5.8 percent organic vines, and Greece has 4.3 percent.

By area, in Europe Spain has the largest acreage devoted to organic viticulture, with 208,510 acres. Spanish organic vineyard acreage grew 413% from 2003 to 2014.

Italy surpassed France in organic vineyards, with 178,808 acres, growing 128% in the same 11 year period.

In the same timespan, France grew 307% and now has 163,611 acres of organic vines.

By comparison, the U.S.'s largest organic certifier, CCOF, reported decreases in organic vineyards in the U.S. from 11,906 acres in 2011 to 11,237 acres in 2013. According to FiBL, the U.S. has 15,647 acres of organic vines in 2014. That's 4 percent of U.S. vines according to FiBL.

According to my calculations, if there were 15,647 acres and the total in the U.S. was 565,000 (see USDA stats here), that would be 2.6 percent of total U.S. vineyards.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

"Eat Here": The New Bee Home at Oregon's Big Table Farm

Another bee friendly winery!

Artist and winery owner Clare Carver let loose her creative flair on the new hive home at Big Table Farm in Willamette Valley, which Carver runs with her winemaker husband Brian Marcy.

Their winery, which sources from local vineyards as well as the winery's own estate vines, has a few wines from organic or Biodynamic vines for sale in their library releases, including:

The Cattrall Brothers Pinot Noir


The 2008 Resonance Vineyard Pinot Noir

The Rieslings from Brooks Vineyard

For more, visit

Monday, May 2, 2016

Biodynamic Bordeaux Wine Family Buys Robin Williams' Napa Estate; Biodynamic Community in Napa Now 100% French

Many people know that Robin Williams' Napa estate recently sold, but few know who bought it: the Tesseron family, who own Chateau Pontet-Canet, the only Biodynamic estate in Bordeaux's prestigious Medoc Cru Classe. The price: $18 million (down from an initial asking price of $35 million).

The Mount Veeder estate is located high above Napa Valley in the Mayacamas. Musician Boz Scaggs, who has a small wine label, is the nearest neighbor.

The vineyard comprises 18 acres.
The Tesserons evaluated the potential for making great Cabernet from the estate with their technical director, Jean-Michel Comme, and decided it had the terroir they could work with. According to Bloomberg, they plan to bring Biodynamic practices to their Napa estate. (Learn more about their Biodynamic farming in Bordeaux in a Wall Street Journal article here.)

It's worth mentioning that French (or French influenced families) are responsible now for all of  Napa's Biodynamic estates, a list that includes:

• Adamvs (owned by the Adams family [Americans], who also own the organic Chateau Fonplegade estate in St. Emilion)

• Araujo (owned by the Pinault family, who also own organic estates throughout France, including Chateau Latour)

• Raymond (owned by the Boisset family, who own an organic estate in Burgundy)

Another Napa winery, Ehler's Estate, owned by a French foundation, was formerly Demeter certified Biodynamic.

Cute Picture of the Week: Bunny at Martian Ranch & Vineyard