Friday, December 15, 2017

Harvard Business School Publishes Piece on Organically Grown Wine

Harvard Business School Review published a new article on organically grown wines. Read it here. My articles are among the sources used in its report.

I'll be publishing more about the article itself soon. It gets some things right and other things wrong. Stay tuned for the deeper dive.




Thursday, December 7, 2017

Holiday Gift Giving: Best Books of the Year

Holidays are here and it's time to shop for gifts or just stock up on your supply of books for winter reading. Here are my recommendations for the best of 2017.

1. Best Wine Book of the Year: The City of Vines: A History of Wine in Los Angeles



This is the best untold story in wine. We're lucky to have a wine historian as esteemed as Thomas Pinney to finally tell the tale of California's original wine country and its subsequent prosperity, glory days, and demise.

One of my favorite wineries in the world is Galleano, a surviving Los Angeles area winery run by a family that has hung onto 100 year old organically grown (and certified) vines (and redwood tanks) to this day, making some of the best sherry you'll ever taste. Treat yourself to a glass of Galleano's Mary Margaret sherry while you read this excellent volume.

2. Best Food and Wine Book of the Year: The Gourmands' Way



Another extremely well written book by a polished writer covers the influencers who introduced the U.S. to French food and wine. It's an indirect exploration of the roots of our mass foodie-ism movement where Americans learn to care about organic farm to table foods (and hopefully organic grape to glass). Wine merchant and educator extraordinaire Alexis Lichine is one of those profiled. Enjoy with a glass of your favorite (organically grown) Bordeaux.

3. Best Wine Murder Mystery Book of the Year: Requiem in Yquem



Looking for some light reading? The fun and frivolous Winemaker Detective series from Le French Book is always good for a few hours of entertainment. This is the 13th in the series about the wine consultant Benjamin Cooker who gets help from his wise wife and his young sidekick. Written by two Frenchmen - Noel Balen and Jean-Pierre Alaux. If you're new to the series, this volume might entice you to explore all the others in the series. Drink with Chateau d/Yquem, of course.

An honorable mention also goes to Alice Waters for her touching memoir about the her discovery of French wine and food and the origins of her Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse. I liked the book but I really enjoyed the audio book, read by the author herself.

4. Best Wine Paperbook of the Year: Cork Dork



Looking for a popular nonfiction book about the world of wines and somms?  Bianca Bosker's smash hit Cork Dork is a winner, no matter how much or how little you know about wine. The paperback version came out in 2017. Check out the New York Times review. Drink with whatever overpriced, much hyped, hipster, small lot (the more inobtainium, the better) wine you prefer.

Holiday Picture of the Day: Ehlers Estate in St. Helena

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Top 10 Organic Vineyards in Napa: By Size

This week WineBusiness.com is publishing the top 100 vineyards in Napa, listing the top 10 (free online) and the top 100 (in its print edition). In response, I thought I'd publish a list of the top 10 organic vineyards in Napa (scroll down) to bring attention to this under recognized category of good neighbors.

The WineBusiness.com list, shows the influence of the top 100 vineyard owners who collectively own or lease 28,000 acres of Napa's 43,000 acres of wine grape vineyards. That's 65 percent of the county's vines.

Of the top 10, Big Wine - Treasury, Silverado, Constellation and E&J Gallo - together owns or leases 19 percent of the valley's vines.

In comparison, the organic vines are not owned by major corporations. In each case, the owners reside on or near the vineyard property.

Many of the organically grown wines made from these vines represent the highest rated in Napa. Heitz is world famous for its Martha's Vineyard Cabernet (ccertified organic by its owners). Wine critic Robert Parker awarded one of Hall's single vineyard, organically grown wines with a 100 point rating. Similarly, Inglenook, Frog's Leap, and others have won top awards internationally.

Several of the families - Pelissa, Bartolucci, Heitz, Grgich - trace the winemaking activities in their families back several generations. Some hit the land rush at the right time - Sinskey is one - and translated their values into organic farming. Others who achieved great success in business - Ted Hall, Eric Yuan, the Halls - also saw the wisdom of organic practices.

TOP TEN LARGEST VINEYARDS IN NAPA (Conventional or Organic)

Corporate (Australian)
1. Treasury Wine Estates - 410 owned / 3,416 acres
Treasury Wine Estate (based in Australia) sources from 3,416 acres (owns only 12% of what it sources from). That means it owns 410 acres. Treasury is one of the largest wine companies in the world, with $2 billion in revenues worldwide. In Napa it owns Acacia, Beaulieu, Beringer, Etude, Hewitt, Provenance, and Stags' Leap Estate (not to be confused with the more well known Stag's Leap Winery on Highway 29 [which is owned by Antinori and Chateau Ste. Michelle]).

Corporate
2. TIAA/Silverado - 2,500 acres
TIAA  (a Fortune 100 financial company based in Manhattan) owns Silverado Investment Management Co, which is better known name locally. TIAA is a pension investment fund.

Local Family
3. Bayview/Laird Family - 1,811 acres
Bayview/Laird Family is the largest enterprise owned by a Napa family. Unfortunately they are also the most likely to use the most dangerous, old school pesticides, according to my analysis of Pesticide Use Report, using mancozeb, for instance, long after everyone else in the county stopped using it. (Remarkably, a few old school Italian families in Sonoma continue to use it, as well, making Sonoma a strange anomaly compared to the rest of the state.)

Corporate
4. Constellation Brands - 465 owned / 1,330 acres
The giant Fortune 500 company is most famous for its takeover of Mondavi estate and brand in 2004, which marked a sad day in Napa's dynastic history.

Corporate
5. E&J Gallo - 1,123 acres
Despite getting a late start in acquiring Napa acreage, E&J Gallo is now the fifth largest owner in Napa, doubling its holdings this year with the acquisition of Stagecoach Vineyards in Pritchard Hill and Atlas Peak (the latter suffered heavy losses in the fires this year) in a deal that staggered locals. Gallo paid $180,000 for the 1,300 acre Stagecoach parcel, of which 600 acres are planted. The price per acre is $300,000.

Gina Gallo also owns the former Robert Mondavi home in Napa.

Local Family 
6. Beckstoffer Vineyards - 1,015 acres
Andy Beckstoffer's family fortunes began to rise when he was sent to work for Heublein on the destruction of Inglenook's prized vineyards, which Heublein acquired. In 1970 when Heublein decided to abandon the wine business in Napa, Beckstoffer began buying vineyards. Today his family owns land in Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties.

Local Family
7. Jackson Family Wines - 500 acre / 690 acres
This is the only Sonoma based company to make the top 10 Napa list. It owns Cardinale and Freemark Abbey.

Italian Family
8. Antinori California - 561 acres
Foresighted enough to see the potential of Atlas Peak long before others did, Antinori has a spectacular parcel here at the top of Soda Canyon Road. Miraculously, its mountain estate winery survived this year's fires. The company is a private firm headed by the Antinori family.

Corporate (French) 
9. St. Supery (Chanel) - 535 acres
The Skalli family started the winery, selling it to Chanel in 2015. Chanel itself owns 1587 acres (so one wonders why it didn't rank #4 on this list).

Local Family/Organic
10. Yount Mill Vineyards/Napa Wine Company - 500 acres (according to my records it's 557 acres)
Owned and run by a Napa family whose presence dates back more than 100 years, this iconic organic growers sells 88% of its grapes to Napa wineries. Prized for their quality, these sold off grapes are blended away in wines that are primarily made from conventionally grown grapes. However, the family vinifies 12% of their grapes - from historic blocks - into three family owned labels - Elizabeth Rose, Oakville Winery, and Ghost Block.

TOP TEN LARGEST ORGANIC VINEYARDS

Say the words "organic" and "Napa" and people may give you a funny look. Huh? Those two things go together? But the truth is that 7-8 percent of Napa's vines are certified organic, which shows the commitment to the highest level of eco-friendly practices of the families - yes, all of these wineries are family run - to making great wine from vines that are nourished and tended without the use of highly toxic chemicals.

(Although experts estimate that as many an equal number of Napa growers are organic in their practices, these other growers chose not to be certified.) In all likelihood, Napa has about the same acres of organic vineyards as it's more well known organic neighbor Mendocino County.

NOTE
Just because a winery is listed below, do not assume that all of their wines are organically grown. Many make and sell wine from other vineyards as well as their own. Starred wineries - * - are 100 percent organic estate.

Local Family
1. Yount Mill Vineyards/Napa Wine Company - 557 acres*
The Pelissa family's holdings were purchased during Prohibition when land was cheap. Their extensive acreage in Yountville and Oakville is sometimes locally referred to as the "Pelissa Hills." Their commitment to organic farming is based on family values and elders' concerns about the purity of the wells on the family property where many of the Pelissa descendants still live.

The most famous (and visible) of their vineyards is Ghost Block, located just north of Yountville on the east side of Highway 29, across the street from Mustards Grill. The family also owns Napa Wine Cellars, one of the county's most historic wineries (it dates back to 1877), which is now the family's custom crush facility.

At the peak of the Napa cult wine scene, three of the custom crush wines produced here were "cult wines." Organic family-owned vintners Volker Eisele Family Estate*, Pavi and Voss* (the last also sources its organic grapes from Yount Mill owned vineyards) continue to make their wines here.

Local Family
2. Grgich Hills Estate - 336 acres*
The Grgich and Hills families came together in the late 1970s to found their very successful winery on Highway 29. Today they own five separate parcels spread out from Carneros in the south (the best place to grow their Chardonnay) to Rutherford and American Canyon and up to Calistoga where they tend an historic Zinfandel vineyard.

Croatian born Mike Grgich may be the most famous name in American wine history, immortalized in a Smithsonian exhibit as the immigrant winemaker extraordinaire. Today his Croatian born nephew Ivo Jeramaz runs the winery with the help of Grgich's daughter Violet Grgich.

Local Family
3. Heitz Wine Cellars - 275 acres (out of 375 acres total)
The Heitz family has one of the deepest family histories in Napa, dating back to 1963 when there were only 12 wineries in Napa. Stag's Leap Winery founder Warren Winarski called founder Joe Heitz Napa's first artisanal winemaker. Today Heitz's descendants run the winery, making excellent Cabernet (the Trailside is all from certified vines, although they don't market it as such) as well as the world famous Martha's Vineyard Cab (and an excellent estate grown Sauvignon Blanc, rose and Grignolino).

NOTE
Both the Grgich and Heitz families got a big boosts from the 1976 Paris tasting in which both made wines that placed highly in the competition pitting California wines against France's finest.

Local Family
4. Inglenook - 230 acres*
The grand dame of historic wineries in Napa, Inglenook is the jewel in the crown. Famous today for being owned by the Coppola family - who bought the place in 1972 - insiders know its real fame is due to its historic origins as the first fine wine winery established in Napa by Gustav Niebaum in 1879. Niebaum wanted to move to Europe to have a world class winery, but his wife preferred to remain in the Bay Area, so voila - Inglenook was born. The Coppolas reunited the winery, its original name and vineyards over their 40+ years of ownership. All of its wines come solely from the estate, which was certified organic in 1994.

"Local" Family/Corporation
5. Hall - 211 acres
Compared to the other wineries on this list, Hall is a relative newcomer in Napa, using the fortunes of its owners' successful real estate business in Texas to buy into two prime small vineyard sites in Rutherford and St. Helena. Here they established two modern wineries bedecked with cutting edge artworks to attract visitors. Hall also bought extensive acreage in the more distant (and "affordable") areas of Napa - Pope Valley and Atlas Peak. (All of these grapes are blended with non-organic grapes purchased from other growers.)

NOTE
Hall has recently been the target of anti-development residents who oppose Walt Ranch, a vast new development on Napa's east side, where the Halls have received approval to cut down 17,000 trees on a 2,300 acre property to create a 209 acre vineyard and subdivide the land into future ranchettes. The Sierra Club and other groups are contesting the county's approval.

Local Family
6. Robert Sinskey Vineyards - 176 acres*
Dentist and Pinot Noir wine lover Robert M. Sinskey had the good sense to buy acres of vines in the Carneros in the 1970's. Today his son Robert Sinskey farms these lands organically - with the help of a large herd of sheep. The winery is best known for Pinot Noir and for growing what few in Napa grow - Alsatian varietals.

Local Family
7. Frog's Leap - 130 acres* / 200 acres
Ask around in Napa about organics, and the winery you're most likely to hear mentioned first is Frog's Leap, which has been the poster child for organics for decades with its organic vines, fruit orchard, chickens and vegetable garden. It was certified in 1989. It's the second largest producer of organically grown wines in Napa (after Grgich Hills, which ranks first), with a widely distributed Sauvignon Blanc and award-winning Cabernet. The winery owns 130 acres  of vines and sources from additional growers under long term contracts. It recently purchased an historic property - the Rossi Ranch - which has some of Napa's oldest heritage vines and makes small lots of old vine wine from these and other old vines it farms.

Local Family
8. Madonna Estate - 140 acres*
The Bartolucci family can lay claim to being among the oldest wine families left in Napa (along with the Pelissa's), establishing their first vineyards here in 1922 in Oakville. During the boom in Napa land prices in the late 1960's, the family sold their Oakville properties in 1970 and moved south to Carneros, buying 160 acres near San Pablo Bay. Today they dry farm their 140 acres of organic vines in Carneros, growing primarily Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Their family history is on display in the tasting room on the well trafficked leg of Highway 12 between Napa and Sonoma.

Private Owner (Chinese)
9. Acumen - 116 acres
The successful Chinese businessman Eric Yuan embarked on a Napa winery project with the help of Stephen Rea, hiring an A list of viticulturists - Steve Matthiason and Garrett Buckland - to convert two large parcels of Stagecoach Vineyards on Atlas Peak to organic certification, completed in 2017. The group named the winery Acumen and opened an elegant, stylish downtown Napa tasting room and art gallery (featuring painted portraits of vineyard workers) this summer.

NOTE: A long fight by local residents against Acumen's plans to develop a winery and tasting room on the site, at the top of Soda Canyon Road, was defeated several months before the Sept. 2017 fires swept through Atlas Peak.

Local Family 
10.  Long Meadow Ranch - 78 acres 
Is there a family more dedicated to organic agriculture overall in Napa than the Ted Hall family? Raised by a mother who was an organic gardener, Ted, a very successful business consultant, believes in the viability of a vertically integrated business. This has led the family - including his wife Laddie and son Christopher - to create and integrate a hillside estate and a valley floor estate in Napa along with a St. Helena farm to table restaurant and winery tasting room. In search of cool climate Pinot Noir to add to their portfolio, the winery recently purchased 69 acres of vines in Mendocino's Anderson Valley, converting it to organic certification, which makes them that region's largest organic producer - a commendable act in a region where conventional farming predominates.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

German Ag Minister "Goes Rogue," Casts Deciding Yes Vote on EU Glyphosate License; Alternative Herbicides Under Review in France and Italy

German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt cast the deciding vote
EU activists hoping to ban glyphosate lost the battle to block the herbicide's license renewal on the continent when Germany's Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt voted yes on the issue instead of obtaining permission from his superior, Prime Minister Angela Merkel, according to news reports.

German's Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks opposed the renewal (echoing a similarly structured divide that had previously happened in France in the pre-Macron era) and said Schmidt knowingly voted yes instead of abstaining on the vote.

According to Politico, Hendricks said "Schmidt had acknowledged her objection in a text message ahead of the vote, meaning that the German government should have abstained."  

Anti-glyphosate activism in Toulouse, France

The German Green Party is now calling for Schmidt to resign.

German chancellor Angela Merkel rebuked Schmidt for his vote, saying, according to Quartz, that his "decision went against agreements we have made in government - these also apply to the current caretaker government."

The vote took place as German-based Bayer has announced it plans to acquire Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, in which the main active ingredient is glyphosate, in a $66 billion deal.

In the meantime, France and Italy announced they will phase out the herbicide over the next three years.

Alternative herbicides are in development and leaders expressed optimism about switching to safer herbicides in the near future. 

Countries that voted yes on glyphosate included: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the U.K.

Countries that voted against the license renewals included: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, and Malta.

Abstaining: Portugal.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Glyphosate Ban in France: Get the News that's Not Being Reported in the US - Direct from the Horse's Mouth - in Le Monde


In case you hadn't understood that the French are SERIOUS about banning glyphosate...you can read all about it in Le Monde.

(What? You say you don't read French. You can with Google Translate.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Sonoma Saturday: A Beautiful Day in Wine Country

After attending the Wine Bloggers Conference, in the pitiful excuse of a hotel that is the Hyatt in downtown Santa Rosa (currently undergoing a renovation and without food of any kind on offer to the casual visitor who stops for lunch), I had to escape to the countryside.

Hearing that Ridge was putting on a tamales fundraiser for fire relief, I scurried on up Highway 101 to see if I could get something to eat. I arrived at 3, with the event going on till 4. "We ran out of tamales at 2:30," Ridge's greeter told me.

I had a seat, instead, at the outdoor tasting area, respendent with the colors of fall. Enjoy this shot - of a perfect moment.

Biodynamically Grown Alsatian Wines Shine at Wine Bloggers Conference

Saturday I had the opportunity to briefly drop in to the Wine Bloggers Conference to taste Albarinos from Gallicia and Pinot Gris gems from Alsace. There were no certified organic or Biodynamic Albarino producers in the tasting, but among the Alsace wines two out of three were from legendary certified Biodynamic producers - Zind Humbrecht and Albert Mann.

Alsatian wine tasting: The Zind Humbrecht and Albert Mann wines are 2 and 3
respectively (photo credit: Nancy Brazil @mspullthatcork - thank you, Nancy!)
Here are the tasting cards for these two superlative wines, both of which elevate Pinot Gris to previously unknown heights. (They are also priced accordingly.)

If you're looking to wow someone with a fabulous holiday gift, these would be at the top of the list.


There is no wine region in the world that is better at marketing itself as organic and Biodynamic than Alsace. And few have as good a story to tell...


Here's the slide for Zind Humbrecht from the presentation:


Zind Humbrecht vineyard 



Sunday, November 12, 2017

Victories: EU Sidelines Glyphosate in History-Making Vote and the UK Bans Neonics

EUROPE

The battle over whether or not to renew the permit to sell glyphosate in the EU took another decisive turn this week as the European Union failed to pass a motion to continue sales of the herbicide in Roundup this past week.

France and Italy voted against renewal, while Germany and Poland abstained, thus preventing a majority vote in favor of the renewal.

For full coverage, read the New York Times account here.

On other fronts, the British voted to ban neonicotinoids in the UK. The insecticides have already been banned in the EU on a temporary basis since 2013. A full ban in the EU is expected. Read more in The Guardian.

CALIFORNIA

In California, the state government's agricultural agencies have worked to decrease the amount of toxic chemicals through implementing IPM (which stands for integrated pest management) and the wine industry has formed its own sustainability programs to wean growers away from wasteful practices - including consuming fewer natural resources - and other goals. (See values here.) (Sustainability programs do not mandate or directly address reducing use of toxic chemicals.)

However, the statistics from the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation show little to no decrease in the use of the most dangerous substances overall.

CHARTS TELL THE STORY ON ACRES TREATED

The charts below taken from the state's annual report how acres treated (and not the amount of the chemicals used) which is useful to consider.



(Note: Sulfur is considered safe to use and is used in both conventional and organic farming.)

HERBICIDES

More than 700,000 pounds of glyphosate, now officially labeled as a carcinogen in California, were use in 2015, the last column of this chart.




NEONICS

Imidacloprid continues to be used in ever increasing amounts. The good news here is the increased use of oils, which are permitted in organic farming.



MORE BAD NEW ON NEONICS

A new Canadian study this week found that neonics makes birds lose weight and distorts songbirds' sense of direction. Read more from CBC news here.

US WINE INDUSTRY IMPACTS

California wineries have not yet begun to address publicly what the effects of the European bans will be on wine sales from California wineries. Here is the latest tweet on this subject from UK bee expert, Dave Goulson, an international authority whose scientific work has shown the connection between bee health and imidacloprid.



It would be great to see California vintners take a leadership position in decreasing their use of toxic chemicals, a move that may protect their position in the market, in view of their European competitors' next moves. It's hard to see how being glyphosate-free is not going to be part of future European wine marketing campaigns.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Organic and Biodynamic in Sonoma: Advice on Tasting for Attendees of the Wine Bloggers Conference

Wine bloggers are descending on Santa Rosa this week to learn more about California's North Coast wines (yes, it's not just about Sonoma - Lodi, Napa and Mendocino have organized outings for the bloggers) and will be getting a first hand view of the wine country fires and their impacts on the affected communities.

The vast majority of sponsors of the conference are large, corporate owned wineries who pitch their stories to the legions of influencers. The bloggers will also certainly be overwhelmed with marketing communications from Sonoma's sustainability contingent. Wineries like Gallo and Kendall Jackson make sure to tout their green horns quite loudly while continuing to spread toxic chemicals across the vines.

In Sonoma, vintners spread more than 60,000 pounds of glyphosate annually; this is the main ingredient in Roundup and it has been declared (officially) a carcinogen by the state of California. In the EU, glyphosate is on the verge of being banned, with France announcing it will phase out the chemical in agriculture over the next 3-5 years. In addition, vintners here use thousands of pounds of imidacloprid, the bee and bird toxin, now banned in Europe.

Bloggers beware. Is this the type of farming we want to support?

The bigger voices of this "sustainability" group are well funded and well meaning. Writers should dig deeper and look at the wonderful, local wineries who practice the greenest farming of all - organic and Biodynamic.

Here's a list of wineries not to miss that are located in Sonoma within easy driving range for Wine Blogger Conference attendees. What follows are my top ten list.

TOP TEN WINERIES FOR WINE BLOGGERS TO VISIT

DRY CREEK VALLEY/HEALDSBURG

1. Ridge Vineyards - Lytton Springs Estate
World Class Wines from Heritage Vines 

Few people know that Ridge has the largest acreage of certified organic vines in Sonoma - some 200 acres, more than twice as much as any other winery in the county. Everyone knows their environmental record (Lytton Springs' straw bale construction, solar energy, etc.) and wine quality is superb. But few know how deep this approach is rooted - literally in the soil.

Wines
Try some of the local Zinfandels. Two of my favorites are the East Bench (which is even bottle labeled on the back "Ingredients: Organic Grapes" - one more thing to love about Ridge) and the 50th anniversary of Geyserville. Hurray to get a bottle of the latter. These vines date back to the 1880s - a heritage even Europeans cannot match.

GLEN ELLEN

2. Benziger Family Estate
Biodynamic Pioneer Offer Best Biodynamic Tours 

No one tells the story of Biodynamics better than Benziger on its tram tours and estate tastings. You'll learn about the winery's 100 acres of estate vines rely on biodiversity, cows, and herbal and compost teas to grow healthy grapes.

Wines
Especially recommended here are the Pinot Noir wines from its de Coelho vineyard out in Freestone (where the coastal fog is a huge influence).

SEBASTOPOL

3. Radio Coteau 
Single Vineyard Wonders from a Quiet Outpost

If you want to taste some of the very best Pinot Noir from the U.S., make an appointment to meet Eric Sussman of Radio Coteau, who quietly makes a dozen-plus wines from top tier growers in Sonoma and Anderson Valley. I'm not the only person who says this; esteemed wine expert Karen MacNeil holds the same opinion of Eric's wines.

Wines
Eric sources a few of his single vineyard designates from certified organic and Biodynamic vines. His piece de resistance in my opinion is the Terra Neuma, which comes from Benziger's Freestone vines at de Coelho. (It's also a certified Biodynamic Wine, meaning no additives save sulfur).

RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY

4. Porter Creek
Pure in Pinot Noir 

Want to visit the most laid-back place to find somm gold? Porter Creek - where you'll find the treasure you seek. In the form of Pinot Noir.

A perennial favorite of NY somms, and moi, Porter Creek is one of the great producers of Biodynamic Pinot Noir - created with nothing (save sulphur) added. No additives - yes,  you got that right. Their beautiful 17 acre estate surrounds their rustic tasting shack. On one of the world's most beautiful wine roads - Westside. Not to be missed.

Wines
Take your pick of any of the estate Pinots. My faves among them change with each vintage. You're sure to hit on at least one that sparks your palate. (Personally I have about 10 cases of their wines in my cellar which should show you what a diehard fan I am.)

SEBASTOPOL

5. Horse and Plow
Table/Fine Wines + Rustic + Hip + Heritage Ciders

Table wines don't often get their due, but Horse & Plow gives us a great selection of both affordable and weekend wines to choose from (the weekend wines come from their higher priced The Gardener label). And it's all set in a beautifully casual setting.

They've recently branched out into kickass heritage ciders and have even planted their own estate apple farm featuring heritage varieties.  Plus you can play horseshoes outside and relax on hay bales after buying your organic veggie starts (in the spring).

A welcome break after too many (other) tasting room come ons to join our wine club. Sonoma's most down home setting.

Wines
I'm all for their rosé! Consider buying a case. It's got a great track record, year after year.

DRY CREEK HEALDSBURG

6. Preston Farm and Winery
Rhones Down Home on the Farm

The Rhones have it at everybody's favorite winery - Preston. A farm that's a winery or a winery that's a farm - you decide.

Enjoy the grassy lawn, play bocce (on weekdays only please), or buy local cheese - with bread made by the vintner hisself - Lou Preston. The tasting room is housed in the historic farm house building. There's a picture perfect barn in back that houses the winery.

You can also stroll through the acres of crops - everything from lettuce to grains that go into the bread.

Visit on Sunday and you can get a gallon of their famous backroom blend for $36. (Them be bulk wine prices, practically).

Join the wine club for the best prices.

Wines
I'd go for the Syrah myself, but try them all.

SONOMA/MOON MOUNTAIN DISTRICT

7. Kamen Estate
Mind Blowing Views (and Wines) on the Estate Vineyard Tour

Moon Mountain's Cabernet country - and Kamen Estate is one of the great estates in this region. Owned by movie screenwriter Robert Kamen, the winery has a tasting room in Sonoma just off the plaza, but it's far better to take the estate tour (by appointment only) which is how I celebrated a recent "Big Birthday" (one of those decade ones), not knowing I'd encounter such a breathtaking view of the Bay and surrounding countryside.

You'll sip and savor atop a mountain perch. The wines are every bit as memorable as the scenery. Memories are made of this.

Wines
Everything they make is first class. They're known for Cabs that match Napa's finest (at similar prices) but every wine here is "above average." (That's putting it mildly). Parker gives them high scores, but for those who often find Parker's palate too big, you'll probably find these wines a very welcome treat.

SONOMA/MOON MOUNTAIN DISTRICT

8. Amapola Creek
A Cabernet Legend's Lair + Red Volcanic Soils

Richard Arrowood is the undisputed king of Cabernet in Sonoma, with decades of vintages that proved the county's the equal of Napa in every way. In fact, Moon Mountain sits on the ridge between the two counties.

Arrowood's Moon Mountain estate vineyard is the source for his Amapola Creek wines, which come from red volcano soils. The spectacular mountainside site borders one of Sonoma's most historic mountain vineyards (above). Open by appointment only. Well worth the trek.

Wines
The Cabernets the thing. (But don't let it blind your eyes to Amapola's other delights - which are many.)

GLEN ELLEN/SONOMA VALLEY

9. Hamel Family Winery
Elegant eco chic with grand views of Sonoma Mountain

Rising Biodynamic star Hamel boasts some of the most spectacular and luxurious estate tasting experiences in the whole North Coast region. Set across the valley from Sonoma Mountain, its architects took great care to frame the mountain in the most spectacular way.

While you can taste here during the day, the winery also offers a continental breakfast experience that lets you greet the day here with relatively few other visitors as you lounge on the various patios and garden settings or get cozy inside the glorious tasting room.

The caves here are world class works of art.

The whole experience here reeks of elegance and style - a classy way to present wines worthy of their environment. The entire estate (already certified organic) is on its way to Biodynamic certification.

Wines
The current vintages were made under the direction of Harlan Estate's former winemaker and take a decidedly translucent approach to wines. No big jammy Cabs here. All is ethereal and light. Taste the full lineup.

DRY CREEK VALLEY/HEALDSBURG

10. Quivira 
Biodynamic Rhones and Zins

It's recently downsized its certification from Demeter Biodynamic to CCOF organic, but that doesn't change the fact that Quivira's current releases mostly come from its Biodynamic era. About a third of the estate wines are from certified vines. (Two thirds are farmed conventionally; ask in the tasting room or check out the bottle labeling - Quivira does bottle label certification).

Wines
The Sauvignon Blanc is a perennial favorite, but the Zins and Rhones are highly recommended as well.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Could European Glyphosate Ban Impact Global Trade?

As a followup to the recent post on Pesticides and the Political Will, the potential impact on crops grown with glyphosate is registering on the ag industry's Richter scale. See Politico's coverage here.

In addition, to bring things up to date, the EU's governing body delayed a vote on glyphosate last week, delaying a decision until Nov.

A majority of residents in the EU favor a ban, according to recent polls.



Wednesday, October 25, 2017

New Study Published in JAMA Finds Glyphosate Levels in 100 Person Sample Increased 500% Over 23 Years

Researchers from U.C. San Diego published a study this week in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association showing that the presence of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the widely used herbicide Roundup, has increased dramatically in humans.

Sampling 100 humans in a southern California town, researchers compared urine samples from 1993-1996 to samples from 2014-2016 and found that the number of people who had detectable levels of  glyphosate in their urine grew from "very few" to 70% of the individuals sampled.

In addition, the amount of glyphosate in each individual increased on average more than 500%.


The study's lead author, Dr. Paul J. Mills, is Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at UCSD where he also directs the Center of Excellence for Research and Training in Integrative Health as well as the Integrative Health and Mind Body Biomarker Laboratory.

The press release issued by UCSD stated,
"There are few human studies on the effects of glyphosate, but animal studies demonstrate that chronic exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides can have adverse effects, said Mills. The authors point to other studies in which consistently feeding animals an ultra-low dosage of glyphosate resulted in liver disorders similar to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in humans." 
The researchers point to the dramatic rise in the use of glyphosate in the food supply with the increased use of GMO crops. Glyphosate is also commonly sprayed as a desiccant to dry out crops before harvest. Wheat (and therefore bread) and potatoes are the most common way most people ingest glyphosate.

Though the wine industry's use of glyphosate is not as dramatic of a story, studies like these are increasing awareness among consumers of the prevalence and dangers of glyphosate, giving rise to new consumer health trend that the wine industry has not yet anticipated how to come to terms with.

NOTE

For a good summary of the animal studies on glyphosate, see NRDC scientist Christopher Portier's excellent presentation to EU officials which you can read here.

The EPA first declared glyphosate to be carcinogenic back in 1984, but later reversed its position after political pressure.

Pesticides and the Political Will: Europe and U.S. Moving in Opposite Directions - What It Means to the U.S. Wine Industry

It's hard to imagine a time when Europe and the U.S. moved so forcefully in opposite directions when it comes to industrial agricultural's ubiquitous poisonous brews. While populism in the Trump era is drowned out by anti environment and industry interests, Europeans are taking the bull by the horn and flipping decades of ag chem policies to protect their populations against scientifically proven health risks.

IN THE U.S.: TRUMP LED POLICIES GIVE CHEM INDUSTRY FREER REIGN

As the New York Times reported in detail in Sunday's Oct. 22 edition, it wasn't enough that Scott Pruitt was appointed to head up the EPA and forestall any positive action on climate change. The in-depth article, authored by Eric Lipton, entitled (in the print edition) Chemical Industry Insider Now Shapes Policy at EPA, details the Trump-influenced rise to power of Nancy Beck, a former executive at the American Chemistry Council, to the position of Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

Chlorpyrifos used on California wine grape vineyards, 2015 (latest data)
California Department of Pesticide Regulation data
In addition, Trump's appointees at the EPA recently reversed a decades long move to ban the neurotoxin Chlorpyrifos, a deadly insecticide which was being phased out.

Chlorpyrifos was used on 25,861 acres of wine grape vineyards in California in 2015. That's 5 percent of the vineyards. The insecticide affects the nervous system and child development.

There is no talk of any restrictions or cutbacks on glyphosate (contained in the commonly used herbicide Roundup), at the federal level, which is now officially classified by both the international cancer experts group IARC (part of WHO) and the state of California as a carcinogen, but one with less immediate observable effects.

EU: POLICIES RESPONSIVE TO DOCUMENTED HEALTH RISKS

At the same time, as the Guardian posts, in a very well informed article by Arthur Neslen entitled EU on Brink of Historic Decision on Pervasive Glyphosate Weedkiller, France has already committed to banning glyphosate entirely, and other EU nations appear poised to phase the chemical out altogether as well.

The BIG NEWS of the day is that the European Parliament, in a non binding resolution, voted 355 to 204 to phase out the herbicide glyphosate altogether by 2022. More than 100 - 111, to be precise - abstained, reflecting the controversial nature of the ban. European farmers are up in arms over the licensing of the herbicide.

See European Parliament press release here for details.

A vote by the European Commission (which would be binding) on whether or not to relicense the herbicide is still pending. France, which had said it would phase the chemical out within three years, was said to have agreed to compromise on a four year phaseout.

This move comes only a few years after the EU voted to ban the bee killing neonics, still commonly used in about 60 percent of California's wine grape vineyards. Neonics have now been found in 75% of honey sampled around the globe.

BAD PRESS FOR CALIFORNIA WINES IN WAKE OF NEONIC USE

Bee activists in Europe have already begun tweeting about California wines' use of neonics as a reason not to buy Golden State wines.

Dave Goulson, one of the leading bee scientists in the world, tweeted this out to his 8,800 followers last month.


Here's the distribution of neonics usage on California's wine grape vineyards (showing summed pounds). As you can see, its use is fairly ubiquitous.

Neonic usage on wine grape vineyards in California, 2015. Source: California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation data
U.S. WINE INDUSTRY VULNERABLE TO CONSUMERS' GROWING ANTI GLYPHOSATE SENTIMENT?

Ben and Jerry's faced market pressure this fall after activists announced that glyphosate was found in its popular frozen desserts. It quickly announced it was launching glyphosate-free ice creams.

Wine grape growers in the U.S. should think clearly about what it will mean to consumers to be able to purchase European wines a few years from now when the continental wines are known to be grown without glyphosate.

There's a five year (give or take a year) window of opportunity for U.S. vintners to phase out glyphosate or face the consequences of a European wine industry that is sure to point out the difference between drinking American glyphosated grape wines versus European wines that are free of the carcinogenic herbicide.  Organic certification takes three years of compliance in order to be awarded.

The optics are not good here for U.S. producers.

Monday, October 2, 2017

2017 Mendocino Wine Competition: The Organic Winners

Looking for a wine competition that has more affordable, organically grown options than any other? The Mendocino Wine Competition is the place to find them, since the county has more organically grown vines (percentage wise) than any other in the U.S.

This year Redwood Valley also saw more than its fair share of Double Gold winning wines, showing off its Italian heritage of organic and often dry farmed vines. Some are from head trained vines.

Here are the winning wines from the 2017 competition made from organic or Biodynamic vines.

DOUBLE GOLD MEDALS - PETITE SIRAH

Judges at this year's competition were particularly impressed with the quality of the Petite Sirahs, awarding nine out of 11 Petite Sirahs with Double Gold awards, including three from organic vineyards in Redwood Valley. For more on Petite Sirah's hefty pleasures, see Dan Berger's latest column on this varietal here. (He was one of the judges at the Mendocino Wine Competition.) 


• Barra of Mendocino - Petite Sarah - ($22)
From an old standby, founded by Mendocino native Charlie Barra, a local legend. Barra has been making outstanding Petite Sirah for decades. This comes from his Redwood Valley vineyard.

• Handley Cellars - Petite Sirah ($25)
Handley buys grapes from Vittorio's Vineyard in Redwood Valley for its well made Petite Sirah.


• Powicana Farms - Petite Sirah - ($32) (Also won Best of Class)
Powicana Farms is a new winery in Redwood Valley run by a French family. Their vineyard is planted exclusively to Petite Sirah. This is their first year entering the fair - and look, a Double Gold! The wines are made in the natural wine style, with native yeasts and no added sulfites. Sonoma's Press Democrat wine critic Dan Berger cited this as his favorite Petite Sirah.

MORE DOUBLE GOLDS

• Bonterra - Viognier ($15)
• Bonterra - Zinfandel ($17)

Bonterra's two Double Gold winners come from Mendocino growers.

• Briceland Vineyards - Dark Horse Ranch - Syrah ($28)
From the gorgeous Dark Horse Ranch (owned by the Paul Dolan family) on the east side of Sanel Valley comes this 2013 Syrah from Briceland, a winery located in Redway in Humboldt County (just north of Garberville). It's rare to find single vineyard designates from Dark Horse, a renowned Biodynamic vineyard, as most of its grapes are sold and blended with other grapes.

• Handley Cellars - Primitivo - Vittorio's Vineyard ($25)
Another Double Gold from Vittorio's Vineyard in Redwood Valley from another old Italian family preserving its old, head trained vines - and dry farming them, as well.

• Handley Cellars - Estate Rosé - $25
A wine I can never get enough of.

• McFadden Vineyards - Late Harvest Riesling 
A perennial winner in the dessert wine category, this delicately flavored sweet wine has a place in my heart and in my cellar. (I have at least a case of it). The perfect bottle to bring to any occasion, including when you need to have a gift for someone. Irresistable.

GOLD

Cabernet
Girasole Cabernet ($15)

Chardonnay
Handley Cellars - Estate ($25)

Dessert
Powicana Farms - Port Style Petite Sirah ($31)

Gewürztraminer 
Blue Quail ($18)
Handley Cellars - Estate ($22)

Merlot
Bonterra ($15)

Pinot Noir
Blue Quail ($24)
Handley Cellars - RSM ($52)

Sparkling Wine
Handley Cellars - Blanc de Blanc ($52)
McFadden Vineyards Cuvee Brut ($25)

Zinfandel
Green Truck ($18)

SILVER

Chardonnay
Philo Ridge - Haiku Vineyards ($19)
Frey Vineyards - Biodynamic ($16.50)

Pinot Gris
Blue Quail (McFadden) ($16)

Pinot Noir
Barra of Mendocino ($20)
Handley Cellars - Estate ($47)
Naughty Boy ($21)

Red Blends
Bonterra - TheMcNab ($55)
Bonterra - The Butler ($55)
Handley Cellars - Red Table Wine (Vittorio's) ($25)

Rosé
Barra of Mendocino, Rose of Pinot Noir ($18)
Handley Cellars Rosé - Estate ($25)

Sangiovese
Jeriko Vineyard ($32)

Sauvignon Blanc
Blue Quail ($16)
Frey Vineyards ($14)

Zinfandel
Bricelands Vineyards - Dark Horse Ranch ($26)
Frey Vineyards - Biodynamic ($20)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Monsanto Banned from Contacting EU Officials After It Declined to Appear in Public EU Hearing


European newspapers reported a rather startling new development in the EU as the European government bans Monsanto from contacting elected officials.

See The Guardian's coverage of this landmark move here.

This is a striking contrast to the political attitude of those in power in the U.S. re oversight of Monsanto.

Monsanto had been invited to appear on a panel scheduled for Oct. 11 to face criticisms over its involvement in what were supposed to be independent safety studies for glyphosate produced by EFSA (and a German affiliate), which, as The Guardian reported earlier this month, were found to contain many pages of material taken directly from Monsanto's documents. The multinational giant declined to appear at the Oct. 11, saying that the hearing was not an appropriate forum for the discussion.

The EU is also considering whether or not to approve Bayer's bid to acquire Monsanto, which is becoming an increasingly controversial topic. Farmers in the U.S. are also concerned about economic consolidation in the proposed merger.

One of the EFSA documents, according to The Guardian report, quoted verbatim from a report written by "former and current Monsanto employees John Aquavella and Donna Farmer, challenging the results of a study which found an association between glyphosate use and non Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)."

An EPA convened group of toxicology and epidemiology experts earlier this year found that numerous studies (published in peer reviewed journals) making the connection between NHL and glyphosate or Roundup were credible.

In the U.S., Monsanto is currently facing lawsuits from 3-5,000 people who suffered themselves from NHL or had a family member who did, which they attribute to using the herbicide Roundup (which contains glyphosate).

Hear lead attorney Timothy Litzenburg here. He is representing more than 1,000 cases for NHL victims.



More than 700,000 pounds of glyphosate are used on wine grape vineyards in California each year.

See the map below for a view of where one of the main types of glyphosate is applied to wine grape vineyards statewide.




Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Lemelson Vineyards - Take a Bow; One of Only 3 US Wineries to Make Eric Asimov's List of Top 20 $20 Wines



Congrats to Lemelson Vineyards in Oregon, one of only three US wineries to be featured today in Asimov's New York Times column on the top 20 wines under $20.

Asimov's list has regularly featured Oregon's organic and Biodynamic Pinot Noir producers, including Montinore Estate and its Red Cap Pinot ($20).


Lemelson was the only organically grown wine from the U.S. on the list.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Wine Institute's Sustainability Program Cautions Against Widely Used Toxics - Including Abamectin and Paraquat - But Lets Growers Use Them If They Need To

My ears perked up when I heard that the Wine Institute's California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance had issued its first restrictions on what toxic chemicals sustainable winegrowers can and can't use in the vineyards. That's the good news, and then there's some bad news.

The Alliance has banned the use of some chemicals outright (the Red List) and cautioned against using a second group of chemicals (the Yellow List), but permits growers to use them if necessary.

Becoming certified under the CSWA program helps wineries in many ways. One is to meet sustainability requirements for major retailers like Walmart and others. Certification also gives certified sustainable wineries bragging points - and labeling if they like - to use in marketing themselves as green.

RED LIST - BANNED CHEMICALS - ALMOST HALF ARE NOT USED

reviewed the list of banned chemicals on the Red List. Among 28 chemicals listed, 13 were not used by any wine grape growers, according to California Department of Pesticide Regulation's 2015 summary report. Apparently this was by design, according to the CSWA. Of the chemicals banned, 46% on the Red List are not currently being used on California wine grapes.

If you want to perform your own analysis, visit the California Dept. of Pesticide Use and look at the chemicals used on wine grapes.

I also added up all of the acreage affected by the remaining 15 chemicals, which totaled 13,938 acres in 2015. That acreage amounts to 2% of all wine grape vines in the state. That means that 98% of growers in the state are not using these banned chemicals.

YELLOW LIST - CAUTIONARY CHEMICALS - USED MOSTLY BY CENTRAL VALLEY GROWERS (MAKING SUPERMARKET WINES)

In reviewing the Yellow List, things get a lot more interesting, because the list could have a big impact by decreasing toxic chemicals.

But, somewhat surprisingly, growers don't have to stop using the Yellow List chemicals. They may continue to use them if they justify their use.

Of the 10 chemicals on the Yellow list, eight are used on fewer than 5% of the state's vines, but two are more widely used - the insecticide abamectin, a miticide, and the herbicide paraquat dichloride.


(I generated the maps below using the Agricultural Pesticide Mapping Tool which was created by the California Department of Environmental Health Tracking Program [CEHTP] using the state PUR data. The organization is funded by the CDC. )

Abamectin is used on 188,900 acres, or a third of California's 560,000 acres of wine grape vineyards. It is classified as a "Bad Actor" and as acutely toxic. It is a developmental and reproductive toxin and a suspected endocrine disruptor. It is also classified as a possible groundwater contaminant.


Paraquat dichloride is used on 100,400 acres, or 18% of California wine grape vines. Acutely toxic, it is classified as a "Bad Actor" and is a suspected endocrine disruptor.  It has been banned in Europe based on its extreme toxicity - it's often used in farmer suicides - as well as its links to lung cancer and Parkinson's.


In a 2015 story on farm pesticides used close to schools, the Sacramento Bee reported on the use of paraquat and other chemicals and the health threats they represent, quoting data from the California Dept. of Public Health.

The third most used chemical, chlorpyrifos, was slated to be banned nationwide, until the Trump administration reversed this decision.

Chlorpyrifos was used on 25,861 acres - or 5% - of wine grape vineyards.

The deadly insecticide is know to affect child development and the nervous system.


BEYOND THE LIST

It should be noted that many chemicals designated as "chemicals of concern" are not on the Wine Institute's Red or Yellow Lists. These include carcinogens (Roundup and glyphosate, for instance, now classified by the state of California as carcinogens), developmental or reproductive toxins, neurotoxins, bird and bee toxins and more.

CASE STUDY: MANCOZEB

Among the banned chemicals is Mancozeb, which is, oddly, used more in Sonoma than any other county in California.

Mancozeb is classified as a "Bad Actor," a carcinogen, a developmental and reproductive toxin and a suspected endocrine disruptor.

A New York Times article, published 26 years ago, wrote, "In 1987, the National Academy of Sciences identified the chemicals - mancozeb, maneb and metiram - as among the most potent carcinogens used in agriculture."

ENFORCEMENT

How will the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance enforce the restrictions? Will the group actually revoke certification for wineries using the Yellow List chemicals?

These are not legally binding standards, but a voluntary program run by an industry group, so it will be interesting to see the extent to which the industry will actually police itself in instances like this, and if growers will change rather than be booted out of the program.

It could also be the case that this move is an attempt to gently wean the growers using the worst toxics off of them. If the CSWA is successful, the Pesticide Use Report should reflect the impact the restrictions have.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Who Makes the Best $29 Biodynamic Cabernet You Never Heard Of?

Martin Pohl, Beaver Creek Vineyards
Martin Pohl of Beaver Creek Vineyards has never made it onto the cover of the Wine Spectator. And he probably never will. But - shhh - his wine really should.

While the wine establishment pats its own back everyday for making fine wines from famous regions (and sprucing up the grapes with added flavorings), Pohl is up to something special, in the unpretentious Lake County wine country. On the 185 acre Horne Ranch across the street from a big casino, south of Harbin Hot Springs and the town of Middletown, he makes lovely estate wines from his 22 acres of Biodynamic vines planted on volcanic soils. With no additives at all.

He also has a great spot to kick back and enjoy a leisurely visit inside his tasting room or outside in the rustic garden area.



Pohl was a few weeks away from harvest when I visited last week. You could see his delicate Cabernet grapes hanging from vines that had clearly not been over irrigated. (Unlike Napa.)


He's been farming them through thick and thin, including the very thin of 2015 when Lake County suffered through three terrible fires, including one that scorched a portion of his vineyard. (None of his current release wines show any ill effects.) The government paid him $35,000 for the cost of new vines, but didn't reimburse him for any labor. The Czech born winemaker (and wine grower) has nevertheless persisted - like so many of his neighbors - in the pursuit of his dream.

ESTATE WINES


Pohl makes four wines from his own vines - a Sauvignon Blanc, a Petite Sirah, and two Cabs - and buys organic Merlot and Zinfandel for two more wines. He's also got some more locally grown wines from conventional growers for sale in his tasting room.


Last week I tasted through the entire org/BD lineup. The Sauvignon Blanc was delicious, the Merlot was wonderful, and the regular Cab was great, but the Fairytale Cab was truly outstanding.

I'd been in Napa a few days earlier and had been tasting through a new luxury winery's debut vintages. They were presented in a glamorous downtown tasting room filled with art, glitzy interiors, and metallic backed leather chairs and priced at $75-150.

Yes, those wines were more Bordeaux-like, but the Beaver Creek Fairytale Cab was a stunning wine that could hold its own in a blind tasting, I'd venture. It's quite different stylistically from those other wines, but stylishly elegant in its blackberry and cassis flavors.

The Fairytale Cab is $29 or $348 for a case (less a 20% discount when purchased in the tasting room)

PURELY WINE

Unlike the Napa luxury wine, which is more than likely made with commercial yeasts and additives (almost all wine is and almost all wine in Napa is, too), this wine's flavors come purely from the grapes and the oak barrel aging. This wine is certified as both an Organic Wine, which means no sulfites are added, and as a Biodynamic Wine, which means only native yeast fermentation was allowed.

You won't find Beaver Creek at the RAW Wine Fair, or at natural wine shops in NYC. In fact, the RAW Wine Fair's U.S.-based vintners mostly buy grapes. Most of the wines from a number of the wineries featured are not from organic grapes (neither practicing nor certified organic). But Pohl is the real deal - growing the grapes himself and making wine via traditional methods.

THE 2014 FAIRYTALE

Martin shared that he's made this particular Fairytale vintage with the special addition of amethyst crystals in the barrel.

It's not something he did in the 2015 and 2016 vintages - just the 2014. I've tasted this wine over the years, and it's always been a standout. But it's nice to know that the bottle we tasted from had that extra, supercharged, je ne sais quoi life energy.

At $348 a case, this is a wine you want to know - and buy now.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Roundup Roundup: Monsanto "Orchestrate Outrage" Campaign Over IARC Glyphosate Ruling, French Winemakers May Face $1 Billion in Added Costs in Potential Herbicide Ban

I just dipped into the glyphosate news today and it's simply amazing what is happening. (And one wonders why it is so little covered by legitimate press in U.S. as it is a huge topic of concern in Europe.)

Here are two threads of the unfolding epic.

MONSANTO LAW SUITS REVEAL DECEPTION AND PREDATORY PR TECHNIQUES OVER IARC DECISION

I can only say the U. S. Right to Know's article on this topic is must reading for those interested in following the unraveling of Monsanto's deceptions - juicy glyphosate gossip, if you will.

It now appears that Monsanto planned a campaign to discredit IARC's assessment and scientists, as the company anticipated that IARC would rule the herbicide Roundup's main ingredient as a probable carcinogen. The campaign's tactics including ghostwriting articles that were allegedly written by reputable scientists, who were paid to publish company written articles touting glyphosate's safety. Possible collusion with a senior EPA official is another thread in this tangled web.

BIG IMPLICATIONS IN EUROPEAN LICENSING ISSUES

Today the future of glyphosate in the EU is in question - one that a group of EU Parliament policymakers is scheduled to address in a meeting on Oct. 11 in Brussels.

Monsanto's current license for glyphosate sales in the EU expires at the end of 2017 and requires an EU decision to renew it to continue selling it.

France has already said it will vote against extending the sale of glyphosate. Conservation ag farmers (who reduce herbicide use through no-till practices and planting cover crops) are now pressuring France to reverse that position.

EuractiveTV reported earlier this month on the political divisions in Europe over issuing a renewal of glyphosate's license.

Last week Reuters reported that the French polling group IPSOS as estimating that a ban would cost French winemakers 900 million euros ($1 billion).

In the U.S. California winemakers use more than 700,000 pounds of the herbicide each year. The State of California has labeled it as carcinogenic and products that contain it will soon have to list it on their labels or face steep penalties.

A 2016 poll of 7,000 Europeans showed that more than two thirds of European's support a ban on glyphosate.

As reported by The Guardian, the poll found that 75% of Italians, "70% of Germans, 60% of French and 56% of Britons" backed a ban on the herbicide.

BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE: EU COLLUSION REPORTED

See here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/15/eu-report-on-weedkiller-safety-copied-text-from-monsanto-study

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The All in One Handy Dandy Guide to Certification: Organic and Biodynamic Wine Standards - Covering All 5 Types of Wines

Wine certification can be numbingly complicated - or simple. Two years ago I prepared a simple chart - at least I hope it's simple - delineating the various types.

Here it is for your reading enjoyment. 



Download a printable copy here: Organic and Biodynamic Wine Certification Types.

Armed with this info, you can decide whether you want to find any wine that is sourced from organic or Biodynamic vines, or if you have additional requirements.

For instance, if you are looking for a wine with no additives (other than sulfites up to 100 ppm) and on native yeasts only, you'd want to find "Biodynamic Wine." A few great producers - and there are only a few - are Porter Creek (estate wines only), Qupé (Sawyer Lindquist vineyard wines only) and Maysara (everything is estate only).

And please note, while there is an organic standard for "Ingredients: Organic Grapes" wine, there is no equivalent in the Biodynamic universe.

The Demeter standards are crop/product specific - so they have a specific standard for wine. The NOP standards were created for both food and wine (which is how we wound up as the only country in the world with the dorky conflation of no added sulfite as a standard in our Organic Wine standard).

While most people really don't need to know about certification, it can be a powerful tool for consumers to find what they are looking for.

Note that Biodynamic wines have two standards. The Made with Biodynamic Grapes standard allows organic additives and cellar manipulations just like the Made with Organic Grapes standard.

Many winemakers are unaware of the "Ingredients; Organic Grapes" standard. And many more who meet that standard don't put it on the bottle label. But that's another story.

Another brouhaha results from consumers' attention being focused on wine additives, rather than vineyard chemicals. Thanks to Alice Feiring, people are sure that additives are the issue. They are part of the story, but the much bigger story is the toxicity of the vineyard chemicals. Also you would have to test wine - an expensive proposition - to find out what additives are in it and if they are unsafe. You can find out what vineyard chemicals were used - in California - using publicly available data (and testing if you want to spend $100 a bottle).

But any wine made from organic or BD vines is likely to be a good choice (leaving supermarket wines aside). I personally tend to steer clear of mass produced no added sulfite wines, but enjoy other wines that are made with low to no sulfites as well as wines that can't meet the 100 ppm sulfite restriction (like Ridge). IMHO, winemakers should feel free to add the sulfite they want to to preserve their wine, according to their own analysis. However I mostly drink wines that aren't even labeled "Ingredients: Organic Grapes" but are from certified vines. Most of the best producers aren't labeling. (Kudos to the ones who are and may their numbers expand).

I always say organically or Biodynamically grown fine wines are the fastest oath to the best wines, because so many of the producers (not all but most - I won't list the exceptions here) are above average or our finest wines.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Grimm's Bluff: Expanding the Central Coast's Biodynamic Range with Bordeaux Varietals


Its planted acreage is half of Napa's, but, like Sonoma, the rambling coastal Santa Barbara County has so many microclimates that it offers wine lovers the variety of terroir it takes to produce wines from French varietals that span the whole of France. And it is the site of some of the most exciting Biodynamic wines from the U.S.

The county is known for the transverse mountain ranges that run east/west - instead of north/south. It grows a lot of Chardonnay for Big Wine, but at its best, it boasts some of California's finest wines. In particular, it's home to two of what I would call the "Great Estates" in the Biodynamic world. A third one may be in the making.

BIODYNAMIC BURGUNDY - STA. RITA HILLS AVA

Pinot Noir, the grape of Burgundy, feels right at home in the region's westernmost and most well known AVA - Sta. Rita Hills AVA - which lies closest to the coast and cooling fog.

Its Great Biodynamic Estate is Sea Smoke, which produces 17,000 cases a year of legendary Pinot Noir on a 175 acres of vines (the estate is more than 900 acres) that spans a three mile long spine of the Sta. Rita Hills. (Talk about real estate.)

Other Biodynamic growers in the region include Ampelos and Duvarita.

BIODYNAMIC RHONES - BALLARD CANYON AVA

Inland just a bit, in Ballard Canyon AVA, Rhones reign. Local vintners call this the "Beverly Hills of Syrah."

Ballard Canyon's Great Biodynamic Estate is Beckman Vineyards, just a few miles further inland. It's best known for Syrah. Beckman produces 17,000 cases of Rhone varietal wines on 96 planted acres on a 125 acre piece of prime Ballard Canyon real estate.



HAPPY CANYON AVA

Over in the easternmost section of the Santa Ynez Valley lies the lesser known Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA, where vintners favor Bordeaux varietals. It's a region that feels a bit like the Wild West, with the Los Padres National Forest - spanning 3,000 square miles - on its eastern border and the Santa Ynez Mountains, standing like a fortress wall on the south side of the AVA. The highest peaks here are 4,000 feet. Gazing off in the direction of Los Padres, you get that "infinity feeling" - endless mountains and big skies.


BIODYNAMIC BORDEAUX VARIETALS

It's here in Happy Canyon that you can get your Biodynamic Bordeaux groove on with wines from the new, 246 acre Grimm Estate, the first and only Biodynamic vineyard in this mountain fringed AVA.

The property sits on a magnificent bluff majestically overlooking the Santa Ynez River to the south with a spectacular view of the towering Santa Ynez Mountains. Grimm Estate extends one mile along the river; the bluff rises 300 feet above it.



Here Rick and Aurora Grimm have established 16 acres of vines, with the help of Biodynamic consultant, Philippe Coderey, a 25th generation Provencal vigneron, formerly with Chapoutier in France). (The family name Coderey comes from the French word "codurer" which literally means "to cultivate the vineyards.")

The vineyard is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (65%) and Sauvignon Blanc (30%); a tiny bit of Petit Verdot rounds out the last 5%. The Grimm's sell some grapes to Dragonette, Foxen and other local wineries and vinify the rest for their own brand.


I recently visited the estate on a tour - with Demeter co-director Elizabeth Candelario - and was treated to an owner tour by the Grimm's. (Our trip was part of planning the first International Biodynamic Wine Conference, which will take place May 6-7 of 2018 in San Francisco.)

Rick Grimm with an essential ingredient - the Biodynamic compost pile at Grimm Estate
After making their fortune in Europe  - where Rick invented a way to blend petroleum products (which would otherwise be a source of pollution) into reformulated gasoline and biodiesel - and moving to Monaco (too ritzy for raising their kids, they said), they relocated to Santa Barbara. The couple embarked on the winery project soon after, building their second home and a guest house and winery barn on the land and planting their 16 acre vineyard on a flat mesa.

Head trained vines at Grimm Estate
THE VINES

The Grimm's first became acquainted with winemaker Paul Lato and hired him as their winemaker. Lato connected them with vineyard consultant Philippe Coderey.

Philippe Coderey at Grimm Estate; the Grimm's named one of the vineyard roads after him ("Rue Coderey")
At Grimm Estate, Coderey established the vineyards, bringing back many traditional practices, including head trained cabernet, which is common in Bordeaux, but rare in the U.S.

Today at Grimm's the vines are half on trellises and half head trained.

Head trained vines are typically planted less densely, enabling the vines to be dry farmed, once they are established. Dry farming in this way encourages the vine roots to go deeper into the soil, penetrating below clay layers into lower layers. It's here that vignerons say great wines are made.

Head trained Cabernet at Chateau Latour in Bordeaux

If the vines are irrigated, as most in California are, roots stay closer to the surface; this means the grapes typically have less flavor than grapes that have deeper root systems in the right soils. The result is that wine additives often take the place of terroir-driven flavors in producing many fine wines.

Head trained vines also produce fewer spurs, so the whole plant is in a better state of balance.

At Grimm Estate, the vineyard has a two foot layer of topsoil (quick sand or concrete like, depending on the water content), with six feet of clay soils below that. Underneath the clay layer lie old, riverbed gravel rocks and sand. Below you can see a photo from a few years ago that shows the head trained vines already penetrating the clay layer.

Roots from head trained vines at Grimm penetration the clay layer after only a few years
Conventional vineyard management "experts" said the vines would never be able to go this deep on the site. Coderey has established farming practices that promote breaking through the clay by watering very sparsely (and just the vines) and using the Biodynamic prep 500 that promotes root growth.

Today the vines are already 10 feet deep.

The decision to plant head trained vines also mitigates the risk of not being able to get water in the future, should droughts return to California, which experts believe will happen as a result of climate change.

The young, head trained vines get half as much water as the
trellised vines; the goal is to reduce the amount of
water applied so that over time, as the vine roots
become more established, the vines can be dry farmed
"The head trained vines get only half the water than the vertical shoot positioned vines get. The goal is to train them to be dry farmed," Coderey said.

It's a seemingly bold, yet well informed bet - both for higher quality wines and for protection of dwindling water supplies.

BIODIVERSITY

Biodiversity is a key practice in Biodynamics and Demeter certified vineyards are required to have a minimum of 10 percent of the property set aside for biodiversity. In addition, crop diversity is also encouraged.

More than 200 acres on the estate are uncultivated.

The Grimm's grow 5 acres of olive trees, making an estate blend of three different varieties.



They also have chickens and guinea fowl on the land, as well as a herd of Braunvieh cattle, a breed originally from Switzerland. (The name means "brown cow" in German.)

We met the irresistible Fancy and Blossom, a six month old calf, on our tour.

The Grimm's keep a herd of Braunvieh ("Brown Cow" in German) cattle 


THE WINES

Grimm's Bluff produces two Sauvignon Blancs - a regular and a reserve - as well as three different bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon, from 5 different clones.


One Cab - Cliff Hanger ($65) - comes from the trellised Cabernet; another - Contango ($75) - from the head trained vines. The third - the Estate ($48) - comes from a blend of both. The Contango is the darkest of the three.

Both of the 2014 Sauvignon Blancs won 93 point reviews from Galloni on Vinuous. I tasted both of them and thought they were exceptional.

I'd agree with Matt Kettmann, a wine writer for Wine Enthusiast (as well as the Santa Barbara Independent) who describes the wines "as deliciously complex and compelling as anything coming out of the Central Coast right now."

The wine critic Jeb Dunnuck (formerly of the Wine Advocate) went even further in his praise, rating the Cliff Hanger and the Contango Cabernets 93 points each and the estate 90 pts, calling the winery an up and comer. The Contango was his favorite of the Cabernets, which he said had "terrific notes of black raspberries, blackcurrants, toasted bread, spice and vanilla bean." He went on to compliment it for being "full-bodied, layered and beautifully concentrated..."

Those scores are higher than any of Dunnuck's ratings for Cabs from long established Happy Canyon brands like Fess Parker and Foxen.

Much credit belongs to Philippe Coderey, who made this vineyard, and to the Grimm's, who hired him and took his advice on viticultural decisions - the key ingredient in winemaking and one that is over underestimated. Having Paul Lato, a superstar winemaker of the Central Coast, has been a distinct plus, too.

Grimm Estate is the first Central Coast vineyard Coderey has planted from the start and as such represents the knowledge that only a 25th generation vigneron - coupled with a decade of California experience - brings to it. These vineyards are not built for cookie cutter vineyard management (the norm in California, often even among fine wine producers), but call upon a higher level of skills and sensitivity that has been passed down traditionally in European vigneron families.

In cookie cutter vineyard management, vines are typically sprayed at regular intervals, based on the calendar, not the vineyard condition. This is the norm not just in the Central Valley but in fine wine regions as well. Cookie cutter vineyard management is also responsible for overwatering most California vineyards, despite the best efforts of water conservation authorities, "sustainability" programs, and local citizens concerned about water resources.

ARTISANAL VITICULTURE

All winemakers say fine wines are made in the vineyard. But too little emphasis is placed on looking at how the vines were planted. In reality, this is a core fundamental in the making of a wine, not just the ongoing vineyard care. Thanks to long conversations with Coderey, I'm starting to think of this now as "artisanal viticulture," a topic I hope to write about in a future post.

For now, it looks as though the bet on head trained Cabernet is a good one. Both Coderey and Dunnuck prefer the Contango Cabernet, which comes from the head trained vines.

A GREAT ESTATE IN THE MAKING?

It's good to see vintners like the Grimm's making bolder, smarter choices, bringing "artisanal viticulture" - along with artisanal winemaking - to the fore.

Is Grimm's Bluff poised to become one of the Great Estates of the Central Coast? Only time - and taste - will tell.

In the meantime, we can all enjoy drinking these nuanced wines and savoring the pleasures they bring - blackcurrants and raspberries and more, oh my.

You can make an appointment to tour and taste - and it's an owner tour - or find out what restaurants carry the wines by emailing info@grimmsbluff.com. The winery also has online sales of its Cabernets; Sauvignon Blancs are restricted to the wine club only.

For more info, visit www.grimmsbluff.com.

I'll be writing more on my further Central Coast adventures, from others who have hired Coderey and implemented Biodynamics. That list includes Duvarita Vineyard, west of the Sta. Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County, and Tablas Creek, in Paso Robles. Both have planted head trained vineyards that will be dry farmed.