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. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wine Water Watch Presents: What's On Those Vines? With Moi, In Person, Oct. 21, Sebastopol

Wine Water Watch has very kindly asked me to speak next month on the subject of pesticide use in vineyards in Sonoma, a topic I have most recently blogged about here in these two posts:

• Sonoma Gets Its (Toxics) Closeup: What's On Those Vines? A Look at Carcinogens, Neurotoxins, and More

• The Emperor's New (Green Marketing) Clothes: "Sustainability Program Ramps Up in Sonoma- Headed by Marketing Professor

At this event, Oct. 21, in Sebastopol, I'll be showing the audience how you can use online government sites and public information to see who's using what in your area and how to understand which chemicals are chemicals of concern.

DRINK THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD

I'll also talk about how to support local Sonoma wineries with organic or Biodynamic vines.

I will be giving away a free list of suggested, all organic estate wineries to support and offering an ebook, Organically Sonoma ($20), on ALL of the wines from organic or Biodynamic vines in Sonoma. (I will also post a link to buy the ebook on this blog, when the ebook is published.)

The event takes place from 1-3 pm.

Hope to see you there!

For more info, visit the Wine Water Watch web site.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. 's Wine Advice at Heirloom Expo: Drink Organic

The glyphosate panel at the Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa featured (from left to right) environmental lawyer and activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Zen Honeycutt (of Moms Across America), and seed saving evangelist Vandana Shiva
Anti GMO activists, glyphosate foes and pure food lovers gathered Tuesday for Day One of the annual Heirloom Expo, held in Santa Rosa at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. They turned out en masse last night to see a star-studded, anti-glyphosate activist panel with Vandana Shiva (the Indian seed saving evangelist), Zen Honeycutt (founder of the anti-GMO group, Moms Across America), and environmental law activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who led the now famous environmental battle to clean up and protect the Hudson River.

"Monsanto is engaged in chemical trespass," Kennedy told the crowd, who cheered wildly when he was introduced. "I have glyphosate in my body and so does everyone in this room. We never gave that company permission to put that in our bodies."

Kennedy went on to review the history of control that Monsanto has exercised over the federal agencies that were meant to protect the public - the EPA, the CDC, and the FDA. "All of these agencies were sock puppets for this huge chemical company," he told the crowd. "They made us pay the 'externalities' of their costs and subverted our laws."

"An environmental crime is real crime," he said.

Talking about the diminished capacity of a child who has been exposed to Monsanto's pesticides and has a lower IQ because of it, he labeled such behavior child abuse. "Monsanto took away that child's capacity," he said.

Kennedy described three of the legal challenges currently underway to fight against glyphosate and Roundup, the herbicide that combines glyphosate with powerful surfactants and additives, designed to make it stick to its biological targets.

"It's not just glyphosate that is harmful, as we are finding out in the discovery phase of these lawsuits," he said, adding that the newly revealed documents show that Monsanto knew the formulation - with unrevealed additives - was more harmful than glyphosate alone. However, most of the studies used in deciding whether Roundup was safe to use or not were limited to research on glyphosate alone and not Roundup.

As a company email revealed (in 2002) posted on one of the law firm sites reveals, a senior Monsanto employee wrote, "What I've been hearing from you is that this continues to be the case with these studies - Glyphosate is OK but the formulated product (and thus the surfactant) does the damage."

Kennedy provided an update on the legal actions. Two suits are currently underway, including one based in California.

CANCER LAWSUIT - NON-HODGKIN LYMPHOMA

"In the first suit, there are 3,000 to 5,000 clients." he told the crowd. "Either they or someone in their family got non Hodgkin's lymphoma from handling Roundup. These turn out to be mostly landscapers...It is more dangerous to handle Roundup than to consume it."

This case has been assigned to Superior Court in the County of San Francisco and will begin June 18 of 2018.

CLASS ACTION LABELING LAW SUIT

The other suit is a class action suit taking place in several states, including Arizona, Delaware, Missouri and Wisconsin.

"In these suits, Monsanto is being sued on the grounds that its labeling is not accurate," Kennedy explained. "The labels used on Roundup stated that it would affect enzymes in plants but not in human beings. But that is not accurate, because today we know it affects the human biome. So it's not in our cells, but it is in our guts."

PROP 65 LISTING IN CALIFORNIA

Kennedy also mentioned the Proposition 65 listing in California, which fellow panelist Zen Honeycutt explained will require that companies disclose glyphosate on the labels of foods that contain it or face daily fines of $2,500-$6,500 per day.

Currently the regulations are being written on what the allowable limits will be, Honeycutt said, adding that defining the levels is going to be difficult and very political.

MONSANTO PAPERS

More information on the documents filed in these various cases can be found at the U.S. Right to Know web site which has collected and posted the Monsanto Papers online.

ROUNDUP'S BIG BATTLEGROUND: EUROPE

Kennedy's painted a picture of Monsanto's future in crisis with EU leaders - a crisis that may ultimately be the most damaging to the company as it faces both the fight to renew its license to sell Roundup in the region as well as the challenge to gain EU approval of its proposed merger with Bayer.


"The EU is pretty upset with Monsanto right now," Kennedy said. Now that these lawsuits have brought to light extensive correspondence showing that Monsanto authored "independent" reports from government agencies, corrupted decision making inside the EPA (including Rowlands, etc.) and more, the company's credibility is in question, he said.

"For years Monsanto has been telling the EU that U.S. agencies were studying the effects of Roundup, but now the world - including the EU - can see that Monsanto was lying all the time because the U.S. government agencies were absolutely corrupted by Monsanto," he said.

"Monsanto controlled the regulatory process and derailed studies. It quashed and destroyed investigations, including by the CDC," he said.

Currently Roundup's renewal in the EU is at stake. Last week France has announced its intention not to approve Roundup's renewal. The issue will probably not be decided until after key elections in Germany and elsewhere have been held this fall.

What can citizens do? Kennedy urged Californian's to show up at Office of Environmental Health (OEH) hearings and to let the OEH and legislators hear from them with letters and phone calls.

In the Q and A portion of the public program, I asked Kennedy what he thought should be done to curb the use of 700,000 pounds of glyphosate used annually on vineyards in the Golden State. "Drink organic wine," he said, while the crowd roared its approval.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Andre: The Voice of Wine - A Film About the Legendary Napa Winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff - Debuts Oct. 9 at Mill Valley Film Festival



The long awaited featured documentary film Andre: The Voice of Wine will receive its North American premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival next month.

The film documents the incredible life story to Andre Tchelistcheff, the man who, more than anyone, influenced Napa Valley vintners on how to make fine wine. A Russian emigre who studied in Paris, he first came to be the winemaker at Beaulieu and later at Mondavi. 

He was a figure of such stature that an entire generation of American winemakers sought his advice. He mentored Mike Grgich (whose winery is a sponsor of the film) and told Jerry Seps to plant zinfandel at Storybook Mountain Vineyard, the Chappellets to plant Cabernet on Pritchard Hill, and the King family to purchase their 1,000 acre estate in southern Oregon. And on and on.

The film was directed by Tchelistcheff's nephew Mark Tchelistcheff, who I met at a Grgich Hills Estate event several years ago when he was fundraising for the project. The film features interviews with Warren Winiarski, Mike Grgich, Robert Mondavi and Francis Ford Coppola, along with famous Italian and French winemakers. 

My old friend and colleague (from when I was more active in the documentary film world) - Michael Chandler - is the consulting editor.

Showtimes are:
  • Monday, Oct. 9 at 6:45 pm
  • Friday, Oct. 13 at 1 pm
  • Saturday, Oct. 14, 6:15 pm
For more info or to purchase tickets (which go on sale to the general public Sept. 17), visit mvff.com.

To learn more about Tchelistcheff, you can read his NYTimes obit here. He is also featured prominently in one of my favorite books, Napa: An American Eden by James Conaway. 

Raising a Glass to Sonoma's Latest Biodynamic Vineyard - Westwood Achieves Demeter Certification



Congratulations to the newest Demeter certified vineyard in California - Westwood.

After three years of growing grapes according to Biodynamic farming standards, Westwood's 22 acre vineyard in the unique Annadel Gap site (in the Sonoma Valley AVA) was certified Biodynamic this week.

The winery is devoted to Rhone varietals, making a Rhone blend called Legend, and Pinot Noir, growing 9 different Pinot clones on 13 acres. The property is at the north end of the Valley of the Moon.

Winemaker Ben Cane makes all of the wines on native yeast.

The winery has an impressive track record in competitions, winning the 2016 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge for Best Red, Best of Sonoma County and Best of the Best awards for its 2014 Clone 37 Pinot.

While Oregon boasts an extensive number of Biodynamically grown Pinot Noir, to date Sonoma has had only a few great Biodynamically grown Pinots - Porter Creek comes to mind, along with Littorai's Mays Canyon (a single vineyard designate from the Porter Bass vineyard). Both vineyards are located in the Russian River Valley AVA.

Great Biodynamic Rhones in the region have been coming from the Dry Creek Valley AVA where Quivira and Preston Farm & Winery.

I visited in March and wrote this piece about Westwood and the winery.

You can schedule a visit to taste the wines yourself at the winery's tasting room in downtown Sonoma.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

National Heirloom Expo Opens with Rockstar Glyphosate Panel Tuesday Night in Santa Rosa


Picking up where Luther Burbank left off, the National Heirloom Expo, which bills itself as the "World's Pure Food Fair," opens next week at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa.

This annual festival celebrates organic and non GMO family values and features hundreds of speakers over three days. It's an alternative county fair with farmers and ranchers, the world's largest display of produce, and livestock.

NATIONAL HEIRLOOM EXPO HIGHLIGHTS

Tuesday

2:30 pm - Session with Howard Vleiger, a native Iowan farmer, who discovered his cattle shied away from eating GMO feed and wondered what the reason was. He now works to lead farmers "away from the use of GMOs, antibiotics and pesticides."

6:30 pm - Opening panel on Glyphosate with a blockbuster lineup: Robert Kennedy, Jr., Vandana Shiva, Bob McFarland, and Zen Honeycut (from Moms Across America)

Take a look at the program for more programs of interest. The three day fair runs Tuesday through Thursday.

What to See at the Soil Not Oil Conference - Sept. 6-9 in Richmond

The week after Labor Day, when all your Burning Man friends will be recuperating from their desert travels, we stay-at-home foodie/eco types will have two fabulous conferences to check out.

The first conference is the National Heirloom Expowhich takes place in Santa Rosa at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Sept. 5-8. Vandana Shiva will be keynoting.

Soil Not Oil, in downtown Richmond, brings together hundreds of eco-activists and features fabulous keynote speakers including Vandana Shiva, Miguel Altieri and others. The conference dates are Sept. 6-9.


Highlights I'm looking forward to seeing at Soil Not Oil include:

• David Johnson, a molecular biologist from New Mexico State University, on the panel Drawing Down Carbon at the Landscape Level. This panel covers conversion of atmospheric carbon into soil carbon.

• David Montgomery, author of the Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health (one of my favorite books about soil and the microbiome) will talk about his latest book Growing a Revolution, following farmers who are practicing what Montgomery calls "conservation farming"

• A wine focused session featuring Paicines Ranch, a ranching operation that's transitioning to organic practices and innovative approaches, using sheep in a newly planted vineyard. The vines are planted higher than normal, to enable sheep to graze in the vineyard year round. (Sheep are often brought into vineyards in the spring for weed control but are used there only until bud break.)

• A session on pesticides with Dr. Ann Lopez, director of the Center for Farmworker Families

The full day sessions are Friday and Saturday.

You can register online here. Or follow them on FB and Twitter, too...

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

5-9% Increase in Birth Abnormalities and Premature Births Associated with Heaviest Pockets of Pesticides Used in San Joaquin County - Including Lodi Wine Grape Growing Region



A new study published in the journal Nature Communications (and featured in the press today) documents that pregnant women living in the most heavily pesticided areas of the Central Valley have an increased chance of having a baby born prematurely or with abnormalities.

For most residents - more than 50% - pesticide exposures were low level, and these families did not have increased risks for premature births or abnormalities. But in areas which ranked among the top 5% of pesticide use, the risks were increased by 5-9% above average. For the top 1% the risks were even higher.

Pesticide exposure ranged from an average of 975 kilograms per acre to a high of 4,000 kilograms per acre. Those in the 4,000 kg/acre areas had a 8% higher chance of a premature birth and a 9% higher chance of having a birth abnormality.

The study was co-authored by three researchers from UC Santa Barbara at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. The researchers used data from 500,000 births over a period from 1997-2011 coupled with Pesticide Use Report data from the State of California.

The area the researchers studied - San Joaquin County - lies south of Sacramento County and extends to south of Manteca. It includes the prime grape growing region of Lodi, where grapes are by far the largest crop by acre and revenue.

About 60 percent of California wine comes from grapes grown in the San Joaquin Valley (which is larger than the county per se). However in the county alone, there are 98,000 acres of grape vines (including both wine grapes and table grapes), with the crop valued at $425 million.

"Commodities such as grapes received nearly 50 kg per hectare per year of insecticides alone in the San Joaquin Valley region, while other high value crops such as pistachios receive barely a third of that amount," the researchers wrote.

However, grapes often receive a higher amount of weight of pesticides, because of the use of sulfur, compared to other crops. I couldn't tell from the published research how much this fact impacted the results.

Here's the Ag Pesticide Mapping Tool results for a query on "reproductive and developmental toxins" applied to "wine grapes" in San Joaquin County so you can see where the highest concentrations of these specific substances are applied to vineyards.



Map Source: California Environmental Health Tracking Program, Agricultural Pesticide Mapping Tool (Data from 2014 Pesticide Use Reports); Pounds Per Acre (Wine Grapes only, Reproductive and Developmental Toxins only)

While the article divided toxicity measure into higher and lower levels in the study, the paper does not list which pesticides were in the highest risk categories.

It also does not include a crop breakdown of which crops created the most risks for populations.

I have emailed the lead author on the study to see if more details can be obtained.

The study also points out that the closer farmworkers live to pesticided fields, the more the workers are at risk. "Our results may under predict adverse birth outcomes in regions where a larger proportion of workers reside in employer-provided housing or adjacent to fields, where a larger fraction of pesticides are applied...," the paper states.

The study also noted that pesticides applied to the ground (versus aerial spraying) were most likely to have a health impact (as this method of application is more common).

The study did not look at male exposures to pesticides and those impacts on child health.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Announcing...The International Biodynamic Wine Conference: Save the Date (May 2018)


Announcing...The first ever Biodynamic Wine Conference to be held in the U.S.!

Congrats to Demeter USA for launching this initiative.

I'm working with them to plan and create an AWESOME gathering. Stay tuned for details!


Monday, August 7, 2017

The Daily Meal's Top 100 Wineries: 20% Source Wines from Certified Organic Vineyards



For the third year in a row, organic vineyards have played a major role in The Daily Meal's list of the Top 100 Wineries in America, an annual compilation put together by insider foodies and chefs.

Twenty  - or 20% - of the wineries source grapes from organic vines.

To put this in context, even in Napa, our leading fine wine region, certified organic vineyards amount to 8% of the vines. Statewide, California has only 2.5% organic vines. Therefore organic vines are overrepresented on this list by a factor of roughly 10x.

This year's list was geographically more inclusive than previous years, but the same two wineries - Ridge and Tablas Creek - placed first and second respectively. In previous years, these have held the top two positions.

Other winners on the list with certified organic vineyards include the following. However, not all the wines these wineries produce come from their organic vines, so it's good to check with the winery on what wine is sourced organically. Wineries with 100% organic estates are starred *.

1. Ridge Vineyards (East Bench Zin, Geyserville, and, starting with the 2016 vintage, Monte Bello)
2. Tablas Creek (all except Patelin)
12. Calera (estate wines only)
15. Robert Sinskey Vineyards*
20. Heitz Cellars
23. Turley
24. Bonny Doon (future wines from Popeloucham)
25. Qupe (Sawyer Lindquist vineyard only)
30. Chanin
36. Spottswoode (estate Cabernet Sauvignon only)
49. Beckmen (Ballard Canyon estate only)
61. Eyrie (estate wines only)
66. Staglin
70. Bokisch (estate wines only)
92. Brooks Winery (estate wines only)

Honorary Mention on the Organic List
27. Matthiasson (in transition)
41. Tensley (some single vineyard wines)
52. Jaffurs (single vineyard designates from Ampelos and Turner)
77. Ceritas (Porter Bass vineyard designates)
79. Dragonette (Duvarita vineyard designates)

None of these wines are classified USDA Organic Wine, but all meet the standard for "Ingredients: Organic Grapes" and above.

Only a few of the wineries above label any bottles with those words. Exceptions include:

Ridge Vineyards: "Ingredients: Organic Grapes"
Robert Sinskey Vineyards: "Ingredients: Organic Grapes"
Qupe ("Biodynamic Wine")
Brooks ("Made with Biodynamic Grapes")

There are so many wineries that didn't make this list that it sometimes makes me crazy - Beaux Freres and Brick House in Oregon come to mind immediately - but oh well. Maybe one day I will pick my own version of the top 100 wineries and post it.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Alma Rosa's Sparkling Evolution: Brut Rosé and a Blanc de Blancs


Isn't it wonderful to be alive when so many wineries with organic vineyards are starting to make sparkling wines? It's not like there's a million of them - sparkling wines from organic vines are still rare - but at least there are a few to choose from.

I chanced upon the Alma Rosa tasting room in Buellton last week on a quick tour of Central Coast wineries and was happy to finally understand what had previously been a mystery to me - why Alma Rosa had changed from tasting and touring on its Sta. Rita Hills estate to a tasting room in a warehouse district in Buellton.

And I was delighted to taste their new sparkling wine.

Dick and Thekla Sanford of
Alma Rosa
Some quick background for those of you unfamiliar with Alma Rosa's legendary role in establishing the Sta. Rita Hills region - and in fact a great part of Santa Barbara County - as an elite Pinot Noir wine growing region, now of great renown.

For his role in this history, Sanford was awarded a spot in the Vintners Hall of Fame, where he is one of the very few people outside of northern California to be recognized for their contributions.  When he and his original partner Benedict made their 1976 Pinot Noir, one LA Times writer called it "American Grand Cru in a Lompoc Barn."

Secondly, despite incredible financial and business obstacles, the winery is still surviving, now with the financial backing of a fellow Pinot lover, Bob Zurich, and with the advent of winemaker Nick de Luca in the cellar (though Sanford is still the public face of the brand).

Thirdly, remarkably, Alma Rosa is organically farmed in a region where organic viticulture was (and still is) quite uncommon, and it was early to the organic party, being the first in the region to embrace organic practices and certification. (Thekla Sanford grew up on an organic dairy farm in the Midwest and recognized the value of organic farming on their vineyards early on.)

But for the most part, most people know Alma Rosa for none of these reasons. In fact, though, the winery ended up playing a far bigger part in wine history than anyone could have known, when it was the site featured in the 2004 road trip/romcom Sideways, directed by Alexander Payne.

The Alma Rosa tasting room has gone down in history as one of the most famous and iconic sites in U.S. wine history. It was here, in the movie that the character Miles (played by Paul Giametti, in his breakthrough role) introduces his crude but handsome friend Jack (played by the comedic genius who also happens to be a hunk, Thomas Haden Church, in his prime) to the world of wine and specifically to the glories of Pinot Noir.

The original Alma Rosa tasting room was the first winery
featured in the movie Sideways.

So it was with considerable disappointment that I heard that the Alma Rosa tasting room had moved into town.

A photo of the old Alma Rosa tasting room, where a pivotal scene in the movie
Sideways was filmed, adorns the tasting room in Buellton's warehouse district. 
The old Alma Rosa tasting room on Santa Rosa Road
For those who missed the movie, you can, of course, enjoy it on iTunes these days. I just watched it again the other night, and, like many wines, it's aged very well. It's still probably the best film made about wine in America. Americans are drinking more Pinot Noir than ever, and many experts agree that this was the movie that started that trend.



But I digress. Back to the reasons why the tasting room moved, from its hallowed ground to a warehouse in Buellton and to the sparkling wine it makes today.

One, on this trip I noticed, hardly any wineries on Santa Rosa Road still have on-site tasting, with almost all of the wineries serving wine only in-town tasting rooms. (Was it due to changes in marketing or county regs? Were there too many tourists - who had imbibed - on the windy country road? I don't know the answer to that question.)

Second, why Buellton, I'd wondered. What I didn't know was that the Alma Rosa tasting room is right next to one of the most popular casual eateries around - Industrial Eats - which makes its location highly trafficked prime real estate.



The modern Alma Rosa tasting room today delivers many pleasures, too.
It was a pleasure to grab a few minutes before lunch with colleagues at this groovy modern bistro, (where the chefs really love to slather on the garlic, yum) that enabled me to dash into the tasting room all too briefly. I had only one shot at tasting (time, time, time), so I went for the Brut Rosé, leaving the (sob, sob) Blanc de Blanc behind (it wasn't open).

But since both are made from organically certified vineyards, and you are presumably not hurried, you could take your pick.

A photo of the El Jabali vineyard, the source for Alma
Rosa's Sta. Rita Hills estate vines (on the Santa
Rosa Road tasting room site) hangs on the tasting room wall
My other go-to sparkling wines from organic vines are usually limited to McFadden Brut (made at Rack and Riddle in Healdsburg, experts in making sparkling wines) and their Brut Rosé, but the folks in Mendocino have sold so much of their Pinot Noir grapes to other vintners that they have not been making their Brut Rosé (my favorite) for the last two years. (I bought the last two cases of it when they stopped making it.)

Aside from McFadden, you can also check out some vintages of Domaine Carneros. (Though they made - and bottle labeled - organically grown sparkling wines for some years in the past, the vineyards are no longer organic, but the organically grown vintages can still be found from time to time. Ask at the winery.)

Another Mendocino producer who occasionally makes a Brut Rosé is Handley Cellars, but the vintages are few and far between. (A Brut Rosé is rumored to be making its appearance there towards the end of 2017.)

If you're willing to wait even longer, in the future you can look to Sea Smoke's Sea Spray, a Blanc de Noirs ($80+), for vintages that come from certified grapes. (The 165 acre estate was certified organic and Biodynamic in 2016). It's made on site in what the winery calls its Bubbles Barn. 

But it's tough to find this dry (no dosage) beauty of a wine since much of it goes to wine club members (and the waiting list is 4,000 people long, thanks to both the wine quality and the fact that Sideways director Alexander Payne was a member here before he made the movie Sideways). Currently retailers are selling the 2012 vintage. This is a gorgeous wine, made from a breathtakingly beautiful site high above the Santa Rosa Road on the flanks of the Sta. Rita Hills northern (south facing) ridge.

Another producer is Johan Vineyards in Oregon, which makes a Pet Nat from Pinot Noir that I highly recommend, although this style of vinification is not the traditional methode champenoise, but rather the methode ancestrale.


So, if you are a sparkling rosé fan (and, especially in the summer, who isn't?), you might want to seek the Alma Rosa's bottling. The Brut Rosé ($58) comes from Pinot Noir on the El Jabali estate. The Blanc de Blanc ($55) (in very limited supply until the holiday season) is, uniquely, a blend of estate Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc.

While these two wines are made at Rack and Riddle in Healdsburg, the taste is pure Central Coast - a little sweeter, a little fuller, and a little richer.