Thursday, June 29, 2017

Follow the Leader - Ridge's Historic 2016 Monte Bello Will Be 100% from Organic Grapes

Ridge's famed Monte Bello vineyard - now organically farmed and certified
and its wines bottle labeled (as of the 2016 vintage)
I wrote earlier this month about Ridge's 2013 small lot (175 cases) Steep Terraces Cabernet (from a portion of the Monte Bello vineyard above Silicon Valley) being organically grown (and bottle labeled as such).

Now comes even bigger and better news - Ridge, which is one of North America's most prestigious wineries (it's been named the most respected wine brand in North America numerous times) and is currently the 7th most respected wine brand in the world - has made their 2016 Monte Bello Cabernet ($200), one of America's finest wines, solely from its organic estate grapes.

While Ridge has gradually been converting Monte Bello to organic farming, the 2016 bottle label will be the first to reach 100% organic grapes and will feature the words "organic grapes" on the back in the ingredients section. (We will have to wait several years for this vintage to be released as Ridge is currently selling the 2013's.)

What this means is that the bar has been raised, signaling that consumers are truly ready to be treated as grownups when it comes to buying wine. Those who buy organic food - and it's more than 5 percent of all food in America - buy it because they can identify it by the label. It is most popular among the very socio-economic demographic that buys expensive wine.

It's time for the industry and consumers to recognize that organically grown wines come in all prices points - ranging from $4 to $400 - and quality levels (the same as the entire wine market) and that using the word "organic" is not one that should not be filed into the no added sulfite/Frey wine bin.

(The U.S. is the only country in which this organic wine stigma persists as it is the only country that ever confused sulfite levels with organic grapes and promulgated the world's most confusing, organic wine standards and labeling. Much of the credit for this goes to the Frey and LaRocca families, who have been the biggest supporters of no added sulfite wines as well as the biggest economic beneficiaries of this segment of the market.)

This has been a source of huge confusion and frustration for consumers who want to find our best fine  organically farmed wines for a variety of reasons. Many people do not realize conventional - and "sustainable" - wine grape growers are responsible for using hundreds of thousands of pounds of Roundup (glyphosate) in wine country, affecting soil health, water, workers and residents. Conventional - and "sustainable" - wine grape growers also use a large amount of dangerous fungicides (imidacloprid, in particular), including those that have been banned in Europe because they have been found to harm bees and birds.

And yet....while 8 percent of Napa's vineyards (the most prestigious wine region in North America) are certified organic, it is rare to find those that have organic labeling, even on the back label.

Much credit goes to Ridge vineyard manager David Gates for his dogged pursuit of organic farming at Ridge, converting more than 275 acres of vines in Santa Clara and Sonoma counties to organic certification. Credit is also due to Ridge overall, for making the commitment to organic farming and labeling, and carrying it out over a long period of time.

Not many people know it, but Ridge is by far the largest organic vineyard owner in Sonoma, with 200 acres of certified vines. A good neighbor!
David Gates, vineyard manager for both of Ridge's estates 
Ridge will be joining a number of other prestigious Cabernet producers from Napa - including Beaucanon Estate, Ghost Block, Grgich Hills Estate, Neal Family, Oakville Winery, and Volker Eisele, - who farm organically and label their wines as such.

Other Napa wineries focused on other varietals - Domaine Carneros (known for organically grown sparkling wines in past vintages), Storybook (known for Zinfandel), and Adastra, Madonna Estate and Robert Sinskey (all known best for Carneros Pinot Noir) - also bottle label the words "organic."

Many others who make wine solely from their certified estates could bottle label but haven't so far. Some are considering it. This list overall includes Brown Estate, Ehlers Estate, Eisele Vineyard, Inglenook, Oakville Ranch, Rocca Family, and Sinegal Estate.

Others could label some or a few of their wines (at least the ones that are estate grown from their certified estate vineyards). This list includes Adamvs, Chappellet, Flora Springs, Frog's Leap, Hagafen Cellars, Hall, Heitz, Long Meadow Ranch (which uses certified organic grapes but calls them "responsibly farmed"), Odette, Peju Province, Raymond, Spottswoode, Staglin Family, Tres Sabores, and Turley.

Many of these wineries proudly display a CCOF sign outside their wineries on Napa's main drag, Highway 29, but are somehow shy about putting the words "organic" on the label, despite the fact that they hand sell most of their organically grown vintages at their wineries.

"Curiouser and curiouser," cried Alice in Alice in Wonderland (or could she be in Wine-derland?).

There is a simple fix. Consumers: clamor for labeling.

Tell wineries you want them to state what is in the bottle on the label. (Tweet, visit, repeat). You're going to see more and more bottles labeled "sustainable" which means, in general, better water and energy saving practices than wineries followed in the past, but means nothing about the dangerous vineyard chemicals used in farming these wines.

Make no mistake - Sonoma and the Wine Institute of California have huge marketing budgets to confuse consumers about how green they are. (They're not very green because their sustainability standards are very low). The organic people have zero marketing budget. Mainstream conventional wineries also have market research that shows that 43% of consumers think "sustainable" means "organic." (See graph at right from a 2017 wine market research presentation.)

Labeling the words "organic" on the bottle - even if it's just the back label - is the only way you will find out who's not using Roundup (glyphosate), which, as of July 7, will be labeled officially as a carcinogen in the state of California. So, ask wineries to step it up - and follow the leader, Ridge.

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