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.



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.