Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Bayer Stocks Drop 8% More in Response to Latest Glyphosate Court Ruling; Down 38% in One Year

Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos issued her decision in the case of Dewayne Lee Johnson versus Monsanto, letting the jury's decision stand. The jurors unanimously found that Monsanto's product Roundup was a contributing cause to Johnson's case of non Hodgkin lymphoma. Johnson was formerly Vallejo school groundskeeper who applied the glyphosate based formulation daily.

The school no longer uses glyphosate based products.

On Oct. 10, Bolanos had said she was considering reversing the jury's decision, saying she did not think Monsanto had intentionally harmed Johnson as an individual, but after considering the case more closely, she refrained from going down that path. Three of the jurors publicly spoke out against overturning their verdict.

In her ruling yesterday, Bolanos reduced the total damages from $289 million to $78.5 million. In her ruling, she awarded $38.5 million to Johnson for compensatory damages and pain and emotional distress (the jury had recommended $39.3 million), but reduced the punitive damages from $250 million to $39.25 million, matching the damages awarded to Johnson.

(The punitive damages often go to the lawyers who represent the plaintiff.)

Johnson and his attorneys may appeal the judge's ruling on the amount of damages.

Monsanto's attorneys say they will appeal the jury's decision.

Whether or not the punitive damage reduction will have an effect on Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) remains to be seen, but the stock market has already taken a toll on Bayer, lowering its price by 38% over the period of one year.

The company lost 13% of its market value in mid August in response to the jury's verdict. That represents $11 billion.

Yesterday's ruling sent Bayer's stock down 8% in trading today.

There are more than 8,700 additional plaintiffs cases pending in the U.S.

According to Bloomberg's coverage of the story today, attorney Thomas G. Rohback (not involved in Roundup litigation) said the ruling hurts Bayer because "it's saying there was enough science to support the plaintiff's case."

Bloomberg also quoted a London based analyst as saying that if the current level of damages was awarded in the other 8,700 pending cases, Bayer would be facing a liability of $680 billion.

Another Bloomberg story about the case quotes Anna Pavlik, a legal analyst, saying that Bolanos' ruling will make it harder for Monsanto to overturn on appeal.

Bayer's CEO responded this summer to concerns about the August verdict in a video on the Bloomberg site posted earlier:


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Biggest Little Farm: Audience Hit at Mill Valley Film Festival Chronicles Life on a Biodynamic Farm

Farming and food movies have grown in number over the last few years, but The Biggest Little Farm vaults the category into a higher orbit.

From the glorious cinematography of former Animal Planet cinematographer John Chester to the precise editing, and overall narrative, the film completely seduced the audience I saw it with at the Rafael Theater on Sunday. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

There it was - the American dream of a city couple moving to the country to create the most perfect farm, with all of the hardships and all of the glories.

Great Pyrenees sheepdogs guarding picture perfect flocks of sheep. Chickens squawking and laying eggs so delicious that they inspired combat among shoppers at the supermarket (and sold out within an hour, daily). Ducks scrambling through the orchard to eat the snails attacking the fruit trees. A mama pig giving birth to no fewer than 17 piglets. A landscape of barren soils turned into dark, fertile soil after constructing (and populating) a giant worm composting barn.

While neighboring farms' water ran off during torrential rains, the water on this farm did not, due to the increased organic matter in the soil and the soil's capacity for water absorption. This farm's water went into the soil and in turn into the aquifer.

In fact, the idea of farm as ecosystem has never seemed as fully realized as in this film and on this property, now known as Apricot Lane Farms.

Though the film refers to the farming practices it uses as "traditional farming," in fact, it's a Demeter certified Biodynamic farm. And the mentor who helped the the Chesters create it was the legendary Biodynamic consultant/teacher Alan York.

Alan York with Molly and John Chester
"My wife Molly searched and found him on the Internet," said Chester, speaking after the Sunday screening. "She emailed him once, and he refused. She reached out again, and he refused. And then finally, she begged him a third time. And he took us on."

For those who never had a chance to meet York, who taught the Fetzers, and then the Benzigers, and then Sting, and then Cowhorn, and then then then all the others, the film is an invaluable way to see the man and a little bit of his wisdom. Alas, he died too early, passing away in 2014 at the age of 62. You can catch a fleeting glimpse of him in the clip below.

The film won one of the Mill Valley Film Festival's audience awards for best documentary and will premiere in movie theaters this spring. Until then, you can enjoy clips from Apricot Lane Farms' web site that give you vignettes that are reworked in the feature length film. These segments have already appeared on Oprah's Sunday programming.

Even though these clips are about a farm, they are essential viewing for anyone trying to understand what Biodynamic vineyards are about, as the idea that Biggest Little Farms embodies is the farm as ecosystem, in which biodiversity - both cultivated and wild - is a major player.

As York says, "diversity, diversity, diversity." Indeed, York convinced the Chesters to plant 76 different varieties of fruit trees in their orchards.

And as the agricultural diversity increased, so did the natural wildlife that returned to the land - monarchs feasting on milkweed, raptors and owls flying the skies. These creatures were welcome. Snails, gophers and coyotes, who also came, were not. The plot thickens.

Taking a barren, burnt out farm, suffering from years of chemical practices, and turning it into the abundant Garden of Eden is a miracle we don't often get a chance to see before our very eyes.

We owe a lot to both the farming and filmmaking teams for giving us a sense of what is possible - not just potentially but in reality. The team filmed over a period of 7 years. (For the feature, they set up an editing suite in the barn so John could keep farming as well as filmmaking.) Interns helped shoot footage.

Rarely does a film team gets a chance to follow a farm story transformation both before and after over that long of an arc of time.

Critics have been glowing in their reviews. After seeing the film at the prestigious Telluride Film Festival, Variety film critic Peter DeBruge wrote this:
"No matter how important the message, it's kind of a drag to sit through so many alarmist lectures about how the world is going to end and what humans are doing to speed along its destruction. That's what makes The Biggest Little Farm feel like fresh air for the soul..."
At the end of the film, the Chesters reflect that "observation followed by creativity has become our greatest ally." Alan York would be proud.

Enjoy more of the 20+ video clips on the Apricot Lane Farm website. It's a welcome distraction.

Apricot Lane also offers real life tours and internships.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Domaine Anderson Certifies Winery; Plans to Bottle Label Its Organically Grown Wine

Arnaud Weyrich, Director of Operations for Roederer Estate
and Domaine Anderson pouring at the Wine & Spirits
Top 100 Tasting this week in San Franciso
The French owned Anderson Valley winery Domaine Anderson (the still wine branch of Roederer Estate in Mendocino) has now certified its winery organic and plans to begin bottle labeling its 2018 vintage wines from its Dach Vineyard "Made with Organic Grapes."

It will be the first vintner in the Anderson Valley to take these two steps.

While a few other Anderson Valley wineries have certified organic vineyards - Handley was the first, followed by Long Meadow Ranch - Domaine Anderson is both the first to certify its winery and the first to announce plans to bottle label its certified wines.

(One grower in the area - Filigreen Farm - is certified Biodynamic.)

Anderson Valley ranks far behind its northern Pinot Noir loving cousin, Oregon's Willamette Valley, where 4% of the vineyards are certified Biodynamic (and more are organic).

Domaine Anderson has 44 acres of organic vines on two vineyards. In addition, its Dach vineyard is organic and Biodynamic.

Winemaker Darrin Low says the Dach Vineyard 2018 Chardonnay and Dach Vineyard 2018 Pinot Noir are expected to be released in 2020.

Wines that contain all organic grapes are eligible for three types of organic labeling. Wines that are "Made with Organic Grapes" are similar to the European Organic Wine standard which permits a limited number of sulfites.

Dach Vineyard at Domaine Anderson in Mendocino's Anderson Valley
Wines in the "Made with Organic Grapes" wine category represent more than 80% of all organically grown wines sold in the U.S. according to Neilsen data from June 2017-2018.


A common complaint among consumers is that many fine wine wineries with certified organic vineyards do not bottle label their wines with the word "organic" anywhere on the label, mystifying many who are used to seeing a label on organic products.

While the wine industry has been gunho in promoting itself as sustainable, old school wine marketing "wisdom" has held that consumers have qualms about buying wines labeled organic, allegedly triggering fears of a byhone era when the no added sulfite wines (USDA Organic Wine) were inferior in quality.

However recent market research including a Green Wine survey conducted by the Wine Marketing Council in 2017 and released in 2018, shows that that perception is outmoded, even among older, white male wine buyers, a demographic that is responsible for buying more than 80 percent of the wine sold in the U.S.

The survey - which had included responses from more than 1,100 high frequency wine drinkers - found that 79% of these older, white male wine drinkers did not associate poor quality with organically grown wine. Other research has shown that organic preferences rank far higher with Millenials and other younger drinkers. That's led some brands - including CADE (on Howell Mountain in Napa) - to pursue a Millenial friendly strategy of increasing their organic acreage and production.

Today some fine wine wineries in Sonoma (Ridge) and Napa (Storybook Mountain Vineyards, Voss, Volker Eisele Family Estate, Ghost Block and others) bottle label their wines "Ingredients: Organic Grapes."

Grgich Hills Estate in Napa is the only winery that bottle labels all of its wines "Made with Organic Grapes."

Wines that are "made with organic grapes" must be made in a certified winery, can contain only a limited number of sulfites (100 ppm) and only organic additives. Wines labeled "Ingredients: Organic Grapes" are not required to make their wines in a certified winery, can add any approved TTB additives, and meet TTB standards on sulfites (up to 350 ppm).

"Made with Organic Grape" wines are permitted to put their organic certification on the front label;
"Ingredients: Organic Grapes" wines can be labeled only on the back label.

There is also a major difference in producers' certification fees between these categories. Certified wines - including USDA Organic Wine (no added sulfites; generally supermarket wines priced from $5-10 which represent less than 10% of organically grown wines purchased in the U.S.)  - or Made with Organic Grape wines - are required to pay certification fees on the value of the wine. Makers of "Ingredients: Organic Grape" wines pay certification fees only on the value of the grapes.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Switzerland: Organic Wine Up 8% in 2017

Organic wines from Switzerland will be on display Nov. 17-19 in Montreux at the Biowin Expo 18. 

Organic wine production in Switzerland is up 8.4% from 2016 to 2017. The country has 36 wineries with organic vines. Collectively these wines have a market value of $36.6 million.

For more event details, click here

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Italian Bubbles Rise to #2 Spot in Wine Enthusiast's Best Buy List

Wine Enthusiast's just announced its top picks in its newly published list of Best Buys.

#2 on the list of 100 wines: Pizzolato's Prosecco ($13).

Details here.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Wines We Tasted in a (One Time) Biodynamic Wine Class at Bay Grape

It was a pleasure yesterday to be a guest speaker at Oakland's Bay Grape, a natural wine shop on Grand Ave. across the street from the lake, and enjoy a flight with students.

We tasted four wines from Champagne, Oregon, and Alto Adige in Italy. Here are the wines (which you can now find and buy at Bay Grape - their prices are pictured in the four bottle shot below). All of these producers exhibited these wines are the International Biodynamic Wine Conference this May. (Read all about all the wines exhibited there in the online version of the program guide.) (Yes, I picked the wines.)

From left to right:

• The DeSousa Champagne is from a grower Champagne producing family with a 24 acre vineyard in Azize. This nonvintage Champagne is made in a traditional blend of 50% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Meunier. Lovely as an aperitif or with food. 840 cases made.

• The 2016 Pet Nat from Johan Vineyards is a "natural" take on a sparkling wine, with a fruity spin on this year's vintage, a stylistic change from previous vintages. I have a case. Perfect for casual occasions, and fun to spring on friends who think they don't like wine. It's a compliment to say it's reminisecent of a fruit punch (but with way less sugar). A fascinating, fun wine. 500 cases made.

• The Alois Lageder 2016 Porer Pinot Grigio is in a class by itself. This northern Italian family are deeply engaged in Biodynamics, converting the many small local growers they work with to Demeter certification over time. Alois Lageder (senior) is the now the president of Demeter Italy. (Here's an informative interview about the winery.)

This Pinot Grigio bears no comparison to the generic pablum most associate with PG. This one's a star, packed with nuance and complexity. That's because it's a blend of three lots of pinot gris vinified separately (varying amounts of skin contact - up to a year for one lot - and stem inclusion). 500 cases made.

• The 2016 Brick House Gamay Noir is from the Ribbon Ridge region of Oregon's Willamette Valley. This variety's become a darling of the natural wine scene. (Because it isn't Pinot or Cab?) Brick House proprietor Doug Tunnell was among the first to grow it in Oregon, planting his vines back in 1992. Flavors: red cherry with delicate pepper notes. 550 cases made.

A big thank you to Bay Grape for hosting this one hour class, part of their 8 week series on Natural Wines.

Wine Shops and Others: I'm happy to present classes elsewhere on Biodynamic Wines. Let me know if you're interested in hosting a class. Ideally, I'd like to do a whole 4-8 week series on Biodynamic Wines.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Jancis Robinson Sings Biodynamic Wine's Praises - But Is More Education Needed?


Jancis Robinson, one of the world's leading wine writers, turned her attention to the subject of Biodynamic wines this week, writing in the Financial Times and on her own web site that she has "often found extra vitality in wines that turned out to be biodynamic."

This is a wonderful and apt observation.

Pop star Pink might agree. The newly coined winemaker recently announced she's in love with the Biodynamic approach, too, after a wine "aha" moment with Chateau Pontet-Canet.


While it's thrilling to see Robinson weigh in on Biodynamics, one can't help but wish she, like almost all wine writers, had been grounded in a more serious and encompassing education (as is the prerequisite case for writing seriously about most other topics in wine) about Biodynamics.

Robinson emphasizes the moon, which isn't really the most compelling aspect of Biodynamics and wine (as Monty Waldin stated in his dynamic keynote here in San Francisco in May, where he repeatedly said "Biodynamics is not planting by the moon.")

She writes that skeptics laugh about lunar influences. (Having lived on the coast of Maine for seven years, I can say for certain that telling your local fishermen that lunar influences are negligible would bring shrieks of laughter to people who are never more than three feet away from a tide book).

Robinson says it is easy to see the "warm, fuzzy, if irrational appeal of biodynamics."

But in reality, with each new day of research about soil and the microbiome, it becomes more apparent, in the scientific realm, that something is afoot in our limited understanding of how microbial life is made all the richer by adding substances that stimulate microbial life in soil systems.

At the IBWC, both David Montgomery and Anne Bikle, scientists and authors of The Hidden Half of Nature offered hugely informative talks on the connections between soil health and the microbiome and cited one peer-reviewed science article from South Africa that found a discernible influence from Biodynamic practices compared to organic and conventional. The study stated that, "The data confirm previous results (on other crops) that biodynamic farming leads to higher microbial diversity."

It's important for us to look at verifiable facts and scientific literature - however limited it is, sadly - and validate that Biodynamics is actually a topic we should bring serious attention to bear upon, not one that is just hocus pocus.


What about the wine scores and wine quality?

To a person, Robert Parker and California French wine import star Kermit Lynch - like Robinson herself in her quote - report that wines from Biodynamic vines are often higher in quality.

"I can taste the difference in the grapes," said Lynch, in a book talk that I attended a few years back in his wine shop, when he was referring to the winemaker of a winery in Corsica in which he's a part owner. Robinson has said (to me in person and to others as well who have quoted her) that she can taste when a wine is Biodynamic versus one that's farmed organically or chemically.

At the International Biodynamic Wine Conference (IBWC), a general session panel of Bob Lindquist of Qupe, Victor Gallegos from Sea Smoke, and Jason Haas of Tablas Creek, all reported that they decided to grow using Biodynamic practices after tasting discernible differences - for the better - in their wines from Biodynamic vines.


Robinson goes on to say that Biodynamic viticulture is "just catching on in California."

Cooper Mountain Vineyards was the first Oregon winery to be certified Biodynamic in 1999
That would be news to Bonterra or Frey, each of which was certified in 1999, the same year that the first Biodynamic winery in Oregon - Cooper Mountain Vineyards - was also certified. That was nearly 20 years ago. (Do we need a megaphone to extend that news across the pond?)

The IBWC, held in San Francisco in May, featured no fewer than 37 wineries in the U.S. (out of a total of 45+) in its Grand Tasting. Most have been certified for a decade or more.

Tablas Creek, who Robinson mentions as her California example, became certified just last year (although its part owners, the Perrin family, have been practicing Biodynamic viticulture on their famed Chateauneuf du Pape vineyards for decades and Tablas Creek in Paso Robles was already practicing Biodynamics for a number of years).


Finally, Robinson concludes that the Biodynamic approach is just too expensive for all but the priciest producers.

Montinore Estate's 220 acre Willamette Valley vineyard
You can't mechanically harvest, she says. Not so here in the U.S. or Chile. Montinore Estate in Oregon does it, as it is allowed under Demeter USA's regulations. (Perhaps it is different in France and Italy).

And as for the price points, let's fact check Robinson's statement that Biodynamic farming (and presumably therefore the wines it produces) is too expensive.

Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estate
Anecdotally, we have reports, year in and year out, over 15 years, from Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estate in Oregon (and previously from Ivo Grgich of Grgich Hills in Napa) that Biodynamic farming costs are 20% below those of their conventionally farmed neighbors. Not everyone reports cost savings, but there are enough stories to make this a serious line of inquiry for individual vintners.

Aside from the anecdotal, we do have a very nice study from U.C. Extension, our public agricultural research agency here in California, that looked at whether or not growing Biodynamic wine grapes was cost effective. The study was headed by Glenn McGourty, the farm advisor for Mendocino and Lake Counties (where vintners have more than 600 acres of Biodynamic vines). It found that the Demeter certified Biodynamic farming costs were competitive with other farming systems.


Robinson also says that BD growers lose a lot of crop to downy mildew. As a viticultural expert friend reminded me today, it's not just BD growers that suffer from this. Vineyard managers in Europe, Australia and the eastern U.S. have the same problem; synthetic chemical fungicides do not enable them to save their crops from the scourge of downy mildew.


As for the costliness of the wines from BD vines, we have many wines from Biodynamic grapes in the U.S. that cost less than $20 - Frey Wines, Martian Ranch & Vineyards ($20 rosé), and Cooper Hill ($11-15) are just a few of the producers who sell wine in the $11-20 range.

In actuality, the price of the wines Robinson mentions in her article - from Burgundy and Bordeaux - are more a reflection of the regional price of vineyard land (and/or the date when it was purchased) or the going market rate for the caliber and pedigree of the wines than the farming system.


This leads me to one of my favorite topics - scale. The top 10 U.S. producers have a lot of vineyard land. Ownership is very concentrated.

If you look at the list of the top 10 Biodynamic vineyard owners (as I did in the directory of U.S. Biodynamic wines I'm preparing to publish), the top 10 own vineyards ranging from 100 to 465 planted acres.

Collectively, they own a huge percentage - in the U.S. it's more than 60% - of the Biodynamic vines overall. In the U.S. that includes King Estate, Bonterra, Maysara, Frey, Montinore Estate, Beckmen Vineyards, Cooper Mountain, Benziger and Eco Terreno.

The widespread existence of these large scale Biodynamic vineyards was the topic of a panel I put together for the IBWC called Scaling Up. (Betsy Andrews followed up on this with an article for Seven Fifty Daily entitled Biodynamic Goes Big last month.)

If wineries are going to have an impact on climate change or in promoting more eco-friendly practices (that don't require the use of carcinogens like glyphosate), Biodynamics has to scale. And scale it does. You just have to know where to look to see that that is happening.


On the international front, the numbers are equally big.


In the south of France, Gerard Betrand has nearly 1,500 acres of Biodynamic vines (including 285 hectares that are currently certified already and another 315, in transition, by 2020), which means he will have 12% of the Demeter certified Biodynamic vineyards in France (a country which has 12,350 Demeter certified acres in France, according to Monty Waldin's recent article on Jancis Robinson's site. [Behind a paywall, sorry.]) Many of these wines are quite affordably priced.

Bertrand's Biodynamic holdings are on track to become the largest in the world.

The vintner is converting his remaining non-Biodynamic acreage as quickly as he can, since he sees better wine quality from Biodynamic vines. (Producers at the high end of the industry have already zero-ed in on the wine quality and have committed to these practices as well as certification. Examples: Eisele Vineyard in Napa, DRC, Chateau Pontet Canet, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, and others.)


In Italy, in the Abruzzo, the 600 member cooperative winery Cantina Orsogna - and its Lunaria brand - is on track to becoming the largest Biodynamic vineyard owner and producer in the country with 864 acres of certified or in transition BD vines. The winery makes 25,000 cases of lovely Biodynamic wines, including an orange wine, that cost under $20.


In South America, the picture is similar in that large scale producers make affordably priced Biodynamic wines - wines that express their terroir and taste great.

This Sunday I tasted a fabulous $15 Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserve from Koyle, a Chilean producer who exhibited at James Suckling's Great Wines of the Andes tasting. Suckling rated it at 91 points (a score most Napa wineries would very much like to have for their $150 wines). Koyle has 130 planted acres of Biodynamic vines. The winery makes 12,000 cases of this wine (out of 40,000 cases of Biodynamic wines overall).

Another Chilean producer, Emiliana, has 645 acres of Biodynamic vines, much of which goes into its organic brand Natura. Chakana in Argentina has 185 acres, producing 28,000 cases of wines under $20.


Wine writers might need to look beyond the obvious choices in Burgundy and Bordeaux before deciding that Biodynamic farming costs are too pricey. The facts don't support this - nor that Biodynamic farming is like Harry Potter and Hogwarts. Is it time to take a more factual approach to this intelligent farming path (Biodynamic) - and its relationship to wine quality - a bit more seriously?

Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope that more serious and nuanced - and factual - attention - for this category becomes the new norm. The time for mentioning the moon and hocus pocus in every article about Biodynamics is over; it's old, it's tired and it's dreary.

Most of all, we need to get on with the show if we are looking to ag - including wine - to mitigate climate change (and still produce wines of great value, flavor and variety). In this chapter, Biodynamic viticulture could be destined to play a starring role, if we take it seriously.


To help educate the industry, I'm launching a new newsletter aimed at bringing fresh and informative coverage of organic and Biodynamic wines for the industry. It's called Organic Wine Insider and you can sign up for the mailing list to be notified when it launches on the site now.

The first issue will feature stories on a natural foods chain that's starting the first all organic/BD wine departments, an interview with Anne Bousquet of Argentina's Domaine Bousquet, an overview of all of the Biodynamic wineries in Oregon's Willamette Valley and a story about canned wines from organic vines.

I'll also be publishing a directory of all the U.S. wines from Demeter certified vines.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Pink's Two Wolves Wine Are Organically Grown - And the Pop Star Loves Biodynamics

Pink with UK Wine Writer Olly Smith in 2017
The S.F. Chronicle came out this week with a story about pop star Pink's new career in wine; earlier articles came out more than a year ago in Decanter and Drinks Business.

After buying a 25 acre vineyard in Santa Barbara County, Pink has now launched a new wine brand, Two Wolves, making wine with the help of local vintner Chad Melville, who's served as her mentor.

Chad Melville
Pink and her husband bought a 250 acre property in Santa Ynez Valley, a hot, inland region. Her vineyard was certified organic in 2014.

While much has been made of her transition into her new love - winemaking - few have mentioned the fact that her vines are organic. She's also a self described huge fan of Biodynamic and loves her Chateau Pontet Canet (a Biodynamic winery in Bordeaux) where she says owner Alfred Tesseron gave her a personal tour.

Her newly released wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, to be followed by white wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and white wine blends.

Monday, October 1, 2018

IN PHOTOS: James Suckling's Great Wines of the Andes: Organic and Biodynamic Wineries

I wasn't able to make it in person to attend this event (car transmission pooped out en route), but thought I'd post a few photos others took of the organic and/or Biodynamic wineries pouring at the event.

A very big thanks to Wilfred Wong for all the photos (which he posted on Facebook).

Fortunately I was able to join the fine folks from Natural Merchants, which imports Koyle, and Mountain People's, which distributes Koyle, later in the day, and to meet and taste three of the wines with Koyle proprietor Cristobal "Toti" Undurraga. With a steak. Which is really the way to taste these wines.

To catch up on all of the wines featured at the tasting, including these, you can find the program guide here.

The event took place at the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio.
One of the largest Biodynamic vineyard owners in South America, Lapostolle is one of the
French wave - wineries founded by French families in Chile.
With 160 acres of Biodynamic vines, Koyle is a major producer for both Chilean wine lovers and
exporters. It's $15 Cabernet (pictured at the right) and other fine wines ($40 and up) are now available in the U.S.
Other producers with organic or Biodynamic vines who were featured include:
• Chacra
• Domaine Bousquet
• Emiliana
• Ernest Catena
• Lamadrid
• Luigi Bosca
• Matetic
• Odfjell
• Sena

Friday, September 28, 2018

Green Wine: Where Are We Now? My Newest Article in Beverage Media Is Now Available Online

My latest article on organic and Biodynamic wines is now live and online at Beverage Media. A lot of research went into this one. Thanks to all who spoke with me!

See it here.

Want to know more? Come to the Oct. 18 webinar I've organized (with Tim Widnes) for Women of the Vine & Spirits, featuring a number of the wineries mentioned in the article, as well as organic and Biodynamic pioneers Monty Waldin and Paul Dolan and the new retailer pilot program Jeff Cameron at Natural Grocers is rolling out.

This event is open to the public. Get details here.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Charlie Barra's 73rd Harvest - In Photos

Charlie Barra is one of the great, elder statesmen of organic grape growing and winemaking in Mendocino County. And here is he - at it again - enjoying the blessing of the grapes. It's his 73rd harvest!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Don't Miss This Article: Biodynamics Goes Big

Hats off to Betsy Andrews and the team at Seven Fifty Daily for this great article about many of the world's biggest Biodynamic vineyards.

The feature builds on the panel of experts who appeared at Demeter USA's International Biodynamic Wine Conference, for the breakout session Scaling Up: Implementing Biodynamic Viticulture on a Large Scale.

That panel featured wineries with more than 100 acres of Biodynamic vines including Eco Terreno in Sonoma, King Estate and Montinore Estate (both in the Willamette Valley) and Emiliana in Chile. The panel was moderated by Dave Koball, who established the 290 acre Biodynamic vineyard at Bonterra more than 20 years ago and now manages Eco Terreno's vines in Alexander Valley.

This latest article includes Gerard Bertrand, in southern France, which has 1,482 acres of Demeter certified vineyards (285 hectares already certified and 315 more are expected to be certified by 2020) - which will make it the largest in the world.

(The second largest is Cantina d'Orsogna, a cooperative in the Abruzzo in Italy with 864 acres, whose wines were poured at the conference Grand Tasting).

Emiliana has 674 acres of Biodynamic vines in Chile, making it the third largest in the world.

In the U.S. King Estate is the largest with 471 (although it only makes about 3,000 cases from these vines alone; the rest of its grapes are blended with conventional grapes purchased from other growers.

The southern Oregon winery was just awarded a Wine & Spirits Top 100 winery of the year and will be featured in the Wine and Spirits Top 100 tasting in October, pouring its Biodynamic wines.

Alois Lageder, another winery attending and pouring at the International Biodynamic Wine Conference is also featured in the article. The northern Italian producer has 135 acres of Biodynamic vines and is converting many of its growers to Biodynamic practices.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Wine & Spirits Top 100: The Organic Among Them

This year's Wine & Spirits Top 100 awards were announced. Of all the trade tastings throughout the year, this tasting is my favorite, as it really does have the best wines - and from a wide variety of regions, styles and producers.

This year, there were 35 U.S. wineries and of those, 9 make some or all of their wines from certified organic vines.


Big Basin Vineyards (organic estate)
Donkey & Goat (one BD grower)
Heitz Cellars (some of its estate is organic)
King Estate (some of its estate single vineyard wines are from BD vines)
Matthiason (its estate is now organic)
Radio Coteau (on the path to BD certification)
Raymond Vineyards (some of their Napa wines are from BD vines)
Roederer Estate (has some organic vines, but no single wine made from them)
Storybook Mountain (100% estate and 100% organic grapes


There are probably more from abroad, but these are the ones I know of that farm organically or biodynamically:

Felton Road (New Zealand)
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht (France/Alsace)
Domaine Sigalas (Greece/Santorini)
Gulfi (Italy)

Grab your ticket here.

DPR Webcast Next Week: Environmental Justice and Pesticide Safety

The Department of Pesticide Regulation is sponsoring a lunch and learn talk next Tuesday that will also be online for remote attendees to participate via an online stream.

Featured are:

• Nayamin Martinez, MPH, Director of the Central California Environmental Justice Network, who will talk about the IVAN online reporting system for pesticide-related incidents; bilingual farmworker advocacy and outreach; and communicating pesticide safety information at the local level.

• Martha Sanchez, DPR's Environmental Justice Liaison, who will discuss DPR's Environmental Justice Program; using pesticide illness data to focus outreach efforts; multilingual pesticide safety outreach (urban and rural communities); and working with county partners.

See the session agenda here.

Here's the webcast link.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Sonoma Ecology and Biochar Experts Appear in Dirt Rich at Green Film Festival

David Morell of the Sonoma Ecology Center, Josiah Hunt of Pacific Biochar,
unnamed participant (sorry), and director Marcelina Cravat
Sonoma was well represented at the Green Film Festival in San Francisco on Sunday.

Eldridge resident David Morell from the Sonoma Ecology Center and Santa Rosa resident Josiah Hunt from Pacific Biochar spoke after the screening of Dirt Rich, which was executive produced by Petaluma resident Doug Gayeton and the Lexicon of Sustainability. Marcelina Cravat directed the film.

Paul Hawken praised the film as:
"Touching, instructive, endearing, astute, grounded, heartwarming and remarkable. Adjectives cannot describe how skillfully Dirt Rich portrays the emergent wisdom of the new breed of earth stewards, scientists, smallholders, agronomists and activists who brilliantly husband land (and animals) in order to midwife a regenerative civilization."
Sonoma has really taken a leadership role in advancing the use of biochar. Eco Terreno, an organic and biodynamic vineyard in Alexander Valley, was among the first wave of Sonoma wineries to explore using it and to make their own.


The California fires are featured in another film of interest to the wine community that screened yesterday. The spectacularly visual documentary The Human Element is a journey with legendary climate change photographer (his work is regularly in Nat Geo and NYT) James Balog.

Here's Balog on the film:


More info on the film is here.

The Green Film Festival continues this week with screenings at various locations.

Tonight the festival screens the two hour documentary Decoding the Weather Machine with PBS/Nova at the Cowell Theater at Fort Mason, next to the Coal and Ice multimedia exhibit at Fort Mason. You can watch the film online but the screening will feature the film's producers and climate scientists.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Oct. 20 - Head to Hopland, in Wine's Organic Heartland, to Fill Up Your Trunk

When I first got into organically grown wine, Hopland was a great awakening for me - here were wines I could afford to drink that were better (for $10-15) than what I could find in any supermarket or wine shop in Berkeley ($20 and up). (Sadly it continues to be that way.)

 The gateway to the Ukiah Valley in inland Mendo (and thus only a half hour north of Healdsburg), this little burg becomes a bustling hub twice a year as winemakers open their doors. Only this year it's different. They'll be opening their bottles all in one big central location, which is now called Harvest Days.

So no more driving from winery to winery...you can get your comparative tasting and try all the wines under one big tent.

And there's more to drink - choose from locally made cider and beer. So you can have all three. And local bites from produce, meat and cheesemakers. Plus a food truck.

Spend the night there too and plan to visit the wineries on Sunday, when you shop and save (they usually have weekend specials - good deals). There'll be live music both days.

Here's a list of the participating organic producers - almost all of the wines (Frey is the one exception) are "Made with Organic Grapes" from local growers. Alas, you won't find these wines at your local wine shop or at Whole Foods (mostly not) and only Bonterra at Safeway. So get thee to the countryside where the getting is good.


• Bonterra (all)*
They sell 25% of all the organically grown wine purchased in stores in the U.S. For a reason. Taste and price. (You can also find them at Costco for about $10, but Costco carries just the most popular varieties they make; you'll probably find a broader selection at the event.)

• Campovida (most wines)
Try the Filigreen Farm grown Pinot Gris (from coveted Biodynamic grapes - this is a very special grower in the Anderson Valley)...and the Dark Horse Primitivo.  

• Terra Savia (all)*
They are specialists in Chardonnay and sparkling wine. And also make fine, organic olive oils in their own mills in Hopland. (Put them on your to visit list).

• Yorkville Cellars (all)
Try all the Bordeaux varieties - they make bottlings of each and every one.

It's a whole different kind of wine country - where you can find wines are $20 and under! (* wineries with $20 and under wines).

And don't miss McFadden Vineyards and Blue Quail* in the downtown Hopland (about 1 block long). Best wine club to join if you're looking for a winner. You may be able to customize your shipment, too.

The event web site is here.

Tickets are $40 in advance or $50 at the door. Get tickets here.


If you're going to tour around on Sunday, you'll want to visit Testa, which has organically grown wine, but more exciting from a touring point of view - a picturesque old barn and gorgeous old vines. These are the real Italian immigrant planted vineyards. (Come back in November for the event where the nonas - the Italian grandmothers - cook. One of my favorite wine country experiences - the real down home stuff!)

Campovida is also a spot not to be missed - it's a luxurious and gorgeous farm, vineyard and retreat center...a dream place. Their winery makes small lots of wines - very boutique and artisanal wines. (They also have a great tasting room in Oakland in a brick warehouse district - hip, yes.)


It's a bit pricy, but VIchy Hot Springs is the best place if you're looking for more than just a hotel room. It has a nice pool and bubbly (though not hot) springs plus a jacuzzi (hot) - all in a sprawling, natural setting outside of Ukiah.


Two spots merit a stop for wine shopping. One is SIP Mendocino which specializes in a wide variety of wines from both the inland valley and the Pinot-centric Anderson Valley. The proprietress is a great resource and knows all the wines quite intimately. Finer wines can be found there.

For everyday wines, I love to visit the Ukiah Natural Foods Coop which has, hands down, the best collection and selection of high quality table wines from organic grapes. Mendocino is roughly 25% organic (in the vineyards) and many locals who grew for Bonterra began their own small labels which you can find here. Go wild. (You won't see this selection again when you go home.)

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Prominent UK Supermarket Sales of Organic Wine Up 57% This Year

Don't miss this story from across the pond. One of Great Britain's largest supermarket chains reports sales of organic wine are booming.

Let's raise a glass of Bonterra to those hardworking organic growers in Mendocino County for fueling this green wave.

The wine buyer for Waitrose is quoted in the article as saying the selection consists of 54 wines from 18 different countries.

I'll be writing soon about a wine program here in America that features more than 500 organically grown wines on a supermarket's wine department shelves - stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Biodynamic Wine Lovers: Wave Goodbye to Montinore's Red Cap Pinot Noir - and Grab the Last of the 2015s

The most widely sold wine from Biodynamic vines in America - Red Cap Pinot Noir from Montinore Estate in Oregon's Willamette Valley - is changing its stripes.

Once a staple of Eric Asimov's lists of top 20 wines under $20, the lovely value Pinot is migrating from being a "Made from Biodynamic Grapes" wine to a wine made from a blend of both conventional and Biodynamic grapes. The winery will be increasing production - more than 100% - which necessitated a change in the composition of the wine.

All the other wines from Montinore Estate will remain 100% estate wines.

You can grab some last bottles of the purely Biodynamic vintage - the 2015 - from stores listed here on Wine-Searcher.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

An Organic Business Model? Napa's Shining Star - Ted, Laddie and Chris Hall's Growing Organic Enterprise

The news this week that Long Meadow Ranch acquired Stony Hill Vineyards was a big story. A family owned operation passing into the hands of family friends, old school Napa buddies finding a way forward to reward all for their efforts. This is what a successful community and businesses can look like.

But the acquisition is also part of a lesser noticed, but much bigger story of the longer term arc at Long Meadow Ranch. That story shows how far a commitment to organic practices coupled with business smarts can go in building, over the years, a business based on "responsible" farming.

In the wine industry, people often say "it's too expensive for me to farm organically," or "consumers don't know the difference between organic and sustainable." A few months ago, an MW candidate friend from Manhattan asked me, in all seriousness, if organic pays. She said it was a question on one of her exams. "It's a hot topic," she said.

Conventional and sustainable growers often repeat their belief there's no money in it, despite the fact that thousands of wineries around the world - and more than a hundred here in California alone - demonstrate that the opposite is true. The UCANR farm support system has published studies that show organic and even Biodynamic grape growing is profitable under current market rates. Real live examples may prove more persuasive.

The story of Long Meadow Ranch - where their motto is "Excellence through Responsible Farming" - shows how rich - both in social as well as economic benefits - the journey can be.


1989: Long Meadow Ranch's original Mayacamas Estate above
the Rutherford AVA. You can visit the 650 acre estate on a Jeep tour.

Ted and Laddie Hall and their son Chris already organically farm 160 acres of vineyards on three sites in two counties. But that only begins to describe what they're up to. They're actually building a vertically integrated food and wine system - an organic empire, if you will. They call it "Full Circle Farming."

Here's a brief timeline that shows how it's been built so far.

1989: Mayacamas Estate

The family owns and operates numerous Napa enterprises including the 650 acre Long Meadow Ranch estate in the Mayacamas (with 16 acres planted in vines) which was their entry point into the world of Napa estate winemaking. (For many years, Cathy Corison was their winemaker.)

There they also grow 17 acres of olive trees. They built one of the two olive oil mills in Napa; there they mill their own olive oil.

2010: Farmstead Restaurant and St. Helena Tasting Room

2010: Farmstead Restaurant and the Logan-Ives House open for dining, food
sales, and wine tasting
In addition, the family owns and operates Farmstead restaurant in St. Helena, where they feature their organically raised beef and vegetables, and sell their wine in their historic Logan-Ives House tasting room.
2010: The Logan-Ives House tasting
room and general store
Highland cattle
In Marin County, the Halls graze their Highland cattle in Point Reyes on an 800 acre property on Tomales Bay. (Happy, grass fed cows!)

2012: Rutherford Estate 

The Halls then went on to acquire their second major estate vineyard - a 90 acre property on the valley floor in Rutherford where they now grow 10 acres of vegetables and 79 acres of wine grapes. Here the focus is on Sauvignon Blanc.

They plan to build a new green winery (with a permit to make 100,000 gallons of wine annually) on 30 acres of the Rutherford site. The proposed winery will be run entirely on solar energy, employ tank cleaning systems that use no caustics, and rely on on-site rainwater collection systems, not groundwater resources.

2015: Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Estate

In order to bring Pinot Noir into their LMR wine portfolio, in 2015 the Halls bought acreage in Mendocino and now have by far the largest certified organic estate vineyard in Anderson Valley (69 planted acres) where they grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. In 2018, LMR also opened a tasting room in Philo at the Madrones, a pricey hotel that's a tasting room hub for the area's high end Pinot Noir producers.

2016: Gold Medal Cabernet at Decanter World Wine Awards

Out of 378 gold medals in the Decanter World Wine Competition, only three were awarded to U.S. producers. Long Meadow Ranch's 2012 E. J. Church Cabernet, a reserve wine, was one of the three.

LMR Is Now Napa's Largest Organic Producer

Case production is 75,000 cases and all of the wine is sourced from certified organic grapes, making Long Meadow Ranch the largest organic producer in Napa Valley. (Grgich Hills is right behind, with 70,000 cases a year, followed by Frog's Leap, with 50,000 cases).

2017: Grower of the Year

For all of his accomplishments - and his values - in 2017, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers voted Ted Hall grower of the year.


Hall earned his MBA at Stanford and pursued a high level consulting career, working at one of the country's leading firms - McKinsey & Company - until 2000. He's served on a number of corporate boards including Peet's, Dolby and Williams-Sonoma.

From those experiences, he sharpened his business acumen and the vertical integration strategy that underlies the organic empire he's building with his family.

And, along the way, he's contributed to the community via the Land Trust, the local food council,  the local St. Helena school district ag education committee, and the county's advisory committee on ag preservation.

Laddie Hall selling Long Meadow Ranch produce at the
St. Helena Farmers Market


Ted Hall's mother was a fervent organic gardener in her day, a topic which he talked about at the 2013 Napa Organic Winegrowing Conference.

Here are a few excerpts from his 2013 remarks (from my archives):

Growing Up Organic
"My foundation [in being organic] grew out of being raised on a small farm in western Pennsylvania where my mother was an organic gardening pioneer in the 1940's. My grandfather raised produce and sold it at a small grocery story that he operated. The joke in my family was that my grandfather was never more than 50 yards from a compost pile."
On the Economics of Organic Viticulture
"We farm organically because it results in higher quality at lower cost. It's an economic proposition." 
"Organic is a big idea, with a different concept. It's about a system of farming. It's about the performance of a complex system. It results in higher quality and lower cost when appropriately measured."
Like others, Hall often says that organic vineyards are a better investment, because they last at least twice as long as conventionally farmed ones.

On Certification
"I've appeared in many of these [Napa organic winegrowing] conferences over the years and at the break will hear people say, well I farm organically but it's just a pain in the ass to get certified. That's complete hogwash. If you know enough about what the costs are in your vineyard and if you're managing your vineyard responsibly, you already have all the data and it's in a couple of files in your cabinet and it's not a big deal. And if you're don't know enough about what you're doing and therefore can't complete the certification processes, you probably aren't managing very well."
On Roundup
"There's nothing worse than somebody saying well we farm sustainably or we farm organically - except when the weeds get out of control - and then 'I just use Roundup.' We've all heard that, right - dozens and dozens and dozens of times. We're in a camp with Beth [Beth Novak Milliken of Spottswoode] in that we don't lead with the chin regarding organic. We think it results in higher quality at lower cost."
On Wine Quality
"What we like is when someone says wow there's an amazing profile in that wine and it's only 13.5% alcohol. We're really enjoying this. How did they do it? That's what we want."

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Long Meadow Ranch Acquires Stony Hill - Napa's Best Chardonnay to Become Organically Farmed

In a startling bit of news Monday morning, Long Meadow Ranch, a large, family owned, integrated food and wine producer, and Stony Hill Vineyards, the iconic Spring Mountain Chardonnay producer, announced that Long Meadow Ranch will acquire Stony Hill.

To read all about the reasons for the sale - and the long term friendships that underlie it - read Monday's Chronicle article by Esther Mobley. It warms the heart to hear that the famous Chardonnay producer will be handed over to family friends, not a corporation. And not just any friends, but committed to organic friends.

Long Meadow Ranch, long a major advocate and exemplar of certified organic farming in Napa, will be converting the 30 acres of Stony Hill vineyards on Spring Mountain to organic farming.

Stony Hill has always been my (and many others') favorite Napa Chardonnay. It's grown on limestone soils, unique in Napa. I've always lamented - when drinking it - that it wasn't organic. Now, in three years, if all goes well, it will be.

Read about the rest of the bigger story about Long Meadow Ranch here.

The Press: Our Organic Supplement to the Chronicle's New Wine Country Guide

The San Francisco Chronicle put together a guide to wine country that was released this week. It's called The Press and subscribers received a free copy of the 120 page book with the Sunday paper.

It's a nicely done short volume, with 52 winery profiles, from four main tourist regions - Napa Valley, Sonoma County, the Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey County, and Mendocino County. Eight of the wineries featured offer organic or Biodynamically grown wines from certified vines.

I thought people might be interested in knowing which wineries in the guide have certified organically grown grapes (the guide doesn't mention this for most of the ones that are). Wines mentioned below are from certified vines.

Asterisk* means tasting is by appointment only.

Mendocino County

Campovida - Hopland Charmer (Inland Mendo)

This gorgeous, under the radar property is just a short drive off of Route 101 and has historic organic vineyard bona fides, as it was the former showcase for Fetzer/Bonterra back when that winery brand was family owned. (Events featured James Beard and Julia Child touting the glories of organic produce and wines). Now this stunning venue is run as a retreat and event center, housing a welcoming tasting room serving up artisanal wines. (Most of the current vintages were made by Sebastian Donoso, now the organic winemaker at Bonterra up the road.)

Note: Campovida also has a tasting room in Oakland.

Wines: Estate wines (Sangiovese, Viognier), Filigreen Farm grown Pinot Gris, Riesling from McFadden, Cabernet from Heart Arrow and Syrah from Fairbairn Ranch. 

Sonoma County

Preston Farm & Winery - Biodynamic Farm Gem (Healdsburg)

Preston is the very first winery listed in this region - as well it should be, because it's the kind of place everyone falls in love with at first sight. A large number of the acres are devoted to growing food, and you can buy home baked bread from proprietor Lou Preston right in the tasting room. And olive oil. And wine. Weekdays, enjoy bocce ball. Picnics are also a good idea here. You can also walk through the farm's many varied crop blocks, something you won't find anywhere else.

Wines: all of the wines are certified Biodynamic.

Skipstone* - Private Enclave (Geyserville)

There are some wineries that people might think of as Napa estates, but sometimes they're located in Sonoma. This is one. It's the home of a well to do tech mogul, who is in love with wine and values organic viticulture. With a $50 tasting fee (and $100 wines), it's not for everyone, but the experience of visiting is lovely and personal - and the wine quality is high up in the collector zone, as you might suspect, since French rock star winemaker Philip Melka consults here.

Wines: all of the wines are from the certified organic estate vineyards.

Medlock Ames - Bucolic Mountain Ranch  (Healdsburg)

The conveniently located tasting room in Alexander Valley (walk ins welcome)  is a fun stop, but the real joy here is visiting the estate (reservations required*), where the wines are grown and made on Bell Mountain. The winery was started by two Millennials (college bromance), and when one got rich (hedge funds), the two were able to launch their dream winery. The brand has a strong following with (but is certainly not limited to) up and coming wine drinkers (i.e. Millennials).

Wines: all of the wines are from the certified organic estate vineyards. 

Horse & Plow - Down Home (Sebastopol)

One of my personal favorites, this is a winery and tasting room even the locals love. That should tell you something. Casual and unpretentious, this winery is run by a husband and wife winemaking team who make some very fine wines for their own labels and others. But at their tasting room, you'll find vegetable starts, cider (by the bottle or growler), heirloom apple trees, and wines for everyday drinking as well as special occasions. (The Gardener label is pricier). You can relax on the hay bales, play horseshoes (not bocce, thank you) or bring a feast and enjoy at dog and family friendly picnic tables.

Wines: all of the wines are from certified organic or Biodynamic growers. 

Napa Valley

Frog's Leap* - An Agricultural Paradise (Rutherford)

The organic poster child in Napa, this by appointment only winery is a must see. From free ranging chickens and beautiful veggies to orchards ripe with peaches, the property is a celebration of nature's bounty. (Of course the vines take center stage.) Frog's Leap converted many of its growers to organic practices and certification, paying them a premium. The farmhouse architecture (designed by my friend Ned Forrest) is a marvel. Some of the most affordably priced, high quality wines in Napa can be found here. Example: their Rutherford Cabernet - $55.

Wines: nearly all of the wines come from certified organic vines.

Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey County

Ridge Vineyards - On Top of the World (Cupertino)

Ridge is world famous for a reason. Their wines rock. So does their farming. At Montebello, they have a great site that's been producing fine wine since the 1880s. For the last 50+ years, their emphasis has remained focused on preindustrial winemaking - i.e. no manipulation, additives, etc. They've also become a leader in organic farming, converting their 277 acres of estate vines (both here and in Sonoma) to certification. The winery also bottle labels ingredients in their wines so you know exactly what's inside. Starting with the 2016 vintage, its flagship Montebello will list "organic grapes" among the ingredients.

Wines: Due to the huge number of wines and vineyards they source from, it's best to ask which ones are from organic vines. (They have very well trained staff who will know). Three are the East Bench Zin (newish vines) and the Geyserville (from vines from the 1880s) as well as the Merlot.

Big Basin Vineyards - Redwoods (Boulder Creek)

Fancy a trip down winding mountain roads lined with redwoods? This is the spot to go. You can also dip into the tasting room in downtown Saratoga, but a weekend trip to the woods might be far more delightful. The organic vines surround the winery, housed in an old barn. There's plenty of rustic charm. Bring a picnic; tables (with a view of the vines) are provided.

Wines: Rattlesnake Rock Syrah, Grizzly Grenache or Homestead Block Roussanne are all from the certified organic estate vines.


To all of these wineries: thank you for being organic - and for being certified.

Monday, August 27, 2018

With the Loss of Boomers' Largesse, Can Better Tech Save Wineries from Flat Sales?

Can using digital systems for operations and marketing lift wine sales at the high end? That was the topic underlying at least one session of Wine Business magazine's Wine Information Technology Symposium held last week in Napa.

Some of the Direct to Consumer track breakout session panelists - Ridge Vineyards, Boisset Collection (Raymond and DeLoach Vineyards) and HALL Wines - were from wineries that grow a portion of their grapes organically or Biodynamically.

With the advent of IT to collect winery data, more and more wineries are hiring analysts to try to apply data findings in an effort to increase efficiency and make more informed decisions about winery strategy and planning.

Panelists on the Data Smart panel from L to R: Dana Vivier (Far Niente),
John Musto (Ridge Vineyards), and Leslie Berglund (WISE Academy)

The afternoon session "Data-Smart Selling & Management Decisions: Using Data to Move the Needle" was moderated by Leslie Berglund, co-founder and chair of WISE Academy, a leadership education and consulting company based in Napa.

"After years of steady growth, we see now that growth in the wine industry is leveling off. There's no more double digit growth in bottles about the $20 price point," said Dana Vivier, vice president of strategic planning of Far Niente, a Napa luxury wine producer whose Cabernet Sauvignon wines sell for $170-$235. "Direct to consumer is the one bright spot, according to Rob McMillan [of Silicon Valley Bank]....In these times, the industry has to fight to maintain its share of wallet," she said.

Private equity fund investment in wineries is another driver for increasing use of data, Vivier added.  "New private equity partners have forced us to look more closely at data," she said.

More and more wineries are now adding data analysts to their staffs and many have had to import talent from other industries and bring in new employees from outside of wine country, experts said.

"Cultures at wineries are changing based on access to real data," said Berglund. "Data feedback can be a positive and aspirational tool that motivates employees."

"In an environment were DTC metrics are available, business intelligence can really come into play," she added. Examples include letting tasting room staff know their daily and cumulative sales stats.

John Musto, formerly an analyst with Francis Ford Coppola, joined Ridge three months ago as a sales analyst. "To quote Danny Meyers, we're collecting data to connect the dots moving forward," he said. "We want to be ahead of customers, rather than reacting to where they're headed."

Bereglund noted that Ridge was the first winery to offer a wine club, back in 1977.

Berglund says most wineries are in the early days of figuring out what to do with the data they've collected.

While Ridge is in the process of beginning to understand the data, Musto said, data is being shared across teams to help improve.

"We can now see and share (internally) all the touch points of a consumer (using Salesforce's CRM) with our winery," Musto said. Tasting room staff can see the customer history of the customers coming for scheduled visits at the winery, he added, which he said the staff finds useful.

The conference was divided into three tracks - one for data, one for IT and one for DTC.

Presentations and recordings from many of the sessions can be found on the conference web site.

Industry Webinar on Organic and Biodynamic Wines with Top Experts Monty Waldin and Paul Dolan: Oct. 18

I'm happy to announce that Women of the Vine & Spirits will be offering a webinar Oct. 18 on the organic and Biodynamic sectors of the wine industry.

Though the organic sector is small in the U.S. - between one and two percent of sales and revenue - it's growing rapidly, while the rest of the industry is flat.

In the last year, Nielsen data shows U.S. off premise sales have grown 5% in revenue and 10% in volume from June 2017 to 2018.

Tim Widnes, beer and wine buyer for the Whole Foods Market in Mill Valley, and a longtime WOTVS contributor, and I are the co-organizers of the event. I'll also be the moderator.

This event is aimed at wine industry professionals and will cover very basic topics as well as the latest data, marketing and sales trends.

This event is open to all. It's free for members and $10 for non-members. Register online here.

This is a great opportunity to learn more about this growing sector of the wine industry for people who are new to the sector as well as for people who want to get in the know about the latest and greatest. Tell your friends, wine professors, wine lovers, sommeliers, wine store owners...


Our stellar lineup includes experts on the organic and Biodynamic sectors as a whole:

Paul Dolan, industry veteran and a pioneer in the fields of organic, sustainable and Biodynamic wine; in 1987, Dolan founded Bonterra (the industry leader, which has a 25% share of all off premise sales in the organic and Biodynamic sector)

Monty Waldin, international organic and Biodynamic wine expert, Decanter leader for judging for Tuscan wines, and author of numerous books (Biodynamic Wine is the latest)


Panelists representing the winery perspective include:

• Anne Bousquet, President of Domaine Bousquet (the leading organic import from Argentina)
• Kristin Marchesi, President of Montinore Estate (the largest Biodynamic producer in the U.S., located in Oregon's Willamette Valley)


The webinar will also feature a cutting edge retailer's pilot project:

• Jeff Cameron, Wine and Beer Category manager, Natural Grocers
Natural Grocers is launching in-store wine shops featuring 100% certified organically or Biodynamically grown wines; its Denver store features 500 selections.