Monday, December 31, 2018

What Readers Wanted to Know About: 2018's Most Popular Posts

This blog took a giant leap forward in 2018!

Overall traffic increased a lot though the data is a bit imprecise. (Blogger's analytics doesn't let you specify a date range to measure, unlike the more powerful Google Analytics). But it's clear 2018 was the most popular year by far.

Thank you, readers!

That Mancozeb Story

The peak traffic in August was a record breaking 17,000 plus page views for that month alone (although I have never written anything for the sake of increasing page views).

The August spike was for several posts I wrote here questioning the lack of enforcement in Sonoma's and others' sustainability programs that got picked up by Wine Industry Insight and headlines' pages.

A prominent certified sustainable vineyard owner was using Mancozeb, a dangerous chemical not permitted under Fish Friendly Farming certification, the sustainability program he was certified under. (Therefore he was not in compliance with the requirements for Sonoma's Certified Sonoma Sustainable program).

That sparked a controversy, a response from the Sonoma Certified Sustainable program spokesperson and changes in the vineyard company's behavior. And the story was the inspiration for the Hosemaster of Wine, who wrote a blog post on being sorta sustainable that reached an international audience.

The grower has now stopped using Mancozeb, so I have removed the post about this for now.

My hope is that other growers will think twice before using chemicals that are among the more toxic options.

Unfortunately, the grower's grapes from the Mancozeb period (and his family winery) continue to be sold as Sonoma County Sustainable; no censure has taken place.

This affects not only the vineyard owning family's wines, but all the wineries that buy those grapes.

Since the family has about 1,000 acres of grape vines and more than 50 wineries purchase grapes from them, the misrepresentation affects hundreds of wines that may display the Sonoma County Sustainable labels.


• Pesticides 
Roundup wins in court, glyphosate test results for wine published, pesticides' tastes detectable in French wine study
This blog is the only place I know of that provides coverage of pesticides and wine, so perhaps it's not surprising that this topic alone was the biggest share of page views. 

It was also a very big year for stories about glyphosate in particular, and I was privileged to get a front row seat on some of the scientific proceedings related to these cases (which I wrote about in an article published on Civil Eats). 

A big thank you to the world class scientists who testified for their research and for their voices.

• Wine Culture
The movie Somm, the new book The Sommelier's Atlas of Taste
Does organics need to get a bigger voice in projects like this? Yes. 

What should happen next? 

In my dreams, Somm 4 would replicate the French tasting research on the taste of pesticides in wine. Wouldn't that be fun? 

And 60 Minutes would do an exposé on the use of pesticides in vineyards, just like their French equivalent - Cash Investigations - has. 

• Biodynamics
Should Jancis Robinson bone up on BD? Where to learn more (conference schedule)
Demystifying the basics of required farming practices and the economics of Biodynamic wine grape growing should be high on everyone's to do list. It's not voodoo; it's your great grandparents' farming.

• Green Wine  
Consumer insights from a pro, and the top organic growers in Sonoma
Younger consumers want greener wines, preferring organic and regenerative practices to "sustainable."


Here were the hottest posts and topics of the year (with page view counts in bold).

1. A New Type of Wine Score - Glyphosate Levels | 3,439

Could consumers care about glyphosate in wine? Yes they could. The most popular blog post of the year was on this subject.

Moms Across America's second round of wine testing (in 2018; the first was in 2016) found 150X differences between conventionally grown wine and an organically grown brand and soon all of their FB audience (and its extended reach) knew.

(Postscript: When I wrote the blog post about the Moms' testing findings, the Wine Institute had bought an ad for the search results people might use to find out about the ad which I mentioned in the blog post. After that post was published, the Wine Institute removed its ad buy for the terms "Moms Across America glyphosate.").

Now the Moms group is actively promoting the first wine certified "Glyphosate Free" (although the cap is only 10 ppb, not 0, which could allow many organically grown wines to qualify if this labeling becomes popular with consumers).

2.  Monsanto Roundup Trial - Closing Arguments - Slides + Photos | 2,830

Trial documents from the case of DeWayne Lee Johnson versus Monsanto showed vividly how exposure to glyphosate led to a fatal diagnosis of non Hodgkin lymphoma. By year's end, stock in Monsanto's new parent company, Bayer, was worth half as much as it was a year ago.

Public opinion about the herbicide's safety also shifted following the jury's decision to impose fines of $289 million in damages against Monsanto. Though the fines were reduced, the stock price has not bounced back, amounting to a loss of billions.

More than 8,000 additional cases are pending in U.S. courts.

3. French Wine Study Finds Wine Lovers Can Taste Pesticides in Wine | 1,498

Is something missing in WSET and MW exams? French pesticide researcher Gilles-Eric Seralini and chef Jerome Douzelet found that top tasters could write tasting notes describing the flavors of various commonly used wine grape pesticides, a topic not frequently studied but with potentially serious implications.

4. An Organic Business Model: Napa's Shining Star - Ted, Laddie and Chris Hall's Growing Organic Enterprise | 1,107 

When the Halls bought the iconic Napa white wine (and celebrated Chardonnay maker) producer Stony Hill, it was the latest step in their path to building a multigenerational, organic-as-a-family-value winery and vertically integrated company.

5. Somm 3: Yes You Must See This Movie | 835

Published less than a month ago, this story generated 800+ views. Somm 3 is fun - and elitist. And you should see it.

6. Jancis Robinson Sings Biodynamic Wine's Praises - But Is More Education Needed? | 835

After seeing yet another bonafide wine writer at the top of her game write a piece about Biodynamic wine and painting it with a little bit of the Harry Potter/Hogwarts brush, I decided enough was enough. It's time for all wine professionals to be better grounded in their education about Biodynamic's agronomic basis and why it matters - especially in the time of climate change. Time to put away the old tropes.

7. Biodynamic Association's 2018 Conference in Portland Will Feature Biodynamic Vintners and Wines | 621

Here was one place to learn more (in October) and get the information people need to write intelligently about Biodynamic wineries.

Of course, the best place was in May at the International Biodynamic Wine Conference in SF. See that web site for a list of speakers, topics and the Grand Tasting program guide with a list of wines and wineries. It's a great online resource.

8. Raj Parr and Jordan Mackay's New Wine Book: The Classic European Wines You - and Millenials Raised on Natural Wines - Need to Know | 598

When the meme / pendulum swings too far toward the sulfite debate (i.e. natural wines), a top somm and food writer champion the great estates of Europe and traditional fine wines, which come from terroir driven vignerons.

9. Green Wine Insights: An Interview with Eco Wine Survey Author and Sonoma State Wine Business Professor Liz Thach, MW | 573 

A wine business professor's students poll finds preferences for organic and Biodynamic wines rate higher than for sustainable wines. And respondents say they're willing to pay more for these wines.

10. Top 10 Organic Vineyards by Size - Sonoma | 500

Few people know who's who in organic wine grape growing in Sonoma (or Napa) so I compiled this basic list. (I published a Napa list in 2017.)

Wishing you a happy and healthy wine loving year in 2019!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Bonterra and Biodynamics Star in New Amazon Prime Wine Series

Biodynamics gets a starring role in the new wine series launching Jan. 4 on Amazon Prime.

Episode 3 of the new series It Starts with Wine showcases the Biodynamic wine program at Bonterra in Hopland. It couples the story of Joseph Brinkley, vineyard manager at Bonterra, with a local burger shop chef, adding in the natural beauty of northern California in Mendocino and Sonoma. Food, wine and travel - all together.

See the trailer here.

While the series is aimed at a general audience, it's no old-white-men-on-wine series like most wine shows. This one's for you, Millenials! 

As Wine Enthusiast knows (and they created the series), the wine industry needs to convine Millenials to buy wine. The wine industry needs to hang on to as much market share as it can, in the face of more competition from wine and spirits drinkers in the Millenial generation.

Wine Enthusiast created the three episode series - which includes Uruguay, Argentina and California (organic) - as an episodic program; more episodes to come. 

The series couples wine people (vineyard guys, winemakers, owners) with low key home chefs (and semi-pros) enjoying wine with meals, surfing, riding horses, having cookouts, playing guitars and cooking with family and friends - lifestyle marketing at its finest. Characters, more than wine, figure prominently.

In the California Organic episode, expert comments from U.C. Farm Advisor (and organic and Biodynamic expert) Glenn McGourty, Wine Enthusiast editor Jim Gordon and Fetzer winemaker Bob Blue (founding winemaker of Bonterra) add enjoyable heft to the California show.

Little of the program focuses on the taste of wine, but focuses rather on selling wine as part of a groovy family lifestyle.


• The down home film stands in contrast to the rarified, complicated world of wine in the Somm films - selling wine as part of everyday enjoyment in life
• It features real wine experts including Glenn McGourty Jim Gordon, and Bob Blue
• It showcases the natural beauty of Sonoma and Mendocino (welcome to see after the fires have dented wine tourism in the North Coast)
• Nice drone shots!
• Reminds one of the way Bonterra originally sold organically grown wine - with organic food - at its early days Food and Wine center in Hopland (long gone), where the greats like Julia Child came to cook


• It focuses on a lot of lifestyle shots as opposed to flavors of wine or really any information about wine
• Bonterra's Biodynamic wine program is the film's focus (290 acres of vineyards and 2,000 cases of Demeter certified Made with Biodynamic Grapes wine), but the wine brand's main production is 498,000 cases of Bonterra wines that are actually organically grown and are Biodynamic. There's really no explanation of organics.
• The film doesn't show the animal integration or other holistic elements that are at the heart of the Biodynamic concept.

All in all, it's a pleasure to see an Amazon Prime series bring the word "Biodynamic" and "organic" in wine in a positive light.

The Press Release

Wine Enthusiast Media is pleased to announce the launch of It Starts With Wine, an original series premiering on Amazon Prime Video January 4th, 2019.

The episodic series travels the globe and follows the world's best winemakers, growers, producers and personalities, along with prominent chefs and celebrities, to offer viewers an inside look at the people, locations, cuisines and cultures that surround the wine lifestyle and the world's finest wines and spirits.

The first episode in the groundbreaking cinematic series features famed chef and restaurateur Francis Mallmann, with acclaimed "flying winemaker" Alberto Antonini, set against the beautiful backdrop of Uruguay and one of the country's premier wineries, Bodega Garzon.

"We felt that the best way to convey these stories was in episodic fashion," says Jay Spaleta, Executive Producer and Wine Enthusiast SVP. "Wine Enthusiast has long been an innovator in wine information, reviews and content, this is the next bold step in that content leadership."
"It Starts With Wine is a docuseries that tells a personal story and shares deep insights in a way that is very approachable, engaging and revealing," continues Spaleta.

Wine Enthusiast Media will be simultaneously releasing episodes I, II and III for viewers binge-watching pleasure. The series will be available on Amazon Prime Video in North America and Vimeo's On Demand premium video service globally.

Episode II of It Starts With Wine follows doctor / vintner Laura Catena and musician / chef Deborah De Corral on a visit to Bodega Catena Zapata, the renowned Argentine Winery. Founded in 1902, Catena is known for bringing traditional European winemaking methods to South America.

Episode III travels to California to look at biodynamic viticulture with Joseph Brinkley, vineyard director at Bonterra Organic Vineyards and explores the simplicity of elemental food with chef Garrett Sathre.

About Wine Enthusiast:

Wine Enthusiast Media creates innovative long and short-format content in the wine, spirits, travel and lifestyle categories. Wine Enthusiast Media is the production division of Wine Enthusiast Companies founded in 1979, and publisher of Wine Enthusiast magazine.

For more info visit:

For media inquiries, image, footage and interview requests:
John Van Dekker

SOURCE Wine Enthusiast Media

Bottom Line: The Biggest Little Farm, a film that had audiences at Mill Valley Film Festival weeping over the beauty of the whole farm approach, is the real deal film about Biodynamics, even though it doesn't show the preps, etc. The documentary has spring 2019 release date and even though it's not about wine, it's the best introduction to the whole farm approach one could get.

Perhaps someone will have the brilliant idea of showcasing the two films together - Double feature, anyone?

Friday, December 14, 2018

EcoFarm Conference Set for January 23-26 - "Resilience is Fertile"

More than 70 workshops are scheduled for the annual EcoFarm conference for current and aspiring organic farmers, which includes viticulture and soil topics.

Sessions that include speakers from the wine industry or related fields include:

Innovations in Biological Control

Pam Marrone at Organic Grower Summit 
Biopesticide entrepreneur Pam Marrone of Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc. and Michael Gilbert from Semios will provide an overview of emerging solutions in biopesticide and biostimulant inputs. Marrone introduced Regalia, a widely used biofungicide used against powdery mildew.

• Cover Cropping for Beneficial Insects

Houston Wilson
U.C. postdoc researcher Houston Wilson worked on the groundbreaking project to improve biological control of the Virginia Creeper leafhopper, which affected organic vineyards in the North Coast. (Mendocino and Lake County's U.C. Farm Advisor Glenn McGourty was also a leader in this project.)

Wilson and Jessa Kay Cruz will be speaking about cover crops and beneficials.

• Grazing Sheep in Perennial Crop Systems (including vineyards)

Image result for nathan stuart tablas creek
Nathan Stuart
Kelly Mullville of Paicines Ranch and Nathan Stuart of Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles will be will be featured in this session on how to succeed in integrating sheep year-round on winery properties.

• Wise Words from Well-Seasoned Farmers

Image result for lou preston

Winery owner Lou Preston of Preston Farm & Winery in Healdsburg (Sonoma County) will lead a session with Mimi Luebbermann, sheep farmer. Preston has an integrated and biodiverse farm and winery, growing wine grapes (and making wine), sheep, pigs, chickens, and more than 200 crops.

See the full schedule here.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Organic AND Sustainable: Zero Waste Pioneer Fetzer (and Bonterra) Win California's Highest Green Award

The California EPA and the California Governor Jerry Brown have awarded Fetzer Vineyards with the state's highest environmental honor, a Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award ("GEELA"), presented at a Sacramento awards ceremony December 5th.

Fetzer is the parent company of the country's most popular organically grown wine brand, Bonterra.

According to the California EPA:
 "In 2017, Fetzer Vineyards diverted more than 3,000 tons of waste from landfill or incineration to achieve a 98.34 percent diversion rate through recycling, reusing and composting used materials. 
This was accomplished through waste programs that streamlined the collection of recyclable items during production.
Fetzer Vineyards also composts all pomace left over from the winemaking process and later reintroduces these materials into their vineyards as nutrient-rich compost. 
Fetzer Vineyards is recognized for their ability to reduce material consumption, mitigate negative impacts of solid waste, and create economic benefits for their business and the broader economy."
According to Fetzer's press release, "Fetzer Vineyards began tracking and reporting waste in 1990 and became the world's first winery to achieve TRUE Zero Waste certification in 2014, with a diversion rate of over 98%. "

This is the third time Fetzer Vineyards has won a GEELA awards. (The other years were 2003 and 2008.)

"We are very pleased to receive this recognition," said Cindy DeVries, chief operating officer for Fetzer Vineyards, "as it underscores the importance of a focus on waste reduction as critical to our efforts to pursue climate-smart practices in our business."

Bio Filtro BIDA system at Fetzer in Hopland, California

One component of Fetzer's recycling is its Bio Filtro BIDA water recycling system which uses worm composting to clean water to meet EPA standards. Fetzer was the first U.S. winery to adopt this technology installing it in 2016 The system processes 15 million gallons of water. The process also produces a byproduct: 573 cubic meters (20,000+ cubic feet) of worm castings, a valuable vineyard nutrient.

So far, one other organic vintner, Frey Vineyards in Redwood Valley, has also ordered a BioFiltro system. The largest ag sector in California using BioFiltro is the dairy industry.

Said CalEPA Secretary Matthew Rodriquez. "From fighting climate change to reducing waste, [Fetzer's] successful efforts are proving that environmentally sustainable practices can grow and support a healthy economy."

The effects of climate change are hitting many wineries around the world, including in Mendocino which is home to Bonterra and Fetzer's winery in Hopland. The area is close to the epicenter of the Redwood Complex Fire, which began in Potter and Redwood Valleys northeast of Ukiah and decimated the nearby Frey Vineyard. It also killed 9 local residents. 

The annual Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award is administered on behalf of the Governor's Office by the California Environmental Protection Agency, in partnership the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the California State Transportation Agency, the California Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency, the California Government Operations Agency, the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, and the California Health and Human Services Agency.

Fetzer is also the first winery in the world to be TRUE certified, according to Stephanie Barger, director of market transformation and development, for TRUE at the U.S. Green Building Council. "They have demonstrated leadership in minimizing waste output and efficiently using resources, furthering our goal of developing a zero waste economy for all," she said.

Bonterra is the largest wine brand in the organic sector, making more than 500,000 cases of organically grown wine each year. (Fetzer makes 4 million). Bonterra's wines account for 25% of organically grown wine sales in the U.S. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Amarone: The Many Splendors of Valpolicella's "Cult Wine"

Back in 1985 when Italian wine expert Nicolas Belfrage wrote his classic book Life Beyond Lambrusco: Understanding Italian Fine Wine, Valpolicella was not an esteemed wine region.

A historic region dating back centuries, the region's name means "valley (Val) of many (poly) cellars (cello)."

"Of all the wine names historically associated with quality in Italy," he wrote, " [Valpolicella] has in our time become probably the most debased." This was despite its ideal soils - limestone, basalt, and alluvial - and southerly exposures in valleys of alpine foothills. "Theoretically," Belfrage continued, "the wines of this favoured region ought to be excellent."

Belfrage was writing at the time when mass produced cheap reds from Valpolicella dominated the market after World War II - a far cry from today, where authentic and artisanal producers produce glorious wines tasted at a "Secrets of Amarone" seminar (sponsored by the region's wine association).

The educational event was led by wine expert Deborah Parker Wong, a writer and teacher who leads many educational tastings for the trade, including another Valpolicella seminar in October.

"Amarone is Valpolicella's 'cult wine'," she said - the region's most prestigious wine which is 25% of the area's production. Just as northwestern Italy has Nebbiolo and Barolo, Valpolicella's pride and glory is its Amarone. And the U.S. is, by far, Parker Wong said, the leading market for Amarone.

Amarone has traditionally been known as a "wine of meditation" - a great big red that, according to Belfrage, is one of the world's strongest unfortified wines. These were also the great "conversation wines"; "wines of breed and high civilization, whose decline from favour is an indicator of the decline of social graces," he wrote back in 1999.

In the age of cell phones at the dinner table, what's become of this grand old tradition?

Robert Parker. In the age of big, bold wines with food, Amarone has become a "food friendly" wine to pair with dinner. In fact, a pairing menu of delicious dishes was presented (from a GuildSomm member) suggesting a number of options including steak and figs, or venison with plums (a traditional pairing). Times change. The vintners of Valpolicella are not complaining.

It makes sense then that the trend among producers today is towards lower alcohol (still at 15.5-16%) fresher, lighter styles.

Amarone still tends to be an affordable "great wine," with prices of the 16 wines tasted mostly clustered around $35-50. The Biodynamic wineries were the exception with wines priced at $69 and $107 (for older vintages).

The tasting yesterday featured wines from a variety of vintages dating back to 2009. Andrea Lonardi, winemaker at Bertani, provided a longer term view of Amarone aging with this chart Parker Wong included in the presentation:

In the tasting - which featured 16 wines - the full range of Amarone was on display, from coop produced wines including grapes from outside the Classico region to Amarone's that reflected herbaceous, garrigue like influences.


Novaia Corte Verona - Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2013, $35

This wine comes from a site at a high elevation in the Marano with some clay soils as well as basalt and tuffa. "The clay is important as it activates the soils," Parker Wong said, whose tasting note for this wine was "chocolate covered cherries."

I've also tasted this wine at the Slow Wine tasting (which usually takes place January) along with Novaia's other wines.


Corte Sant'Alda - Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2012, $107

Marinella Camerani (right) with her team
Beloved by the writers of Slow Wine Italy and many other Italian wine experts, I was surprised to read today that Corte Sant'Alda began as the hobby of its proprietor, Marinella Camerani, who took over her family's farm in 1985 and had just four vines. After meeting Nichoas Joly in 2002, the light went on and she converted to Biodynamic practices. The estate is named for her daughter, Alda.

Today she is one of the region's top tier producers and her price on this wine reflects it.

2012 was a drought year and for the first time the regional association permitted "rescue irrigation." (Irrigation is usually not permitted.) Yields were down, but quality was not. However, this wine, although from outside the Classico region, on alluvial soils in the Mezzane, was one of the standouts in the tasting. "Spicy, youthful, delicious...light and also complex," were some of the notes I took. Others got "salty caramel, cardamom, bay leaf."

An esteemed taster who sat next to me (and whose name will not be mentioned out of respect for privacy) had been mostly quiet while we tasted the wines, but this wine totally lit him up. "I'll take a case of that!" he said.

Valentina Cubi - Morar - Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2009, $69

Valentina Cubi is another leading lady among the Valpolicella vintners. Demeter certified since 2010, her wines are highly regarded; sampling a 2009 was a real treat. 

I have to say the pictures of accommodations at her estate that I found online later are dreamy and will have you fantasizing about your next trip to the Veneto.

Valentina Cubi has also exhibited at Raw Wine.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Somm 3: Yes, You Must See This Movie

I have to admit - I wasn't overly fond of Somm 1 and 2. Why make wine into a competitive sport? Why ruin a perfectly good beverage with people aspiring to know so much about so little?

Somm 1 and 2 also ignored the farming involved in making so many of the wines featured. Where was the mention that herbicides and fungicides are used in massive quantities?

It's all very well to discuss mountain vineyards and how vines struggle and what type of soil this obscure Spanish region has, but how can you then, as the same time, fail to mention the influence of the nerve gas toxins on taste (and people and water and air) and pesticides showing up in schoolchildren in Bordeaux who live next to vineyards? Such is the world of wine. I can't really fault Somm's makers for not bringing those topics into the conversation. The eyes of the industry are not looking at the farming - not to mention the manipulation in the winery - as much as they should be.

None of these darker topics is mentioned in Somm 3, but at least the foil of Carole Meredith presides over it all, taking a dim view of blind tasting. For, once again, the Somm film team has put the blind tasting form to the ultimate test - pitting major experts' opinions against one another.

One problem with Somm is the continuing, almost adolescent adoration way the filmmaker worship at the altar of the great names in the sommelier-hood. Somms also seem to prefer wines from some of their own, in the movie at least. It's a clubby, little world, filled with "certain people." It's hardly the stuff of everyday life or even the titans who have achieved financial success in the industry. (The rich guys at the top of the industry might make for a much more interesting film, if you could ever get them on camera. These are the puppetmasters who never get into the spotlight).

Another issue is that Somm plays right into the peculiarly American obsession with wine as an elitists' beverage - a pleasure reserved for people inhabiting the planet of the One Percenters. It paints a picture of wine as apart from mere mortals who like to drink it with dinner at home or even with popcorn or at a baby shower or with pizza. It promotes the world of wine from on high - an expensive beverage to be curated by masters. Hardly any producers inhabit the film. No wonder my friend who sells wine at a local Whole Foods says, "wine is just too complicated. At a certain point, some of my customers just give up and go across the street to get a bottle of vodka."

If the subject was food, we might focus on the elite chefs, for fun, but not the waiters, would we? But wine is different (is it - really?). Now somms are embracing new careers as vintners, aren't they?

The good news about the film - if you think about it - is that the experts don't agree, and in fact even some of the most famous in the world can be quite wrong in identifying a wine (or right as well, but not consistently) and that everyone does, in fact, often have a different taste preference.

The best part is seeing the heavyweights of wine on camera (and not in a wobbly YouTube video) and well lit. There's Pascaline! There's Raj Parr! There's Jancis Robinson and Fred Dame and Stephen Spurrier!

That for me was the fun part of seeing this film.

To kind of ground it all in a non-snobby, Millenial perspective, the filmmakers inject Madeleine Puckette (author of the bestselling book Wine Folly, which, though wildly popular, is more of a good graphic design project than a serious wine book) into the proceedings. Puckette good naturedly reassures us and fills in gaps in the story line. It's a useful device for pivoting around - which the film does rather quite a lot of.

Chop chop go the editors. Those looking for beautiful sequences will be disappointed. Much of the film's style is cut and paste, cut and paste in the editing. It seems like it's cut to the audio. (As a former filmmaker - and one who made about 50 films for Apple as well as several for PBS - who learned her craft from a true documentary master, I do miss real sequences.) But no matter.

It's fun, it's fast paced, and you won't know what's around the bend from moment to moment.  It's character based - a little bit - in that personalities are set up as types, and the characters are interesting (although we never really go very deeply into their worlds - think mini profiles).

This is documentary style filmmaking by and for the Instagram era, after all.

But you've got to see it - it's like the great big family movie of the little inner circle of People Who Matter in Wine. And it's a good bit of fun.

(It's now available for streaming on a number of platforms including iTunes.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Six Organically Grown Wines from Sonoma Make Sonoma's 2018 Top 100 Wine List

Six great organically grown wines popped up on the Sonoma magazine's top 100 wines list for 2018 unveiled this week. Written by veteran wine writer Linda Murphy, the list of 100 top wines includes outstanding wines from a wide variety of wineries and regions, yet an above average concentration of organically grown wines, a pattern that is often repeated.

Organic grape growers represent just a little over 2 percent of the vineyards in Sonoma, but 6 percent of the wines are from organic vineyards. That's three times their weight.

Here are the organically grown winners including many wineries written about here over the years). Notably the 2018 list omitted many of the consistently great wineries - Ridge, Porter Creek, and others dedicated to organic and Biodynamic farming practices. (Are the curators are trying to get more newcomers on board?)

Here are some wines to put on your radar:


Alexander Valley AVA

Medlock Ames 2017 Bell Mountain Sauvignon Blanc ($29)
"Vibrant" and "racy"read the tasting notes for this white wine from an all estate and all organic winery with not one but two vineyards.


Dry Creek Valley AVA

Quivira Vineyards 2017 Rosé ($22)
A "crisp and spicy" blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Counoise, Syrah - and to add an authentic Dry Creek touch, Petite Sirah - this rosé is one of my personal go to favorites.


These selections come from a variety of appellations demonstrating the diversity of Sonoma's prime Cab spots - as well as their not-Napa prices.

Alexander Valley AVA

Alexander Valley Vineyards 2015 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (get the one labeled "made with organic grapes") ($32)
The Wetzel family has a large conventional vineyard and then a small organic vineyard that's a side project. Wrote Murphy, "judicious use of oak lets the concentrated fruit shine." This wine represents a great value for an Alexander Valley cab.

Moon Mountain AVA

Amapola Creek's 2014 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($90)
This classic comes from Richard Arrowood, the legend who put Sonoma Cabs on the map. His Moon Mountain AVA vineyard is situated on red volcanic soils, a prime spot for Cabernet. Murphy: "Polished and elegant."

Sonoma Mountain AVA

Laurel Glen Vineyard 2014 Cabernet ($75)
This is another personal favorite of mine delivering, as Murphy wrote, "...freshness and elegance." I agree.

Dry Creek Valley AVA

Hawley Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon ($52)
If you haven't visited the Hawley Family's vineyards near Bradford Mountain, you should. That's where this Cab is grown. "Dark fruit: blackberry, dark plum, and blueberry..." are the notes on this vintage. If you do go, you may catch a glimpse of the winemaker as falconer.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Super Wow - French TV Ad for Hair Testing for Pesticides

Best ad of the year...!

Although it's in French, you can probably make out what the text says which is basically: You think pesticides are here. And here. And here. But in fact they are everywhere. The same goes for your hair. What? We tested people's hair to show where longer term pesticide exposure is. Pesticides have nothing to do with your body. Share this with others who demand getting rid of pesticides.


The first wave of hair testing for a panel of pesticides was recently conducted by the EU Green Party and released in early November.

Though the number of people sampled was small, you can see what the first wave of testing found here in this report. (A new hair test for glyphosate has just been introduced but it wasn't part of this first group of tests since it was not yet on the market). The detailed report is here.

More than 60% of samples from 148 people contained at least one pesticide residue

Basically the four most commonly found pesticides include chlorpyrifos-ethyl (insecticide, 10.1%), fipronil (insecticide, 29.7%), permethrin (insecticide, 18.9%) and propiconazole (fungicide, 18.9%).

Chlorpyrifos is banned in agriculture in the EU (though not in the U.S.). Chlorpyrifos is not commonly used on wine grapes, though it is a staple on conventional produce farms. A dangerous neurotoxin, it was scheduled to be banned by the EPA until Trump became president and those plans were overturned.

Last year Sonoma-Cutrer used it on 100 acres in Sonoma.

Both chlorpyrifos and fipronil are used in pet flea collars and experts surmise these products may be exposing humans as well as pets.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Organic Beverage Session Added to Organic Grower Summit

Katrina Frey

Wine has a place on the agenda at the Organic Grower Summit (taking place Dec. 12-13) with Katrina Frey, of Frey Vineyards in Mendocino, and Phil LaRocca, CCOF Board Chair and head of LaRocca Vineyards in the Chico area, appearing on the new panel on organic beverages.

Bill Vyenielo, senior wine business consultant for Moss Adams LLP, will be the moderator.

According to the conference organizers, the Organic Trade Association says organic wine sales doubled from 2007 to 2016, when organic wines brought in $282 million in revenue.

Both panelists have wineries that make wine that is certified as USDA Organic Wine - i.e. made without added sulfites, which is the certification category that is less than 10 percent of off premise sales, according to Nielsen data. (Nielsen data does not include Costco sales or natural food stores' sales.)

Both producers make significant amounts of wine.
• Frey's production is 220,000 cases, from grapes sourced from its own 250 acres of vines and those of additional growers. Its wines are widely sold in natural foods stores and at Whole Foods. Frey Vineyards is the largest producer in the no added sulfite category.
• LaRocca's production is 25,000 cases harvested from the winery's 100 acres of vineyards.

Our Daily Red, sold only at Trader Joe's, is another large producer in this market, with wines at slightly lower price points. It sells about 100,000 cases annually.

Overall, more than 80 percent of organically grown wines counted by Nielsen come from "Made with Organic Grape" wines, which is a certification type that permits a limited number of sulfites. The leading brand in that category is Bonterra, with a 25% market share organically grown wines sold in the U.S. Bonterra produces 500,000 cases a year.


Coincidentally each of the two organic vintners featured on the conference panel has faced severe challenges from the recent spate of wildfires.

Last year's Redwood Complex Fire, which covered 36,000 acres in Mendocino County, burned Frey's winery, northeast of Ukiah in Redwood Valley. Luckily a new winery was already in the works, but the fires impacted business and the family. Only two of the family's ten homes still stands, and 18 employees lost homes. (Half of the employees are family members). Beba Frey, the 93 year old matriarch of the family, escaped. Frey expects to move into its new winery in 2019.

Today Phil LaRocca is facing peril from fire as the Camp Fire encroaches on his vineyards in Forest Ranch, The 142,000 acre fire is still burning. The town of Forest Ranch was under evacuation orders for six days until the order was lifted yesterday.


Education sessions at the conference also feature Pam Marrone of Marrone Bio, who has pioneered many organic products used in both sustainable and organic vineyards.

For more information about the two day conference in Monterey, click here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

New Italian Cinema's Prosecco Wine Movie Plays Dec. 1 in SF

A first feature by Treviso born director, Antonio Padovan, this charming Italian mystery The Last Prosecco covers the final days of a count who makes Prosecco on the steep hillsides of Valdobbiadene (in the Veneto region of northern Italy).

The film takes its plot from Fulvio Ervas’s novel The Last Prosecco about a reclusive bohemian aristocrat who is fiercely opposed to his neighbors' support for a chemical plant that pollutes the air his precious vines breathe. The whodunit keeps you guessing until the last minute with plenty of characters to suspect along the way.

The film plays Dec. 1, Saturday, at 6 pm at the Vogue theater in San Francisco. Find details here.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Under the Radar Varieties Shine at Daniele Cernilli's Italian Wine Book Party Tasting

While the usual belles of the ball - Italian all star wines from Barolo, Sassicia and Tuscany - displayed their charms at the Italian wine tasting Monday at Farallon restaurant, for me, the fun was tasting the indigenous grape wines from organic vineyards (along with some top notch Chianti).

Wines from the little known Bellone, Cesanese, Lacrima and Pecorino grapes (from producers with organic vineyards) had something fresh and lively to say. Each was a pleasure to discover. And they were all priced well below $20 - a win win for consumers looking for something different - and affordable.

Daniele Cernilli and Marina Thompson (husband and wife)
at the book launch party at Farallon
The tasting was held to celebrate Italian wine expert Daniele Cernilli's The Essential Guide to Italian Wine 2019, now in its 5th edition. A judge for Decanter's World Wine Awards and Vinitaly, Cernilli was one of the founders of the acclaimed wine guide Gambero Rosso in 1986 (before starting his Essential Guide series in 2015) and is a widely respected and influential expert. Today, his website Doctor Wine is a popular destination.

The 2019 edition of the book covers 1,134 selected producers and 2,809 wines (including 652 wines priced under 15 euros [or $17 U.S.]). In 2018, 10,000 copies of the book were sold.

Organic or Biodynamic certifications are noted in the guide.

Monday's tasting included 24 producers, four of whom were certified (or officially in transition) to organic certification. These include: Casale del Giglio in Lazio (near Rome), Felsina (in transition to organic) and Querciabella in Tuscany, and Velenosi (some organic vineyards) in the Marche.



This winery 30 miles south of Rome has been a pioneering leader in raising the profile of wines from the Lazio region. It began with a large scale planting of international varieties back in 1985, after government funded research found that the region's red clay and alluvial soils could grow worthy wine grapes. More than 60 varieties were planted.

Mater Matuta temple remains from the 9th-5th
century BCE were found adjacent to Casale
del Giglio's vineyards south of Rome
The name Casale del Giglio means "House of Lilies." Uniquely, a ancient road, parallel to the Appian Way, and a temple to the goddess Mater Matuta, dating back to the 9th-5th centuries BCE, have been found on the property. A 5th century BCE ceramic wine goblet was found on the site, along with other Etruscan objects now housed at the Villa Giulia in Rome.

Today the winery produces mainly novel international blends but has recently branched into indigenous grapes, including Cesanese.

Casale del GIglio's Cesanese is made with native yeast (700 cases, $15)

Winemaker Paolo Tiefenthaler and Proprietor Antonio Santarelli  

With 345 acres of planted vines, Velenosi is the second largest family owned winery in the Marche, a province on Italy's eastern side, bordering the Adriatic coast. Founded and run by Ercole and Angela Velenosi in 1984, it has become a Marche success story, achieving recognition for its indigenous grape wines, including Pecorino and Lacrima. (The latter is not yet organic).

These vibrant and unique wines sell for just $15 and can be found in the U.S. on

Velenosi's Offida Pecorino DOCG - a treat!


The 2015 Chianti Classico ($33) won a 97 point rating
and a platinum medal from Decanter's World Wine Awards
Querciabella, which means beautiful oak, is renowned for its Chianti Classico, grown using Biodynamic practices. 

Like another great Biodynamic producerin Tuscany, Avignonesi, it is certified organic, not Biodynamic, due to the fact that Demeter Italy's standards are particularly stringent, exceeding those Demeter standards in other European countries and the U.S. 

All of the wines here are well worth seeking out, offering outstanding values and pleasures, and the book is an excellent way to seek out affordable wines that you can't always find on the shelf. The book is exceptionally well curated. And it would also make an excellent holiday gift, coupled, of course, with a bottle of one of its highly rated wines.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

French Pesticide Researcher Seralini Announces New Plan to Study Cancer Victims Suing Bayer

In the GMO world, there is no researcher more famous than the Normandy professor Gilles-Eric Seralini, who studied the effects of genetically modified organisms in rats and found GMO's cause cancer. It put him in Monsanto's sites and the agrochemical giant sued him 7 times for his research - and lost 7 times. But more recently he's taken on a new target - the herbicide Roundup, used on crops that feed more than a billion people around the globe.


From left to right: Dr. Michelle Perro, Gilles-Eric Seralini, Ruth Weistreich of
the Westreich Foundation, Jerome Douzelet and Zen Honeycutt of Moms Across America

At a private gathering in the San Diego area on Tuesday, Seralini, a molecular biologist, announced he's launching a new initiative to study the 8,000+ plaintiffs currently suing Bayer/Monsanto over cancer claims. (A San Francisco judge awarded the first plaintiff, DeWayne Johnson of Vallejo, damages of $40 million after a jury found the claim justified). It's research that could be game changing.

The lawsuits claim that glyphosate and other ingredients in Roundup caused the victims to get non Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a form of cancer. Monsanto and Bayer claimed the product was safe and never put warning labels on the products.

Seralini said his newest research, using mass spectrometry to analyze the contents of Roundup's unlisted ingredients, suggests that Roundup contains petroleum byproducts and arsenic, which has long been banned as a pesticide. The product formulation may be as much as 1000% more toxic than glyphosate alone, Seralini said.

In his 2018 study, published in Toxicology Reports, he and his co-authors write:
"The toxic effects and endocrine disrupting properties of the formulations were mostly due to the formulants and not the glyphosate. In this work, we also identified by mass spectrometry the heavy metals arsenic, chromium, cobalt, lead and nickel, which are known to be toxic and endocrine disruptors, as contaminants in 22 pesticides, including 11 glyphosate-based ones. This could explain some of the adverse effects of the pesticides."
Formulants in Roundup are not inert, according to Seralini's study

"We used to see arsenic poisoning used by the Egyptians, or to kill kings, or in Madame Bovary. But here we are seeing chronic intoxication," he said.

Roundup's ingredients, he said, are a case of "double fraud. They list glyphosate as the active ingredient, but in fact petroleum residues [POEA] and arsenic are the real ingredients," he said.

Historically arsenic was in the earliest known vineyard pesticides in a mixture known as Paris Green, dating back to 1775.

It was widely used, but often faked; in the late 1800's in California, many Paris Green mixtures were bogus concoctions that didn't work due to a lack of effective ingredients.

In an historical echo - a reversal of sorts - Seralini's research on Roundup suggests similar ingredient deceptions are not limited to the past, but quite active in the present. With Roundup, users get far more than what they paid for with ingredients that are far more toxic than those listed on the label.

In 1901, in California, growers pressured legislators to create the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation to prevent fraudulent, ineffective Paris Green products from being sold on the market. However, by 1926, scientists could see that arsenic caused illness, and the state agency began testing for arsenic residues on fruits and vegetables. By 1934, arsenic residues were no longer allowed.

"It was used in the concentration camps," Seralini said "as a poison."

"One of the hallmarks of arsenic poisoning is skin cancer," he said, alluding to the fact that DeWayne Johnson's cancer was a particularly virulent form of NHL that produced skin lesions over his body.

Concurring, Douzelet, co-author of the book The Taste of Pesticides in Wine urged the audience of more than 100 people, to stop pointing the finger at glyphosate and instead target the formulated Roundup product. "Roundup is the real poison," he said.


In wine testing, Douzelet said that his research showed that there were virtually no residues in organically grown wines, but that conventional wines contained residues in excess of 11,000 times the regulated limits for tap water.

Douzelet, who worked with 71 great tasters in France on research on the taste of pesticides, said Roundup dilutions in water - at the same percentage as in wine - tasted "like petroleum. It produces a burning sensation on the tongue," he said.

"Synthetic chemicals block the capillaries on the tongue," he said, advocating for wines that "use natural yeasts, living yeasts, and living microbes."

Monday, October 29, 2018

Raj Parr and Jordan Mackay's New Wine Book: The Classic European Wines You - and Millennials Raised on Natural Wines - Need to Know

Welcome to the world of wine, Millennials! And by the world of wine, we don't just mean those natty (natural) wines. That's the premise of this new book from some of the top somms and food and wine writers whose names Millennials (along with many others) respect.

Living in Oakland (as I do) at the epicenter of multicultural, Millennial-moms-and-dads-hipsters-and-real-people-long-term-locals, you can count no less than four natural wine bars inside the city limits (Minimo, Bay Grape, Ordinaire, and Punchdown, the last being the place where I cut my teeth on natural wines circa 2010). If I blink, I may miss a new one.

But until I listened to this interview with famed somm Raj Parr on the Cru podcast, I hadn't realized how, 8 years later, a whole generation of Millennial wine drinkers might think natural wine was not only the "it" wines but that natural wines were, more or less "all of it" - i.e. the beginning and end of the wines they need to care about.

Parr, a famous somm and legendary taster, explains in the 2017 interview that the book, The Sommelier's Atlas of Taste, was written to introduce the classic wines, where they come from and why they taste the way they do, to a generation of wine drinkers whose taste for fresh young natural wines should be extended to tasting the great wines of Burgundy, Bordeaux and beyond. Bravo. Some retailers say that natural wines appeal to Millennials because they're less expensive than the classic wines from the great wine regions. But Parr - and his co-author Jordan Mackay, a food and wine writer - urge them to open the door and explore the classics.

When I first looked at the book - a hardcover selling for $40 with the name "Atlas" in the title - I expected to see maps. I was sad to find none. (Granted I'm a map lover, and used to work for a mapmaking company, DeLorme, which published Maine Geographic, the most beautiful official state map ever made, as well as the dry but useful Atlas and Gazeteer series. But still...). 

The absence of maps drove me to a dictionary. When then is an "atlas"? An atlas is defined as "a book of maps or charts." The book is just a lot of text. (No Wine Folly style graphics, thankfully; wine is not a piechart.)

In the introduction, Mackay asks us to think more broadly and consider "rendering a map of taste" in words - but I assume (wrongly or rightly) the publisher thought more about economics. Making wine maps is an expensive undertaking. But couldn't they at least have had taste word maps? Or a region's outline? People really find it hard to read these days, especially without visual aids; the book could have been improved with even minimal region or country outline maps. Perhaps we will get lucky and there will be a second "magnum edition" with maps. The publisher, Ten Speed Press, did include photos, which are lovely (many are of the producers) but the visuals rarely shed light on the topics the authors are writing about (except to show us the producers). 

A wine flight at Bay Grape featuring vintners in the book
Another limitation is that the Atlas only covers European wines and only wines from the classic wine regions there and then only from selected subregions. Although the subtitle of the book says it's "A Field Guide to the Great Wines of Europe," one wonders who wrote the hard to swallow promotional blurb on the inside cover that calls this "the most in-depth study ever published of the world's greatest wine regions." Maybe they could have at least inserted "Old World" as in "greatest Old World wine regions."

Hyperbole aside, what the book is is a diary of travels written by people you wish you could go wine tasting and touring with. This book's list of regions and producers could be your bucket list of wine trips - for a lifetime. 

Probably the book should have had a different title - something more along the lines of Wine Travels with Raj and Jordan. Or the Field Guide title. Think of the book overall as a series of great, in depth magazine articles you would have saved. The title Adventures on the Wine Route (by Kermit Lynch) is already taken, but essentially this book is a variation on that theme albeit with important differences - a soil-centric description of each region coupled with top producers, a few choice eateries, and comments/quotes from the vintners the two authors spend time with. The inclusion of the list of top producers is also a great resource you can use to seek out specific wines.


Organic and Biodynamic farming as subjects get mentioned a bit but always in passing. Top producers who mention the subject range from established all stars (Chave, Chapoutier) to those newly headed down that road (Chateau Palmer).

The authors back into the subject of organics when they write, "As we traveled for this book, we found the second most passionately discussed subject by top vignerons (after organic farming) [italics my addition] was the importance of preserving and expanding their own vine selections..."

As there was no specific sidebar or section on organic or Biodynamic viticulture, I had to buy the Kindle version (searchable) to find all the mentions of the word "organic" or "Biodynamic." In Sancerre, the authors, who visited in early spring, write:
"...without expanses of green leaves to distract your eyes, the bleak landscape tells you which vineyards are being farmed organically and which are not. The organic ones show life between the vines in the form of bursting cover crops, flowers and legumes. Herbicide-treated vineyards are obvious - cold, hard, desolate ground beneath and between the vines - and by far the majority, as the overwhelming extent of industrial farming here is an inescapable fact." 
(Note: here in California, those green cover crops are not a good way to tell who's organic, because more than 50 percent of vineyards - the vast majority of them non-organic - now use cover crops -along with pesticides).

In Burgundy: "After decades of murdering their soils with chemicals, winemakers have turned more and more to organics and beyond."

In the Rhone, Hermitage producer Chave (who was a huge inspiration for Bob Lindquist of Qupé in California, one of our best Syrah winemakers) merits a few quotes on the organic topic in a sidebar on farming in the Rhone.  The authors write, "Chave reports that more and more producers in the Hermitage are farming organically. Clape echoes this in the Cornas."

In Champagne, Roederer buys only organic fruit.

In Bordeaux, Thomas Duroux, CEO of Chateau Palmer, talks about the recent decision to become (Demeter certified) Biodynamic.
Says Duroux, "I think it's the only way...sooner or later everyone here will demand it. The other way is just no longer acceptable for wines like these."...The authors say of Palmer's aspirations that, "not only is organic farming morally and environmentally the right thing to do, the hope is that it also promotes the wine's expression of typicity."

At the International Biodynamic Wine Conference in May in San Francisco, we heard this not in terms of "the hope" but of the wines in bottle. As Mike Benziger describes it, Biodynamic vintners are creating their own "proprietary biology" when they farm Biodynamically, deriving the flavors from their microbial soils, from their geology," etc. etc. Too often somms and the trade believe in the powerful influences of soil types and geology and exposure alone without recognizing the microbial level. Scientists are now finding that what happens below ground in the roots in terms of biology matters more than leaves in terms of the plant's output. What happens in the soil as a result of chemical farming is a major factor that has been looked by most of the industry.

(As an antidote, I recommend looking at Seralini's work on the taste of pesticides in wine.) (I'm traveling to San Diego tomorrow to meet him and am very excited about that).

So it's very nice to see Parr and Mackay touching upon organic and Biodynamic estates along their journey.

BayGrape's Instagram photo with Parr (upper left) and Mackay
(upper right) and owners Josiah Baldivino (lower left) and
Stevie Staconis (horizontal) along with Bay Grape staff
I was happy to meet both of them at Oakland's Bay Grape when they visited Friday night as part of their West Coast book tour. Bay Grape offered a wine flight to accompany the event, starting with the sought after Egly Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Crus ("practicing organic"), from one of the early days grower Champagnes, and a scene stealing wine if ever there was one. The Leitz riesling was indeed very lovely, and followed by the Foillard Morgon (certified organic vines), a Beaujolais that's another knockout. (All are for sale at the Grand Lake shop.)

I look forward to diving in more deeply and savoring this book region by region over the next few weeks and revisiting it over time. My copy already looks quite weathered as my organic Cucumber and Asian Pear Kombucha from Berkeley's Pickle Shop immediately escaped its bottle, which was in the same oilcloth bag as my newly purchased book, to grace the first 50 pages of the book - giving the pages an immediate fermented beverage ritual blessing. I guess. 

And yes, in case you're wondering, this is a book that would make a great holiday gift (they're even selling it at Target) for any wine lover on your list. Especially if you paired it with a wine these two mention.

POSTSCRIPT Feb. 5, 2019: The book has won the Andre Simon Award!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Valpolicella DOC Celebrates 50th Anniversary: "You've Come a Long Way, Baby"

Valpolicella is having a moment - a 50th anniversary moment. You may remember Valpolicella as the go to "Italian-restaurant-wine" available in suburbia, but the world has changed. Just as Zinfandel has come up in the world (once it was lovingly vinified by the greats like Storybook Mountain, Turley, Ridge), Valpolicella's blended red wines have set their feet on higher ground.

This northern Italian wine region in the pre-Alps foothills near the city Verona (where I traipsed, like so many visitors, to see its exquisite Palladio theater) first became a recognized DOC in 1968. It upgraded to a DOCG in 2008. And on Monday this week, SF tasters had a chance to learn more about the region in a tasting sponsored by the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicello lead by WSET Diploma holder Deborah Parker Wong, a writer and educator.

Once upon a time, Valpolicella's quaffable red wines were not really noteworthy, but today they've grown up, like much of the rest of Italy since the 1960's, and the stylistic spectrum presented Monday was both nuanced and diverse.

The good news? These wines provide excellent value; out of 12 in the tasting, prices ranged from $15-$35, with most priced at $18-25.

Those familiar with the Veneto region will know that the area has two sides - Soave, famous for white wine, in the east, and Valpolicella, famous for red wine and for Amarone, in the west.

Out of 74,000 acres of land in the region, 19,768 acres are planted to vines. (That's half as much as Napa, which has 40,000 acres of planted vines).

Valpolicella's hallmark grape - the thick skinned Corvina - is the star of the show, but Valpolicella wines are also known, like Rhones and Bordeaux blends, for their skillful blending, giving winemakers a lot of choice in creating a wine that shows their style.

The cherry, slightly bitter (in a good way) notes of Corvina are combined with the other traditional varieties of the region to make a wide variety of blends. It's said that, "Corvina brings the fruit to the blend," while in contrast, another blending grape, Corvinone, with its big fat berries, "brings the spice." A third variety, Rondinella, "brings the flowers."

One of the most culturally interesting aspects of Valpolicella is its long standing historical tradition of vinifying wine by refermenting it, a practice that makes what are called Ripasso wines. These are light wines that are essentially beefed up (in a good way) to be lovely, medium bodied wines, with the addition of up to 30% semi-dried or "withered" grapes.

The region is also famous this practice of withering, which today is done on wooden racks in the winery (not on straw mats, like raisins or grapes for sweeter wines, in other regions).

(For more details on the possibly ancient roots of ripasso and withering, see Michael Garner's excellent book Amarone and the Wines of Verona, available on Kindle as well as in print form).

In addition, site, as usual, plays a major role in the taste of the wines, which are grown in five parallel valleys (each of which runs north/south) and at elevations averaging 200 meters. Soils range from limestone to limestone/clay and some igneous/basalt soils as well. The oldest soils are in the westernmost part of the region, called the Classico. The warming influence of Lake Garda to the west can be seen in the wines.

Trellis systems are also quite important, with the old school pergolas dominating historically, but with more modern plantings using Guyot. Today some vineyards are returning to the use of pergolas. In the Classico area, the split is about 50/50. The classic grape Corvina performs better at high elevation and on pergola, Parker Wong said.

Traditional crops in the area include olives and cherries, and both are often grown in vineyards.

Of the 12 wines we tasted, three were from certified organic or Biodynamic vines:


1. Corte Sant'Alda - Valpolicella DOC 2017 Ca' Fiui (Solano Cellars, $24)

This 47 acre Demeter certified vineyard produces 7,000 cases of wine each year. Run by Marinella Camerani, the vineyard was first certified organic in 2003 and became Biodynamic in 2010. The winery produces 2,000 cases of the Ca' Fiui in the Mezzane di Sotto region, in the east of Valpolicella, outside the Classico region at the edge of the Soave region.

The 2018 Slow Wine Guide compliments Camerani for her pure vinification practices, using minimal intervention.

"Fruit saturated acid!" Parker Wong proclaimed glowingly, as she tasted this wine. On the palate: cherries with rose notes, slightly bitter and lively. The blend included 50% Corvinone ("the spice") and the wine had an assertive finish.


Ripasso wines are the refermented wines. The Veronese winemakers are the only ones in the world who use this technique (according to Garner). They are hardly available in the U.S., according to Parker Wong; almost all consumed by Europeans, who quite like them.

1. Novaia - Valpolicella Ripasso DOC Classico 2016 ($32)

Novaia is located further west and north of Corte Sant'Alda, in the Marano, in the northern part of the Classico region. There the Vaona family makes 3,750 cases a year from their 17 acre vineyard. The estate was certified organic in 2014. Some are designated cru vineyards.

The soils are an unusual blend of clay and volcanic tuff.

With 70 percent Corvina in the blend, this wine was light and vibrant with lively notes of pomegranate, cherry and plum.


2. Valentina Cubi - Valpolicella DOC Classico Superiore 2015 Aruznatico ($18)

The Aruznaths were among the ancient peoples who lives in this region, I learned later in Garner's book, which must mean something when it comes to the name of this wine.

Valentina Cubi, in her 80's, runs this winery with her daughters in the next valley over from Novaia, south of Fumane. Her family's 32 acres of vines were certified organic in 2014.

Stylistically this wine was the opposite of the Corte Sant'Alda - a wine much lighter in style, very harmonious. "This wine is a personal favorite of mine," Parker Wong confessed.


To give you more of a sense of the landscape, here's a video of the Corte Sant'Alda vineyard from a few years back: