Saturday, August 18, 2018

Montinore Estate Appoints Two Women to Top Positions

Biodynamic wineries do seem to have a lot more women at the helm than other types of wineries. And that applies both in the vineyards and in the top dog's desk.

Kristin Marchesi, President, Montinore Estate
Congrats to Montinore Estate for passing the Presidential baton from Rudy Marchesi to Kristin Marchesi, who's been the general manager at Montinore Estate for many years. She is the second generation of her family to run Montinore.

Karen Peterson, Viticulturist, Montinore Estate

Today the winery announced the appointment of Karen Peterson as Viticulturist, overseeing one of the two largest Biodynamic vineyards in the U.S. with 250 acres of certified vines.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Growing: Organic Vineyard Acreage in France Up 4%

While the latest statistics on organic wine grape vineyards in Napa and Sonoma may be depressing - acreage dropped 17% in Napa and 11% in Sonoma - things are looking up in France, where 9% of the nation's vineyards are certified organic.

The latest statistics from France's organic certifier, Agence Bio, show that the acres of certified wine vineyards is 150,85 acres, an increase of 4 percent.

Another 43,532 acres of vineyards are currently in the three year transition period to organic certification. When those vines are certified, it will bring the total in France to more than 194,000, putting it just behind Italy (which already has 200,000 acres of certified vineyards).

The Dark Side of Sonoma's Sustainability Movement: No to Organics, Deep Deception, Nonenforcement of Prohibited Chemicals

Last year the number of acres of organic vineyards in Sonoma County declined 11 percent.

The decline in certified acreage in Sonoma coincides with the advent of the Sonoma County Winegrowers' move to adopt sustainability practices, sometimes at the expense of organic practices.

While the move to employ sustainable practices is well intentioned and a positive, there are negatives that tend to downgrade the program's reputation, according to local observers:

• Eliminating programs that support organic viticulture
• Deceptively portraying one grower as organic (when it is not) and overstating accomplishments in marketing campaigns
• Failing to enforce the program's standards on prohibited agrochemicals

1. Eliminating Organic Grower Meetups

Under the leadership of Karissa Kruse, the group moved to end organic meetup groups, where growers could learn about organic viticulture on vineyard visits to various Sonoma organic vineyards.

2. Deception

The county's winegrowers are promoting what some would see as deceptive storytelling in the group's latest Sustainability report's feature on Marimar Torres' "organic practices." That winery began using synthetic herbicides and fungicides in 2013.

3. Lack of Enforcement

In addition, the Sonoma Sustainability group does not appear to be enforcing the sustainable certification standards on the use of prohibited substances. Steve Dutton, a prominent grower who is the president of the Sonoma Farm Bureau (and whose brother Jim heads up the Sonoma Winegrowers), is using vineyard chemicals prohibited by the CSWA standard in the family's vineyards, showing a total lack of enforcement.

Organic Grower Meetups: No More

I remember attending one of these at Preston Farm & Winery, back in the day, and a lot of of good information was provided and great questions were asked and answered. There were shared lunches, and a lot of learning took place in a comfortable environment.

Today Sonoma has fewer than 2 percent organic vines, compared to Napa with 7.3% certified organic vines.

Napa's Growers proudly sponsor the country's only organic winegrowing conference, which takes place every other year.

The Sonoma organization ditched the organic meetups; now all meetings focus on sustainability.

Sonoma's Sustainability Greenwashing: How Misleading Can It Get?
The Marimar Torres Story: Sowing the Seeds of Organic Confusion

Sonoma's latest sustainability champion, Marimar Torres, is featured in the 2017 Sonoma Wine Growers's Sustainability Report (italics mine):
"For more than a decade, the vineyards at Marimar Estate have been farmed with organic practices—with the idea of improved, more balanced ecological health. In January, the estate took what Vineyard Manager Tony Britton considers to be a more encompassing step that builds upon its organic background—they became certified sustainable.
It was a natural step, he says, for an organic, family-owned vineyard in Green Valley to become certified sustainable. In their 70 acres of vines,* Britton uses cover crops to attract beneficial insects and nourish the soil, as well as composting and relying on solar energy. In addition, he has refrained from spraying pesticides since 1996. 
In reading this, would you think that Marimar Torres is either certified or "practicing" organic today?

It is neither.

In his comment about pesticides, Britton is apparently saying he doesn't use insecticides, which may be true. But he does use herbicides and fungicides (that are not organic). Cover crops and composting are part of sustainable as well as organic farming. More than half the wineries in the state use cover crops. And compost is often cheaper than buying fertilizer. (And why buy it when you can make it from your own vineyard cuttings and grape must?)

Though Marimar Torres was formerly certified organic on its Green Valley vineyard in 2003 and later its Freestone vineyard, the winery gave up on organic practices and started farming with chemicals that are prohibited under organic certification on its Freestone vineyard in 2013 and on its Green Valley property surrounding the winery in 2016.

The winery has surrendered all of its organic certifications - and it has stopped being organic in its practices.

Here is the list from the company's 2017-2018 Pesticide Use Report of chemicals it sprayed on the 60 acres (*not 70) at Marimar Torres two estate properties:

• Roundup (glyphosate, carcinogen)
• Elevate Fungicide
• Flint Fungicide
• Inspire Fungicide
• Mettle Fungicide
• Viticure Fungicide

None of these is permitted under organic certification.

Furthermore, the story goes on to say that heritage and the next generation is important to Torres. “The legacy of passing it down generations is in the family,” Britton says. “Sustainability speaks to that.”

So why would using genotoxic substances (like Roundup) be a good thing to use? Genotoxic substances affect one's DNA.

In short, this is not a story about sustainability certification complementing an organic vineyard. It is a story about a winery that was formerly organic deciding to use the more toxic agrochemicals and THEN switching to the lower standard on agrochemicals - sustainability.

I fully support sustainability's efforts to reduce inputs and make growers and wineries more efficient but painting a portrait like the one here is misleading and deceptive.

Marimar Torres stopped being organic. Then she decided to be sustainable. Elsewhere she has been quoted as saying consumers don't know the difference.

That is partly true. In the latest surveys of frequent wine drinkers (people who drink at least once a week) published by the Wine Market Council, 43% think sustainable means a wine is made without the use of pesticides in the vineyards. But it is also true that the majority - 57% - do not think that.

(I will be publishing some of the results of that survey here).

Would You Trust This Label?

Sonoma Farm Bureau President Steve Dutton: Using CSWA Prohibited Substances While Certified Sustainable

The Sonoma Sustainability Program is based on the Wine Institute's CSWA program. Under the CSWA's guidelines, vineyards may not use a list of prohibited chemicals on what it calls the red list.

Mancozeb is one of the red list chemicals.

Here is what the CSWA says: "Vineyards that are Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE) may not use Red List materials by their second year of certification."

Dutton Estate Winery's sustainability page declares that the winery is "an active participant in the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) and has been certified since 2016." Dutton displays CSWA certified signs around the vineyard.

His winery's name is also listed on the CSWA roster of certified sustainable wineries.

But according to his Pesticide Use Report, submitted to the county ag commissioner and the state of California, he applied the prohibited chemical Mancozeb.

Steve Dutton continued to use Mancozeb in 2017 and in 2018.

Three emails were sent to the CSWA by me (back in March before I was to give a talk in Sebastopol to nearby residents) and more by others in his community raising concerns about his use of Mancozeb. No emails from CSWA indicated any course of action regarding Dutton's use of this chemical (which most wineries no longer use). Perhaps Dutton was unaware of the prohibitions, but what kind of certification program allows that to happen?

Dutton Estate Winery announced that it will be labeling its wines with the Certified Sustainable logo beginning with the 2017 vintage.

So, what's in the bottle?

Related articles
Sustainability: Sonoma Growers Push Back on Transparency, Forge Ahead in PR

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

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

Thursday, August 16, 2018

300,000 Page Views - And Counting...

I just noticed that this blog hit 300,000 page views today...THANK YOU!

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What a Decade of Organic Farming on Great Terroir Can Do: Oakville Ranch Hits Its Stride (and Debuts a New Reserve Wine)

In 2007, Sonoma's organic rock star vineyard expert Phil Coturri was not of a mind to work in Napa. He'd turned down many who had asked. Coturri was already busy with clients. (Today he says he has 150 employees). But the red dirt of Mary Miner's Oakville Ranch, just north of Atlas Peak, reminded him of the vineyard he grew up on - Monte Rosso. And it is known as one of the premiere grape growing spots in all of Napa. So how could he refuse?

Phil Coturri, vineyard manager
Today, 11 years since he arrived, the vineyard is better than ever, and with winemaker Jennifer Rue, who's been involved with the property even longer than Coturri, and general manager Shelia Gentry as the guiding force, Oakville Ranch's wines are reaching new heights.

A few years back, Decanter called the tiny winery (which makes just 750 cases a year) "a sleeper among superstars" and that pretty much describes the winery today.

It's one of those places that you would never find on your own. Unlike Harlan, it's not impossible to go there. You can just call and make an appointment. Unlike luxury brands that charge $150+ to visit, the tour and tasting fee is $45 (refunded with purchase of wine). And unlike many under the radar wineries, its wines have been recognized by Decanter and other top tier wine publications with high scores.

The winery has a wine club offering the limited release wines. Those who come to taste (or buy) usually know someone else who's visited. But only on a weekday, since that's the only time it's open for by appointment visits. All "advertising" is word of mouth.

The rocky, red volcanic soils of Oakville Ranch
This gem in the hills above Oakville, adjacent to Atlas Peak, mostly grows grapes for more than 10 other wineries, some of which are sold as single vineyard designates. The winery retains about 15 percent of the grapes for its own brand.

Oakville Ranch was started in 1989 by Bob Miner,  the co-founder (with Larry Ellison and Ed Oates) of tech giant Oracle. Miner wrote the code for the foundation of Oracle's relational database management system. (In the late 90's, the company was the second largest tech firm in the world, just behind Microsoft; today it is valued at $28 billion.)

Bob and his wife Mary bought the property as a weekend getaway as well as a tennis court. They liked the wine aspect, but it was also a social gathering spot and a place where Bob could play tennis.

The property had been a place for raising grapes even before Prohibition.

The wine brand is part of his legacy in Napa. There are others. The SF Jazz Center's auditorium is named the Robert N. Miner Auditorium. And his family continues to support many philanthropic projects from environmental causes to the arts and beyond.

Entering the hidden valley of Oakville Ranch
When the Miners purchased the property in 1989, the vineyard was farmed conventionally. Tragically in 1994, Miner died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 52, leaving Mary Miner, his British born wife, to continue onward on the estate. A resident of San Francisco, she visits on weekends. (Miner Family Vineyards, on Silverado Trail, belongs to her nephew, to whom she sold the winery she and Bob used to own).

Bob Miner enjoyed field blend wines, so the vineyard has a 1.5 acre block of head trained Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, and he loved Cabernet Franc. Hence, the winery makes a highly regarded one called Robert's.

The steep chapparral hillsides around the vineyards remind one of Atlas Peak, and indeed, that appellation is just a bit south of Oakville Ranch, which is classified as being within the Oakville appellation. (Miner petitioned to become part of Oakville as it was not originally within the boundaries.) The red volcanic dirt up here at 1,100 feet of elevation is related to, but distinct from, the soils below, home to Screaming Eagle and Rudd Oakville Estate.

In 2005, the estate was replanted and subsequently (several years later) converted to organic farming. Today there are 66 planted acres on the 330 acre property.

Oakville Ranch's fruit is world class. "It's a real privilege to be able to grow grapes of this caliber," says Coturri. "We've produced 100 point wines from this vineyard. These grapes are on par with Screaming Eagle and Dalla Valle."

Winemaker Jennifer Rue has seen the changes in the vineyards since Coturri and his year round crew arrived. "One year, I came around the bend into the vineyard and I just burst into tears when I saw how much life had returned to the land," she said.  "It is so beautiful."
This week...veraison
The winery sits in a bowl, a hidden valley, at the top of two different watersheds - the Rector Reservoir and the Napa River. Coturri is proud that the water that drains from the land is free from pesticides. He estimates the winery has saved 40-60% of the water it used to use for irrigation with the installaition of double irrigation tubes, which enable him to do more precise irrigating. Misters are coming soon which will further decrease water use.

In the beginning of his tenure, he implemented a lot of major vineyard improvement projects. The Chardonnay vines moved from one site to another block. Other vine rows were rearranged. Now, Coturri's excited to enjoy the fruits of these labors. "At this point, we've hit a certain rhythm here that the development projects are done," he said. "Now we can celebrate the vines as they get older."

Coturri has 11 winemakers to work with, who all source fruit from the vineyard. "Each of them has a different idea of what ripeness is," he says. Winemakers and labels include Rosemary Cakebread, Helen Keplinger, Mark Herold, Thomas River Brown, Andy Erickson (Favia), Dalla Valle, Memento Mori, Dakota Shy, and Philippe Melka. "There's a lot of different stylistic approaches," Coturri says. Each winemaker decides when it's time to pick. 

Once a year, the winemakers all get together to taste the different interpretations of Oakville Ranch grapes.

Oakville Ranch's own winemaker Jennifer Rue, now on her 20th vintage, has been intimately acquainted with the property since 1996. 

During a writers' group tour and luncheon yesterday, Rue and Gentry led a tasting of the 2017 Chardonnay ($55) and the 2015 Field Blend ($55), a blend of co-fermented Zinfandel and Petite Sirah and one of my perennial favorites. It's a quintessentially Californian wine that pays homage to Napa's past. Elegant and distinctive, this "field blend" is definitely in a league of its own, but still retains a lovely peppery note on the finish. The Chardonnay was crisp and pure, barrel fermented and aged in French oak (50% new).

Robert's Cabernet Franc is among Oakville Ranch's finest selections and one the winery is known for, and not just because Napa Cab Francs are not that common. With 100% Cab Franc (aged in 80% new oak), this is a precise, translucent expression of this prima donna varietal (65 cases made, $110).

Cabernet Sauvignon is the heart and soul of Oakville Ranch, and the winery's own Cab, sourced from the 6+ different vineyard blocks of the varietal, is outstanding with blackberries and blue fruits. The tasting included both the 2014 (270 cases made, $98) and the 2015 (as yet unreleased). The 2014 is blended with Cabernet Franc (15%) and spends 12 days on the skins, before resting for two years in French oak puncheons (75% new). (For people who care about points, the 2014 got a 90-93 point rating from Galloni.)

What's new this year is a Bordeaux Blend reserve wine ($190, 100 cases), a breathtakingly big leap forward. An unusual blend - Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc - this wine is sumptuous and beautifully layered.

A tour and tasting includes a ride through the vineyard on an electric cart, a stop along the way at a vista point (with a view of the entire Napa Valley), and a tasting of wines in the garden, overlooking the pool and the valley. 

The winery is only open on weekdays (by appointment only) and for small groups. 

Oakville Ranch offers a personal, intimate experience at a great Napa estate, something rare and precious. I will admit that when I'm asked by friends where to go in Napa, I often recommend Oakville Ranch. Whether you're a beginner in wine, on your first trip to Napa, or a collector, who thinks he/she "knows" Napa, Oakville Ranch has much to offer. 

Where to find the wines on restaurant wine lists: Cole's Chop House and Rutherford Grill 
To buy: You can also find the wine for sale in Yountville on the shelves of Ranch Market as well as direct from the winery (online or in person).  

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Biodynamic Association's 2018 Conference in Portland Will Feature Biodynamic Vintners and Wines

The Biodynamic Association is coming to Portland in November for its biennial conference, and since the largest Biodynamic producers in Oregon are wineries, many events are planned.


Nadine Basile, the farm and vineyard manager for Soter's Mineral Springs Ranch in Carlton, is one of three speakers scheduled to speak during the keynote address, Biodynamics in Practice: Stories of Regeneration.

Other Biodynamic wine speakers include:

• Joseph Brinkley, Director of Vineyard Operations, Bonterra
• Elizabeth Candelario, President, Demeter USA
• Katherine Cole, author of Voodoo Vintners
• Nicolette Dicova, natural wine writer
• Ted Lemon, vintner, Littorai
• Kristin and Rudy Marchesi, proprietors, Montinore Estate
• Moe Momtazi, proprietor, Maysara and Momtazi Vvineyard
• Dan Rinke, winemaker, Johan Vineyards

Pre-conference excursions and workshops will take place on Wednesday and Thursday:
• Nov. 14: Field Day at Mineral Springs and Momtazi vineyards ($130)
• Nov. 15: Biodynamic Winemaking at Montinore Estate ($130)

The regular conference programs are $260; meals are an additional $300.

For a list of the complete conference schedule, click here.

In Video: Glyphosate Trial Coverage

I am not a regular Democracy Now viewer, but so far, they've had the best and most in depth coverage of any TV network on the Monsanto trial.

 The coverage of this story begins at 10:42 in the video below:


Monday, August 13, 2018

Roundup Trial: GoFundMe Site for Dewayne Johnson Family with $50,000 Goal - Only $1,000 Raised So Far

Contesting the verdict in the Roundup trial that concluded Friday, Monsanto has announced it will file an appeal against the jury's award of $289 million to Dewayne Johnson, whose terminal cancer was found to be caused in part by using glyphosate.

Johnson and his family will not receive any of the funds awarded until a panel of appellate court judges hears Monsanto's grounds for appealing the verdict, reviews the transcripts and goes over the jury's findings. His lawyers have said they will ask for an expedited hearing, but the timing is at the discretion of the court. It could take quite awhile. No dates have, as yet, been set.

In the meantime, Mrs. Johnson continues to work two jobs while Mr. Johnson receives additional chemotherapy.

Joan Shields of Baldwin, New York has started a GoFundMe site to help the family raise $50,000 in the interim.

People who wish to make a contribution to the Johnson family can visit the GoFundMe site here.

Bayer (Monsanto) Stock Falls 10%; Europeans Resume Fight to Ban Glyphosate

Bayer recently purchased Monsanto for $66 billion, but the parent company has just lost $14 billion in its own stock price today.

According to the Washington Post, one analyst says that Bayer must have factored Monsanto's reputation risk in to the transaction, but no one knows how accurate its estimates may have been.

In a Bloomberg op-ed piece, Chris Hughes says stakeholders were right to be wary of Bayer's interest in Monsanto. Hughes says glyphosate accounts now for roughly 2 percent of Bayer's sales. "While Monsanto's former shareholders are completely off the hook, their Bayer counterparts look uncomfortably exposed," he wrote.

Quoted in Reuters, an analyst for Barclays said Bayer was in for a "litigious headache." Berenberg analyst Alistair Campbell (also quoted in Reuters) said the court cases could cost Bayer $5 billion (based on the company's liabilities over previous product liability cases (Vioxx and Baycol).

However the Johnson judgment of $289 million - with 4,000 to 10,000 more cases pending - is a drop in the bucket and the amount could be much higher.

Monsanto's new owner Bayer saw a 11% dip in its stock price.

Read about Europe's reaction to the Johnson trial in Politico here.

Monsanto Roundup Trial: An Appreciation for the Attorneys, Jurors and the Scientists + A Look of What's Next

We owe a huge thanks to all of those who made Johnson's case possible and successful. It takes a huge financial risk on the part of legal firms to prove product liability cases and it can take years for these cases to pay off.

Speaking a year ago, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. told an audience in Sonoma just how big a risk these glyphosate cases seemed before the discovery phase. But now it's starting to look like the good guys are winning.

A big shout out to Johnson's legal team for the common sense way in which they showed jurors the science behind IARC's cancer risk ruling - using three pillars of cancer risk assessment (shown here in the slides) - and for finding the incriminating internal Monsanto documents (in the discovery phase) that showed that Monsanto knew all along that its product was unsafe.

Pedram Esfandiary, associate attorney at Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman who worked on Johnson's case, said the jury should be commended for their work.

"They were incredible," he said. "Many of them took copious notes during the trial. One juror even filled five notebooks. And their questions were very intelligent ones. They were well informed and impartial."

The jurors ruled unanimously in Johnson's favor, a unanimous verdict was not required. The verdict required 9 out of 12 jurors to find in the plaintiff's favor.

German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt who
surprised colleagues by voting for glyphosate's renewal in
the EU ( art)
Today the German based giant Bayer (which just acquired Monsanto) saw its stock price drop more than 10%, an economic signal heard around the world. Even though German ag minister Christian Schmidt went rogue (against the wishes of his government) and surprised everyone, voting to extend glyphosate's license renewal in the EU, Bayer could not stop a Benicia school groundskeeper's trial from taking down their stock value.

In many ways, science is the real hero in all of this, and thanks is owed to the scientists whose work in toxicology, animal studies, epidemiology, and genotoxicity enabled IARC and others to come to the conclusion that glyphosate - as well as glyphosate-based formulations - can cause cancer.

The chemical ingredient glyphosate and the formulated products that contain it are now also setting legal precedents as society comes to grips with what science has been revealing. (And what Monsanto internally knew all along).

And most of all, plaintiff Dewayne Johnson is the central hero in this story. His suffering has taken a major corporation to task and overnight, stock markets and investors have sent a signal to Monsanto's new owner, Bayer, that this type of liability will not be tolerated. It stock price declined more than $11 billion in one day.


Science formed a lot of the basis for this case but no journalists have yet told the story of what the science in the case says.

Video is not available of the entire proceedings, but transcripts are and in these the scientists speak on the record.

The closing arguments for both sides offer a succinct summary of the arguments for and against Johnson, and a brief summary of some of the science, but not an in-depth scientific background.

To understand more about the science, videos of the entire "Science Week" proceedings held earlier in federal district court are available online here. In these videos, scientists take the stand and present lots of slides showing evidence.

Among the many scientists studied and published their data and conclusions should not go unmentioned. While science may at times feel obscure, there were landmark studies in this case that built one upon another. The deRoos epidemiology study was one of the critical ones. Bad science - like the Andreotti study - was found faulty by the jurors.

Some of the case's biggest champions were former federal health officials like Chris Portier. Portier has been the butt of Monsanto's bullying efforts, and they have tried repeatedly to discredit him.

In fact, in the trial's closing arguments, Monsanto's attorney once again alleged that Portier stood alone. In Brent Wisner's rebuttal (for Johnson), Wisner showed the international consensus that 100 other scientists agreed with Portier. As more evidence is presented, their numbers are growing.

In March,  Monsanto brought in the best talent money can buy to the federal hearings and tried to confuse the judge (which their attorneys partially succeeded in doing) by having their scientific experts pick apart minutia in the plaintiffs' experts' testimony. They used the same technique in the Johnson case - but to no avail. In fact, in his rebuttal in the closing arguments, Johnson's attorney Brent Wisner made their minutia strategy a focus, showing that while IARC's experts considered the totality of the evidence, Monsanto's experts did not.

Monsanto likes to point out that 800 studies have found no evidence of carcinogenicity. They do not quote the number of studies that have found evidence of carcinogenicity. The latest research from London and Italy is not reassuring about glyphosate's safety nor that of products that contain glyphosate in conjunction with other toxic ingredients:
"Studies comparing the toxicity of commercial weed-killer formulations to that of glyphosate alone have shown that several formulations are up to 1,000 times more toxic than glyphosate on human cells. We believe that the adjuvants are responsible for this additional toxic effect," says Dr. Mesnage in Science Daily.
In addition, the latest evidence from Dr. Mesnage's studies suggests, like other studies, that glyphosate alone is far more toxic at extremely low levels of exposure than was previously thought, causing fatty liver disease at tiny concentrations (akin to those found in tapwater). I was not aware of fatty liver disease, until I talked to HRI Labs director Larry Bohlen (his company runs tests for people who wish to know how much glyphosate is in their bodied) who said scientists are concerned that the spread of fatty liver disease is growing exponentially.

A recent report estimates the number of cases in the U.S. will grow 21% from 83 million in 2015 to 2030 to 100 million people in the U.S. (While this is mainly based on obesity as a risk factor, the data from Mesnage suggests there may be an acceleration of fatty liver disease due to exposure to glyphosate in water sources).

Scientists have petitioned governments to reconsider the legally allowable limits of glyphosate in place today. We are at a tipping point in terms of glyphosate and public health.

As I heard Dr. Blair state in his testimony in the federal hearings, there is a big difference between regulatory agencies (EPA, EFSA) which are subject to political influence, and purely scientific bodies, like IARC, which are independent. U.S. government has not been as quick to act as counterparts in Europe. And according to Portier, EFSA did not even follow its own guidelines when conducting its recent assessments about glyphosate safety.


In watching the closing arguments of Johnson's trial online (on Courtroom View Network; available for $99/month), what was surprising to me was how weak Monsanto's closing arguments were.

Monsanto's attorney suggested that Johnson could be cured through emerging stem cell treatment. The attorney also suggested that genetics alone could be responsible for his disease. Johnson's Stanford physicians never recommended this treatment. And Monsanto never responded to Johnson's repeated communications with medical advise about his diagnosis and condition earlier than the trial.

Add caption
Monsanto accused IARC of not looking at all the data, failing to mention that IARC, by policy, only views studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, meaning (ostensibly) that the data has been verified or vetted by peers. Monsanto pressured IARC's experts on this point, making it appear that IARC wanted to suppress data (data which was unpublished at the time of IARC's assessment).

In truth, Monsanto did not really have much of a case. After all, the most damning evidence of the company's knowledge of Roundup's carcinogenicity came from the company itself. (No one had to rely upon the EPA's original 1985 assessment that found it to be a carcinogen). And the jurors - by voting unanimously against Monsanto - saw that.

If you'd like to get the more of the background story on Monsanto's history of suppressing science on glyphosate, and its internal knowledge of the herbicide's toxicity, look to Carey Gillam's detailed book Whitewash: The Story of a Weedkiller, Cancer and the Corruption of Science, which last week won the Society of Environmental Journalists' (SEJ) top book award. It's a fascinating detective story that methodically shows the evidence that Monsanto manipulated regulatory agencies and science journals as well as the public reputation of those who opposed the use of the herbicide.

As SEJ's book editor, Tom Henry put it, the book is "a gutsy, compelling read from beginning to end, especially for those readers who enjoy...hard-nosed, shoe-leather reporting..."

The book is also available as an audiobook on


Dewayne Johnson at work at the Benicia School
District, wearing only a permeable
Tyvek suit
This case is only the beginning. There are 4,000-10,000 more cases already pending.

Many are expected to take place in St. Louis, the site of Monsanto's headquarters, where the laws allow the plaintiffs to call company employees to testify. (Currently state laws prohibited lawyers from calling Missouri residents to cases in California).

According to Gillam's latest op-ed in the Guardian, "the team of plaintiffs' attorneys leading the litigation say they so far have brought to light only a fraction of evidence collected from Monsanto's internal files and plan to reveal much more in future trials."

Esfandiary says that his firm is representing both residential users and people who used glyphosate in their work. Surprisingly, most of his firm's clients are long term residential users. "Many have been using Roundup regularly for 10 to 20 years," he said.

One agricultural worker who has filed a suit is a retired farmer in Kern County. "He used a lot of Roundup on alfalfa and other crops," Esfandiary said.

Notably, one case is from Napa, where a woman who worked in vineyards has filed a suit alleging she got non-Hodgkin lymphoma from using the herbicide.

Vintage Roundup Commercials from the 1990's

A historical look at how Monsanto promoted Roundup as these two Western-themed ads from the 1990's...

Dr. Cecil Sharp of the San Diego Zoo was widely criticized for appearing in the 1997 commercial.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Mendocino Wine Competition: Top Organic Winners

Judges at the Mendocino Wine Competition
From left to right, Dan Berger, Deborah Parker Wong, Ellen Scott
Landis and Mike Dunne

Congratulations to two of the organically grown winning wines in the Mendocino Wine Competition held this weekend in Anderson Valley.
McFadden Farms, a perennial winner for its Brut (which doesn't appear on the list of entries) for winning Best of Class and Double Gold for its 2016 Blue Quail Chardonnay ($16).

And a shout out to Barra for also winning Best of Class and Double Gold for its 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ($20).

See the full list of winners here.

Winery brands that are fully organically grown are Barra, Bock, Bonterra, Frey, Girasole, and Powicana.

Others that produce some organically grown wines are Campovida (Dark Horse Vineyard single vineyard designate), Dane Cellars (Dharma Vineyard), Dashe (Heart Arrow Ranch vineyard designate), Handley (Estate and RSM), and Naughty Boy (estate only).

Friday, August 10, 2018

This Just In: Jurors Order Monsanto to Pay $289 Million in Roundup Case

Here is the press release from Dewayne Johnson's attorneys:

August 10, 2018 San Francisco, California - - A San Francisco jury returned a verdict today in the case of a former groundskeeper with terminal cancer against Monsanto Company, ordering the agrochemical giant to pay $39.2 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages for failing to warn consumers that exposure to Roundup weed killer causes cancer.

 Dewayne “Lee” Johnson filed the lawsuit (case no. CGC-16-550128) against St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. on Jan. 28, 2016, alleging exposure to the Roundup herbicide he sprayed while working as a groundskeeper for the Benicia Unified School District caused him to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

 On June 18, 2018, his case was assigned to Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos for the Superior Court of San Francisco, California. Johnson’s case was the first of its kind to proceed to trial due to his terminal diagnosis.

After 8 weeks of trial proceedings, the jury found unanimously that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup weed killer caused Mr. Johnson to develop NHL, and that Monsanto failed to warn of this severe health hazard. Importantly, the jury also found that Monsanto acted with malice, oppression or fraud and should be punished for its conduct.

Monsanto Co. continues to refuse to warn consumers of the dangers of its multi-billion-dollar product Roundup despite the world’s foremost authority on cancer—the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)—listing glyphosate as a probable carcinogen in 2015.

Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman Attorney Brent Wisner Comments on Verdict Lee Johnson is one of more than 4,000 people from across the country to file suit against Monsanto in state and federal courts based on allegations linking Roundup to cancer. He was represented at trial by Brent Wisner of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei and Goldman, David Dickens of the Miller Firm and Mark Burton of Audet & Partners LLP. Co-lead trial counsel Brent Wisner said today’s verdict was a result of newly-revealed, confidential company documents.

"We were finally able to show the jury the secret, internal Monsanto documents proving that Monsanto has known for decades that glyphosate and specifically Roundup could cause cancer. Despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to require labeling, we are proud that an independent jury followed the evidence and used its voice to send a message to Monsanto that its years of deception regarding Roundup is over and that they should put consumer safety first over profits."

Damaging Evidence Presented in Johnson Trial Could Hurt Monsanto in Future Roundup Cancer Litigation 

For years Monsanto has claimed that there is no evidence that Roundup causes cancer, yet a mountain of testimony and documents was admitted during the trial.

Johnson’s attorneys proved through testimony from Monsanto’s witnesses that company employees “ghostwrote” scientific articles and paid outside scientists to publish the articles in their name. Internal documents revealed that a scientific advisor hired by Monsanto told the company that past testing for Roundup was insufficient because glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, was tested in isolation without the other chemical ingredients that make up the Roundup formulation.

 "Many of these confidential Monsanto documents were unsealed for the first time,” said co-lead counsel David Dickens. “They show that Monsanto knew that its testing was insufficient and that there was a synergistic effect when glyphosate is combined with surfactants which help the glyphosate penetrate both plant and animal cell walls.”

 In other now-public documents, Monsanto employees reacted to California EPA’s listing of glyphosate as a carcinogen by calling Californians “liberals and morons,” overwhelming Monsanto like a “zombie movie” that they had to take out one at a time starting with the 2016 presidential election.

Jury Heard Heart-Wrenching Testimony from the Johnson Family on the Effects of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Caused by Roundup Exposure 

In addition to hearing from expert witnesses, the jury listened to heart-wrenching testimony from Lee Johnson and his wife, Araceli. Araceli recalled for the jury the many sleepless nights Lee spent crying in bed when his children were not around.

“He tried to hide it, and I think he tried to show that he was strong,” she said. “He tried to be positive; he wanted to be…for us and the kids.”

 After her husband began chemotherapy, Araceli took a second job working 14-hour days to help pay the family’s rising medical bills while still driving her two sons an extra 45 minutes to Napa Valley School District in hopes of providing them better educational opportunities.

When Lee took the stand, he told the jury how scared and confused he was after receiving the news that he had cancer. He also described the times he contacted Monsanto to see if the skin lesions he developed were related to his use of Roundup. When he did not hear back from the company, he continued to use the herbicide. Most notably, Johnson testified that he would never have used Roundup if he had known of the dangers, and accused Monsanto of concealing Roundup’s safety risks to continue profiting from its billion-dollar herbicide.

“I never would’ve sprayed that product on school grounds or around people if I knew it would cause them harm,” Johnson said during emotional testimony. “It’s unethical. It’s wrong. People don’t deserve that.”

The case is Dewayne Johnson v. Monsanto Company.

A team of lawyers from three law firms represented Mr. Johnson in this trial: The Miller Firm, LLC of Orange, Virginia, Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, P.C. of Los Angeles and Audet & Partners LLP of San Francisco. These firms represent thousands of Roundup cancer plaintiffs across the nation. The firms are nationally known and handle complex product liability cases, among others, and hold leadership positions in the federal and California state Monsanto Roundup litigation. Monsanto faces more than 4,000 Roundup cancer cases nationwide and that number is growing.

The next Roundup cancer trial against Monsanto is also a state case and is scheduled to occur in October in St. Louis, Missouri. Now that the judge in the federal multi-district litigation (based in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco), has accepted several of the plaintiffs’ experts to testify, trial dates for the federal bellwether cases should be announced in the next couple of months.

Press Conference: Mr. Johnson’s attorneys will hold a press conference with Mr. Johnson at 5:30 pm


Thursday, August 9, 2018

Biodynamic Food: The Beginning of the Next Food Revolution

Faced with the increasing commoditization of organic (Costco, Walmart, et al all now have it) and the enhanced flavors of Biodynamically farmed foods natural foods retailers and producers are upping their game by going Biodynamic.

On Earth Day this year, Whole Foods sent out a promotional flyer on Biodynamic products to its entire customer email list. Here's how the giant retailer explains the farming behind these products.

(You will also see an increasing number of new certifications in the marketplace for regenerative organic agriculture.)

It was Whole Foods' tremendous growth - aided by organics (in an era when organic food was not as available) - that drove other supermarket chains to emulate them. The explosive growth of Whole Foods, natural food stores and grocery sales of organic now underlies the $45.2 billion organic food sector, which grew 6.4 percent in 2017.

The fact that there is a newly emerging Biodynamic food was a big part of Demeter USA President Elizabeth Candelario's message to attendees of the first International Biodynamic Wine Conference in May.

What does the coming Biodynamic food wave mean for Biodynamic wine in the U.S.?

No one can answer that question today since enthusiasm for organic food has, so far, been only a limited factor influencing the sales of organically grown wines.

But there are signs in the marketplace that this is changing, thanks to Millenials. (I've been researching the organic and Biodynamic wine marketplace trends for a new article I'm writing for Beverage Media right now.) Wineries are seeing double digit sales growth in Denver and Austin, for instance, for organically grown wines, driven by Millenials. And Natural Grocers, a nationwide natural foods store chain (akin to Sprouts) is leading a new charge to offer the widest product assortment of organic and BD wines the marketplace has ever seen. (More on that in a future post soon).

According to a recent Organic Trade Association study, Millenial parents are the largest segment of organic (food) shoppers in the U.S.

Take a look at one of the brand new ads from one of the natural foods brands launching Biodynamic products that appeal to this segment, too: White Leaf.


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Monsanto Roundup Trial - Closing Arguments, Slides + Photos

I'm catching up today on the glyphosate case of Johnson versus Monsanto by watching the full video (on a private link; it's available for $99/month on Courtroom View Network) of Tuesday's closing arguments from the trial.

Johnson, formerly a Benicia school district groundskeeper, is seeking $412 million in compensation and punitive damages from Monsanto, alleging that using Roundup caused him to get cancer.

Jurors began their deliberations today after a month in which both sides provided experts in toxicology, cancer and epidemiology. Attorneys for the plaintiff presented a Who's Who of leading scientists and clinicians who've led the fight against Roundup who testified on Johnson's behalf.

Plaintiff Dewayne Johnson who is the first of more than 10,000 lawsuits of
people claiming Monsanto's Roundup gave them cancer
You can get the full flavor of the plaintiff's case here in Johnson's attorney's slides.


You can read all of it in the transcript.

Transcript of closing arguments

Transcripts of the entire proceedings

Here are a few snippets from the slides (below).

The timeline slides along with the photos of plaintiff Dewayne Johnson's cancer's progression were especially telling.

According to attorney Brent  Wisner, Johnson regularly sprayed Ranger Pro (Roundup) for about three hours every other day for his job, releasing about 150 gallons at a time. At times, he was covered with extra heavy doses, when the sprayer malfunctioned.

When his symptoms started to appear, he called Monsanto to ask for medical advice on risks. They did not respond, though documents revealed in court that they were aware of the medical risks. (No warnings on the label).

You can catch a few snippets of these closing arguments in this ABC7 news report.

NBC's coverage includes comments by Zen Honeycutt, of Moms Across America. You can see it here (no embed code available).

Each year the wine industry in California alone uses more than 700,000 pounds of glyphosate on grape vines. Here are maps (from the State Dept. of Health) showing glyphosate usage in Napa  on vineyards alone (47,000+ pounds in 2016) and statewide.

(Note; Napa and Sonoma have the highest childhood cancer rates in the state, although no epidemiological studies have been done to find out the specific links that have led to this situation.)

California classified Roundup as a carcinogen in 2016.

Obviously Johnson's exposures were extreme and not like those of most people who use the chemical in vineyards. But there are 10,000 more cases like his - many of whom were faithful residential users of Roundup - waiting in the wings.

One person from Sonoma county who is involved in vineyards is one of the pending lawsuits.

In Johnson's case, there were so many system failures in his story that led to his (now terminally ill) diagnosis.

Protective Gear

One was the lack of protective gear given him by the Benicia Unified School District. Johnson bought his own, choosing a Tyvek suit that didn't protect against sprays. (It was permeable.)

One wonders if this school district and others are following state laws regarding worker safety.

Many schools have been reconsidering the use of Roundup on school grounds for the issues of children's exposure levels.

The city of Irvine has banned glyphosate from its schools and parks for that reason. There's a new movement afoot to have the chemical banned from all sports fields.

Medical Expertise

The failure of the health care system to protect Johnson is another key ingredient in this story. His own doctors didn't see a link between glyphosate and his symptoms. He does have a rare form of cancer. And the medical establishment doesn't have a protocol for glyphosate based harms that reflects reality.

Johnson also needed to keep working and getting a paycheck to support his family, even as he got sicker, and he obtained a Stanford physician's letter saying he was well enough to work, despite the obvious sores all over his body.

Safety Instructions for Using Roundup

Monsanto was responsible for writing the safety guidelines for using Roundup.

There are still no warnings on the label for Roundup products despite California's attempts to remedy that situation.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Sonoma and Napa Organic Wine Grapes Decline from 2015 to 2016

The number of certified, organically grown wine grapes dwindled in both Napa and Sonoma counties from 2015 to 2016, according to recent crop reports.

Certified organic acreage in Napa dropped from 3,897 acres in 2015 to 3,210 in 2016, a drop of 677 acres or 17.6%. In 2015, Napa's organic acreage accounted for 9 percent of total vineyard acres; by 2016, that figure dropped to 7.4%.

On the other hand, the use of glyphosate used in Napa on wine grapes declined from 2015 to 2016 from 53,808 pounds on 37,566 acres to 47,524 pounds on 32,921 acres, a sign that fewer wineries are using the herbicide, a designated carcinogen in California.

Sonoma, a sometimes hotbed of organic dairy, egg, fruit and vegetable crops, also saw a decline from an already small number of organic wine grape vineyards during the same period. 

In 2015, Sonoma county had 1,578 acres of organic grape vines, which decreased to 1,405 acres in 2016, a decline of 11%. About 2 percent of the wine grape vines in the county are certified organic (in comparison to Napa, where about 7.3 percent are certified organic).

In 2016, Napa wine growers used 65,132 pounds of glyphosate. Sonoma growers used 74,281.

Organic Curious? Rare Napa Organic Vineyard Tour with Ivo Jeramaz from Grgich Hill Estate, August 31

Looking for a special way to see Napa through the eyes of an organic vineyard expert?

It's rare that the vineyard manager of a major Napa winery leads a tour and tasting but book now to attend a special event at Grgich Hills Estate at the end of this month. Only 20 seats are available.

The tour takes visitors to the winery's American Canyon vineyard, one of five that make up Grgich's 365 acres of organic estate vines. Though everything is grown and certified organically grown, Mike Grgich likes to refer to this as "natural farming."

Tickets ($175) include the tour, tastings, and a box brunch. After brunch, the tour concludes with a tour of the cellars.

I've been on a similar tour with Jeramaz in the past and can only say he is one of the best people in Napa to take a tour with. Grgich Hills is by far the largest organic vineyard owner in Napa and is a leader in sharing knowledge widely with the grower community at large. (Ivo gave one of the best lectures at the 2016 Napa Organic Winegrowers conference, an event sponsored by the Napa Valley Grapegrowers).

Here's Ivo talking about the winery's organic vineyards and why they choose to farm this way.

The tour is a great way to see and experience what makes an organic vineyard special and to get all your questions about this way of farming answered by an friendly, approachable expert.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Made with Organic Grapes: Top 10 Bestselling Wines - Korbel's Organic Brut (#8)

Korbel's Organic Brut (the only wine it makes from organic grapes) is at the #7 spot in the Top 10 list of wines that in the "Made with Organic Grapes" category.

This is the third (and final) sparkling wine on the countdown so far, coming out ahead of Italian Prosecco's Bellissima and Tiamo.

Believe it or not, this is a $14 wine that made it onto the Wine Spectator's 2016 Top 100 Wines List.

Korbel Champagne Cellars recently changed from offering this wine as a nonvintage sparkler to a vintage sparkler beginning in 2016 and has nearly tripled case production since the brand was launched in 2009. In 2010, case production was 12,000; today it's 34,000. The organically grown wine is made in the winery's certified organic winery in Guerneville, its historic headquarters.

(Overall case production at Korbel is 1.5 million.)

Like many of the most popularly priced sparkling wines on the list (Bellissima and Tiamo - Prosecco's from the glera grape), Korbel's Brut comes from grapes not usually associated with Champagne - in this case, French Colombard (a heavy bearing Central Valley staple) and Sangiovese with some Chardonnay in the blend. (Champagne from Champagne is made from Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir.) But unlike those, this wine is made via the traditional method. (The Prosecco's are not).

The wine's appellation is listed at California, which means that a minimum of 75% of the grapes came from the Golden State.

The Korbel took Best of Class in the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for this wine, its one and only organically grown product.

Hear what PRESS Napa Valley Somm Amanda McCrossin has to say about it in a recent video on her SommVivant channel:

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Made with Organic Grapes: Top 10 Bestselling Wines - Bellissima (#9), A Christie Brinkley Wine

Number 9 on the list of bestselling wines in the "Made with Organic Grapes" category is Bellissima, organic Prosecco and sparkling wines from Italy.

Just like movie stars Brad and Angelina, supermodel Christie Brinkley has a wine brand - only hers is organically grown. And has bubbles. Bellissima comes in three types: regular ($20), rosé ($21) or zero sugar ($24), which is for diabetics or people who are on a diet, Brinkley says.

Those price points are well above those of Tiamo Prosecco (which sells for $15.99 on Since both are organic, I guess you pay more for the model. Perhaps having Botticelli's Venus on the label is worth more than Tiamo's sunflower.

Launched in 2016, Brinkley, now in her early 60's, is the face of Bellissima, and a tireless promoter she is, appearing on CBS, at the wine's launch in Vegas, and at many other venues to drive home the marketing messages.

In an interview in the Dallas Morning News, where Brinkley was in town to appear with the wine at local supermarkets, she is quoted as saying, "When I first started drinking wine, I wondered why there weren't more organic wines out there."

Here she is with Jane Pauley on the CBS TV magazine show Sunday Morning: 

The brand's web site is definitely aimed at a female audience and its Instagram feed is plenty active.

In rolling out the brand to Publix supermarket chain's 1,150 stores in 2017, Iconic Brands predicted Bellissima would hit 100,000 case production, based in part on prominently promoting the Zero, which is the only organically grown wine competing in the low-cal wine space pioneered by Skinnygirl (which now has a $15 Prosecco) and Skinny Vine ($11). 

(The Skinnies are not really that much lower in calories than other sparkling wines).

Skinnygirl was started by reality TV star Bethenny Frankel while she was on the show Real Housewives of New York City in 2009. Frankel sold the liquor licensing rights to Beam in 2012 for $8 million. (Frankel has famously retained the brand name for all of her other product lines). She originally started with Skinny Girl margaritas and later expanded into wines. 
Skinnygirl founder Bethenny Frankel
In 2013, Treasury Wine Estate launched The Skinny Vine, which is endorsed by Christine Avanti, author of Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food.

It's worth watching this space to see what supermodel influence like Brinkley's can do to move the needle for a brand and how closely "Made with Organic Grape" wines can move with the broader wine trends.

Made with Organic Grapes: Top 10 Bestselling Wines - Tiamo (#10)

I've been checking out some of the data on the top selling wine brands at retailers in selected states to see what wines in the "Made with Organic Grapes" category are getting scooped up by buyers.

In general, the Made with category trend setters reflect the broader trends in wine overall - more sparkling wines, more rosé, and a few debuting lighter reds (lighter than Cabernet) are coming on strong, as well as fruit flavored beverages.

I'll be counting down this list starting with #10 on the "Made with" List (we'll look at the Organic Wine category separately, since they are a different category both in wine quality and consumer focus). The Made with category outsells the no added sulfite Organic Wines 3:1.

With the exception of one producer, all of the wines are table wines priced under $15.

Most of the wine comes from the U.S. but five international producers have also been successful in this end of the U.S. market. One is from Chilé, two are from Argentina and three are from Italy.

Wines #8, #9 and #10 all feature sparkling wines including two offering Proseccos. (None of the top 7 do).

This list is by no means inclusive of all the great fine wines that grace some retailers shelves, but a list from the mass market.

#10 Tiamo - Still, Sparkling, or Canned?

Tiamo's wines come from a wide variety of wine growing regions in Italy and are tuned in to modern tastes offering both still, sparkling and canned wines.

The label is most famous for Prosecco, but it also has a full line of still wines - a Barbera IGT from Lombardy, Chianti DOCG from Tuscany, and Pinot Gris from the Veneto and a Rosé IGT from the Abruzzo.

They're better known for sparkling wines, making a popular Prosecco DOC from the Veneto.

In 2017, Tiamo launched canned wines, including red, white and rosé, which they're marketing as the perfect beach or picnic wine. Have a look:

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Team at Rudd Oakville Estate Ups Its Game: Organic Vines, Stunning Wines

Thousands and thousands of sunflowers line the road, summer's golden glory on display. Beside them, sheep graze (year round), amidst vast green swirls of sorghum. A very big American flag on a tall pole waves in the breeze. Could this really be Napa? Oakville?

Right there in plain view lies one of the valley's treasures, created by a successful and magnanimous man who had a vision, an empire and a long term view.

It was Leslie Rudd's dream - from the start - to have a multigenerational family winery. A trip to Haut Brion at age 21 inspired him to think in generational terms. With his death in May of this year (from esophageal cancer), his dream has become a reality as his daughter Samantha Rudd, 30, and the mother of a new baby (named Rudd), now takes over the reigns of the family's Oakville estate winery (purchased by Rudd in 1996).

Leslie Rudd, a successful businessman, got into the distribution business at an early age in Wichita, where he expanded from his family's business into regions far beyond Kansas. Over the course of his lifetime, he bought and sold food and wine companies, creating an empire.

His businesses included the upscale grocer Dean & DeLuca, the 30 brand wine company Vintage Wine Estates, a kosher winery (Covenant Winery, which he kickstarted), and other ventures.

Rudd originally purchased the property that became Rudd Oakville Esate in 1996 when it was called the Girard Winery (a brand Vintage Wine Estates has recently relaunched).

Dedicated to preserving Napa's history, he also restored Edge Hill, (video), planting a new vineyard there with a field blend of varietals from the past, restored and reopened Oakville Grocery, and launched PRESS Napa Valley restaurant, an eatery with a wine list emphasizing glorious, older vintages of Napa Valley wines.

He was unique, even among Napa Valley's business community, in his passion for the past.

He also funded he Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone and his own Rudd Foundation, providing scholarships in Kansas, support for Jewish charities, and the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at UConn.

When he became ill two years ago, he officially passed the baton to his daughter Samantha.


A new direction had already begun by then, with the decision, in 2011 to move toward organic farming and certification and new staff. In 2013 Rudd hired a new Bordeaux trained winemaker - Frederick Ammons - and a year later a new vineyard manager - Macy Stubstad, who graduated from Cornell in viticulture. (She is also one of the organizers of the Organic Winegrowing Conference put on by the Napa Valley Grapegrowers).  The vineyard was converted starting in 2015 and then completed certification in 2018 in Oakville and 2017 on Mount Veeder.

The winery ended its contracts with outside vineyard management companies and started farming solely with an in house crew of 15 that is employed year round (health care and other benefits are included). Stubstad teaches pruning to the crew. "How we prune is the most important stage of the year," she said.

"By integrating the farming, we went from being an estate vineyard - farmed by a vineyard management company - to being an estate winery," said Ammons.

"The wines have only gotten better...We can pick earlier, and there is better balance between sugar/acid ripeness and phenolic ripeness," he continued. "The vines are more balanced...The wines are fresher, with a little bit lower alcohol."

On top of that, there was the organic direction. "Going organic was a no brainer and quite easy," he said.

The team's collaborations are starting to bear fruit in the current releases from the 2014 vintages (and future vintages as well).


Rudd Oakville Estate has 47 acres of planted vines (at the intersection of the Oakville Cross Road and Silverado Trail, on a 55 acre parcel). This part of Oakville could be described as the Beverly Hills of Napa vineyards. Rudd's neighbors are Plumpjack, Dalla Valle, Bond St. Eden and Screaming Eagle. 

Purchased in 1998, Rudd's Mount Veeder estate consists of 17 acres of vines plus Rudd Farm. White and red Bordeaux grapes are planted here. The vegetables go to PRESS Napa Valley, a Rudd restaurant next to Dean and Deluca in St. Helena.

The decision to not only farm the vineyard organically but also become certified was made, according to Ammons, "to show that the winery is really doing it."

The two sites give Ammons a big toolbox to play with, along with new winemaking tools he brought into the winery.

Vine age is also contributing to wine quality, as most of the Oakville vines are now 20-21 years old, an age when Cabernet vines start to express themselves more fully.

In the vineyards, life really changed when the winery got a new Clemens [a type of plow], said Stubstad. "It was a game changer," she said. Stubstad had the Clemens retrofitted to be two-sided, meaning one pass can trim the weeds on both sides of the row, reducing compaction. (Rudd's vine spacing is 4 by 4 with a high density of 2,700 vines per acre.)

"Our tolerance changed, too," she said. "A weed by a trunk is not the end of the world."

Macy Stubstad, vineyard manager at Rudd, with her sheep and sorghum;
some of the land is allowed to lie fallow to replenish itself, a sign of
more patient and generous farming practices 
The winery was also able to cut down on the number of sprays by more than 75% after implementing spore monitoring and tracking conditions more carefully.

"We used to go by the label rates, which say spray every 7-10 days," Stubstad said. (Vineyard management companies also get paid by the number of sprays). "But we started to realize that there was so much less mildew pressure than we used to think." Spraying decreased from 13-14 per year to 3-4 per year, she said.

"We've stopped using fertilizer - we haven't use any for three years now. We use home brewed compost tea and botanical teas," she added.

The winery is also minimizing tillage in favor of crimping, a technique that reduces soil disturbance but cripples weeds. It has also moved toward using misters to combat extreme heat events. "They use only 7 percent as much water as irrigation," said Stubstad, adding that she's learned not to overpamper the vines.

Stubstad has two completely different sites to manage - Oakville, on the hot valley floor, and Mount Veeder, at 1,600 feet in a much cooler area - according to what's best for each.

"What works in one vineyard doesn't necessarily work in the other vineyard. They have their own cultural and climatic demands," she said.


In the winemaking department, Ammons also manages two different sites - both on the Oakville property. "We have two different soil types here," he said. "One is the volcanic blocks by the road. The other is the alluvial fan...That's the magic of Rudd - the marriage of the two soils domains in the bottle."

In addition to managing the two soil types from the Oakville property, he makes two estate wines.

To enhance the flavors in each, he created new fermentation vessels - in two different shapes - for the the two different soil types, explaining that each shape of vessel produces a different type of extraction.

Ammons with his two different shapes of fermentation tanks
The tank with the larger bottom is more mechanical in extraction; he uses this for the volcanic blocks. The tank with the smaller bottom is more fluid, he says, based on infusion. It's better for grapes from the alluvial blocks. He also has terracotta amphora from Italy for some of the reds.

The whites are fermented in concrete eggs and tanks. With the help of a French consultant, Ammons has concrete tanks constructed that are lined with aggregate (not just cement) from the estate, enhancing the terroir driven influences in the wine even more.

The vintage doors to the winery were sourced
 from a former ice warehouse in New Jersey
Howard Backen designed the winery; the surrounding gardens (not pictured) were
created by the legendary Canadian designer Thomas Hobbs.

On his 21st vintage as a winemaker, Ammons says he has worked with grapes from every appellation in Napa. He's lived through the generation that has moved from preferring maximum ripeness (aka the Parker era) to one based on optimal ripeness. A fan of Burgundy (but one who trained in Bordeaux), his tastes run to more nuanced wines and winemaking.

From the beginning, Rudd sought to integrate Bordeaux sensibilities at his Oakville estate, hiring David Ramey as his first winemaker. Ramey had worked with Christian Mouiex from Petrus to start the Mouiex's Napa winery Dominus.

In presenting the wines in the Howard Backen designed tasting room (cum boathouse) overlooking the pond and gardens, Ammons prefers to sequence the tasting in the opposite order most wineries would present them - starting first with the estate's top wine, $250 Estate (ageworthy), followed by $175 Samantha's (drink now but better of course with age), and then capping off the flight with the $80 Sauvignon Blanc (from Mount Veeder), which feels like it is from a different planet compared to the first two (which it is).

The Estate Red is a different blend each year, and sourced solely from the Oakville estate. While the current release is based on Cabernet Sauvignon, in other years it has beed based on Merlot. It's designed to reflect the terroir of the estate.

The 2014 is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon (77%) with Cab Franc (15%), Petit Verdot (5%) and Malbec (3%). The wine is aged in French oak (74% new).

Though all of the wines are built for aging, the Samantha's can be enjoyed now.

I was especially impressed with the aromatics on the Estate. At first, I put my nose in the glass, and then withdrew it, only to linger just above the glass. The nose is that big...and sumptuous. The old wine tasting note trope that the wine "leaps from the glass" is no trope here. I found that it widened the window of pleasure.

Galloni called it a big departure from previous vintages, writing it's a "hugely promising wine...bursting with energy and class."

The 2014 Samantha's Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from more of the alluvial soil vines and aged in French oak (86% new).

The Sauvignon Blanc is from a completely different set of soils - tufa (which on Mount Veeder is quite common) and cobbles (another Mount Veeder staple). I'm a fan of White Bordeaux blends and therefore appreciated that this wine's a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Semillon (16%). The Rudd has softer, fuller flavors than your basic high end Napa SB, which are going for acid. I found the Rudd SB has, to use my new favorite wine descriptor, more pixels.

In some vintages, Rudd also makes 75 cases of a Semillon based blend called Susan's Blanc, which is named for Mrs. Rudd (a serious gardener who works in the garden alongside the hired help and whose exquisite taste led to the selection of Thomas Hobbs in designing Rudd's unique and elegant gardens.)

Currently Rudd Oakville Estate makes just 3,000 cases of wine a year, but Ammons said that will soon change. "We'll be making more estate wine in future years," he said.

Note: Rudd is open to the public for tastings by appointment only. Serious collectors are encouraged.

You can also taste Rudd's wines at PRESS Napa Valley. There, the Samantha's Cabernet is even available by the glass ($35 a glass).