Friday, September 28, 2018

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

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

See it here.

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

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

Friday, September 21, 2018

Charlie Barra's 73rd Harvest - In Photos

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Don't Miss This Article: Biodynamics Goes Big

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 14, 2018

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Wine & Spirits Top 100: The Organic Among Them

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

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


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


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

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

Grab your ticket here.

DPR Webcast Next Week: Environmental Justice and Pesticide Safety

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

Featured are:

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

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

See the session agenda here.

Here's the webcast link.

Monday, September 10, 2018

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

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

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

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


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

Here's Balog on the film:


More info on the film is here.

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

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

Saturday, September 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The event web site is here.

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


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

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


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


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

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

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Dark Side of Sonoma's Sustainability Movement: Part 2 - Reactions and A Mancozeb Honor Roll

Last month's blog post on the Dark Side of Sonoma's Sustainability got a lot of attention - more than 6,000 page views on my site (and counting) - which, for me, was quite unexpected.

The reactions ranged from:
Satire by Ron Washam (the Hosemaster of Wine) which is now posted on Tim Atkins' site (international audience)
• An email - and an invitation to lunch which I look forward to - from Marimar Torres (who still, in her own winery's sustainability handout, doesn't seem to be able to bring herself to say she has surrendered her organic certification and still erroneously says on her web site that she is biodynamic)
• A blog response from the Sonoma County Winegrowers

All this is good, because now we have a public conversation - and hopefully all kinds of conversations - about some of these big issues.

I also have my own reaction - which was to dig a little deeper into the pesticide use report data about Mancozeb, because it's such a toxic material. A certain grower [previously mentioned in my earlier post] is certainly not the only one using it in Sonoma County.

(Again, to repeat from my earlier article: Pesticide Action Network classifies Mancozeb as a Bad Actor - i.e. seriously bad stuff - and a carcinogen, developmental and reproductive toxin, and a probable endocrine disruptor. It's highly toxic to fish. The National Academy of Sciences urged the EPA to ban it starting in 1987, calling it one of the most potent carcinogens in agriculture. It is legal to use it; however it is prohibited by California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) after the first year of certification and it is prohibited under Fish Friendly Farming (FFF).

In addition, I wanted to see how effective the two main certification groups used by the Sonoma Certified Sustainable group - FFF and CSWA - were in curtailing the use of Mancozeb.

Both programs say the material is not permitted, but the data shows that growers certified under each program were still using it in 2017-2018.


Some people misinterpreted what I wrote, thinking it was all about bashing sustainability. But, as I wrote in the original post, there are many positives. What I take issue with is the programs' lack of transparency and accountability. And enforcement.

We want to trust that these sustainability programs will do us proud and move growers to more regenerative practices. But can we trust them?


There's a newly added and more serious dimension to these certifications.

As of 2017, regulators are requiring growers to meet the new North Coast water quality permitting requirements. Regulators are leveraging FFF and CSWA programs to help growers meet these requirements. (Read more news coverage here).

So it's not a bad time to ask: how well are these programs being enforced?

And does enforcement last beyond initial certification date? How well are growers being monitored for ongoing compliance?

And who's overseeing these certifiers?

Organic certifiers must face (and pay for) annual certification audits from the federal government's National Organic Program. It's the law. Even seemingly minor infractions - like an employee sharing a document with a co-worker who is not authorized to view it - are grounds for terminating a certifier's entire operation.

The biodynamic certifier Demeter USA, a nonprofit, is reviewed by Demeter International officials.

CSWA says it is overseen by SCS Global Services.


A whole other issue is marketing.

Should program compliance - with water quality and other legal farming requirements - enable vintners to put green labels on their wines?

FFF does require growers to do more than just meet the legal standards (which are extensive), but how much more is a bit fuzzy. I've yet to see a sustainability program that compares and contrasts what's compliance related versus what is additional frosting on the cake - i.e. how what the program requires exceeds the legal requirements. It would be great to see the delta.

In short, do you get a merit badge for doing a little bit more than what the law demands? And just what is that little bit more? (Or is it a lot more?)

Many recent surveys from the wine industry ask respondents if they're willing to pay more for sustainable wines and survey respondents say they are. So are growers and vintners hoping that they'll be getting higher price points for these wines?


On the issue of enforcement...we can return to an illustration of the transparency and accountability issues at hand.

In response to my previous article, the Sonoma County Winegrowers wrote a blog post. In it, the author says, "As soon as [a certain grower] learned that Mancozeb was on the Certified Sustainable red list, he stopped using it that day. Something that wouldn't have necessarily been on his radar if he wasn't actively involved in his sustainability program."

That [a certain grower] was using Mancozeb, which was prohibited under his type of vineyard certification (FFF), should have been on the grower's radar from Day One and the grower's use of it should have immediately been on the certifiers' radar.

If a grower had been certified by an organic or biodynamic certifier, he or she would have lost their certification immediately and would not be able to display the certification on any of their products.

I'm very glad that [a certain grower] stopped using Mancozeb (2,154 pounds of it on 1,077 acres during the year from March 3, 2017 through March 3, 2018).

But is that grower going to be expelled from FFF for it?

Are the Sonoma Winegrowers going to stop that winery from labeling its bottles with their green label for the vintages when the grower was using Mancozeb?


There's another piece of this story that's troubling as well.

How did [a certain grower] find out that Mancozeb was prohibited under the rules?

It wasn't because someone from the wine industry or a sustainability program was enforcing the program's rules. His neighbor (who's not in the wine industry) told him.

How did his neighbor know? A chance meeting with me.

His neighbor and I connected over a different topic. But then we realized that what I was seeing on this Mancozeb topic was, indeed, very relevant to his neighbor.

I was researching Mancozeb because I found it odd that while the rest of the state's winegrowers had pretty much abandoned it, a certain small group of growers in Sonoma were still regularly using it. And then it came to light - in a later email conversation with his neighbor and me - that this grower lived near my new acquaintance.

I am not connected to the FFF certifier or the Sonoma Certified Sustainablity program. I'm just someone from Oakland with a health communications background who occasionally likes to read the pesticide use reports from time to time (more interesting than People magazine) and ponder a good mystery to research. (And I write about wine professionally some of the time and am concerned about vineyard pesticides and children's health).

Again, this whole post is not about [a certain grower] per se; it's about the promise and perils of running a certification program. And then using those standards to bottle label wines in the hopes of telling consumers that there's something more virtuous about the way these wines were grown. (When certifiers are not rigorously enforcing program standards.)


The added dimension of growers now flocking in growing numbers to FFF and CSWA in order to meet the newly mandated regional water board permit requirements is playing out on the marketing side of things as well.

FFF and CSWA are the two main avenues for getting a water board permit that growers in the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds will be using. (A third option - RCD's Landsmart program in Napa - requires growers to make their farm plans public documents, which many prefer not to do.)

Vineyards certified by FFF and CSWA in Sonoma are eligible to display Sonoma Sustainable labels on their wine bottles.

Will a growing number of these vintners then turn around and use those certificates to get marketing credit? That suggests there may be an avalanche of FFF and CSWA signs going on up on vineyards - and green stickers on wine labels.

But can we believe in the enforcement side of these programs?

Postscript: I checked the other two certifiers that Sonoma Certified Sustainable growers can use - SIP Certified and Lodi Rules.

SIP Certified has a great database of each grower, the date they were certified sustainable, and a link to a grower profile which discusses their sustainable practices. And it publishes its standards. It has far better pesticide restrictions than CSWA and FFF, but it totally mischaracterizes organic and biodynamic certification attributes in a chart posted on the site. (Click on the question on that page "How is SIP certified different than organic?").

SIP Certified also publishes answers to the question "How is SIP certified different than CSWA?" stating that "SIP Certified is a distinguishing program with a minimum threshold for eligibility - not all growers can qualify. CCSW is an inclusionary program designed to buoy the California wine industry toward more sustainable practices."


The list of Sonoma Certified Sustainable vineyards is called the Honor Roll, so I thought I'd follow suit.

CSWA prohibits the use of this fungicide (after being in the program for one year). Several CSWA-certified vineyards listed here appear to be using it. (It's unclear whether they are using it within their first or subsequent years of certification since CSWA doesn't display date of entry into their program online. CSWA has plans to display more info on its web site starting in 2019).

Typically, growers who use Manzcozeb apply it at roughly 2 pounds per acre.

Total Acres in Sonoma - 2,668 

Total Pounds in Sonoma - 4,810 

Selected List of Mancozeb (Manzate Pro) Users

Using pesticide use report data from March 3, 2017 through March 3, 2018, here are Sonoma County's biggest users of Mancozeb.

The top five users account for more than 80 percent of the Mancozeb used on vineyards in Sonoma:

1. Dutton Ranch Corporation (FFF)
1,077 acres (2,154 pounds)

These grapes are sold to many wineries. Dutton stopped using it as of 2018.


Wineries that make single vineyard designate wines from Dutton grapes include Chappellet, Francis Ford Coppola, Kistler, Migration by Duckhorn, and Patz and Hall.

Wineries that purchase Dutton grapes include Clos du Bois, Domaine Chandon, Fetzer, Flowers, Gloria Ferrer, Hartford Family, Ledson, Meiomi, Merry Edwards, Ramey, Robert Mondavi, Rodney Strong, Schramsberg, Simi, and Sonoma Cutrer.

That these wineries were making wine from Mancozeb treated grapes was a revelation to me as I suspect it would be to consumers, some of whom think they're drinking "green wine."

2. VinePro (various clients)
607 acres (1,293 pounds) including 157 acres at Leveroni (CSWA) and 52 acres (6 different vineyards) at Merry Edwards (CSWA)

Stopped using it as of 2018.

3. Bayview Vineyards
249 acres (499 pounds) (in Sonoma)

Continued using it in 2018.

(This is the Laird Family's vineyard management company. They are also the largest vineyard owners in Napa County, with about 5% of Napa County's vineyard acreage. Except for one other grower in 2017 [Pride Mountain], Bayview is the only Napa grower using Mancozeb.)

In Napa in 2017, Bayview applied 4,731 pounds of Manzate Pro to 2,365 acres.

4. North Coast Vineyard Management (various clients)
194 acres (421 pounds) including 121 acres at Carraro (CSWA) 
Stopped using it as of 2018.

5. A. Rafanelli (CSWA)
121 acres (242 pounds)
Stopped using it as of 2018.

Other Vineyards:

75 acres (150 pounds)
Stopped using it as of 2018.

Bellisimo (CSWA)
25 acres (51 pounds)
Stopped using it as of 2018.

Find the complete list of the vineyards using Manzate Pro in Sonoma here.

POST SCRIPT (added Sept. 20):

Most of the list above was compiled in March 2018 before most growers who used it would have applied it (in April). I have now obtained more current data that shows the spring 2018 usage. Here is the list of growers who continued to use Mancozeb in 2018.

None of these appear on the Sonoma Certified Sustainable web site, and that is good news. 

But unless you had access to the pesticide use reports, you would not be able to monitor this. The sustainable certification sites don't yet tell use what date a grower was certified. 

Would it have been wiser for these programs to launch their labels after they could demonstrate recordkeeping and transparency to the media and to consumers?


From the outside, it looks like the sustainability certification systems have a ways to go before they can match the transparency and accountability of the organic and biodynamic systems. Being a certifier is not an easy job. But if you want to use it as a marketing tool, enforcement and trust are the name of the game. It doesn't happen overnight. But will it happen?


Steve Dutton wrote a letter to Lewis Purdue, who publishes Wine Industry Insight, asking Perdue not to publish any more posts by me. 

See Dutton's letter here and my response here.

Related Posts

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

NOTE: This blog post has been edited Sept. 11, to remove the name of "a certain grower" who complained about being mentioned and thought he was being singled out unfairly. The fact is this story was never really about this particular grower; it's about gaps in the transparency of these new sustainability certification systems. 

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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