Eric Asimov wrote about Fred Franzia's passing, but he left out an important contribution-nay even questioned–Franzia's organic commitments.
I wrote this comment.
Eric Asimov wrote about Fred Franzia's passing, but he left out an important contribution-nay even questioned–Franzia's organic commitments.
I wrote this comment.
Today, the Chronicle's wine critic Esther Mobley, recommended Slow Wine Guide for readers looking to avoid herbicided wines. [If you do not have a subscription to see the article, you can view a pdf here.]
As senior editor, I and everyone else who work on this book are thrilled to be acknowledged for the monumental work of our 15 field contributors and national editor Deborah Parker Wong in writing and editing this guide.
We also are thrilled for the 275 wineries featured in the 2022 guide.
Here's what she wrote:
"The best resource I can recommend is the Slow Wine Guide, an annual publication that vets wineries for a range of ecological criteria. The guide recommends wineries that do not use chemically synthesized fertilizers (like Roundup), and also checks for things like water use, sustainably constructed buildings and intervention during the winemaking process. (The guide, for instance, does not include wineries that use oak chips, a shortcut that is sometimes used instead of aging a wine in an expensive oak barrel.) It’s a physical, printed publication, and costs $25."
Get your copy at Slow Food USA or on Amazon.
To put that in context, Bonterra, America's biggest "Made with Organic Grapes" brand, makes 470,000 cases for the U.S. market each year.
Scout & Cellar buys from Emiliana, the biggest organic and biodynamic winery in the world (1 million cases), Orsogna (my favorite Italian brand for everyday wine), and from U.S. producers.
Recently the company's CEO Sarah Shadonix spoke at the International Bulk Wine & Spirits Show in San Francisco, giving the industry an inside view of the company's path. I wrote a piece about her talk and more about the company which is in today's Wine Business.
Phelan Farm is a property in Cambria, which Raj has leased and is working very hands on in the vines, with his girlfriend J. J., and the ranch manager, and learning about the rigors of life as a vigneron. He says he's farming biodynamically, with a little bit of consulting from Elaine Ingram, and a lot of reading.
Raj: So it started during the pandemic, at Phelan Farm, and it's just me and one part time person alone everything and then last this year has been me my girlfriend and I have an assistant who works in solar and the vineyard so it's just been you know trying to catch up and do all the work in the vineyard is always you know, always step behind.
Pam: Yes, well, welcome to farming.
So how are you working with the sprays? Have you had any guidance or consultants or?
Yeah, I saw the drone footage it looked like they have like super wide old school spacing–you could drive a tractor through those vine rows.
I meant it's a spacious vineyard. The old school sprawl.
Yeah, it's just very rustic...we don't do a lot. We don't do any hedging. It's also a place where you don't have any days above 80 degree so there's mildew pressure.
So how are you dealing with the mildew pressure?
It's super hard being organic. It's just not an easy place. I also make the wines on other vineyards that are not organic, not far away, at a winery called Stoller. They don't really have any problems [because they spray fungicides]. Here we have a lot because there's very strong mildew.
Did you say that there were already cows there before you came?
Yeah. Plus the avocados–I think they have 20 acres of them. Their business is mostly avocados and cattle. They sell the cattle. I don't use the cows for the manure. We have our own animals–I have my own flock of sheep and chickens and dogs and goats.
How many sheep?
We have a sheep, three goats, chickens. I have to redo my chicken program. I have mobile chicken coops. And we're just always always working with guard dogs, too.
So are you living there?
I live about 10 minutes away.
So I take it you've kind of found an area that you really like?
Sounds great. So tell me about the old vines and why are you calling that new project Scythians?
The Scythians were an old nomadic tribe of people from 500 BC. I was just reading about them and listening to a history podcast. And you know, I'm from a different place, and making wine in downtown LA from vineyards planted by a whole different generation of people. And we move our tanks from Cambria to LA to set up a winery on the fly–a mobile winery. And so that's it.
So where are you in LA?
Right now our current winery space is in downtown LA on Eastern. Right by right downtown and East 15th Street.
Near the train station, right?
Yeah, not far.
I guess so. I haven't heard about it.
Yeah, that's great.
I read I went to a lecture because he's the grandfather of winemaker at Sandhi and Domaine de la Cote. So he went there. And I was just like, wow.
So then me and Abe [Schoener] started talking about it and then he jumped in first and made 2019 and 2020 vintage in LA, and then I made a little bit in 2021. And then I decided to go all in because the harvest dates are so different than in Cambria. Fermenting will be dry, most likely by September 1. And Cambria really won't even pick till the end of September.
Yeah, so I'm quite in love with Galleano and the Lopez. vineyard and everything about Galleano.
I spent about an hour with the Don Galleano several years before he died.
Yeah. Oh, cool.
I didn't know Don Galliano but now the relationship with Dominque (Don's son) has started. This year, I think I bought 20-25 tons of grapes from Dominique.
The only other person who was sourcing there really before was Carol Shelton.
Yeah, she was she still does.
Don was really into the heritage and the vines as family heritage.
When I went to visit Don–he lived above one of the buildings on the second floor–and you go over there and he greets you at the door. Remember those old water tumblers that had like the slightly rounded part like an inch below the top of the glass? Like your grandmother had those kinds of glasses. He meets you at the door with one of those with wine in it. A tumbler of wine. Not like a wine glass, not like a little glass-no, a tumbler of wine.
And, you know, just real old school, pure old school old Italian, and it's a shame he died so young. He was a very big personality. And then their old winery, and all those tanks and all their sherries and ports. They mean that Mary Margaret Sherry. Dominique sits around and concocts that, with his friends–blending blending blending. It's pretty fun.
I'm just trying to bring the conversation back to what really the history of wine was because no disrespect to anybody anywhere in California, but Cucamonga doesn't really get any compensation for being part of the history of wine is in California, because as you know, there's so much investment and other things happening in the north stuff and everything is made. So commercial.
Well, yeah, everything was pretty commercial down there too.
Yeah. 100%. But it was big wineries and stuff, but just the history of the planting and the fact that it's still existing.
Yeah, I went to the Lopez vineyard, on one of my trips, I did like just a whole pure wine history for two weeks trip down in Santa Barbara and LA. It was mind blowing. And it was before that book came out. I was like Jesus, you know, when is someone going to write about this?
So that book was really a blessing. And he talked about to everyone I knew. I was hooked on Galleano and put it in Slow Wine Guide, of course. Then there's all the development issues, right where they are losing the vineyards, because of the housing, all that stuff needs to be preserved. So I'm so glad you're in there in the thick of it.
Yes, they have Palomino, Alicante. What they call Mataro is something else I think.
Have you had their Rosé of Peru sherry?
I have not.
Have you been to the San Gabriel Mission? There was another Ramona Mother Vine there. I have a super beautiful, historic map/drawing by a guy named Michael J. Hart, who was the head of the water district down there. His hobby was making these gorgeous art works that incorporate the history of the water, the farming, the viticulture, and then a little plan of the mission in the middle.
It's map storytelling that I really fell for. The San Gabriel mission is where California agriculture kind of started–because of the San Gabriel River. So what's the one with Mission grapes?
We have Mission grapes in the blend this year and last year. The one I want to send you is 50% Mission and Grenache. This year the blend is going to be Zinfandel and Mission.
Learn more in his new videos here:
And here's a second video with more details:
Marian Farms in Fresno is the Demeter certified vineyard he mentions but not by name. She makes distilled spirits in addition to raising crops. See her Facebook page for more info about her distilled products, which have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, too.
It IS a very big deal. Read about it here.
Saturday Madonna Estate celebrated its 100th anniversary as a winemaking family. Here are a few scenes from the party at their Carneros tasting room and winery.
Read more about their history here. The second oldest winemaking family in Napa, they were also among the first in Napa to be certified organic, back in 1991. They farm 150 acres in the Carneros today.
The family formerly farmed in under the name Mont St. John. See the timeline here.
They started growing wine grapes for home winemakers in 1922. By 1947 they were the 12th largest winery in California. They owned valuable Cabernet vineyards in Rutherford and Yountville, until these were sold in 1970. After the sale, Buck Bartolucci bought land in the Carneros, and now grows Pinot and Chardonnay.
The family run winery and vineyard sells grapes to a variety of producers, including Frank Family, Treasury, Sterling, Bennett Lane and now, with organic certification, Heitz. They make about 1,500 cases under their own Barlow label.
The late Warren and Jeanne Smith family bought their property in 1993, moving lock, stock and barrel from southern California after visiting wine country for many years.
Today their son, Barr Smith and wife Anne run the estate along with the third generation of Smiths.
Other wineries with organic vines in Calistoga include Dutch Henry, Eisele, Perliss, and Storybook.
Last month I wrote a piece for WineBusiness.com on the buyers for Target and BevMo at the bulk wine show in San Francisco and their programs for working with wineries to purchase wine. Now a video of the session has been released on YouTube.
The buyers touched briefly on the subject of organics, in the Q and A, when I asked the buyers about the recent story (which ran the same day as their presentations and which I wrote) about Gallo introducing an organically grown Black Box wine.
Jeff Feist, the former Category Lead for Spirits & More at BevMo! weighed in:
"What if listen, if Gallo's doing it, they're doing it for a reason–because they see the trends. They have the data, much more data than we do...I tend to believe it because they're pretty good at what they do. So if Gallo's doing it, my guess is you'll see a lot of other companies testing that as well, because Gallo probably doesn't jump in without doing a whole lot of research. So I think that's a good trend."
Ryan Pandl, Senior Buyer, Adult Beverages and Beverages at Target said he thought that we might see more organic labeling on wines that were certified organic but weren't labeled.
"I think you'll see people take credit for it. I know we have a lot of import wine right now that's organic, but we're not talking about it, and I think you'll just see, 'Oh, this was already organic. Why don't we talk about that and get credit from the guests for doing something that's important to them?'"
A trip to Bedrock's lovely tasting room in downtown Santa Rosa revealed that the illustrious vintner sourcing from so many historic vineyards is now going to get certified organic at its 100+ acre Bedrock estate in Sonoma Valley.
Said Joel Peterson,"we've farmed organically for a long time, and we finally decided to get credit for it."
The process of becoming certified takes three years and is still underway.
|Vineyard manager Brenae Royal at Monte Rosso|
MONTE ROSSO GOING ORGANIC
On a trip up to a winery neighboring Gallo's showpiece old vine Zinfandel vineyard, Monte Rosso, on Moon Mountain, I heard from a neighbor that Gallo was going organic on the estate. It wasn't clear yet if the plan included farming practices only or certification, too, but it's good news at any rate.
CAROL SHELTON ADDS ORGANIC LABELING
In Santa Rosa, after many years of telling consumers her Wild Thing wines from the Cox vineyard were almost all organic, sourcing issues and labeling efforts have now resulted in Carol Shelton being able to label her Wild Things "Ingredients: Organic Grapes" on the back label. That means the grapes are 100 percent from certified organic vines.
OREGON BIODYNAMIC EXPANDS
And in Oregon, Barbara Gross has been hard at work, transitioning Cooper Mountain Vineyards' latest acquisition, Arborbrook (now named "Arborbrook by Cooper Mountain Vineyards") off of chemical sprays under "sustainable" certifications and on the fast path to organic and biodynamic farming and certification. There are 15 acres of planted vines. Said Gross, "I can already see, in less than a year now, how the vines are getting better."
She has also lovingly restored the walnut farm barn to a beautiful tasting room that reflects its agricultural roots.
Why does the U.S. have not one but three organic wine standards–and what's with all the sulfites talk?
And how did No-Added-Sulfite Wines get mixed up with Organic?
Find answers in my Pix.wine story on the weird wine laws that caused all the confusion. And how there was no health basis (at least not in peer-reviewed medical journals) - just politics - that gave us these laws. Sigh. Can it change?
Wine industry observers have been puzzled for some time as to why the eco-oriented grocery giant did not stock much organically grown wine. Even in Berkeley, one would be hard pressed to find a single Made with Organic Grapes rosé.
But the tide may be turning.
First there was the announcement that Scheid had a deal with Whole Foods to launch organically grown wines, the first of which – a rosé under the brand name Grandeur– released in a small production run of 1,500 cases, following certification of one Scheid vineyard. Scheid has announced that it plans to convert all of its 2,800 acres to organic certification.
Now comes news that indie wunderkind winemaker Ian Brand has made a new 2021 Sauvignon Blanc, sourcing grapes from the Zabala vineyard in Arroyo Seco. About 1,800 cases will be released for sale in Whole Foods stores with a retail price of roughly $20+.
Elsewhere, in Napa, Napa Wine Co.'s Elizabeth Rose brand wines, generally priced between $20-30, will also find a home on Whole Foods shelves.
The French TV channel ARTE debuted a new documentary on insecticides which you can see here in many languages, including with English subtitles.
Featured are farming and biodiversity experts explaining in depth how fungicides, insecticides and pesticides are designed and their impacts on what environmentalists have called insectageddon, resulting in huge declines of bird and butterfly food and populations. Shockingly, and slowly, the documentary reveals what A-list scientists have discovered. Neonics are not even necessary, as long as soil health is good. Bees are losing their minds from neonics. And though pesticides are approved under rapid time frames, removing them moves at glacial speed. I bet you $20 you will learn new things in this documentary, which entertainingly features Lego sets with insects crawling over them and classical music.
One of the scientists featured is the ultra folksy ex USDA scientist turned organic farmer, Jonathan Lundgren, who I wrote about when he gave the keynote at Ecofarm a few years back. He's one heck of an entertaining guy. There really are good people in this world.
So many people in the wine business debate whether or not it is profitable to farm organically.
With only about 3 percent of wine grape vines in California (and the U.S.) certified organic, the U.S. has been quite far behind its counterparts in France, Italy and Spain where 18 percent of vines are currently or in transition to organic certification. Markets for organically grown wines there are booming and even major corporations have realized they need to diversify their portfolios to include at least one organic brand. Jealous of the increased 25% margin on organic grapes and wines in the south, more than 300 low-end Bordeaux producers have recently sought organic certification hoping to increase profits. Coops in the south of France are finding organics an on ramp to better returns.
While vineyard management companies can charge the same to farm organically (Matthiasson, for example, in Napa) or add an additional 30 percent (as in both Napa and Sta. Rita Hills examples), confusion continues to reign. Yet in Napa, more than 12 wineries have certified their vineyards organic in the last year, bringing the total to 88 wineries. About 11 percent of the county's vines are now certified.
So it was quite a pleasure to attend four days of this year's inaugural six day Napa Thrives event, and find the day on IPM featured a variety of approaches to reducing or eliminating chemical use in the vines with organic examples.
Wight Vineyard management kicked off the day with a boots on the ground session at the 80 acre Oak Knoll vineyard Clif Family recently purchased. Much of the conversation was about products–attendees wanted to know what products you can use and how effective they are compared to conventional ones.
Later in the day, in the main speakers hall in the elegant event center barn at Charles Krug, more presentations fleshed out different scenarios.
One of the most important was given by Ivo Jeramaz, Winemaker and Vice President of Vineyards & Production, who farms 5 vineyard sites in 5 Napa AVAs. He oversees 365 acres of organic vines, all of which have been certified organic since 2006.
Ivo gave this talk illustrated with these slides which I thought should be shared with a wider audience, and, in agreeing with me, he graciously allowed me to post them here, along with a transcript of his remarks.
So dig in. Some very good data - not from academics, but from a real farming operation that operates from the Carneros and Yountville to American Canyon, Rutherford and Calistoga.
The reason we farm organically is to lower costs and enjoy high profits, eliminate pests and diseases and avoid applying glyphosate or Roundup.
Today in the Napa/Sonoma area we are facing unprecedented problems. The farming system we use (regenerative farming) can help to deal with some of these other issues.
Vines can last 60 to 80 to 100 years.
Today the average Napa Valley vines are taken out after 20 years.
That's a tragedy, because only vines over 20 years old can truly produce some great fruit.
3 MAIN ORGANIC FARMING OBJECTIONS
When you talk to a professional and ask them why they do not convert to organic, we hear three things–expenses, pests and disease control, and lower yields. I'll address every one of these concerns with our own experience. This is not a theory. I don't care for theories. I care for practice. These are our practical data and numbers.
ORGANIC COSTS AND PROFITABILITY
In Napa Valley, the yearly cost of farming a vineyard per acre is astronomical–$13,000. Our friend from Monterey loves this number, because his costs are half, but this is Napa Valley.
Napa Valley average cost per acre, per year is $13,000. At Grgich, where we are doing organic, biodynamic and regenerative farming, it is $9,600.
That doesn't include depreciation. Those of you that own vineyards know what I'm talking about. Depreciation is huge.
You spend today around $75,000 to replant a vineyard. Divide that by 20 years and that's your depreciation–$3,700.
At Grgich Hills it's $1,100 because our vineyards last much longer and we depreciate over 40 or 50 years, not over 20 years.
Then there is interest. Because of how we farm, we have cash–which offers some advantages. We don't take out loans to get money from the bank. We use our own money. We don't borrow money from the bank.
If a winery doesn't have $10 million sitting around, they have to borrow. So $75,000 per acre, plus another $3,750 per acre per year. Compare these results.
So, it is not true that organic farming is more expensive and that it's only reserved for wealthy Silicon Valley owners who can afford to lose money every year.
Any business has to be profitable, especially in agriculture. Most of modern agriculture is not profitable, and we have to change that.
PESTS AND DISEASES
The second misconception of organic farming is there is no way to manage pests and diseases.
Down in Carneros, five or six years ago, we had to spray up to 15 times to control mildew. Today, it's down to seven times and we can eliminate the need for many sprays through this kind of farming.
For you folks who manage grapes, when do we stop worrying about mildew? When sugar in the berry is about 12-15 Brix.
Just imagine if the sugar of the sap of the vine is 12-15 brix, the vine becomes resistant to mildew and also mealybugs.
This is called passive resistance–you move the food source for these pests and you starve them. I know some of you will say this is not true, but it is true. How do we achieve higher brix in the whole grapevine? The answer is, we have to increase the rate of photosynthesis, again through enhancing microbial diversity and population in the soil.
But why do people remove so many vines today? Viruses.
Yet in our Yountville vineyard, which is infected with a virus, we manage to harvest with a good yield - 3.25 tons per acre on average, over the last few years, and the vines have lived for 63 years.
When you look at the vineyard in September, you will find out that 40% of the plants have red leaves. We can see that, we measure that, and we know we have leafroll. Yet plants are very healthy, with good yield, and, needless to say, the best quality in Napa Valley that we have.
So why do we not pull that vineyard? Because while these plants are infected, they still produce a quality yield while being 63 years old and infected with a virus.
We cannot create health through sterility and human control. We have to create health through microbial biodiversity and natural methods.
We paid $370 in labor and material to control mildew. Add to that a $110 spray for vine mealybug pheromone disruption, so $480 per acre is the total cost per acre for mildew and mealybug control.
It is interesting to look at the average of the last five years.
If I average all these yields, Grgich is 3.4 tons per acre versus 3.2 tons per acre for the Napa Valley average.
Breaking this down further, and looking at vine age, you can see that out of 112 acres of Chardonnay, 48% of our vines are 23 years old and 36% are 33 years old. There's no need to take these out. They are producing fruit and there is no drop in yield.
WHY WE DON’T USE ROUNDUP HERBICIDE
I want to talk about another of the excuses. You say you cannot farm organic more or less, because you cannot give up glyphosate or Roundup. People say, “It's too expensive or impossible to handle weeds.”
First of all, what is for most people, a weed, is to us, something that makes a vineyard beautiful. We like weeds. I'll explain.
The major problem with glyphosate is not necessarily that it's poisoning everything. It's classified as an antibiotic, and that means it's killing microbes in soil, which we so dearly need.
It's a chelating agent. Chelation is the binding of nutrients. Glyphosate has the ability to grab manganese, zinc, and iron, and hold them tight. Plants cannot access them. They are not available for plants. So basically, you're starving your grapevines, because they can't get to those nutrients.
The history of glyphosate is interesting. In 1964, it was patented as a chelator to remove chemicals from pipes. That was glyphosate then. Then in 1974, it was patented as an herbicide. Then in 2010, it was patented as an antibiotic.
In October, the first thing we do is plant a cover crop, and after the first rain, within two weeks, the new cover crop is sprouting. At that point, we can handle five inches of rain in a day–our soil is like a sponge.
Then we let the cover crop grow. Typically in a normal year, by the end of January, our cover crop is two or three feet tall.
Then we bring in sheep. If you live in New Zealand, the sheep owner brings the sheep in and they pay you for the grass. Here in Napa Valley, it's the opposite. You pay them for their sheep to eat the best grass in Napa Valley.
So the cost to us is about $100 per acre for sheep.
We let the sheep eat about only 50% of grass. As we learned in high school, photosynthesis creates carbohydrates. When we graze only 50%, we allow the grass roots to create the exudates that microbes feed on in the soil. So the cover crop feeds the microbes. This is symbiosis between plants and microbes.
If you overgraze, that can limit the effectiveness of the cover crop to produce root exudates and feed the microbes.
Then, depending on the year, we have to mow the grass two or three times. It cost less than $250 so that's it. That is all the costs for handling grass.
We mow and mulch. If you follow this guy on the tractor, you will see he is leaving two inches of mulch that is the cut down cover crop and grasses. Why is this important?
On a 90 degree day, if you measure the surface temperature of the bare soil, it will be 150 degrees. Biology dies at 110 degrees, so a bare soil sitting in the sun will lose all life a few inches down.
At that temperature, you kill all the microbes. So there will be no more microbes.
Secondly, all the water in the first few inches of soil is evaporating. When surface water evaporates, more moisture is brought up by the capillary action of the plant and evaporated again. This is how we lose precious soil moisture.
So it's a myth that clean cultivation saves water.
In our system, mulching lowers the natural ambient soil temperature a few inches down. If it’s 90 degrees outside, the soil under the mulch will be maybe 86 degrees.
We always knew that we needed healthy soil for the best grapes and for longevity.
We are a family owned business. We want to keep it independent for a few more generations.
Many farmers look at only a three to five year business plan. We're looking 50-100 years into the future for our business plan.
When we started farming, we knew that we had to produce high quality grapes. Without high quality grapes, there's no high quality wine. And we just discovered that contrary to popular belief, you can save money and farm responsibly in agriculture.
Basically we have to change our mindset.
How do we enhance soil organic matter, through managing cover crops, sheep and microbes in the soil?
At Grgich, in order to enhance organic soil matter we plant a cover crop and add compost every year. It took us 15 years to gain a 1% increase in soil organic matter. This is too slow.
My misconception was that healthy soil produces healthy plants. Actually, it is quite the opposite. You need to have healthy plants as cover crops, and you have to cover the soil all year round, because not growing plants in your soil will reduce the carbohydrates that feed the microbes.
Microbes are the bacteria and fungi living near the roots of plants. We stopped tilling our soil to enhance the population of fungi which, through fungal digestion, builds up soil organic matter much quicker. Do not destroy fungi, because they create humus which is extremely beneficial.
Since we became “lazy famers,” (since we do not mow our vineyard rows) we now have quadrupled the amount of insects–including ladybugs– that are feeding on the mealybugs. Yet some people say, “Oh my God, these guys have not done their job because the vineyard has weeds in it and looks wild.” But we are increasing the health of the soil.
So besides increasing microbial diversity and the number of microbes, I can prepare food for plants in the form of biostimulants and foliar sprays. That is better versus ionic nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium additions people add to their soils. In moderation, these sprays can help keep the plant growing healthy and strong and encourage it to use the nutrients that are already in the soil. This helps make the plant less reliant on our sprays and more reliant on the already present nutrients in the soil.
Just imagine, because of great plant nutrition and health, the grapevines will produce a much thicker waxy coat called a cuticle on the berry. This provides extra resistance against mildew and possibly smoke taint. So by improving the health of microbes and potentially doing some foliar sprays, some pests will not be as big of a problem. You're making it harder for pests.
In our business, we are growing grapes not just for brix–but for the secondary metabolites–phenols, anthocyanins–that we want to make great wine. It's these secondary metabolites that also generate the healthiest crop. They are good for our health and also good for the quality of our wine.