Thursday, May 16, 2024

Sunday, May 12, 2024

GET THIS Essential Guide: The Signature Wines of Superior California by Mike Dunne PLUS TERRA MADRE EVENTS

You might think that Sacramento Bee's veteran wine journalist and feature writer Mike Dunne's new book is about wines. But, as with every wine, that is only half the story. What makes the new volume so invaluable is that wine is only where the stories start. And they're greeeeaaaaaat stories.

Dunne has traveled over hill and dale for decades covering the Sierra Foothills, the Lodi region, and the Delta. This is his love letter to the myriad of Zinfandel producers, Barbera geeks, and people crazy enough to make unknown Portuguese varieties like Arinto who found their destiny in the Sierra Foothills. (And some in Lodi). 

It was often cheaper land prices that made it possible for many to take up wine growing along the highways and byways of everywhere from Amador to a vineyard called Zinstar. While production grape growing reigns in Lodi, artisanal wineries also have a foothold. In the Sierra Foothills, more boutique wineries have flourished and quality has gone up. New growers are now moving up–Matt and Audra Naumann of Newfound wines have a vineyard up here and legends like Tegan Passalaqua (Turley, Sandlands) just bought land in Volcano (at 1,000 feet higher than Anne Kraemer's renowned Shake Ridge Ranch).

To prepare for the Slow Wine masterclasses happening this upcoming weekend (May 18-19), I suggested that we at Slow Wine focus on the heroes and heroines of these regions, as our event takes place in Sacramento. (To be clear, we focus only on wines grown without synthetic herbicides, including Roundup, which do not promote soil health).

I first visited Plymouth and then Sutter Creek for the Behind the Cellar Door event in Amador County and was amazed. (I had been to the region before but years had passed). Here was a place where wine tasting was still FUN again...tasting fees were $15 and you didn't need a reservation. You were plied with delicious snacks. And there were even wines under $30. (Not many, but...) And a lot of the wines were really, really good.

Imagine that.

I loved some of the wines. I mean, Turley's Buck Cobb, Terre Rouge's Garrigue, and Easton's Campo Granito (a beautiful red made from warmer climate friendly Touriga Nacional and Souzão) and $30 Zinfandels.

I like, so many, had overlooked this region. Partly because of geography- it's a two hour drive. But partly it was because I was in search of the organic folks–as in certified–and there weren't many here. 

Sure there were a few who came in and out of that tent–Terre Rouge (which keeps farming organically but is no longer certified) and Sobon Cellars (no longer farming organically), for instance–but lo and behold, there were SOME who stayed certified organic–which means I can write about them on this blog. 

(I have been burned too many times by people who told me they were organic but whose pesticide use report told a different story. Alas. But writing for Slow Wine Guide has allowed me to taste and get to know hundreds of people who are farming organically but who are not certified. I write about many of those wines in Slow Wine Guide, not here.) 

Though the certified organic folks are few and far between in these parts, they are there. And all have a place in Dunne's book. Which is yet another reason to recommend the book.

Here are certified organic vineyards in the region:


---Calaveras County

• Lavender Ridge Vineyard's Sierra Foothills Grenache (page 189)

Lavender Ridge Vineyard in Murphys in Calaveras County has been an organic stalwart since 2005. (They also have, smartly, a delicious cheese shop in town.) 

"Has firmly established...[itself] as one of the emissaries of wines inspired by the grapes and traditions of the Rhone Valley..." writes Dunne, who says owner Rich Gilpin of Lavender Ridge calls Grenache "the Pinot Noir of the foothills."

---Amador County

Turley Wine Cellars has its estate owned vineyards in the region and has been a leader in organic farming of old vines, certified since, wait for it, 1994. (Were you even born then?) But those are in other regions, not in Sierra Foothills.


In Lodi land, Bokisch has been the major star, though Vino Farms leader Craig Ledbetter–his company farms 17,000 acres of wine grapes in California–is getting bullish on the growing market he's finding for certified organic grapes. (See my two part interview with him on here.) He's on the verge of certifying 600+ acres organic.) 

Ledbetter said, “We're doing organic because I see an opportunity, and the writing on the wall is there… I've started working with enough wineries now where I see there is opportunity there." 

Currently he's selling grapes to Avivo, a new regenerative ag wine brand (currently certified biodynamic by Demeter, but shifting to a new regenerative certification under A Greener World) and organic stalwart Bonterra. (You can't buy Avivo in California at a store yet, but you can buy it on

Bokisch Vineyards, and now Avivo, thanks to Craig Ledbetter, are the biggest volume organic producers in these parts. Both make more than 5,000 cases from certified organic vines. 

• Bokisch Vineyards Lodi Clement Hills Terra Alta Garnacha (page 241)

"In 2020, the Bokisch 2017 Garnacha won a gold medal in the International Grenaches du Monde Competition, which attracted a record 869 entries from 832 wineries in six countries," writes Dunne of Markus and Liz Bokisch's signature grape. (They were also the first to bottle the blending grape Graciano as I wrote about while back here.) You will want to know the rest of their story.

 The Lucas Winery's Lodi Zinstar Zinfandel (page 263)

We read in Dunne's book how Davis Lucas' skill as a surfer made him the man to keep these 1933 (the year Prohibition ended) vines in the ground and into wine. (Surfers will appreciate the surfboards on display in their Lodi tasting room). Heather Pyle-Lucas is the winemaker. The two met working at Robert Mondavi winery in Napa. They farm the old vines meticulously.

"So confident are they of ZinStar's ability to age gracefully, they conduct 40-year retrospective tastings of the wine," Dunne writes.

The Lucas Winery has been preserving its precious three acres of certified organic, old vine Zinfandel, lanted in 1930s, for decades. Its Zinstar Zinfandel wine comes from its Zinstar vineyard, which is listed on the Historic Vineyard Society's registry.


Of course, you don't have to love organically grown wines to enjoy Mike's superlative book, but ALL OF THE WINERIES I JUST MENTIONED ARE IN IT. 


More broadly, the book and Mike's knowledge and experience is an invitation to rediscover the forgotten joys of aimlessly driving around the countryside and popping in without a reservation and being able to afford an affordable tasting fee and being able to actually BUY wine or find a winery whose club you WANT to belong to...(no high pressure in these parts). The book makes a great present, too.

PLUS you will learn about the other great uncertified organic growers and vintners in the region, like Terre Rouge (a Wine and Spirits Top 100 producer three times!) and Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John, the Berkeley guy who the makers of the famed Kermit Lynch loved Domaine Tempier said made wine that speaks of the earth. (Steve Edmunds will be given the Rhone Rangers' Lifetime Achievement award in June). And many more. It's easy to read, too, and you won't feel like it's "Educational." It's just fun to read...packed with digestible info and stories.


Terra Madre masterclasses will be held at the
Sacramento Municipal Auditorium 


There is a connection between Mike's book and the upcoming Terra Madre of the Americas in Sacramento, which will feature a Grand Tasting ($75) on Sunday from noon to 5 pm with more than 40 wineries including U.S. and Latin American producers. 

A number of the wineries at the Grand Tasting are from the Lodi and the Sierra Foothills and are mentioned in Dunne's book.

International wineries: Bodega Cerro Chapeu (Uruguay), NAKKAL WINES (Uruguay), Jardín Oculto (Bolivia), Descendientes de Viticultores de Montaña (Argentina), Finca las Glicinas (Argentina), Antropo Wines (Argentina), Ritmo Lunar (Argentina), Vinos 1750 (Bolivia), Bodegas Krontiras (Argentina), Bodega Santos Brujos (Mexico), Viña la reserva de Caliboro (Chile), Pepe Moquillaza Wines (Peru)

California wineries (bolded wineries are local or buy local grapes; italics are wineries in Mike's book): Andis Wines, Casino Mine Ranch, Cary Q Wines, Cormorant Cellars, LLC, Cruess Wine, Donum Estate, Donkey & Goat Winery, The End of Nowhere, Ettore Wines, Frey Vineyards, La Clarine Farm, Madroña Vineyards, Matthiasson Family Vineyards, Ram's Gate Winery, Terah Wine Co.

Oregon wineries: Upper Five Vineyard

[Monday there will also be a special tasting for trade, too.]


My research trips fueled the pipeline for three masterclasses that Slow Wine Co-Editor Deborah Parker Wong and I (the other co-editor) will offer May 18-19 in Sacramento at Terra Madre of the Americas. Each masterclass is $50.

We will be featuring some very special beauties, including a few wines where we'll be pouring the final vintages. 

Saturday May 18, 1-2 pm
Affordable Wines (under $30)

Featured wineries: Andis, Avivo, Cary Q, Donkey and Goat, Terah Wine Co.,  and Yorba

Get tickets

Sunday, May 19, 1-2 pm 
Slow Wine Goes Local - The Wines of Superior California

Get tickets

Sunday, May 19, 3-4 pm | Growing Great Grapes: The Wines of Shake Ridge Ranch with Anne Kraemer
and a special panel of winemakers 

This is a one of a kind tasting featuring wines made from a renowned site and viticulturalist. 

Confirmed panelists: Anne Kraemer (Yorba Wines and Shake Ridge Ranch), Angela Osborne (A Tribute to Grace), Helen Keplinger (Keplinger Wines), Matt and Audra Naumann (Newfound Wines), Cary Quintana (Cary Q), and Gustavo Sotelo (Orixe Sotelo).

Get tickets


You might also want to get a copy of Slow Wine Guide USA which features 15 estate wineries and 26 wineries that make wines appellated to the region. Get your copy here and support Slow Wine's values of "good, clean, fair." And go local.

See an excerpt

Read more

Get the guide

Friday, May 10, 2024

Extra Love | Old Vines That Are Organically Certified at the Historic Vineyard Society Tasting

The Corison family's historic Cabernet vines in their Kronos Vineyard in Napa waited 50 years to get on the Historic Vineyard Society's list  but made it, at 53, to this 2024 tasting (Pictured here: Grace and Cathy Corison)

I loved attending the Historic Vineyards Society's first tasting since the pandemic, and only its second big public tasting ever. (The first was in 2018 at the Press Club in SF.) 

You can read my story about this epic event last weekend on today: Star Studded Historic Vines Tasting Showcases California's Treasures.

It's worth mentioning that some of these producers farm and certify their vineyards as organic. (Some on the HVS list still use Roundup, if you can believe it, though most are what is called "practicing organic.")

• Bedrock (Home Ranch only)

• Carol Shelton (Grapes purchased from Jose Lopez vineyards for Monga Zin)

• Corison (as of 2023 - congrats!) Kronos Vineyard

Rory Williams from Frog's Leap

• Frog's Leap (as of 1997, the first in Napa Valley)

• Ridge Vineyards (estate owned vineyards) (not Pagani in Sonoma Valley which still uses Roundup)

• Scythian (the grapes bought from the Galliano family, including Lopez Vineyard)

• Turley (various, owned vineyards; some are not owned)

• Under the Wire (wine sourced from Bedrock Vineyard)


• Louis M. Martini, Monte Rosso Vineyard (owned by Gallo)


I thought it was also noteworthy that there are two second-geners here on this list...Grace Corison (pictured with her mother Cathy) and Rory Williams (son of John Williams). One should also mention Morgan Twain Peterson of Bedrock and his dad Joel Peterson, too. May it continue.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Monsanto Glyphosate Court Case to Be Made into a Major Motion Picture with Hollywood Stars (Think Laura Dern)

Carey Gillam, the top journalist reporting on the glyphosate court cases, announced today that the story told in her book The Monsanto Papers will now be made in to a major picture. Get the details here.

In her post on Substack, Gillam says the the victim, Lee Johnson, lies dying in his family's new home in Napa.

One of my favorite directors, Adam McKay, is also involved and was quoted in Variety as saying:

“These days stories about the “little guy” taking on huge institutions seem few and far between. Both in real life and on the big screen. So, when a story as riveting and inspiring as this one shows up on our desks we get excited. Why? Because people love and need these movies. They always have and always will,” said McKay, listing “Erin Brockovich,” “Silkwood,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Spotlight,” “12 Angry Men,” “Moneyball” and “Norma Rae” as prime examples. 

“I legitimately think I can list 200 wildly successful and beloved films about real people standing up against overwhelming odds with only fairness and truth on their side. So, let’s make number 201.”

Friday, May 3, 2024

New! Details about Terra Madre Event Coming Up in Sacramento with Slow Food and Slow Wine USA

For complete details with links visit:

The first edition of Terra Madre Americas, organized by Slow Food and Visit Sacramento, offers an international program where visitors will have the possibility of attending lectures, workshops and tastings. The main topics at the heart of the event will be coffee, wine and staple foods  from Latin American countries, which represent the richness of their biodiversity and culture and became commoties. This international event explores the interconnectedness of food with various aspects of our lives and environment, including the climate crisis, social justice, and education within the food and beverage system, through the lens of specific topics. This first edition represents the foretaste of what Terra Madre Americas is going to be in the coming years, where the whole continent and many communities will be actively involved.

Spotlight on Coffee

The Slow Food Coffee Coalition, an international, open, and collaborative network that unites everyone involved in the coffee supply chain, presents a rich program where passionate and experts can test their knowledge and taste new flavors. 

At the Barista class visitors cover the theoretical knowledge behind coffee, the origins, the roasting process, and of course, practice the hands-on elements. The class is run by Francesco Impallomeni from Nordic Roasting and is focused on espresso and espresso-based drinks and looks to both professional and simple coffee lovers. At the end of the class, the trainees will gain both a theoretical and practical understanding of espresso brewing as well as basic latte art skills. The class will be run everyday and is free upon registration. 

The Trends in Specialty coffee lecture presents a birds-eye view of the emerging trends in the specialty coffee industry, from cold brew to automation, and from new post-harvest processing methods to new ways to analyze coffee flavor. Mario Fernandez and Peter Giuliano will run it everyday and is free upon registration.  

The Coffee Value Assessment is a new system to evaluate coffee, proposed by the Specialty Coffee Association, which looks at all the different attributes in a green coffee, to discover which attributes are valuable to the assessor. In this workshop, visitors will learn about the system and will practice the sensory assessments in a tasting. Mario Fernadez, Technical Officer, Specialty Coffee Association; Peter Giuliano, Executive Director at Coffee Science Foundation and Chief Research Officer SCA will run it. The workshop will be on Friday and Saturday and is free upon registration.  

In the Collaborative Coffee, Silvia Rota and Emanuele Dughera from the Slow Food Coffee Coalition, will explore  the Participatory Guarantee System lecture, discovering alternative approaches to ensuring the quality of coffee while fostering inclusivity and active participation. The Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS), a grassroots certification methods that engage various stakeholders across the supply chain will be presented. The lecture runs on Sunday and is free upon registration.  

Spotlight on Latin America biocultural territories

In a Taste Workshop focusing on Brazilian açaí, the cook Maria do Socorro Almeida Nascimento will share her knowledge about açai, from its origins to the challenges communities are dealing with to continue preserving this product, including best practices.  The açaí berry originates from the Amazon region, primarily found near rivers and streams in the estuary of the Amazon River. By the 1980s, it was recognized as a superfood, and urbanization in the 1990s expanded its consumption to cities. Açaí is crucial for the health and sustenance of both rural and urban populations in the Amazon, serving as a staple food. However, its transformation into a commodity has led to issues such as poor working conditions and exploitation of labor, particularly in the harvesting process. Visitors will have the opportunity to taste the “Essencia do ver-o-peso” during the first event dedicated to açaí, and “Entre as matas e os rios” during the second one, both açaí-based dishes. The Taste Workshop will run on Friday and Sunday. Ticketed event. 

During Mexico corn Taste Workshop Jesus Roberto Poot Yah, a Mexican farmer,  together with Monica Orduña Sosa, member of the Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance in Mexico, will explore corn in all its intricacies, delving into its origins and examining the hurdles that farmers encounter in cultivating this crop, but also best practices related to Milpa cultivating system. The omnipresence of corn profoundly impacts our lives. Originating in Mexico 7,000-10,000 years ago, it forms the core of the Mesoamerican diet, intertwining with beans and squash in the traditional milpa system. Corporate control erodes biodiversity, ancestral knowledge, and economic autonomy, heightening inequality. In response, the Slow Food Milpa System Presidium in Chiapas preserves corn diversity, supports traditional farming, and markets milpa-based tostadas, fostering cultural and economic resilience.  During the first event chef Monica Orduña Sosa will prepare a taste called Toasted Corn Freshness, while during the second one she will prepare another corn-based dish, “Picaditas Milpa”.  The Workshop runs on Friday and Saturday. Ticketed event. 

In the Colombia panela Taste Workshop, visitors  will address the topic of sugarcane with Leidy Casimiro Rodríguez, a Cuban agroecological farmer, who will explain the origins of the product, its properties, but also the challenges that farmers face every day, ending with some best practices that can be adopted. Sugar, emblematic of indulgence and festivity, carries weighty social implications, yet its production poses significant health, environmental, and social concerns. Reevaluating its societal role is imperative, with its historical and production contexts serving as crucial points of reflection. From its ancient Asian origins to its colonial-era exploitation in the Caribbean, sugar’s trajectory prompts profound considerations of its multifaceted impact. Embracing agroecological approaches offers a pathway towards cultural preservation and sustainable alternatives. During this time of introduction to the world of sugarcane, Eduardo Martinez Cañas, member of the  Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance in Bogotá, Colombia, will prepare on the spot a dish with panela, an unrefined whole cane sugar, a fish with steam from viche, the Colombian sugarcane distillate, to complete the journey with a tasting activity. The workshop runs on Friday. Ticketed event. 

In the Chilean quinoa Taste Workshop, Andrea Carolina Oyarzo Mansilla, a Chilean quinoa farmer will discuss quinoa in all its nuances, from its origins to the challenges farmers face in growing this product. Additionally, we will also address the topic of good practices that can be implemented. 

High in protein, fiber, and minerals, quinoa is hailed as a superfood. However, of over 6,000 varieties, only three dominate the international market. Global demand has led to significant impacts on traditional production regions. Despite its cultural significance, quinoa faced a decline in popularity during colonization, though it remained cherished by indigenous communities. By the late 20th century, scientific validation of its nutritional properties sparked global interest, transforming it from a local delicacy to a globally sought-after food. In this context, the Slow Food network in the Andean region promotes traditional quinoa recipes, preserving cultural heritage and encouraging sustainable cultivation practices.  In addition to this discussion, during the first event there will be a tasting of K’ispiñas de quinua (ancestral Andean cookie), an andean salted cracker steamed on a bed of straw, while during the second one there will be a sampling session of Cookie dough with real quinoa mousse, sweet red quinoa cookies, which will be cooked by Maria Ruth Gutiérrez Vargas, from Bolivia, on the spot. The workshop will run on Saturday and Sunday. Ticketed event. 

Furthermore, attendees can enjoy a sampling session featuring “Delight of Cupuaçu”, prepared with cocoa on-site during the product unveiling. During this event there will be a tasting of Delight of Cupuaçu, a dish with typical Brazilian ingredients, including cocoa, prepared by Slow Food cook Patricia Ellen Rodrigues Nicolau, from Rio de Janeiro. The roots of chocolate trace back to the Amazon, where indigenous farmers toil to cultivate cocoa. From Mesoamerican temples to European delicacies, cocoa’s journey reshaped culinary landscapes. However, behind its allure lies a troubling truth: cocoa’s farmers are often underpaid and endure harsh conditions. Ethical cocoa production, such as the Cabruca Cocoa Slow Food Presidium in South of Bahia, Brazil, aims to empower farmers, preserve biodiversity, and create sustainable, fair-trade chocolate.

The Workshop runs on Saturday. Ticketed event. 

During the Taste Workshop Brazil cocoa and Colombian viche Leidy Casimiro Rodríguez, farmers from Cuba will talk about agroecological farms with a focus on sugarcane the challenges that farmers  face every day to bring good, clean and fair  food to everyone’s table and the topic of adopting good practices in food systems. 

The presentation will be accompanied by a delicious  tasting of cocoa and sugarcane, cooked on the spot by Eduardo Martinez Cañas, from Colombia, and Patricia Ellen Rodrigues Nicolau, from Brazil : chicken with corn and panela sauce, which will represent sugarcane, and a chocolate soufflé, representing cocoa. The workshop runs on Sunday. Ticketed event. 

Spotlight on Food and Health

The Food and Health area is an exhibit where visitors can discover the connections between human and planetary health.  Through interactive experiences, visitors can find answers and take home good practices to improve their nutrition, support animal welfare, and protect the environment. In the Play Slow corner children and families visiting the event can take part in fun, educational activities focused on food, senses, and even a little horticulture. Slow Food educators will be leading these experiences.

This dedicated space for young children allows them to explore food through their senses and ask questions about where it comes from, how it’s produced, and who produces it.

Participation in these activities is free, and no reservations are required. 

Spotlight on Wine

During the Everyday Wines Masterclass visitors can explore California wines from lesser-known varieties originally from France, Italy, Portugal and Spain that have taken root here. They will discover a Portuguese white, a lightly sparkling Mourvedre from El Dorado, a red blend from Amador County, Sangiovese from biodynamic vines in Lodi, a low alcohol Italian red blend, and heritage Cinsault from historic vines in this masterclass. The Masterclass runs on Saturday. Ticketed event. 

The Masterclass Latin America: land of great wines and great differences – masterclass visitors explore  the fascinating enology of Latin America, which now expresses very high quality peaks. All combined with sustainable agriculture and organic and biodynamic agronomic practices. It will also be a ride through different techniques and disparate grape varieties, so we can enjoy a broad fresco of what is happening in the Latin American wine world, which may yet hold many surprises in store. The Masterclass runs on Saturday. Ticketed event. 

The Slow Wine goes local Masterclass explores the region of “Superior California” encompassing Lodi, the Sierra Nevada Foothills, the California Delta and Yolo County, home to a wealth of old vine vineyards and the Slow Wine producers who cherish them. Selected wines  tell the story of these terroirs and showcase the talents of the makers whose efforts have preserved their heritage. The region favors heat-loving varieties including Cinsault, Syrah and Zinfandel but there are surprises like Albarino around every corner. The Masterclass runs on Sunday.Ticketed event. 

The Growing Great Grapes: Amador County’s Legendary Shake Ridge Ranch Masterclass presents how California’s best winemakers and emerging vintners alike come to Sutter Creek to get great grapes. Since 2005, winemakers–from Napa’s top tiers to fledgling natural vintners–have coveted the 14 varieties legendary vineyardist Anne Kraemer meticulously grows in Amador County in the Sierra foothills from Barbera, Grenache and Syrah to Tempranillo and Zinfandel. The Masterclass runs on Sunday. Ticketed event. 

On May 20th, the event will move to Mulvaney’s B&L for a day exclusively dedicated to food & wine industry professionals who will have the opportunity to meet more than 30 wineries from the United States and Central and South America, all of which are participating in the Slow Wine Coalition.

More on Terra madre Americas on 

Tickets available here: 

Practical information: from May 17 – 19, 2024 | 10 am – 6 pm

Sacramento Memorial Auditorium

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Wine Critic Miguel Hudin calls Slow Wine Guide, "An ethos of sanity in what is an insane world"

We at Slow Wine Guide USA are celebrating over some incredible praise from wine writer and critic Miquel Hudin

He writes, "...the massive meat of the profiles of wineries, the people, vineyards, and of course the wines. There’s really too much to get into as one can imagine that 400 profiles takes up a rather large chunk of space. But this is a great set of data with clear writing and will be really useful for wine drinkers in the US or even professionals looking for a ready reference of wineries that they’d like to stock that hold an ethos of sanity in what is an insane world."

Thank you to all of our field contributors who make the guide the incredible resource that it is.

You can see sample pages and purchase guides at (Makes a great gift, too - stock up!)

Monday, April 22, 2024

Happy Earth Day–Let's Scale!: Organic is Grow-Grow-Growing in Lodi

Lodi for all its historic charm has never been a hot bed of organic wine grape growing...and more's the pity. 

A few brave souls, Tegan Passalaqua of Sandlands and Morgan Peterson of Bedrock, are the fine wine guys who are growing organically there, along with Markus Bokisch who has 84 acres of organic vines. (He sold a few recently). The Lucas Winery continues to plug along with three acres of historic vines certified organic since 2009.

Now Vino Farms, the powerhouse company that oversees 17,000 acres of vines, is stepping into the organic world with more than 320 acres certified organic and biodynamic. And 400 more are on the way. WOO-EEE. 

Craig Ledbetter sent this list of organic and/or biodynamic vineyards that Vino Farms farms under organic certification today:

Ranch 1 – The Bench – 54.5 acres certified – 150+/- in transition

Ranch 7 Rivers Edge – 11.2 acres certified

Ranch 8 – Simmerhonrn – 17 acres certified

Ranch 9 Vista Luna – 139 acres certified

Ranch 15 – Hidden Oaks – 100 acres certified.


"We have started transitioning roughly 400 more acres that will be certified in 2025 and 2026." he said.


Happy Earth Day–Let's Scale!

Want to read more about the Ledbetter's path?

Catchup with these articles I wrote for WineBusiness here.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Slow Food's Terra Madre of the Americas May 18-19 (and Trade Tasting on 20th) Launches in Sacramento with Slow Wine USA Masterclasses!

You may have heard of the granddaddy of all food events, the Slow Food movement's Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, which takes place every other year in Turin, Italy, bringing together the global food and wine movement. But it's a long way to go.

This year, the same Italian team, along with local coordinators, is launching the inaugural Terra Madre of the Americas in conjunction with Visit Sacramento during the weekend of May 18-19. The mammoth event will feature food marketplaces, networking, music and flavors and foods from North and South America. 

SlowWine USA editors and co-directors Deborah Parker Wong and Pam Strayer (yours truly) will be presenting three wine masterclasses, open to the public. 

A grand tasting with Slow Wine wineries pouring takes place on Sunday, as well ($75, 12-5 pm). 

(A special trade event is also scheduled for Monday.)

Get your masterclass and/or Sunday tasting tickets here!

You can also buy copies of the Slow Wine Guide 2024 to find more Slow Wine wineries and award-winning wines. 


Here are the details on each masterclass: 

Saturday, May 18

• 1-2 pm: Everyday Wines (priced $30 and under)

Focuses on affordable wines of the Sierra Foothills and Lodi ($30 and under) from artisan, boutique producers including Avivo, Andis, Donkey and Goat,  Terah, and others. Tasting includes a sparkling Mourvèdre from El Dorado County, two Sangiovese wines from the same certified biodynamic Lodi site (made in different styles), and more wines. Discover your next favorite wine.

Price: $50 

Sunday, May 19

• 1-2 pm: Slow Wine Goes Local

Taste top wines from the Sierra Foothills, Lodi and surrounding areas. 

Price: $50 

• 3-4 pm: The Wines of Shake Ridge Ranch with Anne Kraemer and Friends

California’s best winemakers and emerging vintners alike come to Sutter Creek to get great grapes. Since 2005, winemakers–from Napa’s top tiers to fledgling natural vintners–have coveted the 14 varieties legendary vineyardist Anne Kraemer meticulously grows in Amador County in the Sierra foothills from Barbera, Grenache and Syrah to Tempranillo and Zinfandel. See why in this sampling of terroir-driven wines with Kraemer and selected winemakers.

Price: $50 

Get your masterclass and/or Sunday tasting tickets here!

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Spring is Here and So Are the Roundup Documentaries: "Into the Weeds" Documentary Launches on Amazon Prime and Apple TV

A Canadian documentary filmmaker's in depth look at the first major court case on the herbicide Roundup is now available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime or on Apple TV.

Into the Weeds is a CBC produced film and is an authoritative documentary chronicling the Roundup trials and community responses to glyphosate based herbicides from public health toxicology experts, entomologists, victims and the legal teams behind the court cases. 

It's not just great science and legal reporting–it's a compelling, engaging film. Read more here.

100 percent of Rotten Tomatoes viewers rated it "Fresh"

And more:

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

How a Salad Bar Disaster Changed the Course of U.S. Wine History

Since is no more, I'm bringing back an important article I wrote for them (which launched to high praise). The history of the no sulfite weirdness in the U.S. goes back aways. And it was a real detective story finding the facts...took me a whole year plus a chance encounter on a bus in St. Chinian with an American importer who knew where many of the bones were buried. 

Unveil the truths in the fog of history here.


Confusion over organic wine sulfites has plagued the industry since the early 1980s.

A pitched battle between anti-sulfite purists, many in the food sector, and the mainstream U.S. wine industry led to laws about organic wine that have been confusing for decades.

The result is the U.S. has wine laws specifying three different sulfite standards, whereas the E.U. only has one.

It’s a situation that has caused confusion for consumers and held back the cause of organic wines. And it was all thanks to the salad bar. The salad bar?

Salad wars

By 1985, salad bars were so popular that even Burger King introduced one, complete with a now famous TV commercial featuring model Elle MacPherson. The video juxtaposed her “perfect 10” body with close-ups of broccoli, tomatoes, and lettuce.

But salad bars had a secret problem. Lettuce wilts or turns brown. To prevent that, restaurants put lettuce in sulfite solutions ― but some didn’t measure carefully.

Sulfites can affect people with asthma. People with a rare genetic defect called multiple sulfatase deficiency can have reactions. Soon there were 500 reports of sulfite reactions, some mild, others severe. Authorities reported that 13 people died from salad bar sulfite solutions.

But the dose makes the difference, according to wine chemistry expert Andy Waterhouse, director of the Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science at University of California, Davis.

“There are reports of severe and life-threatening reactions when sulfites were added at erroneously and enormously high levels,” he wrote about the salad bar sulfites scare, adding that the amounts in salad bar sulfites were as much as 100 times higher than recommended.

In 1986, the outcry over the deaths led the Food and Drug Administration to ban sulfite solutions on raw fruits and vegetables and to require sulfite labeling on foods with greater or equal to 10 parts per million of sulfites.

The next year, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the federal agency that regulates wine, chose to follow the FDA’s lead and declared that any wine with greater or equal to 10 parts per million of sulfites had to put sulfites on the label.

The decision was made without evidence-based, peer-reviewed published medical studies showing wine sulfites were a health hazard.

California’s Wine Institute, at the time representing 500 wineries, initially opposed the sulfite labeling requirement, writing, “There has never been a health problem with the sulfiting of wine.” But it later agreed that labeling could help some asthmatics, writing, “While warning labels are certainly not warranted, informational labeling could assist some hyper-allergenic asthmatics.”

More recent research suggests that red wine headaches and asthmatic’s allergic reactions come from histamines, tannins, and alcohol and not from sulfites.

Instant impact

Before 1987, a number of wineries had been making wine from organic grapes and, in the absence of organic wine regulations, calling it organic wine. Like winemakers around the world, most organic wineries used small amounts of sulfites to preserve the wine.

But when the TTB’s new sulfite labeling requirements came out, consumers who thought organic wines were additive free were dismayed to see new labeling that said, “contains sulfites.”

“It just didn’t sound very organic, even though it could have been from organic sources,” says Paul Chartrand, who imports organically grown wines from France. “Those of us who were selling organic wine started to get a lot of flack from consumers.”

To some organic winemakers, it appeared that the only way to sell organic wine was to make wine with less than 10 ppm of added sulfite, to avoid the label “contains sulfites.”

The wine wars

In 1990, the federal government’s decision to create the first organic food and wine standards provoked intense public debate. In its first draft, the Department of Agriculture allowed GMOs, factory farming, irradiation, and more. It allowed organic wine to contain up to 100 ppm of sulfites.

More than 130,000 people protested the food standards, in “one of the largest public responses in the history of federal rulemaking,” according to Organic Watch’s Roger Blobaum, a farmer and chronicler of the organic movement.

Along with the food responses, there was discussion about wine, too. There were the pragmatists who said organic wine should be able to contain low amounts of added sulfites, like their European counterparts today. And there were the purists who thought adding sulfites of more than 10 ppm would only happen over their dead bodies.

Among their leaders was Phil LaRocca, an organic chef and TV organic cooking show host turned organic grape grower who sold his grapes to Frey Vineyards, then a no added sulfite organic wine producer. He vowed that no chemicals, including sulfites, should be in wine labeled organic.

“When I made that statement — that we’re not going to put any chemicals in the wine — I had no idea at that time that the whole wine industry would hate my guts,” he told Pix.

Born of Sicilian stock and raised in San Francisco’s Italian North Beach neighborhood, he knew how to go toe to toe with an opponent. There were two women on the National Organic Standards Board at the time he was writing the rule, “and I went to them and I said, ‘if they allow sulfites, which are not organic, in wine, you could have milk with a preservative in it.’ I won them over, so I had all these women’s groups supporting the no sulfites in wines.”

Chartrand says the claims were exaggerated. “People said, ‘if we let sulfites in organic wine, it’s going to open up a whole lot of things. It could even spread to food. You can’t make any concessions.’ Even some of the wine producers making wine without added sulfites sort of played into that. They really riled people up.”

Sulfite and anti-alcohol opponents showed up in full force.

The pro-temperance Center for Science in the Public Interest, backed by funding from the anti-substance abuse Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, piled on. Experienced at lobbying on issues related to alcoholic beverages, they saw organic wine sulfite complications as yet another way to deter consumers from alcohol.

“They appeared in almost every meeting,” says Chartrand. “They knew how it worked, they knew how to testify, they knew how to get consumers behind them for the issues they believed in, they have a big mailing list, and they were an influence.”

Testifying in the USDA hearings in favor of the 100-ppm sulfite cap ― supported by most wineries ― vintner Brian Fitzpatrick warned, “Consequences of failure to use sulfur dioxide are inferior products with a very high (>20%) rate of returns.”

But the purists won, to the detriment of some wines ― after the no added sulfite wines hit the market, giant retailers like BevMo would not carry them after consumers returned spoiled wines.

The government opened new hearings in 2012. A coalition led by organic importer Paolo Bonetti of Organic Vintners lobbied to revise the law to define 100 ppm wines as organic wines.

The University of California’s respected wine chemistry expert Waterhouse testified in favor of the 100 ppm standard. Their opponents, backed by the Organic Consumers Association, gathered 6,000 signatures in a petition supporting the no added sulfite standard.

But, again, the purists beat the pragmatists.

The powerful potato lobby

As the Santa Rosa wine lab Gravity Winehouse writes, wine sulfite laws seem strange in comparison to sulfite labeling for, say, French fries.

On their blog, the lab writes, “To this day, the French fries at your favorite fast-food restaurant, with sulfur levels around 1,900 ppm, can be cooked and served to consumers without declaration. Yet, wines with nearly one-twentieth the amount of sulfiting agent must declare the additive.”

Says Chartrand, “Many processed organic food manufacturing groups succeeded in allowing their required synthetic substances because their industries were unified and organized.”

But the wine industry, unlike their counterparts in potato growing, took little interest in the organic wine sulfite issues. One big company, Brown-Forman, which then owned Fetzer and Bonterra, an organic brand with 100 ppm wines, got behind the 100 ppm standard. Eventually, that became the “Made with Organic Grapes” popular in the U.S. marketplace today.

Experts believe the confusing sulfite standards have dramatically slowed the growth of organic wine in the U.S. In Europe’s three biggest wine-producing countries ― France, Italy, and Spain― organic wine grape acreage represents 18% of vineyard land, versus an estimated 3% in the U.S. That means U.S. vineyards can legally apply pesticides to 97% of vines, compared to 82% in the top three European wine regions.

Organic in the EU

In France, organic wine made with sulfites is the fastest-growing market segment. Like organic food, consumers in France pay a premium — in this case about 26% more — for organic wine .

Eyeing those profits, CIVB reports that 300 Bordeaux producers are planning to become certified organic.

With just one standard, things are much simpler in the EU, compared to the three in the U.S.: “Organic Wine” with a 10-ppm sulfite cap; “Made with Organic Grapes” with a 100-ppm sulfite cap; and “Ingredients: Organic Grapes” with a 350-ppm cap, aligned with the overall wine industry standard.

U.S. organic wine labeling laws present headaches for foreign, certified organic producers who want to sell certified organically grown wines in America with organic labeling.

“They harmonized organic standards between the EU and the U.S.,” Waterhouse said, “so that it would be easier to trade organic products back and forth. But the one exception was sulfites and wine.”

Until that changes, wine sellers will have to keep answering questions about sulfites in wine, explaining why producers do or do not make wine with sulfites, and why sulfite labels are on wine bottles.

Organically-grown wine is now growing fast

Today wine lovers are increasingly choosing organically-grown wines, with or without sulfites. Even in tony Napa, 83 wineries now have estates with certified organic vineyards — about 11% of county vines.

Those who love and appreciate organically grown wines often have to go the extra mile to seek them out, but organically-grown wines are finding favor.

As for the salad bar? No sulfite solutions allowed.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Napa Filmmaker's Herbicide Documentary, Children of the Vine, Now Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

On March 4, Brian Lilla's film Children of the Vine launched on Amazon Prime Video, bringing it to wider audiences. The platform has 200 million global subscribers.

(The film is also available on Apple TV but only outside the U.S.)

Costs to rent it on Amazon are $1.99. Purchase is $4.99.

Originally released in 2022, the documentary premiered at the Sonoma International Film Festival

"It began at Sebastopol’s Rialto Cinemas and has since spread to 15 states in the United States, as well as to South Africa," the Press Democrat (in Sonoma) said. 

Lilla circulated the film in grassroots campaigns around the globe. 

For more about the film, see these posts:

                                                                       Link to this post 

Link to this post

NOTE: Napa vintners Dario Sattui and Tom Davies credited seeing the film as underlying their decision to convert their 350 acres of estate vineyards for V. Sattui and Castello di Amorosa wineries to organic farming and certification, a move their vineyard crew fully supports and applauds. 

Monday, April 1, 2024

Slow Wine USA's Organic and Biodynamic Contingent at the Annual Slow Wine Tour in San Francisco

One need not be organic or biodynamic to be included in Slow Wine USA's annual guide, but it's always a pleasure to showcase the producers who are certified (since this blog is about organics) on the annual tour.

NOTE: The Terra Madre of the Americas event in Sacramento coming May 18-19 for consumers with a masterclass Saturday May 18th will feature U.S. Slow Wine wineries. There will be a trade tasting for wineries pouring at the event on May 20 and two masterclasses for trade as well. Stay tuned for details.

With pleasure, here are the U.S. wineries with certified vines who poured at last week's prestigious event at the Metreon where U.S. Slow Wine wineries poured alongside their Italian peers who were concluding a five city tour in the U.S.

Jason Drew of Drew Wines with Jackson Family wine
educator Gillian Handelman

Winemaker Darrin Low from Domaine Anderson with the
single vineyard designate from Dach Vineyard

Cary Q with her new Cinsault from Fennaughty Vineyard.
She sources from some certified organic vineyards, including Bokisch in Lodi.

Marilyn Harris from Paradigm in Napa pouring the latest vintage
Napa Cab from their certified organic estate in Oakville 

Ridgely Evers from DaVero and Avivo shares his 
biodynamic wines from Sonoma, Mendocino and for his
Avivo label, Lodi's first biodynamic vineyard

Lovely wines from Troon (certified biodynamic)
in southern Oregon

Friday, March 29, 2024

Veneto, Verona, Valpolicella, Valentina–"Would You Like to Taste My Wine?" | Women's History Month Featured Winery

Valentina and her daughter Paola at their Valpolicella estate near Verona

As we head into the final days of Women's History month, I wanted to be sure to close out the month with one of the more remarkable women producer stories I know of. And selfishly, I hope some wonderful importer will decide to bring her wines to the US. 

I was lucky enough to visit the Veneto on a trip last May courtesy of a press trip for wine writers and influencers – thank you, EU marketing dollars – and explored the region over the course of 5+ days on a group tour. We had a lovely stay, staying at lodgings in Soave. 

During our few free hours in our outing to Verona, I arranged a side trip to see Valentina Cubi, who I had learned about several years ago in an amazing Amarone and Valpolicella masterclass led by my friend and Slow Wine co-editor and colleague Deborah Parker Wong.  

What a delight to meet and visit with Valentina and her daughter, Paola, who also works at the estate. 

When I arrived in May, it was hot...and lovely to try Valentina's first rosé...

Here's her story.

"Would you like to taste my wine?" said Valentina. That was the prelude to a two hour visit, meeting her at the winery and tasting room, organized around a beautiful courtyard with views of the vines and their charming agrotourismo. 

The delightful 80 year old might have one of the more unusual career paths to becoming a winemaker with an organic vineyard, going from housewife and teacher to, at age 60, vineyard manager and wine producer.

Today, her kingdom is a beautiful compound and several vineyards in the picturesque Fumane region of the Valpolicella Classico area in Negrar in the Veneto, where she and her family produce 3,000+ cases of Valpolicella as well as the region’s star attraction–a deep, dry red wine called Amarone. 

Giancarlo and Valentina


Her husband’s family was in the wine business, but he was not and he missed it. So when the couple had a chance to buy 7 hectares (17 acres) in Fumane, they bought their first vineyard and became growers. She ran the household, raising two children and then teaching primary school for 20 years. 

“At that time, I was a teacher at the primary school with two children. Paola was just born. And my son was less than two years old. So I didn't have time to take care of the winery. And so for many years, we made wine, we sold all the [bulk] wine to the producers.”

And then, after 20 years, she stopped teaching and started taking care of the vineyard.

“So I had to learn something–how to grow the vine. And then, with my son, we grew. We decided to start bottling the wine, we built the cellar, we tried to have a beautiful place to have guests. So, in 2005 we went into the market with our labels.”

“We sold Valpilicella 2004 and Amarone 1997. Because when we decided to bottle the wine, we left a small tank of Amaro 97, 98, 2000, 2001 in a corner. They were very good vintages.”

“We still have some bottles because sometimes when we make some tasting of special vintages, it's important to check in with the way our wine ages. So we started– we're still finding our market–we sell a little bit everywhere. But mostly to small companies because we don't produce a lot of bottles.”

Transition to Organics at Valentina Cubi

“When I started taking care of the vineyard (in 2003) I decided to use less chemical products. We didn't use the most aggressive or the strongest in the beginning but I wasn’t thinking about organic.”

“And then I thought–but why we don't try it? I believe that whatever is used in agriculture goes in the water that you use every day. No one checks if there are some pesticides in the water and maybe you don't drink the water that you have at your house, but rather use it to wash yourself, to wash the vegetables, to cook the pasta. So everyday uses. I decided to start the organic way. Now many people do. It's good.”

“At the time when we started working in the organic way, people believed that it was crazy because in the beginning it was quite hard–nowadays it’s more normal…but then the other people said, why organic, when we produced less grapes and it was very difficult.”

What is the difference between using the chemicals and being organic? 

Vigilance, she said.

“You cannot say ‘Okay, I did my treatment and now it's okay. You must pay attention to this. When you decide to become organic, you notice.” The first year was an easy vintage, she said. “It was a perfect year. The rain came at the right time. The sun was good. There was not too much humidity.”

By 2014 she became the first producer in the Valpolicella Classic region to be certified organic. 

“Now everywhere where there are young people, they take care of the environment today for the organic production…old people not too much. They want to produce grapes, they don't take care of the pollution.”

Ironically her husband’s occupation is selling winemaking equipment along with agrochemicals–that are not allowed in organic viticulture. 

Says Valentina’s daughter Paula: “My father said, 'I cannot bring my customer to our winery, because my wife does not use my products.' And she's fighting, on the other hand, with all the journalists who think that she’s not telling the truth about being organic. They think she will use the chemicals.”  But she doesn’t.

Times have changed and today organic is much more accepted.

And the bottles are labeled organic to eliminate any doubt. 

A New Frizzante Rosé

Over time, with her daughter and son in law, their brand has grown and this year they introduced a frizzante rosé Antenatus.  Made from Cortina, the major grape in the region, it’s a perfect summer wine. And it is only 9.5 percent alcohol. I wish I could have some right now, in fact–it would be a great aperitif for Easter–but currently no one is importing her wines into the U.S. 

‘I produce Amarone, but I love light wine. Because I can drink a whole glass without problem,” she said. “And young people in particular like this wine a lot.”

After the Pandemic, The Tourists Are Back

Both in 2023 and 2024, Valentina won a Great Wine Capitals regional accommodations award for the stunningly beautiful rooms the family rents to tourists, served with breakfasts worth writing home about. (More about the wines and the rooms here). Located midway between Bardolino on Lake Garda and the city of Verona, the winery and rooms are just a 25 minute drive to either location.

“I won a prize. They gave me a prize for the accommodation. They said it was because I rebuilt all of the courtyard, building with the respect of the local materials,” Cubi said.

It is a relief after the disruptions in tourism and supply chains that the pandemic brought. But things are not yet normal.

“This summer, we celebrate because tourism is back at Lake Garda which is very close. A lot of tourists from north of Europe come to the winery to buy the wines.” 

Yet it’s still variable. 

“Last Saturday, we were full of people. We were running, running, running. But yesterday, nobody. Strange but nevermind. I think it is still a quite difficult period.”

One concern is that though Lake Garda and Verona are full of tourists, they don’t tend to stay in the area very long. 

“Lake Garda is full of people. Verona is full of tourists–it was very busy today. I was surprised there was this morning a site calling for a competition with more than 1,500 cyclists…every day Verona is full of people. They may also have seen a movie during Covid on Romeo and Juliet. Many people come but just to stay one night and then they just to see the Juliet balcony. So the tourists are not that important. They don’t spend a lot of money. The restaurants are not happy.”

The winery had a good importer for the U.S. until 2007. They are currently looking for another one in the U.S. At the moment, they are just selling one pallet to a restaurant in Chicago.

The Family

Valentina’s husband, Giancarlo, is 81. 

Her daughter Paolo and Paolo’s husband work with her these days. 

And her own mother is still alive. “She has better memory than me,” said Valentina. Her mother’s secret to a long life? “To drink a bit of grappa every day in the coffee. It is very common for all people actually to put a little bit of grappa in the coffee but only after the lunch or the meal of the day, not every day. If you drink it at four o'clock, not better.”

The Wines

The wines range from IGT to DOC and DOCG. I found all of them absolutely top quality and would love to drink them every week. They make two Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC wines (Iltabarro) and a ripasso Rusnatico and, of course, Amarone.

Valentina Cubi wines at Bio Wine Fair


What does it take to make a good Amarone? Ten years of aging at a minimum, Valentina says. 

As we tasted, she said, ”This is youngest that we are selling now, because we would like to finish 2010 and 2011, but in any case our Amarone is in the market after 10 years and more.” 


“We age the wines for 3 to 4 years in wood and then we bottle and leave it in the bottle for another five or six years, while we taste and see how it is aging, but we need the 10 years minimum to release the wine, she said.

Her 2014 Morar DOCG is the only organically grown Amarone since no one else was certified that long ago. My tasting notes: “Such beautiful spice on the finish just going on and on and on...elegance and finesse."

I ask her, “What do you like to eat with this?”

“All the cheeses Parmegiano…but also some game. For example, red meat, but I cook it with some spices, not the normal barbecue. In my opinion, a barbecue is good with ripasso, for example.”

Like beef Bourguignon, the region likes to make red meat soaked in Amarone.

“We leave the meat one night in a pan full of Amarone. We cover the meat with Amarone, some onion, celery, carrots, some herbs, a spicy hebr, and then the day after we cook slowly, slowly the meat into this wine. And then when the meat is cooked, we take away the meat from the pan. We make the wine with the vegetable boil more and more. We mix all the vegetable and we make a sauce, with salt and pepper, and then we cut the meat, and we cover with the sauce. And we serve with polenta. It is a typical dish of this area.”

Said Paola, “You should come in the wintertime.”

Climate Change

There have been changes over five decades. 

“When we bought this property, 50 or so years ago, we used to harvest it around the 20th of October. Last year, for the first time, we started in the last week of August,” Valentina said.

The local authorities have permitted required regional winemaking standards to adapt. 

“It is the first year that Consortium allowed the grapes to dry a little bit less than 90 days, as we should do, for the Amarone, to avoid the high alcohol in the wine. Because if you dry the grapes more, you have more sugar, more alcohol. And then it's also difficult to sell after.”

Valentina and her Amarone were featured in a Slow Food event in the fall of 2023. 

For more, I recommend Deborah Parker Wong's 2020 Somm Journal article here

You can find ongoing coverage by following the winery on Instagram and Facebook

Here's to becoming a vineyard manager at the age of 60, launching a family wine brand at 63, and making great, affordable Valpolicella wines and gorgeous Amarone.

Warning…if you visit, consider bringing an empty suitcase so you can buy wine and bring it home. 

Ciao for now.