Tuesday, June 15, 2021

First Heat, Then Frost: 2021 Chablis and Rhone Wines Off the Menu? Climate Scientists Say Climate Change Increased Chance of France's Worst Wine Frost 60%, Losses Estimated at $4.85 Billion

Weather stations with March (left) high records broken and April (right) low records broken in 2021 in France. Source: Météo-France.

Chablis from the 2021 vintage may no longer be available on the menu. Nor Rhones. Nor Champagne. Or at least it will cost more - possibly a lot more. 

The frost that occurred in early April in France is, “probably the biggest agricultural disaster in the beginning of the 21st century,” according to experts at the French Ministry of Agriculture, resulting in billions in losses and reducing wine production for the 2021 vintage in key regions by as much as 90 percent.

Climate modeling scientists from the World Weather Attribution initiative say the risks of the extreme high spring temperatures causing early bud break - followed by early frosts - were increased 60 percent due to climate change. And, they say, this alarming trend is predicted to continue. (See full study here.)

The National Federation of Farmers' Unions (FNSEA) estimated that a third of the country’s overall wine production could be lost.

Climate scientists collaborating from four European countries calculated climate change's impacts on the early bud break/early frost debacle say it's the anthropogenic climate changes that are messing with Mother Nature.

Quoted in Euronews, Philippe Pellaton, President of the Inter-Rhone Association of winegrowers, said the frost means this year will result in "the smallest harvest of the Côtes du Rhône in the last 40 years." Burgundy reported at least 50 percent of the crop was lost. Chablis reported losses of 80 to 90 percent.

The new climate report details a sort of climate change induced traffic jam, where rising temperatures that bring early bud break also increase the dangers of running into early frosts, climate researchers said.

The study was authored by the World Weather Attribution initiative and conducted by an international group of scientists from the Institut Pierre-Simon Laplace (from the French National Centre for Scientific Research and the Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission), the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, the University of Oxford, the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry Jena, and Météo-France.

Sadly, one of France's leading organic wine regions, the Languedoc-Roussillon, was among those hit hardest. Due to its Mediterranean climate, the southern region is one of the first to warm in the spring. 

In the Gard, Hérault and Aude, vintners said as much as 90 percent of the crop was lost in the worst hit areas.

One organic vintner, in Hérault, Émilie Faucheron posted a heart wrenching video about the frost, which was viewed by thousands throughout France, bringing the human element to the crisis reporting.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

PARAQUAT IN VINEYARDS? Yes - One in Eight Acres of California Wine Grape Vineyards Sprayed With Paraquat, the Poisonous Pesticide Causing Parkinson's


Source: Tracking California (DPR Data)

California winegrowers used 75,329 pounds of paraquat dichloride on 75,463 acres of wine grapes in the state in 2018, according to the most recent data compiled by the Department of Pesticide Regulation. The deadly pesticide, linked to Parkinson's disease, was applied to 13 percent of the state's 590,000 acres of wine grapes.

This map show exactly where it was sprayed. 

NOTE: I first wrote about paraquat use on this blog five years ago in 2017

What is most surprising is that paraquat is not just sprayed in the Central Valley. Coastal counties are also big users with Monterey County topping the list of the biggest in 2018.

By 2019 that had changed with Kern County in the lead. Here are the 2019 standings from DPR data. 

Should you think twice about buying that non-organic supermarket wine? 


• Monterey County | 18,810 pounds on 28,004 acres

• San Luis Obispo | 3,235 pounds on 2,790 acres


• Kern County | 11,441 pounds on 9.282 acres

• Fresno County | 10,163 pounds on 9.658 acres

• Merced County | 9,099 pounds on 6,613 acres

• San Joaquin County | 6,033 pounds on 5,255 acres

• Stanislaus County (Modesto area) | 3,173 pounds on 2,388 acres


While paraquat and associated drift have been studied by UCLA epidemiologists and shown in dozens of studies to be linked to Parkinson's disease, the poisonous chemical, banned in Europe, is about to get its moment in the spotlight as new plaintiffs file suits against its Swiss-headquartered, Chinese-owned agrochemical giant manufacturer. Paraquat, known as Gramoxone, is manufactured in England, where its use is banned.

The U. S. Right to Know group, which followed the Roundup cases, has set up a new center for tracking these cases and the science linking paraquat to Parkinson's. It's called the Paraquat Papers.

As in the Roundup cases, lawyers have found evidence that Syngenta, which manufactures paraquat, knew of the herbicides's extreme toxicity and failed to adequately protect consumers who used the product. 

Law firms are actively seeking plaintiffs for new lawsuits. 

One important development fueling these suits is the testimony of a former Syngenta toxicology scientist, Jon Heylings, who for years tried to convince the company to increase the amount of an emetic (a substance that makes humans vomit) so that it would be harder for people to swallow a fatal dose, but the company did not act on his recommendations. 

A U.S. law firm representing U.S. plaintiffs contacted him and Heylings released internal documents collected from years of work on the subject. See more coverage from The Guardian and Beyond Pesticides here.

Jon Heylings

Writing in the New York Times last year, Jane Brody interviewed Parkinson's expert Dr. Tanner, a neurologist and environmental health scientist at the University of California, San Francisco, who told her, "In 2017, it [Parkinson's] resulted in about $25 billion in direct medical costs and another $26 billion in indirect costs, she said." Experts have called Parkinson's a man-made epidemic.

UCLA epidemiologist Beate Ritz, who testified as an expert witness in the recent Roundup trials in California, did some of the pioneering research linking paraquat use in agriculture to Parkinson's in California. Her research focused on Fresno, Kern and Tulare County residents. (For other NYTimes coverage, click here.) 
Ritz studies: 2011 and 2009 

Quoted in a 2016 article in the New York Times, Ritz said, "It’s a poison, and we really shouldn’t be using this as an herbicide in the way we do."


So the question might be: is paraquat banned in the Wine Institute's sustainability program, CSWA? And the surprising answer is no. Paraquat is not encouraged, but it is permitted (with justification on why it needs to be used). The question is: why?

(Other sustainability programs do not permit its use. These include Napa Green, and, as of December 1, 2020, SIP Certified.)

Another question: why is the EPA still allowing its use? 

Wine growers in the EU may not use it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Future of Wine in the Americas: Sustainability Conference To Take Place June 1-3

As climate change solutions dominate the national and world stage, the wine industry is focusing more heavily on solutions inside its wheelhouse. A newly launched conference aims to dig into some of the key issues and ongoing dialogues on chemical versus organic farming, "low carbon wine," and other areas.

As senior editor of Slow Wine Guide USA, I've been asked to speak on a panel on what retailers can do to promote sustainable wines as an opportunity. Slow Wine Guide USA is the only wine and winery guide that tries to feature only wineries that follow eco friendly baseline practices. Slow Wine Guide is a breakthrough for consumers in that it provides more transparency on a winery's eco practices than any other guide.

Interested in learning more about the conference? Find info here.

UPDATE June 1: 

Some Slow Wine Guide wineries are features in this conference. See here for more details. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

What's the Matter with Drizly? It's Telling Consumers Wines are Organically Grown When They're NOT

You may have seen the recent article published by Drizly's trends section

Featuring some Nielsen stats, and quotes from an all organic/biodynamic importer, it tells readers, "By exploring data from across the Drizly platform, including the category’s top brands, retailers can tap into natural, organic, and biodynamic wine trends to maximize sales in the years to come."

But guess what. Most of the rest of the article goes on to quote "data" that is wrong AT LEAST 80 PERCENT OF THE TIME.

First of all, the "data" makes the elementary mistake of thinking that brands are organic. If a producer has an organically grown wine, then aren't all of their other wines also organically grown? 

No, Virginia. That's not how it works. In my database of 1,800 organically grown wines in the US, about two thirds of the wineries with organically grown estate wines ALSO BUY non-organic grapes and make different, non-estate wines from those grapes. 

The article then proceeds to list Drizly's data on its top 5 natural, organic and biodynamic brands.

I was a little miffed when I saw this list, because I thought it was quite inaccurate, but then I am always on the hunt for new wines to know about from organic or biodynamic vines, so I called and emailed Belle Glos to ask about their organic or biodynamic program. Barry Sheridan, Vice President of Strategy & Commercial Growth, at Copper Cane, which owns Belle Glos, replied.

"This is the first I’ve seen this and I’m unaware of any information or assertion provided directly to Drizly regarding any of our wines being organic," he wrote in an email reply. 

He did say the Belle Glos wines were vegan, but I didn't see "vegan" in the headline on the Insightful Article. He emailed back later to say he would try to get the listing fixed. That was April 27. Today is May 14. Nothing has changed.


Let's look at the "number one" brand on this list. According to Drizly, all of the wines below are from organic grapes, but, in fact, only the wines in the second row - made in tiny lots and costing $80-100 - are. [They are the only all estate wines.] 

These are made in such small lots, and sold primarily at the estate or to the wine club, that it is extremely unlikely that these wines are sitting in the wine shop down the road waiting for a Drizly driver to bring them to you, unless maybe your address is, like, in Beverly Hills.

I visited Flowers when it first opened at its elegant new digs in Healdsburg and have since written about it. At the time, I clarified which wines were indeed from the organic estate vines (certified in 2020) and which were not. But the majority of the grapes for almost all of its wines come from "sustainable" - i.e. chemically farmed - vineyards. 

Flowers does use native yeast on all its wines but that is not the usual sole criteria for a natural wine. And I have never seen Flowers saying they make natural wine. (Did I miss something?) 

The Flowers wines - in the top row only here in the photo below taken from the Insightful Article - are $35-55 and are made with sustainable grapes in very large quantities.

Only the far more expensive wines in the second row are sourced solely from the organic (just certified in 2020) vines which were "in transition" during these vintages.

Here's the individual "organic" wine listing for one of the non-organic wines. You will notice under "Features," the listing says "organic."

But it is not.

Let's try another one - from Faust, also owned by Hunneus - which also owns Flowers.

Here's the wine description that appears below the picture on the Drizly website. Notice it says "organic" under the "Features" section, too.

But this $55 wine is not organic.

Faust is in the process of certifying a different vineyard as organic, and that vineyard is the source of grapes for Faust's $85 The Pact Cabernet Sauvignon.

So, sorry, Drizly, you're batting zero so far.

At number three on the list, Bonterra is obviously organic and or biodynamic. So perhaps if Drizly's categories were corrected, it would be number one. But Bollinger? I clicked around on the website and looked at most of the Bollinger wines on the Drizly site. No individual wine I clicked on said "organic." One said vegan. 

So was the person behind the database thinking that vegan meant natural or organic or biodynamic? 

Ok, so the article had a SECOND list - not of brands but of individual wines. I hoped for better, but not much. I mean, how bad could it be? 

Again, the only wines on this list that are actually organic are the two from Bonterra which are clearly labeled on the wines that they are "Made with Organic Grapes." So Bonterra would have been first and second on this list if the list had been accurate. But two out of 10? I want my wine seller to be better than this.

So overall, 80 percent of the wines are not correctly represented. Pity the poor consumer trying to buy organic.

I called Drizly to discuss, thinking they could use some help. Not possible to get through. I contacted BevAlcInsights by Drizly and received this email in reply. 

"Still a category on the rise." Very funny. (I did email them and tell them I had a database and would be happy to discuss how they could use it. No response.)

While the email mentioned "sustainable wines" the headline and the lists did not. And Alice Feiring would roll over in her grave to hear the word "sustainable" as having any place in a definition of natural wine. RAW Wine, the definitive natural wine fair, says in its criteria for exhibitors, "The entirety of the domaine from which the grapes are issued must be farmed organically and/or biodynamically."

If a producer were to say that a wine is organic when it is not from certified organic grapes, the producer would be violating federal law. 

Biodynamic claims are also legally protected by Demeter USA. 

Would that there was a law making it a federal offense for wholesalers and retailers to represent wines as organic or biodynamic when the grapes are not certified. 

Can you imagine buying vegetables at a supermarket that told you the produce was organic when it was not 80 percent of the time? 

As a postscript, apparently after receiving my email, the folks at BevAlcInsight added this note to the bottom of the article.

Hello? Sustainable does not mean producers who work organically. It is a different standard altogether.

It wouldn't be so bad if the Insightful site had not taken it upon itself to create these bogus lists and prominently feature their errors. 

Let's help them improve their batting average, shall we?

For now, perhaps they should not tell us what's organic until they get their act together. That way unsuspecting consumers looking for organic will not be duped.


In response to this post, Drizzly updated their site and removed the wine lists in question, publishing this very welcome response:

**May 19, 2021: Updated to remove a section of this article which highlighted top brands and products on Drizly due to potential inaccuracies in brand and product specific data

Thank you, Drizzly.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

At 26, Mini Banks Takes On Cowhorn Winery with a Dream Team That Includes Andrew Beede and Raj Parr

Katherine "Mini" Banks, the new owner of Cowhorn in southern Oregon, talks about her path to buying the acclaimed biodynamic producer of award winning Rhone varietals and her values, vision and team for the project.

Your family has a long history in the wine and hospitality industries as former investors in Screaming Eagle, Mayacamas, Qupé and Sandhi [the last with famed rockstar somm turned winemaker Raj Parr].

How did you personally decide to get into the wine industry?

Yes, I grew up in this industry my whole life. At the age of seven, my parents started getting into the wine industry and the hospitality industry. When I was eight, I was allowed to just explore on my own and roam the vines on 150 acre properties. At age nine, I started working harvest. At every winery that we were part of, we would go out and work harvest. I think when you do anything starting that young, it leaves a very strong mark on you. 


Growing up in Santa Barbara, California, in a holistic lifestyle, what was always around us was seeing our bodies and the earth and the environment as one. So I was always interested in understanding what part we play in how we affect our environment. I especially loved making wine as a combination of that.


As I got older that fascination grew and grew and grew. And yet, I had a little bit of a segue: Do I really want to be on the land? As you get into your teens and you're in high school, you're like, is this really what I want? Should I be exploring more? 


I'd grown up in all these rural areas and so at college age, I went to the opposite end of the spectrum. I went to New York and studied at Parsons and did my education there. But that quickly proved to not be a fit. The concrete jungle was not where I was meant to be. 

I missed everything about what I had grown up around, and especially since the lifestyle and the culture there was just so drastically different. Very few people in New York seemed to care about what they were ingesting and what they were putting in their bodies. The conversations were not about what the wine is or why we're drinking it. It was “Oh, we're at this place and this is what we need to order here.” 


I still took on a great job there in fashion, and I was enjoying it. But then through friends of a friend, I was poached by the Goop team. Despite all of the things that are said about Gwyneth Paltrow and her company Goop, it was an incredibly impactful few years being there with them because their whole goal in what they were doing was pushing boundaries that they felt were necessary to push to bring more awareness. Their brand helped people think more about  the things that we're putting into our bodies and the way that we're treating our environment. While they wrapped it all up into this trendy, lifestyle brand, at the root of it were things that were incredibly inspiring. These are things I had always been drawn to back in California. So this brand Goop definitely piqued my interest. 

Those ideas were what I  felt I needed to be doing - but not necessarily for this corporate, odd company that was doing some of these kooky things. I began to think: if they can do this, then I can jump back into what I love and depart from what I'm doing in New York.



So I started reaching out to a lot of the people that I had grown up around who are in the wine world, and seeing what they were doing. One of those was Raj Parr. He’s such a wonderful human. I've always loved him and I looked at what he was doing. [Parr is involved in two wineries - Evening Land in Oregon and Sandhi in Santa Barbara County]. He'd taken the leap and jumped into biodynamic farming.


So that made me think: How do I find this intersection between what I love and this holistic sphere? And how do I combine that with my love of wine?

So that made me think I should get back into wine.



We started looking and basically Bill and Barb Steele [of Cowhorn] found us. They had been seeing a lot of potential buyers who wanted to make Cowhorn a lot more than it was. The prospective buyers were interested in making canned wines or going into mass production. But Cowhorn is an small, estate only producer making beautiful wines and certified biodynamic, a practice that is getting more attention as people recognize how important nature is in farming.

When Barb found us, we walked the property a few times and had meetings - me and her - where I think she could really tell that I had every intention of maintaining the integrity of this property and continuing what they're doing and doing more of it. 


It's truly spectacular - what is here and what Bill and Barb have built - and to be able to maintain that while also continuing it and growing it is such an honor. I feel it's what the world needs. I feel this [regenerative agriculture] movement is so important. People care about what they're putting into their bodies. And they should. 

Wine is the thing that brings everyone around the table and I think people are so drawn to wine because there's a story behind it. They see where these grapes are coming from. They see how it's being made. It's so much more than just, "oh here's this other you know bottle of yet another on a shelf." 

There's really a history to it. People are craving this understanding. With everything that's going on now, especially with Covid, if you're around a dinner table, where we're trapped, you want to have something that's part of that brings you around the table and is more than just beverage. 


For me, that is part of hospitality, of what wine does. Wine has a special power and people are drawn to that, especially me. It's a draw. It drew me back very quickly and especially when I was talking to Bill and Barb who share that passion.



You mentioned you want to make some changes at Cowhorn. What are you thinking about?

I want to go deeper into regenerative farming and permaculture. 

This property is so large, and the soil and everything here is ready for it. And it's craving it. So, long story short, that's what's brought me to where we are. 

Bill and Barb had a few orchards that I would like to replant. We currently have asparagus and truffle trees which are hazelnut trees inoculated with truffles. But their focus was heavily in the wine, which makes sense. That is what needed to be the focus.


I'm going to be hiring a winemaker, which just leaves a little bit more bandwidth to be able to give the land the attention that it needs to be able to grow these things. 


Going forward, there's a huge opportunity to go deeper into permaculture and regenerative farming and bring in chickens, pigs, sheep and cows, and let them graze, and let them go into more areas, naturally digging up the soil and feeding it where it needs to be fed, and allowing nature to do what it needs to do. That’s replicating the natural ecosystems that exist. 


Humans come in and we do what we do. We're often looking for just one product. Aside from wine, there are so many more crops that can come from this land. 


Of course, everything that we do is going to be a really slow rollout. You can do nothing fast in farming and in biodynamics. You need to ease the land into it. You can't all of a sudden start dry farming one day. You need to allow the environment to transition with you. I think that over the next five years, 10 years, 20 years, we will start to execute these visions. We'll start making our own compost versus bringing it in.  We'll start doing these little things that one after another hopefully 20 years from now, we will be fully regenerative and having our own closed system. But that's, you know, that takes time. 

There's no rush and I think that right now for the first year or two years, our goal would be to initially plant more grapes. There's a few plots that are definitely ready for it. Bill and Barb had the intention of doing it last summer and then the world kind of ended.


It's all a long-term vision here that will be executed over a long period of time.



Bill and Barb are part of the transition team. They're going to be consulting for the next few months or years. It's a very amicable relationship. So they will be involved. 

On the land front, Andrew Beede, a biodynamic consultant, is helping us. He will be part of our team here for the next year or two years. And then I have Raj helping on the wine as well - just in the meantime, until we have a winemaker. So we are building up these powerhouses of intelligence around this type of wine and the direction it’s going.

We're looking for our own winemaker right now, but we don't want to rush. We want a biodynamic winemaker, we want someone who's able to continue what Bill and Barb were doing but also kind of put their own stamp on it.


But, with what I just explained, this is a 20-year project, so it needs to be someone who's really going to fit into that vision, and have the same interest that we do and really understand what we want to do. We're really taking our time on that front. 


Who are your investors?

In my own family, my Aunt Patricia wanted to be involved. I have just always been incredibly close to her. We had a beautiful relationship and she has always supported my path. And I've been a huge supporter of her and all that she's done. When we were finalizing things, she called and said she really wanted to have a part in it. “I don't know what that looks like but please, you know, let me know what that is,” she said. And I said, “Absolutely, I mean, what do you want? I would love to have you involved in whatever way.” 

The other two investors are old time family friends from Santa Barbara, the Gustafson's, who I've known my whole life. Will and his son Grant were eager to be involved when the idea was just surfacing. 


I am the majority owner and happy to have these three who have been amazing helpers. While you could say it's an investor group, it feels so much more personal than that. It was kind of this group of like-minded individuals who really want to do this project.



How old are you? 

I'm 26 years old. 


Wow, that is really a great life adventure to embark on

I’m planning that it's going to be a whole life. And that's in partnership with amazing people. 

When I was about to finalize buying Cowhorn, I had a really inspiring conversation with Raj where he said if this is what you want to do, it's a huge commitment, but it's incredibly fulfilling and it's worth it. If you go down this path - treating and viewing the land in a holistic way - you will see the result.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Where the Biodynamic Vines Are

It's interesting to observe that France has so many biodynamic operations. However, many of them are certified both by Demeter and Biodyvin so the 10,000+ number is dubious.

Still, I had not know there were so many Spanish biodynamic producers and I look forward to getting acquainted with more and more of them.

Italy has a low number (not shown here), due to its more stringent requirements. For example, using mechanical harvesting is forbidden under the Italian Demeter rules.

Acres in the US will increase dramatically when Heitz Cellars converts, which will add 550 acres to the US total. Heitz is on track to become the largest biodynamic vineyard owner in the U.S. 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Just in Time for Earth Day: The New Face of Slow Wine Guide USA 2021 Launches - Our First Standalone Book - Available for Pre-Sale Now!

Want to be the first on your block to have the insider info on the new Slow Wine Guide? 

Show your love of eco-friendlier wines by learning about 285 producers and 850+ wines in the brand new, inaugural, 170 page Slow Wine USA Guide 2021, available for pre-order now. This marks the first year that the guide is ALL US wines and is also available in print as well as ebook.

Slow Wine Guide is part of the Slow Food movement based in Italy, an international movement, spearheaded here in the US first by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, to promote good, clean and fair food and wines. 

Hundreds of producers have been listed in the Italian language version of the Slow Wine Guide for 10 years. In Italy it is the best selling wine guide, with annual sales of more than 40,000 copies. California wines started being added roughly five years ago followed by Oregon wines two years ago. This year the guide's expanded to include Washington and New York State. 

Each producer entry provides three sections including a paragraph about the people, one about about the vineyard, and then wine notes on three wines. 

The special obstacles presented by the pandemic meant wine writers, called field contributors in Slow Wine world, had to zoom with winemakers and receive samples sent to their homes, which was not business as usual for Slow Wine. One of the brand's hallmarks is that each wine writer must visit the individual winery on a site visit and taste on site as well. So a little improvisation was needed. 

Last year the guide was only distributed only as an ebook, and the print edition was sorely missed. Thanks to the heroic efforts of National Editor Deborah Parker Wong, the guide is now something you can soon hold in your hands.

I have worked as a Senior Editor on Slow Wine Guide for two years and have enjoyed the opportunity to be part of the publication and expand my tasting and writing horizons, becoming familiar with new producers and others that were both inside and outside of the certified organic or biodynamic realm I typically cover. 

"Tasting room"

This year I wrote about 63 different wineries and reviewed 180+ wines in the comfort of my own home, an ideal setting for deeper thinking and reflection on each wine, as I could see them each evolve over time. It also challenged my Coravin skills and I had to order new needles at the height of my tasting marathons.

If you're looking for a wine that costs less than $30, the guide offers a big selection of that it calls Everyday Wines - there are dozens of affordably priced wines. Some of my new favorites in this category include the Lily Rosé from Folded Hills in Santa Barbara County (a new to me winery that just got certified) and Solminer's Skin Fermented (White) Field Blend (from organic and biodynamic grapes). 

Others that are perennial favorites in this price range are the Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Gris and the Dashe Riesling from McFadden Vineyard. 

Feeling like a bit of a splurge or seeking collectible bottles? Check out the guide's Top Wines. Some of the new to me wines here are the Hyde de Villaine Chardonnay from the Napa winery founded by the Hyde family and Aubert de Villaine (who married a Hyde). This is this producer's first year in the guide. 

In addition to these two categories, the guide also includes a unique category - Slow Wine. This is for wines that preserve a heritage or tradition, whether it's old vines, a unique heritage clone, or a traditional grape - Mission, for example. Among my favorites here are Gallica's Grenache from old vines at Rossi Ranch in Sonoma and Sokol Blosser's Old Vineyard Block Pinot Noir, which comes from an old clone that is being preserved in new plantings.

While wine writers were not able to able to visit the wineries this year, as they usually do, connections were made on Zoom. Though Slow Wine typically does not ask producers to send samples, preferring to have field contributors visit each and every winery, the pandemic changed the rules of the game. Many of these Zoom winemaker visits are posted on the YouTube website.


You can order direct from Slow Wine to support the organization more directly. Volume discounts are available. Buy now! Give as gifts! Stock up!

A Message from Greta


 For more watch the three hour PBS special starting tonight: 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Video: Vineyard Manager at America's Largest Biodynamic Vineyard Tells American Vineyard Magazine Going Biodynamic "A Pretty Easy Process" and "Not as Hard as You Might Think"


While many wine writers and much media makes biodynamics sound like it is a complicated way to farm, King Estate's Ray Nuclo, in a farmer to farmer video on CaliforniaAgNet, says it's really pretty simple.

King Estate was certified organic in the early 2000's, but when Nuclo, an experienced organic viticulturist, joined the company in 2015, he was charged with converting its 465 acre organic vineyard in the southernmost part of the Willamette Valley, with going biodynamic. 

In one year. 

He told American Vineyard Magazine's reporter, Matthew Malcolm, that going biodynamic was straightforward - minimizing offsite inputs, using sheep for weed control before bud break, composting grape must to use as fertilizer, and using what are called the preps - adding herbal and mineral sprays and teas to compost and vines.

The preps were new to Nuclo, he said, but are now part of the routine, supercharging and promoting the natural life in the soils and plants, he said.

While others believe that biodynamic farming is a marketing tool, Nuclo credits the owners' commitment to treating the land well as the primary motivation for being biodynamic.

While the company makes 150,000 cases of wine each year, it blends its grapes with purchased grapes for 95 percent of its production, holding back five percent for its small lot, estate wines, which are certified under Demeter's "Made with Biodynamic Grapes" standard. (That standard is identical to the "Made with Organic Grapes" standard, substituting biodynamic grapes for organic ones.)

Asked for advice to others who may be contemplating a transition to biodynamic farming, Nuclo said, "It can be a little intimidating at first, but it's not as hard as you might think." 

"You just have to have the right inputs and know what to do at the right time," he said. 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Scheid's Supersized Organic Plans: On Track to Becoming the Second Largest Organic Vineyard Owner in the U.S.

Heidi Scheid of Scheid Family Wines

This year, Scheid Family Wines in Monterey County made one of the biggest announcements in Central Coast wine history.

It is converting all 2,800 acres of its Monterey vines to organic certification. And it will be launching its own new organically grown estate wines in 2021, and Whole Foods will be selling them. This major leap forward gives consumers more than just Bonterra organic options on supermarket shelves.
The first wine released this year, and it's a Made with Organic Grapes rosé of Petite Sirah. The bee and flowers motifs on the label are in keeping with other organic brands who are offering more and more natural imagery to signal to consumers that the wines are organically grown. It's also a very feminine label, and that's who's buying rosé, rosé, rosé.
While Castoro Cellars has been the organic leader in the Central Coast with 1,422 acres (more organic acreage than Bonterra owns), Scheid is on track to become the biggest organic vineyard owner in the Central Coast by 2025.
At 2,807 acres, Scheid would also become the second largest organic vineyard owner in the country. 
Here is a map of its 12 vineyards spread across a 70 mile swath of the Salinas Valley. (Scheid announced it sold three of these on April 2, 2021, reducing its acreage from 4,000 to 2807 acres.)

For those who want to know who the biggest organic vineyard owner is, it is Fred Franzia (Mr. Two Buck Chuck) who converted 8,000 of his 40,000 acres of Central Valley vineyards to organic. His brand is Shaw Organic, which is sold exclusively at Trader Joe's. But there is lots more room in the market, as Bonterra's continued growth shows. That brand, which has been buying grapes more and more from locations outside of Mendocino County, reports growth between 10 and 20 percent (reports vary) in the last year.
As Fetzer Vineyards CEO Giancarlo said in August of 2020, the brand is seeing double digit growth in Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé, along with ongoing sales of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Scheid has already tapped into the no sugar wines category with its modern looking brand Sunny with a Chance of Flowers, which is competing as a lo-cal option, but the leap to organic is a far bigger step into the more health and eco-friendly category.
I asked Scheid's PR representative for a chance to interview Heidi. Here is what they sent me in answer to my questions.
What Scheid brand will you be making the organically grown wines for?
Grandeur is our first brand that is made with organic grapes. The first vintage – 2020 – is a rosé from our organically certified White Flower Vineyard. It will be available at Whole Foods in June 2021. What is the price point for your organically grown wines?
Grandeur Rosé in Whole Foods will be available at an SRP of $16.99.