Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Handley Cellars: Anderson Valley Original Expands Organic Program - Plus, The Return of Their Brut Rosé!

I stopped in at the Handley Cellars booth Friday at the PinotFest tasting near Union Square where I not only tasted the Estate Pinot Noir, but also got to meet Randy Schock, co-winemaker, at the Philo based Handley Cellars, the first - and for many years the only - vintner with a certified organic vineyard in the coastal inland Mendocino region famous for its Pinot.

Handley Cellars was also one of the first wineries in the region period (1982). And it was remarkable also for the fact that is was the very first woman-owned winery in the region - started by the pioneering Milla Handley, who is still the owner and winemaker there today.

Today Milla Handley's daughter Lulu McClellan is also involved in the winery - as national sales manager. The farm and homesteader movement spoke to her - she's active with the Greenhorns and now farms in rural Maine, which is her home base.

A benchmark Pinot Noir producer in Anderson Valley for more than 30 years, today Handley Cellars has 29 acres of certified organic vineyards. Randy Shock told me the the winery is expanding its organic program - and looking to the growers it buys grapes from to do the same.

"We see a market drive towards organic - it's a growing demographic and there's a limited supply. I think the industry has reached the stage where there are no more excuses," Schock said.

The winery certified its original 29 acres of certified vines - surrounding the tasting room and winery - in 2005, but is now converting its best vineyard, the RSM, a seven acre, steep, hillside site - a site that is located above the fogline.

"We've completed year two of the certification period for RSM," Schock said, "so we're on target to complete the three year certification process in 2017." The added acreage will increase the estate's organic vineyard holdings by 25 percent.

Schock said there were economic as well as agricultural and social benefits from converting the RSM vineyard. "In the RSM block, planted in 1999-2001, we're seeing yields almost double. It's keeping the older vines going. Compost and cover crops - we're having fun and embracing it. There are rewards for the land and the workers, too."

Schock also pointed out longevity benefits from being organic on the winery's original plantings - vineyards that last longer. "We've seen yields go up from five to ten percent in a single year, on our original 29 acres," said Schock. These vines were planted in 1986. "We've been able to delay replanting because they are farmed organically," he said. "It's about better soil management."

Handley Cellars poured its 1997 vintage Brut Rosé at PinotFest.
The winery will release new sparkling wines in 2017.
Handley is also taking the extra step of paying its growers a premium for organic grapes. "We're pushing all our growers to certify," Schock said. "I'm offering $100 a ton extra for organic."

In addition to increasing its production of organically grown wines, the winery is also beginning to bottle label its estate wines, using the "Ingredients: Organic Grapes" labeling on the back of the bottle - a step consumers will appreciate.

On occasion, Handley, located near the French-owned sparkling wine giant, Roederer Estate, has made sparkling wines (highly coveted, I might add), irregularly, over the years.

Schock said the winery is bringing back the tradition.

"We have a 2015 Blanc de Blanc - 400-500 cases - that we'll be releasing in May of 2017. And then a 2016 Brut Rosé which we'll be releasing in 2018."

Meanwhile at the event, the winery showcased its estate 1997 Brut Rose - a tantalizing taste of what is to come.

For now, fans can enjoy the estate Pinot Noir ($47) - which delivers a great deal of pleasure - right now.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Hall Wines Faces Local Protests Over Plan to Cut 14,000 Oak Trees to Raise More Napa Wine Grapes

Local citizens in Napa are protesting against proposed vineyard development by the Halls, who have two wineries in Napa Valley.

The Halls began their proposed Walt Ranch, named for Kathryn Hall's maiden name Walt, after purchasing the 2,300 acre property in 2005. The project seeks to create new vineyards on what are several hundred acres of oak forests. The plan, initially scoped at cutting down 30,000 oak trees, has been scaled back to cut down 14,000 oaks in a pristine undeveloped watershed area.

While the project has passed planning dept.  review and is in accord with many county guidelines, it hasn't met with local residents' approval.

While earlier waves of land use protection - namely Napa's famed Agricultural Preserve - fought to preserve agricultural lands - confining commercial and residential real estate development to limited areas - they did not adequately address watershed protection, in the eyes of many. Hence, the protests.

The most organized group that has formed to oppose the project is the DENW - Defenders of the East Napa Watershed. In addition to their vocal opposition to the project, their web site provides full documentation and background on the project from official sources. (I highly recommend reading it if you want to know more about this story.)

Virginia based writer James Conaway, who has long chronicled Napa's environmental and agricultural protectionist history (see his two books Napa: An American Eden and its sequel), is back in the valley to write the third book in his trilogy about Napa. He's current blogging about the Walt Ranch proposal. He's found a source - who he calls Deep Root - who is a geomorphologist who's been a consultant on many vineyard development projects.

The Halls made their fortune in Texas real estate and to hear Deep Root talk about it, their eyes aren't just on turning the land into vineyards. "Walt Ranch is the biggest, most lucrative real estate pivot this county's seen since the change in the definition of agriculture and of great symbolic value," Deep Root says, as Conaway writes this week. Deep Root think the Halls will turn the property into 35 ranchettes someday. (Most vineyard projects don't call for 35 subdivided parcels - which you can see pictured below in the Walt Ranch proposal posted on the DENW site.)

Deep Root is critical of the system - which doesn't protect nature, in his view. Here's an excerpt of Deep Root's comments from Conaway's blog:

For all those opposing the development, land preservation and watershed protection are the main concerns.

I emailed a family member of one of the Ag Preserve's founders last month (whose comments were off the record) who is concerned about the development. "It's always grapes before houses," the family member said, "but the scope of this project and others need to be better evaluated. The current planning laws are really quite loose, especially when comes to wineries and granting variances. I think it is a situation where many will not realize until it is a bit late."

In the meantime, some residents have recognized the threat to the watershed the proposed project presents and made their voices heard this week to Napa's elected officials. (To read coverage of the latest protect from the Napa Valley Register, click here.) Stay tuned for the results.

Note: the Halls are also involved in a proposal - in partnership with the Koch Brothers - to build a luxury hotel in Calistoga. For more info, see Conaway's blog.

The Halls - Craig and Kathryn - already own Senza Hotel in Napa.

In addition, another Hall - Ted Hall, owner of Long Meadow Ranch Winery and Farmstead restaurant in St. Helena - is considering building an 80 unit hotel in downtown St. Helena - a project that has been in an exploratory phase.

Update Nov. 22: The Napa County Board of Supervisors heard from the project's proponents Nov. 21. See Napa Valley Register coverage here.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Glyphosate (Roundup) Update: Consumer Testing Reveals High Levels (Unsafe?) of Glyphosate in Cheerios (+ More)

While you may be overwhelmed (as I have been) by news from the election this week, there's important news on the glyphosate front this month from three different angles: consumer testing of glyphosate in commonly sold foods, a farm worker study on pesticides and the oral micro biome, and the EPA's recent suspension of glyphosate testing. In today's post, I'll cover the first in that list. 


Huffington Post article by Carey Gillam published today showcases the new study from the Detox Project and Food Democracy Now, released this week, that shows how much glyphosate is contained in popular foods like Cheerios, Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Ritz Crackers and - yes - John Stewart's favorite target, the orange-colored, corn-based crispy snacks known as Doritos. You can find news coverage on Sustainable Pulse.

For the full report (which I highly recommend reading and which is the source for the graphics in this post), click here.

You may recall that Moms Across America released preliminary glyphosate test results on 10 bottles of wine earlier this year, showing they contained from 1 to 28 ppb of glyphosate. 

The levels in the current food products study are, overall, much, much higher, ranging from 8 ppb to a high of 1,124 ppb. (It's worth noting that the San Francisco lab the food study used is valid to 5 ppb; the St. Louis lab the wine study used goes down to 1 ppb in sensitivity and is the lab that USDA glyphosate researcher Robert Kremer routinely used over his 17 years of glyphosate research.)

The reason that the food product levels of glyphosate are so much higher is twofold. One is that wheat, oats, and corn fields are now often routinely sprayed with glyphosate (in Roundup) at harvest time as a desiccant, in order to dry out crops. The second is that GMO crops are pummeled with glyphosate - that's the reason they were created - to withstand use of massive amounts of herbicides.

If you want to totally geek out on the best studies to date on dosages and impacts, here's the chart for you. It lists the various studies on allowable daily intake (ADI) from various peer-reviewed research studies.

But to put it in simpler terms, here's what the EU thinks is safe (today) and here's what the US (via the EPA) has set as allowable levels. 

The latest new science calls for a much lower intake than either of these current levels. Scientists who have conducted the latest animal studies are now calling for an intake level that is 12 times lower than the levels in Europe. That is 70 times lower than the current US level.

What this means for wine producers: the public is becoming more glyphosate-aware. Future food studies are going to be released, testing a much broader array of products as citizen activists pick up the ball that the EPA has dropped on glyphosate testing. The Detox Project, with help from UCSF scientists, is currently documenting the levels of glyphosate found in people's urine. 

With a subject as personal as this - what is ingested directly into individuals' intestines - this issue is not going to go away quickly and quietly. The wine industry needs to wake up and address its own glyphosate issues. Consumers may soon find themselves seeking glyphosate free food and wine, and wondering who to go to for the healthiest choices.

Note: For those who are wondering, organic producers do not use glyphosate.