Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Six Organically Grown Wines from Sonoma Make Sonoma's 2018 Top 100 Wine List

Six great organically grown wines popped up on the Sonoma magazine's top 100 wines list for 2018 unveiled this week. Written by veteran wine writer Linda Murphy, the list of 100 top wines includes outstanding wines from a wide variety of wineries and regions, yet an above average concentration of organically grown wines, a pattern that is often repeated.

Organic grape growers represent just a little over 2 percent of the vineyards in Sonoma, but 6 percent of the wines are from organic vineyards. That's three times their weight.

Here are the organically grown winners including many wineries written about here over the years). Notably the 2018 list omitted many of the consistently great wineries - Ridge, Porter Creek, and others dedicated to organic and Biodynamic farming practices. (Are the curators are trying to get more newcomers on board?)

Here are some wines to put on your radar:


Alexander Valley AVA

Medlock Ames 2017 Bell Mountain Sauvignon Blanc ($29)
"Vibrant" and "racy"read the tasting notes for this white wine from an all estate and all organic winery with not one but two vineyards.


Dry Creek Valley AVA

Quivira Vineyards 2017 Rosé ($22)
A "crisp and spicy" blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Counoise, Syrah - and to add an authentic Dry Creek touch, Petite Sirah - this rosé is one of my personal go to favorites.


These selections come from a variety of appellations demonstrating the diversity of Sonoma's prime Cab spots - as well as their not-Napa prices.

Alexander Valley AVA

Alexander Valley Vineyards 2015 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (get the one labeled "made with organic grapes") ($32)
The Wetzel family has a large conventional vineyard and then a small organic vineyard that's a side project. Wrote Murphy, "judicious use of oak lets the concentrated fruit shine." This wine represents a great value for an Alexander Valley cab.

Moon Mountain AVA

Amapola Creek's 2014 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($90)
This classic comes from Richard Arrowood, the legend who put Sonoma Cabs on the map. His Moon Mountain AVA vineyard is situated on red volcanic soils, a prime spot for Cabernet. Murphy: "Polished and elegant."

Sonoma Mountain AVA

Laurel Glen Vineyard 2014 Cabernet ($75)
This is another personal favorite of mine delivering, as Murphy wrote, "...freshness and elegance." I agree.

Dry Creek Valley AVA

Hawley Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon ($52)
If you haven't visited the Hawley Family's vineyards near Bradford Mountain, you should. That's where this Cab is grown. "Dark fruit: blackberry, dark plum, and blueberry..." are the notes on this vintage. If you do go, you may catch a glimpse of the winemaker as falconer.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Super Wow - French TV Ad for Hair Testing for Pesticides

Best ad of the year...!

Although it's in French, you can probably make out what the text says which is basically: You think pesticides are here. And here. And here. But in fact they are everywhere. The same goes for your hair. What? We tested people's hair to show where longer term pesticide exposure is. Pesticides have nothing to do with your body. Share this with others who demand getting rid of pesticides.


The first wave of hair testing for a panel of pesticides was recently conducted by the EU Green Party and released in early November.

Though the number of people sampled was small, you can see what the first wave of testing found here in this report. (A new hair test for glyphosate has just been introduced but it wasn't part of this first group of tests since it was not yet on the market). The detailed report is here.

More than 60% of samples from 148 people contained at least one pesticide residue

Basically the four most commonly found pesticides include chlorpyrifos-ethyl (insecticide, 10.1%), fipronil (insecticide, 29.7%), permethrin (insecticide, 18.9%) and propiconazole (fungicide, 18.9%).

Chlorpyrifos is banned in agriculture in the EU (though not in the U.S.). Chlorpyrifos is not commonly used on wine grapes, though it is a staple on conventional produce farms. A dangerous neurotoxin, it was scheduled to be banned by the EPA until Trump became president and those plans were overturned.

Last year Sonoma-Cutrer used it on 100 acres in Sonoma.

Both chlorpyrifos and fipronil are used in pet flea collars and experts surmise these products may be exposing humans as well as pets.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Organic Beverage Session Added to Organic Grower Summit

Katrina Frey

Wine has a place on the agenda at the Organic Grower Summit (taking place Dec. 12-13) with Katrina Frey, of Frey Vineyards in Mendocino, and Phil LaRocca, CCOF Board Chair and head of LaRocca Vineyards in the Chico area, appearing on the new panel on organic beverages.

Bill Vyenielo, senior wine business consultant for Moss Adams LLP, will be the moderator.

According to the conference organizers, the Organic Trade Association says organic wine sales doubled from 2007 to 2016, when organic wines brought in $282 million in revenue.

Both panelists have wineries that make wine that is certified as USDA Organic Wine - i.e. made without added sulfites, which is the certification category that is less than 10 percent of off premise sales, according to Nielsen data. (Nielsen data does not include Costco sales or natural food stores' sales.)

Both producers make significant amounts of wine.
• Frey's production is 220,000 cases, from grapes sourced from its own 250 acres of vines and those of additional growers. Its wines are widely sold in natural foods stores and at Whole Foods. Frey Vineyards is the largest producer in the no added sulfite category.
• LaRocca's production is 25,000 cases harvested from the winery's 100 acres of vineyards.

Our Daily Red, sold only at Trader Joe's, is another large producer in this market, with wines at slightly lower price points. It sells about 100,000 cases annually.

Overall, more than 80 percent of organically grown wines counted by Nielsen come from "Made with Organic Grape" wines, which is a certification type that permits a limited number of sulfites. The leading brand in that category is Bonterra, with a 25% market share organically grown wines sold in the U.S. Bonterra produces 500,000 cases a year.


Coincidentally each of the two organic vintners featured on the conference panel has faced severe challenges from the recent spate of wildfires.

Last year's Redwood Complex Fire, which covered 36,000 acres in Mendocino County, burned Frey's winery, northeast of Ukiah in Redwood Valley. Luckily a new winery was already in the works, but the fires impacted business and the family. Only two of the family's ten homes still stands, and 18 employees lost homes. (Half of the employees are family members). Beba Frey, the 93 year old matriarch of the family, escaped. Frey expects to move into its new winery in 2019.

Today Phil LaRocca is facing peril from fire as the Camp Fire encroaches on his vineyards in Forest Ranch, The 142,000 acre fire is still burning. The town of Forest Ranch was under evacuation orders for six days until the order was lifted yesterday.


Education sessions at the conference also feature Pam Marrone of Marrone Bio, who has pioneered many organic products used in both sustainable and organic vineyards.

For more information about the two day conference in Monterey, click here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

New Italian Cinema's Prosecco Wine Movie Plays Dec. 1 in SF

A first feature by Treviso born director, Antonio Padovan, this charming Italian mystery The Last Prosecco covers the final days of a count who makes Prosecco on the steep hillsides of Valdobbiadene (in the Veneto region of northern Italy).

The film takes its plot from Fulvio Ervas’s novel The Last Prosecco about a reclusive bohemian aristocrat who is fiercely opposed to his neighbors' support for a chemical plant that pollutes the air his precious vines breathe. The whodunit keeps you guessing until the last minute with plenty of characters to suspect along the way.

The film plays Dec. 1, Saturday, at 6 pm at the Vogue theater in San Francisco. Find details here.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Under the Radar Varieties Shine at Daniele Cernilli's Italian Wine Book Party Tasting

While the usual belles of the ball - Italian all star wines from Barolo, Sassicia and Tuscany - displayed their charms at the Italian wine tasting Monday at Farallon restaurant, for me, the fun was tasting the indigenous grape wines from organic vineyards (along with some top notch Chianti).

Wines from the little known Bellone, Cesanese, Lacrima and Pecorino grapes (from producers with organic vineyards) had something fresh and lively to say. Each was a pleasure to discover. And they were all priced well below $20 - a win win for consumers looking for something different - and affordable.

Daniele Cernilli and Marina Thompson (husband and wife)
at the book launch party at Farallon
The tasting was held to celebrate Italian wine expert Daniele Cernilli's The Essential Guide to Italian Wine 2019, now in its 5th edition. A judge for Decanter's World Wine Awards and Vinitaly, Cernilli was one of the founders of the acclaimed wine guide Gambero Rosso in 1986 (before starting his Essential Guide series in 2015) and is a widely respected and influential expert. Today, his website Doctor Wine is a popular destination.

The 2019 edition of the book covers 1,134 selected producers and 2,809 wines (including 652 wines priced under 15 euros [or $17 U.S.]). In 2018, 10,000 copies of the book were sold.

Organic or Biodynamic certifications are noted in the guide.

Monday's tasting included 24 producers, four of whom were certified (or officially in transition) to organic certification. These include: Casale del Giglio in Lazio (near Rome), Felsina (in transition to organic) and Querciabella in Tuscany, and Velenosi (some organic vineyards) in the Marche.



This winery 30 miles south of Rome has been a pioneering leader in raising the profile of wines from the Lazio region. It began with a large scale planting of international varieties back in 1985, after government funded research found that the region's red clay and alluvial soils could grow worthy wine grapes. More than 60 varieties were planted.

Mater Matuta temple remains from the 9th-5th
century BCE were found adjacent to Casale
del Giglio's vineyards south of Rome
The name Casale del Giglio means "House of Lilies." Uniquely, a ancient road, parallel to the Appian Way, and a temple to the goddess Mater Matuta, dating back to the 9th-5th centuries BCE, have been found on the property. A 5th century BCE ceramic wine goblet was found on the site, along with other Etruscan objects now housed at the Villa Giulia in Rome.

Today the winery produces mainly novel international blends but has recently branched into indigenous grapes, including Cesanese.

Casale del GIglio's Cesanese is made with native yeast (700 cases, $15)

Winemaker Paolo Tiefenthaler and Proprietor Antonio Santarelli  

With 345 acres of planted vines, Velenosi is the second largest family owned winery in the Marche, a province on Italy's eastern side, bordering the Adriatic coast. Founded and run by Ercole and Angela Velenosi in 1984, it has become a Marche success story, achieving recognition for its indigenous grape wines, including Pecorino and Lacrima. (The latter is not yet organic).

These vibrant and unique wines sell for just $15 and can be found in the U.S. on

Velenosi's Offida Pecorino DOCG - a treat!


The 2015 Chianti Classico ($33) won a 97 point rating
and a platinum medal from Decanter's World Wine Awards
Querciabella, which means beautiful oak, is renowned for its Chianti Classico, grown using Biodynamic practices. 

Like another great Biodynamic producerin Tuscany, Avignonesi, it is certified organic, not Biodynamic, due to the fact that Demeter Italy's standards are particularly stringent, exceeding those Demeter standards in other European countries and the U.S. 

All of the wines here are well worth seeking out, offering outstanding values and pleasures, and the book is an excellent way to seek out affordable wines that you can't always find on the shelf. The book is exceptionally well curated. And it would also make an excellent holiday gift, coupled, of course, with a bottle of one of its highly rated wines.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

French Pesticide Researcher Seralini Announces New Plan to Study Cancer Victims Suing Bayer

In the GMO world, there is no researcher more famous than the Normandy professor Gilles-Eric Seralini, who studied the effects of genetically modified organisms in rats and found GMO's cause cancer. It put him in Monsanto's sites and the agrochemical giant sued him 7 times for his research - and lost 7 times. But more recently he's taken on a new target - the herbicide Roundup, used on crops that feed more than a billion people around the globe.


From left to right: Dr. Michelle Perro, Gilles-Eric Seralini, Ruth Weistreich of
the Westreich Foundation, Jerome Douzelet and Zen Honeycutt of Moms Across America

At a private gathering in the San Diego area on Tuesday, Seralini, a molecular biologist, announced he's launching a new initiative to study the 8,000+ plaintiffs currently suing Bayer/Monsanto over cancer claims. (A San Francisco judge awarded the first plaintiff, DeWayne Johnson of Vallejo, damages of $40 million after a jury found the claim justified). It's research that could be game changing.

The lawsuits claim that glyphosate and other ingredients in Roundup caused the victims to get non Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a form of cancer. Monsanto and Bayer claimed the product was safe and never put warning labels on the products.

Seralini said his newest research, using mass spectrometry to analyze the contents of Roundup's unlisted ingredients, suggests that Roundup contains petroleum byproducts and arsenic, which has long been banned as a pesticide. The product formulation may be as much as 1000% more toxic than glyphosate alone, Seralini said.

In his 2018 study, published in Toxicology Reports, he and his co-authors write:
"The toxic effects and endocrine disrupting properties of the formulations were mostly due to the formulants and not the glyphosate. In this work, we also identified by mass spectrometry the heavy metals arsenic, chromium, cobalt, lead and nickel, which are known to be toxic and endocrine disruptors, as contaminants in 22 pesticides, including 11 glyphosate-based ones. This could explain some of the adverse effects of the pesticides."
Formulants in Roundup are not inert, according to Seralini's study

"We used to see arsenic poisoning used by the Egyptians, or to kill kings, or in Madame Bovary. But here we are seeing chronic intoxication," he said.

Roundup's ingredients, he said, are a case of "double fraud. They list glyphosate as the active ingredient, but in fact petroleum residues [POEA] and arsenic are the real ingredients," he said.

Historically arsenic was in the earliest known vineyard pesticides in a mixture known as Paris Green, dating back to 1775.

It was widely used, but often faked; in the late 1800's in California, many Paris Green mixtures were bogus concoctions that didn't work due to a lack of effective ingredients.

In an historical echo - a reversal of sorts - Seralini's research on Roundup suggests similar ingredient deceptions are not limited to the past, but quite active in the present. With Roundup, users get far more than what they paid for with ingredients that are far more toxic than those listed on the label.

In 1901, in California, growers pressured legislators to create the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation to prevent fraudulent, ineffective Paris Green products from being sold on the market. However, by 1926, scientists could see that arsenic caused illness, and the state agency began testing for arsenic residues on fruits and vegetables. By 1934, arsenic residues were no longer allowed.

"It was used in the concentration camps," Seralini said "as a poison."

"One of the hallmarks of arsenic poisoning is skin cancer," he said, alluding to the fact that DeWayne Johnson's cancer was a particularly virulent form of NHL that produced skin lesions over his body.

Concurring, Douzelet, co-author of the book The Taste of Pesticides in Wine urged the audience of more than 100 people, to stop pointing the finger at glyphosate and instead target the formulated Roundup product. "Roundup is the real poison," he said.


In wine testing, Douzelet said that his research showed that there were virtually no residues in organically grown wines, but that conventional wines contained residues in excess of 11,000 times the regulated limits for tap water.

Douzelet, who worked with 71 great tasters in France on research on the taste of pesticides, said Roundup dilutions in water - at the same percentage as in wine - tasted "like petroleum. It produces a burning sensation on the tongue," he said.

"Synthetic chemicals block the capillaries on the tongue," he said, advocating for wines that "use natural yeasts, living yeasts, and living microbes."