Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Biodynamic Wine Tasting: Get Your Tickets Now!

It's a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The International Biodynamic Wine Conference (May 6-7) features a Grand Tasting and Party that are open to all. For one night - and one night only -  you can sample wines from 47 Biodynamic wineries around the world.

This is the largest gathering of Biodynamic producers and wines that's ever taken place in the U.S. and it's open to the public.

The Demeter Rocks! Party and Grand Tasting features 130+ wines from Argentina, Chilé, France, Italy and the U.S. See the list of producers here and get your tickets ($75) here.

Monday, April 16, 2018

French Wine Study Finds Wine Lovers Can Taste Pesticides in Wine

Can you taste pesticides in wine? That's the topic French scientist and researcher Seralini set out to explore in a country wide study of wines from popular French wine regions (and one Italian wine region).

The research had expert wine drinkers compare the taste of organic versus non-organic wines grown in adjacent vineyards. Sixteen pairs of wines were sampled.


The wines were individually tested for the presence of 250 different pesticides.
The results showed that the organic wines had only traces of pesticides while the pesticided wines, in comparison, had 4,686 ppb of chemicals.

The average (mean) was 293 ppb, which included the most widely used ones: 1. glyphosate based herbicides and 2. synthetic fungicides.

Tasters preferred the taste of non-pesticided wines 77% of the time, compared to wines raised with pesticides.

In addition, tasters were asked to evaluate the taste of individual pesticides diluted in water at the level of concentration that the substances were found in wine, so that the taste of the chemicals could be analyzed individually. Tasters reported the following tastesassociated with the different chemicals listed below:


In California, the most commonly used pesticides from this list are glyphosate (and Roundup) and boscalid, a bird and bee toxin commonly used as a fungicide. (Imidacloprid, the neonicotinoid that is commonly used on vineyards in California - and is a bird and bee toxin - does not show up on the study list as it is prohibited in the EU.)

Use these links to read a summary news article and the whole study.

If California were to repeat such a study, it might reflect the use of these top two pesticides for wines from the following regions, where glyphosate and boscalid are commonly used on wine grapes.



Thursday, April 5, 2018

Updates on Glyphosate Courthouse Hearings

PRI- Public Radio International (the print section) picked up my story (originally published by Civil Eats) on glyphosate hearings which sent it to the top listing for news on "glyphosate" in Google search this morning.

In other news, the story continues. I spent the day yesterday at the courthouse again as Judge Chhabria got a master class on the finer points of epidemiology with Dr. Beatrice Ritz of UCLA.

You can read basic coverage of the day here. from Courthouse News, (which sent the only other reporter  in the room).

Chhabria had a lot of questions about latency - what is the relationship between exposure and symptoms?  Ritz explained to him that latency varies, depending on a number of variables, including age.

I'll write more about this later today. In the meantime, you can read the transcript here.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Glyphosate Goes to Court: The Latest Developments



Head on over to Civil Eats to read about the recent court hearings over glyphosate in my first piece for this publication and on this topic. Very little coverage has been given to this important story.

Postscript: The story was picked up by PRI (Public Radio International) and heavily read!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

James Conaway, Chronicler of the Dark Side of Lifestyle Vintners, Land Use Battles in Napa and Grassroots Gumption

Author James Conaway came to speak to an audience from the East Bay - and Napa - earlier this month, about his latest book, the third (and final) in the trilogy about Napa and winery development pressures - Napa at Last Light: America's Eden in an Age of Calamity. (You can read an excerpt using that link).

The talk took place in the site formerly occupied by one of Berkeley's book stores that was once a popular hub for activists - Black Oak Books. Today the space is home to Books Inc.

"I come from DC and I bring you tidings from that coast," Conaway said to the 20 or so concerned citizens collected there.

"Trump wanted his name on a bottle, so he bought a winery that was formerly owned by John Kluge, who owned the predecessor to Fox News," he told the audience.

I personally had not heard of John Kluge so I had to look him up when I got home. Sure enough, Kluge ran the chain of Metromedia television stations, which he sold in 1986 to 20th Century Fox tor $4 billion, becoming the richest man in the country that year, according to Forbes. Following their divorce, his former wife, Patricia Kluge became the winery owner, and she sold the place to Trump. Trump's son Eric, the butt of so many Saturday Night Live skits, now manages it. Trump Winery made news recently when it made a request to employ Mexican vineyard workers.

"So Trump's a lifestyle vintner, too," he said. "In Napa, being a lifestyle vintner, people then wash themselves of their past associations with oil or shoddy condos in LA, or derivatives. Wine washes away their pasts. As applied in America, being a vintner is a way to instant glamorization and cleansing the past."

LOOKING BACK

Conaway talked about his previous books - Napa: The Story of an American Eden (1990) and The Far Side of Eden (2002) - and about how much had changed since they were published.

"Those were stories about the first wave of lifestyle vintners who arrived in the 1980s," he says. "They were different than the lifestyle vintners of today. Those lifestyle vintners were more grounded. Back then it was really about wine."

"Those lifestyle vintners lived in houses that they owned - they lived there - and there was a kind of glue in the society."

"Then in the early 90's, different people began to flood in. These newer lifestyle vintners didn't know how to make wine. They bought and hired big gun winemakers and began to make the same style of highly alcoholic, overripe wines that are a big frontal assault on the palate. These big cult Cab wines didn't complement food. But [the wine critic Robert] Parker liked them."

When he first began the trilogy (back in 1990), there were no cell phones. "I had a sack of quarters, and I knew where all the pay phones were," he joked.

"There was one in the Mercado in Yountville, and another one on a wall in Rutherford. In St. Helena, I would go into the little hotel there and when the desk clerk on duty wasn't looking, I would go to the pay phone there where it was quiet and I could talk for an hour."

His previous books chronicled the way Napa's unique Agricultural Preserve came to be - through the efforts of many citizens and campaigns - and the ongoing struggles of conservationists to preserve the environment and the watersheds that sustain the region's beauty and vineyards in further legal battles and legislation.

The tales are told with such an eye for detail and character that readers who are not interested in wine or preservation find them captivating nonetheless. They are simply a very good read for a certain type of reader, and, for others, a long-awaited treat - since there have been only three books in 28 years of the saga.

But for each book, Conaway said he has kept to the same methods, using a lot of novelistic techniques in his nonfiction writing. "The particular book is the story of a lot of little stories," he said.

TODAY'S NAPA: ORCHESTRATED AND OVERPRICED

In Napa at Last Light, Conaway tackles what for many has become the fundamental issue in Napa: changing the definition of a winery, a concept ensconced in the preservation of the valley and a fighting word in a valley that is victim of touristification in the extreme.

For years, the local laws put agriculture at the center, but the wine industry has tried hard to chip away at that restriction, preferring to promote more and more events, food service, and even building wedding centers (like the big new one at Charles Krug in St. Helena where the base price for a wedding is $36,000).

"Really Napa is in the 'hospitality business' now," he said.

Conaway read from one section of the book about a tasting room architect, who calibrates the visitor experience and aims for perfection.

"You need to have curves in the room," to move people along, Conaway said, recounting what he learned from the behind the scenes class on tasting rooms.

"People don't want to be too close to others in their 'tribe,'" he said. "The tasting rooms are aiming for an ersatz intimacy," and featured objects of "feigned spiritual heft," he said, adding that the overall effect was to cultivate big spenders, who were willing to pay $800 for a bottle of wine.

"They're being treated like kings and queens," he said, "who are allowed to go behind the velvet rope" (and onto the wine club's allocation list and private chambers).

GRASSROOTS NAPA FIGHTS BACK

"There is a big change in wine country today," Conaway said. "And it's about people finally paying attention - not the people in the wine industry -  but the people who live there. They don't like what's taking place."

Something has happened to their county board of supervisors, he said.

"Back in the 1980's, the board of supervisors and the planning department staff were more rooted in the community. But  something changed in the interim. And that was that wine became a huge factor in their lives," he continued.

"The flooding of even more money had an impact. The valley floor is planted out. The hills - which are the watersheds that store rain and the water supply - came under development pressure."

Conaway expressed support for the new citizen initiative that seeks to protect streams and oaks - it will be on the ballot this June. "This initiative - which aims to implement small setbacks on streams - was denied on a technicality, in 2017" he said. His book points the finger at what he says is corruption at the very top of the county board of supervisors - Alfredo Pedroza, a 29 year old who he says the wine industry has bought.

According to an interview published in the book, Pedroza was the one who got the referendum disqualified last year - and used public funds to do so.

In the final chapter of the book, in a chapter called Voices, Conaway lets the people of Napa County speak for themselves, used excerpted interviews from locals.

One person, formerly with the former District Attorney's office, raises questions over how the law requiring that Napa Valley wines must contain 85% Napa grapes is enforced - and whether or not it is even enforced at all. (Some people say a lot of Lodi grapes go into a lot of Napa wines.)

Another speaks out about the plans vintner Craig Hall (of Hall Wines) has to develop a large tract of land and cut down 17,000 oak trees, subdividing the tract into smaller parcels that foes of the project say might become lifestyle vintners' homes in the future. Hall, a big real estate developer from Texas, who, with his wife Kathryn, owns two Napa wineries, has already subdivided holdings in Sonoma where he also owns vineyards and land with room for ranchettes and vineyards.

In a way, in Conaway's books each era seems no different than the ones that came before. There are heroes and there are villains. There are characters as powerful as those found in the great novels. There are epic battles - all for the soul of Napa.

I always recommend these books to anyone in the wine industry or anyone who's visiting Napa, because without this view of Napa Valley, you really don't have a clue as to what is going in this paradise. (Or is it even a paradise any more? - a question many people ask themselves sitting in summer weekend traffic on Highway 29.)

On tours, I like to take people to the one remaining parcel on the valley floor in Yountville that's an unpretentious public park owned by Fish and Wildlife - the Napa River Ecological Preserve. Here you can see what the valley once was. (You can find a lot more of this landscape up in the Ukiah/Hopland corridor in Mendocino County where agricultural and nature live in a better state of harmony - i.e. the oceans of vineyards haven't taken over completely).

When you look around at the preserve's wild bushes and stream, listen to the birds, and cross a muddy path, you realize just what this place once was. Many others in Napa still have access to private lands with this kind of biodiversity and beauty. The story Conaway tells about Randy Dunn's efforts - with his fellow community members - to preserve one treasure on Howell Mountain can make you cry. On the other hand, the voices section may make you cheer.

At any rate, you'll witness the "thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" in these pages. And you'll hear stories you won't find anywhere else about the real Napa.

Postscript: The Big Dogs of Napa who don't like what Conaway has to say have been barking a lot in their Amazon.com reviews. Don't pay attention. Just mark their negative reviews "unhelpful."

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Slow Wine 2018's Italian Producers - 45% of SF Exhibitors Had Wines from Organically Farmed Wines

10 PERCENT OF ITALIAN VINEYARDS ARE CERTIFIED ORGANIC

Vino Biologico is thriving.

Looking for fine wines from organically farmed vines is easy if you're choosing from among Slow Wine's Italian producers who came to San Francisco earlier this month.

The country has more than 206,000 acres of organic vineyards, compared to fewer than 20,000 acres of organic vineyards in the U.S. (Maybe when Fred Franzia's new 5,000 acres are certified, which should be pretty soon, we can get up to 25,000 acres.)

Indeed in their introduction to the 2018 guide, the Italian editors Giancarlo Gariglio and Fabio Giavedoni write,
"When Slow Wine made its debut, it was hard...to find wines that farmed their vineyards organically or at least avoided weeding with chemicals. Today it's the exact opposite..."
Today Italy has more organic vines than France, both in number (206,000 acres to 174,730 acres) and in percentage (10% compared to 9%). 



SLOW WINE ITALIAN EXHIBITORS: 45 PERCENT CERTIFIED ORGANIC

More than 85 producers exhibited at Terre Gallery in San Francisco March 7, as part of a four city tour (Atlanta, Houston, New York and SF). Out of the 85 producers, according to the program guide, 36 were either certified organic or converting to organic. Two were listed as Demeter certified Biodynamic.

We're talking about 200,000 acres of vineyards with no added Roundup, synthetic fertilizers and other toxic chemicals. To put that into perspective, here in California, we have 460,000 acres of vineyards total - minus about 15,000 acres for organic - we have 445,000 acres of Roundup, synthetic fertilizers and toxics. So where are you going to find great organically grown wines when only 15,000 acres of California are treating their soil with respect?

The answer is yes, we have wonderful wines, but in fact, Italy has a LOT MORE wonderful wines and most of the wines from Italy at Slow Wine are not nearly as pricey as a Sonoma Pinot Noir or a Napa Cab. Not to mention that the Italians have a much greater variety of varietals and make many more types of wine in general - from Amarone to Prosecco and beyond.

Here are some of the lovely producers I met and sampled wines from at the event.


DOCG Amarone producer Speri, from the Veneto, is
transitioning to organic
Vinica Tintilia de Molise Lame del Sorbo
Tintilia is an indigenous grape from Molise (on the east central coast of
Italy south of Vasto. Delish.

The wonderful Avignonesi winery in Tuscany - with this beautiful Montepulciano -
is headed by Virginie Saverys, who will be speaking at the
International Biodynamic Wine Conference here in SF May 6
More lovelies from Avignonenesi; the estate has a 100 acres of vines


Time for a refreshing rosé? This one's from the Veneto
and is made with Corvina and Rondinella grapes


Case Paolin makes a very nice Brut Prosecco

The same producer also has a Col Fondo Prosecco fermetned on the lees
but there isn't much of it that you can find on Wine-Searcher

Now, where can I BUY these wines? That's the real question...

Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Front Row Seat on the Redwood Valley Fire: Interview with Katrina Frey on Living Through the 2017 Fire

Frey Wine - fire damage (KQED photos)

People affected by the extraordinary fires of 2017 are still recovering. Hear Katrina Frey's version of the calamitous events of last fall in this podcast from March 5 on An Organic Conversation.

Nine people died and 360 houses burned to the ground.

Frey was in the process of building new facilities when the fire happened.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Must See Movie - Our Blood is Wine - Opens Online March 20

The movie opens March 20 (video on demand): see the trailer here.  
What is wine, really? Movies like Somm tend to perpetuate the crazy idea that wine appreciation is some kind of competitive sport for diners who can afford to eat in three star Michelin restaurants - and not something of the land and for the people.

Salvation comes in the form of Our Blood is Wine, which screened at the super funky (and for that reason wonderful) New Parkway Theater in Oakland last Sunday (after the Brumaire natural wine tasting) with both the filmmaker - Emily Railsback - and the film's leading man - sommelier Jeremy Quinn - on hand to answer questions after the film. (And yes, there's something of a rom-com story to their collaboration - they are a couple). That was followed by a mini tasting of Georgian wines imported by Terrell Wines.

The legndary Iago Bitarishvili makes wine in quevri in Chinuri
The untarnished, old school Georgian wines have become the flag bearer for the natural wine movement, although the Georgians' dedication extends (unlike too many of the natural winemakers in the U.S.) to tending their own vines. Their traditions date back 8,000 years and their wine-celebrating songs and toastings continue to this day (although they have tended to exclude women from the recitations and toasting traditions, Railsback and Quinn say the situation is, slowly, changing). 

The film also features the first woman winemaker, Marina Kurtanidze (Iago's wife) to make exported Georgian wines. 

I loved seeing the 400 year old vines in the film, that are simply breathtaking and awe-inspiring. Another special moment in the film is visiting Vardezia, a 12th century seat of power filled with cave churches, monasteries and frescoes - along with 185 ancient wine jars. Another great moment is learning about the modern replanting of an amphitheater once planted to vines. Add to that Georgian music, food and families featured in archival footage from a 1964 film Falling Leaves. (Note:  you can see this feature film in its entirety on YouTube.) It tells the story of a young winemaker who is prey to Soviet era corruption in the wine world.

Another highlight in the film is the discovery that Japanese wine lovers have fallen under the spell of Georgian wines; we see a few Japanese tourists in the film. 

Restauranteurs also love Georgian wines - not only are they exotic, they are also crazy cheap at wholesale prices. The U.S. State Department has even sponsored Wines of Georgia, to preserve Georgian culture when the Soviet Union withdrew its support.

About one percent of the country's exported wines are still aging their wines in quevri (giant clay pots, buried underground), a tradition that archaeologists believe goes back to the earliest winemaking times we know of (- so far). (See: Areni in nearby Armenia.) Of course, there could always be a new site to be discovered that is older than Areni, and there are several excavations in Georgia hoping to reclaim the notoriety for being the oldest winemaking site for Georgia. But no matter - those country lines didn't exist 8,000 years ago.

But most quevri wine is made and consumed at home and not exported, the couple said.
Emily Railsback and Jeremy Quinn during Q&A with the New Parkway audience
I had a lovely chat with Emily and Jeremy, discussing our mutual love of ancient wine history. It turns out the two also filmed in Turkey, Corsica and elsewhere but that footage didn't make it into this film. Hopefully there will be another.

Amazingly, Emily shot the entire film on her iPhone. 

During the Q and A, Railsback and Quinn said today there are only about 30-40,000 acres of vines now versus 140,000 under the Soviet era. The Soviets forced Georgians to stop producing their indigenous wines using their native techniques and instead forced them to make sweet wines for export to the USSR. 

The movie screened earlier this year at Berlin Film Festival and got a very upbeat film review in the New York Times this week.

Carla Capalbo, author, and a new friend, who she met
at the tasting; he knew one of the women featured in her book
I was just saying to my friend, Lissy, a great home cook, who came with me to the event that it was a shame that there wasn't a "The" book written yet about Georgian wines - Alice Feiring's book was entertaining but it wasn't a travel and wine guide - when I stumbled up the stairs into the tasting to see Carla Capalbo, a food and wine writer based in the UK and Italy, standing there with her brand new title Tasting Georgia, a collection of recipes and winery profiles from the different regions of Georgia. 

This book isn't entirely about wine, of course - which means there still is an opening for a beautiful photo book of all the wines and wineries and regions - but it's a helluva good start. And its real focus is on food and wine.

It's also an overview tour of the country, including areas where tourists often don't venture. Capalbo shot all the photos herself. 

It's a splendid book and I bought one on the spot. You can buy one on Amazon.com where it's getting crazy good reviews.

Here are some more of the wines we tasted. (No idea where my notes are). Enjoy the film!





You can also read a lovely interview with Emily on Sprudge.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

History Live! Glyphosate Experts Testify on Roundup's Cancer Causing Potential in Federal Court




I attended the gyphosate hearings last week in U.S. District Court in San Francisco - in which science experts for Monsanto and for the 370 plaintiffs suing Monsanto presented their scientific credentials and opinions.

What's remarkable about the hearings is that we can all watch and read what the experts said and the information they presented.

The plaintiffs alleged that Roundup was responsible for giving them non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer. These cases will be heard in jury trials across the country, but the vetting of the experts was bundled together under what is known as multi district litigation (MDL) under Judge Vince Chhabria.

The list of participants in the hearing can be seen here.


SEE THE VIDEO!

This is an historic first - you can see the experts' entire testimony online.

The hearings were videotaped by the court and are online now for all to see.

Although they span five days of hearings, I believe they are very important for anyone who's interested in knowing about the science underlying the cancer risk assessments of glyphosate, including IARC's landmark 2015 ruling. Monsanto has conducted smear campaigns of IARC's findings that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, saying it's "junk science."

The videos will be used by state judges presiding over the 370 cases filed to date which are expected to go to jury trials.

LIVE COVERAGE

If you'd like a written summary of the proceedings each day, the best source is U.S. Right to Know's live coverage:

• U.S. Right to Know Live Coverage

Another summary version is posted here:

Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman blog

FULL TRANSCRIPTS

You can also go for a deeper dive into each scientist's testimony. See the full transcripts here:

For the Plaintiffs

• March 5

Dr. Beate Ritz (pages 9-167)
Dr. Dennis Weisenberger (pages 168-213)

• March 6

Dr. Dennis Weisenberger (pages 218-286)
Dr. Alfred Neugut (pages 287-370)

• March 7

Dr. Alfred Neugut (pages 377-401)
Dr. Charles Jameson (pages 402-539)
Dr. Christopher Porter (pages 540-595)

• March 8

Dr. Aaron Blair (pages TBD)
Dr. Matthew Ross (pages TBD)

For Monsanto

Dr. Thomas Rosol (pages TBD)
Christopher Corcoran (pages TBD)

• March 9

For the Plaintiffs
Dr. Nabhan (pages TBD)

For Monsanto
Dr. Mucci (pages TBD)

HIGHLIGHTS

Limited time? I would prioritize reading and/or viewing the testimony of Dr. Jameson and Dr. Nabhan for the plaintiffs.

Dr. Jameson's video appears beginning in Part 7.
Dr. Nabhan's video appears in Part 17, at 24:00 and extends over subsequent video segments.

For Monsanto, I would recommend the testimony of Dr. Rosol.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Want to Learn About Biodynamic Vineyards and Wines? Come to Biodynamic Producer Day at IBWC

Demeter USA is putting on the first ever day of educational programs about Biodynamic viticulture and winemaking Sunday, May 6 at the Golden Gate Club in San Francisco. It's part of the two day International Biodynamic Wine Conference.

Learn about the latest in the Biodynamic preparations, Biodynamic compost, soil and the microbiome and more from top experts in the field.


• David Montgomery and Anne Biklé, experts on sol and the microbiome, will be keynote speakers at the event


• Biodynamic research scientist John Reganold and U. C. Farm Advisor Glenn McGourty will be speak on a panel of researchers who have studied Biodynamic viticulture


• Bonterra vineyard director Joseph Brinkley, prepmaker Mattias Baker, and Brook LeVan will be talking about the latest in the Biodynamic preparations


• International biodynamic wine expert Monty Waldin will speak about the international Biodynamic perspective - what countries are embracing it

Come and learn more about techniques that Biodynamic growers and winemakers use in the vines and different approaches to marketing and business perspectives from Biodynamic wine community.

Get the details here.