Sustainable Wine Review: Organic Wines for Your Wedding

4 Feb

Photo: Hall Wines

I recently received this on my facebook wall:

I am hoping you can help some friends of mine out. A very dear friend from college is getting married this summer and she and her fiancee would like to serve organic wines. Do you have any recommendations?

Where to start?  First, I suppose we should start with a definition: Organic wines can be classified into four categories:

  • ‘100% organic’ are what they say made from 100% organic certified ingredients wines may not contain added sulfites and must bear the USDA organic label.
  • ‘organic’  are 95%+ certified-organic ingredients and may not contain added sulfites and must bear the USDA organic label.
  • ‘Made with organic grapes’  are 70%+ certified organic ingredients, some sulfites allowed and the label must indicate the presence of non-organic grapes.
  • ‘Made with some organic grapes’ may contain less than 70% organically produced ingredients and over 30% non-organically produced agricultural ingredients and the term “organic” shall only appear in an ingredient statement and the accompanying percentage statement.

So…there are several wineries that use certified organic grapes, but their wines won’t qualify for an ‘organic’ designation for any number of reasons.  So beware, label mongers, the wines listed below may or may not have the UDSA organic label. Just sayin’.

For a wedding we have to assume they aren’t looking for a super expensive wine.  That said, here are some recommendations:

20$ and under.

Reds: In this category I would start with the $14 Bonny Doon 2009 Contra Central Coast Red Wine. It was recently named one of the SF Chronicle’s Top 100 Wines.

Whites: Sokol Blosser in Oregon is a great, sustainable winery. In 2002 they became the first US winery to receive LEED Certification and they have publish a proper sustainability report (you don’t see that from too many wineries). The Evolution, a blend, at $15 is terrific.

Photo: Barra of Mendocino

Then there is Barra of Mendocino.  They are a a fabulous winery that has been making top notch organic wines for years. They have four wines to consider. Reds: 2004 Zinfandel that was a Silver Medal Winner in the San Francisco Chronicle for $20 and a a 2006 Sangiovese for $18.Whites: A 2009 Pinot Grigio for $18 and a 2008 Chardonnay for $18. And as an extra treat they have a A 2007 Muscat Canelli dessert wine $16.

And although I haven’t personally tried them, Marc Kauffman, CSW, Certified Sommelier and the Wine Guy at En Vino, recommends: “The Cal Naturale wines that retail for about $12 (1 liter). The Chardonnay is clean and crisp with pleasing acidity and overtones of apple, pear and melon. A very clean wine. The Cabernet Sauvignon has some complexity and up front jammy, berry flavors. Yes, I have tasted them and they are good and good values.”

Over 20$

No mention of organic wine is complete with talking about Benziger Family Winery. Mike Benziger was making organic wine before people knew what it was.  They make several great wines, but since cost is a consideration, I would go with the 2009 Signaterra Sauvignon Blanc, Casey’s Block at $24 a bottle.

Another solid choice is the Hall Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc at $22. The Halls have been using an organic approach long ago and recently received our Organic Farming certification. The Sauvignon Blanc was also recently named one of the SF Chronicle’s Top 100 Wines.

Steve Ferree, a wine writer and educator at WineProGuy, recommends Preston of Dry Creek: “Some fabulous wines, all organic. Lou Preston is a fanatic about organic farming for all his crops, grapes, olives and fruits. Even his tractor uses vegetable oil.” Their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc is $22.


One of my favorite organic wines comes from Tablas Creek.  Their Côtes de Tablas 2008 is $25.00 a bottle. You can’t beat this one at that price.

Photo: Donelan Wines

I know this next wine might blow the wine budget, but if you can afford it (maybe its a small wedding?), I would go for the 2008 Donelan Syrah Kobler Vineyard Green Valley at $45. Its a stunning wine and well worth the money.

Although I hadn’t expected to mention it, Liz Palmer, a wine and travel writer, highly recommends Champagne Fleury Pere & Fils that sells for about $58 a bottle.

A few more things to think about:

  • The reality is that there is an abundance of great wine that contain organic grapes but do not carry the USDA Organic label.  Organic Wine Find has a searchable database.
  • If you are in a state that allows you to, buy directly from the winery. Its better for them and many offer discounts on full case orders.

This is cross-posted at


Sustainable Wine Review: Beyond Organic

28 Jan

Barra of Mendocino (CA) farms 200+ acres of certified organic grapes.

This is the first post in a weekly series on sustainable wines.

According to the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA), 1,500 vintners and growers in our great state have participated in sustainable winegrowing programs, representing 60% of California’s wine production and winegrape acreage.  Its fair to say that sustainability in the wine industry is no longer the exception, but rather the rule.

For many folks, the first thing they think of when talking about sustainability and wine is organic grapes.  While this is a very logical place to start, sustainability in the wine industry encompasses so much more.

To one producer it means organic grapes, to another it means water conservation, to another it means minimizing packaging to another it means triple bottom line. Those of us who want to eat and drink better want to know how to sort it all out.  Hence, the birth of this series. And since it means so many things to so many people, it seems to make sense to layout the ground rules. To spell it out, we are going to be talking about sustainable wines that embrace all or some of the following sustainable practices:

Grapes: The two most consumer-recognizable farming practices for grapes are organic (which is a USDA certification) and biodynamic (a third-party non-profit certification). Every day more producers are embracing organic and biodynamic farming practices.

Water Use: Wine is an agricultural product and no one better than a farmer understands the importance of water conservation. Many vineyards are focusing on using low-water-use, high-efficiency equipment, making strategic use of water for irrigation, selecting rootstocks and employing viticulture practices that reduce water consumption and reducing the amount of water used in cleaning.

Energy efficiency: You can be sure, like all other businesses around the globe, wine producers are looking for sure energy savers and larger energy efficiency opportunities. The CSWA reports that over the last four years, 359 energy-efficiency projects resulted in California wineries eliminating 30,371 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the equivalent of removing 4,226 cars off the road for one year. Practices include everything from solar projects, high-efficiency lighting and insulated wine tanks to gravity flow designs for movement of the grapes and efficient wastewater treatment systems.

Packaging and Transportation: I know you’re thinking packaging and transportation.  But, truthfully, the way a product is packaged matters a lot environmentally. We will find wineries that use packaging made from earth-friendly materials, use boxes, cases, mailers, and partitions made out of the highest post-consumer waste materials available and strive to reduce package-to-product ratios. This all impacts their transportation practices—a huge part of very wineries carbon footprint—so we will find wine producers that think about minimizing packaging because when you reduce the size of packaging, you not only reduce the amount of materials used but you reduce the amount of space and energy required to manufacture and ship it.

CSR: The triple bottom line is starting to make its way into more and more wine producers ethos. But, its still not a given to find wineries that work to cultivate a a sense of social responsibility into their operations. But, they are out there and we’ll find them.

If there is anything else you’d like to talk about please let me know!

Photo: Barra of Mendocino

This is cross-posted at

Wait, wait…coming soon

27 Jan

So, we are knee deep in web development and winery sign-ups. We couldn’t be more thrilled about the winery partners we are getting lined up. Its all very top secret, so I can’t tell you much more, but…

sign up for our alerts and be the first to know when we go online. Also, folks on our email list will get first crack at using the beta site, free VineCrowd cash, and all sorts of other cool stuff. So, sign up now and we’ll catch you soon.


VineCrowd Presents Two Mile Wines

22 Dec

Welcome! VineCrowd is joining with a handful of boutique wineries to offer consumers the opportunity to get to know and purchase from wineries to which they would not otherwise have access. And as our first offering, we are proud to present winery partner, Two Mile Wines. Two Mile Wines, voted the Bay Area’s best winery by the San Francisco Chronicle, is a small urban winery in the East Bay area of California, that follows a tradition of crafting their product in limited quantities for quality and character. To introduce this artisan wine to the VineCrowd community, Two Mile has agreed to offer their finest vintage at an unbeatable deal exclusively to our friends and family!

Etienne Lehrer, Adam Nelson & Adam Love of Two Mile Wines

Last week I was able to sit down with Two Miles’ owners, Adam Love and Adam Nelson, and chat over a glass of their incomprable sangiovese.

JK: Can you provide readers with a little background on who you are?

AN: Sure. I’m one of the founders of Two Mile Wines, a small winery in Oakland, CA. I came to this business from the love of food, friends, and connection. The wine industry has become so polarized between the worlds of glamor and commodity that I wanted to build a company which promotes the respect of wine for its craft, origin, and tangibility. Communities need to find more ways to shorten the food-chain and make good products sustainably. But the wine business has become the “Napa Dream,” where retirees build palatial estates and create more distance from the people who just want a good bottle of wine, while most of us just buy an affordable bottle from some distant, unknowable source. In the end, it’s an agricultural product. It’s food. It’s not a about social status — it’s about society — coming together to eat food and drink wine made by people we know. So we put a winery next to the people drinking it, and invited everyone to participate. To un-distance. To get their hands dirty and have a conversation which isn’t about some distant dream-life but instead about enjoying where we are right this very moment with our friends and family and food.

AL: I’m Adam too. I am a husband, father, friend, PhD environmental scientist and thoughtful food consumer. I’m also the winemaker. At Two Mile we sell primarily locally and choose organically farmed grapes as often as available to us.

JK: What was your first job?

AL: Depending how far you want to go back…but I was a bank teller during my first summer in college.

AN: I worked as a tech in a live theatre when I was young, and eventually ended up in technology. The winery doesn’t pay my bills, so I still work in technology and appreciate getting to pull weeds, crush grapes, and help solve the day-to-day problems winemaking always brings.

JK: How has the wine industry changed in the last 10 years?

AL: I think the best change has been the increased acknowledgement of growers.There has also been significant confusion in the marketplace about “sustainable” winemaking practices. As a consumer it is hard to know what is greenwashing and what is thoughtful sustainability practices.

AN: The economic changes have been significant, and have been the most defining of our 8 years of winemaking. It’s been painful, although I expect less so for us than for others, given our mostly local focus. My feeling the past 3 years is that the business has become more of an import-export game, as more US consumers buy imports, and a vast amount of small wine now gets sent to China. It’s the opposite of what I would hope for, where bulk wine is arbitraged and the resulting bottles come from a complicated industrial system. On the positive side, it does seem that more states are opening up to direct shipments, which while still shipped are shipped to closer destinations with fewer middle-men.

JK: Any general comments, observations, predictions about the industry?

AN: A lot of wineries are going under. More will before it’s over. Wineries will continue to earn business however they can, including, like Adam said, greenwashing, fancy labels, and unique production techniques. I don’t see the day where people buy wine from somebody they know coming anytime soon, but the spread of good wineries to every state and country certainly could do that. I expect more techniques from the beer industry to be used as American’s develop a new favorite beverage, for example, filtration marketing, dating, packaging. The one incredibly positive part of this is unbottled wine — like we do with kegs, there’s no need to bottle a good wine to be served in a bar.

JK: When you’re not drinking one of your own wines, what are you drinking?

AL: Unti, Kanzler, Schramsburg.

AN: Other local wines made by people I know, like Eno, Blacksmith, or Donkey and Goat. Pretty much any Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast or Mendocino — it just doesn’t get any better. Navarro continues to make crisp, cool whites like nobody else.

JK: What’s your favorite place to grab a bite out?

AL: Gioia Pizza (in Berkeley).

AN: I love the Vietnamese food in the Bay Area. Somewhere in Little Saigon like Bodega Bistro (San Francisco) or from a cart in Oakland.

You don’t want to miss…
Two Mile 2007 Dry Creek Sangiovese at 40% off and free shipping.

Two Mile Wines 40% off for friends of VineCrowd

8 Dec

Two Mile 2007 Dry Creek Sangiovese

$38.00 Retail Price

VineCrowd Price: 12 bottles $273.60 (that’s $22.80/bottle with shipping included!)

You won’t see this again. A case of Two Mile’s renowned sangiovese offered at a 4o% discount. Sustainably farmed; food friendly; true to the fruit and full of charm. High-acid; low-oak; unbelievable. Forget what you know about California sangiovese — this is a balanced, complex, and remarkable wine. Nothing could pair better with your holiday meals. Grown by Susan Lentz and Herb Polesky on a western-facing slope in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. This wine is acclaimed by critics for it’s balance, trueness to fruit, and wonderful personality. It’s meant for drinking with food, with the structure of a pinot noir with the rich body only Dry Creek can provide. Dirty some glasses with this one…

About the Wine
Alcohol: 14.8%
Appellation: Dry Creek Valley
Release Date: April 06, 2009
Year: 2007

2008 Central Valley Viognier

$24.00 Retail Price

VineCrowd Price: A mixed case of 6 bottles of Viognier + 6 bottles of Sangiovese (that’s $14.40 a bottle  + $22.80 a bottle with shipping included!)

This viognier is just what viognier should be. High-acid, completely dry, but full of the depth and complexity only viognier can bring. It’s characterized by stone-fruit balanced with citrus, with no cloying, oaky distraction. Want a structured white which will still pair with meat? If you like oaky, rich vigonier, this isn’t the wine for you. It’s made in a rich but tight style, very fruit forward but with the acid to back it up. 99 out of 100 people agree: it’s in a different class of California viognier. You can’t join the line waiting to get the annual release, but you can get it through this special with VineCrowd. This is a wine which will carry you through from cheese to dessert.

About the Wine
Alcohol: 14.8%
Appellation: Central Coast
Harvest Date: September 01, 2008
Year: 2008

Can’t decide? Try them both with a mixed case that will treat you to 6 bottles of each and match any meal. Sounds like a good night…

About Two Mile Wines

Voted the Bay Area’s best winery by the San Francisco Chronicle!

I came to this business from the love of food, friends, and connection. The wine industry has become so polarized between the worlds of glamor and commodity that I wanted to build a company which promotes the respect of wine for its craft, origin, and tangibility.” — Adam Nelson

Not interested in these wines (although I can’t imagine why…)? Please sign up for future deals!

Share this with your friends and we can all be drinking by Groundhog’s Day!
Bookmark and Share shakes up the wine world

7 Dec
Caymus 2005 shot by

Caymus 2005 shot by

“Demographic geekery, marketing tomfoolery, wine biz badassery, and some general awesomeness.”

Who wouldn’t love a twitter bio like that? Well, that’s Leah Hennessy, owner of Millennier, Inc. a company that reaches millennials through creative content and social media.  Yesterday she was quoted in a spot on AdAge article about millennials and the wine biz.  As someone who’s trying to shake up the wine world, I know she speaks the truth:

“[Wine marketers] only start paying attention to us once we turn 21, so unfortunately they are now kind of behind the curve in terms of the research they’ve been doing…Now everybody is playing catch-up.”

And what does that mean for us? It means we need to think outside the box. We need to develop customer focused systems (its about me, baby). We need to be interactive and integrated. Distributors who are ordertakers won’t cut it. We need to connect with our customers where they are. They are the new wine anti-elite, catch them if you can.

And, you know, you can’t fake this shit. Millennials will smell it a mile away. You don’t believe me? Ask our very own millenial @ He’ll tell you what’s wrong with the way you’re trying to sell wine. He tells me all the time.

Are Urban Wineries Taking Over The Industry?

2 Dec

Its official.  The urban winery movement is hot. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are all over it. But, we know its true because we here at VineCrowd are at the epicenter of the urban wine movement (aka. the East Bay area of CA).  So much so that we have our own support group, the East Bay Vinters Alliance (which actually calls the movement a ‘revolution’), a collection of nineteen ‘innovative, urban wineries spanning from Alameda to North Berkeley, and producing some of the highest quality wine in the world… [and] prides itself in being the ‘the cutting edge pioneers of modern age winemaking.'”

Just this morning the LA Times published the results of the Nation’s Restaurant News’ top 20 restaurant trends for 2011. According to the Nation’s Restaurant Association which polled 1,527 chef members of the American Culinary Federation about what they expected to trend up in 2011, urban wineries fit into at least three categories :

#3. Sustainability
#5. “Hyper local,” such as restaurants with their own gardens and chefs who do their own butchering.
#9. Simplicity/back to basics
#12. Locally produced wine and beer

And its all confirmed by‘s end of year of Trend Briefing that details 11 Consumer Trends for 2011. #2? Urbanomics. From the briefing:

Urbanization remains one of the absolute mega trends for the coming decade….How will this change the consumer arena in 2011 and beyond? Firstly, urban consumers tend to be more daring, more liberal, more tolerant, more experienced, more prone to trying out new products and services…Catering to city-citizens in these vast urban entities requires a local, dedicated approach in products, services and campaigns…To cut a long story short: In 2011, go for products, services, experiences or campaigns that tailor to the very specific (and often more refined, more experienced) needs of urbanites worldwide…And don’t forget to infuse them with a heavy dose of ‘URBAN PRIDE’. From Smirnoff’s Absolut Cities to BMW’s Megacity vehicle, urban is the way to go.

So, while urban wineries may not be taking over the industry (yet), we are thrilled to be part of the revolution that puts wineries next to where we live. As Adam Nelson, a founder of Two Mile Wines in Berkeley says:

In the end, [wine is] an agricultural product.  It’s food.  It’s not a about social status — it’s about society — coming together to eat food and drink wine made by people we know.  So we put a winery next to the people drinking it, and invited everyone to participate.  To un-distance.  To get their hands dirty and have a conversation which isn’t about some distant dream-life but instead about enjoying where we are right this very moment with our friends and family and food.

Photo courtesy of Two Mile Wines.

#WineWednesday 6 Gifts To Make Your Wine Drinker Happy

24 Nov

Its that time of the year again. And I’m writing this post, well honestly, for my husband as a hint (no lingerie or robotic sweepers this year, honey.) Here’s what I’m hoping for under my tree this year.

I discovered these guys at the at the Oakland Temescal Farmer’s Market.  Their chocolates are incredible and they have a number of wine-based truffles to die for. With a tag line of “What is your VICE?” how can you not love them? Try the Blackbird (dark chocolate ganache infused with merlot.)  Or my favorite bar, the Fig + Anise (69% dark chocolate bar adorned with dried figs and anise seeds.) Available Sundays at the Oakland Temescal Farmer’s Market or online. $5-$56.

I have to agree with the OXO website when it claims that the OXO SteeL Wine Stopper/Pourer Combination is ‘the perfect two-in-one gift for anyone from the wine connoisseur to the casual entertainer.’ The incredible looking brushed stainless steel Stopper/Pourer Combination is so simple: Push the soft lever down and the bottle is sealed for short-term storage. Lift the lever up and the seal is opened for drip-free pouring. As an added benefit, wine is also aerated while it is poured out of the wide spout. Widely available also online at OXO. $9.99.

I’m always forgetting what day it is so the Food For Thought calendar serves as both a functional gifty as well as an aesthetic one. In case you’re wondering, July is my favorite. Available at . $10.

Although I resisted wanting William-Sonoma’s Wine Label Removers, I just can’t help coveting these memory aids. So easy to use: just remove the backing paper from each piece of laminate using the convenient side tab, rub over the wine label, taking special care at the corners, and gently peel it off just peel off the face of a label for placement in your wine journal or scrapbook (or if you’re like me my desk drawer). Available in sets of 20 at William-Sonoma. $19.95.

There are times when you just want to crack open a good bottle and hang.  These recycled windshield stemless wine glasses are just the ticket.  As an added bonus for the eco-minded, they are handmade in Colombia out of recycled glass from old car windows. From the website: “Sturdy and strong, the thick glass has a slight green hue from the tint originally added to lessen the sun’s glare. Beautiful and interesting, these stemless wine glasses are an uncommon take on a stylish design. Each is one of a kind and will vary.”  Available at $22 for a set of two.

Dean & Deluca’s Cult Wine Club is the next best thing to living in Napa. Sign on to receive ‘a minimum of three ultra-exclusive wines’ every quarter. As an added bonus, you get to attend the Cult Club’s exclusive annual Napa Lifestyle Event for members only. Available through Dean & Deluca. $1000.

Q&A with Craig Becker of Somerston Wine Co.

22 Nov

As part of our ongoing Q&A sessions with winemakers we are thrilled to have sat down with Craig Becker, Co-Founder, General Manager, Winemaker and Vineyard Manager of Somerston Wine Co.  In the heart of Napa Valley, Somerston, is 1628 acres of natural beauty, with over 200 acres of sustainably farmed vineyards, winery, and a developing ranch and farm.The tasting room is pretty cool too.

JK: Can you provide readers with a little background on who you are and what you’re doing?

CB: I grew up in Los Angeles. When I moved to Sonoma County to go to college, I discovered that the northern California lifestyle is the complete opposite of the concrete jungle where I was raised. I started mountain biking and hiking all over Northern California, surrounding myself as much as possible with nature. This deep love of the outdoors led me to peruse a degree in Plant Physiology, Soil Science and Hydrologic Science. While finishing my degree I discovered the viticulture department at UCD and was hooked. With my background and experience in the outdoors, my new focus allowed me to practice what I believe.

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Q&A with Tyler Thomas, Winemaker for Donelan Family Wines

19 Nov

Donelan Family Wines is considered to be one of Northern California’s premier boutique wine producers and several of the wines produced under the supervision of Winemaker Tyler Thomas have received unbridled praise. Not long ago, in fact, Robert Parker gave Donelan several positive reviews with most vintages scoring a 93 or higher. Today we get to chat with Thomas, who calls himself a husband and father of three who happens to be also be a Winemaker. But he’s just being modest.

JK: Can you provide readers with a little background on who you are and what you’re doing?

TT: I am the winemaker for the Syrah focused producer Donelan Family Wines. As a small winery (less than 5000 cases) my role includes grower relations/vineyard management, winemaking duties, cellar management, and marketing participation. I am responsible for building the team that helps to ensure what we place into the glass is something of uncompromising quality – at least this is the mandate giving to me by our owner Joe Donelan.

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