Organic Wines Uncorked

Don’t be fooled by “Sustainable Sonoma ” signs on vineyards all over the county. It is nothing but greenwashing and PR.

“Today vineyard land in Sonoma sells for $100,000 to $175,000 an acre, according to experts.

The organic vineyards represent about 2 percent of the county’s total vineyard acreage. “

Organic Wines Uncorked

by Pam Strayer (one of our favorite people on the planet)

The Delicious Revolution Will Be Vinified: News and Views on Organically Grown Wine

 In June, Wine Business Monthly published the top 100 vineyards in Sonoma, listing the top 10 (free online) and the top 100 (in its print edition). In response, here’s a list of the top 10 organic and Biodynamic vineyards in Sonoma to bring attention to this under recognized category of good neighbors.

In the wake of the post The Dark Side of Sonoma’s Sustainability Program (4,100 page views and counting), it’s wonderful to get the word out about all of the wineries that do farm organically, are certified and are business successes. Each has outstanding wines.

Top 10 Sonoma Organic Vineyards (By Size)

Ridge Vineyards – 200 acres
One of the finest wineries in the U.S., Ridge’s Sonoma vineyards include some of the oldest vines in the state in Geyserville, dating back to the 1880’s. Its newer vines, on its Lytton Springs estate, are also organically farmed. Ridge is the largest organic vineyard owner in Sonoma and it is also the largest organic vineyard owner in Santa Clara, on its Montebello estate which has an additional 77 organic acres. Committed to ingredients labeling all of its wines, it also bottle labels its organically grown wines so you can tell which is which.
Don’t miss: Geyserville (50th vintage).

Benziger Family Estate – 104 acres (BD)
The mother of Biodynamic wine in Sonoma, Mike Benziger and his family farmed organically and Biodynamically on four estates throughout Sonoma, from Sonoma Mountain to Freestone (where most everyone else feels the need to use fungicides). The Wine Group purchased the winery in 2015 and has (so far) continued to farm the estate vineyards Biodynamically. The estate wines represent 7 percent of total production, but it bottle labels its Biodynamic wines so you can see which is which.
Don’t miss: Pinot Noir – Terra Neuma.

Eco Terreno* – 95 acres (BD)
A grower as well as a vintner, Mark Lyon, the former winemaker at Sebastiani, has transformed his two Alexander Valley vineyards into an A-list source for grapes, after converting to Biodynamic farming (Demeter certified in 2017). The grapes are now in high demand from other wineries and his own Eco Terreno brand is growing. Several weeks ago, Lyon also purchased a Columbus Ave. restaurant in San Francisco that he plans to turn into a winery tasting room. Does not bottle label.
Don’t miss: Old Vine Cabernet

Hamel Family Wines* – 88 acres (BD)
Eco-conscious and stylish, Hamel Family Wines is a shining example of what high finance, a family pulling together, and the right intention can create. The family’s fortunes – made in finance – have been put to good use in developing a precious, historic site into a glittering and elegant but casual showcase for wine, coupled with stunning views of Sonoma Mountain. Does not bottle label.
Don’t miss: try them all.

Quivira Vineyards – 88 acres
A Dry Creek Valley mainstay, the winery implemented many important ecological restoration projects in the past and was formerly certified Biodynamic. Today it is organic and offers a farm-y tour visitors can sign up for. Its famous for its Rhone varietals and its Fig Tree Sauvignon Blanc. Quivira is only partially organic, but it bottle labels its wines from organic vines.
Don’t miss: Grenache.

Preston Farm & Winery* – 70 acres (BD)
Popular with locals and tourists alike, Preston’s heart beats for both land, farm and wine, bringing all three together in its Dry Creek Valley creekside site. Vegetables and farmhouse-baked bread fill the tasting room along with Rhone varietals, Zinfandel and rosé. Come on Sundays to fill up on the house wine. Don’t miss the bocce ball court (open weekdays only). Bottle labels all of its wines. (“Made with Biodynamic Grapes”).
Don’t miss: Madame Preston.

Medlock Ames* – 55 acres
The perennial Millenial favorite, Medlock Ames has been organic from the start. The bromance of two college guy friends – one of whom made a fortune – led to the winery’s creation. To get a real sense for the wine, visitors trek to its scenic Bell Mountain Ranch for tours and tastings. The winery makes a wide range of wines, changing the blends frequently from year to year.

Kamen Estate* – 50 acres
One of the earliest wineries in the Moon Mountain District to be organic, this mountaintop estate makes some of the county’s finest Cabernet year in and year out. It’s also known for its fabulous Syrah. Hollywood screenwriter Mark Kamen started it with the help of Sonoma’s organic vineyard manager Phil Coturri.

Lasseter Family Winery* – 37 acres
Nestled into an historic spot in Glen Ellen on the valley floor, this all organic estate winery is owned by the family of Disney and Pixar creative director John Lasseter and his wife Nancy Lasseter and has been extra popular with Disney fans. Primarily devoted to Bordeaux and Rhone varietals, it recently announced the purchase of additional organic estate vines in the Moon Mountain District appellation.

Skipstone* – 30 acres
The private estate of tech exec Fahri Diner, this exclusive winery in the Alexander Valley is the only Sonoma winery making Bordeaux blend wines under the direction of the highly regarded French consultant Philippe Melka. It makes just 500 cases of wine a year, most of which is sold to collectors.

Note: BD = Biodynamic
* = The brand’s wines are 100{5fc40a96f14c4a6aa4c2a32569b0a57dcc67c0b31eb04c341474283f11b6cdd2} organically or Biodynamically grown
(The other wineries make some that are and some that aren’t.)

Wine Business List

The Wine Business list shows the influence of the top 100 vineyard owners in Sonoma County. The top 10 include the usual suspects – the Big Wine corporations (Gallo, Constellation, Treasury) and Sonoma grown corporations (Jackson, Ferrari-Carano, Rodney Strong, Foley, Sangiacomo), most of whom got their start in an earlier era.

Today vineyard land in Sonoma sells for $100,000 to $175,000 an acre, according to experts.

The organic vineyards represent about 2 percent of the county’s total vineyard acreage and, with a few exceptions, most were purchased a generation ago.

With the exception of Benziger (which was started by a family but was recently acquired by a corporation), the organic vineyards are not owned by major corporations. At many of the organic sites, the owners reside on the vineyard property. Many also raised their children on the properties.

It would be a breakthrough if corporate wineries were able to recognize the value of and prioritize creating organic brands. Until then, the little guys have cornered the market on organic as a differentiator