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WINE BANTER by John Haggard - October 2015


WINE BANTER - October 2015

by John Haggard

Photo above is of the Quivera Vineyards garden.

Organic • Biodynamic • Sustainable

I am often asked if a wine is “organic”, “biodynamic”, is it sustainably or dry farmed. Often, those asking the question, presume if the answer is “yes” to one of these, that it is “yes” to all of these. Many Sonoma County wineries are making great efforts to incorporate some or all of these practices, but exactly what do each of these descriptions mean?

Organic Wines

Organic is, perhaps, the easiest designation to understand, given how it is a common label to find at our supermarkets. For the most part, organic wine-growers will not use artificial chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides to grow their berries. There is an organic certification that can be obtained and will appear on the wine label. However, the certification process is very difficult and expensive, prohibitive for many small wineries, who, typically are the very wineries attempting to grow grapes organically. Oftentimes wines are listed as being “grown organically”, meaning that organic practices were used to grow the berries, but, perhaps, yeasts or other practices invoked by the winemaker in producing the wine may not have met organic standards.

Biodynamic Wines

Biodynamic practices are often used in conjunction with organic farming practices. Many great wineries of Europe and now the United States employ Biodynamic farming which involves more mysticism than science. Personally, I believe the attention to detail that it takes to produce Biodynamic wines, by definition, requires artisanal methods, and, perhaps, it is simply these artisanal winemakers who have the ability to produce high quality wines that give Biodynamic wines such a good name.

Sustainably Farmed Wines

Some 100 years ago, the great writer Jack London was experimenting with sustainable farming practices in the Valley of the Moon (you can visit his Beauty Ranch today right here in our wonderful Sonoma County, and learn more about a man who was way ahead of his time when it came to farming ( Today, wineries employ many such practices, composting, growing plants to attract insects that are beneficial to the vines. In our California drought, one of the key sustainable practices is dry farming, encouraging vines to grow tap-roots deep enough to reach water, without the need for irrigation. It is not easy to dry-farm, not all soils and micro-climates will support it, and it can often lead to smaller yields in certain years, though, not necessarily lower quality.

You can now find many Sonoma County wineries employing these practices, here are a few:

Porter Creek Vineyards ( is one of the first you’ll visit up Westside Road when travelling from the Guerneville side. The tasting room is not the most lavish, but that matches the winery and its belief in making little impact on the land. I’ve always been a great fan of their Viognier and Pinot Noir. Their wines are both organic and biodynamic.

Porter Bass Winery

( employs biodynamic and various sustainable farming practices. I particularly like their Chardonnay.

Preston Vineyards ( up in Dry Creek Valley is another great example of a winery that employs organic, biodynamic and sustainable farming practices. They make several wines, their “Madame Preston” is one of my favorite white wine blends (Viognier, Rousanne, Grenache Blanc and Marsanne).

Quivira ( has long farmed using organic and biodynamic practices. They are not only a good steward of their land, but they actively take part in projects such as creek and watershed restoration and protection. I have always enjoyed Quivira’s Sauvignon Blanc.

Michel Schlumberger (, also in Dry Creek on Wine Creek Road is a beautiful winery to visit. They employ sustainable farming practices and produce one of my favorite Pinot Blancs.

I recommend you make your own investigations as to winery practices, not just relying on labels but by contacting wineries, asking questions and visiting their websites.

John Haggard is owner of Sophie’s Cellars, Sonoma Wine Tasting in Duncans Mills, California. Sophie’s Cellars is open Thu, Sat, Sun and Mon: 11am – 5pm, Fri:  11am-7pm (Local’s Night, Friday, 4-7pm, and you don’t have to be a local to join us).

Sonoma County Harvest Fair:

It’s the 41st Sonoma County Harvest Fair, Friday October 2nd to Sunday, October 4th. The fair is includes so many great winemakers, microbrews and is also a celebration of all of Sonoma County’s agricultural products. A three-day pass costs $125 (or 2 for $100) if purchased by October 1st . 

For more information visit


John Haggard is owner of Sophie’s Cellars, Sonoma Wine Tasting in Duncans Mills, California. Sophie’s Cellars is open Thu, Sat, Sun and Mon: 11am – 5pm, Fri:  11am-7pm (Local’s Night, Friday, 4-7pm, and you don’t have to be a local to join us).