HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Are you making a specialty food? Tell us about it

Organic/biodynamic wineries worth visiting in Napa and Sonoma?

carswell Jun 29, 2007 03:40 PM

A friend who is about to spend a week in the Napa and Sonoma valleys would like to visit a few organic or biodynamic wineries while there. Any recommendations, especially for establishments with character and/or excellent wines, would be welcome. Thanks!

  1. o
    organicwineuncorked Apr 9, 2013 08:26 AM

    I am writing a guidebook to the organic wineries in Napa which should be available soon.

    The top places to visit, if you are new to the area, in Napa would be the prestigious Grgich Hills (biodynamic, award-winning), Raymond (which has the coolest biodynamic demonstration garden), and a little winery in the hills where you have to make an appt. - Volker Eisele (certified organic for 40 years, outstanding $45 cabernet and $75 blends). I also recommend sparkling wine producer Domaine Carneros, which has 300 acres of certified organic vineyards, a great winery tour, and elegant terrace tastings (with food and wine) at prices that don't break the bank.

    For Sonoma and Mendocino, best organic or biodynamic spots are Preston's in Dry Creek (very farm to glass ambiance, Rhone blends) near Healdsburg, the little tasting room in Hopland for McFadden Vineyards (affordably priced high quality, organic for 40 years, grassfed beef and organic herbs also for sale, join the wine club for discounts), and Benziger (more for their exhibit and tours than their wines - only a small portion of the wines are organic, and they are overpriced, good entertainment value though).

    1. Lori SF Nov 18, 2009 12:04 PM

      I wanted to mention Jeriko Estate in Mendocino County off hwy 101. I think they produce excellent organic wines I especially love their Pinot Noir and Syrah, beautifully hand-crafted wines. The estate is worth seeing, nice people, great patio/picnic area with a gorgeous mountain view.


      1. maria lorraine Nov 16, 2009 08:07 PM

        You're referring to Grgich's 1973 Chardonnay that won the Paris tasting in 1976 that "put Napa on the map." Don't forget Warren Winiarski's Cabernet won acclaim for the best red wine in the "world" at the same tasting. The significance of that contest wasn't that the Napa Chard won that year, but that both the Napa Chard and the Napa Cab bested French wines that year. The win did bring worldwide respect to Napa, but many people -- especially Robert Mondavi -- "put Napa on the map." Just to be accurate.

        I'm not all that fond of Grgich's reds. I think they're consistently overoaked, and because of that, some of the fruit is killed. They have an occasional good red, and their Chard is consistently good. Not real fond of Grgich the man, but his nephew, Ivo, is doing a good job as winemaker.

        IMO, there are many other wineries that are better. I'd never put Grgich in the top five in Napa.

        Many threads on biodynamic wines on the Wine Board if the reader is interested. BTW, biodynamic practices don't always make better wines -- the wines can be very disappointing, especially if combined with organic winemaking practices. The wines then are unstable, weak, and lose their flavor quickly.

        9 Replies
        1. re: maria lorraine
          skwid Nov 16, 2009 09:28 PM

          Actually it was the 1973 Montelena Chardonnay which won the paris tasting in 1976. Grgich was the winemaker at Montelena at the time (they had a falling out not longer after and no longer speak).

          1. re: skwid
            Melanie Wong Nov 16, 2009 09:34 PM

            And that Chardonnay was made with Sonoma County juice (all or in part).

            1. re: Melanie Wong
              Robert Lauriston Nov 17, 2009 09:46 AM

              Yeah, per George Taber's "Judgment of Paris," 20 tons of Montelena's 1973 Chardonnay grapes came from Henry Dick in Alexander Valley (Sonoma), 14 tons from the Bacigalupis in Russian River Valley (Sonoma), and 5 tons from John Hanna and Lee Paschich in Napa Valley, so it was 87% Sonoma.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                skwid Nov 17, 2009 09:55 AM

                The later two are still supplying (all or almost all) of the grapes for the current Montelena Chardonnay

                1. re: skwid
                  Robert Lauriston Nov 17, 2009 10:05 AM

                  By the "latter two" you mean Hanna and Paschich? These days it's labeled Napa Valley, so they can't use more than 15% grapes from other appellations.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                    skwid Nov 17, 2009 11:07 AM

                    Yes, Hanna and Paschich. For 2007 and 2008 they also made a John Muir "Hanna" Chardonnay from the best barrel(s). I've had it and the wine is quite good although I'm not sure it is $75 good).

                2. re: Robert Lauriston
                  Melanie Wong Nov 17, 2009 10:27 AM

                  Thanks for providing the detail. I've heard over the years that Old Man Bacigalupi often reminded people that his fruit was a big part of the winning wine. Here's a note from the family's blog

                3. re: Melanie Wong
                  Robert Lauriston Nov 18, 2009 12:12 PM

                  Another ironic thing about the "Judgment of Paris" tasting was that Jim Barrett, Montelena's owner, didn't originally plan to make Chardonnay. Grgich came up with that idea so that they would have wine to sell while the Cabernet was maturing.

              2. re: wineinmyglass
                maria lorraine Jul 20, 2010 03:23 PM

                Compared to what's available this summer, 2010, I wouldn't put Grgich in the top fifteen, but they do make a good Chard, Zinfandel, and Yountville AVA Cab.

              3. 5 and Dime Eater Sep 26, 2008 03:36 PM

                Medlock Ames
                Small winery without a daily tasting room, but my understanding is that you can schedule a time to drop by if they are around.

                1 Reply
                1. re: 5 and Dime Eater
                  5 and Dime Eater Sep 26, 2008 03:37 PM

                  Let's try that places link

                  Medlock Ames
                  13414 Chalk Hill Rd, Healdsburg, CA

                2. b
                  been_there Jun 21, 2008 08:18 PM

                  Hello carswell,
                  I live in Sonoma County and work in the wine biz as a PR consultant. A few quick words in response to the previous postings: Most of the wineries mentioned by the others are worth visiting and make good wine, including Benziger. I've heard their tour is excellent, too. However, most of the comments about farming are inaccurate. Organic viticulture is not just marketing spin; it is something that must be certified. The poster who stated that most vineyards in Sonoma and Napa practice "sustainable" viticulture is correct. Organic farming would be the next step up, with biodynamics being even more extreme than simply "organic". Sulfites are not added to wine, but are a byproduct of the fermentation process including wines made from organic or biodynamically grown grapes. If my memory is correct, wines make with sulfur dioxide used as an anti-spoiling agent during fermentation or aging would have more sulfites than those that aren't. I believe problems occur if the SO2 is added too late in the process, and isn't given time to dissipate. Finally, consider the fact that grape growers and winemakers drink what they grow/make and share it with their families and friends, so to think that they are trying to pass something unhealthy off to the public is absurd.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: been_there
                    upincumer Oct 3, 2008 12:40 PM

                    Please remember sulfer is an organic substance and most viticulturists including biodynamic viticulturists use sulfer in the vineyard to prevent mildew. As to the problems that occur in its use as far as taste and olfaction, 2 mg/l molecular seems to be a threshold for most but it depends on the individual. Many wineries are now bottling with CO2 under the capsule rather than SO2 as it lowers the reductive aromas.

                    1. re: been_there
                      shassinger Sep 6, 2009 11:10 AM

                      Coming to this thread *very* late, just moved to the area and loving chowhound boards for my food & wine research.

                      However, *so* much misinformation around winemaking, especially with regards to sulfites, organic and biodynamic, I have to weigh in.

                      Sulfites *are* naturally occurring in wine, but at levels often too low to measure.

                      In the industrial method of winemaking, sulphur is added to juice after crushing to kill the wild yeasts. I know, I worked at a winery in S. Australia for a season and dumped many many bags of sulphur into tanks of juice.

                      The sulphur kills the yeast then oxidizes into sulfites. The reason for using sulphur is to create a blank page for the winemaker to introduce the winery's yeast cultures and to maintain a consistent taste for the brand. Interactions with wild yeasts would create very different flavors year-to-year, and if not managed intelligently would also increase spoilage. This holds true for both organic and non-organic wines.

                      Biodynamic is indeed the most rigorous set of disciplines with regards to winemaking. The best, simplest expression of its goals was Randall Grahm's statement at Slow Food SF last year, that someday he wants to pick his grapes, crush them, collect the juice in a tank, bottle and age without adding anything. That is the utmost level of terroir possible, where the wild yeast and the grapes are in complete harmony with one another and don't require any engineering to make a palatable beverage. Getting there requires more than organic, it requires a zen-like balancing of all of the controllable and uncontrollable variables in the environment of the vineyard and winery, and a trip back in time to pre-industrial methods & skills. To me, it is the purest expression of the art, but I'm biased.

                      The issue of certification is a whole other can of worms - personally I like the approach favored by farmers around Madison, WI, who refuse to get certified but instead write sworn affidavits that describe their farming methods and post them on their farm stands where they sell their produce.

                    2. Bryn Jun 21, 2008 08:03 PM

                      I remember my first sip of old vine zinfindel was Cline and their winery is run off solar power and their tour was very comprehensive about the alternate energy sources their using as well as the history of the land they are producing their wine in. Plus you get to take your picture by the red truck. I was so excited!

                      1. v
                        vinosnob Jun 19, 2008 11:57 AM

                        In the Russian River Valley, check out Porter Creek; one of my absolute favorites in the area...

                        Porter Creek Vineyards
                        8735 Westside Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: vinosnob
                          PeterB Jun 19, 2008 03:00 PM

                          Porter Creek is indeed a good one and a nice low -key tasting room. He doesn't really tout it, but Doug Nalle (Nalle Winery) is pretty green. His wine cave is essentially a quonset hut covered with several feet of earth and it works brilliantly. Delicious wines and a really good guy.

                          1. re: PeterB
                            vinosnob Jun 19, 2008 04:39 PM

                            We seem have similar palates!

                            Love Nalle; one of the few zins out there that isn't all about knocking you over with high alcohol and jammy, pruny fruit. And, you can actually enjoy it with a variety of food..

                            1. re: vinosnob
                              PeterB Jun 19, 2008 06:36 PM

                              Yeah, I would say both Nalle and Porter Creek have that in common: finesse. There are so many awesome wines in Russian River and Dry Creek, though. I'm not sure how organic or biodynamic they are but Rochioli makes excellent wines also. The Pinot Noir is outstanding.

                        2. Midlife Jun 30, 2007 02:44 PM

                          At the risk of giving up a personal favorite with limited production, and also with the disclaimer that I am a wine retailer and this is one of my treasured suppliers........... The only truly 100% organic winery we've found so far, whose wines are really good, is Coturri WInerym in Glen Ellen (North of Sonoma). Tony Coturri and his brother grow organic grapes and vegetables and Tony makes his wine the 'natural' way, with no sulfites or other additives. Most winemakers will tell you that can't be done successfully, but he does it...... though his wines are generally very full-bodied and not always varietally typical.

                          His site gives directions, but I don't think he has any pre-determined tasting program (I don't see any mention of hours or 'by appointment'), but give him a call or e-mail him. He's a 'trip' and his wines are really memorable. http://www.coturriwinery.com/main.html

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Midlife
                            chickstein Jul 1, 2007 06:37 AM

                            Phil Couturri is the vineyard manager for several wineries. Including Arrowood and Smothers. He brings his organic practices to those wineries as well.

                            1. re: Midlife
                              BN1 Jun 19, 2008 01:08 PM

                              I've enjoyed a few bottles of the Coturri Sangiovese. I found it had unusal earthy flavors, which I liked, so I always like to try more when I'm near Glen Ellen. I've never seen it in stores; I thought it was top secret. Does this type of wine require special handling? I have another "organic" wine that has always been in the refrigerator because I was told that was necessary.

                              1. re: BN1
                                AnneInMpls Jun 19, 2008 04:00 PM

                                I just drank a bottle of Coturri Red that had been stored with my other red wines (on shelves in my basement) for at least 6 or 7 years (might have been as much as 10 years). It was fabulous!

                                Oh, how I wish I had bought a case instead of one bottle! (Does anyone have a time machine I can use?)


                            2. m
                              melikey Jun 30, 2007 08:27 AM

                              I second the recco fro Dry Creek Valley. A lot of great small growers doing some wonderful things in the way of organic and sustainable. Plus Healdsburg is such a great town to visit. Try Michel-Schlumberger, Preston and Quivara. Schlumberger has an amazing property and a cool "green" tour.

                              1. mcgeary Jun 30, 2007 06:26 AM

                                Preston Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley makes fabulous wines and is a beautiful place to have a picnic. They also have an organic olive grove, from which they make their own (gorgeous, bright-green, fruity) olive oil and a commercial bakery on-site that turns out lovely artisan breads. In addition, they sell fresh produce from their garden. I loved Preston the most of all the wineries I visited in '05.


                                1 Reply
                                1. re: mcgeary
                                  maria lorraine Jul 1, 2007 02:47 AM

                                  2nd Preston.

                                  A skillful Google search will yield more results.

                                2. c
                                  chickstein Jun 30, 2007 04:54 AM

                                  Frog's Leap is biodynamic and is a lot of fun. Robert Mondavi's vineyards are about 80% organic.

                                  Most wineries in Napa and Sonoma practice "sustainable" practices. Some think that is even more important than biodynamic or organic.

                                  10 Replies
                                  1. re: chickstein
                                    maria lorraine Jun 30, 2007 05:49 AM

                                    Agree heartily with chickstein. Frog's Leap is a wonderful example. I'd go further and say most wineries farm organically but don't go through the certification process. Benziger is a biodynamic winery but the wines aren't that great, unfortunately.

                                    1. re: maria lorraine
                                      Amuse Bouches Sep 26, 2008 04:31 PM

                                      The wines aren't great at Benziger but the visit is -- they have an insectory and do a tour of the vineyards with a good introduction to biodynamic agriculture. I think Benziger is worth a visit.

                                      1. re: Amuse Bouches
                                        maria lorraine Sep 26, 2008 05:15 PM

                                        Unfortunately -- and this is huge -- whatever Benziger is doing organically or biodynamically isn't translating into good flavor in the wines. The wines are *very* disappointing. What's the use of visiting an organic apple farm if the apples don't taste good?

                                        Instead, I'd recommend Quintessa, in Napa Valley. Valeria Hunneus is quite gifted and informed on biodynamic farming, and it was my pleasure to hear her speak. The wines are quite good.

                                        Or, Araujo. Now there are two wineries that produce outstanding wine but farm biodynamically.

                                        And BTW, lots of wineries practice biodynamic farming but do not go for certification. Just as most wineries in nothern California practice organic farming, but not all become certified.

                                        Other wineries that employ biodynamic practices AND that produce good wine: Joseph Phelps, Sinskey, Littorai, Preston and Freestone. Are they certified biodynamic? No.

                                        Probably the champion philosopher of biodynamic farming in the US -- and oh, he is something -- is Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon. Take a look at his website and his writing.

                                        1. re: maria lorraine
                                          wineinmyglass Jul 19, 2010 03:54 PM

                                          Phelps estate wine and Sinskey are both certified bd

                                          1. re: wineinmyglass
                                            maria lorraine Jul 20, 2010 03:26 PM

                                            Sinskey, yes, is certified. No mention of certification anywhere on Phelps website, though biodynamic farming practices are discussed. Did I miss it?

                                    2. re: chickstein
                                      upincumer Jun 19, 2008 11:22 AM

                                      Frogs leap is sustainable, they are not biodynamic.

                                      1. re: upincumer
                                        sfeater Sep 26, 2008 11:47 AM

                                        Frog's Leap certainly is bio dynamic. Close friends are long time employees there and bio dynamic farming is one of the main features on the tour!

                                        1. re: sfeater
                                          wineinmyglass Jul 19, 2010 03:54 PM

                                          Frog's Leap garden is bd, their grapes are organic.

                                        2. re: upincumer
                                          kenrmorris Sep 26, 2008 01:37 PM

                                          I like their wines but Frog's Leap is not certified Biodynamic. Even their website only talks about organic farming 101. Lots of people toss around the Biodynamic term but it has pretty rugorous requirements to be certified.

                                          1. re: kenrmorris
                                            maria lorraine Sep 26, 2008 05:18 PM

                                            Frog's Leap is certified organic, and does employ many of Steiner's biodynamic farming practices. They are not certified biodynamic (as are many wineries that practice biodynamic farming) but you would be hard-pressed to find a more informed, eloquent, joyous and spiritually-attuned viticulturalist than its owner John Williams.

                                      2. r
                                        RicRios Jun 29, 2007 09:36 PM

                                        "would like to visit a few organic or biodynamic wineries"

                                        Something bothers me in the "or" above.
                                        Organic is a much abused word nowadays. Hey, even Wallmart goes organic.
                                        Biodynamic goes much deeper.
                                        Some homework from your friend prior to the trip might pay off.



                                        1. slobhan Jun 29, 2007 04:07 PM

                                          Oh YUM. Robert Sinskey grows their grapes organically and biodynamically. They have some really great, vibrant wines: http://www.robertsinskey.com

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: slobhan
                                            maria lorraine Jul 1, 2007 02:46 AM

                                            Recent short report on Sinskey and biodynamics by Carb Lover here:

                                          Show Hidden Posts