Jan
19
2021

Paul Hobbs disciple’s HOT new Pinot from “Grand Cru” grower

Brycen Hill runs the vineyard operations for Paul Hobbs, and recently started his own label called Keltom Roots in appreciation of all that has formed and enhanced his life.  The Keltom Roots name is portmanteau of Brycen’s parents’ names: Kelly and Tom (pronounced kel·tum).  The  label features an illustration of an organism in field guide-style that matches the characteristics and qualities of the vineyard & variety.  Brycen’s focus is making small-lot, single-vineyard wines that match the beauty of the natural world, with balance and purity.  

This inaugural bottling is sourced from famed famer Jim Pratt’s Morchella vineyard in the Russian River Valley.

KELTOM ROOTS 2019 Pinot Noir “Morchella Vineyard” Russian River Valley
GGWC 39.99
FREE SHIPPING on 12 or more!
Use code KELTOM during checkout

Sourced from a single vineyard farmed by famed grower Jim Pratt, the 2019 Morchella Pinot Noir is a vibrant, fresh style of Pinot Noir made primarily from Dijon clone 114 grown in the cooler Green Valley sub-AVA of Russian River Valley. The wine has an energetic medium-pale ruby color. Aromas of bright cherries, dried rose petals, clove, and violet develop in glass. Naturally balanced acidity brings out elements of cranberry, raspberry, hibiscus, black tea, and rosemary. 

Winemaker Notes: “This youngster will improve in the bottle over time, and can be served now through 2027. The 2019 was an excellent vintage to launch Keltom Roots’ inaugural release. We had plenty of rain in the early part of 2019 that was followed by warming temperatures that led to a very succinct bloom period and excellent fruit set. Gentle warm weather continued throughout the year allowing for even ripening. Harvest arrived unhurried, allowing for ideal acidity retention and expressive maturity.”

Only 125 cases were produced!

Click here or on the links above to order!
Call 415-337-4083 or email frank@goldengatewinecellars.com for availability and priority allocation

Jan
18
2021

25% OFF Ehren Jordan’s utterly classic Zinfandel

Ehren Jordan is an Helen Turley protege, who took over at Turley after Helen and her brother parted ways. Ehren even increased Turley’s popularity and production…

After a successful and longtime stint he went on to create his own label Failla and Day, and as you know with equally great success!

Day by Ehren Jordan (Failla)
2016 Zinfandel “El Diablo” Russian River Valley
REGULAR 53.00 NOW ONLY 39.99
FREE SHIPPING on 12 or more!
Use code DAYZIN during checkout

Winemaker Notes: ”El Diablo vineyard, situated in the northern part of the Russian River Valley AVA, has a long and storied history. Planted to mixed blacks on clay loam soils, the site has been farmed continually by Hector Garcia since it was planted”

Jeb Dunnuck 92 Points: “From a site in the Russian River Valley, the 2016 Zinfandel El Diablo Vineyard just about screams “Zinfandel” at the top of its lungs with its utterly classic perfume of mulberries, plum, incense, and exotic spices. With medium-bodied aromas and flavors, integrated acidity, and a weightless texture, this puppy just glides over the palate and is a joy to drink. It should drink well for 7-8 years.”

Click here or on the links above to order!
Call 415-337-4083 or email frank@goldengatewinecellars.com for availability and priority allocation

Jan
16
2021

VIRTUAL WINE TASTINGS ARE BACK!

VIRTUAL WINE TASTINGS ARE BACK!!

We had a lot of fun with our Virtual Wine Tasting events last year. So much fun, that you asked for a repeat – I listened to you!  
Join us on Friday February 12 or 26 (4 PM PST) for a virtual tasting experience.

If you have not yet joined us, I highly recommend you do! We taste Fridays at 4 PM PST. We meet with a winemaker at his/her winery and taste 3 new releases. 

We provide you with a zoom link and  provide some food pairing suggestions so you can make it a real Happy Hour!

This is a chance to visit California Wine Country from the comfort of your home, while enjoying the wines, meet and taste with the winemaker – So no travel, no hotel, no car rental – JUST order the 3-pack of wines, and we deliver it to your home in time for the session(s)!    Invite your friends, family and have a Social Distance Wine Tasting. I know that some of you have organized an entire dinner around the wines, others just SIPped and munched on finger foods, but everyone has had a great time.
 

 

You can call/email me to sign up, or click on the links below.

Coho Virtual Wine Tasting
Friday February 12 – 4 PM PST
REGULAR 175.00 NOW 149.99
 
Cattleya Virtual Wine Tasting 
Friday 26 February – 4 PM PST  
REGULAR 165.00 NOW 149.99

The March Tasting Calendar will be available shortly.

Jan
16
2021

Champagne bottles created out of necessity

Champagne bottles created out of necessity

Contributed by Gus Clemens

If you enjoyed Champagne or sparkling wine last week while gleefully celebrating the demise of 2020, you may not have thought about the heavy bottle containing the bubbly. But there is a story there.

Wood emerged as a precious commodity in the 1500s. The population of England and Wales soared, escalating demand for wood. Wood was used to construct and heat buildings. It was used in glass making. It was vital to ship building.

As demand for wood surged, shortages of wood imperiled Europe, especially England. In 1615, King James I — sponsor of the King James Bible — issued a proclamation prohibiting widespread use of wood. His goal: conserve wood to keep his royal navy afloat.

Glassmakers at the time used charcoal made from oak trees to heat their furnaces. With the oak supply cut off, inventive English glassmakers turned to coal. England had plenty of coal. To their joy, glassmakers discovered higher temperatures achieved with coal allowed them to produce stronger glass. That included very sturdy bottles capable of containing high pressure — two or three times the pressure inside your automobile’s tires — created when wine fermented in the bottle and produced carbon dioxide.

Thus, the bottle for French Champagne was birthed in coal-fired furnaces of England.

In a related note, there is a raging dispute over whether the French or the English “invented” sparkling wine. Arguments can be made for either side. It tilts toward England, with France more robustly exploiting the discovery once there were sturdy English bottles in which to make the stuff.

To dash a myth, Dom Pérignon did not create or develop Champagne. The Benedictine monk almost certainly never said “come quickly, I am tasting the stars!” But that is a discussion to keep bottled up for another day.

Last round

I drink Champagne when I am in love because it enhances everything. I drink Champagne when I am not in love to tide me over until I am in love. As you can see, my true love is Champagne
 

Here are some great bubbly suggestions, in case you forgot some over the holidays or… you need some for yourself:

Billecart 2008 Extra Brut Champagne ~ 97 Points
A. Margaine Champagne Premier Cru “Le Brut” ~ 93 Points
Colin 2012 Grand Cru Champagne ~ 95 Points
Dosnon Rose Brut Récolte Champagne ~ 95 Points
Carboniste 2018 Rose of Pinot Sparkling, Napa Valley ~ 93 Points
En Tirage 2010 Blanc de Blancs, Beckstoffer, Carneros, Napa ~ 96 Points
Andre Robert Champagne Brut “Reserve” Grand Cru, Blanc de Blancs, Le Mesnil ~ 94 Points
Cazals 2009 Champagne Millesime ~ 94 Points
Clotilde Brut “Grand-Cru” Champagne, France
Gonet-Medeville 1er Cru Cuvée Tradition Champagne ~ 93 Points

Monthuys Champagne NV Brut, 750ml  ~ 94 Points
Monthuys Champagne Brut NV in MAGNUM ~ 94 Points
Thienot Rose Champagne NV Reims, France ~ 93 Points
Stéphane Coquillette Carte d’Or Brut Champagne ~ 92 Points
Louis de Grenelle Platine Crémant de Loire
Allimant Laugner Crémant Rosé d’Alsace

Jan
15
2021

95 Point, Value & Finessed Pinot

Gary and Rosella Franscioni started ROAR Wines with the knowledge that Pinot Noir had a shining future in the Santa Lucia Highlands, and a dream that their farming know-how would translate amazing grapes into amazing wines. Rosella’s Vineyard was planted on their home ranch in 1996, followed by Garys’ Vineyard in 1997 in partnership with the Pisoni family. The first vintage of ROAR was released in 2001, made from these two vineyards. From the beginning, Gary and Rosella’s mission was to make wines that they themselves would love to drink. Their approach was met with critical recognition almost immediately. Two more beautiful vineyards were planted about a decade later: Sierra Mar and Soberanes. Today, Gary and his sons continue to improve and innovate in the vineyards and winery to produce the best quality their land can create.

Roar 2018 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands
GGWC 47.99
FREE SHIPPING on 12 or more
Use code ROAR during checkout

The Roar SLH is a great blend of all the vineyards they farm Rosella, Garys’, Sierra Mar. Soberanes and Pisoni.  The 2018 SLH is exquisite, and possibly one of their best releases to date!  Dollar-cost-average this is value in the glass (and savings in your wallet).

Jeb Dunnuck 95 Points: ”Always a great value, the 2018 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands reveals a vibrant ruby hue as well as ripe cherry and strawberry fruit intermixed with notes of shiitake mushroom, dried herbs, and some meaty, earthy notes. It’s a slightly more finesse-driven wine than some of the single vineyards and is beautifully balanced, has good acidity, and unquestionably plays in the same qualitative ballpark as all of these releases” 

Also check out:
ROAR 2018 PINOT NOIR “PISONI” SANTA LUCIA HIGHLANDS – 98 POINTS
ROAR 2018 PINOT NOIR GARYS’ SANTA LUCIA HIGHLANDS – 95 POINTS
LUCIA 2018 GARYS’ SYRAH, Santa Lucia Highlands, 96 Points
LUCIA 2018 CHARDONNAY SOBERANES SANTA LUCIA HIGHLANDS
LUCIA 2018 PINOT NOIR GARYS’ SANTA LUCIA HIGHLANDS, 96 POINTS
LUCIA 2018 PINOT NOIR SLH SANTA LUCIA HIGHLANDS
LUCIA 2018 PINOT NOIR SLH SANTA LUCIA HIGHLANDS MAGNUM
LUCIA 2018 PINOT NOIR SOBERANES SANTA LUCIA HIGHLANDS MAGNUM

Click here or on the links above to order!
Call 415-337-4083 or email frank@goldengatewinecellars.com for priority allocation.

 

Jan
14
2021

Frank’s NEW Cabernet from the famed Beckstoffer Vineyard 20% OFF TODAY ONLY!

I am very proud to release our third Melis Family G3 Cabernet bottling. The grapes were sourced from the famed Beckstoffer Georges III Vineyard in Rutherford, Napa Valley. The 2018 vintage might be the one we have produced to date. Our Melis Family 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Vineyard Georges III offers intense aromatic notes of chocolate, black currant and a touch of licorice. The wine is full in body with remarkable richness, great length and a complex long but silky grained finish. This is a wine that will cellar well for 10+ years. Those who like to enjoy it now, I highly recommend decanting a few hours in advance.

Melis Family 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Beckstoffer G3 Vineyard Napa Valley
Regularly $119.99 NOW $99.99
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more!
Use code MELIS during checkout

Historical records show that a portion of this vineyard was planted in 1895 by Mrs. Thomas Rutherford. This 300-acre parcel first purchased by Beaulieu founder Georges de Latour in 1928 and called Beaulieu Vineyard Number 3, was the home to BV’s Rutherford Cabernets made by the renowned winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. These wines achieved wide acclaim in the 1960s and ’70s, establishing BV’s pre-eminence in the making of fine Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Purchased by Beckstoffer Vineyards in 1988, the vineyard has since been replanted using new Cabernet Sauvignon clones with tighter spacing and advanced trellising systems, enhancing both quality and grape tonnage. In 2009 181 acres were placed under a land conservation easement that forever prohibits non-agricultural development.  Vineyard Georges III is today home to the main offices of Beckstoffer Vineyards. 

Also, check out :
MELIS FAMILY 2019 ROSE OF PINOT NOIR, SANTA RITA HILLS (assorts for free shipping)

Click here or on the links above to order!
Call 415-337-4083 or email frank@goldengatewinecellars.com for availability and priority allocation!

Jan
13
2021

Message in a bottle… Spells… VALUE

Bibiana González Rave is the founder and winemaker of Cattleya Wines. She is also the wife of star winemaker Jeff Pisoni.  Born and raised in Colombia and trained as a winemaker in France, she moved to California in 2007 to settle into making extraordinary wines. In her words: “Since my early teenage years, my dream has been to make wine. At a very young age I was fortunate enough to begin learning how to make wine in France. I trained myself while working with some amazing winemakers who showed me the importance of loving the land, how to respect the farming itself, and to focus on the many details that go into making each drop of wine in each and every bottle.”  She also made the wines at Pahlmeyer,  and produces “Shared Notes” wines with husband Jeff Pisoni.  All those ingredients together and you have one of the best winemakers in the country!

Alma de Cattleya Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County
GGWC 24.99
FREE SHIPPING on 12
Use code ALMA during checkout

Tasting Notes: Medium intensity, light yellow with a greenish hue.  Complex nose of kiwi and guava with wet stone and gun powder after tones. A touch of champagne-like yeastiness finishing with nuances of exotic tropical fruit. Pure and intense on the pallet with a little flinty touch. Fully dry with a medium body. Diamond-like purity and intensity. The finish is zesty and full of minerals. 

Winemaker’s  Notes:  Bursting with notes of ripe melon, Key lime, and grapefruit, this wine is bright, refreshingly crisp, possesses ample texture, and begs for a second glass.

Also check out these other amazing wines Bibiana has crafted:
Shared Notes 2019 Sauvignon Blanc “Les Leçons des Maîtres”
Shared Notes 2019 Sauvignon Blanc “Les pierres qui décident”
Cattleya 2018 Syrah
Cattleya 2018 Chardonnay
Cattleya 2018 Cabernet

Click here or on the links above to order!
Call 415-337-4083 or email frank@goldengatewinecellars.com for availability and priority allocation!

Jan
12
2021

Compelling 95 Point Mountain Cabernet

Situated mid-slope on Diamond Mountain, this 2.3 acre vineyard is a real gem-in-the-rough.  At more than ⅓ the price of its esteemed neighbor “Diamond Creek”, this wine will blow your mind and not your wallet.  Dawnine & Bill Dyer have each 3 decades of wine experience under their belt working at various Napa wineries.  They are also partners at famed Meteor winery (Dawnine is the winemaker).  Only 280 cases of the 2016 Dyer Cabernet  (89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot) were produced, and will sell out fast!

Dyer 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon “Dyer Vineyard” Diamond Mountain, Napa Valley
GGWC 89.99
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more
Use code DYER16 during checkout

“The 2016 showcases an amazing color and aroma!  Intense aromas of huckleberry and cassis with a touch of cocoa dust and a whiff of spice jump out of the glass.  On the palate, this harmoniously made 2016 Cabernet is lush and full in body and shows an amazing balance of great fruit and acid.  Coated with powerful layers of black stone fruit, chocolate, spice and a touch of toasty vanilla.  This full-bodied wine finishes with silky and supple tannins.  This is a wine that will drink and cellar well for 15+ years!”

Robert Parker 95 Points: “The 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain is a blend of 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Deep garnet-purple colored, it has a compelling nose of fresh red and black currants, black berries and underbrush with touches of garrigue, lavender, cigar box and fertile loam. The palate is full-bodied and built like a brick house, with firm, ripe, grainy tannins and bold fruit complimented by lovely freshness, finishing long and crunchy. 280 cases produced.”

Click here or on the links above to order!
Call 415-337-4083 or email frank@goldengatewinecellars.com for availability and priority allocation!

Jan
11
2021

95 Point, Tiny Production Pinot Gem

This is the fourth release from this hot little winery that will dazzle you both in taste as well as cost!  The Hundred Suns winery is still very much under the “horizon” but not for long.  Grant Coulter, a California native traveled the world after receiving his enology degree.  He worked harvest with the best of the best in California, France & Australia, eventually settling in Oregon.  After a few stints as Assistant winemaker in a few wineries, he landed at Beaux Freres, where he soon became the Head Winemaker.  Grant is responsible for the amazing 2013, 14 & 15 vintages at Beaux Freres (all rated in the high 90s, plus the Top 2 wine of the year, etc.).   With his wife he created his own label “Hundred Suns”, a tiny Pinot Noir and Syrah venture.

Hundred Suns 2018 “Shea Vineyard” Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir
GGWC 54.99
FREE SHIPPING on 6 or more
Use code HUNDRED during checkout

The famous Yamhill Carlton vineyard was planted by Dick and Deidra Shea on its own roots in the late 1980’s. Like Burgundy’s Clos de Vougeot, it’s large enough that we can experience it in the hands of several great winemakers, and Grant and Renée manage to plumb its depths while retaining elegance. They work with a one acre plot on a south/southwest-facing hillside. The vines, dry farmed, are planted in ancient sandstone. 

95 Points James Suckling: ”This has a very fresh, attractive nose with roses and violets, as well as boysenberries, red cherries and a savory, stony edge. Some sappy nuances, too. The palate is very succulent and has strikingly fresh red berries and cherries, underscored with vibrant acidity and a very uplifting, dynamic finish. A richer vintage, made in a fresher style, works very well here. Drink or hold.”
 
95 Points Wine Spectator:  “Grant Coulter, who has worked with the famed Shea Vineyard for more than a decade, most of that time while he was a winemaker at Beaux Freres, makes a tiny single vineyard bottling from this amazing site and this 2018, which starts slowly, is a gorgeous and dark Pinot Noir with incredible texture and smooth layering that expands in the glass…. There’s plenty of classic character and flavors that unfold along with exotic elements too with a medium bodied palate of black raspberry, cherry, plum and pomegranate fruits at its core as well as hints of orange tea, rose hips, guava and red peach flesh. The satiny texture that develops is welcomed after a tight first impression and the length is absolutely stunning, it lingers with floral and fruit echos, baking spices along with sticky lavender, cinnamon and very little traces of oak.”

Winemaker’s Notes: “The 2018 vintage gave us lower yields, but the generous sunshine perfectly and evenly ripened our small block of Shea. Picked on the 29th of September, the grapes were separated into two lots: one 50% whole bunch and the other completely destemmed. All wines were fermented with native yeast and no sulfur until after malolactic fermentation. Blended together, these two lots express vivid, fresh red fruit, silky textures, and unique layers of warm baking spices. Gravity bottled unfined and unfiltered.”

Click here or on the links above to order!
Call 415-337-4083 or email frank@goldengatewinecellars.com for availability and priority allocation!

Jan
10
2021

The Dirt on Vineyard Soil

The Dirt on Vineyard Soil

by Jamie Goode
in Meininger’s Wine Business International

Jamie Goode looks at some of the issues of soil management, now understood to be a critical element of the vineyard.

One of the big shifts in wine has been the increasing emphasis on soils. Wandering through vineyards is now treacherous because they are full of holes designed to show off the soil profile. Where the winemaker used to be god, it’s now said wine is made in the vineyard. 

Interesting debates have emerged. How to manage weed growth in the vineyard? The common herbicide glyphosate is now demonised, with many preferring to till the soil instead. But there’s also an argument that tilling the soil isn’t sustainable either and no-till is the best way.

What of ‘dead’ soils? Soil life is praised as being important — but what about arid areas where there’s very little organic material in the soil? Can they make good wine? 

Third, there’s the thorny issue of copper use. Downy mildew is a widespread problem and those who work organically use copper to treat it, because of the lack of effective alternatives. How bad is copper for the soil?

Herbicides and weed control

As a viticulturist for Villa Maria and then general manager of Craggy Range Vineyards in New Zealand, Steve Smith has used plenty of herbicide in his time, as is the norm for conventional viticulture. His current project is Smith & Sheth one of whose acquisitions has been biodynamic Pyramid Valley Vineyards in North Canterbury. “I’ve moved quite strongly away from the idea that herbicides are a good thing,” says Smith. 

California-based Jackson Family Wines are also decreasing herbicide use. “We are 100 percent glyphosate-free and have increased use of mowing and shallow tillage, where you are actually adding organic material back into the soil rather than depleting it,” says Chris Carpenter, general manager of Jackson’s Napa Valley vineyards. “The dynamics with how these chemicals reside in the soil and change the environment of the soil are not fully understood, and some of them are very specific to certain soil types.”

Ted Lemon of Littorai in Sonoma, who is well known for his Pinot Noir, says part of “the issue with herbicides is that they modify the species composition. What grows back are often what would be called coloniser type plants in ecology — very tough stemmed plants that are very difficult to get rid of and build up resistance to herbicides.” He also points out that in conventionally farmed vineyards where herbicides have been used for many years, all that grows in the vine row is moss. “There is a definite diminishing of species diversity. This, to me, is the great folly of modern viticulture, that somehow we believe that the great vineyards of the world and their vines live in some kind of magic pot: able to thrive on their own, denied all fungal and mycorrhizal relationships with the species that they evolved with over thousands of years.” 

In vineyards that don’t use herbicides, it’s now common either to grow cover crops or simply allow grass to grow, which can be managed by mowing. But in the vine row itself, dealing with weeds is a significant challenge. There is debate about whether the best option is to turn the soil over (till) or to practise no-till. “This isn’t just an issue for wine but also an issue for agriculture more generally,” says Smith, who recently spent three years as Chancellor of Lincoln University, an agricultural university in Canterbury, New Zealand. “There are two challenges with organics.

One is this issue with tillage. Tillage is not just denaturing soil organic matter, potentially, but it also releases carbon. In a world where we are wanting to sequester carbon, this is not a good thing. The second thing is that it uses a hell of a lot of energy to cultivate.” So organic production methods can create a higher carbon footprint than when agrochemicals are used. “There is an interesting contradiction there,” says Smith.

“I’m no-till all the way for many reasons,” says Californian winegrower Randall Grahm. “Most importantly, there’s an incredible amount of useful microbial activity in the first few inches of soil that are essentially sacrificed when the ground is tilled.” His challenge is rodents, which thrive under the no-till regime. “We have an enormous problem with gophers, ground squirrels, voles and tree rats. The gophers are the most destructive.” He says that he planted 900 Grenache seedlings and the gophers took out about 850 of them, and they have killed around a quarter of his Serine nursery seedlings. “I have a person who traps 20 a day and we’re not winning the war.”

Jason Lett of Eyrie in Oregon’s Willamette Valley is another no-till advocate. “We have a 50-year history of no-till in our original vineyard,” he says, though he acknowledges young vines need tilling because they can’t deal with competition. “But in ecology there is this principle of niche allocation,” he says. “Once vines have established their root systems, they are drawing on such different sources than the surface material is that the competitive factor goes away.” Lett thinks the fear of plant competition is misguided. “When I came back to the vineyard in 2005, I put compost all over the place,” he recalls. “My father asked why and I said because for all these years we have been taking out so much nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus — the textbook answer. He said, ‘don’t you think you should check first?’ I did tissue analysis and there were no deficiencies. Mineralisation happening through natural processes was easily replacing what we remove when we pick the grapes.”

Lett mows between the rows then has another specialised mower for under the vines. Unlike some, he doesn’t add specific cover crops but allows natural growth to take its course. “The cover is actually diverse in our original vineyard,” he says. ‘There are 15 to 20 species under the vine. The vineyard next door, which was tilled until 2011, has less diversity: eight or nine species under vine.”

He is working with Kaye Shek, a researcher at the University of Oregon, who is studying mycorrhizal and fungal communities in vines. “One of the most exciting things that she has found from our vineyard is that the mycorrhizal communities which are immediately under the vines are very different from those in the rows between them,” says Lett. “The vines are farming. They are making the associations that they need. It’s very different from what would be under the soil in a till regime.”

Soil life

It’s easy to grasp the concept of soil life when the soil in question is a deep, rich, dark-coloured loam full of earthworms. But many of the world’s leading wine regions have bony, stony soils that look inhospitable to life, in arid regions with little annual rainfall. Does the lack of organic material, and hence soil life, mean these regions can’t make interesting wine? “You can make great wines off soils with almost no organic matter,” says Smith. “There are plenty of regions around the world where low organic matter and biological activity soils make some awesome wine.”

Lemon’s take is that, yes, it’s possible, but not ideal. “Great wine can be made from soils with very low organic matter as long as yields are kept very low,” he says. “But even better ones can be made when the life of the soil is enhanced.”

Smith says that in Central Otago, the most challenging wines to make are those on the rocky soils. “The greatest wines coming from Central are made from soils that actually have quite a decent amount of structure to them, and in many situations have some pedogenic lime.” 

But those who speak about “dead” soils are using a bit of hyperbole. Even the most lifeless-looking soil won’t be sterile. It’s actually quite hard to sterilize soils unless you have an autoclave or use a potent combination of disinfectants.

Is copper sustainable?

Organic farming relies on copper for control of downy mildew, a significant problem in many regions, because no effective alternatives have been found. The problem is, copper is toxic. “But as Pasteur says, it is the dose that makes the poison,” says Alsace winegrower Olivier Humbrecht. “Copper is a micro-element necessary to life, but too much of it and it becomes a poison.”

Smith says that copper is an effective antibiotic and that the levels now used are lower than in the past. “It affects microbiology so you need to be really careful. You’ve just wiped out some good things as well as bad things, so how are you going to get the good things back again? You have to think of it like a biological system.”

Carpenter of Jackson Family Wines says the signs of problems are both easy to identify and rarely seen, and whether copper should be used is driven by soil type. “It all depends on the soil pH, temperature, water availability and aeration.” 

Humbrecht agrees. “A soil with a normal organic matter can take a higher level, as it has the capacity to fix more copper,” he says. “The same is true for alkaline soils — they can fix more.” His view is that if growers stay under the current permitted average copper level of three kilograms a hectare per year, it isn’t a problem for a soil. 

There is no perfect way to manage vineyards. But what is now clear is that managing the soil is the key.