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Certified Organic Vineyards

Jackson Family Wines Joins Napa’s Organic Wave

Jackson Family Wines added a significant new milestone in fall 2023: It announced certification for 15 Napa vineyards as organic, according to the Certified California Organic Farmers (CCOF), a USDA approved organic certifier. Jackson Family Wines reported the total acreage planted to vine is 480 acres.

That makes it the third largest organic vineyard owner in Napa behind the Lawrence Family’s Demeine Estates (633 planted acres) and Yount Mill Vineyards (557 planted acres).
Currently, just under 14% of Napa vines are certified organic.

“I firmly believe agriculture should lead the way in redefining our relationship with the planet as a species,” said Christopher Carpenter, winemaker at Jackson Family Wines who works with their high-end Napa brands. “This organic certification in Napa represents the initial step as we progress toward regenerative organic certification and continue to foster harmony between the natural world and the agricultural world.”

Organic vineyard acreage is increasing throughout California and Oregon (photo by Julie Johnson.)

A long-standing board member and former chair of Slow Food USA, who also started the Napa chapter, Carpenter makes the wines for four of Jackson’s Napa brands (Cardinale, Lokoya, La Jota and Mt. Brave).

Carpenter’s partner in the conversion was vineyard manager and organic farming veteran Rafael Jimenez who has been head grower at Jackson’s Freemark Abbey in Oakville for five years.

The two brought in compost (typical in organic viticulture) to increase organic matter in the solid and adopted no till farming. They also had sheep graze in the spring for weed control.
Carpenter said the beauty of organic vineyards lies under the vines.

“One of the factors of organic you’ll learn to live with is it’s not the prettiest thing in the world [i.e. there’s weeds on the vineyard floor],” he said in a YouTube video. “But if you were to open up these soils and look at what’s going on in the soil health, that’s beauty unto itself. The soils are as healthy as they’ve ever been. And what we also ultimately do is just incorporate these weeds back into the soil to raise the nitrogen level and get ready for next year’s early ripening,” he said.

His remarks were captured in a 2023 video tour of the 27-acre Wurtele vineyard in the Spring Mountain AVA.

Top Mountain Sites
Mountain vineyard sites are responsible for 554 of the certified acres, the type of terroir founder Jess Jackson famously preferred.

1. Potelle, Mount Veeder AVA | 202 acres
2. Keyes, Howell Mountain AVA | 109 acres
3. Veeder, Mount Veeder AVA | 61 acres
4. La Jota, Howell Mountain AVA | 41 acres
5. Rhyolite Ride, Diamond Mountain District AVA | 39 acres
6. Atalon, Diamond Mountain District AVA AVA | 30 acres
7. Wurtele, Spring Mountain District AVA | 27 acres
8. Lokoya, Spring Mountain District AVA | 24 acres
9. Ho, Mount Veeder AVA | 11 acres
10. Wallis, Diamond Mountain AVA | 10 acres

Grapes from these vineyards go into wines under the Cardinale, Freemark Abbey, Lokoya, La Jota, Mt. Brave and Caladan brands.

Three additional newly certified organic vineyards have historic significance since they surround the 1886 Freemark Abbey winery.

• VanZ, St. Helena AVA | 5 acres
• Ahern in St. Helena AVA | 4 acres (at Freemark Abbey)
• Freemark Abbey, St. Helena AVA | 2 acres

Its Howell Mountain La Jota wines go for $100 to $175.
Jackson also has 80 acres of vines certified organic at its Cardinale estate on the valley floor in Napa. The estate wine sells for around $350.

Lokoya is the brand that relies most on the mountain fruit from the Diamond Mountain District, Howell Mountain, Mount Veeder and Spring Mountain District appellations. Carpenter makes single vineyard designates under the Lokoya label from each of the four AVAs. They’re priced at about $450.

Jackson Family Wines’ relationship with organic grape growing has deep roots. In 2000, founder Jess Jackson hired French Rhone winemaker Philippe Armenier to plant biodynamic vines around Jackson’s home in Alexander Valley in Sonoma County. That was the same year Sonoma County neighbor Benziger Winery officially adopted biodynamics.

Armenier came to the U.S. from Domaine Marcoux, his family’s 40-acre Chateauneuf du Pape estate winery, which in 1990 was the first in the region to adopt biodynamic farming. They were later the first in the Rhone to receive a 100-point score from Robert Parker.
Though the Jackson-Armenier relationship was brief, it was notable as a sign of things to come, albeit 23 years later and in Napa organics, not Sonoma biodynamics.

More Large Organic Vineyards in Napa
Demeine Estates owns historic blue chip Napa wineries Heitz Cellar, Stony Hill, Burgess and others. Mark Neal has overseen organic vineyard management on its 633 acres (certified organic as well as biodynamic). An additional 18 acres is currently in the three-year transition period (this does not include Martha’s Vineyard (33 acres) which it sources from exclusively and is owned by a different family.)

The oldest large organic vineyard owner in Napa is Yount Mill Vineyards, owned and farmed by descendants of the Pelissa family and certified first in 1995. They sell most of the fruit from their 557 acres but retain roughly 10% for four family-owned brands.

Other big names in Napa with certified organic vines include Grgich Hills (336 acres), Inglenook (230 acres), Frog’s Leap (200 acres), Opus One (169 acres), Quintessa (160 acres), Raymond (156 acres), Stags Leap Wine Cellars (145 acres) and Robert Sinskey (115 acres). All are certified by CCOF, a Santa Cruz-based certifier, accredited by USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), which sets the national standards.

Other leading organic certifiers in U.S. wine circles accredited by NOP are Organic Certifiers, Oregon Tilth, the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture and the Washington State Dept. of Agriculture.

Unlike sustainability certifications, organic certification is protected by federal law. Organic growers are eligible to receive grants that reduce certification fees.

Organic Leaders in California and Oregon
Outside of Napa, one of the biggest organic vineyard owners in California is WC Ag (Fred Franzia) in Ceres in the Central Valley with 1,600 acres. Others are Castoro Cellars (1,400 acres), Scheid Vineyards (667 acres with 2,000+ more planned) and grower French Camp in Santa Maria (472 acres). In 2023, Kylix Vineyards (affiliated with Grapevine Capital Partners, which has previously represented Harvard’s endowment investments) certified 485 acres of vineyards organic in Paso’s San Juan Creek AVA.

Trinchero Estates certified 183 acres in Yolo County in August 2023.

In fine wine circles, there’s Ridge Vineyards in both Sonoma and Santa Clara counties (379 acres), Daou in Paso Robles (212 acres) and Tablas Creek, also in Paso Robles (130 acres). In Santa Barbara County, Stolpman (181 acres), Sea Smoke (170 acres) and Beckmen (150 acres) lead in organic and/or biodynamic certified acreage.

In Oregon, the eco-certified list includes Momtazi Vineyard (260 acres), Montinore Estate (230 acres) and Cooper Mountain Vineyards (200 acres), which are all certified biodynamic (requires meeting organic standards as a baseline). Lemelson Vineyards has 125 acres and Domaine Drouhin will soon have 130 acres (it’s currently in the three-year transition required for organic certification.) The legendary Temperance Hill (100 acres) was one of the first growers in Oregon to be certified organic.

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