An Exploration into California Certifications and Sustainable Explanations #EarthMonth

Who are the Wine Predators?

Two California girls, Gwendolyn Lawrence (Alley) and Sue McLaughlin (Hill) met through Girl Scouts at age 12. They both loved nature and being in the outdoors especially rock climbing, sailing, hiking, camping, and backpacking. They went on many adventures together, they cooked together, and they cared for the planet together.

Some things never change.

Wine Predators: Gwendolyn Alley, Sue Hill plus Kingston and Cisco

Fast forward a few dozen years, and Sue and I reconnected. We both still loved the outdoors, and cooking, but we’d both discovered a passion for wine: Sue worked at a tasting room and I wrote about wine here on this blog.

For the past seven years during the time we’ve been working together, it should come as no surprise that how grapes are grown and how wine is made has been as important an element to us as how the wine tastes and what food we’re pairing with it.

And we’re not alone: 83% of Americans consider sustainability when buying food.*

And yet with all of the sustainable explanations and certifications, it can get confusing!

So for Earth Month AND California Sustainable Wine Month this April, we thought we’d sit down with wines with as many different certifications as we could find, taste them, pair them, take notes on them — and I’d do some research to help us all understand what exactly all of these certifications and messages about sustainability mean!


All of these wines: We love their moral values and that they put their hearts and souls into the wine that they are producing. 

Three of the wines we bought while visiting the tasting room, one wine came from the grocery store, and two were samples.

Below you’ll find information about:

  • 2017 – Bokisch Vineyards – Verdejo –  Lodi
    Lodi Rules – certified Green
  • 2017 – Frog’s Leap – Sauvignon Blanc – Napa
    well known for using principles of organic grape growing, dry farming and many aspects of biodynamics
  • 2014 – Hawk and Horse Vineyard – Lake County – Cabernet Sauvignon
    Certified Biodynamic by Demeter.
  • 2013 – Halter Ranch – Cabernet Sauvignon – Adelaida District
    SIP Certified
  • 2015 – Sierra Vista – El Dorado – Syrah
    certified fish friendly farming by the California Land Stewardship Institute
  • 2014 – Linne Calodo – Willow Creek District Perfectionist
    focus on dry farmed, non-intervention, “minimalist winemaking, uncompromising viticultural practices”


2017 – Bokisch Vineyards – Verdejo – Clay Station Vineyard – Borden Ranch – Lodi – 12.9% alcohol
sample for my review consideration
112 cases produced – Lodi Rules – certified Green

LODI RULES: Farmers who follow the 100 or so “Lodi Rules” in the sustainable wine growing program are then certified green and can advertise their membership on their bottles and website. The Lodi Rules program provides standards to measure for certification, a process that is rigorous, based in science, voluntary, and third-party audited.  All Standards have been peer-reviewed by world-renowned third-party scientists, members of the academic community, and environmental organizations.

As I wrote in this post, Simply being certified organic isn’t always the solution.

While a key component of the Lodi Rules deals with pesticides, they are evaluated according to the following:

1) acute risk to farm workers,
2) dietary risks from acute and chronic exposure to people who consume the product,
3) acute risks to small aquatic invertebrates,
4) acute risk to birds, and 5) acute risk to bees and pests’ natural enemies.

Pesticide use by Lodi Rules certified growers must fall below a certain impact for the season which allows the program to be rigorous but also adaptable to the needs of the growers.

Read more about Lodi Rules here, and learn about a few more wines from Lodi that abide by the rules. 

In 2017, we participated in an online chat about Lodi Rules, and that June I visited Lodi where I learned more. It’s an impressive program! In 2018, at an event, I spied an awesome Lodi Rules water bottle and was promised one. When it finally arrived in March, it came with this wonderful example of the Lodi Rules program.

Bokisch has a reputation for offering “the best quality fruit grown in the most environmentally sensitive way” on their over 2500 acres.

“Caring for our environment has been one of our highest priorities,” says Bokisch Ranches.

Color: Cloudy, looks unfined and unfiltered, which you generally don’t see in white wines, light straw

Nose: Floral, white citrus blosssoms, white peach or white nectarine, It has a very inviting nose.

Palate: Nice acidity, great greeter wine, beautiful mouth feel, round, accessIble, very friendly wine. Lngering mineral finish, nectarine, stone fruit, a bit of kiwi tartness. Sweet tart candies, with the grassiness of a Sauv Blanc. Great with Brussels sprouts and went well with the garlic butter pork chops.

Pairing: The basil infused olive oil brings out even more fruit in the wine. The tangerine and lemon rind roasted with the Brussels sprouts went very well with the wine. The wine and the brussel sprouts were so nice due to the tangerine and lemon rind that Sue baked them with. The wine with the garlic pork chops is very inviting on the nose. It is close enough to garlic chicken to make it work.

2017 – Frog’s Leap – Sauvignon Blanc – Rutherford – Napa Valley – 12.9% alcohol –
purchased by me at Vons on sale 

On the Frog’s Leap website, you’ll read: “For more than 25 years we’ve been well known for our advancement of the principles of organic grape growing, dry farming and many aspects of biodynamics.”

But all you’ll see on the label is that the grapes are dry farmed, which in California is rather radical but totally do able once vines are established.

What is also amazing is that they are doing these practices on such a large scale: you can find their wines and many large grocery store chains, particularly this Sauvignon Blanc and their zippy Zinfandel.

Color: Crystal clear, very pale yellow, on the platinum side.

Nose: Grassy, piney, ocean air.

Palate: Bright and vibrant, tart Eureka lemon finish, as well as a green smokey essence, almost lime, the acidity and minerality is nicely mouthwatering.


This is a house wine for me; I try to always have a bottle on hand because it pairs so well with pesto, salads, bright green acidic foods which we enjoy growing and eating all year around.

Many people have Chardonnay as a house wine, however we believe that Sauvignon Blanc is much more versatile. It was very nice with our basil infused olive oil, confirming that it goes with green foods. This would go well with a caprese salad.

For an Earth friendly happy hour, have a loaf of crusty bread, good olive oil, and some quality goat cheese; you don’t need anything else!

I was not sure that the wine would go with the La Tur cheese which is a goat, sheep, and cow milk cheese. but it worked beautifully. It gave the wine a wonderful creaminess. This wine was not horrible with the brussel sprouts, but we found it just ok. It is more of a wine for appetizers, or seafood. really good with the mashed potatoes. Fine but not fabulous with the pork chops. This is much more of a seafood or green thing wine. Save it for that. Great in a dinner pairing line up but did not carry all the courses from beginning to end.

2014 – Hawk and Horse Vineyard – Red Hills – Lake County – Cabernet Sauvignon – 14.3% alcohol
sample for my review consideration

Certified Biodynamic by Demeter.

Biodynamic is a form of regenerative agriculture which means that the farming of the grapes seeks to restore the soil and the planet. In 2019, I’ve been focusing on this method of growing grapes and making wine, and written about biodynamic wines from Chile’s Odfjell, France, Oregon, and California as well as about Italy’s Metodo Corvino which is a vegan version of biodynamic practices.   Read more about biodynamic wine here. 

Stay tuned for an article that focuses on Hawk and Horse!

Color: Super dense  dark plum, ruby sapphire rim.

Nose: Cherry fruit, earthen slate, green herbs, mint, eucalptylus, fennel, sage, cocoa, dry minerality,

Palate: Bright cherry fruit, not cough syrup, not super sweet.

Imagine driving down the road and seeing a cherry stand, you pick up the cherries and eat them, they are fresh and tart, maybe with a bit of dust on the skins…

Clean mineral finish with a bit of cocoa. Some of our favorite cheeses ever come from Snowdonia cheese company which went very nicely, beautiful with a creamy blue. Not fantastic with the salt cured olives or aged gouda but it can handle it.

This is one of my favorite wine so far of 2019 — very impressive in so many ways.

Pairing: Fantastic with the La Tur which was a surprise pairing, you would not generally think to pair this cheese with a red wine, but it was so great. Great wine with the menu. It went well with the rich garlic pork chops, loved the mashed potatoes, and the combination of citrus flavors and char that were part of the brussel sprouts were absolutely amazing. This wine really worked with so many elements in the meal.

What a gem!

2013 – Halter Ranch – Cabernet Sauvignon – Adelaida District – 14.4% alcohol
78% Cab Sauv 13% Malbec 9% Petite Verdot; 5200 cases produced
purchased by Sue during a winery visit with an industry discount
SIP Certified

Halter Ranch has a wonderful story of ecological thinking. They have made a wildlife corridor, they cherish one of the oldest oak trees in California, they are determined to use everything on their property and not haul it away, and while they have many acres, they are not planning on planting any more vines than is already planted.

According to the Halter Ranch website, “The property is farmed sustainably and SIP (Sustainability in Practice) Certified. Beyond that, only 18% of Halter Ranch is dedicated to grapes and structures; the rest, over 1,700 acres, is left to the natural landscape, mainly oak woodland, and wildlife corridors.” The winery has been certified since 2008.

Being SIP (Sustainability in Practice) Certified means farmers and winemakers seek to preserve and protect natural and human resources.

Here’s a handy chart produced by SIP that compares three different certificates:

However, while biodynamic wines are organic, it is unclear whether SIP wines are.

Sue and I were in the Halter Ranch area of west Paso Robles near Justin and we had just enough time to swing for a quick visit, but not for a tour. The tasting room really showcases the view of the ecosystem they are seeking to preserve, and we look forward to visiting again and learning more. In the meantime, we have this wine to share with you and two more coming soon, and we hope to visit again.

In the meantime, Halter Ranch wines can be found in many grocery stores, again pricing that you can find well crafted earth friendly wines without trying too hard.

Color: Deep burgundy, maroon velvet drapes, bright ruby rim

“where is the bottom of my glass?”

Nose: Very herbal, mint sage, chaparral.

Smells like the landscape of where the grapes are grown…

white sage, and oaks, the dustiness of an oak..

Like when you are walking and crunching on the leaves. there is a really nice sense of place with this wine.

It takes a while to get to the cherry, but it is there.

Palate: Cherry is very present on the palate, but it is not a Paso fruit bomb, the fruit is there, but there is a nice clean mineral finish. This wine is so smooth and velvety as it rolls across the palate, with a grippy finish. This is such a smooth wine.

Pairing: I’d love to try a beet salad! Not fantastic with the creamy blue, but would do well with a burger and blue cheese or mashed potatoes and blue cheese. Fantastic with the stilton with blueberries.

The complexity of the La Tur cheese made it the star of the show tonight; it just seemed to go with everything.

This wine went with every element of the meal this evening. Fabulous with the brussel sprouts, the potatoes and the pork chops. For a Cab, what a shock, it was so versatile.

2015 – Sierra Vista – El Dorado – Syrah – Ancient Vine Reserve – 13.3% alcohol
purchased during a visit to the winery by Sue with an industry discount
certified fish friendly farming by the California Land Stewardship Institute

Sue visited Sierra Vista in El Dorado County in California’s Sierra Foothills recently, and intrigued and inspired by the fish friendly certification, she brought this wine back to share. While not certified, they consider themselves organic, and have been since their inception in 1972. Staffed with environmental scientists, The California Land Stewardship Institute (CLSI) operates certification programs in Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, Solano, Humboldt, Amador, Placer, El Dorado, and Santa Clara counties.

According to the Fish Friendly Farming website, “Fish Friendly Farming is a certification program for agricultural properties managed to restore fish and wildlife habitat and improve water quality.”

Color: Not as dense as the cabs that we  sampled tonight, garnet with a ruby rim

Nose: There is a bit of a funk upon opening, but when it blows off it becomes very herbal, ecuptylaptus, plum, mint, mostly herbal, after this wine opens up there is so much blue fruit, blueberry pie, cobbler, tart. It has changed so much from first opening. There is so much blue fruit with a  bit of raspberry, but so much blue fruit.

Palate: Very textural, bright dried cherry and apricot fruit, nicely textural, clean minerality at the finish, dry grippy tannins, dusty, like a dusty trail on horseback, the chaparral herbs are present. There is also a nice bit of blue fruit after the wine has been opened for a while

Paring: Stilton with blueberries go perfectly with this wine, it is an out of this world pairing. right on the mark. Gwen loved the cheese shortbreads with a bit of creamy blue. The snowdonia aged smoked cheese (which is by far the best smoked cheese we have ever had) was also amazing with the wine. It did alright with the spices and flavorings, but it could do with a beefer cut of meat. It wants the richness of beef, buffalo, or even a gamier meat. Gwen imagined elk or duck. This was so great with the brussel sprouts. Roasted veggies and red wine tend to be amazing as we have experienced in the past. Lingering finish makes you say, wow that really is a tasty wine.

2014 – Linne Calodo – Perfectionist – 15.2% alcohol 2016 SRP $82
purchased by me during a winery visit with an  industry discount
72% Syrah, 23% Grenache, 5% Mourvedre

Sometimes you just have to do your research and trust your palate and your instincts to know whether a wine is Earth friendly.

The first time I tasted a Linne Calodo wine at a tasting hosted as a fundraiser at the Live Oak Music Festival– I felt like I could taste the purity of the fruit, I could taste the earth where the fruit was grown.

I had no idea how much the wine retailed for or anything else about it but I simply was blown away.

A unifying philosophy governs winemaker Matt Trevison’s choices for his Linne Calodo wines: it’s nature’s game, and we’re all simply playing it. He keeps in mind four factors: “vineyard location, uncompromising viticultural practices, minimalist winemaking, and the desire to learn from experience.”

“It’s possible that perfection refers to the journey, rather than the destination.”

Our visit happened to follow one by a print wine writer and Linne Calodo had opened up ALL the wines. So we got to taste ALL the wines! What a happy day! I knew I wanted to take home at least one, and it was hard to choose but I went with the Perfectionist.. and indeed it is the journey and not the destination.

Color: Dense, you cannot see anything below the glass, red red, maybe even blood red, garnet, maroon rim

Nose: Earthen, forest floor, for Gwen it is everything at once, there is forest floor, smoke, and herbs, if you sit with the wine for a while, the herbs are on the forefront. Sage, and mint. The alcohol is high, but is expressed in the sage and mint.

Palate: Bramble berries and cherries, with a bit of plum on the finish. On the way back finish it becomes a bit of watermelon. This is a very complex wine. Gwen even found sandalwood on the palate with a bit of amber on the finish.

Pairing: Out of this world with the stilton and blueberry cheese. Also so amazing with the Snowdonia aged smoked cheddar. This wine is so versatile. There is so much going on in this wine. Another amazing pairing with the La Tur cheese, complex wine and complex cheese work so well together.

This was by far our hands down favorite of the evening; it was also the most expensive. The 2016 vintage is available for purchase; 700 cases produced.

We weren’t sure what we were going to pair with this range of wines but then I found high quality natural raised pork chops on sale, and Sue came up with this recipe:

Buttered Garlic PORK CHOPS 

Salt and pepper both sides of the chop and set it aside.

Mix: 1 cube butter, 4 cloves garlic, 2 tablespoons fresh thyme in a bowl and set aside

Brown both sides of the chops over high heat (about 2 – 3 minutes each) set skillet in a preheated 375 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes

Place on a platter and pour juice over the top

This is a very simple yet amazing recipe to serve with any roast vegetables.



Please Comment! I'd love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s