Organic Wine Podcast
Tom Plocher - How to Breed Grapevines

Tom Plocher - How to Breed Grapevines

August 14, 2022

My guest for this episode is Tom Plocher. Tom has been growing and breeding grapevines and making wine from them since 1980. He was a longtime friend and mentee of Elmer Swenson, and lives and grows grapes in Minnesota just north of the Twin Cities.

Tom has bred several varieties of grapes that are patented and available for sale out in the world… and you’ve heard about at least one of them – Petite Pearl – if you listened to the recent episode with Montpellier Vineyards in Vermont. In this interview Tom gives detailed instructions about how to breed grapevines, with some great tips and an in-depth sense of what is involved.

While Tom isn’t focused on breeding for resistance to mildew or pests, what he’s doing and what he teaches us in this episode may be some of the most valuable information ever shared on this podcast. Because learning to breed grapevines is what will make it possible to adapt to the rapidly changing climate and find a delicious future for wine that doesn’t require the unsustainable use of chemical sprays that make environmental degradation worse. Tom literally shows us the path to the future of wine, and that it’s something you can do with some intelligence, patience, and care on your own, without a lot of land.

Here’s a fun fact: The time it takes to research, develop, test, and get approvals of a new chemical pesticide is about 10 years. The time it takes to breed, grow, prove out and patent a new variety of grapevine that could have any number of beneficial traits – including a diminished need for new pesticides – is about 10 years.

Forget the fact that the development of the pesticide took millions of dollars too, and that breeding the grape just took time and some knowledge and practice. Imagine if all of us who grow vineyards also began collecting, crossing, and breeding new vines. Imagine where we’d be if we’d channeled our resources over the last 80 years into this approach to resilience and vitality in our vineyards, rather than trying to prop up a handful of increasingly more feeble grapevines with the ongoing development of chemicals that degrade our environment and make climate change and human health worse.  

Think of how much further along we’d be to having real solutions to viticultural challenges by looking in the vines themselves. It is both possible and 100% achievable to have delicious wine made from grapes that never need to be sprayed with anything and thrive in the extreme climate that will be our future. But not as long as we fetishized and clone the same vines over and over again.

If we take the knowledge that Tom gives us here and apply it to the California wine industry, we could have a continually renewing, regenerating, and improving cycle of increasing health and flavor in our wine and our world, rather than this downward spiral we’re on that has an expiration date.

The only thing standing in our way, I believe, is prejudice. We’ve created a hierarchy in which a few types of grapes, and only those few select grapes, can make great wine. That hierarchy is bullshit. All grapes are hybrids.  

I hope you’ll join with me in normalizing the idea that wine is not made from a few European grapes but from an ongoing process of adaptation, innovation, experimentation, and inclusion. If you do, I think the future of wine can be exciting. It can be diverse. It can be delicious.

In this interview, Tom gives us the tools to get there.


Diana Snowden Seysses - Climate Change, Carbon, and Bi-Continental Winemaking

Diana Snowden Seysses - Climate Change, Carbon, and Bi-Continental Winemaking

August 8, 2022

My guest for this episode is Diana Snowden Seysses. Diana studied Viticulture & Enology at UC Davis, and went on to work in both California and French cellars with Robert Mondavi Winery, Mumm Napa, the Araujo Estate, Château La Fleur de Boüard, Domaine Leflaive and Ramey Wine Cellars. And also for the last 20 years, Diana has been an enologist and part of the family at Domaine Dujac in Burgundy, and consultant at Domaine de Triennes in Provence; and she is also winemaker at Snowden Vineyards in Napa. 

In addition to this enviable resume of incredible winemaking experience, Diana is one of the leading experts on carbon capture and reuse in the wine industry, and strategies for reducing the massive carbon impact of glass wine bottles. So, while I would have loved to spend this hour asking her about making wine in Burgundy, those questions took a back seat to discussing the urgent story she discovered there.

Because it was Diana’s experience of working with the natural world and tracking data in Burgundy that led her to the inescapable reality of the urgency and severity of climate change and altered the direction of what she is doing with wine.

It should come across rather quickly that Diana is a brilliant mind and bright spirit. So it makes the things that she says about the reality we’re facing all the more forceful, and, frankly, sobering. We talk very openly about the challenges of maintaining mental health and keeping courage in the face of what we know.

When I started this podcast I said I wanted it to bring hope. In a very real way, this interview with Diana is about moving beyond hope that things will get better, and yet finding the strength to continue to do the work that our planet needs us to do anyway. I personally find the inspiration for this strength in the natural world itself, in everyone I get to interview for this podcast, and in every one of you who listens. I’m extremely grateful for you, and please don’t underestimate the influence you can have on each other’s spirits and lives.

I recently came across this quote by Howard Zinn:

"The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."

I hope you find Diana’s defiance as inspiring as I did.


Doug & Andrew Becker - Montpelier Vineyards, Vermont Organic Wine

Doug & Andrew Becker - Montpelier Vineyards, Vermont Organic Wine

August 1, 2022

My guests for this episode are the father and son team Doug and Andrew Becker of Montpelier Vineyards in Montpelier, Vermont. Montpelier Vineyards is currently the only certified organic winery north of the Mason-Dixon line that I’m aware of, though there may be more in the process and soon to be certified.

As a quick clarification, a certified organic winery must have two certifications: one for the vineyard and one for the winery. There are other certified vineyards in New England, but only Montpelier Vineyards has both vineyard and winery certifications.

Doug and Andrew tell us their story, and we get technical about some of the challenges of Vermont viticulture, as well as how to deal with VA and reduction in the winery. 

Doug and Andrew may introduce you to some new terminology, because in addition to grape wines they make pyments, cysers, and melomels and discuss the practice of bletting apples.

We also discuss the particular hybrid grapes that they’re growing, and their pros and cons. They are one of the few growers of a new hybrid grape named Petite Pearl, bred by Tom Plocher, that shows a lot of promise, and in fact they sent me a bottle of their Montpelier Vineyards 2021 wild fermented Petite Pearl that we discuss in the interview, and since this was recorded a few weeks ago I’ve had a chance to try it.

The color is the first remarkable aspect of the wine. Inky, opaque purple, tinged magenta at the rim. Extremely dark. After swirling in the glass the legs ooze down almost as dark as the wine itself. It smelled initially of blue fruit, snowy mountain air, grape jelly, and a bit of cocoa powder. It is extremely fresh, still young, while also rich and full bodied. It achieves that deft feat of having significant weight, even gravitas, without an ounce of heaviness. Only 12 and a half percent alcohol. The closest association I can make to something you might have drunk is along the lines of the black wines of Cahors, or something like a varietal Tannat or Teroldego. After a couple days open in the refrigerator it developed more chocolately notes and creamier texture, so while this was a delight to drink now, I think it will age very well and improve for quite a while. I have never done a tasting note like this before, so I hope that speaks for itself. I loved drinking this wine, and I think it shows that the future of wine made from hybrid grapes is extremely bright (and that’s not a climate change joke).  So get some if you can.

So let’s take a trip to Vermont, where it seems like wine – in a beautiful diversity of innumerable flavors and forms – is really blowing up.


Eric Shatt - Redbyrd Orchard Cider & Cosmic Connections

Eric Shatt - Redbyrd Orchard Cider & Cosmic Connections

July 25, 2022

My guest for this episode is Eric Shatt. With his wife and partner Deva, Eric is the owner of Redbyrd Orchard Cider in the Finger Lakes Region of NY. I love that Deva and Eric put the orchard first in their name and in their philosophy of cider making. In fact, Eric is an apple breeder and preservationist. He grows over 150 varieties of apples in his 4-acre orchard and is cultivating trees propagated from the wild and then crossed with others. He also makes some unique and delicious cider.

Eric tells us how all that diversity in the orchard provides reinforcements against the unpredictable nature of, um, nature, and how it can also provide consistency to the cider. He gives us an intro to grafting, and discusses his unique approach to making cider, as well as his desire to promote freedom of technique and experimentation in the cellar.

Redbyrd has been certified biodynamic for years, but Eric and I discuss how he came to be aware of biodynamics’ troubling origins and the beliefs of Rudolf Steiner. While Eric is drawn to the spiritual connections in farming that biodynamics brings attention to, we discuss why its history has caused he and Deva to question whether it is something they’ll continue to support via certification.

This is a succulent conversation on many levels because of Eric’s thoughtfulness and curiosity about the many unknowns that are part of farming and making wine in our little corner of the cosmos.


Brian McClintic - Rethinking Wine, Letting Nature Lead

Brian McClintic - Rethinking Wine, Letting Nature Lead

July 19, 2022

My guest for this episode is Brian McClintic. For many people in the wine world, Brian needs no introduction. He’s one of the co-stars of the Somm documentaries where we watch him go from being a young, ambitions lover of wine, to becoming a Master Sommelier, and then his further evolution as global wine expert. Then, perhaps even more significantly, Brian became disillusioned with his membership in the Court of Master Sommeliers, turned in his pin, and resigned from the Court. The development of his perspective on wine continued through the projects and ideas he began exploring through his online wine club Viticole and its associated podcast.

When Brian recently wrote a post on his Viticole blog titled “Reimaging Terroir” – which I highly recommend everyone read – I knew I wanted to get Brian to talk about his new ideas here on the podcast.  Brian presents a way to reimagine wine. He discusses how our climate issues are just a symptom of our disconnection from the natural world. He shares a vision where a diversity of wine ingredients leads to biodiversity in agriculture, and makes our obsession with clearing forests and landscapes to plant a monoculture of non-native single variety plants seem absurd. We talk about blind tasting, terroir, and growing polyculture agroforestry that includes grapes with fruit trees and bushes.

If you are ready for a new vision of wine, get ready for a ride of rethinking viticulture to remind us of our dependence on the natural world, reconnect and deepen our bond with nature, and be reminded of who is leading the dance… It’s not us.


Drew Herman - Microbial Democracy for a Healthy Vineyard & World

Drew Herman - Microbial Democracy for a Healthy Vineyard & World

July 12, 2022

My guest for this episode is Drew Herman. Drew is the Vineyard Manager at JK Carriere Wines in Oregon, and, wow… listening to him makes me want to drink anything made from fruit that he helps grow. Before we recorded this, Drew gave me an outline of things that he wanted to talk about, and he titled it Microbial Democracy, and what he discusses here blows open doors of understanding about the way soil and plants work from a fundamental perspective. You will not be able to think about growing vines, or anything else, in the same way after listening to this.

Drew explains how the soil has a voice. He introduces the new findings about microbial quorum sensing and signaling and how the soil is like a big ongoing chemical conversation. We then get into epigenetics and how soil microbes actually impact not only vine health but also wine flavor, and so much more. He gives specific and practical applications for this knowledge, and promotes independent science and freedom from purchased bottled solutions to viticultural problems.

Beware: this episode may make you smarter, freer, and more full of wonder.

A special thanks to James Endicott of Vinocity Selections for introducing me to Drew. I think once you hear what Drew has to share, you’ll want to thank James too.


Sponsored by:

Centralas Wine

Michael Juergens - Developing Bhutan’s First Ever Wine

Michael Juergens - Developing Bhutan’s First Ever Wine

July 5, 2022

My guest for this episode is the bestselling author of Drinking & Knowing Things, he's a Certified Sommelier with the Guild of Master Sommeliers, a Certified Specialist of Wine, and a Master of Wine Candidate with the Institute of Masters of Wine. His final blind tasting test is this month. He runs the wildly popular Drinking & Knowing Things wine blog which has been adapted into now 3 books. He owns the award-winning SoCal Rum company, which was recently awarded the highest point score in history for any Silver Rum. Michael was a professor at the University of CA, Irvine. And he spends his time blind tasting and doing extreme sports.

And, last but not least, He is the founder of the Bhutan Wine Company, and is leading the development of the wine industry in this magical Himalayan country for its first time in history. This was why I wanted to talk to Michael.

Because his journey led him to Bhutan to plant its first ever vineyards, I found out about and began looking into some of the truly unique and stunning aspects of Bhutan’s culture. That’s part of the power of wine.

 If you haven’t heard about the 7 pillars of Gross National Happiness, or didn’t know that Bhutan is the only carbon negative nation in the world, or that it is on the path to be the first 100% organic nation in the world, and more… then you’re going to have as much fun with this interview as I did.


Tim Graham - Local & Wild Fruit with Left Bank Ciders

Tim Graham - Local & Wild Fruit with Left Bank Ciders

June 22, 2022

My guest for this episode is Tim Graham of Left Bank Cider in Catskill, New York on the bank of the Hudson River. Tim’s cider project is a joint effort with his wife Anna Rosencranz and partner Dave Snyder. The three of them are making local cider from local apples, both wild and cultivated, and serving them at their local bar along with other local ciders, beers, wines and liquors of NY.

It was such a delight to get to know Tim and what he’s doing. He’s thoughtful and smart, ecologically minded in his approach to every aspect of what he does, and he’s curious and deeply appreciative of the beauty of his world. He drops insights and illuminating perspectives throughout.

We go deep on the magic of fungus and its importance to growing and making fermented beverages. Tim takes us on a journey of discovering wild apples and makes an argument for why his local apples are the best apples in the world. And we learn from Tim how to incorporate a process of learning and expanding and growing so that we waste none of the delicious fruits of life.



Adam Huss

Greg La Follette - How Wine Is Made In The Vineyard

Greg La Follette - How Wine Is Made In The Vineyard

May 31, 2022

My guest for this episode is Greg La Follette. Just when you think you know something about wine, you meet someone like Greg. Talking with him about wine is like having the sun rise suddenly while you’re walking a path at night with only a flashlight. I apologize in advance to anyone who is trying to listen to this while doing something else, because you’re going to want to take notes.

Even if you haven’t heard of Greg La Follette, you’ve probably drunk wines that he helped make. He mentored at BV in the early 90s under Andre Tchelitstcheff. He has designed and redesigned fourteen wineries worldwide and was the consulting winemaker for the University of California Davis’ “teaching winery”. He has consulted for Kendall-Jackson, starting its La Crema and Hartford Court brands. He launched Flowers, turning it into a cult brand, featuring its gravity-flow “green” production facility that is still considered state of the art. He went on to manage wine operations at DeLoach, and founded Tandem Wines, and has consulted on many other projects too numerous to mention.

If you’ve been following the Organic Wine Podcast at all, it won’t come as a surprise to you that with his legendary reputation as a winemaker, Greg’s gives preeminence to the winemaking that happens in the vineyard before the grapes are even picked. You may have heard the cliché that “great wine is made in the vineyard.” In this episode, Greg tells us how. He discusses the 3 most important moments in winemaking that all happen in the vineyard, and in fact as I re-listened I counted at least 2 or 3 additional moments in the vineyard that he discusses as vitally important to winemaking.

And that’s before he gives a breakdown of microbial ecological succession during indigenous fermentations and how that lends more complexity to wine.

If you listen closely, you’ll find moments throughout what Greg says where he seems to talk about grapevines and people comparatively and even interchangeably. I found something profoundly meaningful in this, as it makes me feel as if Greg has come to know these beings so well that he has achieved a perspective that is not from this modern world, but recalls an ancient perspective from those indigenous groups who also knew their ecosystems with equal intimacy. A perspective of identification and equality with our non-human family. A perspective of compassion and empathy.

Even if you aren’t working with vineyards or making wine, this episode will give you a glimpse of how much there is to learn about wine, how deep scientific knowledge enables us to listen to and serve vines and ecosystems better, and how complex and beautiful our world can be the more we get to know it.

View or download Greg's "From Soil To Bottle" presentation here.

With special thanks to Lucie Morton.


Brady Shepherd - Mortgage Banker for Vineyard Real Estate

Brady Shepherd - Mortgage Banker for Vineyard Real Estate

May 16, 2022

This episode is a bit unusual for this podcast. It’s about how to purchase real estate, and my guest is Rural Mortgage Banker for United Ag Lending, Brady Shepherd. I’m very grateful to Brady for the time he spent with me preparing for this episode, and I think you’ll find this episode packed with potentially life-changing ideas.

Why “life changing?” Because, for better or for worse, the US economy is founded on real estate. The laws and economic structure that guide our society were written by and for land-owners. And behind every glass of wine is a piece of land where it was grown that somebody or some entity owns.

Did you know that to buy real estate you don’t have to put 20% down? You might not have to put any cash down. Your credit doesn’t have to be perfect either. We talk about this and so much more.

A final disclaimer, nothing that I or Brady say on this episode is meant to be investment advice, and please talk to an accountant about your personal situation. Actually, talking to an accountant can be just as eye-opening as talking to a mortgage banker.

A big thanks to Brady, who, if you stay tuned, literally gives out his phone number for anyone who might need help getting a mortgage loan.


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