From the Left Side of the Balcony: The Survey Says

The verdict is in on Northern California's best politically correct wines.


Judges Narsai David, Travis Fetter, and Holly Carr take notes during the wine-tasting session at Oilveto.

Pat Mazzera

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The right wing has hijacked the term "politically correct." It has become a catch-all insult to hurl at anyone left of center who dares to stand up to their bullying.

The media mashers at Fox News, for example, propagate the myth that leftist professors enforce political orthodoxy on university campuses, and environmentalists impose crippling regulations on private businesses.

The left doesn't impose its views on people. The right-wingers just can't stand the idea that people might voluntarily agree with leftist ideas. I don't think there's anything wrong with political correctness if it means people acting voluntarily in socially responsible ways.

So as a thumb in the eye to Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and other purveyors of right-wing values, I organized a wine tasting to determine the best politically correct wine in Northern California. Vintners submitted wines that met socially responsible criteria, such as growing organic grapes, using sustainable farming techniques, or having unionized workforces. In early May three distinguished judges gathered at Oliveto restaurant in Oakland for a blind taste testing. Narsai David is food and wine editor at radio station KCBS; Holly Corr works for Oliver McCrum Wines in Berkeley; and Travis Fretter was founder of Fretter Wine Cellars in Berkeley and is now retired. The judges tasted each wine not knowing the name of the winery nor what socially responsible criteria it met.

"California has long produced some of the best wines in the world," said David before the event. "Now we'll be able to determine those which are both high quality and socially responsible."

I was determined to find out if wines produced in a politically correct way could also please the palate and, if possible, the pocketbook. I was pleasantly surprised.

The judges agreed that the best wine was a 2014 Chardonnay from Trefethen family vineyards in Napa. The judges awarded a Gold Medal with notes indicating it had a "silky smooth taste with a nice balance of flavors."

Trefethen generates all its electricity through solar power, reuses wastewater, and employs soy diesel and electric batteries to power many of its company and farm vehicles. In 2012, Trefethen won the Botanical Research Institute of Texas International Award of Excellence in Sustainable Winegrowing. The winning Chardonnay retails for $36.

I wasn't surprised that a pricey wine took top honors. But a big shock came from Anthony's Hill, a label produced by Fetzer in Mendocino. Anthony's Hill's Riesling, Chardonnay, and Merlot picked up bronze awards. Each 1.5-liter bottle, which is twice the size of a normal bottle, costs $11! Definitely the best taste for the buck.

The Hopland winery producing Anthony's Hill uses solar power for 100 percent of its energy and has won awards for its zero-waste policy. "In 2015, we diverted 99.1 percent of all waste from landfills thanks to recycling, reusing, and composting our used materials," said Margaret Leonardi, winemaker for Anthony's Hill.

Balletto, St. Supery, and Scheid wineries took home silver and bronze awards, and all are unionized. The question of unionization is controversial among vintners, with many believing they provide good wages and working conditions without unions. The United Farm Workers and other unions have organized only a tiny fraction of California wineries, a reflection of the antiunion climate in the United States, particularly in rural areas.

But Armando Elenes, national vice president of the United Farm Workers, argues that the union's total package of wages and benefits is better at union wineries. Union workers at Scheid, for example, get 95 percent medical, 100 percent dental, and 100 percent vision coverage for themselves and their families. Qualified seasonal workers are rehired each year based on seniority.

While some employers see unions as an unnecessary interference in their business, Elenes points out that unions help promote a stable and productive workforce. "Workers become invested with the winery" and produce better wine, said Elenes. "When they know someone cares for them, they have to take care of the vineyard."

Elenes has only recently learned to appreciate good wine himself. "It's a new thing for me," he said. He takes his wine recommendations from those who pick the grapes. The workers became "wine drinkers themselves. The longer-term workers learned to love wine. It's our product."

So the politically correct wine competition showed that policies that favor workers and the environment can produce fine quality wine. And in some cases, the politically correct wine provides great quality at bargain prices.

So, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, you got a problem with that?'