Rosé is ready to bottle!

February 19, 2010

This week we are preparing the Rosé for bottling! Coincidentally, today we are working under sunny skies and in t-shirts (well almost). Just the right kind of weather for such a delightful wine! When next we speak of this, it will be to let you know of its release. For those who remember, last year we took early sign-ups because quantities were so limited. We’ll have more this year, but we’ll still keep you posted as to its progress.

– Barbara Steele

Intro to Worms

February 18, 2010

Worms at COWHORN are a big, slimy deal. Worm composting is called vermiculture. A little history lesson reveals that worm composting is both ancient and local.

Since the beginning of dirt, worms have been breaking up, oxygenating and feeding soil. They leave a rich trail (pun intended) of nutrients and microbes that make soil great for crop growing. Many folks practice at-home vermiculture programs by dropping their kitchen waste in a worm bin and then a week or so later spreading the resulting compost in their garden.

In recent years, vermiculture has captured the interest of innovative farmers around the world. These days, experiments are being conducted to determine ways to introduce vermiculture into commercial farming. Though the topic is huge, a couple simple factors make vermiculture superior to traditional composting methods.

First, worms do not degrade topsoil and waterways by the action of their grazing. Second, worms improve soil simply by living in it. As well, worms are easy to care for. Stop using the rototiller or other soil degrading implements, and the next thing you know worms are there working for you!

For me, anytime doing less yields more, I am happy. And that is the point I will end on today because it is often the most useful rule of harmonious land stewardship: do less not more because chances are Mother Nature knows more that you! Next up: the COWHORN worm bin.

– Barbara Steele

First Club COWHORN Pickup Party

February 14, 2010

It all went by so fast! On Saturday, Cowhorn hosted 60 people for our first Club Cowhorn party. Folks tasted our 2008 Spiral 36, our 2007 Syrah and barrel sampled a 2009 Syrah. In addition, we debuted for our guests the 2008 Grenache 74 (named after the varietal and the number of frost hours that year).

With strong notes of cherry, hints of spice and a nice finish, the wine “jumped out of the glass” to several tasters. Paired with the wines were several cheeses from Rogue Creamery (thanks Tom, both cheeses were gone by events end) as well as homemade cookies and breads by our wonderful in-house chef, Barbara.

Thanks to all that attended for making the event a rousing success. If only it had gone by a little slower.

– Barbara Steele

Perches 103

February 9, 2010

More proof – new rodent skulls under the perches! Today I found three. In this picture, you can see the teeth still intact.

– Barbara Steele

Retailer, winery make a green team

February 5, 2010

Even the lowly used cork can be a contributor to the green movement.

For two years, the Ashland Food Co-op has partnered with Cowhorn Vineyard and Corvallis-based Western Pulp to convert used corks into reusable, compostable wine packing trays.

The result is a collaboration between two local green powerhouses — Southern Oregon’s first and only certified organic retailer and its first and only certified biodynamic winery.

Cowhorn is one of 350 to 400 vineyards nationwide with the biodynamic certification, which according to Cowhorn co-owner Bill Steele is a holistic approach to farming started in Europe following World War I.

“The goal is to eliminate synthetic chemicals on the property,” said Steele. “It is a closed-loop system, so it’s like we have created our own self-supporting environment.”

Steele said the co-op and the vineyard recycled more than 400 pounds of all-natural cork last year. The average cork weighs only 2 grams — it would take about 14 corks to make up an ounce.

The amount of corks passing through the co-op amazes Kelly McNamara, the co-op’s specialties manager.

“It’s incredible how many corks come in,” said McNamara. “Are these people really drinking this much wine, and if they are, I need to know them!”

McNamara said different people bring in various amounts during the week, ranging from a handful to a large burlap sack. The collection spot is a large pickle barrel in the kiosk at the end of the wine aisle. She said the average amount of corks sent in for recycling is three to four wine cases worth a week. Synthetic corks are not accepted.

McNamara said the co-op appreciates the importance of cork and supports the idea of using natural cork in the wine industry.

“Cork is sustainable,” she said. “There are cork tree forests in the Mediterranean, which grow back after it is harvested. It is a renewable resource.

“If the cork disappears, the habitat will disappear and the land will be put to another use. There are so many layers to the story.”

McNamara said natural cork has gotten bad rap in some circles in the wine industry. The estimated percentage of bottles ruined by bad corks, known as a ‘corked bottle,’ varies widely — anywhere from 1 percent to 15 percent. While McNamara understands how switching to synthetic cork may make business sense in the short term, she believes the elimination of natural cork will have a negative environmental impact.

Steele said the Cowhorn winery is committed to recycling everything possible, which led to the cork recycling program.

“We are committed to full-out recycling, and because cork is 100 percent natural, we knew we could recycle it,” said Steele. “We did our research, made a few calls, and found Western Pulp in Corvallis. We approached the co-op because they have always been supportive of Cowhorn.”

In order to keep the use of cork flowing, Steele is inviting everyone to drop off their old corks to either the co-op or the winery, 1665 Eastside Road, off of Upper Applegate Road, south of Ruch. He is also asking the local vineyards to bring their recycled corks.

“I have a feeling I’ll be getting in a lot of corks now,” McNamara said.

– F.B. Drake III

Wine & The Triple Bottom Line

February 2, 2010

I have heard some of the old school winemakers and suppliers snort dismissively about sustainability and organic agriculture. They used to be rather smug in the belief that their wines were of higher quality than the ‘treehuggers’.

Well, buckle up boys, because those days are over. Now there is tremendous quality and diversity to be found among the world’s organic, biodynamic & natural wine offerings. And yes, to the unconverted or just plain cynical, it appears as just clever marketing to be seen as ‘green’.

Millennial wine lovers in particular expect companies to be responsible (76% of millennials emphasized the importance of brands being ecologically conscious).
Of course, there are many wineries that operate sustainably out of conviction and if it helps sales, all the better.

If one can turn a profit while caring for the planet and the health of your workers at the same time, that seems a laudable goal to me.
A 1999 study sites 539 cases of pesticide poisoning among California vineyard workers. This was reported cases only. The next highest category was for broccoli (399 cases of pesticide poisoning). I would love to hear if any readers have more recent data.

Lets just assume that most people would rather not work around or with toxic chemicals.

Cowhorn Winery in Oregon hasn’t missed a beat when it comes to the triple bottom line & wine. The winery is a certified organic grape grower, as well as a Demeter certified biodynamic grower & winery. This means they also use native yeasts.

But beyond the grapegrowing and winemaking, Cowhorn also ‘upcycles’ wine bottles via The Green Glass Company and recycles their corks.

But here’s the thing, the wines were very good. Crisp, clean, fruit forward wines that can battle any conventionally produced wine out there. Personally, I would love to see what these wines tasted like if the new oak was dialed back a bit further(right now the wines are a blend of new & old oak barrel treatment). But that is my personal taste and one that many wine lovers may not care about at all.

Cowhorn Syrah 2007 $32
Deep purple color. Pick up some spicy oak on the nose. Loads of boysenberry & blackberry fruit. Great acids on the finish with a hint of roasted meat. 13.5% alcohol

Cowhorn Spiral 36 White Blend 2008 $18
Light golden color. Lovely pear & apple flavors, firm acids, a pretty wine at 13.4% alcohol
Viognier 35%, Marsanne 30%, Roussanne 35%

– Amy Atwood

Vineyard Floor Management

February 1, 2010

The Earth is so balanced. At Cowhorn, we take this concept seriously. Let me explain by describing one of our winter practices. For us, the dormant season is equal in importance to the growing season. In the vineyard in winter, we practice a weed-based cover cropping program.

To achieve this, it took a couple years of planning. So, during our first years in the vineyard we did several passes of selective hand weeding down the drive lines. (Yikes – too much nomenclature! The “drive line” is the space between two rows of plants, and “under-vine” or “vine row” is the space under the vine.) We pulled out weeds that were tall, or say taller than 6 to 12 inches. Now, as you can see in the pictures, the weed “crop” that comes with the fall rains is short and dense.

These weeds perform three important functions. First, they provide a thick cover against erosion during winter rains. Second, they grow a dense set of roots that break up and aerate the soil. Last, when it is tilled back into the soil in spring, it provides a source of nutrition for the vines.

When we talk in Biodynamic® agriculture about creating a self-sustaining farm or a closed-loop system, this is one example within the farm. Annually, we recycle our nutrients back into the vineyard through the weeds. That means no trips into town to buy something that was produced synthetically, less packaging to be disposed of, and one less tractor pass. It’s what weeds are supposed to do, so let them!

And as a last treat, before we till them under in spring, they will bloom with very tiny, very cute periwinkle flowers. How cool is that?

– Barbara Steele