Every once in a while news coverage comes along about Biodynamic wine that’s so good we just have to share it even though it doesn’t mention us by name. The Wall Street Journal just published a report by Will Lyons, who admittedly made “no claim to understand how biodynamics works” but found that Biodynamic wines “are marked with a purity, silkiness and concentration rarely found in other wines.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves (at least the second part) and heartily recommend reading Will’s WSJ report titled “A Taste of Biodynamics.”
Barbara and Bill Steele knew just what to do when their eyes glanced over a drop-dead gorgeous abandoned property in Applegate Valley, Ore.
Reflecting their lifestyle and their green mindset the couple made Cowhorn Vineyard & Gardens a sustainable farm, where they grow organic certified fruits, vegetables and nuts, and make wines. They send corks and empty bottles to recycling, turn organic waste into compost and give compost back to the ground, wasting as little as they possibility can.
“We designed that way from the start,” said Barbara about their farm. “We never intended to farm any other way than biodynamically. The biodynamic way is, quite frankly, a way of life. [It] is a way of life that you hold footprint on the Earth. It is careful, planned out and thoughtful.”
Before buying Cowhorn in 2002, Barbara, the former CFO for a leading designer and maker of exhibits, went to California to learn more about how farms worked. She had left her job to get involved with agriculture, but soon after that found herself behind a desk again. She decided it was time to find her own farm. She found a place and showed it to Bill.
“Not being a farmer I really didn’t know anything other than ‘it’s a drop-dead gorgeous piece of property,’” said Bill, who spent 17 years of his life on Wall-Street as an equity research analyst before moving to Cowhorn. “We bought it and we started learning how to farm.”
Bill and Barbara were by themselves when they moved to Cowhorn in 2003. It took them two years to put it all together and start growing. In 2006, one year after planting their first grapes, it was time to collect the fruits from their small harvest. Today, Barb, Bill and four full-time workers get the job done at Cowhorn. But they also get a hand from their own land.
Cowhorn is a certified Biodynamic grower and processor, a title given by Demeter USA, the nonprofit American chapter of Demeter International that certifies self-containing and self-sustaining farms that follow these principles throughout the entire property. These farms avoid chemical pesticides and fertilizers, use compost and cover crops, and set aside at least 10% of their properties for biodiversity.
Part of the compost and the compost tea used in the crops is made right there. Cherries, asparagus, artichokes, heirloom fruit trees, hazelnuts and grapes receive biodynamic treatment. Between 700 to 1,000 pounds of compost is produced at a time, sending back to the ground much of what would sometimes go to waste, such as eggshells, leaves, bad fruit and vegetables.
The material used at the farm that can’t be reused at Cowhorn is collected and donated to recycling companies. Used glass bottles of wine and corks get shipped to recycling companies after they are collected at the farm, and take their path in the recycling cycle.
“In the wine industry, packaging is hugely pollutive,” Barbara said, “so to try to provide an example or show others as a way to recycle, or reduce or reuse their wine packaging was just the natural thing to do.”
Their first shipment of 1,000 old Cowhorn bottles went to the Green Glass Co. in Weston, Wis., where the bottles become creative glassware, such as cups, vases and candle holders. Natural corks go to Western Pulp, in Corvallis, Ore., and are turned into wine shipping trays.
“Everybody here has got a recycle mentality, so there not a lot of waste. And it is hard to explain in some ways because it is just a mindset,” Bill said. “Everybody has this shared mindset, ‘let’s just not bring a lot of stuff that we can’t recycle and reuse.”
After recycling, composting, making cover crops, and reusing the septic and wine water the waste produced at all Cowhorn facilities, the waste comes down to one residential size 95-gallon trash bin a week.
“Many times in American history, waste is not considered part of the cost equation, we just pollute,” Barbara said. “And American businesses don’t consider that part of their bottom line, but folks that farm biodynamically consider waste to be one of the most important things to include in [their] process.”