Download the new iRhône app

December 20, 2010

For the past 19 years, three-days in the late spring have been reserved for an exclusive weekend to celebrate all things Rhône. A palate-provoking weekend embracing the enchantment, history and tastes of the twenty-two Rhône varieties. This April 29-30, tip your glass with worldly Rhône wine producers, journey through the largest international collection of Rhône variety wines and savor Rhône inspired cuisine all while taking in the inspiring and spirited Rhône community. For COWHORN fans who are also Apple addicts, they even have their own app called, you guessed it, the iRhône. We’ll be there and look forward to celebrating the twenty-two Rhone variety wines with you in Paso Robles, California this April.

» Visit HospiceduRhone.org

Amuse in Ashland

On your next trip to the Rogue Wine Country, save an evening for dinner at Amuse, one of the finest restaurants in the Pacific Northwest and a treasure of our local food culture.

In addition to finding one or more of our rich Rhône-style reds on the list, you should be able to try a taste of Spiral 36 by the glass, while it lasts.

Chef/Owners Erik Brown and Jamie North prepare a Northwest/French menu daily; utilizing organic, seasonal meat and produce. The carefully selected wine list focuses on a wide array of excellent Oregon and California wines.

Everything about Amuse is impeccable. Their entire team delivers an exceptional dining experience. Reservations are recommended, especially in season when it’s often your only way to get a pre-show seating. Bon appetite!

WinterSpring New Vintage Wine Tour

This year treat your sweetie to the WinterSpring New Vintage Wine Tour, world-class tasting trip benefiting the WinterSpring Center for Transforming Grief and Loss. For 22 years, the center has provided grief support and education for children, youth and adults throughout Jackson County, as well as information and training about the grief experience to schools, employers, helping professional and community groups. Over Valentine’s weekend, a WinterSpring Passport will give you the very rare opportunity to taste wines from ten choice wineries throughout the Rogue wine country. We are thrilled to be participating in this year’s fundraiser and will be featuring our 2007 Syrah and our 2008 Syrah 74. The 2-day event costs $45 per person or $75 for two.

» Buy tickets
» Visit WinterSpring.org

Harry & David unveils new wine clubs

COWHORN among Rogue wines featured

For decades, Harry & David hung its hat on the Fruit-of-the-Month Club rack. On Monday, the Medford gourmet food and gift company unveiled two similar programs for wine: the World Wine Club and 90 Point Rated Wine Club. It is offering both in conjunction with Wine.com.

“We have a reputation (for) providing outstanding fruit gifts,” said Jim Smekal, vice president for merchandising. “We saw an opportunity to take that platform and introduce a couple of categories for alternative or other choices on a monthly basis. We’re looking for ways to better offer customers a variety of gifts they will enjoy throughout the year, not just at Christmas.”

Harry & David also recently introduced a monthly pie club, Heritage Pie Club.

In its first month, the World Wine Club highlights two vintages from Washington’s Columbia Valley and one from the Willamette Valley. 90 Point Rated Wine Club — based on critics’ scores — features three Napa Valley, Calif., selections.

Smekal said local vintners were excluded from the clubs’ initial offerings because they couldn’t have produced enough wine on short notice. “The quantities needed to supply our customers is larger than what any of the local wineries can do, especially on the fly,” Smekal said. “We did not choose a local wine only for that reason.”

He pointed out three Rogue Valley wineries are paired with high-tier gifts promoted by the company. The Founder’s Favorites Banquet, honoring David Holmes, comes with RoxyAnn Winery Pinot Gris and Cowhorn Vineyard Syrah. Harry’s Collection is paired with Del Rio Vineyards Pinot Noir.

“They had enough production to where we could build gifts and satisfy demand,” Smekal said.

The World Wine Club will explore vintages from premier production areas around the globe, Smekal said. Members will receive briefings that include tasting notes, pairing ideas and background on featured wine appellations.

“The selections are done by committee,” he said. “We have a couple of people who understand the wine business and help us make those decisions. Our club is unique in that they are real wines from real wineries and not someone buying juice from South America and slapping their private labels on the bottles.”

Harry & David is promoting Central Point artisan cheesemaker Rogue Creamery products, as well as its own, in its “Perfect Pearings” for the wines.

“There is a lot of planning that goes into our production schedule, and Harry & David has been very accommodating in understanding the emphasis of quality and that we have limited capacity,” said David Gremmels, co-owner of Rogue Creamery. “They’ve been very flexible in understanding the artisan nature of our cheese. Our capacity is limited to the number of cows and goats we have producing milk, the number of cheesemakers we employ and the amount of aging before we release our cheese.”

Memberships in the Harry & David World Wine Club and 90 Point Rated Wine Club are available through catalogs, call centers and at www.HarryandDavid.com/wineclub. The World Wine Club month-to-month price, including shipping, is $65, and the annual price is $780. The month-to-month price for the 90 Point Rated Wine Club is $105, while the annual
price is $1,260.

– Greg Stiles

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2009 Viognier earns 93 from Wine Enthusiast

December 15, 2010

The buzz in the blogosphere is that our 2009 Viognier was designated an Editor’s Choice and awarded 93 points by Wine Enthusiast, which is the highest score given to a white from the Rogue wine country according to columnist Christine Collier at SouthernOregonWineBlog.com. You can look for the review in the March issue. With less than ten cases left at last count, now may be your last chance to cellar some away for this summer.

Biodynamic Winegrowing Seminar Draws 190

December 6, 2010

Experts and practitioners exchange views and experiences about farming method

Rutherford, Calif. — A short course on Biodynamic winegrowing Dec. 2 drew a capacity crowd of 190 to Napa Valley’s Rutherford Grange Hall. Hosted by Demeter USA, the non-profit certification organization for Biodynamic farming based in Philomath, Ore., and the University of California Cooperative Extension, attendees included current and potential practitioners of Biodynamic viticulture and winemaking, viticulture and wine industry consultants, marketers, sommeliers, retailers and wine business students, primarily from Northern California, but also from Oregon, British Columbia and Minnesota.

Demeter marketing director Elizabeth Candelario said the one-day session was not designed as a comprehensive course in Biodynamic  management, but more to build awareness. “Our intention is that you have a more informed view of what Biodynamic farming is, and why some people think it helps them,” she said. Candelario previously worked at Quivira Vineyards in Sonoma County, which converted its vineyards to Biodynamic management and became Demeter-certified in 2007.

Candelario said that worldwide there are now 360 certified vineyards and/or wineries, with a total 20,000 certified vineyard acres. Of the major wine producing countries, France leads the list with 138 certified operations that include Burgundy’s acclaimed Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. The United States is second with 70 certified operations. As an indication of increasing interest in Biodynamic farming, Demeter USA’s winery and vineyard members increased from 5 to 60 between 2005 and 2009, and as many as 20 new growers and wineries were expected to be added during 2010.

Noting that wine is one of the higher-profile Biodynamic products in the marketplace, Candelario said, “I think history will show that one of the wine industry’s gifts to society will be the introduction of Biodynamic products to the consumer market.” She said there are now 4,200 certified Biodynamic products on the market worldwide in 43 countries. In addition to wine, these include distilled spirits, nuts, fruits, produce, ice cream, baby foods, meats, breads, medicinal herbs, coffee and tea.

Biodynamic background

The Biodynamic farming concept dates to 1924, when Dr. Rudolph Steiner presented a series of lectures to European farmers who had noticed a decline in seed fertility, crop vitality and animal health. Biodynamic farming questioned the long-term health and benefits of the movement toward industrial farming that was occurring at the time, utilizing chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers brought in from outside the farm.

In 1928, Demeter (named for the Greek goddess of agriculture) was formed in Europe to promote sustainable agriculture; Demeter established a certification system with farming standards. Demeter International is the only internationally recognized Biodynamic certifier.

Demeter USA was formed in 1985 to promote Biodynamic agriculture and to certify farm operations. To be certified, an entire farm or vineyard must adhere to the Demeter Farm Standard for a minimum of three years if conventionally farmed, or one year if organically farmed; annual inspections are required. Commercial farms and products must be Demeter-certified legally to use the term “Biodynamic” on product labels.

Although the general concepts and some practices of Biodynamics are similar to commonly practiced sustainable and organic methods, some people question certain aspects, such as the use of nine specific preparations used for composting and field sprays; burying of cowhorns filled with material for six months prior to use in the vineyard, and timing of vineyard and winery operations based on astronomical calendars.

Why they do it

Winegrowers who spoke during the day said they had entered into Biodynamic farming for different reasons, and came from different perspectives. Some saw it as a way to improve vineyard health and wine quality, or produce a product that more closely reflects terroir and site. Others believe it more closely reflects their personal values.

Some speakers cited the value of the Biodynamic concept and processes in making them more observant and more closely involved farm managers. They believe Biodynamic methods make them more fully consider all factors influencing grapevine growth and production, and the effects of their practices on the total farm, and beyond its boundaries.

Dave Bos of 70,000-case Grgich Hills Estate in Napa Valley, said the winery’s estate vineyards had been in declining health after years of conventional farming, and some vines suffered from leafroll virus. Conversion to Biodynamic practices began in 2002 with the use of composting and preparations, and Bos said some improvement in grape quality was seen after a single year.

Bos said, “We’ve seen our soils get healthier and our vines get healthier. We believe Biodynamics offers a framework for producing consistent, quality grapes.” He noted that an older Cabernet Sauvignon block on St. George rootstock previously produced poor quality fruit that was sold for bulk wine. With improved vineyard health, the grapes now are used in Grgich’s estate bottled Cabernet.

Barbara Steele discussed how she used a business approach and a values approach to develop Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden in Oregon’s Applegate Valley, which from the outset she had intended to farm Biodynamically. Steele came from a 20-year career in financial planning, but was comfortable with the holistic concept. She said, “I believe Biodynamic farming is good for farming, the planet and the community. But my goal is also to create a profitable model of land ownership.”

Steele discussed the importance of site selection and writing a business plan. Cowhorn has 11 acres of vineyards planted to Rhône varieties, produces 1,800 cases/year of wine, and farms another 4 acres of produce.

Cowhorn’s vineyard and winery are the farm’s main economic drivers, but it also produces asparagus, orchard fruits, hazelnuts and artichokes to keep labor employed year-round and help cover variable costs. Crop selection is based on weather data, such as chill hours and soil characteristics, with the emphasis on perennials. Vineyard equipment must also be adaptable for other crops and farm operations. Steele summarized, “What drives the decision is what’s right for the land. Making resource decisions that are respectful of the earth requires advanced planning.”

Cowhorn planted an additional five acres of vines in 2010. Citing proper site and plant selection and good soil health attributable in part to Biodynamic practices, Steele said, “We expect 30% of our 2010 vineyard planting to produce useable crop in 2011.”

Comparing farming systems

Ginny Lambrix of Truett-Hurst Winery in Healdsburg, Calif., discussed scientific studies and research comparing conventional, organic and Biodynamic farming practices. Organic and Biodynamic systems usually had plants with longer root systems; and soils with more biomass, organic matter and earthworms than conventional systems. Although the studies she cited generally did not show significant differences between Biodynamic and organic methods, Lambrix said, “Microorganisms isolated from Biodynamic preparations used in composting show suppressive activity on fungal plant pathogens. There is some evidence that these Biodynamic preps are helping enhance the compost and favor beneficial organisms.”

Lambrix did observe that “the Achille’s heel” of Biodynamic and organic systems is the inability to use available—but potentially toxic—pesticides to prevent damage from non-native invasive pests that could destroy a crop or damage vines. She concluded, “Science struggles to assess a holistic system like Biodynamic farming. However, research strongly suggests differences in soil life, fruit quality and resource allocation in organic and Biodynamic systems when compared with conventional systems.”

Jim Fullmer, executive director of Demeter USA, discussed the differences between “organic” farming and certification, and Biodynamic. Both are basically similar in the requirements for the types of materials and inputs allowed for farming. Biodynamic goes a step further, requiring specific management practices, and requiring that the farm be managed as a self-contained system: as a “living organism.” It is a regenerative farming system that focuses on soil health, the integration of plants and animals, and biodiversity. Farms are required to maintain at least 10% of total acreage as a biodiversity set-aside.

Winemaking with fewer inputs

The Demeter Wine Processing Standard offers two labeling options: “Biodynamic Wine” is the most rigorous and allows the least manipulation; the second is “Made with Biodynamic grapes.” A panel of Biodynamic winemakers addressed the issues of not being able to use inoculations of outside yeasts and ML bacteria, and prohibitions on sugar and acid adjustments and use of additives such as enzymes and tannins. The Wine Processing Standard also prohibits some process technologies, such as alcohol adjustment with reverse osmosis or spinning cone.

Mark Beaman, winemaker with 150,000-case Mendocino Wine Co., Ukiah, (which includes Parducci and Paul Dolan brands, among others) observed, “Natural fermentation is really crucial for reflecting the place the wines come from.” Noting that many of the yeast strains available from commercial suppliers for inoculation come from France, Beaman said, “They make great wines over there, but we can make great wines here as well.” At his winery, he said the yeasts appear to be indigenous to the vineyard sites and seem to be consistent from year to year.

Tahmiene Momtazi, winemaker for 13,000-case Maysara Winery, McMinnville, Ore., said that as a precaution she ferments a test sample of grapes in a carboy and examines the yeast strains to ensure that a good strain of Saccharomyces is present. Winemakers also said it’s possible to use less nutrient inputs than generally considered necessary to have and maintain good fermentations. Doug Tunnell of 3,800-caseBrick House Vineyards, Newberg, Ore., suggested, “If you need more nitrogen in the must, you can aerate and pump-over more, and stay away from using DAP.”

Rodrigo Soto of 150,000-case Benziger Family Winery in Sonoma County believes Biodynamic practices enhance the vitality of the vineyards and the quality of the wines. He noted, “We use Biodynamics not because we believe it will make the best wine, but to make wine that reflects the sense of place.” He said certification and labeling provide differentiation of the wine product and are important for transparency to consumers looking for more naturally produced wines.

But he cautioned, “Certification does not mean you will sell more wine. The quality still has to be there.” A tasting at the end of the day allowed attendees to sample Biodynamic-certified wines from a dozen producers from Northern California and Oregon.

The event sparked some controversy regarding UC Cooperative Extension’s participation in hosting the course, specifically from Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone Vineyards, who writes the blog “Biodynamics is a Hoax.”

For his part, UC Extension viticulture advisor for Mendocino and Lake counties (and Wines & Vines columnist) Glenn McGourty discussed the potential benefits of Biodynamic and organic farming on vineyard soils. McGourty told Wines & Vines, “It’s good to be skeptical; we’re fine with that. That’s part of the scientific process. In my experience, I’ve been looking at Biodynamic farming in Mendocino County for 23 years. People using it have healthy vineyards; they’re making good wines and running profitable businesses, so it’s hard to say there’s something wrong with that.”

– Jon Tourney

The RINSE Project helps wineries reuse bottles

December 5, 2010

Cowhorn Winery in Applegate Valley, Oregon has teamed up with Wine Bottle Renew to establish a powerful new bioregional program called ‘The RINSE Project.’ The project cuts per-bottle cost and reduces wineries’ carbon footprints by recycling used wine bottles and preparing them for industry reuse.

Some 300-million cases of wine are sold in the United States each year and the wine bottles from about 210-million end up in landfills. As the first Southern Oregon winery to ship used bottles through the RINSE Project, Cowhorn Winery aims to help change that and cut its carbon footprint in the bargain.

In addition to cleaning, packing, and shipping wine bottles for winery reuse, the RINSE Project culls bottles that have ‘bloom’ – a clouding of the glass that can cause wine to spoil. The Green Glass Company then  upcycles them into heirloom glassware.
“Biodynamic winemaking is about the purity of both our wine and the way we produce it,” said Barabara Steele, co-owner of Cowhorn Wines and organizer of The RINSE Project. “Winemaking at Cowhorn is a balance of high-tech and high-touch. Wine Bottle Renew uses technology to extend the life of wine bottles by a factor or two or more times. Getting bottles back that are cleaner and greener than new glass is an added value for Cowhorn customers who support sustainable businesses in spades and increasingly won’t settle for less.”

According to Wine Bottle Renew:

  • It is estimated that 60% of a wine’s carbon footprint is in the production of the wine bottle.
  • Using a Renew bottle reduces that production carbon footprint up to 95%.
  • Reuse of wine bottles not only cuts the carbon footprint, but also reduces the amount of glass that ends up in our landfills.
  • The EPA estimates that 70% of all wine bottles are not recycled.
  • Glass in our landfills never breaks down and will be there 5000 years from now.
  • With 10% of landfills being glass, it is our duty to change our throwaway culture and look at reusing and recycling bottles to reduce waste and help our environment.
  • The process of washing a wine bottle for reuse generates less than 5% of the carbon created in the virgin production of that same bottle.
    – GreenLivingPDX