Only Hours From Napa, But a World Away

July 3, 2014


Photo Credit Leah Nash for The New York Times

While Napa Valley and Sonoma are renowned for their world-class wines, tasting trips there generally come attached to luxurious digs, spa treatments, $25 tasting fees, Hummer limos and standstill traffic — and all the “no picnicking” pretension that goes with that.

It’s gotten to the point where a thirsty, fogged-in San Franciscan in search of summer sun, stellar wine and hotel rates less than $400 a night has to go out of state, especially when toting two children under the age of 5 and a husband who prefers his fishing rod to the French Laundry.

And so, we headed north to Oregon, not to the well-known Willamette Valley, in the state’s northwest, but about four hours to its south, a sprawling region better known for the “wild and scenic” (as the official designation has it) Rogue River and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland than for the rolling vineyards in between.

We found a relaxed, blossoming wine country with empty roads and crowd-free tasting rooms — some surrounded by strip malls, others by sparkling rivers — pouring excellent versions of an impressively wide range of varietals.

“Oregon is not all pinot,” said Liz Wan, nodding to the persistent misunderstanding that Oregon wine means not just Willamette, but its best-known grape.

Ms. Wan is a walking Wikipedia of wine knowledge who serves as the de facto spokeswoman for a vast wine country without one. She is also a refreshingly rare sort of sommelier in an industry long dominated by buttoned-up white males: a perky Asian-American woman who wears flip-flops and greeted me with a “Hey, girl.” She splits her summers between making wine and overseeing the tasting room at Serra Vineyards and leading rustic inn-to-inn wine-tasting-rafting trips with Rogue Wilderness Adventures, which is how I met her.

“We have 150 microclimates south of Eugene,” she said, pouring me a Bordeaux blend. From Medford and Ashland to Grants Pass and Jacksonville, all the way north up Interstate 5 to Roseburg and teeny Elkton, the region features mountains, high desert and three river valleys, which in turn means a crazy range of climates. Southern Oregon doesn’t grow just one type of grape, but a whole bunch — and really well.

Varietals like chardonnay and cabernet franc thrive in the dry, hot Rogue Valley; pockets of the Umpqua Valley, which is spread across a fault line, excels in Spanish varietals like tempranillo; and throughout, you’ll find albariño, viognier, malbec, gewürztraminer, syrah and, yes, more pinot noir. In the last few years, that diversity — as well as a laid-back scene and, winemakers say, an opportunity to put southern Oregon on the oenophile’s map — has attracted talent from the Loire and Napa Valleys, as well as prominent critics, who have begun handing out high scores and accolades. It also means that this region has a branding challenge. “The best thing about southern Oregon wine is that you don’t just taste the same grape over and over again” is a refrain I heard from local winemakers, over and over again.

For visitors, though, an under-the-radar wine country without a recognizable “brand” can be a boon, offering more accessibility and affordability than you’re likely to find elsewhere.

WHICH IS ALSO TO SAY that not all of the region is pure eye-candy.

A few miles north of Ashland, in the Rogue Valley, we turned right past a Chevy dealership and into Lithia Springs Resort, a remodeled clutch of clapboard cottages set in a manicured garden. We grabbed a map of tasting rooms and headed out. Driving through Medford, we saw more fast-food-chain outlets than pear orchards, which once reigned in the Rogue Valley. That is, until we came across a wildflower-lined hiking trail and, conveniently nearby, the sunny patio at Kriselle Cellar’s new tasting room, where we kicked things off with crisp sauvignon blanc and a cheese plate.

Ten years ago, there were 49 wineries in southern Oregon; today there are more than 150, according to Ms. Wan. And as the number of tasting rooms increases and word continues to spread about the quality of wine being made here, the swilling tourists are just beginning to arrive.

As we wound our way to the Applegate Valley, the Walmarts and Fred Meyers gave way to organic farms and estate vineyards. We pulled into Troon Vineyard, at age 42 the area’s oldest, updated with bocce and hammocks. “It’s snowballing,” said Herb Quady, a scruffy-bearded, second-generation winemaker who consults at Troon in addition to making his own wine. Mr. Quady is a California transplant, having moved here in 2003 after working at the Santa Cruz winery Bonny Doon. “In the last couple of years, southern Oregon wines have had a critical mass of recognition,” he said. “It’s, like, suddenly, we’re a region.”

Before his move, even Mr. Quady fell for the Oregon wine canard. “I used to think it was all lightweight Willamette pinots,” he admitted. “Then I did my research on the microclimates and the soil and the season length, and I was, like, wow. I could make some good wine here.”

Not just good, but really good, we realized as we continued cruising the valley. We visited ramshackle garagistas like Devitt; new rustic-chic Red Lily on the river; Schmidt, an old-timer with acres of blooming gardens; and Quady North, Mr. Quady’s tiny brick tasting room in downtown Jacksonville, a charming Old West town.

Something else struck us about these wineries: They were actually welcoming to children. Everywhere we went, there were crayons and coloring books and toy bins. Grassy lawns beckoned families to spread out a picnic blanket, enjoy a wood-fired pizza and stay awhile.

We found one such spot at new Dancin Vineyards, a mile outside Jacksonville, with a prime view of Mount McCloughlin. The affable, apron-clad owner, Dan Marca, and his wife, Cindy, moved here from Sacramento in 1999 (the vineyard’s moniker is a mash-up of their nicknames). Mr. Marca delivered Italian-sausage-stuffed mushrooms and blistered pizzas to our picnic table; our children, tired of coloring, played around a giant black walnut tree and sunny-yellow chicken coop, while we clinked glasses of the 2011 Septette pinot noir, toasting to a wine country that kids and parents can both love. Three hours north, in Elkton (population 194), Umpqua Valley’s newest American Viticultural Area, approved in 2013, it’s not quite as picturesque. The riverside town offers little beyond a sandwich shop, a dusty diner touting Keno poker and, housed in a nondescript corner building, Brandborg winery, one of southern Oregon’s best.

Tucked by the door was another bucket of toys (score!); we joined just two other tasters at the counter, both of whom, it turned out, were from Napa. One was a farmer who moved there recently with her new family to, as she put it, be “pioneers in a place where it’s still possible, and without $100 million.”

We made our way back down south along the Umpqua River, detouring off Route I-5 to sample spicy tempranillo at Abacela from Earl and Hilda Jones, pioneers of this Spanish varietal in America. Seth Berglund, who was behind the counter, poured us some of everything: viognier, malbec, syrah. He thought the branding dilemma was overblown.

“Everyone in the industry here is stressing: ‘We need an identity! What are we going to be known for?’ ” he said. “Why can’t southern Oregon just be ‘the Valley of Varietals’? I’ve been thinking about making a T-shirt.”

The next day, back in the Applegate, we sought out one last vineyard, Cowhorn. We tried four richly flavored Rhone-style wines and met the owner, Bill Steele, a former Wall Street equity analyst turned longhaired biodynamic winemaker. He, too, said that southern Oregon shouldn’t worry about its branding, but “just keep continuing to raise the bar.”

We grabbed a bottle of viognier, borrowed two glasses and found a hidden path that led to the Applegate River. With the sun beating down and the canyon rising above and not a soul in sight, we decided to strip down and dive in, a full-on family skinny dip. Try that in Napa.

Back in Ashland, we headed up a winding mountain road to Grizzly Peak and our home for our last night: Willow-Witt Ranch, a 440-acre off-the-grid farm run by a couple of 60-something women who promised to let the kids watch the 24 baby goats milk in the morning. The ranch was stripped of all conventional luxuries, lacking even a front desk. But we had a wheelbarrow to cart our stuff, a communal outdoor kitchen (and noncommunal outdoor shower), and a canvas tent complete with two comfy beds for $125 a night.

At dusk, we traipsed through the woods to the overflowing garden and honor freezer to collect our ingredients for dinner (including eggs and a Mason jar of goat milk for morning). By the light of our lantern, we made a fire in the wood stove, started chopping and lined up our loot on the table: a tempranillo from Abacela, Quady North’s syrah, a viognier from Cowhorn, Schmidt’s albariño. As the kids dozed off, we uncorked one, and then another.

Correction: July 7, 2014

An earlier version of this article characterized a varietal found in the Rogue Valley incorrectly. Chardonnay is the grape of Burgundy, not Bordeaux.


Grab a map and tool around on your own, or grab one at your hotel; Applegate, Rogue and Umpqua Valley wineries can be anywhere from three minutes to three hours apart.


Del Rio Vineyards (52 North River Road, Gold Hill; 541-855-2062; offers a bright and balanced syrah and a creamy chardonnay, plus hikes and zumba classes amid the vines.

At Kriselle Cellars (12956 Modoc Road, White City; 541-830-8466; you can hike to Upper Table Rock before hitting the new tasting room for lunch and spicy plum-tinged tempranillo.

RoxyAnn (3285 Hillcrest Road, Medford; 541-776-2315; pours its signature claret in a century-old barn turned tasting room, where workers from the nearby medical center gather for happy hour.

Cowhorn (1665 Eastside Road, Jacksonville; 541-899-6876; is a biodynamic cult favorite among chefs from San Francisco to New York.

Dancin Vineyards (4447 South Stage Road, Medford; 541-245-1133; has a good pinot, wood-fired pizza, picnic tables — and chickens.

At Quady North (255 East California Street, Jacksonville; 541-702-2123;, Herb Quady makes killer viognier, syrah and cabernet franc.

Red Lily Vineyards (11777 Highway 238, Jacksonville; 541-846-6800; is a lovely riverside spot with rich tempranillos and crisp verdejos.

Schmidt Family Vineyards (330 Kubli Road, Grants Pass; 541-846-9985; offers gorgeous gardens and views, an amazing albariño, a focus on Bordeaux varietals, and flatbread pizzas and burgers, too.

Serra (222 Missouri Flat Road; 541-846-9223; has a modern hilltop tasting room often staffed by an assistant winemaker, Liz Wan, who will tell you anything you want to know about Southern Oregon wine.

Troon (1475 Kubli Road, Grants Pass; 541-846-9900; Dick Troon was one of the first to plant grapes here in 1972. Try the signature zinfandel and vermentino.

The tempranillo at Abacela (12500 Lookingglass Road, Roseburg; 541-679-6642; alone is worth the haul up Interstate 5.

Brandborg (345 First Street, Elkton 541-584-2870; is the star winery of the newly established cool-climate Elkton AVA — and proof that not all great Oregon pinot noir is from the Willamette.

Oregon Uncorked (An Insider’s Guide)

May 21, 2014

By Katherine Cole

Cowhorn Vineyard & Gardens

A couple of eco-crusaders conquer Rhône varietals.

They recycle and repurpose their bottles, their corks and their aluminum. They compost just about everything else. They grow herbs and vegetables to supply restaurants and local food banks. They’re certified organic and Biodynamic.Yep, it’s obvious that Barbara and Bill Steele are good people. Visit their property and it’s clear that they’re good farmers, too. But can this couple of former financial whizzes manage a cellar as well as they can work a spreadsheet? Um, yes. These two back-to-the-land-ers make such Rhône-worthy wines that you’ll be singing “Kumbaya” after just one sip.

• Splurge: Applegate Valley Reserve Syrah

• Steal: “Spiral 36” Applegate Valley White (viognier, marsanne and roussanne)

• Fab Find: Applegate Valley Grenache

• Annual Production: 1,600 cases

• Wine Geek Notes: Check out the Châteauneuf-du-Pape-worthy galets (“pebbles”) in the vineyard.

Oregon Tourist Destination

July 22, 2013

Oregon’s Top Tourist & Wine Destinations

Cowhorn Vineyards & Garden

There is a long-running debate in the wine world about whether the end product or the process is more important. One camp argues that the place and process is paramount for both the wine and the fate of mankind (at least in some cases), while the opposing camp argues that as long as the wine is delicious, it doesn’t really matter how it was made. Fortunately for Southern Oregon wine drinkers, Cowhorn Winery satisfies both camps.

Bill and Barbara Steele planted their first eleven acres of vineyards in 2005 and already produce some of Oregon’s highest-rated Rhone varietals to include Syrah, Grenache, and Viognier. In addition, Cowhorn is the only certified organic and Biodynamic winery in Southern Oregon. As if that weren’t enough, Cowhorn’s farming operation produces thousands of pounds of asparagus which it supplies to local markets and coops. For a thoroughly holistic farm and wine tasting experience, make sure Cowhorn is on your list!

New Release – 2012 Spiral 36

May 18, 2013

With the 2011 Spiral 36 receiving 91 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, and a Wine of the Year selection from Wine Spectator columnist Matt Kramer – the 2012 Spiral 36 has some big shoes to fill.  However, as our vineyard matures, it’s teaching us how to make our Spiral 36 even better!

This time around, the rich flavors of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne are tightly entwined, flooding your mouth with tropical and citrus fruit flavors that persist on the palate.  Sip this wine alone or pair it with full-flavored dishes and strong cheeses.  If you can, stash a few bottles for later in the year, when the wine will show even greater complexity.

– Barbara Steele


Five Must-Try Northwest Wineries You’ve Never Heard Of

March 14, 2013



The Pacific Northwest is heating up. Try these wines now.

“A biodynamic producer tucked away in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley, tiny Cowhorn focuses on Rhône-style white and red varietal and blended wines. Each is distinctive, with thrilling detailed flavors unique to the site. Bonus: Bottle prices are modest.” – Paul Gregutt.

An Interview With David Schildknecht, of The Wine Advocate

February 24, 2013
Part 5: Picking the Best Northwest Wine Discoveries
By Cole Danehower

Cole’s Question: What were your overall impressions of Oregon and Washington wine before taking on the assignment of reviewing them for The Wine Advocate? How has that impression changed now that you’ve been tasting the wines more formally?

David’s Answer: How about it I offer you a before-and-after scenario by wine category, to keep things straight?

I knew ever since tasting David Lett’s 1975 South Block – which was when it had been in bottle for around a decade and I had recently started selling David’s wines in DC, where he visited me on a couple of memorable occasions – that Willamette Pinot could be sensational. (Mind you, as I do like to point out – not meaning to take anything away from four decades of Oregon accomplishments – nobody has made a Willamette Pinot any more profoundly, hauntingly, complexly delicious since.) And in the course of many hundreds of Willamette Pinots I tasted in the decade prior to taking on this reporting gig, I came to consider a number of estates capable of world class performance. Naturally, I also experienced many unexciting or problematic essays in this finicky grape, such as I’m used to from any other place where it is seriously grown, most definitely including Burgundy.

After tasting extensively with 85 growers or winemakers this summer and tasting samples from more than 60 others, I was most struck by two aspects of Willamette Pinot Noir. First, I was thrilled to learn how many among estates producing fantastic Pinot were ones with which I had been completely unfamiliar. I mean the likes of Ayoub, Brittan, Le Cadeau, Colene Clemens … even Arterberry Maresh because I knew about the family’s significance and dimly recalled some of Fred Arterberry’s wines but had no inkling about the amazing accomplishments of young Jim Maresh.

Naturally you can see if you read my report how many estates tremendously impressed me with their quality; I mentioned these five just now simply as ones for whose stellar performances I was completely unprepared. The second thing that struck me was the frequency and degree to which – at least as much as in any other Pinot region I have studied – quality and price diverge.

There’s a down side and then a welcome aspect to this. On the down side, there is quite a bit of merely good but not especially distinctive, let alone exciting Pinot Noir – which includes the generic, largest bottlings from many prestigious wineries, cuvées too-often arrived at by blending all of the barrels that didn’t make the cut for single-vineyard bottlings and tasting correspondingly a bit jumbled and second-best. On the up side, there are quite a few folks offering terrific value.

I had known Tad Seestedt and his Ransom wines for half a dozen years, but the outstanding values from Aberrant Cellars, J. Daan, and Illahe, for instance, were new to me. I was familiar with the excellent value offered by basic bottlings from Evesham Wood having known Russ Raney for a decade but even though I knew Doug Tunnell and knew of J. Christopher and Patricia Green’s wines, I was unprepared for the outstanding value of their entry-level cuvées. I mean, if you crave fine Pinot, getting something excellent for $30 or less is a real exception to the worldwide rule. In my experience it’s no more likely to happen in California, New Zealand, or Germany than it is in Burgundy.

When it comes to Willamette whites, my impression that they were a very mixed bag and works in progress was confirmed. But I’m happy to emphasize the “progress” part of that, even when, for instance, I don’t find most of the Pinot Gris to be very distinctive – and certainly don’t see any virtuous common thread. There are enough exciting whites to make one realize that the potential is there, and what especially shocked me was that the best Chardonnays were far and away the most delicious Willamette whites I tasted, some profoundly so. I knew how good Eyrie’s were but I thought they were the exception. Ayoub, Bergström, Brittan, Brick House, Cameron, Evening Land, Ponzi … that’s a lot of Chardonnay to be blown away by! (And others are impressive, too.)

Many of the folks behind these wines – starting with Dominique Lafon some years ago – told me they believe in a great future for Willamette Chardonnay and now, so do I. I suppose it’s because this grape isn’t one from which I expect much other than in a few select places on earth that I failed in the past to be sufficiently curious or attentive. And even if only a few wineries showed me exceptional sparkling wines – Analemma (not yet released), Argyle, Soter, Syncline – I am quite convinced that the potential for this genre is huge and I’ll be doing my best to get more wine lovers to take it seriously.

Another way of positively approaching Willamette whites is simply to conclude that more growers need to conscientiously and creatively pursue more and varied options so as to more fully explore what’s possible. Which brings me to another of the biggest and most exciting surprises of my Northwestern experiences this year: namely the quality exhibited by a handful of Willamette Syrahs. Nobody would dream of another cépage usurping Pinot’s place in this valley … or at least not – I would predict – until we get so far down the path of global warming that what grapes grow best where will seem trivial in comparison with the existential questions we’ll be asking ourselves! But if you can grow wines like those I tasted from Amalie Robert, Brittan, and Matello it would be a crying shame not to encourage them to persevere and others to experiment more with Syrah. Speaking of which, while from my limited experience they seem to be singular in the South, Cowhorn’s Syrahs – and indeed their full range – were tremendously impressive: what a diversity to issue from a single winery and vineyards within a relatively small radius!

And before I get off the subject of pleasant Oregon surprises, I had some experience with excellent wines from the Columbia Gorge but I wasn’t prepared for the diversity or for the quality of the best of these. I spent only half a day on a whirlwind tour of the area and tasted most of the wines in one-hour sit-downs with the proprietors but I’m psyched for further exploration. And Teutonic Wine Company deserves special mention for crafting wines whose low-alcohol ilk very few Germans (notwithstanding this winery’s name) would attempt, and which would surely surprise any taster (very pleasantly in my case) who wasn’t already familiar with them.

Whew – that was a long litany and I’m only now coming to Washington! As I mentioned, most of my experience of Washington State wine was very dated. But like Oregon, I can certainly claim to have staunchly defended this State’s potential for vinous greatness back during a time when most consumers (to paraphrase Bob Betz’s true anecdote) wondered which side of the Potomac they grew on. I was inspired as a retailer by meeting and selling the wines of David Lake and Rick Small back in the early years of their pioneering work. Limited experience with some relatively recent wines from Cayuse and Leonetti had demonstrated to me at an outstanding level of quality the stylistic diversity present in Washington.

After having this year tasted with 78 producers and sampled wines from more than 90 others, I found that both their quality and stylistic diversity exceeded my already optimistic expectations. Here you have growing cheek-by-jowl Bordelais blends comparable in quality to those in Napa with Rhône varietal blends as successful as any from California’s Central Coast.

And when it comes to Washington whites, the picture is downright improbably positive. I’ll be the first to admit a difficulty in wrapping my mind around the notion of deliciously-balanced and refreshing Riesling growing under irrigated desert conditions and often practically around the corner from Bordeaux and Rhône cépages. But there’s no denying if you taste with an open mind that it happens! And with Riesling, too, I was impressed by increasingly diverse styles, as witness for example recent bone dry “experiments” from Buty and Figgins. True, there seems to have been a dropping-off in serious attention paid to white grapes by those who make and discuss Washington wines, but if one looks at the successes of the folks who have persevered, I certainly hope white’s are going to bounce back. Consider the Sem-Sauvs of Buty or Fidélitas, DeLille’s Roussannes, Marsanne from Maison Bleue; the Reynvaan, Syncline, and Waters blends; Viogniers from Cayuse, K Vintners or Mark Ryan or Stevens. That’s an awful lot of excellence and stylistic diversity on display. (Though, considering the stunning quality of the top Willamette Valley Chardonnays, it’s interesting that I couldn’t get excited about any of those from Washington. If memory serves me, I tasted only one I thought merited more than an 89 point shorthand rating.)


BD Wines in Oregon

January 28, 2013

Biodynamic farming is a mysterious beast, and many people in the agricultural world file it away as an old wives’ tale. However, there are a growing number of Oregon farmers—especially in the winegrowing community—who consider biodynamics to be the holistic path to healthy farms, a greener world and better products.

Though considered a recent movement in Oregon, biodynamic viticulture is nothing new. For thousands of years, farmers have made farming decisions based on the phases of the moon, stars and planets. These farming practices have been passed down by generations and refined to what we now call biodynamic farming.

As a documented farming technique, biodynamics only dates back about a century—to philosopher and social reformer, Rudolf Steiner. In 1928, Steiner began devising a farming philosophy that focused on natural biodiversity within a poly-culture (an isolated environment that lives off itself and is not influenced by outside elements). He highlighted the need to understand the ecological, energetic and spiritual aspects of farming. In the view of those who believe in and practice biodynamics, the farm is seen as a living organism with its own cycles, energies, and life forces.

Biodynamic farming is organic and does not incorporate the use of any pesticides or fertilizers. Harvest time, pruning and other crucial farming decisions are based on the cycles of the moon and planets—which is not the case in conventional organic farming. Another way in which biodynamics is different from organic farming is the use of “nine natural preparations.”

For one of these preparations, a spray is made out of crushed, powdered quartz. Powdered quartz is stuffed into a cow horn and buried in the ground during springtime. Come autumn, the horn is retrieved and its contents are mixed with more quartz powder and water—creating a liquid that will be sprayed over the vines during the rainy season to prevent fungal diseases.

Other preparations include the use of yarrow blossoms, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion, valerian flowers, horsetail and cow manure. For a wine to be labeled “biodynamic,” it must meet the stringent standards of the internationally recognized certifying body, the Demeter Association, which includes the incorporation of all nine biodynamic preparations.

Doug Tunnel, proprietor and winemaker for Brick House Vineyards in Newberg, is one of a handful of highly acclaimed biodynamic producers using the method on his Chardonnay, Gamay noir and Pinot noir vines. Tunnel began farming organically in 1990, switching over to biodynamic in 2005. “It was really a very natural outgrowth—an extension of our commitment to farming in a particular way,” says Tunnel. He believes that there is convincing science supporting the theory that soils farmed biodynamically have greater microbial diversity than conventionally and organically farmed soils. Rudy Marchesi, owner and winegrower at Montinore Estate in Forest Grove, began farming his vineyards biodynamically in 2003. “I wanted to see if we could improve the performance of a couple of vineyard blocks that, for no apparent reason, were not doing well,” says Marchesi. “We saw dramatic results the next spring, and were motivated to expand the practices to the whole farm.” Since then, Marchesi has implemented the farming philosophy into his entire vineyard—which grows Pinot gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Muller Thurgau, Teroldego, Largein and Pinot noir.

The trend has taken on a life of its own with other notable Oregon producers like Soléna, Belle Pente, Bergström, Cowhorn, J. Christopher, Maysara, Beaux Frères and Scott Paul, with each winery making biodynamic winemaking an essential part of their farming practices.

So, how do the wines taste as a result of biodynamic farming? The jury is still out, and early opinions vary. “I believe biodynamic farming makes wines that are more transparent and true to their origins—to the legacy of the land in which they are grown. If its soils are well cared for and full of life, the farm’s vineyards or orchards will be healthy, too. Healthy plants, healthy fruit, healthy wines,” says Tunnel.

Katherine Cole, wine writer for The Oregonian, literally wrote the book on biodynamic viticulture in Oregon with her 2011 book, Voodoo Vintners ( In the book, she discusses the history of biodynamics and how and why it has taken root in Oregon. Cole isn’t entirely convinced that there is a marked difference in taste between biodynamically and straightforward organically grown wines. Cole does, however, recognize that her personal preferences for wines oftentimes lean toward the biodynamic variety during blind tastings.

She also notes that there is, in fact, scientific evidence pointing toward higher quality fruit through use of biodynamic preparations such as sprays. “Anecdotal evidence tells me that the biodynamic preparations, or preps, are effective, but until more rigorous studies have been conducted by academic researchers, I hesitate to wholeheartedly endorse them,” says Cole.

As biodynamic farming gains traction in winemaking, the back-to-basics mentality for which Oregon is becoming known, inherently grows. This trend—the artisan, local, additive-free lifestyle—is one to watch. Did our forefathers have all the tools we need to succeed? The soil, and of course the wine, will reveal the answer in time.

– Jennifer Cossey


Fall 2012 Releases

November 15, 2012

Check out the details of our three new releases: 2009 Syrah Reserve, 2009 Syrah 80 and the 2011 Marsanne Roussanne.

2011 Marsanne Roussanne
If other white grapes are violins, Roussanne and Marsanne are viola and cello – able to sing just as sweetly but in a lower, more resonant register. In this wine they make beautiful music together, blending the flavors of ripe pears and clover honey with the darker sweetness of hazelnuts and almond butter.

The finish is remarkably light and clean, showing the natural balance our Biodynamic vineyard brings to full-flavored grapes. 100 cases


91 Points: Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

2009 Syrah 80
More than ever, this Syrah validates our decision to plant a grape that was distinctly unfashionable. At its best, Syrah can pack masculine power into feminine sensuality and wrap bright blueberry sweetness in dark earthy hedonism, filling every corner of your mouth with something delicious.

That’s what we aim for, and – despite all the weather challenges and 80 hours of frost in 2009 – our Biodynamic vineyard gave it to us, along with plushness, bright acidity, and beautiful balance.
630 cases. $35.00

92 Points: Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

2009 Reserve Syrah
At Cowhorn, we take the “Reserve” label seriously. This wine was literally reserved from our Syrah 80 in 2009 because it had its own personality. The luscious fruit flavors include blackberries and cherries up front and blueberries past the mid-palate.

Generous oak aging layered in dark chocolate, vanilla and baking spices, gives the wine a harmonious intensity. 100 cases. $45.00

2 Bottle Purchase Limit – Excludes Club Cowhorn Members

93 Points: Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

A Sauvignon Blanc for sunny days

June 18, 2011

Sullivan/Steele 2010 Sauvignon Blanc delivers the promise of summer: something new, something fruity and something that tastes like you’re on a vacation in the Loire Valley.

New: The label represents the debut of a collaborative enterprise by respected winegrape growers. “Sullivan” stands for Terry Sullivan, who grows certified organic grapes at his Upper Five Vineyard in Talent. “Steele” recognizes the contributions of Bill and Barbara Steele, the respect duo behind Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden in Jacksonville.

This is the first time the Steeles have made wine from grapes not grown on their Biodynamic farm. And this is the first time Sullivan, who first planted vines in 2003, has bottled under his name. When Sullivan was freed from a commitment to sell some of his grapes from the 2010 harvest to another winemaker, the Steeles asked to work with him to create a Sauvignon Blanc that represented the Rogue Valley.

Fruity, French: Sullivan and the Steeles share the philosophy that the terroir dictates the varietal. This wine is fruitier, more rounded and true to the French style than austere New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.

Sullivan grows Tempranillo, Grenache, Syrah, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc at 2,000 feet. “If grapes were problematic,” on his land, Sullivan says simply, “we would grow something else.” (You can read more about his organic vineyard and his approach to neighborly farming at a story published before these grapes were harvested: Pre-harvest party to cheer on the grapes.)

Fleeting: Like summer, there is a limit to this wine. Only 144 cases were made.

Sullivan/Steele Sauvignon Blanc ($22) is available at the Ashland Food Co-op, Harry & David Country Village in Medford, select restaurants, Cowhorn’s Tasting Room and website.

– Janet Eastman


Is biodynamic wine better?

June 4, 2011

Recently I’ve noticed more wineries touting their product as “biodynamic” — Oregon’s Cowhorn and Santa Barbera’s Ampelos Cellars are among a growing list of West Coasters that have joined the ranks of French vintners who make that claim.

“Biodynamic” is a sexy sounding term. But what the heck does it mean? I always assumed it was some sort of “super-organic” designation.

Turns out the term is a little more complex and controversial than that.

Grape-growers and all other farmers have to follow the rules of Demeter International in order for them to label their products as biodynamic. (Pat yourself on the back if you dug deep into your classical names memory bank to recall that Demeter was the Greek goddess of grain and fertility.)

Demeter International, established in 1928, is a certification organization that uses rules of production and processing to determine if a wine, sheep, corn stalk or loaf of sourdough bread gets the “biodyanmic” label. It’s hard to get Demeter’s stamp, and it must be renewed every year.

Underlying the biodynamic movement is a controversial European named Rudolf Steiner, who in the 1920s created a philosophy calledAnthroposophy. Without getting into too much detail, Steiner’s theories were a strange mix of spiritualism, philosophy, unproven maxims, folk practices and other strange ingredients.

Demeter has brought more respect and logic to the biodynamic farming movement. According to its website, it aims for farming that’s regenerative, not degenerative: “The waste of one part of the farm becomes the energy for another, that results in an increase in the farm’s capacity for self-renewal and ultimately makes the farm sustainable.”

Still, there are some strange practices that involve burying cow horns full of manure, stinging nettles and other things in fields for an entire season then later spreading them over your acreage.

I visited Windrose Farm near Paso Robles last month for a firsthand look at the process. OwnerBill Spencer (right) is in the process of going biodynamic.

“It’s really just common sense. Nature tells you what to do if you listen,” Spencer told me as we walked around his green fields.

Spencer uses free-roaming chickens to combat bug pests. More than half of his 50-acre property is either in fallow or uncultivated; the rest is in vegetable rotations, fruit orchards and sheep pasture. Nearby ranches and farms are organic. “You have to be part of a working ecosystem in order to be biodynamic,” he said.

So does biodynamic wine-making improve the taste of wine? Wine guru Robert Parker is a fan, as are many other influential voices in the industry. Others are more skeptical.

“I called it ‘voodoo organic,’ said Rick Webster of Rolf’s in Newport Beach. “Sustainable farming is good. But when they start talking about he lunar cycles and the steer horn buried in the ground, I have my doubts. It’s a very strong thing in Italy and other parts of Europe, and I know Grgich and Harlan and others are really getting into it here in California.”

Biodynamic vintners take the process seriously, Webster said. “They get very defensive when you make jokes about it — you know, asking them if they’re dancing around in circles and swinging a chicken around their head. But the guy who sells the manure in the horn is probably making a fortune out of all this.”

Some biodynamic vintners raise their prices because of the costs of the process, according to several sources, but Webster says that shouldn’t be so.

“Cost shouldn’t be a factor. Chemicals cost a boatload, but steer manure and ladybugs don’t.”

Despite his skepticism, Webster concedes to Parker on the issue of taste.

“I haven’t done a blind taste test of biodynamic wine to other wine. I assume he has. Ultimately I trust what Parker has to say. He’s a smart guy, and unlike many wine writers he’s not in anybody’s pocket. If he claims there’s a difference in taste, there’s probably something to it.”