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

Save

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

March 14, 2013

wineenthusiast

Cowhorn
cowhornwine.com

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

EssentialNorthwestWines.com
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.)

Save

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 (http://katherinecole.com/voodoo-vintners.html). 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

Save

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

$22.00

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.”

New organic wine label launched in southern Oregon

May 28, 2011

Two southern Oregon winemakers have teamed up to to launch a new organic wine label, called Sullivan/Steele. Rogue wine country’s sole certified-biodynamic winery, Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden, and Upper Five Vineyard, the region’s only certified-organic winery partnered on a limited production of 2010 Sauvignon Blanc. Only 144 cases of the Sulivan/Steele wine, named for Terry Sullivan of Upper Five and Bill andBarabara Steele of Cowhorn, will be released. The organic grapes, grown in Upper Five’s vineyard on the slopes above Talent, were put through their natural fermentation paces at Cowhorn’s Applegate Valley winery. “Sullivan/Steele is just one example of how organic farmers can cooperatively bring better local food and wine to our community,” said Barbara Steele, owner of Cowhorn in a press release. “Our first Sauvignon Blanc is proof that cooperation among commercial organic farmers can produce excellent results both in the glass and on the bottom line.”

– Christina Williams

COWHORN launches The RINSE Project

May 26, 2011

Wine Bottle Renew partners with Biodynamic duo Bill and Barbara Steele to close the loop on wine bottle waste

APPLEGATE VALLEY, OR — COWHORN, the Rogue wine country’s only Biodynamic estate, is partnering with Wine Bottle Renew to pioneer The RINSE Project, a bioregional program that closes the loop on wine bottle waste. Of the 300 million cases of wine sold each year in the United States, 70 percent of the bottles end up in landfills, not recycling centers, and none are being reused–but not for long.

This October, COWHORN will be the first Southern Oregon winery to ship used bottles through The RINSE Project and intends to source from Wine Bottle Renew for future bottlings. The project enables the winery to cut its carbon footprint and per bottle cost while delivering an added value to customers: bottles that are better for the wine and the world.

The RINSE Project solves another growing concern for tiny wineries, bottle bloom, a condition when glass becomes cloudy from over exposure to climatic conditions and can cause spoilage. Small producers are frequently the recipients of discarded bottles that are renowned for bringing wine back to life the wrong way.

Inspired by Barbara Steele, the program is the first of its kind with the possibility of scaling up and will complement the winery’s relationship with The Green Glass Company to upcycle bottles into heirloom glassware. In partnership with The Ashland Food Co-op, COWHORN also maintains a Co-op cork-drop that sends used natural corks to Western Pulp for conversion into reusable, compostable wine packs guaranteed to contain a minimum of 99% recycled content.

The RINSE Project is made possible by transportation partner Agri-Plas, a Brooks, Oregon company that recycles agricultural plastics. Agri-Plas will deliver bottles between COWHORN’s Applegate estate and Wine Bottle Renew’s washing operation in Stockton, California. Additional Rogue Valley wineries are expected to join in and give wine lovers more locations to return used bottles for renewal.

“Biodynamic winemaking is about the purity of both our wine and the way we produce it.” says 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 leading-edge 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.”

“We look forward to partnering with COWHORN and Agri-Plas in helping solve the environmental problems associated with discarded wine bottles,” said Bruce Stephens, CEO of Wine Bottle Renew. “Our process will create clean, cost effective and environmentally sustainable wine packaging to wineries everywhere. We welcome all participation.”

The tiny winery has made a big name throughout its home state and beyond for producing wines of exceptional purity and pleasure. It’s 2008 Spiral 36, a hand-crafted blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier, was an early sell-out in its first year prompting Northwest Palate to make it their “Pick of the Palate” and The Oregonian to name it their number one choice for a perfect picnic pairing. Wine writer Matt Kramer praised its 2009 Spiral 36 as “a rare accomplishment” of “very deft winemaking.”

This year alone, Wine Enthusiast has awarded ratings of 90-points to 2009 Spiral 36, 90 to 2008 Grenache 74, an rich unfiltered red, and 91 to the 2008 Syrah 74

Wine Spectator describe COWHORN wines as “sheer pleasure” and Imbibe magazine picked the out-of-the-way winery as one of ten Biodynamic wines they dig. Portland Monthly told readers to “expect to sample some really excellent vino here”; Seattle Metropolitan named COWHORN among the “top 100 northwest wines”; and The Oregonian called them “eye-openingly good.”

For more information

COWHORNWINE.com
WineBottleRenew.com
AgriPlasInc.com

Sweet sprigs break ground

May 5, 2011

It’s Asparagus Season here at our Applegate Valley estate, when the sweetest springs in the Rogue begin breaking ground in their 2-acre patch between the forest and the vineyard.

In addition to preserving biodiversity as part of our Master Plan, Cowhorn is a perennial polyculture, and asparagus is our first commercial crop each growing season. With over 15,000 plants, of the Purple Passion and Jersey Knight varieties, we expect to pick about 125,000 spears this year weighing in at around 8000 pounds.