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

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.

Cowhorn Winery launches bottle reuse program

January 20, 2011

Cowhorn Winery, Applegate Valley, Ore., 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 U.S., 70 percent of the bottles end up in landfills, not recycling centers, and none are being reused.

The winery ships used bottles through the program 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.

The program also complements the winery’s relationship with the Green Glass Co. to upcycle bottles into heirloom glassware. In partnership with the Ashland Food Co-op, the winery 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 percent recycled content.

Harry & David unveils new wine clubs

December 20, 2010

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

“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 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


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

That bottle can be used again

November 23, 2010

The Cowhorn Winery has always tried to be a good land stewart, recycling bottles. But the owners are taking it up a notch, recycling the bottles through a California company that sterilizes bottles so they can be reused.

Smaller harvest yields better wines

November 1, 2010

Grape harvest down, but wines should be tasty

Rain plunked off of grape leaves in the fields of Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden while, inside, the fruit crackled with the fermentation process.

Harvest of the prominent agricultural crop is wrapping up around the state, and predictions are for tasty wines but reduced volume.

The Oregon Wine Board indicated that the cumulative growing degree day values throughout the state are down slightly from 2008, which it indicated was one of the best vintages for the state. Lower yields, small berries and full flavor development at lower brix levels — a measure of sweetness — have the potential to lead to high-quality, lower-alcohol content wines, according to the initial report. Grapes are still being harvested, so a final report is not yet available.

A relatively dry winter, followed by a comparatively cool and wet spring, prompted some growers to deliberately cut some grapes from the vine early to encourage the remaining ones to ripen. What they are bringing in has some regional growers praising the crop.

At Cowhorn, a boutique winery in the Applegate Valley, vines are not asked to produce large volumes in the first place, explained Bill Steele, who owns the business with his wife, Barbara Steele.

“We’re not a grower but a winery,” he said. “We don’t get paid by the pound. We actually get paid by the bottle.”

The winery wrapped up harvest just ahead of the recent stormy weather, which has brought about 2 inches of rain in the past week. The three-day picking brought in 24 tons of red syrah and grenache and white marsanne, roussanne and viognier.

Wooldridge Creek Winery was bringing in the last grapes on Friday, said Greg Panritz, winemaker.

“What would normally happen in a month happened in six to seven days,” he said.

The pinot, tempranillo and merlot appear to be especially nice, he said, although they won’t know how the wine actually turns out for eight months to a year.

Bridgeview Vineyards still has another week or so go to in its harvest, said Rene Eichmann, vice president and winemaker, but the rain hasn’t appeared to be a major barrier.

“For some strange reason, virtually all of our grapes have made it just great,” he said. Cabernet is the only type that may not be the greatest this year, he added.

It’s been a harvest of discovery, as he has processed dry- harvested grapes and those picked during a near-downpour and found very little difference in the content. The machine used to pick the grapes shakes the canopy.

“It actually shakes all the rain off the grapes, as well,” he said.

Some wineries strive for higher brix, but the lower sugar content this year isn’t a barrier to Bridgeview’s wines, Eichmann said.
“Overall, I’m really happy,” he said.

At Cowhorn, the red grapes landed in large, covered tanks with the skins on, which is what gives the wine its color. The three white types were processed separately in a giant press.

If blended — such as for the Spiral 36 combination of marsanne, roussanne and viognier — they’re combined in a large tank before being pumped into barrels with native yeast. Enough room must be left in the barrels to allow room for carbon dioxide, which is released during the fermentation process. The wine will be transferred to bottles after they’ve had a few months to ferment in the barrels.

Cowhorn is a “biodynamic farm,” so everything possible is done to reduce outside influence — from building using trees or rocks from the property to not using synthetic chemicals.

They spray a light mixture of compost and water, called compost tea.

They also grow a mixture of crops, with asparagus being the second-largest at 5,600 pounds this year. Other items grown on the property include artichokes, cherries and hazelnuts.

Steele said he and his wife were living an organic lifestyle before they moved from California, so the biodynamic approach appealed to them. He also praised how helpful others using the same practices have been.

With the grape harvest complete, Cowhorn turned to tilling between rows, where cover crops of radish, mustard, crimson clover and barley will help to crowd out weeds.

– Patricia Snyder