Challenge Accepted — Oregon Wine Press

May 18, 2017

Challenge Accepted

Cowhorn builds first tasting room to LBC standards

Details:

Address 1665 Eastside Rd., Jacksonville
Hours Thurs.–Sun., 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Phone 541-899-6876
Website www.cowhornwine.com

By Maureen Flanagan Battistella

Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden’s new tasting room is a visual manifestation of Bill and Barbara Steele’s personal commitment to sustainability. Seated at the edge of the vineyard, near a rushing stream and under a bluff, the Cowhorn tasting room is an organic reflection of the landscape. Its muted colors harmonize with the setting and the building’s clean, simple lines don’t compete with the lush beauty of its surroundings deep in the Applegate Valley and along its river.

Buddy roams the outside of Cowhorn’s new tasting room showcasing clean lines and natural materials. Photo By Maureen Flanagan Battistella

Completed in June 2016, Cowhorn’s is the first tasting room in the world built to Living Building Challenge (LBC) standards from the International Living Future Institute.

The Steeles’ farm and vineyard are Demeter-certified Biodynamic, so they are no strangers to rigorous standards, transparency and accountability. When they were ready to build a real tasting room, not just a space squeezed into the barn, Bill and Barbara buckled down to identify a building and design company able to execute their vision and reflect their Biodynamic philosophy. The Steeles found Green Hammer, a Portland design-build firm passionate about building green, and integrated progressive sustainable standards into their work, the Living Building Challenge among them.

“We want to create buildings that have no impact [on the land] or buildings that actually give back,” said Alex Boetzel, Green Hammer chief operation officer.

The company’s practice for any build is to work through an owner’s sustainability expectations in conversation and design to determine which standard is most appropriate for that build. It was the Living Building Challenge that made sense to the Steeles and best suited their ambitious vision.

“Biodynamic farmers have an aspirational goal to create a closed system, so we are challenged to minimize the outside inputs we bring onto the property,” Bill said. “The Living Building Challenge is to architecture and design what Biodynamics is to farming.”

The Living Building Challenge standard is based on 20 imperatives organized into seven performance “petals” or areas: place, water, energy, health/happiness, materials, equity and beauty. Every directive within a petal must be met.

“If you are so inclined, you can accept anywhere from one to seven challenges,” Bill explained. “Barb and I, in our wisdom, chose all seven.”

Green Hammer realized the materials petal was the most challenging LBC standard to satisfy.

The back walls are constructed of rusted steel, a clever play on the owners’ last name, Steele. Photo By Maureen Flanagan Battistella

“The core of the materials requirement is that there are 20 compounds that cannot be included in any material component that finds its way into the project,” Boetzel explained, specifically mentioning polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, found in many commonly used products such as hoses, valves and pipes. “Typically, manufacturers aren’t inclined to share information about material components, so there’s a lot of time that goes into product research and follow-up with material suppliers, vendors and subcontractors to be sure they’re willing to cooperate.”

Occasionally, the supplier isn’t even aware of where they’ve sourced their materials, like gravel or water, or which additives have been used. Subcontractors had to be trained to use only materials specifically selected for the project and understand that a bolt or adhesive couldn’t be casually introduced to the worksite because all materials must be vetted.

The LBC standards relate not only to construction, but also to operation and the mandates must be documented and metered for 12 months before certification is granted. For example, the water and energy petals demand the building, renovation or landscape and infrastructure be net positive; the building must collect and treat all water on site and produce more energy than it uses.

Both the Steeles and Green Hammer agree the Cowhorn tasting room will achieve full Living Building Challenge certification. “It will be a year of audits and inspections,” Bill said, but by the end of the year, Cowhorn’s may be the 41st building in the world that will be fully certified, the first tasting room fully certified and the first commercial building in Oregon fully certified.

Cowhorn’s new tasting room is not only sustainable, it is stunning. The building is a beautiful assembly of recycled steel, cork walls that soften sound and insulates, rock culled from the fields and crushed for foundation and roads, and recycled glass. The rock, steel and cork surfaces are visually appealing and also a tactile delight, the contrast of textures evident to the eye and the hand. The white glass backing the bar reflects the vineyard, surrounding hills and forests, inviting the outside indoors.

The Steeles know first hand both agriculture and winemaking entail much work and a mix of science and art. The new Cowhorn tasting room fuses the science of sustainability and the art of design to represent their wine philosophy, their core beliefs.

Oregon’s Best Wines: Syrah — 1859 Magazine

Cowhorn Vineyards 2013 Syrah 21

written by Sheila G. Miller

Until Barbara Steele started  Cowhorn Vineyards with her husband less than a decade ago, she wasn’t much different from the average wine consumer—“For a special occasion we’d buy a $20 bottle instead of a $10 bottle”—until she got into the business and realized she didn’t really know how to make a $50 bottle of wine.

But the founders enlisted top talent, stayed patient, and Cowhorn developed to deliver some of the best syrah in Oregon.

Steele started the farm in 2003 and spent several years getting the property ready—building roads, adding irrigation—before her husband, Bill Steele, came to work the land in 2005. The winery opened in 2008.

“Biodynamic method is a farming method, but it’s also a lifestyle and a philosophy,” Steele said. “I use a phrase that’s often used in the corporate world, the 360 review. … I look at my life and the farm from that point of view—will it be good for the community? For the soil? For the crossflow of critters? Will it be good for customers and the wine club? That’s a really biodynamic way of looking at it. We look at our farm as though it’s an organism, like a whole body.”

Cowhorn’s eco-friendly winery is up for certification through the Living Building Challenge.

One of the keys to making the winery as ecofriendly as it is? The buildings. After living in an old farmhouse and working out of the building, the Steeles built a home for themselves following passive house design. They put the farmhouse on a proper foundation, and it’s still used as a shop—“It’s our welding shop, it’s where our worm bins are, it’s where everything happens.” Then they built the winery building in 2006. Steele believes the building could earn a LEED silver standard certification.

“We also want our people to be in a good environment,” she said.

Now the Steeles are in the process of getting the new tasting room certified through the Living Building Challenge. If it’s approved, it will be the only tasting room in the world to achieve that ambitious standard.

“We’re definitely a mission-driven business,” Steele said. “We really want to show people that there are models of farming that are good for the environment and do work economically. That’s what gets us up every day.”

Plus, she said, the land is “a little magical.” The Steeles enlisted experienced consultants and a soil scientist to help with the wine. “They saw the magic here to make cool-climate wines, to make Rhone wines that are so misunderstood.”

Rhone-style syrahs fall into a few categories—from California’s hot climate to European Rhone Valley wines to Shiraz in the Southern Hemisphere. Then there’s the cooler-climate wines such as Cowhorn’s.

“When you pair biodynamic agriculture with cooler climates, you’re drawing out this nuance,” Steele said. “We’re all about creating wines of nuance, and you get something pretty powerful when you put a cool climate and biodynamic farming together.”

Steele said Cowhorn’s syrahs are similar to northern Rhone Valley wines. “We’re definitely fruit first. We don’t want to make something that is high alcohol or with a high oak finish,” she said. “We are an Oregon winery, and we have an Oregon palate. You enjoy that element of fruit first but at the same time there’s the baking spice and violet and aromatics.”

What’s next? Steele said her team is still getting used to working in a living building. After that’s sorted, the sky is the limit.

Finally a blog on the Preps!

April 10, 2016

For those unfamiliar with the term, the “preps” or “preparations” are the substances that Biodynamic farmers use to tend to specific plant needs. The preps get a lot of attention in the press as the defining feature of Biodynamic farming. While not denying or minimizing their importance, one need only read our website to understand the small role the preps play at COWHORN. So, when the need for a prep application presented itself, we jumped on it and I started writing!

The need arose recently when we were pruning the young cherry trees in the orchard. The cherry trees are three years old now and needed some major cuts to shape them for future years. On the major cuts, we applied a pasted of the prep called “barrel compost.” This paste, made from aged compost and herbs, protects the wound from disease and insects that could enter the trunk at the cut. It also acts as a salve for the wound.

In much the same way a warm compress draws out toxins from a wound, applying barrel compost draws out sap that helps the plant heal. As with most alternative remedies, barrel compost doesn’t act aggressively like a commercial or synthetic paste would. We think this gentle approach assists the plant with healing while at the same time helping to build its natural immune system.

– Barbara Steele

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Energy Trust of Oregon Helps New Buildings Achieve Net-Zero Energy Consumption

June 25, 2015


Path to Net Zero incentives and resources support new commercial construction that exceeds Oregon building code standards. A new offer from Energy Trust of Oregon is helping Oregon building owners design and construct some of the most energy-efficient new commercial buildings in the nation. Iron Horse Lodge in Prineville an example of local company using Pat to Net Zero.

Projects underway across Oregon include a wide range of building types like commercial buildings, low-income housing and rural schools.

“Our goal is to hedge against rising operating costs. This is critical to the economic longevity of our project since our rents are restricted for the first 60 years. Path to Net Zero helps us counter rising costs, and is a key part of our business model,” said Rob Roy, co-operating partner of Pacific Crest Affordable Housing, the developer and owner of Iron Horse Lodge in Prineville. “Things with small cost differentials over code can have large energy-saving impacts. LED lights and lighting controls are good examples.”

Energy-efficient design is already a part of Oregon building codes, but buildings often miss out on additional savings when building materials and systems are evaluated and designed individually rather than holistically.

Energy Trust’s Path to Net Zero tackles these challenges through a whole-building approach, and provides expert advisers throughout the design and construction process and financial incentives to help offset costs along the way. The result: high-performing buildings that surpass Oregon energy building codes by at least 40 percent. That means buildings would, over the course of a year, only consume the amount of energy produced on site.

“This is the future of commercial buildings,” said Jessica Iplikci, program manager, Energy Trust. “Many people don’t realize that commercial buildings consume 40 percent of all energy produced in the United States. We see net-zero design as a game-changer in commercial construction, and Energy Trust is leading the way.”

Launched just this year, eight Path to Net Zero buildings have already completed construction, and 30 additional projects have enrolled.

FROM PILOT TO FULL SCALE OFFERING
Path to Net Zero builds on expertise and lessons learned through a pilot phase from 2009 to 2014. Several pilot projects ultimately received Path to Net Zero certification through the International Living Future Institute, including:

• Chemeketa Community College in Salem
• Hood River Middle School
• June Key Delta Community Center in Portland
• EcoFlats Apartments in Portland

Jerry Vessello, capital project manager at Chemeketa Community College, has seen how Energy Trust’s approach can create an efficient and livable building. “Path to Net Zero allowed us to add natural ventilation and natural lighting which has led to a bright, well ventilated, comfortable and healthy building for our students, staff and instructors.”

MORE SUCCESSES AROUND THE STATE
Projects underway across Oregon include a wide range of building types like commercial buildings, low-income housing and rural schools.

“Our goal is to hedge against rising operating costs. This is critical to the economic longevity of our project since our rents are restricted for the first 60 years. Path to Net Zero helps us counter rising costs, and is a key part of our business model,” said Rob Roy, co-operating partner of Pacific Crest Affordable Housing, the developer and owner of Iron Horse Lodge. “Things with small cost differentials over code can have large energy-saving impacts. LED lights and lighting controls are good examples.”

Bill Steele, owner of Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden in Jacksonville, was able to cost-effectively design an expansion while reducing environmental impact. “We had a chance to minimize our imprint on the Earth, and why wouldn’t you take that chance?” said Steele. “It also seems like the right thing to do from both a brand perspective and a philosophical one. We can show people that it can be done. My old career was in Wall Street and what we’re doing is establishing a market.”

HOW IT WORKS
Path to Net Zero guides project participants through a series of easy steps, beginning with early design assistance and a facilitated design workshop that brings together the building team and an Energy Trust representative. This helps the building owner identify goals and challenges at the outset, with the full building team involved.

Energy Trust representatives then work actively with the design team, providing technical assistance, installation guidance and post-construction monitoring to help the owner pinpoint problems and implement changes.

Energy Trust provides financial incentives at each stage to help offset upfront costs that might otherwise make such an in-depth approach more expensive, particularly for smaller business. Path to Net Zero targets energy-efficiency savings of 40 percent better than Oregon code for most types of buildings. That number represents an interim step identified by the nonprofit group Architecture 2030 to drive commercial development toward a net-zero energy rating by the year 2030. For more information on Path to Net Zero, including videos describing completed projects and instructions on participating, visit the Energy Trust website.

About Energy Trust
Energy Trust of Oregon is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to helping utility customers benefit from saving energy and generating renewable power. Our services, cash incentives and energy solutions have helped participating customers of Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, NW Natural and Cascade Natural Gas save $1.7 billion on energy bills. Our work helps keep energy costs as low as possible, creates jobs and builds a sustainable energy future. Learn more at www.energytrust.org or call 1-866-368-7878.

Additional resources
• Architecture 2030—The 2030 Challenge
• New Buildings Institute—Zero Net Energy
• International Living Building Challenge—Net Zero Energy Building Certification
• American Institute of Architects—2030 Commitment

Nature vs. Nurture

January 1, 2015

January 2015

Do you know what’s in your wine?!
(And should you care?)

By Sara Schneider

WINEMAKING IS A SIMPLE PROCESS, right? Just crush some grapes, and the natural yeast on the skins will start eating the sugar in the juice, producing alcohol. Once the sugar is gone, press the wine off the skins and seeds, let it mellow, then siphon it off the sediment and bottle it.

I’m being simplistic, of course. There’s a little more to it than that. And increasingly – given the mind-boggling technological tools available – much more than that.

Let’s say you’re a winemaker who doesn’t trust the natural yeast to be strong enough to see fermentation through to the end. You can inoculate with a strain of yeast that’s been commercially bred to lend a particular flavor profile. What if you think your wine is too pale? Add Mega Purple or Ultra Red; these color- and texture- enhancing concentrates are derived from grapes, and therefore natural (or so the argument goes). Acidity too low? Add acid from a bag. Alcohol too high? Take some out with reverse osmosis. Wine too cloudy? Clarify it with anything from egg whites to isinglass.

I’m only scratching the surface of the processes winemakers are using these days. And to be fair, they’re turning out some decent affordable wine with these tools. But where on the spectrum of manipulation does a bottle lose its connection to a particular place and time, and become the wine equivalent of a McDonald’s burger?

Voices in the “natural wine” movement, especially strong in the West today, would have it that even the first step away from basic winemaking is a violation. The geek in me appreciates the argument; I love a wine full of the nuances that come through from a special vineyard in a great year. But Mother Nature is seldom a perfect nanny, and I believe that sticking with the purists’ “nothing in, nothing out” mantra is to risk making wine that goes beyond funkiness that’s interesting, to funkiness that’s downright revolting.

A conversation with Santa Cruz, California, winemaker Nicole Walsh assures me that I’m not alone in my position. “I’m not an absolutist,” she says. “I’ll make simple adjustments if I have to. For myself, I could make a completely ‘natural’ wine that’s very interesting even with huge flaws, but I wouldn’t be able to sell it.”

Walsh’s “smart minimalism,” as I call it, is the result of a decade-plus evolution at highly regarded Bonny Doon Vineyard. Collaborating with iconoclastic proprietor Randall Grahm in the early 2000s, she threw every tool in the book at their wine, which quickly grew from a 50,000-case production to somewhere in the neighborhood of 400,000 (including the enormous Big House label). “Additive city” is how she describes those days. Almost as quickly, though, Walsh and Grahm started moving away from intervention – selling the Big House label along the way – in the quest to produce true wines of place (terroir-driven).

Walsh continues to make Bonny Doon wines. But she’s also bringing a gentle touch to her own Ser Wine Company. Her approach is an anachronistic mash-up of tradition and science. On the one hand, she still loves using her feet to punch down the cap on fermenting wine. On the other, when she crushes grapes, she doesn’t just send a prayer to the gods that the natural yeast on them will start – and finish – fermentation. She cultures it to produce a strong “starter” to ensure success.

Wines like Ser – every vintage different, all fascinating – are the reason my hat is off to winemakers who work hard to keep their hands off their wine but know just when to step in with simple adjustments in the cause of deliciousness.

Six minimalist picks

Bonny Doon 2010 “Le Cigare Valant”
(Central Coast; $45)
Savory and earthy (violet notes excepted); plum and dusty berries layered with pepper, black olive, and cured meat.

Cowhorn 2012 Grenache 20
(Applegate Valley, Oregon; $45)
Tart red fruit – juicy Rainier cherries – with crushed herbs, white pepper, baking spices, and mocha.

Deovlet 2011 “Sonny Boy”
(Santa Barbara County; $40)
Earth, pepper, smoke, and mocha on the nose of this Merlot blend give way to cherry, violet, and fresh herbs.

Ser 2012 Cabernet Pfeffer
(Cienega Valley; $35)
Forget your Cabernet reference points – this rare variety is earthy and floral at once. Bright, spicy red fruit (cranberry, strawberry) gets a hit of pepper worthy of the name.

Siduri 2012 Pinot Noir
(Sonoma Coast; $32)
A velvet-packed palate of cherry, strawberry, and orange peel under intriguing cola and forest-floor aromas.

Sojourn 2012 Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir
(Sonoma Coast; $54)
Loam and violet aromas lead to rambunctious cinnamon-cherry with hints of cola

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Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden Breaks Ground on Tasting Room Seeking Living Building Challenge ™ Petal Certification

September 22, 2014

MEDIA ADVISORY for Sept. 22, 2014
MEDIA CONTACTS
Barbara Steele Founder and Co-Winemaker
Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden
barbara@cowhornwine.com
541-899-6876

Stephen Aiguier
Founder and CEO Green Hammer
stephen@greenhammer.com
503-804-1746 x113

The intimate, energy-efficient space is a reflection of owners’ and customers’ values

JACKSONVILLE, OREGON [SEPT. 22, 2014] – Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden, a Demeter-certified Biodynamic® farm and winery nestled along Southern Oregon’s Applegate River, is best known among wine and food aficionados for its award-winning , goliath asparagus and stunning gardens. But now, Cowhorn is making a name for itself in the world of architecture. Its owners, Bill and Barbara Steele, recently broke ground on two buildings designed to meet some of the world’s most stringent green building standards.

“Agriculture is extractive by definition,” says Barbara Steele. “But we do it in a way that leaves the space as good as, if not better, than the way we found it. We want our buildings to follow that same philosophy.”

One of the first certified Biodynamic estate wineries and commercial farms in the United States, Cowhorn has long upheld the value of sustainable business practices. Over the last decade, the Steeles converted the 117-acre estate into an intricate web of garden, habitat, forest, riparian areas, farm and vineyard. Their 2012 Viognier received the second-highest rating by Wine Spectator for a domestic Viognier in early 2014 and won a 2014 Editor’s Choice Award from Wine Enthusiast, garnering a score of 92 points from each publication. Given their commitment to quality and the environment, Barbara Steele says it’s only fitting that when expanding, she and Bill would utilize the most innovative green building technologies.

Working with Green Hammer, an Oregon-based integrated design-build firm, Cowhorn is following the Passive House standard and pursuing Living Building ChallengeTM Petal Certification for a new 2,200- square-foot tasting room. Expected to be 70-90 percent more energy efficient than conventional construction, the tasting room utilizes Forest Stewardship Council®–certified wood, natural daylight and local materials free of harmful chemicals and toxins. Inspired by the Steeles’ personal connection to their wine club members, Green Hammer architect Erica Dunn, AIA, crafted an intimate space for visitors to explore Cowhorn’s award-winning wine. Here, guests will be able to sip wine as they engage with the Steeles, and soak in expansive views of the vineyard.

“Biodynamic farming is really about working to enhance and support the dynamic nature of the first 12 inches of the Earth’s skin (the soil),” says Steele. “When you do that, everything else thrives. That’s how I felt when I walked into [buildings] pursuing the Living Building Challenge. They were dynamic, alive spaces. That’s what we are shooting for.” The Cowhorn tasting room is one of about 20 projects in the state of Oregon to register with the Living Building Challenge, according to the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), which administers the challenge and is also home to Cascadia Green Building Council and Ecotone Publishing.

Additionally, Rhone varieties the Steeles broke ground on a new 2,300-square-foot residence designed by award-winning Green Hammer architect, Jan Fillinger. Designed to meet the Passive House standard, the house will provide an inviting, energy-efficient retreat away from the winery for both the Steeles and their guests. “Without great clients, you can’t achieve a great project,” says Jan Fillinger. “Barbara and Bill have provided specific directives while letting us bring creative vision to the project.”

Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden Tasting Room and Residence Features

Materials
• Absence of all Living Building Challenge red-listed materials and chemicals in the tasting rom.
• Douglas Fir framing materials are FSC-certified.
• Oak flooring, trim and baseboard are FSC-certified.
• All paints and finishes contain low- or no-VOCs.
• Cedar, cork and Cor-ten steel are natural, no-toxin materials.

Water
• Low-flow water fixtures throughout the home.
• Native and drought-resistant plants.
• Bioswales filter silt and polluted runoff.
• All stormwater is managed on site and diverted to the natural landscape.

Energy

• Designed to meet the Passive House standard—achieved with insulation, air-tightness and heat- recovery.
• Designed to be 70-90 percent more energy-efficient than a conventional building.
• Meets U.S. Department of Energy Net-Zero Energy-Ready Home standards.
• Whole-building high-efficiency heat recovery ventilator provides excellent indoor air quality.
• Air-to-air heat pump provides extremely efficient remaining heating and cooling.
• Triple-paned, gas-filled windows meet the standards of Passive House Institute US and Passive House International.
• Heat-pump water heaters meet highest standards for energy efficiency.
• 100 percent LED lighting.
• ENERGY STAR-certified appliances.

About Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden
Currently the only certified organic and Biodynamic winery in Southern Oregon, Cowhorn is among the first certified Biodynamic estate wineries and commercial farms in the United States. Guided by holistic-estate advisor Alan York, who recently passed away, consultant winemaker Ken Bernards, and environmental designer Buddy Williams, Cowhorn planted its first 11 acres of vineyard in 2005. Using state-of-the-art technology, winemakers Bill and Barbara Steele gently nudge native yeast through the fermentation process on a mission to make fine wine with few inputs, going from grapes to glass as purely as possible. Cowhorn’s 25-acre vineyard currently produces about 2,500 cases of wine a year—a mix of Syrah, Grenache, Viognier and white Rhone blends. The commercial farm produces more than 7,500 pounds of produce each year. David Schildknecht wrote about Cowhorn and the 2010 Syrah 58 in Wine Advocate, “… their renditions of Rhone varieties need no longer shy from comparison with any in the world …”
Learn more: www.cowhornwine.com

About Green Hammer
Green Hammer is an integrated design-build firm based in Oregon, creating healthy and inspiring buildings that are designed for people and built for life. Established in 2002, Green Hammer specializes in transforming buildings where people live, work and play, to improve occupants’ wellbeing, financial health and relationship with nature. Founder Stephen Aiguier is a leading green building expert and teacher on net-zero energy and Passive House design principles. The firm has received numerous awards including an Honorable Mention in the 2014 Forest Stewardship Council’s Designing and Building with FSC Awards and Earth Advantage Institute’s 2014 LEED-for-Homes Builder of the Year Award.
Learn more: www.greenhammer.com

– Barbara Steele

Enough With The Rich, Already

August 5, 2014

By: Matt Kramer

drinking out loud column

We all know why expensive things get attention: They make us dream. We’re bombarded every day with stories about expensive homes, expensive artworks, fancy cars and, of course, high-end (or wannabe, anyway) wines.

Now, there’s no sense in decrying either the stuff or the reportage about it. Big money makes good copy. And let’s be honest, a lot of things that cost more often are better.

Is it true for wine? Yes and no. I’ve gone down this road before and have no interest in reviewing old scenery. Suffice it to say that the high price of many wines is often more a function of fashion and recognition than of intrinsic quality. Supply and demand then do the rest of the heavy (price) lifting.

Yet the very real truth is that so many of today’s modestly priced wines are far better than their price tags suggest. You can credit a worldwide application of improved winery technology, better-educated winemakers, a global recalibration of ambition and, not least, a far more sophisticated consumer audience.

But do we hear about these fine but modestly priced wines as often as I, anyway, think we should? We do not. Wine Spectator, for its part, goes to considerable lengths to highlight wines of exceptional value. So it’s not as if attention isn’t being paid.

But there are structural reasons why “local heroes” get less recognition than you or I might think they deserve. A variety of causes are at work: small supply; limited distribution; a producer’s disinterest in, or lack of, marketing savvy; an unfashionable winemaking style or unrecognized grape variety; and, yes, an asking price that just doesn’t demand attention.

Make no mistake: Pricing plays a big role. Increasingly, we live in a world that, consciously or not, wonders how good something can be if it isn’t high-priced. With the possible exception of contemporary art, this is perhaps nowhere more true than with wine.

After all, few wine drinkers are secure in their sense of truly knowing if what they’re drinking is genuinely good. Most wine drinkers either like a wine or they don’t. And if it’s expensive, then they’re either inclined to like it (Psychology 101) or assume that if it didn’t appeal to them, it was somehow their fault for not appreciating it (see “contemporary art,” above).

Allow me, then, to make a few suggestions. There’s a huge world of wine that’s practically begging for attention. And what’s interesting—and this runs counter to what we all imagine as “self-interest”—is that a surprising number of wineshops are actually trying to sell you wines that don’t cost a fortune.

On the face of it this makes no sense. After all, the money is in high margins. Low-priced wines don’t offer such margins, ergo, wineshops only want to sell you expensive wines. But it ain’t so. That’s the amazing thing. Just about every good wineshop I know takes an inordinate, even stubborn, pride in digging for deals. That’s typically why they went into wine retailing in the first place.

After all, there’s no sport in selling high-demand, high-priced wines. Sure, they stock those wines and they’re happy to sell them to you because it’s good (and easy) business. But the sport lies elsewhere—and takes a disproportionate amount of their time and attention, too.

So if you want to know whether you’re dealing with a really good wineshop just look to see if they’re trying to persuade you to spend less. See if they’re trying to coax you into buying this bottle of Lambrusco or Muscadet or Loire red or Greek white or Mendocino County/Santa Cruz Mountain/Sierra Foothills wine. See if they’re offering some high-quality, small-production Oregon wine selling for less than the fancy-dancers (try Westrey or J. Christopher or Cowhorn, to name but three such star attractions).

Look to see if they’re promoting the often amazing deals from France’s Languedoc region, which is awash in overlooked, undercelebrated reds and whites. Southern Italy anyone? The mind (and palate) boggles at the deals pouring out of Campania, Basilicata and Sicily at the moment.

All of these wines, and many more, are not center stage. Their prices are—you guessed it—too low. The producers know it. Retailers know it. And you know it. But that doesn’t diminish their worth as fine wines and, not least, our pleasure in finding and drinking them. The rest is just … publicity.

– Matt Kramer