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.
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.
• 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
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
MEDIA ADVISORY for Sept. 22, 2014
Barbara Steele Founder and Co-Winemaker
Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden
Founder and CEO Green Hammer
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
• 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.
• 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.
• 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
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.
By RACHEL LEVIN
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.
IF YOU GO WHERE TO SIP
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; delriovineyards.com) 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; krisellecellars.com) 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; roxyann.com) 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; cowhornwine.com) is a biodynamic cult favorite among chefs from San Francisco to New York.
Dancin Vineyards (4447 South Stage Road, Medford; 541-245-1133; dancinvineyards.com) has a good pinot, wood-fired pizza, picnic tables — and chickens.
At Quady North (255 East California Street, Jacksonville; 541-702-2123; quadynorth.com), Herb Quady makes killer viognier, syrah and cabernet franc.
Red Lily Vineyards (11777 Highway 238, Jacksonville; 541-846-6800; redlilyvineyards.com) is a lovely riverside spot with rich tempranillos and crisp verdejos.
Schmidt Family Vineyards (330 Kubli Road, Grants Pass; 541-846-9985; sfvineyards.com) 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; serravineyards.com) 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; troonvineyard.com). 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; abacela.com) alone is worth the haul up Interstate 5.
Brandborg (345 First Street, Elkton 541-584-2870; brandborgwine.com) 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.
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.
Punchdowns again this week for Syrah and Grenache. Punch the caps down hard, stir the grapes well. A few of the tanks are dry already.
Finalized Club event menu for Nov 16 Fall Wine Release Party. This year we hired Fulcrum Dining Catering for the appetizers and Barbara will bake us some cookies. Contact us if you are over 21 and interested in joining the wine club.