A new wave of winemakers are adding food crops and animals into the mix
Modern-day photos of wine country depict swaths of green vines rolling over hillsides in perfect, corduroylike rows.
But as bucolic as these images might appear to us, they would look alien to a visitor from centuries past. That’s because, once upon a time, farms were multipurpose operations, with grapes planted alongside vegetable patches and animal pens. Winemaking was just one of the many tasks that fell to the subsistence farmer.
Today, a new wave of local vintners is trying to re-create the Old World way of vine tending, for practical as well as sentimental reasons.
With their meat, eggs and produce, these winegrowers can glean additional revenue from their property without relying solely on the fickle wine market.
In addition, those who use horses to plow their land say that it saves them the money and fuel that would have been spent behind the wheel of a tractor. Polyculture farming, they maintain, enriches their land without harming the environment.
Finally, according to these back-to-the-land winegrowers, biodiversity protects their grapevines. Just as you’re bound to come home with the sniffles if you sit on an airplane with 150 other people, a vast tract planted with a single crop is a sitting duck waiting to be attacked by viruses and bugs. By introducing other crops to their vineyards, these farmers are adding buffers against pests and disease.
But practical factors aside, there’s also the basic truth that wine and food taste best together.
Here’s a look at three Oregon winemakers who embrace this Old World ethic.
A new old way of farming
Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden, Jacksonville
Mid-September through late October, most folks in the winemaking trade are busy harvesting grapes, then sorting, crushing and fermenting them. It’s backbreaking, round-the-clock work. Thank goodness it only happens once a year.
Unless you’re Barbara and Bill Steele (pictured left, in his winery) at Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden in Jacksonville, in which case harvest comes around four or five times a year. Because in addition to growing grapes and making wine, the Steeles farm asparagus, artichokes, corn, squash, pumpkins, watermelons, and cherries and other tree fruits. Oh, and coming next: black Perigord truffles.
Despite the fact that Oregon has a tradition of fruit orchards turned wineries (including Roxy Ann Winery/ Hillcrest Orchard in nearby Medford) — “99 percent of the people who come to the tasting room have no idea that a vineyard can produce food,” Barbara Steele marvels.
But local restaurant chefs know better. Cowhorn Vineyard often teams up with 38 Central, a fine-dining restaurant in Medford, for pairing dinners that match Cowhorn produce with Cowhorn wine.
In addition, New Sammy’s Cowboy Bistro in Talent serves Cowhorn’s renowned purple and green asparagus alongside its wine and has a line on next summer’s crop of artichokes. And the Ashland Food Co-Op and Ashland Shop’n Kart grocery stores sell the southern Oregon vineyard’s vegetables.