The organization of AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) in Southern Oregon is a little confusing. The Southern Oregon AVA was created in 2004 as a “super-AVA”, incorporating both the Rogue Valley and Umqua Valley AVA’s. Applegate Valley is a sub-AVA of the Rogue. Umqua Valley also has its own sub-AVA, the little known “Red Hill Douglas County, Oregon AVA”, which was clearly named by a committee.
For our current series we have selected two wines from Cowhorn Vineyard: a 2007 Syrah and a 2009 Grenache Rose. Cowhorn is a relatively young winery that has achieved remarkable success given their youth, and the quality of their wines seems to improve with each vintage. We have always based our wine dinners on the belief that they should be both educational and entertaining. Every once in a while we have somebody like our good friend Ron Grasty or a local winemaker help with the presentation and the educational factor goes way up. Often the emphasis shifts to favor entertainment over education. Including Cowhorn in the mix provides us with an excellent opportunity to enhance the educational aspect of the event.
Cowhorn is a Demeter certified biodynamic farm that planted its first vines in 2005 and produced its first wine from those vines in 2006. We tasted their 2006 Syrah and it was darn good. Good wine from 1 year-old vines? Unheard of? Biodynamic farms consistently produce results that seem magical when viewed through the lens of conventional farming practices. To biodynamic farmers, these results simply make sense.
Biodynamic agriculture initially sprang from the teachings of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), an Austrian “spiritual scientist” and student of Goethe who also wrote the curriculum for today’s Waldorf schools, founded a movement called Anthroposophy and taught new systems and structures for architecture, medicine and social organization, among others. Steiner was cool… and seemed to keep himself quite busy. Cowhorn’s website thoughtfully and articulately explains their approach to biodynamic agriculture. It is worth reading.
The use biodynamic farming practices have risen steeply in viticulture and biodynamic wines have distinguished themselves well. And this drives some people crazy. Consider what I imagine to be the biodynamic inspiration for naming the winery “Cowhorn”: the use of what biodynamic farmers worldwide refer to as “Preparation 500”. Here, manure–filled cowhorns are buried on the autumnal equinox and dug back up six months later on the spring equinox, the first day of spring. The manure is removed and stirred with water in a process called “dynamization”, which creates a vortex that cosmic energy can be funneled into. The homemade brew is then sprayed upon the fields to stimulate the soil, promote root activity and contribute to good bacteria growth… Far out? Or just a practical closed-loop system utilizing agricultural homeopathics?
Will Lyons wrote an article for the WSJ last month where, after admitting to his sympathies for biodynamic naysayers, he declared, “…having tasted numerous wines made using some of the practical aspects of biodynamics I have found they are marked with a purity, silkiness and concentration rarely found in other wines.” Click here to check out his article. Then, if you want a sample of the controversy around biodynamics, read the comments.
Del Rio Vineyards plays a major role in the Oregon wine industry and we will be featuring their 2007 Claret. The vineyard, located in Gold Hill, Oregon in the Rogue Valley AVA, tends more than 200,000 vines on over 200 acres. They supply many of our state’s top winemakers with grapes (Ken Wright, A-Z, Penner Ash, Solena…) and they manage to save a few tons for themselves. Approximately 35% of Del Rio’s grape production is used to make over 10,000 cases of wine each year. Their style seems to be a little more rough-and-tumble-just-get-it-done, and the results are excellent. The Claret we are serving is a deep and well-balanced.
To us it wouldn’t be right to take a trip through Southern Oregon without stopping in at Abacela. Earl and Hilda Jones are the royal family of Southern Oregon winemaking. Abacela was originally founded primarily to pioneer the production of the Tempranillo grape in the US. We have featured their Tempranillo wine at a number of events. Abacela grows at least 15 grape varietals on approximately 80 acres. While the Umpqua Valley AVA is predominantly cooler than the Rogue, Abacela is located in the southern reaches of its district. Earl and Hilda picked a place that afforded them a variety of conditions, soils, exposures, etc., and they have used the diversity of their land holding to great advantage. Abacela has achieved great success pioneering Alberino, the wine we are featuring in this series. They grow this grape on their north-facing slopes to allow to slowly ripen while retaining its natural acidity. This acidity is balanced by a rich fruitiness suggesting peaches and apricots.