Hidden away in a remote river valley of a region historically known more for gold than grapes is Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden, a boutique Demeter-certified Biodynamic estate winery whose first releases are the toast of The James Beard Foundation, Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women Summit, and Oregon’s emerging eco-culinary scene.
Sharing qualities comparable to the world-renowned Châteauneuf-du-Pape region of France’s southern Rhône Valley, Cowhorn sits alongside Southern Oregon’s pristine Applegate River. The farm is fringed by frontier forests on the edge of America’s great western wilderness and supported by soils that are perfectly suited for Grenache, Marsanne, Roussanne, Syrah, and Viognier. Cowhorn’s classic Rhône varietals result in well-balanced wines with low alcohol and high aroma that express signature subtleties of the farm’s unique soils.
Among the new estate’s early accolades is a 90-point rating from Wine Spectator for its 2007 Viognier, now sold out. In their annual round up of most memorable wines, the San Francisco Chronicle featured Cowhorn’s 2007 Marsanne Roussanne, also sold out, as one of the year’s top 20 “unexpected pleasures.” Portland Monthly told readers to “expect to sample some really excellent vino here.” Cowhorn’s 2006 Syrah and 2008 Spiral 36, a hand-crafted blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier, were recently poured at The James Beard House in New York City and Fortune magazine’s annual women’s summit in Los Angeles.
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, consultant winemaker Ken Bernards, and environmental designer Buddy Williams, Cowhorn planted its first eleven 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 benefits from being surrounded by biodiversity that serves as a natural immune system for the vineyard and gardens. When combined with organic and Biodynamic farming methods, this symbiotic relationship not only eliminates the need for petrochemical pesticides but supports the vitality of the surrounding ecosystem. Over half of the 117-acre estate is reserved for garden, habitat, forest and riparian areas with just 50 acres set aside for vineyards. Only 15 acres are currently in cultivation, including 11 in vineyard and 4 in gardens.
Their gentle approach includes complementary farming practices that create critical habitat breaks and wildlife corridors, leave landscapes untouched and intact, and remove invasive species to give native plants a chance to take root again. At Cowhorn, scarecrows have given way to predator perches that allow river access for raptors who in turn guard the grapes.
Because Biodynamic farming is deeply rooted in the practice of perennial polyculture, crops are selected that pair well in the field and on the table. The first planting of asparagus, their second commercial crop, followed in 2006. By 2007, Cowhorn’s garden was supplying thousands of pounds of fresh asparagus to local markets and co-ops, and its club members were receiving the bounty of the farm’s first food crop with their wine allotment.
Other crops in development include artichokes, pumpkins, specialty corn, winter squash, and a test orchard for apples, chestnuts, hazelnuts, pears, and persimmons. The estate’s hazelnut trees have even been inoculated with European black truffle.
Visit Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden online at cowhornwine.com.