In this episode of Discovering Wine Country, we are focusing on Biodynamics and Troon Vineyard in Oregon’s Applegate Valley.
This will also be an introduction to Biodynamics, and we will share conversations with several biodynamic vineyard owners.
There will also be a preview of Regenerative Agriculture which we will discuss more in a future episode. Troon vineyard has transitioned to biodynamic and is now the 2nd vineyard in the world to become Regenerative Organic Certified.
Andrew Beedy the Troon Biodynamic Consultant speaks with us and finally taste through some of the Troon wines.
The Applegate Valley
Just north of the California border nested within the Rogue Valley, you find the Applegate Valley AVA. This valley, created by the Applegate River has soils dominated by river sediment. The thing about river sediment is that it is moving and depositing soil and the Applegate River has shifted and moved, so the soils, while all alluvial are different depending on when they were deposited.
The valley is rural, the I-5 with Ashland and Medford sit outside the AVA boundaries along the Rogue River. The Pacific is just 50 miles away to the West, but the Siskiyou Mountains shield the region from the cool marine air.
50 miles long, covering 275,000 acres, the Applegate Valley AVA is home to 18 wineries, and it is spectacularly beautiful.
Troon Vineyard sits in the center of the AVA on the Kubli Bench above the Applegate River.
In the early 1970s, Dick Troon was one of several modern-day pioneers who planted vineyards in the valley. In 2017 Dr. Bryan White and his wife Denise bought the property and began the conversion to biodynamic.
The vineyard is being redeveloped. They replant 10 acres each year due to red blotch, a virus that turns the leaves red and affects the development of the grapes.
As they replant some of the varieties will be head-trained. This gives the vines better protection from the sun and eases the vines’ demand for water. They are also moving toward no-till and are the 2nd Regenerative Organic Certified Winery in the country.
Craig Camp is the General Manager for Troon Vineyard. He has spent over 3 decades working in all aspects of the industry. He is the current Vice-President of the National board of directors of the Rhone Rangers. As you will see, he is passionate about biodynamics & regenerative agriculture in the vineyard.
The property is thriving.
They have beautiful gardens that grow the important plants for their biodynamic preparations, they have sheep that graze, and are planting orchards for making cider, creating biodiversity.
Craig tells us about the part of the Applegate Valley where Troon sits, explaining the geological history of this area in the Siskiyou Mountains.
The Biodynamic Rabbit Hole
Biodynamics was a reaction to the industrial farming that came out of the Industrial Revolution, a time when mechanization and mass production were changing the natural way that farmers grew food.
Farms got bigger biodiversity dropped off and with it, these large fields of one crop were more susceptible to pests and diseases. This created the need for pesticides. Farmers planted the same crop over and over,depleting the nutrients in the soil and creating the need for added fertilizer.
Biodynamics looks at each farm as an ecosystem, not a series of crops or livestock.In this way, the biodiversity of plants and animals work together to keep the farm healthy. It is based on the movement of the sun, moon, planets, and the seasons.
There are 9 specific preparations used to replenish the earth and the ecosystem, keeping the plants healthy as well as the community of healthy microbes in the soil.
Farming has always been based on seasons and teas & early medicines were all made from plants.
All of the chemicals we use, come from resources we have on the planet, we have just removed them from nature by multiple degrees.
The 9 biodynamic preparations
The preparations begin with Biodynamic Preparation #500.
BD #500 is cow manure packed into a cow horn and buried in the earth in the winter months. Over the winter, this becomes a rich soil full of healthy microbes.
A tea is made of this and is it sprayed on the plants when planting or transplanting and is used to help the growth of the roots and build soil structure.
Biodynamic preparation #501 is Silica (finely ground quartz) placed in a cow horn, buried in the spring, and dug up in the fall.
It is sprayed on the plants in the spring and fall to increase vigor while reducing their susceptibility to disease.
The rest of the preparations are applied to the compost pile. Teas are then made from the compost to use in the vineyard or farm.
BP #502 uses the blossoms of the Yarrow Plant, this is said to assist the plants in absorbing nutrients.
BP #503 is made with Chamomile blossoms and is used to stabilize the nitrogen in the compost and stimulation plant growth and soil life.
Stinging nettle is used for BP #504, which is buried through an entire winter and summer surrounded by peat moss. This is said to “enliven” the soil.
For BP #505, ground oak bark is buried in a rain barrel. This preparation is meant to combat harmful plant diseases.
BP #506 is made from dandelions and is meant to stimulate the silica & potassium in the soil.
The juice is extracted from valerian blossoms to make BP #507. It ferments for a few weeks. This is often used for frost protection and is said to stimulate the phosphorus in the soil.
BP #508 is a preparation to help moderate growth and is a tea made of the horsetail herb.
All of these are homeopathic preparations meant to stimulate and enhance the soil. They were based on things that were available on farms at the time and in the specific area.
Vignerons who are growing biodynamically are always looking for new natural solutions that come from their properties. Climates and soils are different around the globe as are pests, so adapting and learning are important.
All of these preparations are environmentally friendly. Do they all work and do what they were intended to do? That is up for debate, but they certainly do not hurt, unlike the chemical pesticides on the market.
They also do not all need to be used. Each place is different and the whole process is meant to increase soil health.
If you listen to the plants they will tell you what they need. Science and Soil samples also help agriculturists by telling them what the soil needs.
You can tell if a wine is certified biodynamic if the Demeter Certification is listed on the label.
We’ve had the opportunity to speak with many biodynamic growers and find out what appeals to them about biodynamic farming.
Bill Steele on Biodynamics
We asked Bill Steele, Former owner of Cowhorn Vineyards, also in the Applegate Valley what was most important to him about biodynamics.
“I think what’s most important to me is 365 days a year I can have people on the property. My friends’ kids, my nieces, my nephews, the dogs, people bring dogs every day…there’s no hazmat suit here. It’s a safe environment, and that’s one of the reasons you see all these birds here. So prior to Barb and I finding the property, it had been left alone for 15 years. So we started with a blank canvas, we’ve been now operating it for 16 years, so it’s documented 30 years without synthetic chemicals. That’s why we have boatloads of birds and boatloads of bees. I think what really floats my boat, well there’s several things about biodynamics, but one of them that’s important is it’s a safe place for people to visit.” Bill Steele, July 2019
You can see more on our 2019 visit with Cowhorn here.
After founding and running Cowhorn for 18 years, Bill and Barb sold the property in April of 2021. The new owners plan to continue farming here biodynamically.
You find that these places are teaming with life. The soil is full of microorganisms, you hear birdsong. The people here also are attentive to the land and the life on it.
Perhaps all that “spirituality” just comes down to a sense of harmony, working with the land, not just on it. Biodynamics in practice helps create an ecosystem where plants and animals thrive. This helps with pest control because you have happier plants. Therefore better-tasting grapes. So it all does factor In.
Rod Windrim on Biodynamics
We spoke with Rod Windrim, the founder & past owner of Krinklewood vineyards in Australia’s Hunter Valley and he had a story for us.
The Hunter Valley can be rainy during the growing season, which is not something most wine regions deal with. The warm damp climate can cause downy mildew, a fungal disease (actually it has been determined that it is a form of algae) that attacks the green parts of the vine and you find it growing like a downy cover on the back side of the leaves. This can cause leave to drop off, which limits photosynthesis on the vine and delays ripening.
(Read more about our visit with Rod at Krinklewood)
When downy mildew sets in fungicides are employed. You can do a preventative spray to put a protective barrier on the leaves or use it after to kill the downy mildew off. These fungicides are often copper-based or phosphorous acid products. I’ve seen some articles suggesting using mineral oils, that straight up tell you that petrochemical oils are better.
Well, in biodynamics, that won’t due. So what was Rod to do? Wave goodbye to an entire vintage?
He spoke with some guys who had been developing a microorganism that eats downy mildew for the organic cotton industry. Rod added these to a tea, sprayed the vines and sure enough, the downy mildew turned a reddish color and fell off the leaves. He was able to save his vintage.
This is what happens when you are determined not to lower your standards and take the easy way out. It’s not easy to be brave enough to do this. Rod tried this, not knowing if it would work. It was a risk and it paid off. As Rod says, the biodynamic head persevered. It’s about
“having the will and passion to fight your way through.”
Back to Troon – Biodynamics at Troon
While visiting Troon, Craig took us to their biodynamic shed. The shed houses the worm bin for vermiculture, their cow horns, and herbs.
It is here that they brew the teas for the preparations in large compost tea brewers. This is also the hub for their irrigation system that pulls in water from multiple wells on the property. The irrigation system is the delivery system for the compost tea.
We also had an opportunity to speak with Andrew Beedy the Biodynamic Consultant for Troon Vineyard.
Andrew has spent his life surrounded by biodynamics.
He studied environmental science & photography and worked on an organic farm, before becoming the Manager at Quivira Vineyards and Winery in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley.
He worked alongside the late Alan York, a prominent Biodynamic Consultant. He now consults with a variety of organic & biodynamic farms and vineyards.
The approach to biodynamics here is not based on dogma. They use the preparations as needed. They have found ways to incorporate new elements into the treatments and they work to source from the property.
On the farms where biodynamics was developed, cow horns and sheep intestines used to ferment some of the preparations were readily available. This is not so now. They are experimenting with using birch bark for the #BD 502, which traditionally is made by sewing yarrow blossoms in a stag’s bladder and hanging it in the summer sun, then burying it in the winter. This takes out the need to shoot a stag or two. Something that when biodynamics was established was a little more mainstream.
We walked through the gardens, where they grow many plants indigenous to the area as well as the plants for the biodynamic preparations. Here also is where you will find the cow horns with preparations 500 and 501 buried. It’s also pretty beautiful and peaceful with a gazebo close by, it makes for a great spot to take in the beauty of the property.
We went to see the sheep, that graze in the vineyard in the off-season. They have a good life here, guarded by the two sheepdogs, Beau & Belle. The sheep live full lives here, they don’t farm them for meat.
They are planting apple trees that they will use for making cider (I can’t wait for that!). They also have a bee rewilding program. They have hives set up for the bees that they don’t harvest honey from. They are creating an ecosystem, and while the grapes don’t need the bees (grapes are self-pollinating with the flowers having both male and female parts), but so many of the other species of plants on the property do need the bees and the apple trees will when they are grown.
This again is about regenerating the health of the property, a property where you didn’t find bees for a while due to all the pesticides that had previously been used.
If you want to learn more about rewilding honeybees you can watch this short film about Michael Thiele who is introducing swarms to habitats where they can thrive called “Rewilding Honeybees“.
Yep, this was yet another rabbit hole that I fell in completely accidentally and after we had finished the video. It’s a bonus rabbit hole, just for those of you reading this.
I should mention the Director of Agriculture, Garret Long, who joined the Troon team last year. Garret is a soil scientist and focuses on the effects of transitioning from conventional to biodynamic farming methods on soil health. He spent some time working at Apricot Lane Farms, the farm featured in the documentary “the Biggest little Farm”. He co-founded Soil Life Services which helps farms monitor soil health and soil carbon. So he is perfectly suited to the Troon way and will help to develop it as they move forward.
This ties into the fact that Troon has become Regenerative Organic Certified, only the 2nd vineyard in the world. Regenerative Agriculture takes all the good stuff from organic to another level. For biodynamic vineyards, the transition is typically easier. In a biodynamic vineyard, the chemicals are already removed and animals and other plants are part of the property to create a biodiverse ecosystem. But it takes biodynamics a step further, it looks at the carbon sequestration in the soil. If you have seen “Kiss the Ground“, you will be familiar with this concept.
Carbon sequestration keeps carbon out of the atmosphere. Everywhere people are trying to find ways to cut down their carbon footprint. One of the largest contributors to carbon in our atmosphere is farming. Carbon is released when fields are tilled. Regenerative Agriculture moved toward a no-till philosophy.
In addition to the no-till philosophy Regenerative Organic Certified also looks at water & soil conservation, animal husbandry, and the human element, the people working on the farm. All of these things have measurements so you can see scientifically how you are doing.
We will be diving further into Biodynamic and Regenerative Agriculture in another Episode. It’s a big subject and this rabbit hole is deep!
We did of course taste the wines! After Craig showed us the property, we sat on the patio and tasted many of the wines with him. They are making some fascinating wines here.
The vineyard primarily is growing Rhône varieties, but you will find Tannat, Vermentino (which is Rolle in the Rhône), and a couple of other outliers like Riesling, and some Italian varietals in their older bottlings.
We tasted multiple wines with Craig, including their Vermentino, the Kubli Bench Amber, and the Estate Syrah.
Troon has changed its labels to have artwork of the plants used in their biodynamic preparations on the label.
There is Yarrow on the Vermentino and the Côtes du Kubli white, Dandelion on the Kubli Bench Amber and Valerian on the Côtes du Kubli Red.
Beyond these wines, they are making Piquette, which is a fascinating beverage that is becoming more popular. Piquette is a lightly fizzy low-alcohol beverage (technically it’s not wine). It uses the grape pomace (that’s the skins, seeds, and stems left after pressing a wine) and adds water to ferment any leftover sugars. This is “reduce, reuse, recycle” in its tastiest form. Their Piquette I sample briefly at a conference, they were sold out at the winery.
They also make Pét Nat of Tannat (a Pét TanNat, they call it, tee hee), a Vermentino in Amphora, Nouveau-Style Carbonic Maceration Grenache, and other really interesting and delicious wines.
The wines here have a vibrance, part of which is the nature of growing in the Applegate Valley and part from the biodynamic methods they use to grow these grapes. The wines are alive and delicious.
Another great feature is their charging station for electric and hybrid vehicles. Free for guests to use, it is yet another way they are being sustainable.
If you are in Southern Oregon, you owe it to yourself to stop in and see them. Take in the patio and enjoy the delicious wines.
Go to their website for details.
Troon Vineyard https://www.troonvineyard.com/
The morning had been clear, but as we left some of the smoke was being pulled in from the fires that had started up the night before due to lightning strikes. The vines were fine, the fires far enough away that the smoke would not cause damage, but it’s a reminder of how fragile our planet and ecosystem are.
What’s coming in Episode 3?
Episode 3 will take us to the California Coast and Santa Barbara. We will explore the beach and the city, then head inland to wine country to explore the 7 AVAs (American Viticulture Areas) and the towns of Solvang, Los Olivos, and Los Alamos.
We also dive into Chardonnay, a variety that thrives in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, with a recipe and pairing!
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.