A couple of weeks ago we attended the Virtual Wine Media Conference, the in-person event was originally supposed to be held in Oregon. Sadly this event was canceled due to COVID so Zephyr Conferences decided to create a virtual conference. They partnered with the Oregon Wine Board to have a virtual tasting.
We received two samples one from Troon Vineyard in Applegate Valley AVA and one from Winderlea in Dundee Hills AVA, in the Willamette Valley.
Wine Conferences during a pandemic
We usually get to take our own pictures of the vineyards and the people we talk to, but since we were on the computer, we have access to the pictures from the presentation to give you some perspective. The real bottle shots are ours. SO that being said, let’s get going!
These were samples sent to us for this tasting, however all opinions are own.
Biodynamics in farming
First a little about Biodynamics and why it should matter when you look for a bottle of wine. We have created a page where you can read more about biodynamics. Now for the short version. There are a couple of ways people talk about Bio-dynamics. Most critics use the Voodoo and spiritualism of the creator Rudolf Steiner to discredit the whole practice.
Rudolf Steiner lectures on biodynamics and the treatments were brought about in response to the bad soils that had been created by the chemical companies. These lectures advocated for a return to a more naturalistic form of farming. These lectures were meant for farming in general, and not really for wine farming, but the practice was meant to return health to the soil.
The theory of Biodynamics was truly developed after Rudolf Steiner’s death and is really based on past farming practices, very much like the Farmers Almanac, when you get down to its timing and Farm Practices. We have found that most people who go Biodynamic do so because it creates an Ecosystem that creates a healthier environment not only for the vines and the soil but insects and pest control systems that thrive and keep the entire Farm Healthy, including the people. There is a spiritualistic side but that is a topic for more in-depth analysis at a later date.
As I said you can read more on our page. But for this discussion, we will tackle just a couple of reasons for going biodynamic that these two wineries use. The first concept is you farm better. The way biodynamics really shines is the attention to detail, the use of organic manure, which created healthier soil and in turn healthier vines, in turn, healthier grapes, better wine.
Biodynamic Oregon Wines
Sally from the Oregon Wine Board was the host for this wine tasting, and she was hosting from Troon Vineyard.
Sally is a 4th Generation Oregonian. She started us off with a little background on the Oregon wine region as well as their two newest AVAs.
She then introduced Craig Camp from Troon Vineyards who has spent 35 years in the Industry, as well as Bill and Donna of Winderlea.
She talked to us about each of the AVAs where these wine were produced.
Oregon Wine Region Stats
Oregon now has 800 wineries within 21 AVAs with the addition of Tualatin Hills and Laurelwood District AVAs both in Willamette Valley AVA approved in June 2020.
We head first to Southern Oregon to Troon, to taste the Kubli Bench Amber.
Troon is in the Applegate Valley, which is a nested AVA within the larger Rogue Valley AVA. It was established in 2000.
There are 20 wineries in the Applegate Valley, 2 of them are biodynamic; Troon and Cowhorn. These two vineyards encompass 10% of the AVA’s area.
Applegate Valley Stats
Applegate Valley’s wine history began in 1852 when an early settler named Peter Britt planted wine grapes. In 1873, he opened Valley View Winery, Oregon’s first official winery. Valley View closed in 1907; then Prohibition hit.
It wasn’t until the 1970s after modern pioneers began discovering the neighboring areas’ quality wine growing conditions, that the Applegate Valley experienced a resurgence of winemaking. According to Dr. Gregory Jones, climatologist and director of Environmental Science and Policy Program at Southern Oregon University where he focuses on suitability for viticulture,
“The Southern Oregon American Viticultural Area (AVA) offers the most diverse growing conditions in Oregon and arguably in the United States.”
From Oregon Wine Board
- Willamette Valley
- Chehalem Mountains
- Tualatin Hills
- Laurelwood District
- Ribbon Ridge
- Dundee Hills
- Eola-Amity Hills
- Van Duzer Corridor
- Southern Oregon
- Umpqua Valley
- Red Hill Douglas County
- Elkton Oregon
- Rogue Valley
- Applegate Valley
- Columbia Gorge
- Columbia Valley
- Walla Walla Valey
- The Rocks District of Milton Freewater
- Snake River Valley
Troon Vineyard in Applegate Valley
First, we spent some time with Craig Camp as he explained his history, a little about why Troon went Biodynamic, and then about their Amber (orange Wine)
“Troon Vineyard is dedicated to regenerative agriculture and Biodynamic® agriculture in our quest to put back more than we take from our plants and soils. We believe the only route to memorable wines, that reflect the terroir of where they were grown, is to be found in the healthy soils and vines that are the foundation of Biodynamic® agriculture.”
Craig Camp is GM of Troon Vineyards and has worked in the fine wine industry for over thirty-five years. He co-founded Direct Import Wine Company in Chicago, an importer, and distributor of estate wines from France, Italy, Spain California, Oregon, and Washington.
Craig moved to the Applegate after having worked in Napa for 10 years. He moved north to grow Rhone’s.
The Troon vineyard is one of the oldest in the area, planted in 1972 by Dick Troon. The Troons sold the property and it was farmed Industrially and ended up with hard soils as hard as concrete and vine diseases.
Craig joined the vineyard and began farming biodynamically to help the vineyards recovery and they were certified biodynamic in 2019.
Craig came into biodynamics as a skeptic. They look at this as a “framework to regenerative agriculture”.
The heart of the process is compost to use as a probiotic. Luckily there is a large organic dairy farm next door. They just ordered 800 yards of manure. They make 200 tons of compost.
Troon Vineyards have this Planting Video on their Site.
“The Klamath mountains surround the valley to the west protecting it from the cooling air and rain from the Pacific Ocean”
The Applegate river greatly influenced the development of soils in the region, resulting in deep, well-draining stream sediments, including granites.
They sit at 1400 feet and the season is shorter, but on the longest day of the year, they get 70 minutes more sun than Napa Valley.
During harvest, the days shorten causing photosynthesis to stop allowing them high acid and lower sugar levels.
Soils here are not volcanic, rather the movement of the tectonic plates influences the geology of the region. You find decomposed granite and well as river and ocean sediment.
The Vineyard had red blotch virus and has to be completely replanted. They did soil pits and had scientists come in (Biomakers from Spain) to do genetic sequencing on the soils. They do this now every year, keeping the data to set a benchmark for the science of biodynamic farming.
Doing this over the next several years they can then track the science behind Biodynamics. The soil is changing here, the microbiology increasing. The plant biology is increasing and the fermentations much healthier.
They will replant every vine.
We are tasting the Kubli Bench Amber tonight. This is a blend of Riesling, Vermentino, and Viognier. The first Amber they did was from Riesling, then they did another from Vermentino and found that this blend works best. The Riesling is not long for this world. It is not meant for the climate and will soon be torn out and replaced.
This wine is 13.3% abv, pH 3.51, TA 6
Food pairings with this wine range from Sushi to steak. Ambers are very food-friendly and can pair with a wide variety of foods.
We paired this with Sushi while we tasted and of course, this paired perfectly. Riesling generally pairs well with most foods.
It is 74% Riesling, 16% Vermentino and 10% Viognier.
The Riesling has high phenolics, encouraged by ripening the grape skins.
The Kubli Bench is a small 5-mile by 2-mile plateau. It is the bench of the old river with a 25 to 30-foot cliff down to the Applegate River.
The pH levels here are low. Their pet nat of Tannat has a pH of 2.9 with 9 grams of TA (acid).
This wine is part of their Kubli Bench Blend series of red, white and now amber. The varieties for this blend are fermented separately and are farmed as you would red wines. These are in 1-ton fermenters on the skins and native yeast fermentation. They foot trod them and it is 3 to 4 days before fermentation kicks in. In 3 weeks this wine is fermented to dryness.
They use neutral oak and age 6 months on the lees, then blend them.
They also do an amphorae amber. This is also on the skins and stems for 10 months. At the time of our tasting, this had just to press. It is done in a Georgian style, not excessive VA. They like their wines clean, from healthy grapes and these go into the Tuscan Amphorae.
The amphorae is more aggressive and tannic and ageable, while this one is more forward and fruity. The Riesling has one more year.
They just planted Grenache Gris and Terret Blanche, that they ordered 2 years ago.
With the dry climate, they have fewer pest issues.
They have 3 amphorae from Andrew Beckham and will get 2 more next week.
They replant 10 acres each year. In 3 more years, they will be completely replanted.
Winderlea Vineyard in Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley
Winderlea is in the Dundee Hills. Donna Morris and Bill Sweat
There are more than 500 wineries in the Willamette Valley. The first of which was planted in 1965 right here in the Dundee Hills by David Lett, his Eyrie vineyard.
The Dundee Hills became an AVA in November 2005.
This is the only wine that they produce at the Winderlea Estates Vineyard. It is made under the tasting room in the garage. The wine pump and press are powered by a garden hose. Their main facility is in McMinnville.
They began making this wine in 2009 using whole clusters. At that time, most of the Pinots in the area were destemmed. This is made from one block from their vineyard.
This is from one block of Coury Pinot Noir (Chuck Coury had a nursery biz and did some midnight suitcase cuttings, so who knows, they all might be different).
Planted in 1974 and originally named Dundee Hills Vineyard, there was phylloxera in the vineyard when Donna and Bill bought the property. They asked around to see who might be able to help prolong the life of a vineyard with phylloxera and they were pointed to Doug Tunnell of Brickhouse, Rudy Marchesi of Montinore, and Beau Frere all biodynamic vineyards.
They hired Philippe Armenier as their biodynamic consultant and he consulted with them for 3 years.
They try to work on the biodynamic calendar. Bill grew up in New England where they farmed by the farmer’s almanac, so this was intuitive.
This is practical, as a winegrower and a business. You are on the ground spraying, you go by each vine and you can see differences in the vineyard and know if something does not look right.
Biodynamics provides better carbon sinks, microbial diversity, and activity.
Bill finds that the vines are more consistent, and the canopy stays healthy through harvest.
For the 2017 vintage they had good water and snowpack. Budbreak was normal, then they had heat in May and the hottest August on record. This was a big vintage with 4.3 tons per acre. It allowed them to pick the fruit that was the most robust and drop the clusters not up to snuff.
This is 100% whole cluster. Part went into Amphorae 500 liter from Tuscany with a stainless steel top with added dry ice. This fills the amphorae with CO2, so you get carbonic maceration bringing out the red fruit notes. Gases can escape but not air cannot get in.
Another part went into 4 puncheons (400-600 liters, like a mini fermenter) and part in 2 Macro Bins.
Fruit was harvested on 9-26-17. The puncheons and macro bins were pressed on October 17th, the amphorae went to press on November 8th.
The 2017 vintage was the first Amphorae. This then went into neutral French oak barrels for 18 months. Abv 13%, pH 3.6, TA 5.4, bottled 3-15-19, and just 229 cases made.
Bill finds the whole cluster to be more aromatic. With the stems, the potassium in the must raises the pH.
Elevage: 18 months in French Oak Barrels 0% new
Bottling date: 3.15.2019
Production: Certification: Demeter Biodynamic® Certified
The only wine produced onsite at the Winderlea Estate Vineyard, the Demeter certified Biodynamic® Imprint Pinot noir is made by owner Bill Sweat using old-world winemaking techniques and 100% whole cluster fermentation.
Harvest Date: 9.26.2017
Clones: Pommard, Coury
Fermentation: 100% Whole Cluster
1⁄2 ton Clay Amphora, pressed on 11.08.17
4 Puncheons, pressed on 10.17.17 2 Macro Bins, pressed on 10.17.17
These both were great wines. Both wines had complexity and Nuance. I return to the basis that when you have a healthy vineyard, you have better grapes and therefore better wines. It matters how you get there.
Troon is keeping data on there journey of taking a chemical and diseased vineyard and transforming it using Biodynamics. In the future, you can see at least some of the science behind the process.
These are both vineyards we will be following, and we hope to get back to Oregon when we are allowed to travel, to speak with each of these vineyards and get you some more in-depth pictures and stories and about how these Oregon Wines are really a cut above.
We have many more stories from Biodynamic vineyards that tell the same tale and produce some excellent wines. As they say, why drink bad wine? Search these winemakers out and you really will taste the difference.
Visit These Links for more on these wines and Biodynamics
Michael and Robin Renken travel and chronicle stories from wine country. While Robin does much of the writing, Michael typically captures the visuals via video and photos to showcase the region, the wine and the people.
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It was amazing to us how many Oregon wineries are biodynamic that we didn’t even realize until we were doing the interviews. They seem to have really embraced this philosophy more than most and the quality of the wines speak for themselves.
I really think it is in all that nature surrounding them. You listen to the earth more. I think that there will be a surge in regenerative agriculture here in addition to biodynamics.