Years….they used to take forever! No longer. Now they often seem to speed by in a blur. The coming of the New Year makes me nostalgic. I sit warm, happy with a full belly and I remember that this is not to be taken for granted. Time for a little reflection and gratitude.
I head to social media to reflect on the year. Remember the days when we had journals or diaries or a box of photos? Well, technology has allowed us to share those memorable moments, both big and small.
Instagram is my go to photo journal. So I’m sifting through to give you an idea of my year…holy crap there are alot of wine photos! LOL!
The Quiet Time
My photo essay of the beginning of my year…snow, studying, a Valentines Day on the ice, new Ramen places, hiking at Mount Charleston, beautiful sunsets, reading by the ocean in Carlsbad, high tea with friends, the super bloom in San Diego, a blind tasting event and of course, Loki. Okay…that gets us through the quiet months.
Double click on any of the photos for a larger picture and perhaps a bit more information.
The Scenic Route
We did our typical drive a million miles summer vacation. This year it was named “The Scenic Route”. It took us from Vegas to Tahoe, to Mount Shasta, to Southern Oregon, through the Columbia Gorge to the Yakima Valley, Walla Walla and then back through the Willamette, down to the Applegate Valley and finally to Yosemite before traveling home. We met incredible winemakers, saw beautiful scenery and vineyards and while we shared the overall story of our trip this year, you can look forward to many more in depth pieces on the places we visited this year.
Then we rested…that should be what I write next. But no. This was crunch time for me. I had been studying all year to take my test to become a Certified Specialist of Wine. After a 13 week course and then months of additional study I hoped I was ready. I was…
Now was it time to rest? Nope. We were off to the Wine Media Conference in October. Social media got to see much of our trip…there are still interviews and articles to be written in the new year. Here is a glimpse of our travels through New South Wales Australia. We dubbed it #OurAussieWineAdventure.
So, exhausted and exhilarated, we returned. At this point the holiday’s approached and our 2nd Annual 12 Days of wine celebration was at hand.
12 Days of Wine
Here is a link to that page. 12 Days of Wine 2019. You’ll find fun video reveals and details about each of the wines there.
Now we’ve come to the end of the year. It was a full year. We have writing to do video’s to create and tons of content to share with you. And…there will be new adventures. For right now…I’m going to relax and then day dream about what the New Year might hold.
We are sticking with Southern Oregon today, but we are heading into the Rhônes. No…I’m not giving you another Syrah. Today we focus on Grenache from Cowhorn in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley AVA (which is nested in the Rogue Valley AVA).
We’ve done a bit on Bill Steele and his wife Barbara recently
Feel free to dig into these, but I’ll give you the quick run down here.
Bill and Barbara Steele, were working in the corporate world and trying to live a homeopathic lifestyle. Finally it came time to make this life they wanted, full time, incorporating it into everything they did. They chose the Applegate Valley and settled on creating a vineyard and farm. After meeting some biodynamic vineyard owners, they knew this was the way forward for them. After having the soil analyzed they settled on Rhône varieties and planted their vineyard. They also grow asparagus and have a really wonderful lavender patch that is home to multiple varieties of bees, as well as some really beautiful decorative gardens.
When they decided to build their tasting room, they went for the Living Building Certification and became the 1st tasting room in the world to be built to these standards. The tasting room is beautiful as well as energy efficient and is made from sustainable products.
Cowhorn 2016 Grenache 6
Why is this wine called Grenache 6?
Well…it’s Grenache. The “6” comes from the number of mornings that Bill was raised before dawn in the coldest hours to turn on the frost protection for the vineyard. So as you can see, 2016 was not a bad year for frost!
Here are Bill’s notes on this wine from their site.
Vibrant and acid driven, the 2016 Grenache reaches a new level of boldness. Intense aromas of cherry, blackberry and licorice pour over the glass. Juicy ripe strawberry appears on the palate with a perfect balance of oak on the finish, making this fun red wine perfect for your favorite BBQ fare. Chill slightly for a refreshing zip in the summertime.
Cowhorn.com Tasting notes
James Suckling gave this wine 93 points. It sits at 14% abv and runs $45.00. Oh…and while I sort of mentioned this, it is important to note that this is biodynamic.
The first thing that hit my nose with this wine was stewed strawberries. You know like when you are cooking down some strawberries to make a sauce. Then the spice hit my nose followed by anise (licorice) and then cooked blackberries.
The tannins were lighter sticky tannins and the wine had a medium intensity. This is an elegant wine that evolves in the glass.
On our cheese plate with the above pictured berries, we included included manchego cheese which was heaven with this. A small bite of manchego, honey, black cherry and rosemary was heavenly with this wine.
Our dinner pairing was barbecued beef, which again was lovely with this.
This is a wine that I will look forward to tasting future vintages. For Bill, he is not looking to create the same wine over and over. He looks to create the best wine for that vintage, which will make each year different in it’s own unique way.
On to the 9th Day of Wine
Onward! 4 days left, 4 wines to go. Are you still with us!?
If you are familiar with biodynamics, the first thing that will come to mind when you hear the word is often cowhorns. Bill Steele and his wife Barb, run their property biodynamically and own it right up front with their name, Cowhorn Wine.
The truth about those cowhorns
If you are not familiar with biodynamics, one of the most commonly discussed practices involves cowhorns. Cowhorns are filled with manure and buried in the ground, where they perculate over the winter and come out in the spring filled with all sorts of good microbes. This is then made into a solution (Preparation 500) which is sprayed in the vineyard to encourage all those good microbes to flourish in the soils.
Visiting Cowhorn Wines
Last July we had an opportunity to spend the morning with Bill Steele at his biodynamic vineyard in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley AVA. Bill walked us through the vineyard. It’s set in a valley and feels like it’s own world. The sound of birds in the trees that surround and dot the property, the buzz of bees as they wake up in the lavender patch, the sound of the water trickling over rocks from the pond…all are enough to make you want to move in and never leave.
The decision to go biodynamic
Bill and his wife Barb were living a homeopathic lifestyle, both of them working in the financial sector. They were ready to make a lifestyle change and get back to the land and found this property. As they explored options for farming techniques for their vineyard, Barb met with some biodynamic farmers in Sonoma. It was more than just the farming techniques, this was a group of like minded people who were open and willing to share. Barb felt they had found friends. These were people who held the same reverence for the earth and they were an inclusive group.
Receiving help and paying it forward
They had help getting started from Brickhouse in the Willamette and from Benzinger in Sonoma. Now as Troon (another vineyard in the Applegate Valley) works toward becoming biodynamic, they can pay it forward, helping as they were helped.
And they were lucky. When they purchase the property it had been untouched for 15 years, so they started their biodynamic vineyard from a relatively clean slate. Troon has a harder road to hoe. Their vineyard had been managed conventionally for a period of time and the journey to biodynamic will take longer, as they restore the vineyard to a semblance of normalcy in soil.
Why Demeter Certification?
I asked Bill about why he felt Demeter Certification was important. I know wineries that are farming in a biodynamic style but have found the certification to be difficult due to time and expense. For him, it is important because as he says “Wine travels”. With his asparagus, it will be sold close by and people can get out and see how he is growing. With wine, if you are sitting on the other coast and want to support biodynamic vineyards by having a bottle in a restaurant, or picking up one at the store, the Demeter certification is the only way you can be sure of what you are getting in the bottle.
Biodynamics in the winery
I had seen on their website that they were certified as a Biodynamic farm & Winery. I don’t often hear about the winery side of biodynamics and asked Bill about this.
There’s over 200 additions that wineries can put into our wines without disclosing. The only one that we can read about is sulfites. So at Cowhorn, as the winemaker I can guarantee you that there are no additives in there….I actually make my own sulfites. What I do is, I take distilled water and pure SO2 gas, and I diffuse the gas through the water to a certain concentration. The reason for that most folks will use something called “potassium metabisulfite”. I don’t really know exactly what’s in it, but what I wanted was the purest wine that I could have. So what’s in my wines is: organic grapes Demeter certified, a little bit of distilled water and a little bit of SO2 gas, and that’s it.
Bill Steel July 2019
I asked Bill what the most important thing about biodynamics was to him.
I think the thing that is most important to me is that 365 days a year I can have people on the property. My friends kids, my nieces, my nephews, the dogs, people bring dogs here everyday. There is no hazmat suit here, so it’s a safe environment.
Bill Steele July 2019
Quite honestly, I’ve asked this same question to other biodynamic growers and the answer is the same.
The truth about industrial agriculture
Perhaps we don’t think about the hazmat suits that are so often found in agriculture. We prefer to think of bucolic farms and quite honestly, agriculture prefers that we have that image in our minds. But it’s there. Industrial agriculture, which is probably where your lunch came from is filled with chemicals in fertilizers and pesticides. The people who work these farms pay a price with their health. They typically don’t get paid much and rarely have insurance. There is a reason that these farms use migrant workers. You see photos in ads of beautiful produce on the vine, not the chemical sprayers and then the people doing the backbreaking work of picking and breathing in the chemicals left behind.
So choosing biodynamics, or even organic or sustainable foods and wines, makes a difference. Perhaps for you, the choice is just for your own health. But there is a bigger picture, with many more facets. We will continue to explore these through vineyards and wineries…but it carries over to so much more in our world today.
If you want to get out and see this beautiful vineyard for yourself… you will find them in Southern Oregon, outside the city of Jacksonville at 1665 Eastside Road, Jacksonville, OR 97530.
Day 3 had us up early and traveling back the way we had been the afternoon before. The Applegate Valley AVA in Southern Oregon established in 2000, is actually a sub AVA of the Rogue Valley AVA. From California’s border runs north 50 miles to the Rogue River west of Grants Pass.
We arrived early to Cowhorn to meet Bill Steele. This Southern Oregon vineyard is Demeter Certified Biodynamic and is a bucolic setting on Eastside Road that runs along the Applegate River. We did an interview with Bill in the vineyard and walked the property before heading into the beautiful modern tasting room to do a tasting with Bill. The tasting room features a large window that looks out onto the vineyard and the valley, which is reflected in the shiny white glass behind the tasting bar, allowing you the view while facing either direction.
The wines here are Rhône varieties primarily and the finese on the winemaking is pretty spectacular. Everything is done with native yeast. I have to admit the grounds were so beautiful, I really didn’t want to leave. We will dive in deep to our visit in a separate post and tell you about Bill, biodynamics, the patio, gardens and the tasting room. Their tasting room was the first in the US to meet the “Living Building Challenge”.
You can look forward to our in depth interview with Bill coming up soon.
We left unwillingly. We could have stayed all day (or perhaps forever). But we had another appointment and this one was a bit of a drive.
North to the Umpqua Valley
We were headed toward Roseburg in the Umpqua Valley about 2 hours North. The Umpqua Valley AVA is a little older, established in 1984. We jumped back on Route 238 and took the scenic (and shorter) route to Grants Pass where we grabbed a bite and got on the 5. Yes it was freeway, but it’s Southern Oregon, so the views are still pretty spectacular.
We exited onto the 99 around Cow Creek and then took Route 42 out to Ten Mile where Girardet Vineyards is located. Mind you….our GPS had a little trouble out here and we ended up coming into the property the back way. I suggest downloading a map ahead of time and not relying on GPS.
Girardet is one of the older wineries in this area planting the vineyard back in 1971. The Girardets (Philippe and Bonnie) got in their VW bus and drove the country looking for vine starts. They picked up some French varieties from Wente and then planted some of the French hybrids that they picked up in New York; Baco Noir, Seyval Blanc, Cayuga among others. Marc was born in 1975 just after this experiment had begun. He now runs the vineyard and winery and he took some time to speak to us on the beautiful covered patio with a picnic table, next to the tasting room. After our chat he took us through the winery and drove us up into the vineyard to see the views. Vines do love a view.
We finished this stop with a tasting which included some of the Italian varieties that Marc has added on the newer section of the vineyard where they found ancient marine bed shale. We made some friends in the tasting room before heading back on the road to Newburg, where we would stop for the night. This winery has a great history that we look forward to sharing with you.
Coming up Next…
Next we head North, first to the Columbia Gorge to visit the waterfalls on the Oregon side, then onto the Washington side to visit Syncline winery. From there it is off to the Yakima Valley to visit with Seth Kitzke of Kitzke Cellars and Upsidedown Wine and then enjoy sunset with Jonathan and Mike Sauer at the iconic Red Willow Vineyard.