What wine list of ours would be complete without a bottle from Johan.
The Van Duzer Corridor
The Van Duzer Corridor is one of the newer AVA’s in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The TTB approval of the AVA happened in December of 2018 (7 years after they started the process). So what is this corridor and where is it?
1st, this is a nested AVA lying within the larger Willamette Valley AVA in Oregon. It is in the southern part of the AVA, north of Salem. Encompassing 59,850 acres, there are but 1,000 acres planted to vines. The soil here is marine sediment. It is named for the area 10 miles to it’s west, the actual Van Duzer Corridor, where there is a drop in the coastal range that funnels cold air into the interior. This happens daily at around 2 pm. The breeze, or should I say wind (it often gets up to 8 mph) does a couple of things. It cools things down and it dries out the berries, keeping them free from mold and fungus (think the Mistral in Provence). It also forces the berries to protect themselves. To do this they thicken their skins and tend to grow smaller and fewer. This gives you more tannins and anthocyanins (which give you color). Lower yields, smaller berries, thicker skin…this all means more flavor.
I have a great love for the wines of Johan. If you know me, you are probably surprised that this was not a Pet Nat! (I do love their Pet Nats). But today we dive into their Estate Grüner Veltliner. But before we get into that…a little on the vineyard.
Johan Vineyard is 85 acres certified biodynamic. More than that, the winery is certified biodynamic. A holistic approach is important to them here. We walked the vineyard with Jack when we visited and saw the compost heap, and the oak stump innoculated for mushrooms. They have a garden and their wines…most lean toward that “natural wine” style, with many deliciously unfiltered.
For more on Johan you can catch a couple of our previous pieces
Grüner Veltliner can be an underappreciated variety. Hailing from Austria, this grape can often trick people in tastings. That is until they get to the finish where white pepper is the give away. These wines can be citrus, or herbal, lean or full. Flavors as well as textures can vary dependent on climate and style.
In Austria white wines dominate, much of that due to the climate and Grüner is the definite leader covering about a third of the vineyard acreage.
2017 Johan Estate Grüner Veltliner
The grapes are crushed and destemmed, then barrel fermented through primary and malolactic fermentation in puncheons and aged 10 months sur lie (that’s on the dead yeast cells that fall to the bottom). They do not stir the lees. It sits at 13.6% abv and runs $34.99.
They look to make this wine rich and exotic, choosing to pick appropriately and going through malolactic and sur lie aging to increase the texture.
It should be noted that white wines from the Van Duzer Corridor have a few things in common. They tend to have bright fruit and acid that is compimented by weight and texture. The Oregon Wine Board also notes that you will often find Iodine and Nori characteristics in these wines.
Exotic and rich…lime, lemon, herbs, white pepper, poprocks, nectarine, ginger, honey are all typical aromas and flavors for Gruner.
This wine was a deep golden color in the glass. The first thing on the nose was bruised apple, then white flower and nectarine. It exploded out of the glass and bottle when it was first opened. It perfumed the air for a several foot radius around the bottle and glass. Then it quickly became shy, making me search for aromas. The acids were firm and the wine had a depth of texture.
We paired this with camembert cheese and found that it brought forth the floral notes. It was lovely with our asparagus risotto. This is one of those rare wines that can pair with asparagus! We also tested it with a split pea soup and found it was less exciting. Perhaps a lighter style of Grüner would have worked with this. I did struggle to find that signature Grüner white pepper on this wine. On a second pour tropical notes came forward and it opened again in the glass with rich warm baked apples.
Other pairing suggestions
Grüner can pair beautifully with Wiener schnitzel (breaded veal cutlets quickly fried). It also pairs well with fried chicken. In addition it is one of those rare wines that will pair with artichokes! Try it with cauliflower, trout or gnocchi!
Noooooo….Only 1 day left!
Thank goodness there is Christmas to cheer us after tomorrow! Otherwise what would we do? The sadness as the 12 days comes to an end would be unbearable! Come back tomorrow!
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.
More often than not, when we travel to wine country we find ourselves drawn to biodynamic vineyards. So it should be no surprise that when Michael and I went through the cellar to choose a couple of bottles to celebrate our Anniversary, we each chose a bottle and then realized that both were biodynamic. So what is it that pulls us this direction?
I have heard at least one winemaker speak about “finding his people”, when he discovered biodynamics, and when we meet these people, we usually feel the same. What draws these people to this method? I’ve read articles and spoken with people in vineyards and in wineries and I’m digging deeper on my understanding of “biodynamics”. There is alot here to unpack. Today, we will start with some of the basics.
Biodynamics – as per Merriam Webster
“: of or relating to a system of farming that follows a sustainable, holistic approach which uses only organic, usually locally-sourced materials for fertilizing and soil conditioning, views the farm as a closed, diversified ecosystem, and often bases farming activities on lunar cycles Followers of biodynamic viticulture not only abstain from the use of chemicals, but also take a more holistic approach, viewing their environment—the soil, plants and animals—as a working unity that should be as self-sustaining as possible.— Alison Napjus
Biodynamics as we speak of it today, came from a series of lectures given by Dr. Rudolf Steiner in 1924. He was a philosopher and scientist, which really gives you insights into where his studies were going. Influenced by Goethe and he was the founder of “anthroposophy” which was a spiritual movement. He believed in the link between science and spiritualism.
There is a rabbit hole here. I could (and I expect I will) do quite a bit more digging on Mr. Steiner and not all of it will make me happy. But, his work in agriculture looked at the farm as one unit and looked at a farm’s health in this way, much like holistic/homeopathic medicine, where you look at the whole patient and not just one symptom. That I can wrap my head around.
The Farmers Almanac & The Gardeners Labyrinth
I was feeling a little concerned about my research, when I came across hawkwakawaka and her brilliant sketches. (WakawakaWineReviews.com) This filled in some gaps for me, and I highly recommend taking a look at her breakdown of biodynamics. It is easy to understand and her sketches make it quite entertaining.
I grew up planting the garden depending on the cycles of the moon as listed in the farmer almanac, as did many of the people my family knew. I took it as traditional farming, but it’s influence, as I learned from Elaine’s sketches, comes from Thomas Hill’s “The Gardeners Labyrinth”(I’ve included a link to a beautiful photo of a page on archive.com). The Farmer’s Almanac was first published in 1792 and is still published annually today. It gives annual schedules for planting according to the lunar cycles.
Stick with me here…this just makes sense. Calendars are a man made created thing. For early farmers the calendar was the seasons and the cycles of the moon.
Biodiversity and the Demeter Association
The Demeter Association, that certifies biodynamic farms, set a farm standard, that requires biodiversity. This to me is simple sustainable farming. Biodiversity as opposed to monoculture is just common sense. Any ecosystem is affected when you remove an element, the wolves at Yosemite for instance.
In addition there are requirements for soil managment, animal welfare, as well as the use of preparations (yes, this is where the cowhorns and cow poop come in), and the calendar with fruit, flower, leaf & root days which indicates when certain tasks should be done. We won’t dive that deep today, but we will later. These are things I find interesting and fascinating and I want to know more about them.
Biodynamic wines and the people behind them
My first exposure to biodynamics came through Tablas Creek in Paso Robles. I had an opportunity to speak with Jason Haas about the practice as they used it there. Their influence, of course, came from the Perrins at Chateau de Beaucastel in the Rhône where they have been using this practice for a while. Jill Barth just did a fantastic interview with Marc Perrin about this on Forbes. But surprisingly, the wines we chose today, were not Tablas…(I keep track of the vintage calendar closely, and many of the bottles in our cellar are still resting and aging).
Oregon and biodynamics
On our last couple of trips to Oregon, we spoke with many winemakers who are farming biodynamically. This was where the two bottles that Michael and I chose hailed from.
Johan Vineyard and Winery
I first discovered Johan when I came across an online seminar on Oregon wines. The experts on the panel spoke on wineries to watch in Oregon and the woman who mentioned Johan, was emphatic that they were doing some amazing things and were to be watched. We determined that we would stop in on our next visit to the area.
We dropped into the tasting room and were lucky enough to meet Jack, who walked us through the wines and so much more. On our last visit we set up an early morning visit to talk with Jack and walk the property in the Van Duzer Corridor AVA. The vineyard and the winery are certified biodynamic here. Their Pét Nat is a favorite of mine.
Johan 2018 Pétillant Naturel Melon
Pét Nat or Pétillant Naturel, is a sparkling wine made in the “method anscestral”. In this method, the wine is bottled before the first fermentation is complete so the carbon dioxide from the end of the fermentation is trapped in the bottle. This makes the wine light and fizzy and the alcohol is relatively low. Unfined and unfiltered, you get a little bit of funk here that rounds the wine and makes it warm and comfy. Often people say that Pét Nats are like cider and this one does have that style of aromas and mouthfeel.
Well, the name of this winery is definitely a giveaway as to it’s thoughts on biodynamics. Cowhorn is in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley. Bill & Barbara Steele founded the vineyard in 2002. As they researched growing techniques they met some biodynamic growers and found a group of people they could get on board with.
Bill spent a morning with us this past summer, showing us around the beautiful property, talking about their biodiversity and the biodynamic techniques they use. (Our background photo for this post is the lavender garden on their vineyard.) The vineyard sits at about 1,550 feet in soils best suited to Rhône varieties, so that is what you will find planted here. The soils are alluvial, from when the Applegate river came through the entire area. He also walked us through their wines in their beautiful Living Building certified tasting room.
Cowhorn 2015 Sentience
The Sentience is a Syrah. For this vintage the Sentience came from 10 tons of Syrah harvested on September 29th and 30th (2015). This wine sits at 13.7% abv and is a deep purple that smells of black fruits, herbs and eucalyptus.
So, Michael and I lean toward biodynamic wines. Why is that?
Back to Nature
Perhaps it is the idea of a more natural way of growing, getting back to the earth. Across the board the winemakers and growers we have spoken with say that the most important thing about biodynamics to them is the fact that the vineyards are safe. The animals, children and people who come to the property or live there, can safely wander through the vines without concern for dangerous chemicals.
Like minded people
Perhaps it is the people…I have yet to meet a biodynamic winemaker or grower that I didn’t like. These are practical people who have a reverence for the earth and a passion for keeping it safe while growing something amazing.
Maybe it’s the wine? I have heard it said that biodynamic wines feel more lively in your mouth and for my personal experience I find that to be true. There is something energetic in the way the wine feels in your mouth. I don’t have science to back that, yet.
There is so much more to explore. We will get into the history, as well as the preparations and the science behind them. There are so many great people to speak with and we look forward to sharing our conversations as we continue to explore biodynamics in wine.
You can look forward to a deeper into our conversations with Jack at Johan and Bill at Cowhorn, as well as other winemakers we spoke with like Sarah Hedges at Hedges Family Wine on Red Mountain in Washington’s Yakima Valley or Rod Windrim at Krinklewood Vineyard around the globe in Australia’s Hunter Valley of New South Wales. We find more and more vineyards either growing biodynamically or leaning that way and we will continue to bring you interviews and insights from these individuals.
If you have found biodynamic wineries that you love please share them with us in the comments!
The Van Duzer Corridor… it’s the newest AVA in the Willamette Valley and it is also home to one of our favorite wineries Johan. We stopped last year and spent an hour or so with Jack Tregenza in the tasting room and were looking forward to getting back for a more in depth conversation.
Van Duzer Corridor AVA
There is a drop in the Coastal Range of Mountains, creating a Corridor where the cool air from the ocean can come inland. That is the Van Duzer Corridor. Highway 22 takes you out through this river valley all the way to Lincoln City at the ocean ( a drive we would take later that day).
The warm air in the valley pulls in the cooling breezes at night. That diurnal shift (warm days, cool nights) especially as the vineyards close in on harvest, help keep some acid in the wines as they ripen.
Dag Johan Sundby is from Norway. He came to the Willamette valley with his family to establish this winery and vineyard in Rickreall Oregon. The winemaker here is Dan Rinke. Jack…well Jack is indeed a Jack of all trades, assisting in the vineyard, the winery and managing the tasting room, at least, lucky for us on the day we stopped by. He is a wealth of information and is passionate about this place.
The valley is beautiful and we were out bright and early to meet with Jack. You drive into the property through the trees and come around to the winery and tasting room to overlook the vines.
We set up on the patio to talk with Jack. We covered quite a bit, including why the vineyard was biodynamic and the different certification processes.
A walk of the vineyard
After our interview we walked the vineyard and Jack showed us some of the newly grafted vines. We took in the views, talked about the blocks and the compost pile (I know, crazy that I get excited over a compost pile).
He also showed us a tree stump that they had inoculated for mushrooms.
Back to the tasting room
We returned to the tasting room for a tasting and talked about…so much!
The wines here lean toward Natural. I know that is not an official term. Let’s say many are unfined and unfiltered with minimal intervention. They have some really wonderful sparkling wines a pet nat of Melon that I am enamoured with. It is barrel fermented and hand disgorged and there are only 80 cases made.
We tasted though some beautiful Pinots, talked about bottle closures, wine pod cast, the use of argon…and so much more. Really I could have spent all day talking with Jack, but…he had other things to do and we were off to drive through that Van Duzer Corridor for a little Ocean therapy.
Applegate Valley AVA
The next day saw us up really early to make the drive south back to the Applegate Valley to visit with Herb Quady of Quady North.
I first heard Herb Quady’s name when I was talking with Leah Jorgensen about her Blanc de Cab Franc. She sources her Cab Franc from Herb and spoke really highly of him. As we were going to be in the area, I knew I wanted to speak with him. He was kind enough to meet us out at the vineyard.
We sat on the patio, by the house, the dog curled up under our feet at the table and talked about the vineyard and the varieties he is growing in Mae’s (the first vineyard) and Evie’s the newer vineyard. Both vineyards are named after his daughters.
We finished with a vineyard walk. Again, vines with views. The dogs ran around us chasing rabbits and we got in some good cardio (Herb’s a fast walker). Herb headed off to his day and we headed to Jacksonville to visit the tasting room.
The Quady North Tasting room in Jacksonville
Sarah met us in the tasting room and took us through an incredible line up of wines. Some are block specific, like the Ox Block Viognier, which we had just walked earlier that morning. Others like the Pistoleta are blends. The Pistoleta is a Rhône white blend of Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne & Grenach Blanc.
They also do some canned wines! Their Rose comes in a 3 pack. A Southern Rhône style blend, it’s led by Grenache at 55%, then 39% Syrah, 4% Mourvedre, 2% Vermentino and a splash 1% Counoise. Canned wine is accessible and rosé is the kind of wine you want accessible in the summer. They have a canning truck that comes by (just like a bottling truck) to package this.
There’s lots more to tell, but you will get the full scoop later. This was the last of our wine stops. From here, we headed south to Yosemite for a little nature meditation before returning to the desert.
Watch for future posts with our in depth interviews with both Jack and Herb!
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.
It was early morning of our last day in the Willamette Valley and we drove North from (where we were staying) heading toward the Chehalem Mountains. The road into Portland was moving fast and we came up a hill, with the side of the roads deeply forested. There was our turn. We had to make it fast. And suddenly, from the whirl of fast trucks, we turned and turned again into the quiet of the forests on Chehalem mountain. This is timber country. Deep forests with early morning mist. It was a magical escape from the fast morning pace on the road behind us.
We were running early (it’s in our nature), so we had time to drive and explore the mountain. When you reach the top, you find clearings, fields with houses or sometimes, giant pink painted adirondack chairs, between bunches of Douglas fir. We followed the google maps and ended up on a gravel road at one point, but found our way back around to Beckham which actually sits on Parrett Mountain on the South west end of Chahalem Mountain. We knew we were in the right place before we could read the sign, because of the clay amphorae at the gate.
I came upon Beckham in the usual way, at least for me. When researching where to go in a region, I head to the regions site, in this case the Willamette Valley Wine and one by one, I click through the links and check out the sites for each winery. The Beckham site stopped me as I saw their Amphorae Project video. I read on, and knew that these were people I wanted to meet.
We arrived and met Annedria Beckham who walked us to their tasting room, that sits just down from their home, next to the garden. We met Ruby Tuesday, their dog and Annedria set us up at the picnic table on the patio for a tasting.
She and Andrew bought this property in 2004 to build an art studio. Andrew is a high school art teacher and a ceramics artist. He teaches in Beaverton at the High School. They bought this little house in the woods to grow a garden and raise a family.
Directly across the street there was a little 2.5 acre vineyard. The owners were in their late 70’s early 80’s and had 20 year old pinot noir and chardonnay vines back in 2004. They farmed the fruit and had someone else make the wine for them and then on Saturdays they would sell their $11 pinot noir out of their garage.
… we were there quite often, fell in love with the idea of growing something on our property. Andrew went and helped Fred prune the vineyard that first year, came back with a truck load of Pinot Noir cuttings and said “Hey hun, how ‘bout we plant a couple rows right over here for fun.” I humored him thinking he will get over this crazy notion, we didn’t know anything about growing grapes. Next thing I know we are propagating vines on the coffee table in the living room.
Annedria Beckham, Beckham Estate Vineyard July 2018
As the tale goes, the vines then went to heat mats in the garage and then a timber company was called to see what the 60 year old Douglas Fir on the property was worth. They negotiated and had the company come and cut the timber, but they were left with the stumps, limbs and the mess. They cleaned that up themselves with a rented track hoe and a cat. There were some pretty big bonfires and they have been using the limbs for firewood ever since. Finally, after some grading, the first block was ready to be planted in May of 2005.
They began with own rooted, dry farmed Pommard and Wadenswil. They added on and planted about 2.5 acres the first year and another 1.5 the next. This was a gradual slow process, bit by bit as their budget and time could allow. This is a labor of love, that grew out of a passion. They dove in headfirst into farming.
So once we put our little baby sticks in the ground we had to keep them alive. So when I mentioned dry farming, we hand water about 15 lengths of hose and a few beers and me after work every day, watering just to keep them alive that first year, and then after that they were on their own. Just a little in 2005 and spot watered some stressed areas in 2006 but since then they haven’t seen a hose.
Annedria Beckham, Beckham Estate Vineyard July 2018
At this point they were focused on the farming, so they sold their first tiny batch of fruit to a winery in Dundee in 2007.
But we had those first few babies, we were really excited for and at that point you’ve hand rooted every vine, pounded every post, run every wire, hand hung every cluster and then at that point to give them away to someone else was nearly heartbreaking. But Andrew got to stay and help with crush deliver the fruit and help with processing and then went back every couple of days. He came home and said “I don’t know that I can continue to farm with this much energy and effort and then just hand it off to someone else. I think we should make wine.”
Annedria Beckham, Beckham Estate Vineyard July 2018
They did spend another year selling off fruit, while Andrew apprenticed for a few years with different wineries. In 2009 they kept the fruit to make their own wine. The first year it was 250 cases of one wine. In 2011 they opened the tasting room. At the time it had a roof, but no sides, only one light and no running water.
.. but people came and they got to taste one wine about 5 different times, because that was all I had. And they came back and they bought and they came back and they brought their friends.
Annedria Beckham, Beckham Estate Vineyard July 2018
All this time Andrew was still teaching as well as working for a couple of different winemakers and they now had 3 children. Annedria began working for the Chehalem Mountain Wine Growers Association in 2008. Their executive director went on maternity leave and Annedria was asked to fill in, and the previous director never returned. She found this to be a wonderful way to immerse themselves in the community.
When we speak about Oregon wine country, you always find people speaking about the generosity of the community, with people happy to share their time, resources and knowledge.
To have David Adelsheim on speed dial? How lucky was I to be in that position. It was a wonderful way to learn how winemaking works and making business decisions….hey this first restaurant wants to have our wine, how do I price it? I have no idea? So asking those important questions and having the right people to be able to talk to while Andrew was working in the vineyard and the winery.
Annedria Beckham, Beckham Estate Vineyard July 2018
At this point we tasted the first of the wines. It was the 2015 Estate Pinot Noir, which is a composite wine from the entire site. They make about 300 cases of this. It’s 30% whole cluster with native yeast fermentation.
They farm organically here and have been farming organically since 2013. They are not certified. It’s expensive and time consuming to become certified, and they are looking into that now. They would need to hire someone just to deal with all the paperwork for this and they are a small operation.
A lot of folks are like “how do we know that you are doing everything organically unless you are certified?” I’m not doing something for someone else, we are small enough that I’m not putting it on my label, we still sell the majority of our wine direct to consumer. You can walk around and see that we farm things organically. I grow for my family. My kids are running around these vines, our chickens are running around these vines. That we are eating the eggs from, we have sheep around the vineyard the majority of the year. We do it for us.
Annedria Beckham, Beckham Estate Vineyard July 2018
They’ve started some biodynamic practices, burying their first 500 cow horns in 2017 with their first sprayings of the solution in 2018.
Annedria poured us the Dow’s 2015 Pinot Noir, which is from Andrew’s favorite couple of barrels from each vintage.
Their first vintage was in 2009 and all they had was the Estate bottling. Of course it’s tough to do a tasting with just one wine, so she asked Andrew how they might make a second wine, and that is how the Dow’s came about.
Dow is a family middle name in the Beckham family with over 20 Beckham sons carrying the name. In 2011 they added their wine club and Annedria asked how they might get a 3rd release. They only had Pinot Noir, and rosés were just becoming popular again so Andrew made her the Olivia’s Rosé and Sophia’s Pinot Noir. Sophia’s is the first release, elegant and delicate, the Estate follows with more complexity and then the Dow with a little new oak and a darker fruit profile.
This was all of their estate wine until 2013 when they started the Amphorae Project.
We will continue our visit with Annedria and Andrew Beckham with a pod cast speaking with her about the addition of their riesling, their inspiration in the Jura and the Amphorae Project
In our conversation with Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estates, we asked him about biodynamics. The winery was Certified biodynamic in 2008. Rudy had set this process up while he was still working for the Montinore Estate as an employee.
The Motivation & learning
Pheloxera was what originally motivated him to look at biodynamics. They had so much vine loss and he was looking at how to combat this, instead of just ripping everything out. So he started studying soil microbiology.
When he started out, he was more into organic farming. I would imagine his own garden informed this. But working with the wholesale importer on the east coast, he just kept finding that the biodynamic wines he sold in the French Portfolio, were the wines he liked the best.
At the time there were only a few books available and only two places in the US that had training. He found a tiny college in NY state teaching a course. This was just 1 class per month for 5 months and then a 5 day intensive. He took this information and tried it out and had tremendous results right away.
…biodynamic practices were established as agricultural practices. …Biodynamic winemaking is an extension of the thought process.
Rudy Marchesi, in our interview July 2018.
Biodynamics the practical and the mystical
I expressed my skepticism regarding some of the practices. I have never been one to believe in “leaf days”,
Rudy told me a story about his home garden. He always planted fall vegetables. Two weeks before the recent solar eclipse in 2017, he planted his fall endives. He planted a second row on the day before the eclipse. He had read that you shouldn’t plant anything for a few days around an eclipse, but he needed to get them in. The first row was beautiful. The second row only had 15% germination.
Rudy says that big events are significant. They don’t pick on black out days. They have to prune from January 1st to March 20th and it’s all got to be done. So they don’t take days off, blackout, leaf day or not. With racking and tasting they just watch to see if it makes a big difference.
80% of wine making is done in the vineyard anyway. It’s all about the quality of the fruit you get. I think that’s why, it’s perceptible but not understood, why biodynamic wines have that certain something that’s…. you put them in your mouth, they’re lively they’re interesting, they’re there, they have a presence. What is it? You can’t measure it. There is so much in life we can’t measure anyway you know, so it’s some sort of life force that we are creating in the vineyard in the farm to begin with. That translates through the vineyard to the fruit and to the bottle. And that’s what I think it is. You can’t measure that. You can taste it!
Rudy Marchesi, in our interview July 2018.
There is more to come…
We will have more with Rudy…he took us to the cellar after this to do some barrel tastings which were delicious and fascinating. In the meantime feel free to check out the rest of our conversation with him:
During the Spring Vintners Weekend we were lucky enough to do a Vineyard hike with Steve Beckmen at the Purisima Mountain Vineyard.
Located in the new Ballard Canyon AVA this property sits at the north end of the Canyon. This estate vineyard is planted primarily with Syrah & Grenache with smaller blocks of Roussanne, Marsanne, Counoise, Mourvedre, Grenach Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. This vineyard became 100% biodynamic in 2006.
The elevations at Beckmen Vineyard Purisima Mountain reach 1250 feet. The wind, the fog, the climate all affect the grapes and I had a fascinating conversation with Steve about the “architecture” of the vineyard and how that was still evolving.
In this episode, Steve talks about the soils of the Purisima Mountain Vineyard.
The soil types here include clay and clay loam soils as well as a limestone subsoil. Limestone subsoil is predominate in the Rhone region of France but is not widely found in California. It can be found in the Central Coast from West side Paso to the North and here in Ballard Canyon further south. This limestone is tough and makes it hard for the roots to penetrate it. As a result the roots struggle in the topsoil keeping the vines less vigorous and creating low yields and intense fruit.
Listen to Steve talk about the soils:
The Beckmen Winery and Tasting room are not located here, but are one valley over. They have a tasting room on a duck pond with gazebos where you can enjoy a picnic lunch, that is located just outside Los Olivos.