Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cowhorn Vineyard - A Lil Piece of Southern Oregon Heaven

I was in Ashland all last week on vacation (if watching 10 plays in 5 days can be called a vacation) and on the 6th day I "rested" by taking a trip down some country roads to the delightful biodynamic Cowhorn Winery nestled in a lovely little valley in the Applegate Valley.

The winery, started by two beer drinkers who knew nothing about wine, was originally going to be just a farm, where the Steeles would raise food, but after purchasing the property, they discovered much of the site was ideal for wine grapes, among other crops. And thus, their winery was born.

The Steeles grow Rhone varietals in the hot, rocky soil of this former river bed, along the banks of the Little Applegate River.

If you're visiting Ashland, it's about an hour to this country lane, where blackberry bushes crowd the road's edge (you might find some the birds overlooked) - a reminder of the Steele's first 18 months on their land, in 2003, clearing nothing but blackberry bushes, old metal parts, and brush before they could plant their first crops.

Today they grow and sell thousands of tons of fruits and vegetables, most of which is sold at the Ashland Food Coop.

They purchased their land after having lived in Novato (in Marin County) in the Bay Area and having developed a relationship with Capay Valley's organic farmers. 

Barbara and Bill Steele left Novato for this sweet spot nestled in a valley in southern Oregon...it was the site of  cattle and cattlefeed farm that lay fallow for 15 years when they purchased the 117 acre property. It's surrounded by thousands of acres of BLM land, and no neighboring vineyards that spray pesticides (no vineyards at all in this little microclimate.)

The entrance to the low-key, laidback winery - where beer drinking Barb and Bill went to grow food - and discovered that wine grapes were the perfect crop (among others) for their rocky, sun-baked soils

Bill Steele with the vineyard in the background; 17 acres are planted in Rhone varietals including Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne as well as Grenache and Syrah.

Organic viticultural rock star Alan York is the consulting viticulturalist in this biodynamic vineyard. The grape vines were so vigorous that they yielded fruit in one year (not the usual three).

A lovely outdoor patio has a beautiful view of the vineyards. Birds abound.

Barbara Steele had to rush to get the winery built in year 1 - ahead of schedule - as no one had expected the grape vines to bear fruit until year 3.


And more viognier - it goes into Cowhorn's Spiral 36 white Rhone blend (a wine that will be featured in my Organic Wine Uncorked app)

Bill Steele shows the roads on the property which delineate both different soils and varying crops. The farm also grows Asian pears and cherries as well as asparagus.

Bill Steele says "I'm not a winemaker" although he does make the wine here. "It's all native yeasts - we just keep the temperatures right inside the winery for fermentation to proceed. And then we age and bottle."

The current lineup of wines: the reserve Syrah, Syrah, Grenache and Spiral 36 (white Rhone blend). Matt Kramer of the Wine Spectator recently wrote about the wines of Cowhorn as one of his new interests.

The Littel Applegate River in Applegate Valley (where Cowhorn is located) has, unlike California wine country, abundant water - and the Steeles' property has excellent water rights.

Coming soon: videos of Cowhorn - stay tuned!

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