sea change?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Over the holiday I’ve continued tasting new releases, wrapping up a lot of new wines from Oregon in particular. I continue to be convinced that the 2007 vintage was not universally a write-off for pinot noir – some vintners made very good wines. But 2008 is stellar for white wines, virtually without exception.

Yesterday the tasting moved south, to the Applegate Valley in southern Oregon, and the biodynamic wines of Cowhorn. Cowhorn is a new producer, and it took me a moment to connect the name with the biodynamic approach. But it took no time at all to appreciate the quality winemaking, and especially the focus on balanced wines, with moderate levels of alcohol and a restrained use of new oak barrels.

On the excellent Cowhorn website you’ll find a “Masterplan” graphic showing not only the vineyards, but also such things as a flowering insectory, a compost pad and chicken condos. It’s clear that owners Bill and Barbara Steele (who both left careers in finance) are serious about every aspect of organic farming, not just grapegrowing. In fact, the full name of the business is Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden.

The first wines to be released include a pair of syrahs, a white Rhône blend, a viognier and a grenache (the only wine I did not taste). The 2006 syrah, from second leaf vines, is a lovely bottle, with fresh, sweet blueberry and blackberry flavors, streaked with licorice and pepper. The 2007 syrah has more exotic scents and baking spices. Both wines were picked at relatively low brix and fermented with native yeast. They sell for $32.

In 2008 a pair of white wines were added. The viognier is exceptional – rich without being heavy, mixing melon, peaches, pineapple and lime-ade flavors with fresh acids (no malolactic) and good texture. The other white, named Spiral 36 (I have no clue what that refers to) is a roughly equal blend of marsanne, roussanne and viognier, also biodynamic, native yeast, no malolactic, moderate alcohol. Both these wines sell for $18.

It is a real pleasure to find a new winery doing such excellent and thoughtful work right from the start. I hope to visit Cowhorn on my swing through Oregon next month. Meanwhile, I encourage you to visit their website and make the acquaintance of these wines, which are among those pointing the way to a long-term sea change in the way wine is grown and produced in this country.


Art said...

I love hearing about biodynamic producers here in the northwest and refer readers back to your "Green Acres" post on 11/5/09. Relevant, too, is the article under the News section of Cowhorn's website -- "Is There a Place for Organics on Upscale Restaurant Wine Lists?" by Randy Caparoso.

Gewurz said...

I tried a bottle of the white Rhone blend this summer, and it was the most exciting glass of Oregon wine I had this year.

A definite winery to watch!

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