While winemakers throughout the world grapple with the difficulties of producing wine organically without risking its quality, one Oregon vineyard is quietly releasing vintage after vintage of delicious, additive-free Grenache, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. How do they do it? For Barbara and Bill Steele, proprietors of Cowhorn Vineyard, the key is careful planning, attention to detail and a qualitative approach that values a delicious bottle of vino above all else.
A certified organic and biodynamic property, Cowhorn takes its name from the biodynamic practice of burying preparations in a horn to allow them to compost. But the true secret of this vineyard's success is careful planning and management, leading to high-quality crops that might put other producers to shame.
"Many people in the wine industry don't get a chance to see grapes that are in as beautiful condition as they often are at a biodynamic farm," Barbara says.
"The fact that they come in without disease problems, without mold or mildew or pests, means right off the bat, for example, we don't have to sulfur our grapes in order to kill diseases," says Barbara. Unlike many wines made with organic grapes, Cowhorn does not use any artificial additives in its production. And unlike many additive-free wines, Cowhorn consistently scores highly with reviewers and was included in the "Top 100 Northwest Wines" by the Seattle Metropolitan.
The Steeles didn't start out as winemakers; they were both working in big business when Barbara decided she wanted a change. She spent a few years volunteering on organic farms, and soon the Steeles decided to get into agriculture. With their business background and a desire to create the best farm they could, they devised a plan to grow multiple crops—primarily grapes, asparagus and cherries—so their crew could work year-round, and the farm could receive a steady income from market sales. Ten years later, Cowhorn produces 2,000 cases of wine and 4,000 pounds of asparagus.
"What really drives Bill and myself is to make high quality fruit, support people eating locally and support local job creation," Barbara says. "You'll notice I didn't say our burning ambition is to be famous winemakers." Yet through their mission to create the best, most holistically-produced wine they can, they've also succeeded at becoming one of the West's favorite cult wines. Wine Spectator's Matt Kramer calls Cowhorn the vineyard he's "excited about"—and you should be excited too. Vineyards like this may be the new face of organic wine, and the view is lovely.