No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)

One could be forgiven for expecting an overdose of “yes, I did in fact write those checks” bullsh*t when visiting Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden in Oregon’s Applegate Valley, based solely on the facts that

a) it takes its name from the most infamous preparation (#500, which involves burying a cow’s horn full of manure) in wine’s most infamous set of farming practices (Biodynamics), and

b) founders Barbara and Bill Steele are former CFO/CFA financial types who, after leaving Wall Street and before establishing Cowhorn (despite not having a single lick of winegrowing experience) lived what they call a “homeopathic lifestyle in Marin County.”

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)

Cowhorn co-fouder Barbara Steele

One’s skepticism about the Steele’s seriousness regarding their 25-or-so acres of vines and 4,000-or-so case production could be forgiven, but one’s skepticism would also be quite wrong. I mean, you’ll want to be skeptical about, for example, the earnestness of Bill Steele’s long hair, but then you’ll find out that he makes his own sulfites. And that the Steele’s spent two years researching the right place to plant vines before breaking ground on Cowhorn in 2002, planning on Biodynamics viticulture from the get-go (with Alan York consulting), and despite its under-the-radar status and various environmental challenges (ripening is actually the main challenge there, as they are farming Rhône varieties, and the cold air from the surrounding hills makes this a cooler spot by Applegate standards) chose Southern Oregon anyway.

And then there’s the farming mentality employed at Cowhorn, which feels downright legit when the Steele’s are waxing philosophic about it; as Barbara put it, “It’s the people behind it that makes this kind of viticulture possible for the Applegate Valley.” Even their yeast situation is kind of endearing; Bill mentioned that that six unique strains were identified there, primarily due to the 100+ acres of property having been left isolated so long before the Steele’s bought it.

And then… then you’ll taste their wines, which all have a consistent and defining element of being well-crafted and yet still characterful; not overly polished, showing their edginess and angularity while still retaining a sense of elegance. In other words, the only thing full of bullsh*t will be your own silly preconceived notions about their outfit…

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2017 Cowhorn Spiral 36 White (Applegate Valley, $28)

Yes, the “spiral” in the name is (predictably) an homage to the notion of the vortex in Biodynamic preparations (and including the vineyard block numbers of the fruit sources). A blend of primarily Marsanne, with Viognier and Roussane rounding it out, mostly co-fermented, with twenty percent new oak, this is a white that elegantly straddles the line between easy sipping and complex contemplation. It’s mineral, peachy, floral, and has length that outpaces its sub-$30 price-point.

 

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2016 Cowhorn Reserve Viognier (Applegate Valley, $50)

This barrel selection release is sold out, so you’ll likely have to wait for subsequent vintages, which kind of sucks, because as Brian Steele put it, this white hails from “that magical barrel” and while I didn’t see any witchcraft performed during my visit, after tasting this I’m not ruling out the barrel actually having some magical powers. The wine seems younger than its still-youthful two years; it’s taught, herbal, floral and, despite not having undergone malolactic fermentation, has ample body and broadness to its textural mouthfeel and ripe pear flavors.

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2015 Cowhorn Vineyard Grenache 53 (Applegate Valley, $45)

When it comes to Grenache, Bill Steele warned that “too light, too fruity, and you’re into Kool-Aid land.” Thankfully, no one will be jumping through brick walls screaming “Ohhhh YEAH!” when tasting this one… or will they? Anyway, it avoids the Kool-Aid trap entirely, though it absolutely is peppery, lithe, spritely, and spicy, with clean and bright berry fruitiness without ignoring its earthy, stemmy, structured side.

 

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2014 Cowhorn Vineyard Syrah 8 (Applegate Valley, $45)

About 800 cases of this Syrah were made, and each one is probably on the verge of bursting from its muscular, sinewy seriousness. Mineral-driven, with dark berries and even darker dried herb and spice aromas, things get earthy here very quickly, but maintain a sense of aromatic lift.

 

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2013 Cowhorn Vineyard Syrah 21 (Applegate Valley, $45)

At this point, I was getting sick of the numbers, too, but it was nice to get a feel for what a slightly older vintage of Cowhorn’s reds could do after some repose in the bottle (and for this release, the 21 refers to the number of frost days they encountered during the season). Interestingly, this red saw 40% new oak and 40% whole cluster, which lends more peppery and cedar spice action to the mix, on top of earth, and berries galore. It’s funky, meaty, fresh, and vibrant Syrah, with nice textural grip; a great one for the Foodie set and the just-gimmie-a-good-red set alike.

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2014 Cowhorn Sentience (Applegate Valley, $55)

This one is billed as Cowhorn’s “winemaker’s blend,” with 35% whole cluster and 35% new oak. It’s the silky, rich, round, sexy cousin of their Syrah-based lineup, and while it retains some of the muscular structure of the 8 and 21, there is no denying all of that “bedroom eyes” fruitiness here.

 

No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases)2014 Cowhorn Reserve Syrah (Applegate Valley, $75)

Blackberries and a lithe, peppery, spicy profile are the hallmarks of this characterful, brambly stunner. The acids are jumping, the meatiness is present, the structure is at turns burly and refined. Basically, 200 cases of balanced presentation, in which there is plenty of edginess but not at the expense of a clean, clear, and powerful approach. In case you’re wondering, the 2013 is even better; it’s superb, with the plummy, meaty, and spicy/sage/pepper/cedar expressions opening up a bit more with age and fronting a finish that is minutes long.

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at No Bullsh*t Wine (Cowhorn Vineyard Recent Releases) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Probably Still Laughing And Calling Him Names (Biodynamic Tasting Calendar Debunked)

A couple of years ago, I undertook a rather statistically-irrelevant and thoroughly un-scientific study regarding the Biodynamic tasting calendar (based on the lunar-cycle farming techniques espoused by Rudolf Steiner). This study had a single participant (me) who knew next to nothing about this calendar, who downloaded one of those mobile apps that tells you what type of day it is on the BioD calendar. I then tasted through wine samples pretty much every day, as usual, and noted whether or not any given wine seemed to taste really good or really nasty, and what BioD calendar day type it happened to be.

Presumably, I would have enjoyed more of the wines on so-called “fruit” days, and wines would have tasted nastier on “root” days; thus postulateth the Biodynamic calendar, anyway. My tasting results? In summary: totally random, with no correlation to the BioD calendar days at all.

The results of a much more scientific and potentially relevant experiment into whether or not the BioD calendar impacts how a finished wine tastes were recently published. The results of this New Zealand based study found that the tasting impact of the BioD calendar was, essentially, nada. From the study’s conclusion:

“…the findings reported in the present study provide no evidence in support of the notion that how a wine tastes is associated with the lunar cycle… Consumers expecting a wine to be more expressive and aromatic on Fruit days might actually perceive them as such through top down cognitive effects.”

In other words, it’s possible that any impact of the lunar cycle on your wine tasting is just all in your head….

Back in 2011, I went to a few of the more vocal and learned sources on both sides of the debate on Biodynamic wine-growing principles, and afterwards offered my own conclusion. For those too lazy to follow the link, here’s where things stood after my pseudo-reporting attempt:

  • BioD’s founder, Rudolf Steiner, can most politely be described as an eccentric (“total kook” might be more apt) but just because some of his ideas were borderline insane doesn’t mean that they all are wacked-out; but it does mean we need to approach Steiner’s ideas with the requisite amount of skepticism befitting someone who once said that the race of people from the lost city of Atlantis could fly using the power of burned seeds. In other words, he might just have gotten it right with BioD, but what are the odds? Would you take that bet in Vegas?

  • On the plus side, BioD gets people into the vineyard, thinking about how to treat the land sustainably while also minimizing vinicultural trickery in the making of the final product. It promotes a holistic view of the entire winegrowing and winemaking process, and rare is the case when taking the holistic route doesn’t benefit all involved.  And it can result in some stellar wines.

  • But the scientific evidence to back up all aspects of BioD is lacking, and the claim that it is beyond science is, to me, specious reasoning that puts BioD in the realm of the religious, and one shouldn’t have to get certified to follow a religion. If we take a “let them do what they want, it doesn’t hurt anybody” approach (which was my previous going-in position before conducting these interviews) then we may, in fact, be turning too much of a blind eye to the preparations and processes in BioD that might actually be harmful to the environment (for more on that, listen to my interview with Stu Smith).

From my perspective, the conclusions reached in the most recent attempt by science to validate an aspect of the Biodynamic wine craze bolster the above points; actually, they underscore more powerfully the notions that any aspects of Biodynamics that really work are not due to Rudolf Steiner’s work, but likely are based on previously-established and successful farming principles that Steiner incorporated into his odd conglomeration of quasi-religious growing practices.

At this point, the skeptics might be thoroughly justified in laughing and calling Rudoplf names.

I’d love to see BioD farming broken down step by step, with scientific studies testing the validity of every aspect, and a new, more data-based alternative emerging that has the data to back up every part, while keeping the practice’s admirable harmony-with-natural-cycles and holistic views, and dropping the pseudo-religious portions that have so divided and eroded the debates surrounding BioD in the wine biz.

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Probably Still Laughing And Calling Him Names (Biodynamic Tasting Calendar Debunked) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!