A New Culture at Troon (and poop jokes)

Banele, our harvest intern from South Africa positions the cow horns to be buried.

A New Culture at Troon (and poop jokes)

Assistant Winemaker Nate Wall fills horns.

It seems everyone either ridicules or worships the cow horns and the processes of biodynamics. Then there’s biodynamic cycles of the moon that are mistakenly confused with astrology - no, not related. You can’t blame the press for focusing on these aspects of biodynamics as they make for great photos and headlines. However, as wine writer Monty Walden recently noted, “Biodynamics is not farming by the moon.”

Biodynamics is farming by the earth.

At Troon Vineyard we recently completed one of the milestones for any biodynamic farmer. We buried our first cow horns on the estate to produce our own biodynamic preparation 500. The images of burying the cow horns may have become cliché, but for those of us who participated, it felt like a right-of-passage as we joined other biodynamic farmers around the world in what feels like a celebration to those involved. It is hard to imagine, but stuffing cow horns with fresh manure is a meaningful experience. After the horn’s ingredients ferment in our soils over the winter, we’ll take the newly created BD 500 and apply it to our vineyard soils to help build the natural microbiome that plants require to take their nutrition naturally from the soils. By letting the soil and the plants do the work we will end up with fruit that carries the energy and personality of our vineyard into our wines. Farming by the earth is the essence of terroir.

Biodynamics changes the soils, the vines, but equally importantly it changes the people who practice this discipline. Biodynamics is a structure and gives you a framework, which at the beginning you work within, but as you grow as a farmer you also go beyond. While everyone loves to focus on cow horns and moon cycles, and these are important aspects of biodynamics, these famous elements of this discipline are not the biggest changes at an estate that transforms into biodynamic agriculture. Perhaps the biggest changes happen to the people who take up this mission. Biodynamics not only transforms your soils, but your culture as a winery.

A big part of that change is that farming biodynamically is fun. You feel empowred what you are doing and each day is a new adventure. Even though it’s much harder work than conventional farming, the risks and the efforts reward you with not only better grapes, but a better you. Filling our horns was a group effort and laced with happy banter and camaraderie. Poop jokes were as abundant as the actual poop at this celebration. Everyone including the horns were full of it. Conventional farming makes sterile soils and wines. There is nothing sterile about the world of biodynamics.

We’ll be stuffing horns again next fall. If you don't mind dirty hands and some rather unsophisticated humor come join our celebration!

In biodynamic agriculture, we bury cow horns filled with fresh cow manure each fall. These ferment over the winter and next season will be applied to our soils to help build the microbiome. of our vineyard. In this video, Lindsay (harvest intern from Ireland) assistant winemaker Nate Wall and biodynamic consultant Andrew Beedy fill our horns at Troon Vineyard.

Maybe I Should Be Less Judge-y About Alcohol Levels in Wine

A while ago I was having a phone conversation with a winemaker. I remarked on a Chardonnay (made by said winemaker) I enjoyed with a listed ABV of 14.5%*. The dialog about wine alcohol levels went something like this:

Me: “I really dug that Chard, was surprised it was so good with the alcohol that high. I must confess, I normally won’t buy a white wine over 14% alcohol [ed note: ghost of IPOB]. I’ll look at the label and then put it back on the shelf if it’s that high.”

Winemaker: “That’s a terrible way to select wine.”

Me: “I’m a monster.”

[awkward silence…aaaaaand scene]

But at a recent wine dinner, one I was invited to by Calhoun & Company, I was fairly shocked by a wine. The winemaker was present, which gave me another opportunity to force another uncomfortable moment. But this time, in person!

Let me tell you about the wine.

It’s October, time for some spooky vines at Chile’s Odfjell Vineyards / Photo via winery

Odfjell Orzada Carignan 2017 (Valle del Maule, Chile) $23

Maybe I Should Be Less Judge-y About Alcohol Levels in WineI was sitting at Butter (where the butter is excellent) with Odfjell Vineyards winemaker Arnaud Hereu. We enjoyed a beer before digging into the Chilean wines of Odfjell. The first wine up was this very cool (and served chilled) old vine Carignan made with organic grapes. It’s an all-stainless steel wine, no oak. The vines are up to 80 years old.

So this Carignan ticks off many of the boxes I love:

  • Under-appreciated grape
  • Unoaked red
  • Served chilled
  • Organic grapes

I was drinking this all like, “Damn, this is good. What a great lunch wine, dinner wine, food wine, wine wine.” Light on its feet but with some oomph. I also really dug the label.

Then I flipped the script or, rather, the bottle to peep the back label. There I spied the wine alcohol level: 15%. Dang! That’s like hotter than the sun. That’s a big burly level of booze! I should be appalled!**

Whatever. It was a really delicious wine.

And that’s One To Grow On. The More You Know. [Cue 80s PSA.]

More on the wines of Odfjell Vineyards.

I’d also like to give a shout-out two a duo of wines form the Armador Tier, the Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon. For $15 each, a hell of a deal.

Let me back up about this winery. Here’s the story of its founding:

Over 25 years ago, the pioneering Norwegian Armador, (ship owner) Dan Odfjell discovered and felt in love with a small corner of the famous Maipo Valley, Chile. Born of rain in Bergen, Norway, he could not resist the attraction of the austral sun in this Virgilian setting.

(Sidebar: Whoever wrote this, I love that last sentence. Jealous!)

The wines have a very nautical theme. In Spanish, Orzada means “sailing against the wind” and Armador is the name for shipowner.

Anyway, check out these three bottles and try not to be a judgmental monster like me when it comes to wine alcohol levels. I realize I am an aberration. Most people buying a bottle of wine are looking for a:

  • familiar label
  • label with some sizzle
  • deal or wine within a price range
  • good food/event/activity pairing
  • recommendation from email, website, social media, shelf talker, or (gasp!) human

They are not scrutinizing every detail on front and back label, which you can probably only do in person. Would be interesting to see winery websites with both front/back label shots. But I guess that’s what the tech sheet is for. Of course, staring at a technical PDF is beyond boring for most sane people. It’s not fun nor does it “demystify” wine.

Wait, one more thing about Odjfell! I am so easily distracted.

They  breed Norwegian Fjord horses at the winery. Even though I am very afraid of these animals, how cute is this trio?

Maybe I Should Be Less Judge-y About Alcohol Levels in Wine

Frolicking horses / photo via winery

*I realize there is some legal fudging you can do on the listed ABV so wine alcohol levels may be higher or lower than what is stated on the label. 

**HYPERBOLE. DUH.

The post Maybe I Should Be Less Judge-y About Alcohol Levels in Wine appeared first on Jameson Fink.

The Smell of Biodynamics

Troon vineyard foreman Adan Cortes applies biodynamic preparation 507 Valerian to our first compost pile. In the back, Levon, the son of our biodynamic consultant Andrew Beedy lends moral support. Photo by Andrew Beedy.

I remember the smells well and they always take me back to my childhood. That warm, earthy pungent smell can only come from one thing. I grew up in a small rural town in northern Illinois on the Wisconsin border . My grandfather and grandmother, Chester and Goldie Camp, were small dairy farmers, a type of farmer that rarely exists anymore. They were organic farmers, but did not know it.

The Smell of Biodynamics

My grandparents, Chester and Goldie Camp

I stayed with them often as a child, rising with my grandfather before dawn for the morning milking. I can remember looking up at him while he shaved as he lathered up with a brush swirled on a bar in a cup - yes, he shaved before milking. Then out to the barn for what, in those days, was the very hard physical job of milking. You carried the pails of milk to the tank one-by-one. I would wander among the cows while the men worked - avoiding their back-ends and hoofs due to the stern admonitions of my grandfather. The rich, warm aromas of the animals, the feed and, of course, the manure filled the barn while the twang of country music pushed by 50,000 watts from WJJD in Chicago tinnily played from an old and very dirty radio. After the morning’s work, my grandmother would have a huge country breakfast waiting with, of course, a glass of fresh milk, cream and all, straight from the milk tank. 

These memories came flowing back to me as Troon’s vineyard foreman, Adan Cortes, dumped the first load of cow manure onto our new biodynamic compost pile. Soon more will follow. We are lucky to have the Noble Family Organic Dairy as a next-door neighbor - an unlimited supply of organic manure from the thousands of happy, healthy cows they milk three times a day. 

Compost is the cornerstone of a biodynamic program. While organic regulations may be focused on what you can’t use, the Demeter Biodynamic Certification follows all the USDA Organic rules, but the discipline of biodynamics takes things further with the biodynamic preparations and the concept of the whole farm. Biodynamic compost is the main vehicle that brings health to your soils and therefor your vines. Strong vines can fight off threats while weak vines require chemicals to survive. Of the nine biodynamic preparations, only three are applied to directly to the vineyard - 500, 501, 508 - while the other six - 502 to 507 - are applied to the compost piles. We began our biodynamic compost program in earnest last week starting with manure from our neighbor organic farmer, Noble Dairy. The Noble family has been farming organically since 2004. We layered this rich manure with organic hay from another neighbor and the remains from last harvest’s grape pressings to create a pile about 150 feet long and five feet high. Then our vineyard foreman Adan Cortes applied the biodynamic preparations to the new pile. It was an exciting and emotional experience for all of us at Troon. Next week we are building a second pile and this fall will be creating four more based on our grape pomace from this year’s harvest. From now on nature’s circle will be unbroken with each vintage producing the compost to feed our vineyard soils for another year.

My grandparents were organic farmers and didn’t even know it. My grandmother prepared and canned organic vegetables from her organic garden. On Sundays, they ate free-range, organic chicken - that my grandfather killed the day before. Note my grandfather could only kill the chickens my grandmother had not named. They fed their dairy cattle organic hay in the winter and they grazed on organic grass in the summer. They were either blissfully unaware of the latest chemicals or could not afford them, or both. Michael Pollan wrote in his excellent book, In Defense of Food, don’t eat anything that your grandparents would not recognize as food. Certainly, good advice in my case.

When you grow grapes for wine you are growing food and Pollan’s recommendation can easily be rewritten to don’t drink wine that your grandparents would not recognize as wine - not that my grandparents ever had a sip of wine as far as I know. Pabst was my grandfather’s drink of choice.

The direct connection of memories of my grandparents to our building our first compost pile was a warm, emotional experience for me. Agriculture is a seasonal and circular experience, if you are not emotionally connected to the past you will always struggle. Emotions and good feelings very much describe the process of converting to biodynamics. You feel good about what you are doing. While we have practiced sustainable agriculture for years, this is different and you can feel it.

It feels right. Chester and Goldie would approve.

Turn, Turn, Turn

January at Troon in Oregon's Applegate Valley 

For everything, there is a season. There is a flow to the year that is defined by what is being harvested. Moments defined by what we eat and drink. As these seasonal treats start arriving at the farmers market, they mark your place in the year. Peas and asparagus in spring, summer brings peaches and tomatoes, fall brings squash and, for those of us who make wine, grapes. Each of them gives you a sense of time and place. 

The wines I drink dance across the calendar along with the foods I find at the market. Cold weather brings stews, risotto, pasta, root vegetables and bolder wines - Barolo, St. Joseph, Bandol, and Tannat appear on my table. The arrival of summer often brings vegetables and simple grills into staring roles and white wines - vermentino, roussanne, Sancerre, Muscadet, Soave along with wines of wildly varying shades of pink often become my wines of choice. For reds, pinot noir, Valpolicella, grenache and, most of all, Beaujolais  - all wines that love a light chill - bring perfect pleasure. 

Things that grow react to the season and wine is no exception. Obviously, drinking a Barolo on a hot day in August is not the same sin as insisting on buying tomatoes in January. Yet, I think the full pleasures of a Barolo are more likely to show themselves with Osso Bucco on a crisp fall evening than with a caprese on a hot summer afternoon.

Wine is food, and it is more enjoyable when served in the same way.  We are drawn to certain foods at different times of the year and should apply that same common sense to wines.

I’m always mystified when people tell me they don’t like white wine or they only like big reds - the wine world’s equivalent of picky eaters. To me wine is wine, and the color is decided by the food, the season and, of course, my mood. There is no arguing with taste, but I’ll argue those picky eaters and drinkers aren’t tasting at all. They’ve already made up their minds.

The more you pay attention to what you taste the more diversity of experience you crave. That terrifying question I’ve been asked many times, “If you could only drink one wine for the rest...” - is more nightmare than fantasy. The other question I’m often asked is, “what’s your favorite wine you make” or, perhaps even worse, “what’s the best wine you make” leave me speechless. They are questions without an answer. 

Each wine we make at Troon has its moment, its meal, its season. What’s my favorite wine? The one in my glass. 

Becoming One with Wine

Uploaded by Craig Camp on 2018-03-27.

The world feels somehow different today at Troon Vineyard. I guess you can’t reinvent a vineyard without reinventing yourself. Reinventing and reinvigorating people and a vineyard at the same time is about the simplest way I can explain our transition to biodynamic farming. Everything just feels more alive.

Over the last week what was all planning, items on a Trello board, started to become real. New equipment, new ways of thinking and a new spirit all converged at Troon Vineyard this week. The first step was just a simple piece of string

Twine ties in a block of our vermentino

After years of plastic ties in the vineyard, many of a particularly noxious green color, we have replaced them with hand-knotted pieces of twine. The contrast between the bilious green of the old ties and the warm, earth tones of the twine ties running down the rows tying the canes to the wires could not be more obvious or meaningful. A simple change that tells of significant changes to come, we are becoming entwined in nature.

A somewhat physically more prominent change was the arrival of our Clemens radius weeder or “weed knife”.  While a big financial investment, an efficient tool to control weeds is necessary if you are going to forgo chemicals like the seemingly ever-present Roundup. Many may debate about the evils of glyphosate, and all too many sustainable certifications allow it, but common sense tells us that chemicals like these are just not part of nature’s plan.  It’s hard to describe how well the Clemens does its job as it fluidly dances the blade around each vine almost in slow motion - we actually it is in slow motion as the tractor can only go two and a half miles an hour while doing this work.

Other new mechanical arrivals include the Clemens multi-clean undervine brush, which, as the name implies, literally whisks away suckers and weeds around the base of the vine. Then there is a tank-like Domries disc and a Domries tri-till cultivator. We now have the tools to do the job right.

Becoming One with Wine

Creating a vortex while stirring BD 500

Then there was the really good shit, literally, which arrived this week. Now living in Southern Oregon, that phrase tends to refer to other local agricultural products, in our case, it was actually shit. This was the famed BD 500, the cow manure aged in buried cow horns. For this first application we had to purchase some finished BD 500, but by next spring we’ll have buried and fermented our own. The finished preparation does not remind of the original state or aromatics of the raw materials as it looks and smells more like very rich potting soil. To prepare 500 for application requires stirring it a very particular way. Troon winemaker Steve Hall selected one of our oldest barrels (for the history of place it had experienced) then after adding the 500 to around forty gallons of water we begin the stirring process. Steve and I alternated during the hour long process. First you stir in one direction until you build a deep vortex then suddenly reverse direction going violently from order to disorder. You repeat this process over-and-over for the full hour. This was a uniquely satisfying  experience as you bond with the preparation that will become one with your soil. A very different experience than wearing haz-mat gear demanded by standard vineyard applications. Once prepared we poured the BD 500 into the sprayer and as the week came to a close our entire property had received this application. 

Just knowing that the first biodynamic preparation is in our soils gives me both a sense of peace and accomplishment. We are on an entirely new voyage with a new mission. Just as the vines are reborn each spring, this spring Troon Vineyard is reborn along with them. Soon the buds will break into a whole new world of winegrowing. 

Biodynamics will reinvigorate our soils and our vines, but it is also reinvigorating us. It is those combined energies that will be expressed in our wines. Wines full of energy are exciting wines and we could not be more excited about making them. Our desire to make special wines from what we know is a vineyard, a terroir, with exceptional potential is what started us on this voyage to begin with. 

We are at the starting line of a long struggle to achieve our goals. Now that we have taken our first steps we feel like a sprinter whose energy has just been released by the starting gun. 

The vines, the soil, the place, the wines and the people are all becoming one.

Becoming One with Wine

Alberto spraying BD 500 in a block of zinfandel

Get Set, Go!

Biodynamic consultant Andrew Beedy and Troon winemaker Steve Hall on the spot selected for our compost program.

This is the spot that will become the most important place of the vineyard. We’ve chosen the spot for the compost piles.

There is a day that dreams, plans and goals become a reality. On your mark, get set, go! As we crossed the starting line this week, we were firmly aware that we were starting a marathon, not a dash. This week we took our first steps to converting Troon Vineyard to organic and biodynamic agriculture. We have our eye on 2020 to achieve our first organic and biodynamic certification, but that will not be the finish line. In agriculture, there is no finish line.

We had already taken some steps forward as we had received our L.I.V.E. and Salmon Safe sustainable certifications, but we have now committed to biodynamics as our vision for the future of Troon. Our first big step was to secure the services of Andrew Beedy ([https://www.andrewbeedy.com]). Andrew's speciality is designing a complete plan that looks at your property as a whole, not just as a vineyard. Andrew has spent his entire life immersed in biodynamics as he was born on a biodynamic dairy farm in Pennsylvania. He attended a Steiner elementary school that was attached to a biodynamic farm. As a teenager, he worked on an organic farm in England. After university, he moved to California, where he worked with his mentor, the famed biodynamic consultant Alan York, who also was the biodynamic consultant for our neighbor, Cowhorn Winery, here in the Applegate Valley. Today, Andrew’s clients span the entire nation coast-to-coast.

After walking for hours with Andrew through our vineyards and our entire farm property, you can feel your perceptions began to change as you start to look at your farm as a whole rather than as simple blocks of vineyards. This extends beyond our property lines as you understand that the Applegate Valley itself is included in a whole farm, holistic plan for farming.

With conventional agriculture you identify problems and then apply various applications. Many, many of these applications are nasty indeed. While they may solve one problem, the collateral damage they cause slowly, but surely kills your soils. Soil is the plant’s foundation, and dead soils cannot produce great wines. When you farm biodynamically you eschew these chemicals, which means you have to deal with the threats to your plants before they appear. In other words, biodynamics is all about prevention. A healthy plant can better resist diseases and pests than one living in dead soils relying on chemical fixes to deal with each and every problem.

Our new compost piles will be the heart and soul of the vineyard as this is how we will be bringing our soils back to life. One way I like to explain biodynamics is that it is organic agriculture with probiotics. It is the bacteria and fungi surrounding a plants roots that allow it to take nutrition from the soil. Conventional agriculture destroys this natural system. The power of biodynamics is that it brings the microbiome of your farm back to life, which brings your soils and plants back to life.

I will be chronicling the process of bringing Troon’s soils back to life here on this blog. Over the next weeks, we are evaluating our soils and the microbiome of our vineyards, and we will be carefully monitoring and documenting the changes in our soils and vines as we practice biodynamic farming over the next years. It is a story I am very excited to be sharing. It is a process that will change our farm, our vines, our wines and us.

It will be a steep learning curve. Could anything be more exciting?

Here is a link to the Demeter Biodynamic Farm Standard for certification.