The fields at Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden in Southern Oregon are awash in the pastels of springtime: pink, blue, purple and white. Fungi grow amidst the grapes — a sign of healthy soil — and a wealth of crops will come up throughout the year, from apples and pears to cherries, asparagus, lavender and hazelnuts.
This award-winning vineyard in Jacksonville, between Grants Pass and Ashland, is “teeming with activity and health” in all of its biodiversity, says owner Bill Steele, who put down roots here in 2003 with his wife, Barbara.
Cowhorn is one of a growing number of winemakers in Oregon and nationally that are certified Biodynamic, which involves planting not just grapes but many different crops for year-round harvest and rotation to keep the soil organic, healthy and pure.
“Our goal is to try to enable the land to express itself through the wine without any synthetic chemicals,” Bill says. Each year they harvest about 10,000 pounds of food — mostly asparagus — and sell it to local co-ops, markets and restaurants.
Here at Cowhorn, weeds are treated as “native grasses and flowers,” which they let flourish. They remove invasive blackberries so that the natives can re-establish themselves. And they’ve taken a novel approach to pests, creating created corridors for bugs and small animals to use as highways through the farm.
The Steeles know that the soil here carries six unique native yeast strains, since the property had been left alone for 15 years before they planted the vineyard.
Using native yeasts guarantees that their wine — Rhône style, sharing the same qualities as the Rhône Valley in the south of France — is an unique expression of their farm and fruit.
Cowhorn and Troon Vineyard are the only Biodynamic wineries in Southern Oregon. They join more than a dozen throughout the state, including Johan Vineyards in Rickreall; Keeler Estate Vineyard and Brooks Winery in Amity; Brick House Vineyards in Newberg; Cooper Mountain Vineyards in Beaverton; Montinore Estate in Forest Grove; King Estate in Eugene; and Dominio IV in McMinnville.