Organics and Biodynamics in Southern Oregon’s Gorgeous Applegate Valley

Note: This piece was originally written in October 2021, and has been updated June 2023.

Driving just north of the California border, along Interstate 5,  I’m guessing that the event that rings a bell for you from this stunning region, is the renowned Shakespeare Festival taking place in Ashland, Oregon. Ashland, with all its charms, and a festival that’s lasts much of the year, is where we made our base, and from there headed out to wine country. A mere 45 minute drive NW from The Ashland Springs Hotel in downtown Ashland landed us at Cowhorn Vineyards.

Ashland Springs Hotel

I was immediately enchanted. The lush green gardens and peaceful setting would put anyone at ease. As we met the new owner, Katherine (Mini) Banks, and learned of the transformation taking place, I was more and more enchanted. The youthful Mini, has taken over this project with a passion, and as someone entrusted to carry the vision forward. The vineyards, already organic, and on the biodynamic path, (which is a continuum), will become more self contained, like an organism coming into its own, fully developed and ready to sustain life on its own. 

Growing up in the vineyards her family invested in, (they were co-owners of cult wineries such as Screaming Eagle), she has a deep bond and appreciation for the land and being in harmony with nature. Her NYC education, and a foray as communications coordinator in fashion, and in Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop empire, taught her she was much more comfortable in a rural environment, closer to nature. 

Cowhorn Vineyards and Garden's Tasting Room

Being greeted by owner Katherine "Mini "Banks (center), with Sarah Thompson in foreground 

Mini Banks stealing barrel samples with the "Wine Thief"

Along came Bill and Barbara Steele, already farming their 117 acres in Oregon’s Applegate Valley biodynamically. Interested in taking their lives a bit easier, they formed a bond with Mini, understanding she would expand their vision, and agreed to be available for consultations after Mini’s investment group took over. 

Mini consults with a biodynamic expert, and hired winemaker Sarah Thompson*, and the dynamic duo of Mini and Sarah that showed us around the property shared their vision of what more is to come from this already impressive property. It was clear that these two young, intelligent women have been entrenched in learning pertinent developments in low intervention winemaking, and fully willing and able to execute them. Dynamizer anyone? Pressure Bomb? The first is a mixer to “energize” the biodynamic preparations, and the other a pressurized contraption used to suss out whether or not vines need water. They hope to decrease irrigation,  coming close to dry farming - meaning the vines sustain on rain water alone - so the pressure bomb can help guide them. Biodynamic preparations are made from herbs, and from buried manure filled cowhorns, which ferment, creating a rich humus, and  help to protect and nourish the vines.

Lavender fields on the property increase pollenator activity, and the asparagus garden supplies the on site chef, and is left to fern and go to seed for the next season. Fruit trees as well as hazelnut trees inoculated with Perigord black truffle(!) dot the land. Their Syrah leaves are hand harvested, and traded for the manure from the dairy cows at nearby Rogue Creamery. Get this - the leaves are soaked in pear liquor, then wrapped around the wheels, (before aging) of their award winning Rogue River Blue (Best Cheese in the World/Grand Champion) -World Cheese Awards, Bergamo, Italy 2020! We had some of this luscious cheese and boy howdy, it’s no joke! 

The Tasting room is LEED certified, as well as Living Building Challenge certified.

Chef Tim Payne is heading up the culinary program, featuring events like a Supper Club, pop-up dinners held in different locations on the property, and full experience Member Dinners.

Getting to the wine- I heartily recommend one of their Syrahs to accompany the cheese, or any good blue. That’s where I think they shine, but there is great Grenache, rosés of Grenache and Tempranillo,  as well as Rhone Valley white varietals (Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier), and blends, none of which are slackers. I particularly liked The Spiral- a blend of the 3 whites. Wine list here **

Sarah Thompson, winemaker

Asparagus garden, Whole system farming. Smoky skies evident from nearby wildfires. 

Rogue Creamery "Rogue River Blue", (wrapped in Cowhorn edible Syrah leaves)

Tastings available by appointment, Wednesday - Sunday, from 11am to 5pm .

Stay tuned :  there are plans for sheep and cows (to graze and provide manure), and even a new Lodge to welcome guests overnight called 'The Overlook', to shimmy up and complete the system that this beautiful property has in this sight. 

Also stay tuned (new article): Troon Vineyard, another top of it's game wine producer with biodynamic and Regenerative Organic Certified as it's heartbeat...

*new winemaker is Vince Vidrine

**piece was written after attending #WMC21 Wine Media Conference 2021, hosted in part by @travelsouthernoregon 


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