Biodynamic Syrah from Oregon
By Allison Vidug
2012 Cowhorn Syrah, Applegate Valley, US
Syrah is not a grape associated with the state of Oregon, but that is exactly where the Applegate Valley is located. Contrary to the cool maritime climate of the well know Willamette Valley, which is known for producing fine examples of pinot noir, Applegate Valley is located in the sunny south interior close to the state of California, where the warm climate allows ripening of big red grape varieties, such as Syrah.
Cowhorn is a small 117-acre winery. They have chosen to plant traditional grape varieties from the Rhône Valley in France, focusing on Syrah, Grenache and Viognier. The name Cowhorn is in reference to the philosophy of biodynamic farming. Biodynamic practices could be summed up as über organic; following the celestial calendar, “teas” made from organic matter are applied to the vineyard to promote health. This is a very labour intensive process. One of the most important and iconic rituals is burying cow horns filled with manure or silica in the ground for six months. During this time the manure matures into a black, deep rich hummus which is applied to vineyard to promote healthy soil and plant growth. The silica is said to stimulate the metabolism of the vine, and discourage fungal growth in the vines. Although there is no hard evidence that biodynamic farming produces better wines, many believe there is energy and purity to the wines, as well as a clearer expression of terroir (a taste of the sense of place where the grapes were grown).
Believe in biodynamics or not, it is undeniable that the 2012 Cowhorn Syrah is beautiful. Its appearance is stunning. The wine stains the sides of the glass a deep ruby violet colour. The bouquet is layered with loads of baked dark plums, black berries, finely milled black pepper, warm leather, hints of earth and a floral note of irises’. A good amount of time could be spent under the spell of the pleasure of the aromas. On the palate, the wine is very balanced with good body, mature tannins and a desirable finish that lingers. This wine is a show stopper that could simply be enjoyed on its own, but would appreciate the company of a great meal. Syrah is an excellent steak wine, especially The Shore Club’s ribeye cuts. The full flavour from the well marbled steak is a good match for the complexity of the Syrah’s flavours, and the wine is full bodied enough to handle the protein in the fat of the steak. Another classic pairing is lamb and Syrah. The gamey quality of the lamb is no trouble for the peppery Syrah. Either choice would be well accompanied with the umami of grilled wild mushrooms and the earthy sweet flavours of roasted red beets.
Despite Cowhorn’s limited small production of estate grown wines, the quality has captured the attention of the press. Matt Kramer from Wine Spectator has claimed “Southern Oregon’s Cowhorn […] wines are exceptional—and largely unknown to a wider audience.” Wine Enthusiast Magazine awarded the 2012 Syrah as Editors Choice in April 2016 with a score of 94 points. And Robert Parker has taken attention to the small winery in the less known Applegate Valley by saying “I really admire the style of these wines that are some of the best for this part of Oregon: clean, focused, complex and full of personality.”
A small amount of the 2012 Cowhorn Syrah is currently available at The Shore Club Toronto.