At Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden in Oregon, a low intervention approach results in outstanding organic and biodynamic wines that truly reflect the land
While the land is every bit as beautiful, distinctive and fertile as neighbouring California, southern Oregon is not renowned for producing great wines. The departure to that rule is the exceptional Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden run by Mini Banks Byers and Dillon Byers, who have been carefully producing outstanding biodynamic red and white wines since 2020. These have been labelled “a cult favourite among chefs from San Francisco to New York” by no less an authority than The New York Times.
“For us, it’s not just about producing organic, natural wine, it’s also about producing the very highest quality wine, while also being organic and biodynamic,” says Mini, who grew up in the wine industry and always dreamt of having her own vineyard. “We are farming with great intention and operating under the philosophy that the wine is made in the vineyard. When you see first-hand the beautiful and alive fruit we yield by farming this way, it makes achieving such quality doable year after year. Cowhorn was and is one of the first in the area to produce wine that is consistently receiving 90-plus scores from experts.”
Cowhorn comprises 117 acres of land, of which 25 acres are vines planted in 2007 and 2010. Before acquiring the land, the Byers reviewed thermal mapping and weather and soil analysis, all of which showed their terroir was very similar to the Rhône wine region in France. This is why Cowhorn is planted with Rhône varietals such as Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache for reds; and Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier for whites. The flagship wines celebrate the terroir while maintaining their full acidity.
The Byers are committed to a biodynamic and organic approach in winemaking and farming. This means more than just banning the use of pesticides; rather it is taking a holistic overview towards agriculture, surrounding the vines with plants and crops that will benefit the land. It also involves farming in tandem with the seasons and lunar cycle, while paying close attention to every tiny aspect, from compost to the presence of pollinators. Although the couple have to monitor the vines much more closely, they believe that it makes them more in tune with the land and its fruit, which is ultimately to the benefit of the final product.
“We are not only certified biodynamic and organic in the vineyard, but also the winery, so there is a very low intervention approach,” says Mini. “Making wine this way, we do not have many levers to pull as a winemaker, so our final product, our bottled wine, is a true expression of time and place. You begin to really ‘taste’ that place in the bottle. Every little thing on the property can be found in the wine in one way or another. It pushes the boundaries and shows that people can farm in a way that is more environmentally conscious without producing wines that skimp on quality.”
Cowhorn produces around 3,000 to 4,000 cases per year. The bulk of these are sold direct to customers, with the vineyard shipping to fans across the world. Customers are also welcome to visit the vineyard and winery in person and enjoy a tasting menu while experiencing the beautiful landscape and meeting the dedicated young producers. It is no wonder that prestigious restaurants in the US are discovering the magic of Cowhorn’s wines of the finest distinction. “These restaurants act as ambassadors for our wines, and we work closely on those relationships as there is a synergy there – we support each other,” says Mini. “Finding the right places to place our wine is very important.”