Full Pull Cowhorn

Hello friends. Is geography destiny?

I think, in many ways, the answer is yes. For example, if today’s winery was located in the Walla Walla Valley or the Willamette Valley or the Napa Valley, or anyplace reasonably close to a major population center, I suspect it would be the stuff of closed mailing lists, breathless anticipation of new releases, the word “cult” bandied about, etc etc.

Instead, this winery is located in waaaaay southern Oregon, in the Applegate Valley, about ten miles from the California border (right here). There, truly in the middle of nowhere, Bill and Barbara Steele are growing and making some of the most compelling Syrah in the United States:

2012 Cowhorn Syrah 20
To put into context how remote this area is, it is closer to San Francisco (six hours) than Seattle (seven hours). Even if you get to Portland, you still need to go another four and a half hours to make it to Cowhorn. It’s out there.

The winery first flashed onto my radar when David Schildknecht wrote about Cowhorn in back-to-back years covering Oregon for Wine Advocate. Here he is in 2012: [TEXT WITHHELD]

Schildknecht then returned with this in 2013: [TEXT WITHHELD]

That is a whole lot of strong praise from a critic not prone to it, and especially not prone to it for new world wines (I know many a Washington winery relieved that Schildknecht’s tenure covering our home state only lasted a single year). So yeah, I was intrigued, but until recently, it was difficult to source the wines in any meaningful quantity here in Washington. Fortunately, we now have a solid importer/distributor bringing the wines in, and I recently got to taste the portfolio. Right away, it’s easy to see what got Schildknecht so excited. This is a winery making exquisite, expressive, site-specific wines, across the board.

Much of the Steele’s 16-acre (Demeter-certified biodynamic) vineyard is planted on top of small stones from an ancient riverbed (where the Applegate used to flow, thousands of years ago). The soil looks like this. The climate in their little corner of Oregon also closely resembles the Northern Rhone, which is why they planted a lot of Syrah (also Grenache and a number of Rhone Whites).

This 2012 comes from two blocks of the estate vineyard (Block 1, Block 5), harvested in mid-October. It spent just shy of a year in French oak, 40% new, and has now had nearly another three years to evolve in bottle. It clocks in at 13.6% listed alc, pours inky purple, and comes roaring up out of the glass with aromas of huckleberry fruit, violet pastille, and all this wonderful briny brackishness (black olive, seaweed). There are smoky subtleties of bacon fat that become more prominent with exposure to air. The entire aromatic spectrum is a thing of beauty. Texturally, this is just wonderful, with an incredible sense of energy and vivacity. This is propulsive wine to drink, its mix of fruit and savory notes carried along by a brightly acidic spine and lighting up every inch of the palate. It’s lovely to drink a Syrah so expressive of the place where it was grown.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

That review is set to come out in the April issue of Wine Enthusiast, and is sure to turn some heads. Let’s sneak in and grab our stash before all that. Please limit order requests to 12 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in a week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

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