Certifiable

Cynics often claim wineries get certifications as a marketing ploy. They’re right, but not in the way they think. We are selling something — an idea. That idea is regenerative agriculture. Those that think it’s a slick wine marketing concept need to have a conversation with our accountants. 

That’s not to say that biodynamics and regenerative agriculture can’t be profitable, indeed they can be, should be, and better be. As they say, you can’t farm green if you’re in the red. However, you may need to be patient for the profit — it’s worth the wait.

There are many reasons to get organic certifications — all of them good for the planet. You need a framework, a foundation to get started on a complex project based on long-term goals. Rigorous certifications like Demeter Biodynamic® and Regenerative Organic Certified™ (ROC) give a farm an outline of how to move forward. The process sets goals and milestones that help define the work that needs to be done and how to do it. This is critical when you are held to a high standard that demands you progress and improve. 

There is no endpoint in the process — you never reach agricultural nirvana. Even if you improve every year, you’re only taking small steps forward for the next generation. There is no finish line, this is a race where the leaders are the ones not moving backward. Continual, gradual improvement is the mission. Building an additional one-percent organic matter in our soil may not sound like a lot to you, but for us, it’s a cause for celebration. 

The certification process is a time of introspection and planning. We thoroughly reviewed what we accomplished and discussed what worked and where we fell short. We then plan out strategies for the next season and beyond. By the time the inspector arrives, we are prepared in a way you can never be without a formal process and demanding standards that must be achieved. The challenge is always planning how you will improve and move forward. Each year we add additional layers to our practice. 

Your first certification, while an achievement, is only the beginning. It means you have finally arrived at the starting line. Ultimately, you have to build on the outline that the certifications have developed and discover the ideal framework for your farm. While the overall concepts of regenerative agriculture are the same everywhere, you need to sculpt them for your farm — an art that takes years, even generations, to develop fully.

There’s a lot of greenwashing out there. Many “sustainable” certifications sound good on paper but still allow far too many poisons and shortcuts in the field and cellar. While many sustainable certifications are focused on the needs and problems of the producer, Demeter and ROC are concentrated on providing the consumer with a logo on a label that can reliably mean something to them. While I cannot doubt the best intentions of most involved in the many sustainable certifications, their programs fall short of what is needed to save our planet and have been co-opted by big agriculture. These greenwashed logos on labels dilute the meaning of all similar logos on wine labels and only confuse the consumer — which is often their intention. Why achieve a more demanding certification when you can slap a sustainable certificate on your brand without giving up Round-Up and so many other dangerous applications in your vineyard?

Every major grocery chain features organic vegetables, but those sections are dominated by big agriculture, and big organic ag is often not regenerative agriculture. This dilution of the term organic combined with corporate greenwashing of the term sustainable makes more meaningful certifications a necessity. 

There are many uncertified, perfectly legitimate practitioners of regenerative agriculture who are just as dedicated to that vision as we are, but by not getting certified and putting those logos on their labels, they are not pushing the movement forward. Yes, they are improving their soils, and capturing carbon, and touching all the bases except one — evangelicalism. Our job is not to change just our farm, but to change all farms. 

Putting your certifications on the label is a means of communication, and any brand messaging can be construed as marketing. But the Demeter and ROC logos are essential to communicate to consumers that are devoted to supporting producers who are committed to both the environment producing fruit, vegetables, and livestock that meets both their standards of quality and integrity. Connecting with those customers is an essential element for those that practice regenerative agriculture. With no margin, there is no mission. There are customers who share our values and want to support them. It is our job to connect with them and certification logos clearly carry our message and mission to them. Those consumers consider that a service, not a marketing hack. 

Wine has advantages as we have labels to display logos and produce products that can sit on a shelf for extended periods, an advantage not open to many biodynamic farmers. Shipping perishables is challenging for small farmers. This puts winegrowers in a unique position to promote the idea of certifications beyond organic. Telling the story of how we farm is a responsibility, communicating to customers about why they should buy regeneratively farmed products is how we build demand for all ROC and Demeter products — and that’s a sure way to convince more farmers and retailers to change their ways. 

Regenerative agriculture is not just about your farm — it’s about all farms. 

The Pace of Knowing

“The pace of knowing on our part does not alter how creation works,” Michael Phillips in Mycorrhizal Planet

A recent article in the New York Times revealed that the Moon has a tail, much like a comet. “It almost seems like a magical thing,” said one of the astronomers. For a few days each month, like clockwork, a stream of sodium particles from the Moon wraps around the earth’s atmosphere. That tail is dusting the Earth with sodium. 

“But even invisible, knowing the Earth has a meteor-fueled moonbeam is satisfying enough — a reminder of the Moon’s dynamism.” Says Dr. James O’Donoghue, a planetary scientist, “I think we definitely take it for granted.”

While we can’t sense the passage of this beam around the Earth, It does not mean that other beings on planet cannot. There is much we still do not understand about the cycles of the natural world. Nature’s smallest beings sense many things that are invisible to us. 

The more you pursue the science of regenerative agriculture, the more connections to biodynamic practices you discover. That is not to say the reasoning behind those practices are the same, but the practices themselves often closely align. 

“As the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust and the soil, silica has been largely ignored by agronomists. Silica is crucial, however, as it provides plant defense against pests and fungal/bacterial disease and reduces plant stress. It is a cell-strengthener and an activator for many plant functions,” says Nicole Masters in her thought-provoking book For the Love of Soil.

“Soil application of colloidal silicon increased plant-available Si, but only foliar application increased the total silicon concentrations in leaves, yield, and cluster weight. Moreover, the wine produced from the silica-treated grapes were ranked better in sensory evaluations,” states the Czech Academy of Agricultural Sciences in the article Effects of silicon amendments on grapevine, soil, and wine

One of the biodynamic preparations that raises most eyebrows (although all of them do for some) is BD 501 — the silica mentioned above. Silica is now routinely applied in many crops throughout the world. I’m sure most of the silica applied in agriculture is not buried in a cow horn first. Is the biodynamic method better than simply applying silica? I don’t know. However, I do know that silica prepared in the biodynamic way does make a difference in the vineyard. Our neighbors and good friends Barbara and Bill Steele at Cowhorn Vineyard have refined this practice over almost two decades of biodynamic farming. They use multiple precisely timed applications of BD 501 to encourage their Rhône varieties to reach higher brix levels in their cool Applegate Valley site. The proof is found in their exceptional wines. 

While Rudolf Steiner got a lot of the “hows” and “whats” right in his lectures, the “whys” are clearly not always on the mark. Steiner saw cow horns as kinds of radio telescopes that captured cosmic energies and transferred them to their contents. He was clearly right about silica, but cosmic energies? I think terms like “energies” and “forces” are just names for things we don’t understand. There was a lot that was not understood about plant biology in the 1920s, when Steiner gave his lectures (he died a year after giving them), while we understand much more today, there is still much that is not known. 

Having made our own BD 500 and BD 501 at Troon Vineyard for several years now we’ve had our own experience with burying cow horns to make these preparations. One thing is clear — the cow horns work in the sense that the final product is ideal for the job. Do they work because they are the ideal size and material or because of those cosmic forces? I admit there is a little bit of the “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” mentality here. Will other containers work just as well? I look forward to others doing that research and letting me know. I’d be happy to change, but I would prefer to not be the one experimenting as my immediate concerns are getting great fruit quality in the vintage at hand. 

There is one cosmic energy that no one doubts — the Sun. Apparently now the Moon can join that club. Not only does the Moon’s gravity gives us tides, but once a month the Earth is enveloped in its tail. Like a timepiece, the moon showers us not with mysterious cosmic energies, but a dusting of sodium. We can’t see it or feel it, but to the microbiology in the soil and plants, it may sound like Big Ben striking noon. 

There are so many aspects of biodynamics that are now entering the mainstream of agriculture science. Composting at lower temperatures to increase fungal and bacterial populations. State-of-the-art compost tea brewers aerate compost tea overnight, which also builds those populations, as in the biodynamic practice of dynamizing. Even farming by the Moon may have to be reevaluated. It was obvious to many of us that biodynamics worked. All you had to do was to taste the wines. While we knew it worked, we were not very comfortable with the “whys” as presented by Steiner. Slowly, but surely those gaps are being filled by the new science of regenerative agriculture. 

It is my hope that the new Regenerative Organic Alliance and Certification will bridge those gaps. It embraces both USDA Organic and Demeter Biodynamic Certification but fully incorporates the rapidly advancing science and knowledge that is happening in agriculture today. 

It’s not magical forces, but the Sun, soil, Moondust, mycorrhizal fungi, and manure that make agriculture work. As Michael Phillips wrote, “Nature does what needs to be done if we let her.”

Humble — something we should be when it comes to the natural systems. There is so much we do not know. Nature works, we must get out of the way. 



And Now for Something Completely Different

And Now for Something Completely Different

The last day of harvest 2020 at Troon Vineyard in Oregon’s Applegate Valley

Well, that was interesting. Goodbye 2020.

I was really looking forward to 2020. It was going to be a benchmark year as, after three years of intense effort we were going to receive our full Demeter Biodynamic® Certification. Finally, Troon Vineyard, always a vineyard with unfulfilled potential, was going to show what it could do.

Obviously, far, far more important, and more terrible, things happened. 

In late February, I was on the Slow Wine Tour as we had achieved another Slow Wine award at Troon Vineyard. San Francisco, Seattle and Denver in four days. Then, during the first week of March, while I was in San Francisco for the Oregon Wine Trail tasting event, I was unnerved to see the desk clerk at my hotel was wearing a mask when she checked me in. Then, at the packed event, people made nervous, feeble jokes about not shaking hands, while making clumsy attempts at bumping elbows. COVID had arrived. 

Then everything imploded. 

Our tasting rooms and our restaurant customers were closed down, sales events were canceled and the world came to a stop. Or so it seemed at first. 

While everything else closed, the farming just kept going. Farms can’t stop for pandemics. The winery became an eerie place. Most days I was alone in the offices and vineyard crew was spread out over the entire farm. It is easy to social distance on one-hundred acres. The cellar team would alternate days so only one person at a time was in the cellar. Despite the challenges, the work got done. 

Actually, the work in the vineyard was a comforting thing. With the entire world in an uproar, the quiet and beauty of the vineyard and the surrounding mountains made it a calming and safe place.

Selling wine was not a safe and calming place. A major segment of our customers simply vanished overnight as restaurants and wine bars were shuttered. For a small biodynamic winery producing wines from varieties that are not mainstream commercial pop hits, this was not a good thing. 

But then something very special happened.

Our regular customers, wine club members and locals, stepped up to support their local businesses when they needed it most. Our walk-in and online orders took off. Then there were our retail store customers who could have settled for the big, well-known commercial brands, but stuck with small producers like us. It is a favor we will do our best to repay forever. 

Then, thankfully, good weather arrived. 

In summer things felt lighter as we could have outdoor tastings at our tasting rooms and the energy that our guests brought to Troon revitalized our team. We are lucky to have a large patio and lawn at the winery and a courtyard at our Carlton tasting room. Outdoor tastings were not going to be a problem, as even in normal summers everyone prefers to be tasting outside. Social distance was not a problem as we easily spread out tables across the lawn. During the long, warm sunny days of summer in the Applegate Valley we were busy as outdoor wine tasting felt like a safe option. 

Then the fires arrived. 

The winds were predicted, but their actual arrival was unnerving as everyone was aware of the danger — a danger that was more than realized. Our neighbors in the towns of Talent and Phoenix saw their communities destroyed. Simple Machine Winery in Talent lost everything. Many winery and vineyard workers lost their homes. The first day of the fires, the skies were blue at Troon, but then the smoke settled in for a few weeks. Once again, we had been luckier than many. The main problem we experienced was that the smoke curtailed our outdoor tastings. Certainly a minor inconvenience compared to what so many suffered. The wine community came together with the Rogue Valley Wine Country Cares fundraiser to raise $57,000 to support housing costs for those that lost their homes. The wine industry is filled with good people. 

Then it was time for harvest. 

There is never a day filled with such unbridled optimism at a winery than the first day of harvest. We all did our best to maintain that facade. As dawn broke on that first day, we started picking in particularly heavy smoke. I wore both a N95 and a surgical mask and the pickers struggled to work in their masks and the smoke making an already difficult job that much harder. The cellar crew all wore N95 masks, now to ward off both smoke and COVID. Not one person complained. While we could not see each other’s smiles, you could still could still hear the jokes and laughter. 

When we briefly removed our masks as Troon Vineyard winemaker Nate Wall made the traditional Champagne toast as the first grapes arrived, it was clear that neither the smoke or COVID could steal our optimism for this new vintage.

Finally, the smoke cleared and most of the vintage was completed under blue skies surrounded by beautiful vistas of the Siskiyou Mountains. Once again we were lucky as our wines were not affected by the smoke. The fires were too far away from Troon so we were not covered with the fresh smoke that can impact the wine.

It is always strangely quiet when the vintage is over.

Harvest interns always bring a lot of energy, fun and enthusiasm to the harvest crew and their departure marks the official end of harvest. It also makes the winery feel quieter and a bit empty. It is always a time for reflection and looking forward. Now that the smoke had cleared the late October weather was unusually warm, customers returned to our tasting rooms and their support once again buoyed our spirits. 

Then in November everything imploded — again.

Just as other businesses had done, we had carefully planned how to keep our tasting rooms open for indoor tasting during the winter months. The social distance between tables had been carefully measured, firm mask requirements and disinfecting strategies had been put into action. Everyone on the team was committed to the safety of our guests and each other. I have been inspired by the commitment of everyone at Troon during this year. You could always see their deep respect for each other on their faces — because they were always masked. 

Then, as COVID dramatically spiked we once again were limited to outdoor tastings. Winter outdoor wine tastings are not an inviting prospect in the mountains of Southern Oregon.

But then something very special happened — again.

Yet again the Troon team pivoted and recreated our outdoor patios with heaters, blankets and windbreaks to make guests as comfortable as possible. Once again our customers have come through for us braving the elements to taste and buy our wines. You can never look at these people that supported you during this difficult year the same way again. We are very lucky.

All of us are looking forward to 2021. 

As you look to the next vintage you are always filled with optimism. I know 2021 will be a special vintage. We learned many things this year. We know more about each other and more about our customers. We are better than we were at the start of 2020. Both more efficient and more empathetic. Smarter and more creative. Tougher and more humble. 

Most of all we have to treasure our good fortune in 2020. We were able to hold our own while so many others had the business that they had dreamed of and sweated over for years devastated. We were able to make exciting wines in challenging situations. More than anything we did not lose anyone to this terrible disease, although some of our team lost extended family members. The lessons of vintage 2020 are to count your blessings. 

We practice regenerative agriculture at Troon Vineyard. Regenerative means to put in more than you take out. In 2020, that did not only apply to the vineyard. 

Well, this will be interesting. Hello 2021.

Interview on the Organic Wine Podcast

I spent a entertaining hour discussing biodynamics regenerative agriculture at Troon Vineyard and life in Oregon’s Applegate Valley with Adam Huss on his Organic Wine Podcast.

Today we take a trip to the country to meet Craig Camp, the General Manager of Troon Vineyard in the Applegate Valley AVA of Southwest Oregon. Troon is a certified organic and biodynamic winery and estate vineyard that focuses on blends made from the grapes of Southern France, which seem to do extremely well in this northern area with a hot Mediterranean climate.

Craig was brought in to regenerate every aspect of Troon, and we had a very enjoyable conversation about everything that is happening there that he has helped implement. From soil testing and replanting and staff education to sheep dogs to organic vegetable gardens and more, even from the outside it’s exciting to hear about what he’s doing, and you can hear the excitement in the way he talks about it.

Craig has a personal story in regards to wine that I can relate to as well. He fell in love with wine far away from where it was grown, and over the course of his life and several career changes, he worked backwards toward an understanding of how the finest wine begins in a healthy, probiotic soil.
— Adam Huss

Dirt is Not Terroir

Mycorrhizal Fungi - Illustration by Michael Rothman - https://www.rothmanillustration.com

It was the early eighties, and I was yet again rereading several chapters of Edmund Penning-Rowsell’s tome The Wines of Bordeaux. I had just spent the day tasting in Graves and Sauternes from the tank and barrel with renowned French wine exporter Christopher Cannan. Now it was night, and I was getter ready for bed in a small, dimly lit guest room above the offices of his company Europvin in the city of Bordeaux. We were visiting the Chateaux he worked with throughout all the appellations of Bordeaux. Each night before sleep I would review the appellations we had visited that day and those we would visit the next. That week long visit to Bordeaux was followed by a week in Burgundy with Becky Wasserman and my nightly reading changed to Burgundy, then a brand-new book authored by Anthony Hanson.

The next year I made a similar trip to Italy. Setting off with famed Italian wine exporter Neil Empson, we visited almost every wine area of Italy to taste at nearly every estate in his extensive portfolio on a three-week tasting marathon. In my bag was a well-worn copy of Burton Anderson’s Vino, the Italian wine bible of the day. My reading pattern was the same as when I was in France, reviewing each night on where we had been and cramming on where we were headed the next day.

I have been lucky over my career to have made multiple such trips to France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Australia. Top that off with many, many trips through the wine regions of California, Oregon and Washington. On each trip I would devour the current wine literature of each region before, during and after each visit.

I was obsessed with wine books and literally would buy and read whatever came out each year and my bookshelves overflowed with dog-eared, wine-stained volumes. This was the era of my life when I was a wine importer and distributor based in Chicago. Then, two decades ago, I made the transition from wine distribution to wine production and my reading list began to change. Slowly but surely instead of reading books about wine, I began reading books about farming. I recently realized this when I noticed that the last five books I’ve read all have the word soil in the title.

Even though my reading materials have changed, I am still as obsessed by the concept of terroir as I was decades ago in that small room in Bordeaux. However, what that means to me has changed significantly.

Those books presented terroir as something magical. That each site is a unique expression of the soil where it was grown. Then you actually start to grow wine and a new reality presents itself.

Take Oregon and Burgundy for example. In the Willamette Valley the soils are volcanic or sedimentary acidic soils. Summers are almost desert-like with no rain for months. Burgundies are grown on alkaline limestone soils and there is rain throughout the growing season. There’s not much in common here except one thing — outstanding pinot noir. Time after time experienced professional tasters find it difficult to tell which wine is Willamette Valley and which is Burgundy.

Burgundy and the Willamette Valley are not alone in this for the same experts can confuse California and Washington Cabernet with Bordeaux and California Coast and Oregon Syrah with Rhône wines. Each of these areas are very different from each other. How it is possible that all can produce wines whose provenance confuses the experts?

The reason is we have always made the cornerstone of terroir the type of soil the vine grows in — limestone, volcanic, granitic, sedimentary and so on. But it turns out that it’s not the exact type of soil that matters as much as the life in the soil itself. It has been this realization that changed my reading from wine books to soil books.

Terroir is not an expression of inert dirt, it is the individual expression of living soil and how a healthy plant intertwines with that soil. Dirt is not always soil. Soil is a system teeming with life.

Obviously, there are distinct sites. Terroir is a combination of many things. Climate and mesoclimate are critical, then there is the human element — row spacing, trellising and picking the right variety for the right place. For example, planting cabernet in a cool climate and pinot in a warm climate is not a great idea. But it takes grapes grown on healthy vines on living soils to make an expressive wine with a distinct character.

What makes for a living soil? Here is where you find the reason that biodynamic wines have a unique liveliness that stands out. Sustainable agriculture is not enough. That only means that you are killing the life in your soils more slowly than industrial agriculture. It is only with regenerative agriculture that you can build soil that creates distinctive, individualistic wines.

Plants and the microbiology in the soil have a complex symbiotic relationship. The plant takes a large percentage of the carbohydrates it produces through photosynthesis and pushes this exudate out through its roots to attract the microbes it needs to extract nutrition from the soil. It can change the mix of exudates depending on its requirements at the moment. A healthy plant decides the microbiology in the soil by the mix of gourmet microbe treats it sends out through its roots. That microbiology then returns the favor by processing the nutrients in the soil into a form the plant can utilize. The healthier the plant, the healthier that microbiology becomes. The healthier that microbiology becomes, the healthier the plant becomes. Not a bad system.

Then we come in and screw it up. The application of pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers destroys nature’s well-tuned system. In that system is to be found what makes a vineyard unique. It is an essential element of what we call terroir. The grapes that make distinctive wines come from vines in vineyards where nature’s system is humming along. Our job as farmers is to assist the plant and soil in regenerating that balance year after year. This is vital when you have a perennial crop like vines that do not lend themselves to crop rotation.

Coming back to the Willamette Valley and Burgundy comparison, perhaps their shared qualities come more from the life in their soils than their geological provenance.

I still read before and after vineyard visits. However, these days they are not wine books, they are soil books. It is in the soil you find great wine.

Demeter Certification

Troon Vineyard one of twelve Demeter Biodynamic® Certified wineries and vineyard in Oregon

It started in a grown over abandoned cow pasture three and a half years ago and ended with Champagne on the patio at Troon Vineyard last week. 

The start was picking the site for the compost piles. The Champagne toast was to celebrate what we have achieved in these years in-between. Troon Vineyard is now one of only twelve wineries in Oregon to be certified Demeter Biodynamic® in both the winery and vineyard. To add a bit of icing to the cake, both the vineyard and winery are now also certified CCOF Organic. 

Searching with me for a compost site in an abandoned and overgrown pasture over three years ago was biodynamic consultant Andrew Beedy. The new proprietors of Troon Vineyard, Dr. Bryan and Denise White had fully committed to the concept and investment required to transform Troon Vineyard from industrial agriculture to biodynamics. Now Andrew and I started the project forward. If you were standing there that day with Andrew and me and then came back to Troon Vineyard today, you would not recognize you were on the same farm. Only Grayback Mountain, still majestically towering over the Applegate Valley, would tell you that this spot was Troon Vineyard. The distressed, dilapidated and diseased vineyard that was Troon Vineyard in 2016 has been replaced by a living farm. Today, everywhere you look is activity and, most importantly, life. 

While media tends to focus on buried cow horns and other photogenic aspects of biodynamics, the heart of biodynamics is the people who practice it. A farm is not a natural occurrence in nature. Mother Nature does not plant grapevines in nice neat rows. Our goal and I believe the goal of biodynamics, is to let the natural systems of nature function as normally as possible in the rather unnatural environment that is a farm. 

It takes a village to achieve a goal like Demeter Biodynamic® Certification. Fortunately built a dynamic team to accomplish this goal. Proprietors Bryan and Denise White have provided a solid foundation for us to build on. Biodynamic consultant Andrew Beedy and viticulturist Jason Cole provided the framework for our vineyard crew, led by ranch manager Adan Cortes, to transform not only the vineyard but the entire property. Our cellar team, winemaker Nate Wall and assistant winemaker Sarah Thompson fully embraced biodynamics and daily keep us moving forward as we expand and deepen our practice of regenerative farming and winemaking.

Demeter Certification

Troon Vineyard CCOF Organic Certification

For me, I will admit this is an emotional moment as I remember first seeing this vineyard in 2016. Today, when I stand in the same spot where I first surveyed this vineyard, surrounded by the majestic beauty of the Siskiyou Mountains, I can clearly recall feeling that this was a special place and a special vineyard. To see the possibilities I saw transformed into reality sometimes seems like almost a dream, but it is a dream come true.

Certification was a goal and now it is a goal achieved. It fact it just means that we have arrived at the starting line. So much of the work over the last three years has been repairing and restoring and we are far from done with those jobs. Now the goal is to more deeply understand this vineyard, this farm, and to make the practice of biodynamics our own. To achieve certification you are given a set of rules to follow. If you check off all the boxes you achieve certification. Now, as a jazz musician must master the scales before they can improvise, that we have learned to work within the framework of biodynamics, we must learn to go beyond that framework and discover the natural system of this farm. That will be our ultimate goal. Our job is to learn what this farm needs and then do our best to provide for those needs. The next years will be focused on building biodiversity. We will be welcoming some new members to our biodynamic team as next spring a flock of sheep, more chickens, and the requisite guard dogs (Pyrénées of course!) became part of our farm.

We celebrated our certifications with a Champagne toast. We toasted not only to what we accomplished, but what we will accomplish in the future. Becoming one of the few Demeter Biodynamic® Certified wineries and vineyards is a true milestone. Now, on to the next one. 

Rebirth, Regeneration, Rediscovery

Troon Vineyard, Applegate Valley, Oregon

“Troon Vineyard is a story of rebirth, regeneration, and rediscovery,” reads the lede in the Oregon Wine Press articleTroon Renaissancein their July issue about the transformation of Troon Vineyard. The author, Barbara Barrielle, could not have better captured the spirit of what has been accomplished at this small vineyard in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon. 

When I first visited Troon Vineyard in 2016, I felt a connection to the vineyard from the first day because I could feel the potential of this site. I can still clearly remember that day as I stared at the vineyard with the dramatic backdrop of Grayback Mountain and the Siskiyou Range. I felt that this was not only a site with potential, but with soul. The serene beauty of the Applegate Valley is unmatched by other American wine regions and, while the site and the valley were beautiful, the condition of the vineyard was not. This was a vineyard that needed to be born again. 

In 2016, the rebirth of Troon Vineyard began. This was no easy task as the owner at that time did not share my vision of the potential of the vineyard and the wines. For years, Troon had been focused on what I would call “gimmick” marketing. Funny labels and contrived marketing spin were the strategies. Also, key staff members had been driven off by, shall we say, less than enlightened management practices. I still cringe when I think of the loss of one, particularly talented staff member due to insensitive treatment. Fortunately, at least, she moved on to another winery in the Applegate Valley and remains a friend to this day. I had been brought in to put the business in order so that it could be sold. I saw it as a short-term project, and I was getting ready to move on when Denise and Bryan White arrived and decided to purchase Troon. In the meantime, I'd fallen in love with this vineyard. Thankfully, they did too. For it would demand a labor of love to not only restore the vineyard but to restore honor to a tarnished brand.

Troon Vineyard had been in a dark period for some time. To say the brand was tarnished would be an understatement. I was brought in to put a bandaid on it and then to move on once first-aid was applied. That’s all the owner at that time wanted, and I just wanted to get out of Napa and have some time to find a compelling vineyard in the Willamette Valley. It did not take me long to realize I had found that vineyard, but it was in the Applegate Valley. Without an owner that is connected to the vineyard and the soil, there is no hope. The vineyard convinced me to hope anyway.

What is now Troon Vineyard was divided at that time. The west ranch was being farmed using the nuclear option by the family that had purchased it in a sale that had broken the property apart. Knowing little about farming, they pushed the vines to their limit using every chemical trick and allowing the vines to overproduce and exhaust themselves. I’ll always remember reading their spray list and seeing a product called Venom. Any product with such a name needed to be checked out. The first thing I saw on the product label was that it killed bees - all of them. These poor plants would never completely recover from this abuse, but, hopefully, the soils and the bees could. Fortunately, the east ranch was still under our control, and there I pulled the plug on chemicals in the vineyard and the cellar. It was not an easy task as the winemaking and vineyard team at the time had never been asked to aspire to make great wines, so they had not.

We had to not only regenerate the site, but the people that worked it.

In 2017, the regeneration of Troon Vineyard began. The essential step was the purchase of the Troon Winery and the west ranch by the Whites. They had already purchased the half of the original property that had been sold off and then they purchased the Troon Winery site to reunite the entire estate. The other big step was the arrival of biodynamic consultant Andrew Beedy. A huge leap forward was made as, now that both vineyard blocks were under our control, we were able to move immediately and totally to organic and biodynamic agriculture on the entire estate. Then plans were initiated for a range of research projects to dig into every aspect of the vineyard. There was a lot to learn.

This year also was the start of our compost program, which required us to produce over two hundred tons of biodynamic compost a year. That’s a lot of manure. Fortunately for us, our neighbor here in the Applegate Valley is the Noble Organic Dairy, with thousands of cows eager to contribute to our cause.

Regenerative agriculture became the foundation of everything we did, and biodynamics provided the framework to build on. We were searching for the soul of this vineyard. It had been there all along, but we had to rediscover it. 

In 2018, the rediscovery of Troon Vineyard began. Vineyard Soil Technologies from Napa Valley arrived and dug over seventy five-feet deep soil pits. A team of soil scientists spent a week in the pits researching every aspect of the vineyard. At the same time, we began our project with Biome Makers, as they created an annual database on the bacteria, fungi, and yeasts that made our soils unique. Master viticulturist Jason Cole came on board to manage the redevelopment of the vineyard. We wanted to understand how every aspect of the vineyard changed as we implemented biodynamics. We needed all the data we could obtain to help us make the right decisions. 

There were a lot of decisions to be made as we had decided to replant the entire vineyard. The existing vines were simply beyond saving. The biggest issue was extensive red blotch virus infection, but the vines had also been weakened by the years of convention farming. Weak vines are easy targets for other vine diseases, and these vines had become an encyclopedia of afflictions. As devastating and expensive it was to have to replant the entire vineyard, there was a silver lining as we could now choose the right varieties for this site and plant them the right way. Instead of having to deal with a hodgepodge of varieties, some less than ideal for the site, we could replant with a plan. That plan would be to focus on the varieties of southern France. Those varieties would include syrah, grenache, mourvèdre, cinsault, counoise, tannat, malbec, negrette, bourboulenc, marsanne, roussanne, viognier, clairette blanche, bourboulenc, vermentino (rolle) and picpoul. Many of these varieties will not appear as single-variety wines but will be part of blends. 

Blends are to become the heart of Troon Vineyard as we create the new Troon.

In 2019 we recreated Troon Vineyard as the replanting project began as we planted ten new acres of vines. Some of these were new areas, never before planted, and others were replanting of vineyards we had removed the year before. It is always a sad experience to remove vines - even sick ones. Planting new vines is the flip-side of that emotion as there is nothing that fuels the spirit of optimism more than putting vines in the ground. We are planting not only for ourselves but for future generations. There are few things that “pay it forward” more than planting a vineyard. These vines will produce wines we’ll never taste, made by people we’ll never meet.

The work that began in 2016 was recognized in 2019 as we were awarded our first Demeter Biodynamic® and CCOF Organic certifications. There are separate certifications for the winery and vineyard. Therefore, we received our full certifications for the winery, but our “in-transition” certifications for the vineyard. We’ll get the final Demeter Biodynamic® certification for the vineyard in 2020 as it takes three full years of biodynamic farming, and in 2019 we were a few months short of that goal. 

The older vines were now really showing the impact of our biodynamic regenerative agriculture program. They were healthier and producing better fruit. Our good friends in the Applegate Valley, Barbara and Bill Steele, at Cowhorn Vineyard, had graciously agreed to sell us some of their biodynamic syrah, grenache, marsanne, roussanne, and viognier to get us through the shortfalls of our own production as we replanted. So we had grapes from our own estate that were dramatically improved in quality combined with excellent fruit from Cowhorn to work with, but, as with a great violin, you need a virtuoso to play it to show what it can do. That talent arrived as this vintage was made under the guidance of new Troon Vineyard winemaker Nate Wall. Nate is an incredibly sensitive and passionate winemaker whose love for the site equals the Whites and my own. His background in science (B.S. in Biology and M.S. in Environmental Engineering) was ideal for our philosophy of searching for the science in biodynamics. His extensive experience making pinot noir in the Willamette Valley provided the light, minimalist touch needed for wines from the Applegate Valley. 

The confluence of a healthier vineyard, better fruit, and the right people made the 2019 vintage a milestone vintage for Troon Vineyard. The wines from this vintage finally give a glimpse of what this special vineyard is capable of producing. The first of our new generation of wines included wines released in 2020: Piquette, Pét tanNat (100% tannat pét nat), and Kubli Bench blends that included an Amber (orange wine) and a Rosé. Another orange wine, Amber Amphora Vermentino, has been aging on the skins and stems in three amphorae for the better part of a year and will be released this fall. While most of the 2019 red wines (which we are equally excited about) will not be released for a few years, we did produce a 100% carbonic maceration Grenache, which we are enjoying chilled this summer.

So in 2020, Troon Vineyard has been reborn, we have regenerated the vineyard and the wines and created a team that has rediscovered the soul of a vineyard. Joining that team in 2020 is the energetic and creative assistant winemaker Sarah Thompson. This will be the year we receive our full Demeter Biodynamic® certification that will recognize years of hard work and investment. But these achievements only mean that we have arrived at the starting line of a race that never finishes. There is no such thing as a finish line in winemaking.

Regeneration is a constant. Every year it begins again only building on the work of the preceding years. Agriculture is a relay race. We can only do our best for the land, the plants, and our wines and then, finally, pass the baton on to the next runner. Hopefully, they’ll run the race with the same intensity that we ran our leg.