Tucked away in Southern Oregon’s serene Applegate Valley, Bill and Barbara Steele are accomplishing something that hasn’t yet been done in the wine world. As well as offering outstanding Rhône varietals such as Viognier, Marsanne, and deep reds like Syrahs and Grenache, their Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden tasting room has achieved the first ever Living Building Challenge™ Petal Certification in the wine industry. The Steeles first conversations around the project began nearly three years ago, and the final product was unveiled in the spring of 2017.
What’s Living Building Challenge Certification Mean?
By definition, the Living Building Challenge is a rigorous standard set forth by the International Living Future Institute which seeks to reconcile “humanity’s relationship with the natural world.” On the Cowhorn project itself, Living Future wrote, “Through early discussions, it became clear that the Living Building Challenge was the only approach to sustainable building that would achieve their goal of leaving the land better than the way the owners found it…and it was designed to be a reflection of not only the great wines produced on the vineyard but of the values at its roots.”
What’s Living Building Challenge Certification Mean to Cowhorn, and Winemaking?
As a Demeter-certified Biodynamic farm, sustainability is critical to Cowhorn’s business model. In a July broadcast interview with KTVL News 10, Bill said “We’re trying to do things as cleanly as possible, smallest footprint, and clean and healthy, and that’s why we chose biodynamic farming, and that’s why we chose Living Building Challenge, they’re both akin.”
The rigorous standards of the certification demand that the tasting room produces more energy than it uses and supply all its own water needs through an onsite closed-loop system for at least 12 consecutive months after taking occupancy. The installment of a 16-kilowatt rooftop photovoltaic system in February made this possible. Also, the vast majority of building materials came from within 600 miles of the facility, and only Forest Stewardship Council®– certified wood was used in building construction. As well as wood, the cork, glass, steel and other natural building materials bring outdoor elements inside. Finally, Construction waste was massively reduced.
The tasting room now mirrors Cowhorn’s approach to farming with the materials selected handpicked for their simplicity, natural beauty and chemical make-up. Not to mention the full disclosure of everything that the tasting room has built into it reflects Cowhorn’s disclosure of its ingredients, which the duo feel is critical in their winemaking.
Said Bill: “My wife and I are very proud that it was done in southern Oregon… First of its kind. It wasn’t done in Washington, it wasn’t done in California. We had a tremendous group of anywhere from 50 to 75 subcontractors in the area that came together to build this building.”