An Evening with Some of Oregon’s Biodynamic and Sustainable Winemakers-An Approach to Viticulture: Part Two

“You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.” – Paulo Coelho

Welcome to Part Two of, An Evening with Some of Oregon’s Biodynamic and Sustainable Winemakers-An Approach to Viticulture. If you are visiting the blog for the first time you can read Part One here and then you will be up to date on how this post wraps up this educational seminar that I had the pleasure of attending last year.

From Left to Right: Moe Momtazi-Maysara & Momtazi Vineyard, Scott Flora-Native Flora, Steve Girard-Benton-Lane, Rudy Marchesi-Montinore Estate, Stephen Hagen-Antiquum Farm.

Another true example of Biodynamic farming in Oregon and how animals play an important role in the whole process can be found in Antiquum Farm. Stephen Hagen, the owner, farmer, and visionary behind Antiquum Farm takes an old-fashioned approach to agriculture and strives to build a vineyard and wine that has it’s own sense of personality.

Stephen Hagen of Antiquum Farm

It was clear that Hagen was having a great time listening to the farmers that spoke before him and his enthusiasm and passion about farming was evident when he started talking about his philosophies and practices when it comes to growing grapes in the Willamette Valley.

“I hope that you guys are having a lot of fun. I’m having a lot of fun because for me some times you can feel so alone in the world and maybe like you are a little bit crazy and listening to a guy (Rudy Marchesi) who is excited about Pinot Gris and talks about expression and character and individuality in that varietal your like okay cool there is another one like me. I hear so much collective wisdom and knowledge here about things that are really really valuable and this light me up as well. There is a lot of knowledge, wisdom and experience here and then there is me.”

“I’d love to tell you that I got into farming wine out of some desire to make beautiful articulate wine and that I wanted to craft Oregon raised Pinot Noir, but that’s not true. I go into this knowing nothing about wine at all and nothing about wine growing. What lit me up was a passion for farming and a desire to do it in a way that is all encompassing, engaging and creative. To basically make Agricutlture Art!”

Unfortunately, people don’t look at Broccoli the way they look at wine. Wine is the only agricultural product that is poked, prodded and sniffed. It’s a shame! We should look at carrots and all our food with the same critical analysis that we do with wine. But, we don’t. So, for me wine growing represented the greatest possibility to turn Agriculture into a truly creative endeavor.

“So, just to get this out of the way, I am not certified anything! I’m not a joiner, I think that all sustainable methods are awesome and are steps in the right direction. For me, I didn’t want any sort of protocol to sort of box in what we were going to start doing in the vineyard.So, over the years what we kind of pieced together was something I call ‘Grazing Base Viticulture. I treat the vineyard like a living organism but instead of taking a farm that is supporting the vineyard, I make the vineyard the farm.”

Photo from Antiquum Farm Wesite

Sitting on 140 acres Antiquum Farm is located at the southern end of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and the estate vineyard itself is on a mere 21 acres of that property situated in a high elevation location with thinner Bellpine soil. The Grazing crew on the farm consists of a core group of about 60 Katahdin/Dorper sheep, 60-75 geese, and Hagen’s weeding and sanitation crew of about 75 laying hens.

Photo from Antiquum Farm Website.

“It took three years for this site to be totally self sustaining. A huge part of this system is designed so that we’re grazing the geese, the sheep and the chickens through the vineyard in what is called Rotational Intensive Grazing.”

All of this grazing by the sheep, geese and chickens works on the bio mass in the soil and the root matter stimulating an system of continual microbiol activity. Hagen likens this to a constant root mass accordion action going on in the ground that is pulling oxygen and carbon into the soil. Working the soil this way Hagen believes gives a wine, or broccoli, a sense of presence, personality and energy reflecting in fact that the soil is a living thing.

What affect does Biodynamic farming have on the grapes themselves? Hagen shared with us some slides that showed amazing transformations in his Pinot Gris site.

“On our Pinot Gris site we started seeing these mutations of individual berries that are split in color. We have also seen in the last two vintages berries that are almost Pinot Noir in color and all these different berries taste completely different. The darker ones are like Pineapple and Mango, their have deeply succulent tropicality.”

With these changes Hagen started to notice that his little six acre Pinot Gris site was suddenly divided into almost three different vineyards because of characteristic differences.

“It’s all the same clone, all the same root stock but we start seeing this opportunity for articulation and expression that we weren’t seeing before. The vines up in one knoll are physiologically growing differently. They’ve become a little more invigorated and the canopy is more open. The clusters are smaller, the berries are smaller, the skins get really really thick and all the sudden the skins taste like Hibiscus and Rose-hips. They are not like Pinot Gris at all. There is a difference in the body of the wine and the texture broadens out. The fruit side of the wine drops down and there’s this totally different sense of balance in the wine. The acid is still there but it’s just texturally richer and it sort of has some density to the fruit.”

With the changing behavior in the Pinot Gris, Hagen also started noticing some color changes in the Pinot Noir site as well. One year Hagen says that all of their Pinot Noir turned blue instead of the typical purplish black color. There has also been unexplained cluster growth where the flower clusters upon blooming turned upward, instead of down, pointing toward the sun.

Hagen can not always explain the changes that are going on in the vineyard due to Biodynamic farming such as untypical ripening times, acid levels, PH levels, flavors and physical changes to the clusters and grapes, but he does know that his wines have changed due to it.

“It is Bizarre, it doesn’t make sense, but I think the wines are fun and their different. If you want a Pinot Noir that is Oregon, a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir wine that you know what you are getting, We’re not that at all! Sometimes I have no idea of the what or why something is happening in the vineyard but that’s the fun part.”

Scott Flora of Native Flora

To say that Scott Flora of Native Flora has his own opinion about why and how to practice, Biodynamics, Organic and LIVE Certification may be a bit of an understatement. Flora has named his property including, vineyards and building, The Dundee Hills Winery Sanctum, and he was eager to explain to us why and share his beliefs on farming including how he embraces a private place where one is free from intrusion.

Flora started off by talking about what Native Flora is and what it is not.

“Native Flora is the vineyard and my last name is Flora, so I was born to do this. We are not normal, we are not LIVE, we are not organic, we are not Biodynamic, we’re not conventional. So, what are we? We’re innovative , we’re both traditional and experimental and those things go together. We are very human and humane and we are the smallest winery on this panel.”

“We talk about sustainable and this is why I don’t like the word. You say I am not hurting anything so it must be good. There is no concept of bettering. Everyone is talking about improving things so it’s not sustainable. Get rid of the word, let’s throw it away. I hate it, it’s really a pathetic mindset. Our word is Improvability and that’s what we like to farm to. Staying the same is what I say is failing, so we move forward.”

Native Flora sits on a site that is not a normal location for a vineyard, but Flora’s criteria called for something out of the ordinary. Flora wanted a North facing aspect, yes the side of the hill that you usually have difficulty growing grapes. A higher elevation was also desired, at least 750 feet was the goal, Flora was also looking for at least 15 acres with specific soil, and higher annual rainfall. Finding just the right 20 acre site in Newberg, Flora now has a property that is North facing on a 30% grade with seven soil types and double the annual rainfall.

When Flora calls his property a Sanctum he means it whole hardheartedly and he sees his land, vineyard, animals and buildings as the organisms in a membrane.

“On our property what I like to think is the fence line that runs along our property is kind of like a membrane. So, I think about everything that is in that membrane as the organism that we run. Our idea was to take the vineyard, the home, the winery and the tasting room and mash it all into one giant working organization. When we think of this I don’t think of just the organic matter that is on the property, I also think about the buildings themselves and of the water that goes on the property.”

Photo from Native Flora’s Website.

The first thing that Flora invested in was a massive GeoThermal heating cooling system to supply heat and cooling to the structures on the property. Then they also dug into the hillside so that they could use the Earth for insulation so that everything could stay cooler. A plumbing system that heats and cools everything radiantly through the floors and other areas of the built was also added. With water being such a precious commodity, Flora made sure that his 1400 Sq Foot roof line caught every drop of water that hit it.

“We take every drop of water that hits the roof line because it doesn’t belong to Oregon until it hits the dirt. We funnel it into a water catchment system on our property and we actually have approximately 1.3 million gallons available for us to use in the vineyards. We only use a fraction of this each year so what we do is drop water into giant Koi ponds, we actually have an upper and lower pond, as well as tanks and cisterns. It all connects and we move water throughout the property like a commodity.”

At Native Flora it is very much about building and maintaining a healthy membrane so that all of the organisms inside the membrane can thrive. Flora says, “The whole farm is an organism that lives inside the membrane, so humans, animals, plants, buildings and all the natural resources are part of the membrane team.”

Sheep are a major part of the team at Native Flora and they are in the vineyard 24/7. Flora has built the vines to keep them out of reach of the sheep and everything in the vineyard is made so that the sheep can go wherever they want and they are used constantly to mow and fertilize the vineyard.

Photo from Native Flora’s Website.

To wrap it all together Flora shared that all the things that are growing they try to keep it as diverse as possible.

“We do a lot to seed this diversity in terms of putting a lot of beneficial into the environment. With these practices every year we’re consuming fewer resources and the quality of grapes and the quality of wine is proof of the ultimate good in all of this.”

A Visit to Native Flora

The next day we were invited to have lunch and do a wine tasting at Native Flora and I want to share a few photos from that visit.

If you have the chance to schedule a tasting with Native Flora I highly recommend doing so. The views are spectacular and the wines are wonderfully diverse and full of a personality that can only come from the land from which they are produced.

A bottle of this delightful 2015 Cuvée Libertus Extra Brut Sparkling went home with me! You can read more about this and other Oregon Sparkling Wines on a previous post here.

Having the opportunity to listen to five farmers, winemakers and winelovers, who are so passionate about how they work the land and vineyards was a perfect way to end a trip to Willamette Valley. I want to thank Moe Momtazi, Steve Girard, Rudy Marchesi, Stephen Hagen and Scott Flora for taking the time to share their stories and knowledge with the Wine Writers Educational Tour Group.

A great resource if you are interested in reading more about Oregon’s Biodynamic Winegrowers is Voodoo Vintners by Katherine Cole. Voodoo Vintners examines the motivation and reasoning behind the Biodynamic farming advocates.

Voodoo Vintners: Oregon’s Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers by Katherine Cole

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Biodynamic, Organic and LIVE Certification farming in the Vineyards and how you feel about the wines that are being produced by these winegrowers.

Photos (unless otherwise noted) and all rights reserved ©Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.

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