In a previous post, An Evening with Some of Oregon’s Biodynamic and Sustainable Winemakers-An Approach to Viticulture I touched briefly on Moe Momtazi’s beliefs and practices when it came to Biodynamic farming. The day following the seminar Momtazi invited the group to a full farm, vineyard and winery tour along with a wine tasting.
To better understand Momtazi’s strong desire to farm Biodynamically you have to look at where he was born and raised, and how influences from his childhood shaped his drive to pay homage to the land, soil, and grapes in his vineyards. Originally from Tehran, Iran, Momtazi came to the the United States in the early 70’s with his family and he attended college in Texas. In 1982 Momtazi returned to Iran but when tensions escalated in his country he and his wife Flora, who was 8 months pregnant, fled Iran and went to Spain. Soon they would make their way to the United States to make their home. Originally Momtazi worked as a civil engineer, but following his passion for what the earth provides, he bought the property that would become their farm, vineyards and winery in McMinnville, Oregon.
Shortly after acquiring the property Momtazi pulled up his sleeves and got to work turning this piece of land into one of the most beautiful vineyard and winery in Willamette Valley. The ultimate goal was to produce great wine that would be enjoyed by many generations to come and to do it in a way that mimicked his grandfather who farmed holistically.
Biodynamics is a system of agriculture based on principles characterized by Dr. Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher who believed in the relationship between science and spirituality. Maintaining a stricter than organic agricultural philosophy; Biodynamics puts focus on sustainability, a strong sense of stewardship, attention to all aspects of the environment and yes, a spiritual connection with the land and the life that thrives on it. Biodynamics is on the rise world wide as more winemakers are starting to embrace this practice of environmental consciousness.
“That which secures life from exhaustion lies in the unseen world, deep at the roots of things.”
― Rudolf Steiner
Momtazi wants the wines that Maysara Winery produces to express an honest and pure sense of place without over handling them, this means using what Mother Nature provides from the land to help the vintages express themselves.
One element of Biodynamics is enriching the vineyard soil and spraying the vines with compost teas that are made from a variety of medicinal flowers and herbs, including stinging nettle. These natural plants take the place of chemicals that would typically be used in the vineyard. The process of making compost teas allows Momtazi to harness the beneficial properties of each individual harvested plant type and the nutrients that lay within it.
Momtazi says he never considered ordinary farming and that although big chemical companies want people to believe that they can’t farm holistically and naturally he truly believes that Biodynamics is a viable alternative.
Momtazi told us that he sprays grape leaves with stinging nettle tea, instead of pesticides, which helps to boost the plant’s immune system. A way to think of it is using one plant to heal another Momtazi shared.
New batches of ‘teas’ are constantly being made to ensure that there is sufficient quantities to aid in the vitality of the 500 tons of fruit grown each year.
There have been people in the past who have criticized Momtazi’s Biodynamic practices even calling it a style of witchcraft or voodoo. Beyond compost teas there are other unusual elements to this way of farming that people shake their heads at. Planting, harvesting, pruning by the celestial calendar and other actions like burying a cow horn filled with quartz powder or manure in the springtime can definitely be considered unconventional farming practicing today, but Momtazi has never been one to conform to the conventional ways of doing things.
During a group tour Moe asked “Who wants to smell the compost?” and I could not wait to get my nose in that soil. As an avid edible gardener I have spent many hours toiling over the concept of compost and what is needed to make my fruits, vegetables and herbs grow. So, naturally my interest was peaked when Moe started talking dirt. You can see a photo of me smelling the compost on my friend Nancy’s blog VinoSocial here.
An important part of Biodynamic farming is soil and the belief that it is the foundation of agriculture and that enriching the soil is an intricate part of ecological development of the land. Today it is no longer considered radical to recognize soil as a living organism and more farmers are practicing the maintaining the health of the soil instead of the soil’s quality.
“The soil surrounding a growing plant’s roots is a living entity with a vegetative life of its own, a kind of extension of plant growth into the Earth.” – Rudolf Steiner
Viewing soil as a living ecosystem reflects a fundamental shift in the way that Biodynamic farmers care for the Earth’s soils. Momtazi doesn’t see the soil as an passive growing medium but something that needs to be amended to provide the basis of support for supplying added nutrients and minerals to the plants. On the Momtazi vineyards, manure from the animals on the farm is used to cook up compost that works to revitalize not only the top soil but the subsoil as well. Momtazi then distributes this rich compost underneath the vines as needed throughout the growing season.
Biodynamics has a whole series of practices that incorporate every aspect of the farm to enhance the health, vitality and life forces of each living organism, above and below the ground.
Momtazi preserved a good portion of the land as pastures, forest, meadows, and reservoirs to encourage both the domesticated and wild animal populations on the property would thrive. After harvest, the domestic animals are sent into the vineyard, Momtazi says that they do a great job of balancing the land and getting rid of weeds. As you walk around the farm you can see the animals and other wildlife are flourishing on this biodiverse land.
The cow may very well be the most iconic animal of Biodynamic farming. In Biodynamic farming the cow horns (removed from lactating cows) are filled with cow manure and buried for 4-6 months. This manure interacts with the microbes and natural elements found in the horn and creates a very precise concentrated fertilizer that can also be diluted into a spray to improve the health of the soil and plants. The cow manure is also used in composting which is good for the soil and continues an aspect of the circle of life process of Biodynamic farming.
Implementing the practices of Bioynamics Momtazi says is easy once you have gained the knowledge and understanding of it. Today Momtazi’s entire farm is Demeter Certified Biodynamic and he believes that it’s success is because he does not pick and choose the components to practice but that he practices them all in entirety.
Demeter USA is a non-profit American chapter of Demeter International, the world’s only certifier of Biodynamic® farms and products. Biodynamic agriculture goes beyond organic, envisioning the farm as a self-contained and self-sustaining organism. In an effort to keep the farm, the farmer, the consumer, and the earth healthy, farmers avoid chemical pesticides and fertilizers, utilize compost and cover crops, and set aside a minimum of 10% of their total acreage for biodiversity. The entire farm, versus a
particular crop, must be certified, and farms are inspected annually. In order for a product to bear the Demeter logo it must be made with certified Biodynamic ingredients and meet strict processing standards to ensure the purest possible product.
Momtazi Vineyard is located in the McMinnville AVA , a sub-appellation of the Willamette Valley, nestled in the Coast Range foothills of Yamhill County.
A lot has changed in the Momtazi Vineyard since the abandoned wheat farm property was purchased in 1997. Momtazi shared that when the grapevines were first planted many of the sections in the vineyard had poor nutrient conditions. In the beginning the grapes would get pink but then not ripen fully. Now the signs of healthy vines and grapes can be seen everywhere as you stroll through the vineyard and Momtazi attributes this to Biodynamics.
Momtazi believes that 90% of winemaking takes place in the vineyard and this is what drives him to stick to strict practices in the vineyard. It is about doing all they can to nurture the vines and then reap the rewards from them naturally. “Grape are seeds of the Earth but they want to reach the heavens” Momtazi shared. When it comes to winemaking the wine is not overly manipulated and for this reason Momtazi says it is much healthier to consume and it tastes better.
Among the 260 planted acres are self-rooting Pommard clones of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Blanc and Riesling that work naturally with the properties diverse soil types which include Nekia, Yamhill, Peavine and Jory. In the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir truly embraces the term ‘transparent grape’, meaning that it easily reflects the characteristics of the place it is grown. Since the Pinot Noir grape is so transparent, does the practice of Biodynamic farming make a difference in the flavor of the grape?
Some wine experts say that it is nearly impossible to blind taste a wine and accurately select one that has been produced using Biodynamic practices. Nevertheless, the healthier option of consuming wines that are not made with synthetic chemicals may be more important to many regardless if the grape tastes Bioydnamically made or not. This organically grown fruit not only can influence the health of the consumer with its lack of pesticides, but due to the overall vitality of the vines you may experience a higher quality taste profile than other wines grown in the same region. As with many things when it comes to wine, it is all a matter of personal taste.
The Momtazi Vineyards keep 60% of what they grow and sell the remaining 40% to up to 19 different wineries. For years the Biodynamic farming method used in Momtazi’s Vineyards resulted in the production of some of the most sought after grapes in the Willamette Valley. This however started to change last year and a lawsuit was filed by Momtazi against a neighboring Cannabis Farmer, Momtazi is claiming that smoke taint from the Cannabis was affecting the grapes. Since a vineyard’s real property value is heavily dependent upon the marketability of the grapes grown on that vineyard property, a judge ruled in Fall of 2019 that the lawsuit could proceed. Due to the proximity of the Cannabis operation to the vineyard one of Momtazi’s repeat customers canceled a 6-ton order of grapes over concerns that the fruit may be contaminated with the smell of weed. The environmental effects on the land due to the rising cannabis industry, which has been legalized in several states, and how it affects the surrounding wine industry is an ongoing subject that is being followed closely by both sides.
The Momtazi Vineyard’s soil diversity and location at the mouth of the Van Duzer corridor gives their Pinot Noirs dark fruit flavors with spicy earth tones, while their whites like Pinot Gris, Blanc and Riesling attain vibrant acidity and fruit-forwardness.
In the beginning, Momtazi started with a small winery, now it’s more than 42,000 square feet and 12,000 to 18,000 cases of wine is produced there each year. As impressive as these numbers are what is more noteworthy is how the continuing thought process of Biodynamics also found its way into the massive winery by way of the building materials that were used. The stone and wood winery has a rustic old world feel to it, a remarkable structure that was constructed almost entirely from the lumber and rocks found on the property.
The interior walls of the winery, to include the massive sliding door, and some of the floors in the winery were all constructed from used oak wine barrels. Below Momtazi stands on the re-purposed wine barrel floor that he designed to showcase the used oak staves.
Due to its size and spectacular setting, Maysara Winery and Momtazi Vineyard is a popular venue for weddings.
All three Momtazi daughters are involved in the production and marketing of Maysara wines.
In 2007, eldest daughter Tahmiene (pictured here with her daughter Leila), stepped in to lead the winemaking position at Maysara Winery. Tahmiene’s mission is to capture the beauty of the vineyard in each wine she makes. Her winemaking philosophy is to make wines that will reflect the vineyard and cellar with as little alteration as possible.
Momtazi’s winery grossed more than $2 million in 2018 and Hanna Momtazi who oversees events and hospitality and Naseem who handles all of the sales and marketing are part of what keeps this multi-million dollar business running. Since 2007 Tahmiene and her sisters have also produced their own wine under the name Three Degrees.
When you step into the impressive tasting room with it’s rough 10 foot hewn stone walls, it has a natural way of welcoming you with a beautifully rustic yet intimate aesthetics.
Keeping his family roots close, behind Momtazi is a detailed and exquisite tapestry depicting the Persian poet Rumi reciting one of his poems to a group of people.
“The 2015 Immigrant Pinot Noir is dedicated to all immigrants, including our own family members who risked their lives to escape and make it to America for the values of freedom and opportunity that this country stands for. Coming from many cultural background worldwide, immigrants have played an integral part in making America the great nation we call home.”
Using estate grown fruit from Momtazi Vineyard, the 2015 vintage of Immigrant Pinot Noir has a lovely serendipitous balance of fruit and terroir on the nose. This medium bodied Pinot on the palate, shines with a nice brightness of red and dark fruits and a smokey earthy undertone that adds to the complex layers of flavor. If the cause behind the label is not enough to entice you into trying this classic Oregon style Pinot Noir, than the flavors that greet you with each new sip definitely will.
Maysara is well known for its Pinot Noir, in fact, 85% of what they produce is Pinot noir, so having a beautiful Rosé made from Pinot Noir is no surprise. Roseena is a delightful bright pink Rosé whose aromas seem to dance up from inside the glass, spinning delicate notes of red cherries and cranberries with a forest scent that is reminiscent to digging in the dirt for mushroom. On the palate a sprinkle of sweetness blends with rich red fruits and a touch of saline minerality. This is an excellent Rosé that unveils new flavors and aromas the longer you sit and enjoy it.
I would like to thank the entire Momtazi family for welcoming the Wine Writers Educational Tour attendees into their winery, vineyards and farm. The Momtazi family not only hosted us for a seminar but shared their favorite homemade recipes with us during a dinner following the seminar. The next day Moe Momtazi took a lot of his time to share his story and Biodynamic practices with us and that was greatly appreciated. If you are visiting the Willamette Valley I highly recommend a visit to Maysara Winery & Momtazi Vineyard. Go to see the beauty of the land, the benefits of Biodynamic farming in the vineyard, and the classic wines that are being produced in the Willamette Valley.
“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man.” —Stewart Udall
After sampling well over 50 Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs during the Wine Writers Educational Tour that brought me to Oregon last year, I believe that factors such as Biodynamic and Organic can absolutely influence the quality and taste of a wine. Biodynamics is a way to further unlock the potential of terrior and continuing experimentation with different methods that influence the taste and overall quality of a grape should be a practice that is embraced by winegrowers. Winelovers are much more knowledgeable and conscious about the wines that they consume today and finding a way to balance sustainability, traditional flavors and an overall enjoyment of a wine can only result in a better outcome for the consumer and the environment.
I would love to hear your thoughts on Biodynamic Viticulture and your experiences with Biodynamic wines, just leave me a comment, I’d love to chat with you about it.
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