“Everything has changed and yet, I am more me than I’ve ever been.” -Iain Thomas
“Inspiration” is how I think of blogging, a place to share ideas and things discovered. But, there comes a time when a break is needed and although it was at first not intentional, I ended up taking a break from writing this blog as well as from all social media. I went cold turkey because I knew it would be the only way to bring the change that I craved. The change that I needed. Taking a sabbatical changed my life. I feel like I am much more intentional with the actions that I take, and I am able to focus on what I truly enjoy doing as well as finding space in each day to just focus. What I discovered is space to focus is truly a wonderful thing for a creative mind.
Now it is time to dive back in and start writing again. There is still so much to share and new posts will be up soon.
Photos and all rights reserved ©Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.
If you want to make Moe Momtazi happy ask him to talk about dirt.
Moe Momtazi is the founder of biodynamically certified Maysara Winery and Momtazi Vineyard in McMinnville, Oregon
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.
Momtazi Vineyard and Maysara Winery sits on 540 acres.
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.
What may look like weeds to some are actually wild herbs and medicinal plants that are scattered around the property surrounding Maysara Winery.
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.
A variety of medicinal and dynamic flowers and herbs are dried before they are steeped into tea. Some of these include yarrow blossoms, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion, valerian flowers and horsetail.
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.
“We have multiple compost piles on the property that include Biodynamic preparations which are extremely important for the vineyard’s success in in achieving long-term soil and vine health,” Moe Momtazi
One of the properties compost piles being turned and ready to spread underneath the vines.
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.
Resting among the shade trees in the field are Momtazi’s herd of cattle.
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 view of the Willamette Valley from the highest spot in the Momtazi Vineyard.
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 vineyard and soil are happy. If the soil isn’t happy, you won’t have good agriculture.” Moe Momtazi
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.
Image from Willamette Valley Wines where you can find more information about Maysara Winery & Momtazi Vineyard and the other 725+ wineries in Oregon.
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.
From left to right: Owners Moe and Flora, with daughters Hanna, Naseem and Tahmiene.
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.
Three generations of the Momtazi family.
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.
33% of proceeds of Immigrant goes to Refugee & Immigrant programs servicing permanent residency, family based visas, low-cost immigration counseling and much more.
“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.
Photos and all rights reserved ©Drink In Nature Photography and Drink In Life Blog.
“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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“All of nature begins to whisper its secrets to us through its sounds. Sounds that were previously incomprehensible to our soul now become the meaningful language of nature.” -Rudolf Steiner
Many articles have been written in the last ten years about the Biodynamic movement in some Oregon Vineyards, so when I learned that part of the Wine Writers Educatinal Tour in Willamette Valley last year included a seminar on ‘Approaches to Viticulture’ I was really intrigued. As an avid edible gardener I am always looking to learn more about sustainability and Biodynamic farming. There was so much to share about this evening that I have broken this into two different posts, the second post will follow in a couple of days.
What I learned right away when the evening seminar started was the vast differences in how each of the ‘farmers’ viewed sustainability, Biodynamic and organic, and to what extend these practices should be applied to the land and vineyards. Since the seminar was hosted at Maysara Winery it only seems fitting that I start with the host of the evening Moe Momtazi.
Already a down-to-earth environmentalist from his years growing up in Iran, Momtazi and his wife Flora purchased a 496 acre plot of abandoned farm land in 1997. Moe shared, “My grandparents refused to use chemicals and fertilizers in the soil or on the plants and I wanted to do the same,” so he began clearing those acres of land without the use of chemicals. Momtazi believes that practicing Biodynamics taps into the each element of the seasonal calendar, the creatures large and small that occupy the land and the earth itself, this brings the ‘farm’ back into the natural cycles that are in nature already.
If you agree with some that Biodynamic is a form of agricultural Voodoo, then you might also be interested in learning that the grapes grown in Momtazi’s Vineyards are some of the most sought after grapes in the Willamette Valley. In addition to making their own wines, they provide fruit to a few of the Willamette Valley’s top wine producers. Momtazi Vineyard has used strict organic and Biodynamic methods since 1998 and in 2005 it became Demeter Certified Biodynamic and the winery followed suit in 2007. There is much more to share about Moe’s philosophies and practices when it comes to Biodynamics and for this reason I will be sharing more about Momtazi’s passion for working with the land and his holistic farming techniques in an upcoming blog post.
The term Biodynamic® is a trademark held by the Demeter association of Biodynamic farmers for the purpose of maintaining production standards used both in farming and processing foodstuffs. Demeter International is the largest certification organization for Biodynamic agriculture, and is one of three predominant organic certifiers. … Demeter Biodynamic Certification is used in over 50 countries to verify that Biodynamic products meet international standards in production and processing.
Steve Girard and his wife Carol founded Girard Winery in the Pritchard Hill area of Napa Valley in 1980 where they were known for producing notable Cabernets and Chardonnays. Then after tasting it for the first time, they fell in love with the Pinot Noirs from Oregon and a new journey began. Not only to make Pinot Noir, but also a new path to farming using a combination of Biodymanics, organic and LIVE certification methods.
“In Seattle at a district tasting in about 1980, I tasted my first Pinot Noir. I think that it was one of David Lett’s wines and I was in Love! I mean this stuff was like liquid sex, it was so good. It had all the flavors of the berry, it had cherry, it had root beer, it had cranberry, My God it had mushroom, there was cola. It was just this beautiful beverage and I had to make it.”
In 1988 the Girard’s purchased an old sheep ranch in the Willamette Valley that checked off all of the things they were looking for, an East faces slope, the right soils and the right elevation.
“I came up from Napa Valley thinking I was going to do the same Cha Cha that I did there. Napa Valley had no concept of sustainability. No Concept! We wanted pretty vineyards. We wanted the customer to come up and go ‘oooh la la’ look at that gorgeous vineyard. So, what we did is we used a heavy Pre-emergent Herbicide that we painted on the soil right underneath the vines, so there wouldn’t be a blade of grass and that’s what we wanted. It was gorgeous, it was just dirt and vines and then at the end of every row we put a little rose bush. That was it and we knocked them out. The customers came in and they thought My God this is so beautiful, this is what we want.”
Girard thought it would be business as usual planting and growing grapes in Oregon but change was on the horizon.
“I came to Oregon, I did the same thing. And my friend Dickey Erath came down and scolded me, he said ‘Steve what the hell are you doing?’ I said, well, I’m doing what I did in Napa and what I’m still doing in Napa. He said ‘No No No, this is Oregon, we’re all about sustainability up here.’ I didn’t even know what that meant and he said, ‘You know your killing the soil, the soil is a living thing and your killing all of the Mycorrhiza, the Nematodes, the earth worms that are gonna open up the soil.’ “
This conversation with Dickey Erath triggered a different way of thinking about the land, the soil and the vineyards for Girard.
“I really studied all of the three methods that we have available, Biodynamics, Organic, and LIVE Certification. I really read up on all of them and what I found was that they all had attributes and they all had defects. So, I thought to myself why would I want a defect? Why would I take it? Why would I take a system that had really cool stuff but also had baggage that I didn’t want?
Girard, like Momtazi referenced Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the Biodynamic approach to agriculture and how felt his suggested methods ranged from practical to “pretty goofy, absurd and silly,” but also how he took some of those ideas and implemented them into his Oregon Vineyards.
“When I talk to my friends, I have two good friends that are Biodynamically Certified, I say I just don’t get it, it sounds silly to me. Does it make better Wine? And they both say sorta the same thing-you don’t get the point, your missing the point. I say, there’s only one point for me and that is making better wine. So, I took the good stuff from Steiner that I learned and I left behind the other stuff.”
When it came to the remaining two methods, Organic and LIVE Certification, Girard said that he took the same approach by taking the best from each of these practices and leaving the things he felt wouldn’t work for him behind.
“How do I farm? I took the best of these things and I found out and then saw this incredible change that some of my colleagues have been talking about. I saw my wine juice nutrients go through the roof! You know it worked!”
Today the estate 145-acre vineyard uses a combination of sustainable, organic and biodynamic farming methods but Benton-Lane is not certified.
“I don’t think I need certification because I believe it. I believe in my system. And so, I do give up a certification but I don’t think it is a problem because I’m not going to let anything change my view.”
When asked what his idea of sustainability was Girard replied, “My idea of sustainability is that I need to nurture my vineyard so that a thousand years from now whoever owns my joint is still making sex in a bottle, Sexy Pinot Noir!”
Ruby Marchesi’s love for making wine dates back to the 1970s where in New Jersey his grandfather made wine at home and Ruby like him wanted to do the same. Marchesi’s start in the wine industry began in the early ’80s in the Northeast where he began making wine for his own small label while raising his daughters. However, when his oldest daughter wanted to attend Reed College in Portland, Ruby knew it was time to fund that college dream and he took on a job with a major distributor and wound up relocating to Oregon.
Marchesi returned to the work he loved, wine production in 1998 when his daughter graduated from college by accepting a consultancy at Montinore Estate. Things really began to change in the Montinore vineyard in 2003 when Marchesi started Biodynamic trials on sections of the vineyard that the Pinot Noir blocks were not producing as well as were expected.
“The story of how we are also a Biodynamic winery and have been for awhile now, is a little different. I had always been a vegetable grower and I loved organic this or that, maybe because I was a hippy from the 70’s. When I came to Montinore they had been farming conventionally and what I found were vineyards that had soils that were very compacted and there was very little oxygen in the soil. The Cover Crop Was Moss! And, the vines reflected that quality of soil so they were very uneven, some big some small. The fruit characteristic was a bit Ho Hum and the wine was a bit Ho Hum at best.”
Soil and vines in poor condition was not the only thing that Marchesi discovered when he arrived at Montinore.
“When I got there the first year we discovered we had Phylloxera on the property and you could see the vine were dying. So I came to understanding organic and Biodynamic through that need of healing our vineyard from Phylloxera. What I started to understand was that there’s a whole community, the vineyard is a community, its not just an ecosystem, its a community of organisms. And, if their working together a lot of the problems that you might encounter aren’t there.”
Marchesi discovered a group in New Zealand had found a good Fungi, a Micro Rizal Fungi that works in amending the soil and actually crowds out the wood rotting Fungi Phylloxera, and works to an advantage in the Vineyard as well. However, the path to healing the vineyard was not an overnight process and a lot of hard work, patience and some bodily harm happened because the soil first needed to be opened up so that the new Fungi could be introduced.
“First, we had to open the soils, we had to cultivate, open it up and aerate. What was really interesting was we had so many gophers in our vineyard that our guys would have to wear Kidney Belts as they were driving in the tractor because they bounced around so much their kidneys would hurt! Once we started cultivating and cleaning up it was like Mother Nature was trying to aerate our soil with gophers. Once we got it aerated we didn’t have any gophers anymore, it was pretty wild. “
The amendments to the vineyard didn’t stop with aerating the soil and more things were done before Marchesi said he saw considerable physical changes in his vineyards that he attributes directly to Biodynamics.
“Then we started doing cover crops, putting carbon into the soil to feed these good Fungi. We actually got spores and inoculated the entire 240 acres with specific strains of this Fungi that we knew would be happy in the vineyard. Then we started to seeing results in using compost as a remedy for the vines that were weakened by the Phylloxera. It started bringing back the vineyard from the brink of disaster due to the Phylloxera. We weren’t 100% successful in the thinner soils that you get up higher on the ridges, sometimes we’d lose some vines. But, that was in ’98-’99 when I started that and now it is 2019 and we still have 200 of the 240 acres Home Rooted in their late thirties.”
This whole process started leading Marchesi down the path to understanding that this piece of land was a community, not a vineyard, not just soil, but a community.
“What we are creating is a community of micro organisms that live in the soil, they have their own life cycles and they each have their own bi-products of their life that goes into the soil to create this interrogated community.”
Finding additional information to help him learn more about Biodynamics proved difficult and although their were a couple of books on the subject that he read by people like Nicolas Joly, Marchesi really wanted to learn more about how to practice Biodynamics. Answers to his questions finally were presented when he took a year long class at the Pfiefer Center in New York. During this time Marchesi learned all the techniques about Biodynamics that would not only continue to improve the Montinore Vineyard, but also broaden his impact in the Biodynamic community as well.
“We became Certified Biodynamic in 2019 and I became president of Demeter USA, so I’m running the organization, I don’t really know why or how I am doing this but I said, I’ll help and the next thing you know I am knee deep into it. I believe it’s a really fantastic way to farm. Every year at the end of the season the farm is healthier than it was when it started in the Spring.”
After hearing three passionate farmers talk about the road to Biodynamics and sustainability when it comes to producing wine then your mind shifts toward thinking about how all of these practice influence the final outcome, the wine.
“From a wine perspective we saw tremendous results, I should say changes and results. The wines prior to Biodynamic practices were fairly Ho Hum and, now we’ve seen a progression over the years that the wines become not only more complex and more interesting but their really reflecting the character of our place. This way of farming has allowed our vineyard to be more expressive and our wines to be a reflection of character and place.“
For the dinner following the seminar Marchesi told us that he brought some of his Pinot Gris for us to try and that he thought that this wine had really taken on a unique liveliness from the health of the soil.
“I think that the soils that we have produced is making some really interesting Pinot Gris, relative to the rest of the Willamette Valley. It has the typical apple and pear, but after 4-5 years of farming this way some citrus and herbal notes came out and it was almost like we blended a little Sauvignon Blanc and I thought that’s kind of cool but then it continued during the next year and the next year. I realized that what was happening was an expression of all these particular soils. That’s what lights me up in the morning”
In Marchesi’s Biodynamic farming practices there seems to be compelling evidence that treating the soil in the right way is a practical way to protect the vineyard’s ecosystem while adding something new and different to the character of the wines produced. As the Biodynamic farming method continues to gain traction in the Oregon wine industry, and around the world, it is becoming less of a ‘trend’ and more of a way to help our planet bounce back from centuries of chemical treatments.
I learned so much from Moe Maysara, Steve Girard and Rudy Marchesi during the first part of the seminar, it really opened my mind to how Biodynamic, Organic and LIVE Certification can shape the future of wine production. I hope that you will continue to read Part Two as it will include what Stephen Hagen of Antiquum Farms and Steve Flora of Native Flora shared about how they farm their vineyards and what affect that has one their wines. Also, as mentioned earlier a third post coming soon will include a tour of Maysara Winery and Momtazi Vineyard as well as a conversation with Moe Momtazi.
Winemakers’ ‘Green’ Glossary
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