Biodynamics at Montinore Estate

In our conversation with Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estates, we asked him about biodynamics. The winery was Certified biodynamic in 2008. Rudy had set this process up while he was still working for the Montinore Estate as an employee.

The Motivation & learning

Pheloxera was what originally motivated him to look at biodynamics. They had so much vine loss and he was looking at how to combat this, instead of just ripping everything out. So he started studying soil microbiology.

When he started out, he was more into organic farming. I would imagine his own garden informed this. But working with the wholesale importer on the east coast, he just kept finding that the biodynamic wines he sold in the French Portfolio, were the wines he liked the best.

At the time there were only a few books available and only two places in the US that had training. He found a tiny college in NY state teaching a course. This was just 1 class per month for 5 months and then a 5 day intensive. He took this information and tried it out and had tremendous results right away.

…biodynamic practices were established as agricultural practices.  …Biodynamic winemaking is an extension of the thought process. 

Rudy Marchesi, in our interview July 2018.

Biodynamics the practical and the mystical

I expressed my skepticism regarding some of the practices. I have never been one to believe in “leaf days”,

Rudy told me a story about his home garden. He always planted fall vegetables. Two weeks before the recent solar eclipse in 2017, he planted his fall endives. He planted a second row on the day before the eclipse. He had read that you shouldn’t plant anything for a few days around an eclipse, but he needed to get them in. The first row was beautiful. The second row only had 15% germination.

Rudy says that big events are significant. They don’t pick on black out days. They have to prune from January 1st to March 20th and it’s all got to be done. So they don’t take days off, blackout, leaf day or not. With racking and tasting they just watch to see if it makes a big difference.

80% of wine making is done in the vineyard anyway. It’s all about the quality of the fruit you get.  I think that’s why, it’s perceptible but not understood, why biodynamic wines have that certain something that’s….  you put them in your mouth, they’re lively they’re interesting, they’re there, they have a presence. What is it? You can’t measure it.  There is so much in life we can’t measure anyway you know, so it’s some sort of life force that we are creating in the vineyard in the farm to begin with.  That translates through the vineyard to the fruit and to the bottle.  And that’s what I think it is.  You can’t measure that.  You can taste it!

Rudy Marchesi, in our interview July 2018.
Vines at Montinore Estate

There is more to come…

We will have more with Rudy…he took us to the cellar after this to do some barrel tastings which were delicious and fascinating. In the meantime feel free to check out the rest of our conversation with him:

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Montinore Estate – About the wines

Montinore Vineyards Entrance

Continuing our conversation with Rudy Marchesi at Montinore Estate

 After looking over the Willamette Valley AVA map and having Rudy give us some background on the soils and the impact of the Missoula floods we sat with him to talk about how these soils influence the wines at Montinore Estate.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is very expressive and Rudy told us that pinot grown in the windblown loess here tend to be brighter, with berry flavors rather than the cherry notes that are so often associated with pinot noir. The pinots here also are very spicy with baking spices.

They produce several different Pinot Noirs here.  Here is a sampling.  I can’t promise that I have not missed one.

  • “Red Cap” Pinot Noir:  This is a blend from all the vineyards giving you multiple areas and soil types blended into one bottle. 
  • Reserve Pinot Noir:  Again from multiple sites but all within the estate. These are the best blocks and lots. They ferment and age separately and then blend the best.
  • Parsons’ Ridge Pinot Noir:  This vineyard block sits on a part of the vineyard where the vines face two different directions.  The lots, as they are different, are fermented separately and then blended.
  • Keeler Estate Pinot Noir:  This is a 25 acres Biodynamic vineyard in Eola-Amity Hills that they source from.  This gives you another opportunity to taste and compare the terroir.
  • Windy Hill Pinot Noir: This comes from the Southern part of the Valley and is influenced by the winds of the Van Duzer Corridor.
  • Cataclysm Pinot Noir: Comes from their Block 1 which has mineral rich soils.  They pick the most expressive barrels from this block to make this wine.

Pinot Gris

 He finds the white wines to actually be more distinctive.  Pinot gris grown in the Missoula flood loess, is very complex.  Rather than apple and pear, they get citrus and herbal notes. In warmer years there will be tropical notes.  Always he finds pinot gris here to have lots of texture.

Riesling

The riesling he find distinctive, but without as much difference although he feels sure some might disagree.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay is new here.  They had quite a bit planted early on, but it was the clone brought up from California.  This clone was a late ripener and had tight clusters which were prone to rot.  It was a great clone when there was good weather in a vintage, but that was about 1out of every 4 years.

They have now planted the new Dijon clone, which has looser clusters and is an earlier ripening clone.  They are back in the Chardonnay business in a small way.  He is encouraged by the quality, but it’s too soon to know what they will get stylistically from the vineyards with these clones.  They will need a few more vintages to figuring this out.

Bubbles

They are currently producing a prosecco style bubbly, and have a Traditional Methode Champenoise Sparkling wine of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay which is yet to be released.

Other Varieties

In addition they are growing bits of Teroldego and Lagrein, Gerwürztraminer and Müller Thurgau.

Blends and specialty wines

You will find Rosé, Orange wine, fortified wine (Ruby), Ice wine (Frolic) and Verjus also on their wine line-up which is very diverse, having something for every palate.

Everything here is done on site, and they try to be as Estate as possible.  The 2016 Pinot got away from 100% Estate because they had too much demand and had to contract a couple of other growers.

Speaking with Rudy and walking the winery, you can see the pride they take in making the best possible wines here.

You can learn a bit about the estate with our posts.

http://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/montinore-estate-a-recent-history/

http://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/montinore-the-deeper-history/

And check back here as we will next talk to Rudy about Biodynamics before heading with him to the cellar for a tour and barrel tasting.

If you are in the Willamette Valley stop by and give the wines a taste for yourself.  You can find them a:

Montinore Estate
3663 SW Dilley Road
Forest Grove, Oregon 97116
503.359.5012

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Montinore – the deeper history

Montinore Vineyards panorama

Time to talk soils

The soil at Montinore Estate in the Northwest corner of the Willamette Valley, is loess from the Missoula Floods.  The Missoula Floods… well that takes us back a bit further in history, like 13,000 to 15,000 years back.   During our interview with Rudy Marchesi, Immediate Past President and Partner at the winery, he took us into the tasting room to show us the beautiful Willamette Valley map created by the Willamette Valley Wine Association.  Here he took a minute to paint the picture for us of the floods and the soils that came from these floods

Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association
Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association Map data by everyvine.com, design by John Fisher, geologic cross section by Timothy A. Cross, special thanks to Patrick Reuter.”

The Missoula Floods

At the end of the last ice age, there was an ice dam in the Clark Fork River in what is now Idaho. This backed up the water from a finger of the Codilleran Ice Sheet that was melting and creating the Glacial Lake Missoula.  As the water pressure built, the ice plug was forced upwards releasing cataclysmic flood waters, a wall of water 500 feet tall down the Columbia River to the ocean.  After the surge of water, the plug would drop back into place and the lake would refill.  Then periodically, the plug would get pushed up and more flood water would be released.  This repeated dozens of times over about a 2000 year period.  The area that was flooded covered almost half of what is now Washington on it’s eastern side side of the state and followed the Columbia River to the ocean.  It also branched off at the mouth of the Willamette River creating a lake that covered much of the Willamette Valley as far south as Eugene.  Mind you, Glacial Lake Missoula was in Montana…yet another Montana and Oregon link for Montinore.

 I found this link to an article on Oregon Live that discusses the flood 

https://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2012/06/lidar_map_shows_path_of_missou.html

Here you can also find beautiful lidar maps (as Oregon Live puts it “think radar, but with light”), some of which are truly artworks,  including an interactive mapthat illustrates the floodwaters by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries

https://gis.dogami.oregon.gov/maps/lidarviewer/

Build up of soils

Every time that the floods happened they would take out forests, that had grown in the last 75 years and carry that sediment with them, as well as anything else in their way (ie rocks, mammoths). Then the plug would drop back into place and the soil over the flooded area would dry out.  Some of this would be dusty and dry, so the wind would carry it (wind blown loess). You have layers and layers of these soils, forests that were buried or swept away downstream.  One of the ways they were able to tell that there were multiple floods, was because they found separate layers of ash from Mt. Saint Helens eruptions.

The soils of Montinore and the proposed Tualatin AVA

General Area of the proposed Tualatin Hills AVA
General Area of the proposed Tualatin Hills AVA (Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association)

We mentioned that when the Chehalem Mountain AVA formed that they offered to include Montinore.  Rudy declined.  He knows his soil and it is different from that of the Chehalem Mountain AVA.  The soils here are considered Laurelwood and Cornelius (wind blown loess glacial lake sediment) and are similar to some of those found in the Northeast part of the Chehalem Mountains, the area that is looking to become a nested AVA inside Chehalem, the proposed Laurelwood AVA. 

So what does Rudy believe sets this area apart to warrant it’s own AVA?  Well the windblown loess for a start.  The loess is the fine topsoil that formed as the flooded areas dried out. These fine particles which include clay (the finest and lightest of particles), were blown westward and got caught by the hills. This dust buried an ancient redwood forest 200 feet deep.  Rudy told us that he has had neighbors drill wells and pull up chunks of redwood from deep underground.

Redwoods
Redwoods

While it shares the Laurelwood soil series with the Chehalem Mountains AVA, the proposed Tualatin Hills AVA is located within the rain shadow of the coastal range and the temperatures are a bit higher. 

Tualatin Hills AVA borders

The proposed AVA is a horse-shoe shaped basin that opens to the east, bounded by the Tualatin River watershed. To the northwest the boundry is the peaks of the coastal range, where the prevailing winds come over and hit the Chehalem Mountains and Portland.  Then Willamette Valley AVA provides another border and urban development the last.  Elevation borders sit at 200 feet for the low end (anything below that has soils to fertile for growing wine grapes) and 1000 feet on the high end, which is the natural boundry for growing wine grapes in this climate.

The overall proposed Tualatin Hills AVA covers 144,000 acres.

Stick with us as we continue our discussion with Rudy as we dig deeper into the soils and how the Missoula Flood Loess affects the flavors in the wines.

You can also check out our previous post Montinore Estate – a Recent History which tells how the Estate came by it’s name and the history of the property and winery.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Montinore Estate – a recent history

It was overcast the morning we headed out to Montinore Estate. That’s not unexpected in Oregon.  What was unexpected for me was how vivid the colors were under the cloudy sky.  We headed out from Newberg, through a bit of a drizzle for our half our drive to Forest Grove.  As we got closer, the drizzle dissipated and the vivid colors of the fields and trees woke me up, probably better than the coffee in my cup.

We were heading into what will soon be the Tualatin Hills AVA to meet Rudy Marchesi who has been the driving force behind this AVA.

We arrived early and wandered the grounds, cameras in hand, taking in the beauty and capturing it to share with you here.

Montinore Vineyards Entrance

Montinore Vineyards Entrance

Montinore Estate

The Estate is named Montinore as a combination of Montana and Oregon, so don’t try to give it an Italian twist as I did. It’s not Mont-i-noray, even though Rudy’s last name is Marchesi.

Montinore Vineyards driveway trees

Montinore Vineyards driveway trees

Big leaf maples line the drive on the way in.  You are greeted by the tasting room to your right and then the southern style mansion built in 1905 by John Forbis.  I have heard that the home was actually a Sears kit house.  This particular morning it was resplendent with purple hydrangeas in bloom.

John Forbis home at Montinore Estate

John Forbis home at Montinore Estate

 

Finally, I turned around and there was the view, vineyards, trees, and bright green field dotting the landscape.  It’s easy to see how Rudy became enchanted with this place.  We headed into the tasting room to meet Rudy.

Interview with Rudy Marchesi

Interview with Rudy Marchesi

A little about Rudy Marchesi

Rudy Marchesi had just stepped down as President of the Montinore, handing over the reins to his daughter Kristin. He was returning from his first vacation in years and was kind enough to spend his morning with us before heading off to lunch with the grand kids.

Rudy’s grandparents were from Northern Italy, where they grew their own food, as well as grapes to make their own wine.   At that point in time, sustainable was just what you did.  Rudy sold wine on the east coast, he also grew grapes and made his own wine.  While working for a distribution house dealing with fine wine he came across Montinore.  He began consulting with the vineyard in 1998, worked as their president of Operation and then President and became the proprietor in 2005.  In 2008 the vineyard became Demeter Certified as Biodynamic.  The family is committed to sustainable agriculture and living, just like Rudy’s grandparents.  It is a legacy that Kristin continues.

The History of the Montinore

We spoke first about the history of the property.  John Forbis came to this area from Montana where he was an attourney for a copper company.  He and his family moved to Portland where he worked for the railroad.  The property here in Forest Grove reminded him of his home in Montana, and so he named it Montinore.

After owning the property for a couple of generations, the Grahams, who were lumber people bought the property in the 1960’s.

As we talked about the land Rudy painted the picture of the vineyard, before it was a vineyard.  It had been planted to hazelnuts for a time and been a cattle ranch.  I had forgotten how close Mount St. Helens was.  In 1980 when Mount St. Helens erupted, the lower fields then were planted to vegetables and the eruption buried it in 4 inches of ash.  Visualizing that will stick with me.

If you have not heard of this eruption or need a refresher to be able to visualize this, you can check out this

video link

from the Smithsonian Channel.

Becoming a Vineyard

The Grahams had an Ag survey done by both UC Davis and USO and the results encouraged them to grow wine grapes.  They planted 300 acres.

They planted the vineyards in 1982 and had their first vintage in 1987. In 1990 they had their first vintage from the winery.

The vineyard now is around 200 acres.  They lost some to pheloxera.  They have another 30 acres vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA and a longterm lease on a 20 acres vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains.

This is the recent history.  The Mount St. Helens eruption from almost 40 years ago is modern history in this neck of the woods. This area and the reason it is looking to become an AVA is due to natural events from long before that.

We will be digging into all the loess and basalt and ancient redwood forests, that lie under Montinore Estate in our next post where we speak with Rudy about the proposed Tualatin Hills AVA and what sets it apart.

Don’t forget to check back with us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles as we continue to explore Oregon Wine Country and beyond. And remember, you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram