With consumers demanding more access to organic and biodynamic produce, it’s good to know that wineries are listening. In the Tualatin Valley, just minutes from downtown Portland is where Montinore Estate is located. Montinore is cranking out the most Demeter certified estate wines from clean and pure biodynamic grapes in the United States.
I visited the Tualatin Valley in October 2017 to explore farm markets, restaurants, and wineries. It’s lots of fun to visit these types of businesses and sample their goods. One of the most memorable sites of my trip was two hours spent at Montinore Estate. The ivy climbing the exterior wall of the tasting room building was turning red with the approaching fall weather. Inside I was treated to a sampling of their exceptional wines from fruit-forward white blends to intense pinot noirs. Even though two hours seems like plenty of time to investigate a winery, Montinore needed much more research.
Montinore Estate Tasting Room
As a consumer of organic or biodynamic produce, I’ve started searching out the same green and clean practices in the wine I drink. Tens of thousands of other wine drinkers are also looking for wine that was made from grapes not dusted with toxic sprays or chemicals used in winemaking. Back in the 1990s it was hard to find a good tasting organic/biodynamic wine at a reasonable price. Times are a changing and Montinore is leading the way.
I recently had the chance to interview outgoing president Rudy Marchesi after his daughter Kristin took over the reins. Rudy is still active by helping the head winemaker, Stephen Webber, and new viticulturist, Karen Peterson. I wanted to hear from this pioneer of Biodynamic® grape growing and winemaking what it was like to go against the grain and eschew chemicals and other unfriendly eco-practices that most wineries participate in.
First I wanted to ask Rudy,”Who is buying organic/biodynamic wines?”
Rudy: “A lot of people don’t even know they are buying biodynamic wine. People who care about the environment buy organic vegetables and are health conscious are buying our wines. Biodynamic is more than just organic, there’s that special aspect of the whole biodynamic process give the vines more personality of where they are from and attract those looking for that type of wine.
KJ: Does it cost you more to make organic/biodynamic wines?
Rudy: “No. The assumption is that biodynamic wine costs more to produce but we have found our vines are healthier and more resistant to diseases. We produce excellent wine for the same price as conventional farming or even less. Over the years we have found the vines are much more in balance and easier to manage. In the earlier years the vines needed more trellising but are now easier to manage.
KJ: How much of Montinore’s wine is biodynamic?
Rudy: “All of our wine was biodynamic up until 2016 when we found out we couldn’t keep up with demand. We started buying pinot noir grapes from good growers who grew organic, Live certified, or biodynamic, but we can’t label it Biodynamic anymore because it’s probably only 70% biodynamic fruit. But all of our pinot gris and other wines are still biodynamic. 70 % of all our wines by volume are Demeter Certified Biodynamic.”
KJ: What else is Montinore doing to be environmentally friendly?
Rudy: “We are growing cover crops. Our vine rows are 7-10 feet wide and that’s a lot of space in between. So we grow cover crops in between to not only increase fertility and health of the soil but we include things that are food for pollinators and other beneficial insects. We also have a lake that we set aside for waterfowl and wildlife.”
KJ: How does pinot noir do using biodynamic growing practices since it’s a fussy grape?
Rudy: “The farmer needs to be much more attentive. You can’t let problems get away from you. There are no “silver bullets.” We don’t use those heavy chemicals that are available. We can’t afford a powdery mildew outbreak. Our big guns are baking soda you know so that’s as big as it gets. We spend a lot of time observing what’s going on. You have to be much more proactive and the side benefit is being a better grape grower because you have to be more engaged.”
KJ: Are you seeing more of your competitors using biodynamic practices?
Rudy: It kind of became a thing and then it faded a little bit. Now with the awareness of the microbiome in the soil and how it affects wine quality in the long run, people are starting to pay attention again. One of the things about biodynamics is we look at the farm as a whole living organism underground and above ground hedgerows and everything. If your goal is to make high-quality wine you want to have a healthy biosphere. Oregon has the highest percentage of third party certified sustainable grape growers of any wine growing region in the world. That means the’re cutting back on herbicides and hot pesticides that are used in other areas. The net effect of that is were not killing off the beneficial life forms that are in the soil or on the leaves.
KJ: Mankind has been making wine for some six thousand years and hasn’t used chemical herbicide or pesticides for most of that time. Doesn’t that mean we can still make plenty of good wine without conventional practices involving chemicals?
Rudy: “The real cutting edge researchers in wine are starting to look backwards and say, oh yeah, that’s why they used to do that, because it was allowing microorganisms that quietly impact the quality of the wine. Instead of wiping the microorganisms out and trying to start with a blank slate and re-create the wine.
KJ: How do you feel about Kristin taking over the president positon?
Rudy: “I’m thrilled that Kristin will continue to use her leadership and acumen to carry on our tradition of crafting outstanding wines. I look forward to watching Kristin carry on the tradition of land stewardship, biodynamic farming, and sustainable winemaking.”
As the interview concluded I learned from Rudy that growing grapes on a large scale is possible without significant damage to our Earth. As for the quality of Montinore Estate wines, I was able to sample several of their wines including a 2016 pinot gris,perfect with linguine and clam sauce. The Graham’s Block 7 pinot noir was a well-balanced red wine I paired with lamb chops and duck with great success. And for a fruit-forward wine, the Borealis white blend is a good choice with cheese or dessert.
Montinore Estate grape vines in autumn.
If you can’t find Montinore Estate wines in your area, consider signing up for their wine club. Montinore can currently ship wine to 32 states. I highly recommend visiting their beautiful vineyard and tasting room in the Tualatin Valley next time you are in the area. Bring a picnic and grab a table outside for a great way to experience biodynamic wine.
Kurt Jacobson has been a chef for 40 years and, after being schooled in the U.S. Coast Guard, he trained in many restaurants under both kind and maniac chefs. Kurt is starting his sixth year of container and raised-bed organic gardening and is volunteering at Wilbur’s Farm in Kingsville, Maryland, to learn real organic gardening. For tasty travel ideas check out Kurt's travel blog, TasteofTravel2.com. Read all of Kurt's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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