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In shades of red, white and green, Oregon wines come in organic flavors
I recently returned from the Oregon wine country, where I had never been before. Yes, I know you are shocked. I have only been to the Oregon Coast before, primarily Cannon Beach, and that was 30 years ago. We have friends who visit Oregon wine country routinely and rave endlessly about its beauty. They are so right. While Washington wine country is in Eastern Washington, which detractors label as desert, Oregon wine country is on the west side of the mountains. It is similar to driving around our Cascade foothills, heavily treed and bucolic.
At the end of June, I was happily chosen to attend the Oregon Pinot Camp, an annual three-day immersion class in the wines of Oregon. On the third day, there were many wineries open for an intensive visit. I chose Maysara Winery. What a wise and lucky choice!
Every winery has a story. The name Maysara means House of Wine, but there is so much to this intriguing winery because it is biodynamic and because it is the largest winery in Oregon. In 1997, Moe and Flora Momtazi purchased 532 acres of abandoned wheat farm just south of their home in McMinnville. Though most saw it as wild and neglected, Moe Momtazi saw a vital, thriving piece of land which had been free of chemicals for seven years.
Momtazi’s grandparents grew tea, rice, wheat and wine grapes in Northern Iran near the Caspian Sea. His grandparents refused to use chemicals or fertilizers in the soil or on the plants. “I wanted to do the same,” said Momtazi.
The Momtazi family actually had to machete their way into their newly purchased, overgrown former wheat farm. It is impossible to envision that today as you look at row upon row of vineyards and two retention ponds (stocked with rainbow trout). “Rainbow trout require the purest water,” said Momtazi. “Since the reservoirs sit at the lowest points on the property, we consider their thriving population a testament to our farming methods.”
We believe that healthy soil and healthy vines will produce superior grapes, without the need for man-made chemicals and poisons,” said Momtazi.
A year after purchasing the land, the Momtazis planted their first grapes on 13 acres. They researched multiple clones and planted them in the various soils found on their land. 2001 was a hallmark year. An eight-acre reservoir — the first of two on the property — was completed. Fed by natural springs and run-off, the reservoirs are a source of irrigation.
The Momtazis are firm believers in biodynamic farming. Biodynamic agriculture views the farm as an organism, a self-contained entity with its own individuality. Emphasis is placed on the integration of crops and livestock, recycling of nutrients, soil maintenance, and the health and well-being of crops and animals.
Biodynamic farming started in 1924 when Austrian farmers were complaining that crop well-being, animal health and seed fertility were declining. Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, gave a series of lectures outlining biodynamics as a new approach. Steiner’s initial theories were expanded by others, and today it is a complex tool kit of philosophy and techniques for anyone interested in sustainability and organics. There are different “teas” which are the cornerstone of biodynamic farming. When I visited Maysara, Momtazi had a demonstration table laid out to help educate. Concentrations are mixed into water and either the ground next to the vines is watered or the vines themselves are sprayed. These different concentrations are various “recipes”: with such ingredients as yarrow blossoms, chamomile blossoms, stinging nettle, oak bark dandelion flowers, valerian flowers and horsetail. Another ingredient is to stuff manure into a cow horn and bury it in the fall. In the spring, the now-composted manure is mixed with water and fed to the vines. Silica is another ingredient which is stuffed into a cow horn. But it is buried in the fall and dug up in the spring. Mixed with water, it is sprayed over the vines to control fungus.
There are many aspects of biodynamic farming such as planting and harvesting by phases of the moon. Cynics label some features of biodynamic agriculture as voodoo farming. The non-mystical reason for biodynamic farming may be simply that the grape grower focuses so intently upon the process of perfecting his land that he would never consider throwing some chemical pest or weed killer on his vineyard.
Moe and Flora need only to point to their award-winning wines. Tahmiene Momtazi, the oldest daughter, is the winemaker. She has a degree in food science and fermentation science with a minor in chemistry. In addition to her formal schooling, she has worked at wineries in New Zealand and Oregon. Not only do their own wines win awards, but they grow more grapes than they can use. Many wineries make award-winning wines with “Momtazi Vineyard” proudly proclaimed on their labels.
To maintain their biodynamic certification with Demeter, which is the only certification agent in the United States, Maysara is inspected yearly by a Demeter authority. There are sources where biodynamic farmers can order such things as cow horns. The vertical flow-form tower which is used to oxygenate the various teas was ordered by Momtazi and then assembled by his crew. While the Momtazis have a crew who harvest ingredients to make various “tea” recipes, there is a company in Virginia which makes the compost and plant preparations. They grow and then process the stinging nettle, chamomile, dandelion and silica preparations.
While most wineries do not practice biodynamic farming to the extent which Maysara does, many wineries are organic. Most choose not to go through the process of being certified organic, keeping their options open in case they do have to spray chemicals. During my trip to Oregon, I constantly saw cover crops such as clover planted on alternate rows of vineyards. I had been accustomed to seeing cover crops on every row. Research has shown that too much nitrogen gets into the ground, so alternate rows are the current plan. I find that wineries everywhere are more aware of ecological and sustainable practices. We, the consumers, are the beneficiaries.
Maysara pinot blanc: $17
Maysara pinot gris: $16
Maysara Jamsheed pinot noir: $25
Maysara pinot noir cuvee: $29
Dee Hitch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.