Montinore Estate

Montinore Estate

Stewards of the Soil – The Biodynamic Pioneers of the Willamette Valley

To understand Montinore Estate, one must first understand the man behind it. Rudy Marchesi, third generation winemaker and son of Italian immigrants, has worked with vines, in some shape or form, all his life. Winemaker, viticulturalist, salesman, owner/operator… you name it, over the last 40 years, he’s done it. In 1998, Marchesi began consulting to Montinore Estate, an 80-hectare site in the Tualatin Hills sub-AVA in the northwesternmost corner of the Willamette Valley. Always an avid proponent of organics, he converted the site to organic farming in 2001. Then, going deeper down the agricultural advocacy rabbit hole, he completed a course in biodynamics in 2003 and incorporated those practices into the Montinore approach—Demeter certification would be attained by 2008. 

Marchesi purchased the property in 2005 and, in the years since, has positioned Montinore as the unequivocal leader of biodynamic farming in the Willamette Valley.

Marchesi and his partners now own three vineyards; the estate vineyard in the Tualatin Hills, and two more recently purchased sites located in the more southerly Yamhill-Carlton sub-AVA. The estate vineyard is the heartbeat of the Montinore story and lies at the northern end of the Willamette Valley appellation, along the east-facing slope of the Coastal Range foothills. It stands at 115 metres elevation at its highest point and is planted to predominantly Pinot Noir (40 hectares), Pinot Gris (20 hectares) and Riesling (6.5 hectares). Being in the Valley’s most northern AVA and benefiting from the rain shadow of the Coast Range, the estate sees lower rainfall, cooler springtime temperatures and more temperate conditions. The soils are Laurelwood (glacial derived basalt base with a top layer of freshwater silt); very deep, well-drained soils that impart a distinct character to the wines from here; Pinot Noir in particular can have bright structures and savoury edges. Most of the vines on the estate vineyard are own-rooted and many of them have phylloxera; through their unflinching commitment to soil health and sustainable farming, Marchesi and his team have coaxed these vines back to full production on a dry-farmed site – most would say an impossible feat, we say naysayers beware. 

The Tidalstar and Laughlin Road Vineyards are located in the Yamhill-Carlton sub-AVA, about 50 kilometres south of Portland. These vineyards represent the future of the Montinore story, ensuring continuity of fruit as the estate vineyard continues to age. The Tidalstar vineyard, located on the western edge of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, was planted in 1999. It’s 12 hectares of biodynamically farmed Pinot Noir—and a sliver of Chardonnay— on marine sediment soils with some volcanic basalt cobbled throughout. An impressive site that looks eastward towards the Cascade Mountains, it gives Pinot’s of structure and brooding depth. The Laughlin Road Vineyard, located in the north-east corner of the same appellation, is a pretty exciting project for the Montinore crew. Before planting the vineyard, extensive testing was conducted on the soils, the results of which showed a diverse range within the site. Seizing the opportunity to do something unique, the team segmented the vineyard into blocks based on soil type and planted different massale selections (from Burgundy and California) of different clones to each block creating a thoughtful tapestry of genetic diversity within the vineyard. In a case of watch this space, 2023 will be the first year of fruit from this new site, and plantings will continue over the coming years to increase land under vine from 20 hectares to 70. 

When it comes to winemaking at Montinore, simplicity is a virtue. Rudy’s right-hand man is winemaker Stephen Webber, or Lord Webber as Rudy refers to him, a vastly experienced winemaker with years in Australia, France and the USA under his belt. He’s worked for Montinore for the last 17 years, “just enough time to get to know the vineyards” he tells us. He sees his role as a nurturing journeyman for the wines; it’s a relationship of partnership rather than mastery. The thoughtful and deliberate practices employed in the vineyards are reflected in the fruit, so Webber takes a hands-off approach in the winery to ensure the wines end up being an expression of where they are grown. He’s obsessive when it comes to picking dates, ensuring that each parcel where possible is picked at optimal ripeness and uses a host of vessels including concrete eggs, inox, French and Hungarian oak of different sizes and amphora—a favourite of Marchesi’s—made locally and imported from Italy. 

It would be fair to say that Pinot Noir put the Willamette Valley on the map, but it’s no one trick pony. Worth your attention are the Pinot Gris wines from the region, and in particular from the Tualatin Hills. Those loess-rich soils add a certain je ne sais quois to the variety, making it incomparable to other Gris’ from the wider Willamette Valley, and Montinore’s example is a particularly fine one. Though we are reticent to make comparisons; consider the silky weight and latent power of Alsace Gris, combined with the freshness and finesse of Trentino’s mountainous Grigios and you’d be getting close. And, if you have not yet tried a Riesling from Oregon, we suggest you rectify that with Montinore’s Reserve bottling, sourced from 40-year-old, own-rooted vines on a south-facing slope heavily influenced by cool Pacific breezes—a wine that, to borrow a phrase from Webber, “always delivers, no matter what the context of the vintage”.  

Montinore’s influence is writ large over the Willamette Valley and Oregon. Rudy Marchesi is a pioneer of sustainable agriculture and his voice, combined with Montinore’s reputation and far reach in markets in the US, has gone some way to normalizing the conversation around custodianship of land through an organic and biodynamic lens. Their wines are a reflection of their approach and their standing and are well worth seeking out.

Region

Oregon, USA

Appellation

Willamette Valley

Wine Maker

Stephen Webber

Montinore Estate

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