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, viticulturist, 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 recently purchased sites 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 is 115 metres above sea level at its highest point and is predominantly planted to Pinot Noir (40 hectares), Pinot Gris (20 hectares) and Riesling (6.5 hectares). Being in the valley’s northernmost AVA and benefiting from the rain shadow of the Coastal Range, the estate sees lower rainfall, cooler springtime temperatures and more temperate conditions. The Laurelwood soils (glacial-derived basalt base with a top layer of freshwater silt) are deep and well-drained, imparting a distinct character to the wines from here. Pinot Noir, in particular, can have bright structures and savoury edges. Most vines on the estate vineyard are on their own roots, and many 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—a feat many would call impossible.

The Tidalstar and Laughlin Road vineyards are 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 ages. The Tidalstar vineyard, 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 east towards the Cascade Mountains, it gives Pinots of structure and brooding depth. The Laughlin Road vineyard, located in the northeast corner of the same appellation, is an exciting project for the Montinore crew. Before planting, they conducted extensive soil testing, 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 mass-selection cuttings (from Burgundy and California) of varied clones to each block, creating a thoughtful tapestry of genetic diversity. 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.

Simplicity is the mantra of the Montinore cellar. Rudy’s right-hand man is Stephen Webber, or Lord Webber, as Rudy calls him. He’s 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 sees his role as a nurturing journeyman for the wines; it’s a partnership rather than a case of master and craft. The thoughtful, deliberate vineyard practices are reflected in the fruit, so Webber takes a hands-off approach to ensure the wines express where they’re grown. He’s fastidious about picking dates, ensuring each parcel is harvested at optimal ripeness, and uses a host of vessels, including French and Hungarian oak of different sizes, concrete eggs, stainless steel and amphora—a favourite of Marchesi’s—both made locally and imported from Italy.

It would be fair to say that Pinot Noir put the Willamette Valley on the map, but this is no one trick pony. The Pinot Gris merits your attention, especially from the Tualatin Hills. Those loess-rich soils bring a certain je ne sais quoi, making it incomparable to other Gris from the wider Willamette Valley, and Montinore’s example is particularly fine. Though we are reluctant 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, it’s a wine that, to borrow 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 US markets, has gone some way to normalising the conversation around custodianship of land through an organic and biodynamic lens. Their wines reflect their approach and standing, and are well worth seeking out.

The Range

Montinore Estate Reserve Riesling 2018
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Montinore Estate Reserve Riesling 2018

Montinore Estate’s Riesling blocks are planted on a south-facing slope overlooking Graham Lake on the property. Fruit from these 40-year-old, own-rooted Geisenheim 68 clone vines is handpicked and whole cluster pressed before a cool fermentation in stainless steel barrels. Once bottled, the wine is held back for up to two years before release.The long, sun-drenched days and perfectly cool and crisp nights during the end of the 2018 ripening season delivered a textural yet wonderfully bright, dry Riesling. It leads with aromas of lime, sweet summer florals and chalky freshness before a clean and pure palate that’s just brimming with mouth-watering, zesty flavours, nervy acidity and a talc-like texture. Youthful, with plenty of pep and drive, this has years to go if desired but is in a delicious spot right now.

The long, sun-drenched days and perfectly cool and crisp nights during the end of the 2018 ripening season delivered a textural yet wonderfully bright, dry Riesling. It leads with aromas of lime, sweet summer florals and chalky freshness before a clean and pure palate that’s just brimming with mouth-watering, zesty flavours, nervy acidity and a talc-like texture. Youthful, with plenty of pep and drive, this has years to go if desired but is in a delicious spot right now.

Montinore Estate Reserve Riesling 2018
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Montinore Estate Pinot Gris 2020
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Montinore Estate Pinot Gris 2020

The Willamette’s second most widely planted variety after Pinot Noir is Pinot Gris (although Chardonnay is now on the march). While some are pulling out Gris vines to replant to the more accessible Chardonnay, Montinore is doubling down—and for a good reason. The combination of Tualatin Hills’ cool seasons and Laurelwood soils results in a style unique to the Willamette Valley. Montinore farms seven blocks of Pinot Gris vines, with an average age of 29 years. The vines are dispersed throughout the property, giving Webber a palette of flavours and structures to work with when piecing together the final blend. It was fermented in stainless steel and raised on its lees, undisturbed, for 10 months.The 2020 is a beautifully fresh and vibrant Gris, balancing intense pear, stone fruit and spice flavours with penetrating acidity, ample fleshy weight and a mineral-flecked, linear finish. Fantastic on its own, this will shine all the brighter with the right food—crispy skinned salmon or butter-basted roast chicken spring to mind.

The 2020 is a beautifully fresh and vibrant Gris, balancing intense pear, stone fruit and spice flavours with penetrating acidity, ample fleshy weight and a mineral-flecked, linear finish. Fantastic on its own, this will shine all the brighter with the right food—crispy skinned salmon or butter-basted roast chicken spring to mind.

“Certified organic and made with biodynamic grapes, the aromas are redolent with fruit, with notes of apple, pear, star fruit and whiffs of pineapple. The palate is medium weight and bursting with fruit flavors. Lively acid keeps it all in focus. It’s flat-out delicious.”
92 points, Sean P. Sullivan, Wine Enthusiast
“An attractive nose of lemon, chamomile and thyme. Medium-bodied with zippy acidity. Green apple and white tea on the palate. Very bright. From biodynamically grown grapes with Demeter certification. Drink now. Screw cap.”
91 points, jamessuckling.com
Montinore Estate Pinot Gris 2020
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Country

USA

Primary Region

Willamette Valley, Oregon

People

Winemaker: Stephen Webber

Availability

National

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