Montinore Vineyards - Deep Roots in Oregon Biodynamic Farming
By Ryan Gaughan, Alcohol Buyer & Co-Manager
I have always been fascinated by the environment of the Pacific Northwest. Living in the Portland area, we have the ability to travel a few hours in any direction and find ourselves in starkly different places. From lush, green valleys to rugged mountains and desert, the land offers different possibilities for what people can grow and cultivate.
This entire landscape was formed by fire and flood.
Approximately 15 million years ago, massive chasms in the earth’s surface opened in what is present day Eastern Washington and Oregon, spewing flows of lava across the land. For millions of years, fiery rivers of liquid rock spread out over the land, eventually cooled, and then gradually sank into the surface under their own weight. Eventually these expansive basalt flows became the foundation of the Columbia Basin and its watershed.
The earth was really only getting warmed up. During the last Ice Age, approximately 18,000 to 13,000 years ago, a giant frozen ocean sheet covering much of present day Canada began slowly drifting South. One arm of this ice sheet formed a dam on the Clark Fork River, resulting in the formation of Glacial Lake Missoula, extending into much of present day Montana. This body of water, about the size of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario combined, was held in place by an ice dam 30 miles wide and 2000 ft high.
The dam did not hold. At one moment in history, a wall of water 2000 ft high barreled with catastrophic force all the way to the Pacific Ocean. As it did so, it stripped all of the vegetation, animal life, and topsoil back down to the ancient basalt flows in a giant flush. Floods happened repeatedly, each time pulling up the land and leaving unfathomable amounts of rock in their wake. These layers of rock became the substrates for what today comprises the fertile lands of the Willamette and Columbia Valleys, and Eastern Washington.
Most agricultural activity in Oregon takes place within the basalt tendrils of this great geological odyssey. The Willamette Valley is one of them, stretching 150 miles, from Portland to Eugene. It is here, for reasons that have just as much to do with climate as they do with geology, that specific conditions are correct for the propagation of Vitis vinifera. From this vine, we get grapes such as pinot noir, pinot gris, gewurztraminer, and pinot blanc, among the most prolific of Willamette Valley wines.
In October of 2017 I had the great pleasure of visiting Montinore Vineyards, producers of several wines carried by People’s Food Co-op. Montinore is a 200-acre vineyard estate that finds itself in the northernmost end of the Willamette Valley wine growing region, along the east facing slope of the Coastal Range, in the proximity of Forest Grove, Oregon. As a picture taking guest, my timing couldn't be worse, but I am treated to a full tour of the operation by friendly staff nonetheless. Dozens of workers are busy in the height of harvest season, working intently to harvest the perfectly juicy pinot noir grapes before an early winter storm arrives later in the week.
Much of the landscape of this estate is consistent with other wineries in the valley. Rolling, vine carpeted hillsides, stunning mountain views, and an ornate tasting room and production facility are all hallmarks of Oregon “wine tourism” that can be found here. But in the fields there is a much deeper, attentive care in farming practices that is happening, more than immediately meets the eye.
Planted in 1982, Montinore today is the second largest producer of estate grown certified Organic & Biodynamic grapes in the country. It is an impressive display of dedication and meticulous crop management that they are able to produce grapes this way, and still manufacture enough quantity to be distributed in multiple states.
Many people will be familiar with the core concepts of Organic farming, denoting that crops are not treated with artificially manufactured pesticides & herbicides. Biodynamic farming, however, is a less well known and truly fascinating farming technique, and not one commonly employed in winemaking in the United States. At its core, Biodynamic farming insists that the health of a farm occurs from the elements present within the farm itself. With creative applications of human intervention, contributions from animals, and the cycles of the earth, the workers at Montinore seek to harness natural forces in service of the vines.
Montinore does not water its vineyard at any point during the growing season. Employing “dry farming” techniques, the vine roots are encouraged to grow deep into the ground in search of retained moisture from the previous winter. In this way, the vine becomes stronger, and, according to the winemakers, extracts more complex flavors from the soil. Through this network of deep vines, it is believed that the grape is an expression of the geological history of the land.
Above the surface, Biodynamic farming at Montinore involves a variety of techniques both scientific and what some would call “mystical”. After the harvest, crops of clover are planted between the vines to augment nitrogen in the soil. Early in the spring, roses planted by the vines do their part to slow mildew before it has a chance to attack the vine. Goats that are raised on the property provide a critical ingredient of Biodynamic farming, their manure, which is cultivated into a “tea” inside of bull horns (seriously, look it up) and manufactured into a spray fertilizer. All of these things are done within the seasonal cycles of solstice and equinox when the gravitational pull of the moon ebbs and flows with the sap of the vine.
A highlight of my tour was the time spent in the tasting room, of course, where I was able to sample from the full array of Montinore’s commercial and estate selection of wines. At one point, two glasses of pinot noir were put in front of me. One was made from grapes grown at a slightly higher hillside elevation, and the other was from the lower lands of the property. It was explained that the soils of each of the vines were starkly different, with the lower elevation soil containing more elements of the Missoula Flood substrates. The contrast between the two was remarkable; both the same subspecies of vine, but with undeniably different expressions.
I invite you to try the Montinore products proudly featured at People’s Food Co-op. We are extremely fortunate to have such an incredible winery located so close to us, particularly one which embodies our Co-op Ends Statement of “Progressive Land & Animal Stewardship”.
Be sure to stop in to the Co-op on Saturday, January 13, 2-5pm, when Montinore will be doing an in store tasting! You can try all of the different Montinore wines we carry, including Verjus, a non-alcoholic pinot noir grape juice, and learn more about their farming estates!
Montinore Vineyards - Pinot Gris $12.49
Bright and fresh fruit with a zip of citrus zest. Clean and quaffable and great paired with grilled Vegetables.
Montinore Vineyards - Pinot Noir, SALE: $15.99, REG: $17.99
Best value Pinot Noir in Oregon! Plush red fruit, fine tannins and round texture. Delicious and balanced, and can pair with everything from savory slow cooked beans to fresh seasonal vegetables.
Montinore Vineyards - Almost Dry Riesling $13.99
Tropical aromas of exotic starfruit and mango swirl from the glass with notes of juicy honeydew. Tangerine, stone fruit, and key lime flavors are scented with mace and a hint of flintiness. Nice, clean acidity and dry on the finish. Great with a variety of foods or drunk on its own.