Talking Chardonnay + winemaking with Maggie Harrison, Antica Terra

Talking Chardonnay + winemaking with Maggie Harrison, Antica Terra

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Antica Terra with Maggie Harrison

Maggie Harrison in Antica TerraMaggie Harrison in the Antica Terra Winery, visit August 2012

Two weeks ago, Jamie Goode and I spent the evening visiting with Maggie Harrison, tasting her Antica Terra wines after walking the vineyard. Jamie writes up her Antikythera 2011 Pinot Noir here. A write-up on our time in the vineyard is here.

Two years ago, Maggie and I met and discussed her views of Chardonnay, among other things. An evolution in the Antica Terra Aurata Chardonnay has been developing since, including a site change on the fruit. In the recent tasting, I couldn’t get enough of the 2012. It carried expressive, plush fruit with defined edges, and great focus — such an example of the potentials of ripeness kept in balance by precise lines and steady margins. The image I kept getting was of wine with burnished edges, a polished liquid, as if the fruit itself had gold leaf.

Maggie speaks with a similar voice as her wines — plush passion, with precise lines and lots of focus. Following are a few insights from Maggie about wine, and winemaking, specifically focused on her Chardonnay, gathered from the time tasting with she and Jamie.

Maggie Harrison, Jamie GoodeMaggie Harrison and Jamie Goode in Antica Terra Vineyard, visit July 2014

“I didn’t go to school [for winemaking]. All of it is just intuition, just deciding what the most beautiful thing that can be done is, and then going for it.” Jamie asks Maggie to comment on her previous work at Sine Qua Non. In responding, she further develops her point on intuition. “The thing that Manfred and Elaine [Krankl] gave me is, you look at what is in front of you, and you decide, what is the most lovely thing you can do?, and you go after it without compromise.”

She then further explains by describing her relation to the fermenters during and after harvest. “Having large tanks, for me, would create a level of remove that would mean I wouldn’t know how to make decisions any more. A temperature number? I don’t know what do do at that temperature by its number. The only rule here is that the fermenter can’t be taller than 50″ because I need to be able to walk around, and see everything, and, if I need to know the temperature, put my arm in it in seven different places.”

When Maggie and I met in the summer of 2012, the fruit was not yet in. It was unclear how the vintage would show in the cellar, let alone finish on the vine. At that time she spoke of Chardonnay in relation to the colder vintages of the years prior. She commented then, “The year we’re able to get too much from the fruit… well, I hope I’m here to see that. I welcome it.”

2012 would turn out to bring a sense of warmness not seen in the previous two years in Willamette Valley. The 2012 wines of Oregon are all about up-front fresh fruit. It’s a vintage character across the Valley that comes front and center to the glass such that right now the vintage shows first before site or the cellar. (I’m curious to see how this will shift in three to five years to reveal more of the underpinnings of the wines but for now its a vintage with fresh fruit and baby fat compared to the very cold years prior.)

Sitting down at the table this visit, we begin our tasting with the Chardonnay. Maggie describes her views to us. “I take a little bit of a different approach to Chardonnay. I feel Chardonnay is a total monster. It is so incredible, interesting, and monstrous even in the vineyard. It wants to give so much. When you grow it in a place with sun, it can get weird and tropical. I get it. But everyone is leaning against it. Maybe I am just whipped, or smug coming from California. But I feel we can do things differently to make it really beautiful here in Oregon. In 2010, and 2011 [when it was so cold in Oregon], it was easy to talk like this. 2012 was the year we could have totally eaten our words.”

We turn to discussing the Aurata specifically. “What I want in Chardonnay is that feeling of goldness, of being illuminated from within, without the wine itself in fact being golden. This wine is Shea Vineyard fruit. We had to change sites, and so spoke with Dick Shea. [The fruit] It goes to a place in our cellar where we see real intensity. I wanted to see what that felt like, to go there and see what that’s like in Oregon.”

The 2012 Aurata takes advantage of the vintage’s fresh fruit quality bringing Harrison’s sense of polish to it. After we discuss the vintage, and Aurata’s relationship to it, Harrison responds. “I might not go there every year, but it’s a wine that carries that vintage.”

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Thank you to Maggie Harrison.

Thank you to Jamie Goode, and Michelle Kaufmann.

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