A Visit to Antica Terra w Maggie Harrison
It’s early evening at the end of a full day of wine tasting. Jamie Goode is driving, my daughter, Rachel in the back seat. I am trying to help navigate our way through country roads where street numbers do not show clearly. We’ve driven past our destination.
A half mile on, Jamie finds a driveway where we can turn around. As we turn, I’m scouting the horizon hoping to spot where we are headed in order to confirm the proper turn. Then, atop the hill high above us, I see it, and I can’t help but call out pointing. “Oh my god! Is that where we’re going? Look at that vineyard!” It’s Antica Terra high atop the hill. The vines clutch to steep slope side almost glowing in evening light. I make a phone call, and Maggie Harrison drives down the hill to meet us. We’re climbing the dirt road into Antica Terra.
In the late 1980s, near the top of a hill in Eola-Amity, two New Yorkers paired up and planted Antica Terra vineyard to Pinot Noir, the steep, rolling slopes a call to complexity and concentration in the cooler reaches of Southern Willamette Valley. In 2005, after a few years making wine themselves, the pair decided to sell the site to a trio of friends, that would then also bring in Maggie Harrison as partner and winemaker.
At the time, Harrison was happily installed at Sine Qua Non in Santa Barbara County, working as assistant winemaker to Manfred and Elaine Krankl, while also making her own celebrated Syrah, Lillian. The Antica Terra team offered Harrison the winemaking post but she had no interest in moving. Wanting to convince Harrison, the Antica Terra partners chose to act covertly, asking her to visit the site simply to advise on viticulture for the upcoming season, hoping a glimpse of the vineyard would change her mind.
She flew to Portland, and with one of the partners, drove the length to Amity along suburban then country roads. Not until, but immediately upon arrival to the vineyard hill she knew. Within minutes, she tells us, she stepped behind one of the giant oak trees on the property for privacy, and called her now-husband to tell him, “we’re moving to Oregon.”
We’re standing at the top of the vineyard as she recounts the story. “This place has something to say,” she tells us. We’re looking into vines impossibly small for their age, but the canopy across the original sections is consistent and healthy. Harrison is explaining her attachment to the place in her characteristic humility. “I don’t know that I’ll be the person to best capture this place in the long run, but I had to work with it given the chance. I wanted to be part of it.”
Harrison’s work with Antica Terra has helped deepen vine health too, thus bringing greater overall balance to the vineyard. While the original owners put in ample work establishing and cultivating the site, by 2006 there were still some sections they’d not been able to bring into total balance.
Standing near the top of Antica Terra, Harrison would look out over the top of the vines and see stress bands running the vineyard, waves of yellow leaves blowing through the canopy. The difficult sections did not seem to correlate with any particular element of planting — it wasn’t consistent to clonal type, vine age, or training method. No one knew for sure what was happening.
Harrison took an unconventional approach to treating the stressed portions of the vineyard initially. “It was like standing there with a sick kid. I needed to do something. So, I would walk the rows and put a teaspoon of molasses at the base of each vine.” Harrison explains. At Sine Qua Non, Harrison and Krankl collaborated for years with Austrian winemaker Alois Kracher. “Kracher told me molasses had the most available nutrients for the vines, so I tried it. I don’t know that it helped, but it was something I could do.”
The approach, while surprising, illustrates Harrison’s ideas of intention. Whether the molasses itself assisted the vines or not remains unclear, but the time walking and tending the vines one-by-one everyday gave Harrison insight into the site.
As Harrison walked the vineyard she tracked the range of the stressed sections, and apparent soil changes. Eventually she placed flags in what turned out to be 38 spots where the team would later attempt to dig soil pits. Bringing in the backhoe gave insight. Topsoil proved less than 18″ in most spots, with vine roots clutched together in a ball above bedrock. Stress bands showed through those sections with shallow roots anytime temperatures rose too high. The roots had no way to find their water.
Though the decision was difficult — Harrison’s preference is to leave soils largely as found other than planting — they chose to rip ground down the middle of each row to a depth of 5 and a half feet. “It was horrible at first.” She admits. In ripping the ground to gain greater long term access for the roots, the roots that were in place were cut. “After a while though we started to recoup the vineyard.”
At the same time, the Antica Terra team chose to go organic. The initial change from conventional to organic farming is not easy. Vineyards tend to hyper-react initially to the change, over-growing weeds or fungus, taking a year or two to adjust depending on site.
Harrison’s view of going organic parallels the response to shallow soils in the vineyard, it’s a philosophy tempered with utility. “I believe in making a choice, saying, here is my intention. At the same time, I reserve the right to do whatever needs to happen to preserve the vineyard.” She explains. “So, in 2006, I said, we are going to go organic, unless I am going to lose the entire vineyard. Then, we’ll need to talk.” Though it was hard at first, the gamble worked. By 2007, the team was successfully farming organic.
The promise of concentration and complexity spotted by the original owners of the site, proved true. The vines from Antica Terra produce few clusters, all of them small, with lots of hens and chicks throughout. The clusters tend to predominately hold berries without seeds, evidence of the challenged conditions growing in bedrock. The 2014 vintage, Harrison explains, offers the highest fruit production she’s seen from the site since 2006, though walking the rows with her, it’s clear the cluster count is still low compared to lower elevation plantings.
The reduced seed count offers an advantage in the cellar for Antica Terra wines. Seed tannins tend to be harsher than skin tannins. With fewer seeds present per cluster (and these clusters that often hold thicker skins) Antica Terra Pinot can expect still ample tannin presence, but worry less about tannin bitterness.
Beginning in 2009, Harrison bottled some of the Antica Terra vineyard fruit on its own. Back in the cellar, we’re tasting from the 2011 Antikythera, Antica Terra’s Estate Vineyard Pinot noir. It shows the dark concentrated elements of the vineyard cupped with multi-colored fruit edges, and a light dust patina. Though the wine is not lacking in fruit, fruit doesn’t seem to be the point. Instead, it’s a wine of elegant strength, with a core of precision and a lifting, lifting long finish.
For Jamie Goode’s write-up on the Antikythera: http://www.wineanorak.com/wineblog/oregon/the-lovely-antikythera-pinot-noir-2011-antica-terra
I’ll be writing more about Antica Terra wines in a future post (I’m kind of crazy for the 2012 Aurata Chardonnay — and listening to Maggie’s views on Chardonnay proves interesting).
Thank you to Maggie Harrison.
Thank you to Jamie Goode.
Thank you to Michelle Kaufmann.
Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com