Maysara is truly a gem in what is now an incredibly good Oregon wine scene.
Moe Momtazi and his wife Flora started this vineyard and winery under the most improbable of circumstances. They fled their native Iran during the revolutionary period of the early 1980s, literally escaping the country on motorcycles while being chased by the authorities, making it into the United States by filing for political asylum. Flora was 8 months pregnant.
Once in the US, they settled in Texas where Moe had previously obtained his engineering degree and Moe joined an engineering firm. He eventually created his own engineering firm and ultimately sold it which allowed them to move to Oregon and pursue their passion: to make great wine.
Meeting Moe Momtazi is a special experience. He has a very open personality and wonderful calm about him; a spiritual sense.
After only a few minutes talking with him we realize that Moe feels deeply connected to the land that is now the Momtazi vineyard.
He and Flora bought the original 496 acres in 1997 and have since expanded it to 532 acres. Which makes it a big vineyard, especially for a first vineyard purchase. Making the decision to buy this property more daring was the fact that it was not then planted to vines, it was a former wheat farm. The general consensus was the property was too cool for grape growing and that they would not be able to fully ripen Pinot Noir at this site.
Moe told us: “When I first bought the property and we were developing, two of the so-called experts came in and the first sentence that one of them made was ‘I wanted to see this crazy guy who thinks he can grow Pinot Noir in here’. Our site goes from 192 feet to 783 feet but the majority of the vineyard is up on top, so they were only looking at elevation thinking the fruit isn’t going to ripen.”
“It was much cooler during that time and the effect of the global warming you could literally sense that. But it has actually benefitted us. As a matter of fact…all the frost we saw last week really didn’t hurt us a bit because we’re a cooler site so our buds hadn’t opened up yet…and because of the slopes and the wind constantly moving, the air also doesn’t get stagnated to damage.”
Adding to his risk, Moe decided right from the outset that he would farm his property Biodynamically.
Biodynamics is a type of farming based upon the concept that the farm is a complete whole where nothing from the outside needs to be added to grow the crops (we wrote an article on Biodynamics here, after visiting Oregon in 2019 and discovering that a number of the best Oregon wines we tasted came from Biodynamic farms).
We Asked Moe how he decided on Biodynamic farming: “In 2001, we, with a bunch of other vineyard managers and winery owners, started studying Rudolph Steiner and his way of introducing the agriculture course. I found he didn’t really respect a lot of people before him, but he considered himself a reincarnation of a Zoraster. [Steiner went on to create his own world conception which he called Anthroposophy, which was largely influenced by and in harmony with Zoroastrianism].
“Because our background is Persian and mainly Zoroastrian, I started digging into the teaching of Steiner and the more I studied and learned, I realized that this is the way to go. We haven’t brought anything from outside the vineyard. Just doing things holistically, observing, following, and trying to understand how nature works, has taught me quite a bit.”
One of Moe Momtazi’s great qualities is the wonderful humility he possesses. As he drove us around the vineyard in his car, he told us more about their farming practices and philosophy, “It’s just a healthy way of doing things and initially if you don’t manipulate the wine, it’s a little bit slow but it evolves.
“Our first vintage was 2001 and that wine is still showing so beautifully…Some of the people who initially laughed at us are now coming and asking us questions wanting to know what we do and how we do it.”
“I’m really sold on the philosophy [biodynamics] and there are just so many things that we could do naturally to eliminate certain problems. Why not use something that’s clean and doesn’t have environmental impacts rather than just doing the easy thing and putting a lot of chemicals that we know will go into our bodies? There are many other reasons but the respect that you have for the farm and the land…and considering it’s a living entity, those are very important to me.”
Moe understands every aspect of his property in intimate detail. That knowledge is a reflection of his love for this land as well as his understanding that his wines are made primarily in the vineyard. It was fascinating to hear him explain the different stratums of soil on the property as we passed a cut-away created for a part of the road leading into the winery.
After touring the vineyard with Moe, we returned to the winery.
The winery is a beautiful, large barn-like structure that also houses the tasting room and a large open space used for holding events. The beauty of the property and the size of the building make it an ideal venue for holding all sorts of events, both indoor and outdoor. As a result, Maysara is a popular spot for weddings and corporate retreats of all sizes. Moe’s daughter Hanna runs the event business. As this is truly a family business, his other daughters are also very much in the business: his oldest daughter Tahmiene is the winemaker and his other daughter Naseem handles sales.
“We always made it very clear to our kids” Moe said “that this was our dream and our passion, and they didn’t have to follow our dream but thankfully all three of them decided to go and work together as a family which really means a lot. Every once in a while, you bicker and give each other a hard time but at the end of the day when there’s a need in certain areas, we all jump in and take care of things as a family and that’s brought our family a lot closer to each other.”
In the cellar, winemaking at Maysara is decidedly a hands-off approach. Moe tells us that Maysara is a Farsi term that means ‘winery’ but there’s no Farsi term for ‘winemaker’. In Zoroastrian tradition, wine has a sacred place, but it is believed that the wine comes together naturally and with minimal outside intervention. This is a further reflection of his Biodynamic approach. Both the vineyard and the winery are certified Biodynamic by Demeter.
Adjacent to the winery is the tasting room, a comfortable space clad in barn boards and river stones. There we met their very congenial tasting room manager, Dominic Allen. Not only is Dominic a gracious host, he’s also very knowledgeable about all things Maysara, and all things wine. While we tasted through wines, Dominic told us a bit about how the wine got into our glasses.
With their wine club exclusive Mahtaub Pinot Noir, Dominic informed us: “there’s a block called our ‘Pinot Patch’ section which has a collection of all the different Pinot Noir clones that we grow within one block. It’s low enough elevation, just around the 200 foot mark that we’re able to get consistent ripening in the stems to be able to make a whole cluster Pinot Noir each year. So it’s kind of a cuvée of clones, but a whole cluster expression. This wine was filtered, we don’t fine any of our wines, and it spent extensive time in barrel (23 months in 30% new French oak and 70% neutral).”
It was an absolute treat to taste through the Maysara line up with Moe and Dominic. These are delicious wines right across the board. Two aspects of their wines need special mention. First, all of the wines are sold at very fair prices given the quality level. Great Pinot Noir is neither easy nor inexpensive to make. Layer in the costs associated with certified Biodynamic farming and winemaking, and you have a confluence of circumstances for a high-priced wine. Yet somehow Maysara produces top-tier quality wines at barely even mid-tier prices.
The other feature is that for the red wines, our tasting was of the 2014 and 2015 vintage, and these are the current releases, not library wines! Moe explained that great Pinot will evolve over time and he does not want to release it until the wine can show its full expression. He sells the wine when it is ready, not when it is made.
On that point, he pulled out a Pinot Noir from the cool 2011 vintage and had us try it. He told us 2011 was a difficult vintage and it shared a lot in common with 2007. The 2007s were tart and not terribly appealing on release but about 7 years later they finally blossomed and became a great set of wines. We tried his 2011 that he continues to hold back from the market, and we told him we thought it was delicious. Moe just smiled and said, “Almost ready.”
2020 Maysara Arsheen Pinot Gris
Proving just how great Pinot Gris can be when made by the right hands, this wine really refreshes. Here the accent is on zippy acidity with citrus notes along with grapefruit and pineapple playing a supporting role. Medium body and medium+ acid, we recommend serving this well-chilled as an aperitif on its own, or with chilled seafood appetizers. Delicious!
Very Good+ (US$18 at the winery)
2014 Maysara Jamsheed Pinot Noir
Medium/dark red with slight fade at the rim. Beautiful mature Pinot notes greet your nose well above the glass. Dark cherry notes predominate and they are supported by earth and mineral notes. A hint of vanilla can also be detected after a bit of swirling. The tannins and acid are both medium. The finish is long with subtle hints of brown spices. Silky mouthfeel.
Excellent+ (US$30 at the winery)
2015 Maysara Cyrus Pinot Noir
Medium/dark red, perhaps a touch darker than the Jamsheed. The fruit profile here is a mix of cherry and raspberry. A structured Pinot, made from a mix of Dijon and Pommard clones, this shows lots of cellar potential. The tannins are present but ripe and not at all raspy. The earthy component infuses the long finish.
Excellent (US$45 at the winery)
2015 Maysara Immigrant Pinot Noir
Dark red in colour. Beautiful cherry fruit comes across your palate with texture and intensity. The baking spice component compliments the overtly fruity characteristics and adds to complexity. The finish is long and very smooth.
The winery donates 33% of the sale proceeds from this wine to support immigrants to the US. They do this by sending those proceeds to Lutheran Community Services Northwest Immigration Advocay and Counselling Program. If anyone reading this wants to make a donation directly to the program (as we did) you can do so by going to this link: https://lcsnw.org/ This a very worthwhile cause, especially at this time.
Excellent+ (US$45 at the winery)
2014 Mahtaub Pinot Noir
Made with whole clusters, this wine spends 30 months in barrel of which 30% is new French oak. There is enough fruit here to balance the oak such that you can barely detect it. The wine shows lots of dark fruit characteristics with a good earthy component. Well balanced this has a slightly masculine character. It would be a terrific accompaniment to magret of duck. Excellent
15765 SW Muddy Valley Rd.
McMinnville OR, 97128
T | (503) 843-1234
F | (503) 843-3434
Open 11am-5pm Monday-Saturday *Reservations required*