Passion Points: Food/Wine
There are some professions that one assumes people cannot simply fall into: professional ballet dancer; space-mission astronaut; successful West Coast winemaker. Oregon-based Maggie Harrison, of the Willamette Valley’s Antica Terra vineyard (www.anticaterra.com), is proof positive that hard work and—let’s be honest—a healthy dose of talent can translate into an impressive career crafting award-winning vintages.
Harrison (who holds a degree in conflict resolution) had extensively traveled the world, studied Danish in Copenhagen and worked at numerous acclaimed restaurants in the U.S. (including Rick Bayliss’ Topolobampo) before setting out to become a winemaker. Determined to learn from the best, she landed an apprenticeship at the iconic Sine Qua Non winery in Napa, thanks to “a mixture of serendipity, fate and shameful persistence.” She spent eight years closely working with Manfred and Elaine Krankl, the idiosyncratic winemaker team who made Sine Qua Non into one of the country’s most coveted (and expensive) boutique labels.
Serendipity and fate came knocking again when three friends called Harrison out to a small, rocky vineyard in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. With no intention of leaving her comfortable Napa perch, Harrison agreed to travel to the site and fell in love with the rugged terrain immediately. Since 2005, she has been working on Antica Terra, producing silky Pinot Noirs, vivid Chardonnays and rich rosés, all of which showcase her intuitive, passionate commitment to creating unique wines that transcend traditional ideas, rules and patterns. Indagare spoke to Harrison about her work at Antica Terra, her favorite places in the Willamette Valley and about the wineries not to miss when planning a trip out there.
What inspired your move to Oregon?
The Antica Terra site is dramatic. Its exposed boulders, steeply pitched grades and panoramic views of the surrounding land convey a feeling of imposing scale and intensity. When I first saw the site, the west wind was moving through the vines and the unforgiving afternoon sun was shining upon them. The oldest vines looked like infants. Instead of the gnarled trunks and robust canes one expects from vines planted over two decades ago, they were impossibly spindly and frail. The fruit was diminutive as well. The tiny clusters of thick-skinned berries were less than half the usual size and fit easily in the palm of the hand. The leaves were tiny and fair; and the canopy struggled to reach the top catch-wire. I didn’t know if we would be able to make it work. Yet, it was, in its own way, already working. These neglected vines were striving, on their own, to find balance. I was hoping that with lavish attention and hard work, we would be able to find that balance; to reveal the true beauty and the promise of the site itself.
What were the main differences when you began working in Oregon’s Willamette Valley?
In California, the vintage variations are comparatively slight. Vintage characterizations fall in a narrow range from warm, long and very good to warm, long and ideal. What is most exciting about making wine in the Willamette Valley is that there are huge shifts in the conditions of the vintage from one year to the next. As a result, each wine is a completely unique expression. One cannot expect consistency of flavor or profile but rather consistency in intention and character. What one comes to recognize, over time, is that there are winemakers who deliver authenticity, beauty and pleasure regardless of the conditions of the vintage.
You arrived at winemaking through a serendipitous and unusual journey: how did your background and travels influence your winemaking career?
Winemaking, like travel, requires a great deal of flexibility, tolerance of unpredictability, and the enjoyment of things once unknown. Traveling taught me that the most efficient way to get from point A to point B is often neither the most interesting nor the most beautiful. I began to stop thinking about what came next and learned instead to focus on what was in front of me in each moment. To be spontaneous. To adapt. I take these lessons into the winery and into the vineyard with me everyday.
What type of food you would pair with some of the Antica Terra wines?
We love to cook on an open fire out in the vineyard as often as possible. We set up a long table under the oaks, spread woven rugs over hay bails for chairs and pass platters of food to the table straight from the fire. Some of my favorite pairings have included: our Chardonnay with halved lobster grilled over vinewood; Erratica rosé with my homemade pork confit and grilled toasts; and our Pinot Noirs with a tagine of veal shanks, controne beans and heirloom grapes.
If you had to pick a favorite vintage of your current Antica Terra collection, which one would it be and why?
That’s too hard! That’s like asking me which of my children I like best. I don’t mean to sound too political but each of them is my favorite for different reasons. I love the 2006 for its generosity and density, the 2007 for teaching me not to panic when Mother Nature throws you a curveball, the 2008 for its astonishing seamlessness and the 2009 for allowing me to finally see the true promise of our own little vineyard. This year, in addition to the Antica Terra Pinot Noir and the Antica Terra Botanica, which are both blends, we will release our first 100% estate grown Pinot, Antica Terra Estate. At present, I am probably most excited about what comes next. The 2010 vintage exhibits a limpidity and intensity that I find absolutely thrilling.
What are some of your favorite restaurants in the Willamette Valley?
Eric Bechard and Emily Howard’s lovely Thistle in McMinnville is tiny, thoughtful and intensely seasonal. Nick’s Italian Café is a long-time favorite of all of the winemakers in the area, serving honest, Italian food out of a storefront in McMinnville for over 30 years. More recently, Nick handed over the reins to his daughter Carmen and her husband Eric (who had met while they were working at Quince in San Francisco) who have continued to up-level the menu in every way. I am forever indebted to Tina and David Bergen of Tina’s for providing me with my almost weekly dose of their exquisite lamb stew. And I would not survive harvest (or any other time of year) were it not for Martha’s Tacos. Handmade tortillas, authentic Mexican food and the most outrageously restorative menudo in the state.
What should first-time visitors to the area not miss?
- A day of hiking in Silver Falls, which is nestled a temperate rain forest in the lower elevation of Oregon ’s Cascade Mountains. The Canyon Trail and the falls descend through and under ten waterfalls to a forest floor covered with ferns, mosses and wildflowers.
- Anyone with kids should not miss the Enchanted Forest. This 20-acre outdoor theme park, nestled in a forested setting outside of Salem, is something of an Oregon icon.
- A visit to Heater Allen Brewery: specializing in distinctive all-malt lager and other German and Czech style beers.
- The Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is best known as the home of the world’s largest wooden flying boat, the ”Spruce Goose” as well as over 200 other historic aircraft and spacecraft.
Since you arrived, how has the area changed and what are some of your favorite new additions?
Two hotels have opened since I arrived in 2006 that have changed the (travel) landscape dramatically. The Allison Inn and Spa is a peaceful retreat set on thirty-five acres of beautiful gardens and manicured lawns. For those who prefer to be in the heart of the action, The Inn at Red Hills is a perfect home base for all of your Willamette Valley adventures. Its restaurant, Farm to Fork, boasts one of the most thoughtful wine lists in the area.
What advice would you give on a Willamette winery tour?
For the most concise tasting (read: so you’re tasting more than you’re driving), I think it’s best to limit oneself to one area; either the Eola-Amity Hills or Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill. Favorites in the Eola-Amity Hills include: St. Innocent, Cristom, Bethel Heights and Evesham Wood. In Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill, don’t miss: Soter, Bergstrom, Beaux Freres, Penner-Ash and Shea. Additionally, I am always happy to taste with customers on our mailing list when they are in the area. It’s a great opportunity to taste through the cellar and take a closer look some of the nuances of expression within the barrels themselves.
What is your favorite time of year in Willamette?
Late summer in the Willamette Valley is incredibly gorgeous. The vines are laden with the fruit of the upcoming harvest, the wild geese are high in the sky, our farmers’ markets are overflowing with sweet, fragile berries for cobblers and pies, daylight remains until late into the evening and a chilly river is never farther than a short drive for a refreshing dip or a long afternoon in repose.
If you’re planning a trip to Oregon contact our Bookings Team for an introduction to Antica Terra where Maggie occasional organizes special events, including dinners in the vineyard.
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