Left Coast winemaker Joe Wright mentioned Maysara as an example of a Willamette Valley winery with outstanding environmental practices. So we pulled up a map and set off on a sunlit summer afternoon.
A series of successively smaller roads tracked through wheat fields, berry farms, hazelnut orchards, verges overhung with oak and fir. Past Maysara’s wrought-iron gate, a gravel track climbed past a breeze-burnished pond, slipping along the foot of vineyard slopes rising in three directions.
Maysara is a work-in-progress that began in 1997 when Moe and Flora Momtazi bought around 500 acres of disused wheat farm to create a vineyard. Their journey to that point had been anything but ordinary. The couple fled their native Iran in 1982, when Flora was eight months pregnant, not wanting to raise their children under Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime. They escaped by motorcycle into Pakistan, and moved between Spain, Italy and Mexico before seeking asylum in the United States, where Moe had studied engineering.
After a stint waiting tables, he was able to return to his profession, eventually running his own businesses. In a 2018 INC interview, Moe said: “I was fascinated with farming. But if you start with farming, you’ll never make it. I wanted to get an education so I could buy land… My grandfather taught me about holistic farming; he had a tea plantation and a rice plantation and grew mulberry trees for silkworms.”
When he and Flora bought the Maysara estate they committed to the radical goal of chemical-free viticulture. Organic and biodynamic wine have gained popularity but in 1997 the Momtazis were outliers.
Maysara’s vineyards and winery are Demeter-certified biodynamic, an “incredibly complex process” according to wine educator Toni Harris. Most biodynamic operations are relatively small due to the challenge of maintaining its strict standards, yet the Momtazis manage more than 530 acres.
The fraction of the land visible from our vantage point outside the tasting room is, in the familiar parlance, teeming with life. A fawn-and-cream longhorn cow ambles past, then another and others, in shades ranging from rust to liver. With its chestnut head and front legs, and pure white body, one calf looks like its wearing a onsie.
On the hill to our left, a horse grazes, shifting incrementally to stay in the shade of a cluster of white oaks. Behind us, a pair of wild turkeys mutter conspiratorially, unimpressed by the strut of a rooster in an adjoining enclosure.
The wine would need to be extraordinary to compete with the setting. It is.
Winemaker Tahmiene (pronounced Tah-me-ney) is Moe and Flora’s eldest daughter. Her sisters Naseem and Hanna are in charge of distribution and events, respectively. While we’re sipping Tahmiene’s handiwork Hanna appears, clad in tee-shirt and leggings, hair pulled back: “Sorry, I’m a mess,” she says cheerfully, shaking hands with a future bride and groom and their hovering mother, “I’ve been working.” She whisks them away to view the property.
Anyone who loves a story would find Maysara hard to resist as a wedding venue. The tasting room-cum-barrel room was handcrafted over the course of six years. All its materials come from the property: the stones were pulled from the vineyards, white oak timber backs the immense arched doors comes, the interior wooden walls are reclaimed barrel staves, the immense trunks holding the roof are Douglas fir.
The same level of craft goes into the wines. Our tasting flight — presented on a (hand-carved, naturally) wooden board — starts with a crisp, acidic Pinot Gris; the tasting room host Eric compares it to a Fuji apple.
Riesling and Pinot Gris are about 20% of Maysara’s production; Pinot Noir the rest.
It is slippery slope wine: impossible to drink just one glass. The flight includes their Jamsheed, Cyrus and Immigrant Pinots. Eric indulges us with a pour of Three Degrees, then an off-menu sample of Owl a hand-pressed, 50% whole-cluster glass of heaven.
Surrounded by the splendor of the vineyards and the subtle elegance of the winery, it is impossible to imagine Maysara any other way. Yet it could have been conventional. There are any number of shortcuts Moe, Flora and their daughters could have taken; any number of ways they could have followed the crowd.
By choosing the road less traveled, they have created an ecosystem as fruitful as it is beautiful.
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