Winemakers who dream, vol. 2: Maggie Harrison

Antica Terra vineyard

If you like stories of dreamers who realize their dreams and more…well, read on.tBoW interviewed four terrific winemakers in early Summer 2011: Doug Margerum, Maggie Harrison, Jessica Mozeico and the Semler clan. Each is a bona fide innovator who pursued a dream until it became a reality. The ready-for-prime-time versions are in Elegant Living Magazine online. We present these winemakers here for those of you who have abandoned or never got to know the print medium.

Maggie Harrison makes great Pinot Noir from a remote corner of the Willamette Valley. She is a perfectionist and an egalitarian worker at the same time. She makes sure to credit her associate Nate Ready. There is more than an air of mystery about Maggie. She is quickly appealing just for her personality. She is neither saccharine or solicitous. She seduces with her conviction and sense of direction. This is just a bit ironic given that she found her calling as a winemaker in the last throes of malaria on the coast of West Africa. She was on at least her third world adventure to someplace unknown with little planning and a one way air fare.

Maggie is not a winemaker who strove to marry her life with her passion for the grape. Winemaking for her is as much about aesthetics as blending juice. She is driven to “make the beautiful choice.” She certainly picked up much about winemaking discipline from her mentor Manfred Krankl [ed. the last remaining domestic collector’s wine, Sine Qua Non]. ‚ÄúHe taught me that the key to making extraordinary wine is all in the details. We spend five times longer at the sorting table than almost any other winery. It does not make our wine five times better but it may make our wine just one tiny fraction of a percent better. In the end, this is all that matters. The more moments where we are present and interacting with the grapes or the wine in a thoughtful and sensitive way, the more nuanced, graceful and profound the wine that results from these interactions will be.‚Äù Winemaking as mysticism? Believe me. When Maggie is talking about her views even the biggest cynic pays attention.

“I am trying to capture exactly what that vintage meant in that place at that time with those people. Call it the intrinsic aesthetic.”

Maggie makes Pinot Noir for Antica Terra where she is a part owner. The original owners planted the site in 1989 and made wine from 1992 through 2004 when the property was sold to the group that brought her in. They wanted Krankl. He suggested Maggie. She visited the site and knew it was where she wanted to be.

fossils and sea shells

“The site is dramatic. Its exposed boulders, steeply pitched grades and panoramic views of the surrounding land convey a feeling of imposing scale and intensity. The west wind moves constantly through the vines and the unforgiving afternoon sun shines upon them. But it’s what we can’t see and feel, those aspects of the site that the vines allude to as they struggle, that make it a remarkable place. Our oldest vines look like infants. Instead of the gnarled trunks and robust canes one expects from vines planted over two decades ago, ours are spindly and frail. The fruit is diminutive as well. The tiny clusters of thick-skinned berries are less than half the usual size and fit easily in the palm of the hand. The canopy, which struggles to reach the top catch-wire, is incredibly sensitive. The smallest changes in the environment can cause the leaves to turn yellow and fall.”

Maggie has bottled four vintages at Antica Terra: 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. The 2010 vintage is in barrel. The 2007 was profound. “It was eye-opening and terrifying. I have never cried so much as I did during that harvest. I sampled every block the day before it started raining. Nothing was ready. All the blocks were under-ripe. Nine inches fell before it stopped. I saw my whole career washing away.”

When her crew was finally able to pick she stayed true to her heart and only used beautiful fruit. Looking back at her records now she sees the amount of grapes pulled out of the crush was seven times any of the other vintages. With all the conflict and brinksmanship it should not be surprising that she loves the 2007 Antica Terra Pinot Noir.

If you see her wines grab one.

3 Comments

  1. Wavatar
    Betsy says:

    I want to read more about her… was she on her one-more-than-second world tour, or on a tour of “developing nations”? aka third world? Sorry, snarky copy editor lives in me…
    but, where is your tasting review? how do you FEEL about the wine? do you have some for me to taste??

  2. Wavatar
    Bacchus says:

    She is a very interesting winemaker and woman although I barely know her as either. When I met her in 2009 (?) at the Portland wine festival where she was pouring her wines she was pregnant and declined my request to photo her. She consented when I offered to foto her shoes! Somewhere earlier on this blog you can find that shot. Nice footwear. A more mainstream version of this interview will appear in next issue of Elegant Living in a week or two…so I hear.

  3. Wavatar
    Betsy says:

    how do I find the archive of the trip to Willamette? my friend is going and wants to know which vineyards to visit/

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