The Biodynamic Estate We've Been Waiting For - Wines from Montinore Estate in Oregon

When I first moved to Oregon after graduating from undergrad in Colorado in 2009, I lucked out with an internship at an amazing non-profit, the Oregon Environmental Council, working on a program that helped wineries become carbon neutral. It was a unique and exciting introduction to both the wine industry as a whole and the challenges they face in becoming more sustainable entities. I was only working part time as an independent contractor, about 20 hours a week at $12/hour, and as a result, didn't have any expendable income. I was able to taste a good amount of Oregon wine because of my everyday interactions with the wineries but I rarely had the luxury of being able to buy my own bottle. I spent a lot of time scouring wine shops and grocery stores for extreme deals and super sales (important note - I still do this today). My saving grace was the local selection from Montinore. If I got lucky, I could find a bottle of Montinore's 'Red Cap' pinot noir for $12-13, an insane steal back then and an equally good deal at $18-20 today. For this reason alone, Montinore is a special producer for me, but there are many others as well. 

Montinore's 200 acre biodynamic estate in Oregon's Willamette Valley       © 2017 Montinore Estate

Montinore's 200 acre biodynamic estate in Oregon's Willamette Valley       © 2017 Montinore Estate

There is a lot of fuss in the wine world right now. While millenials have made great progress in de-stygmatizing the aura of pretentiousness around wine, making the beverage as popular as ever in the US, there is still too much specificity in our discussion and recommendations of wines. "This wine pairs PERFECTLY with grilled salmon," or, "this rosé should only be consumed on a 95-degree summer day in your hipster blow-up pool." Some wine rules and recommendations are helpful but these type of statements lead us inevitably toward a finicky and unsatisfactory experience because we are rarely, if ever, able to recreate the recommended scenario. These recommendations are intellectualisms that rarely have a place in the everyday enjoyment of wine. The solution to all of this jibber-jabber is to drink wines that are affordable, sustainable, and food-friendly. Versatile wines that don't require overthinking the occasion. Most of Europe's wine-producing countries had this figured out centuries ago but we are still working on it. And that's where we come back to Montinore. 

Montinore's Roots Collection of wines is the embodiment of versatility in domestic wine. High in acid and food-friendly but unique and full of character, each bottle delivers great value and an authenticity and transparency that is rare at this price point. If you want to ponder, there is plenty to wax philosophical about, but more importantly, these will pair effortlessly with the vast majority of food. And even better, the wines are produced by a family-owned, 100% biodynamic and organic estate that has been producing wine for almost 35 years in Oregon's Willamette Valley. There are maybe, just maybe, two or three similar producers in the US that can claim such credentials. Affordability, environmental sustainability, terroir-focused, and a damn fine story. This is what we need and this is why these wines kick ass. They are available in most major markets and if you haven't had the pleasure of tasting this fine juice, make an effort to seek them out. Reviews for each wine below!

Montinore's Roots Collection - Pinot Noir, White Blend, and Pinot Gris

Montinore's Roots Collection - Pinot Noir, White Blend, and Pinot Gris

2015 Red Cap Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, Oregon
13.9% Alcohol
100% Pinot Noir
100% Certified Biodynamic + Organic

Before and during the recession of 2009, it was difficult to find any Oregon pinot noir for under $20. Some was available in Portland and Oregon markets, but it was largely non-existent and generally not very good. Oregon pinot noir was purely a premium product, and while it still is in many regards, the post-recession environment has required that most larger Oregon producers, and some smaller, offer an "entry-level" option. I can now find more than fifteen bottles in the Denver market that are under $20, some closer to $12, and I couldn't be happier. Montinore was well ahead of the game and was producing affordable and interesting Oregon pinot noir for under $20 far before the recession. 

2015 was one of the hottest seasons on record in the Willamette Valley with most wineries in the region picking their grapes earlier than ever before. That being said, September was remarkably cool and dry which allowed producers to pick whenever whenever they felt appropriate.  I tend to like more moderate vintages, such as 2010, 2011, and 2013, so I was a bit worried that Montinore's Red Cap pinot noir would be too alcoholic and ripe for my liking. Boy was I wrong. Somehow this winemaking team manages to produce a well-balanced, intriguingly complex, and Burgundian wine every year. I've been drinking Montinore wine consistently since 2008 and had multiple bottles of the Red Cap each year and this is one of the best.

Tasting note: Dark garnet in color with a heady nose of red and black cherry, dried fruits, dried flowers, baking spices (clove?), a pleasant earthiness and refined and well-integrated wood and cedar notes as well. Palate is energetic with healthy acidity and flavors that mimic the nose. Particularly well-balanced with the alcohol in-check and a medium finish. Despite alcohol pushing 14%, the wine is very fresh. Overall, one of the best $20 and under Oregon pinot noirs on the market. Where else can you get this kind of quality and typicity in a pinot noir for $20 and under? And it's biodynamic too (!!).

2016 Pinot Gris
Willamette Valley, Oregon
13.5% Alcohol
100% Pinot Gris
100% Certified Biodynamic + Organic

I've always thought it was odd that Oregon picked Pinot Gris as its premier white wine. I'm not alone in this sentiment. Chardonnay seems like a natural pick given pinot noir and chardonnay's ancestral home of Burgundy but it's also not difficult to make the claim that the riesling coming from some Oregon producers, like Trisaetum and Ovum, is as good as anything else in the world.  While I see pinot gris' market share decreasing over time in Oregon, pinot gris from the state has won me over as a consistently affordable, food-friendly, and generally interesting white wine. Aside from non-plunk pinot grigio from northern Italy and beefier exotic versions from Alsace, Oregon is making some of the best pinot gris in the world. This bottle from Montinore is a testament to what affordable pinot gris from the state can offer. At $16 or lower, it is a steal. 

Tasting notes: Heavy dose of fresh citrus stone fruit with a hint of lees aging. You can tell that it has some heft to it but is still light on its feet. The palate is lively and energetic with more citrus, yeasty components from the lees aging, and some mild melon notes. Medium bodied and super friendly but somehow manages some richness to it which I've found characteristic of most Oregon pinot gris. Finish is relatively short but overall a great bargain.

Sexy bottle, sexy wine

Sexy bottle, sexy wine

Borealis 'The Great Northern Whites' Non-Vintage
Willamette Valley, Oregon
12.3% Alcohol - 1.6% residual sugar
38% M
üller-Thurgau, 32% Gewürztraminer, 19% Riesling, 11% Pinot Gris
100% Certified Biodynamic + Organic

The new label on this bottle is killer. I hope a similar rebranding occurs on the other bottles. Secondly, this is the type of wine we need more of in the US.... $15 wines that are food-friendly, biodynamic/organic, low alcohol, and interesting. And third, don't fear an off-dry bottle of wine. A long history in this country of crappy German riesling and sappy white Zinfandel from California's Central Valley has forced us millenials to ask - is it sweet? - as our first question to the server at many establishments. But this wine only holds 1.6% residual sugar and I think is better for it. 

If there was ever a bottle of domestic white wine made for pairing with Asian cuisines, this is it (very similar and equally good is Sokol Blosser's Evolution White). The Borealis is a non-vintage blend of four grapes with Pinot Gris being the smallest portion. The Müller-Thurgau, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling bring a riper, more exotic and floral profile to the wine and the very mild hint of residual sugar is... yes, a welcome addition. 

Tasting note: More exotic nose than the 100% Pinot Gris with a freshness that will make your mouth start watering before it even touches your lips. Notes of honeysuckle, lychee, kiwi, orange blossom, melon, stone fruit, could go on and on. Very inviting. Palate is high in acid, lively as shit, with just a kiss of sweetness and flavors that mimic the nose with a load of citrus and richness to it that is surprising. Because of the exotic notes on the nose and palate, it tastes sweeter than it is. This wine needs food and food needs this wine.



All Praise Bacchus! - 2014 Division Wine Co. Villages Béton


2014 Division Wine Co. Villages Béton
Applegate and Willamette Valleys, Oregon
Cabernet Franc (65%), Gamay (30%), Pinot Noir (5%)
12.8% Alcohol
Highly Recommended

This wine delivered in every way I wanted it to. 

I picked it up on a recent trip to Portland, Oregon, and it’s a good reason why I think Oregon is the best source of intriguing, old world-style wines in the US today. Outside of France, it’s hard to imagine a cool-climate wine of this quality coming from anywhere else in the states, or in the world for that matter. Even more, it comes from an urban winery housed in the SE Wine Collective, a winery coop of sorts on Division Street in Portland that is home to a number of winemakers and labels.

This is an outstanding bottle of wine, with a lovely balance of complex fruit, lively acidity, and minerality. The grapes come from several vineyards, with the Cabernet Franc coming from Quady Vineyard in southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley AVA and the Gamay and Pinot Noir coming from the Methven Family Vineyards in the Eola Amity Hills AVA in Willamette Valley. The wine was aged in concrete (Béton is French for concrete) and underwent partial carbonic maceration, which adds a pleasant fruitiness to the blend. Only 300 cases were produced and it’s tough (or impossible) to get outside of Oregon unless you order it direct.

Fresh and lively, reminiscent of some of the Loire Valley’s best Cabernet Franc and pinot noir, this blend of Cabernet Franc, Gamay, and Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Division Wine Company is one of the most exciting American wines I’ve tasted in the last year. 2014 was a decidedly warm vintage throughout all of Oregon, but DWC did well to slow ripening and contain vigor in the vineyard with the goal of retaining natural acidity and inhibiting excessive sugar levels.

The result is a balanced, medium bodied red wine with a well-integrated nose and a liveliness that made me nearly polish off the entire bottle myself. The nose is bright but characterized by darker fruits: plum and black/red currant, as well as a lightly smoky, green bell pepper (pyrazine) component. The minerality carries through to the palate and reminds me a bit of the Cru Beaujolais. If I hadn’t known otherwise, the hefty fruit profile and finesse of the wine would have made me think the wine was far more expensive. Can’t say it enough, this was outstanding. Incredibly drinkable, but not without intrigue and complexity, exactly what I look for in a $20 wine.

Eric Asimov of the New York Times praised the Division Wine Company’s Gamay last year, and if this red blend is any indication, there are only more exciting things to come from them. Don’t forget to check out their website!