One of the great faces in Oregon wine, Moe Momtazi is the visionary behind the Momtazi Estate as well as Maysara Winery. Moe first purchased his esteemed property in 1997 and built an incredible vineyard that is absolutely thriving right now. Visiting last year I was absolutely enchanted by not only the vineyard but his outstanding Maysara wines that age gracefully. As we ring in the Persian New Year, I recently had the chance to sit down with Moe, who is Iranian born and escaped Iran with his wife on motorcycles. He has a wonderful story in wine. Charming and down to earth, Moe is one of the iconic figures in Oregon wine and I hope that you enjoy this exclusive interview.
WWB: How did you decide to purchase the 500 acres of land in 1997 to start the Momtazi Estate? Were you always interested in owning a winery and vineyard?
MM: I bought our property back in 1997 as an investment, knowing that land is a precious and non-renewable resource. I have also always wanted to prove to people that there are other options in farming than the conventional way. Big businesses and agro-chemical companies claim that in order to feed the world population in this day and age, you have to use synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. However, there are unique methods of farming available under which healthy food can be produced. This food is nutritious and keeps the environment pure and clean without creating waste. The conventional method of farming has created big environmental and physical and mental health issues for mankind that, even if we had all the tools and resources to deal with it, would be extremely costly and take several generations to correct.
Considering myself an environmentalist, I am frustrated that the majority of us do nothing but complain of how bad things are without having a solution for any of these issues. Only pointing out the problems in society does not help us move forward, instead it becomes overwhelming and depressing and when problems seem too large, people end up accepting the status quo. Studying history and seeking to understand why, in such a short time frame, our food chain has become so contaminated made me want to come up with solutions. I decided to pull up my sleeves and get to work. Grapevines and wine in Persian culture are considered a gift from the heavens. As a child, I followed my grandfather, who farmed holistically, and my father, who made wine for family and friends. This made it easy to turn our property in the beautiful Willamette Valley into a vineyard and winery. We produce great wine to be enjoyed by many generations to come.
WWB:: Visiting the Momtazi Vineyard last summer I was struck by the incredible heterogeneity in soils at the vineyard. Can you talk about how these complex soil types translate into different styles of Pinot Noir?
MM: We are so fortunate that we have so many soil types at our property. Soil is actually the foundation of agriculture. While the topsoil is important, the subsoil is even more important to me. Grapevines have the tendency to dig down very deep in search of water and minerality. Therefore, it’s imperative that your soil be a living soil with enough microorganisms to be able to bring all the earthly and cosmic forces together in a balanced way.
WWB: I had the change to review your beautiful 2015 Maysara ‘Immigrant’ Pinot Noir (WWB, 90) which showed good richness from this warm vintage in the Willamette Valley. Can you talk about this special wine that helps contribute to immigrant and refugee programs?
MM: Years ago, when my wife, Flora, and I escaped from Iran on motorcycles, Flora eight months pregnant at the time, we promised ourselves: whenever we could, we’d help other immigrants in need. We made about 500 cases of Immigrant in 2015 and now a third of its proceeds go towards helping immigrants and refugees.
WWB: Your wines age gracefully as this fall I sampled your 2003 Maysara ‘Reserve’ Pinot Noir (WWB, 91) as well as the absolutely scintillating 2008 Maysara ‘Asha’ Pinot Noir (WWB, 93). What is it about not only your wine production but your vineyard site that helps create such beautiful, age-worthy wines?
MM: We try to make wines that are pure, honest, and express a sense of place without manipulating them. We let the vintage and Mother Nature express themselves. As for winemaking, we don’t adjust acidity or use any enzymes, commercial yeasts, or sugars. This method of winemaking needs a little extra time for the wine to evolve and express itself in a proper way. Our farming practices are based on the idea that everything should come from within our own ecosystem without bringing in outside input (e.g. fertilizers). We raise our own animals in the farm and collect their manure for compost. We grow a variety of medicinal and dynamic herbs and flowers that we steep into teas to keep the plants healthy so that they don’t need any harsh materials. We preserve a good portion of the farm as pastures, forest, meadows, and reservoirs and encourage wild and domesticated animals. The end results of these holistic practices are healthy grapevines and great wine that ages for many years.
WWB: When you are not enjoying your Maysara wines, what are some of your favorite wines of the world?
MM: I enjoy all sorts of wines, as long as they don’t contain too much sulfite. I have actually enjoyed wines from Georgia and Middle Eastern countries that were made by amateurs that have blown me away by how good they were.