Montinore Estate produces certified estate wines made from biodynamic grapes grown in their sprawling 200-acre vineyard in Oregon’s gorgeous Willamette Valley. They specialize in elegant Pinot Noirs, fragrant cool-climate whites and lesser-known Italian varietals. What sets Montinore Estate a league apart from the rest is how they let the wines be true to the terroir. The vintage, soil, climate and the place are completely manifested in their distinctive wines.
Winemaker Stephen Webber has been a core member of Montinore Estate’s winemaking team for the better part of two decades, and has been at the helm since 2016. As a nod to the bonafide British gentleman that he is, Webber is indulgently called “Lord Webber” at Montinore.
There’s something to be said about biodynamic winemaking — it undeniably shows up in the taste of the wines. At Montinore, they simply call this the “biodynamic difference.” Curious to know more? We spoke to Webber about his growing up days, what goes into making these very special wines, and biodynamic farming practices at Montinore.
Sip: Tell us about your growing up days and what led to your interest in wine.
Stephen Webber: Yes, I grew up in southern England and, back in those days, there was hardly any viticulture and winemaking going on commercially, but plenty of brewing and cidermaking, of course! My father enjoyed wine, mostly French Bordeaux, and my mother enjoyed the lighter style Germanic whites. My parents also liked to travel to Europe, so over the years growing up, we would take annual family holidays to Germany, Switzerland and Austria mostly, and I think it was those trips through river valleys with slopes laden with vines, and communities heavily linked with the production of wine and beer, that really started to pique my interest in alcoholic drinks. Plenty of wine consumption in England but not much production; In Europe, it was both!
Sip: You’ve been at Montinore for almost two decades. Could you reflect on your journey a bit?
SW: It’s been a really cool journey, to be honest. When I arrived at Montinore, the business had just been acquired by Rudy Marchesi and his daughter, Kristin. Rudy was very knowledgeable about growing vines, and he was also keen to get organic and biodynamic viticulture and winemaking going on the previously conventionally farmed estate. So I joined him at a pivotal time for the business, newly owned, and transitioning to organic and biodynamic practices.
So, lots of development, taking every harvest as an amazing learning opportunity, slowly getting to network, and using sales and marketing trips as an opportunity to learn what the wider public wanted with wines made in a more natural style. Quality levels have undoubtedly improved, particularly in the last seven years, when an influx of investment has allowed more modern tools to be purchased to assist with the pressure of having to make wines on the world stage.
Looking back, definitely some nostalgia, and definitely some ongoing amazement about the people who I work with and have worked with, who bring energy, personality and soul to a product that deserves it. The business of wine continues to evolve, but the core dynamic of good, honest, hard-working people is what allows this business to continue to thrive.
Sip: What has been your favorite vintage while working at Montinore and why?
SW: Always a tough one to answer, I’ve actually loved every one — well, sometimes with hindsight — for the learning opportunities they have afforded me.
Favorites for me include 2009 — my first vintage being in charge of the winery and all white wine production. 2010, for being a true ‘cool climate vintage’ and the beautiful flavors that came about in the wines despite the challenges. And 2016, my first vintage as head winemaker, when although the hours were insane, the wine gods were kind to me and offered me a safe passage through the fall, to allow me to produce some lovely wines of depth and character.
Sip: Could you tell us a bit about the biodynamic farming practices employed at Montinore?
SW: Biodynamic farming is a big topic but, ultimately, it is based on an established sound organic farming operation first, and wanting to operate your farm — or vineyard in our case — in a holistic nature, paying attention to everything that you put into the operation. It has an effect on what you get out. The biodynamic composts and preparations we have as part of our practices provide vitality and energy to our plants at crucial times during the growing season.
Healthy vines drawing nutrition from a broad rich nutrient pool of a healthy farm provide the necessary ingredients for more interesting wines. A vineyard that has vibrant life both above and below ground lends a certain vitality or liveliness to the wines. The connection isn’t very well understood but we certainly experience it in our wines.
Biodynamics also pushes you to use all of your senses for observation, and to help us understand that we are a very small cog in a very big wheel, that wheel being the galaxy in which Earth is situated. Both humbling and invigorating at times, the practice of being kind to our vines and listening to their needs, hopefully pays dividends with the production of amazing fruit from which to make our wines with.