A 1978 Beaune Premier Cru changed winemaker Rudy Marchesi’s perspective on wine. Funny, then, that he would become one of the top producers of Oregon Pinot Noir today, at Montinore Estate. He made his first wine 40 years ago, a student of wine since youth thanks to a winemaker grandfather. He remains a student, though, constanting looking for new and innovative techniques, biodynamic practices, and different grape varieties to grow in the Willamette Valley climate. His fascination with native northern Italian grapes led to his white wine blend, Borealis. His love of food has him producing cheese, cured meats such as prosciutto and salami, and verjus, a pressed juice of unripe grapes that falls somewhere between wine and vinegar. Oh, and did we mention he’s a jazz pianist?
What sets your wines apart from other Oregon Pinot Noir producers?
"We try to find that balance between elegance and concentration of flavor. We are more interested in our wines being seductive than big. And, consequently, I think that our wines are more European in style as opposed to new world."
You also grow some native Italian varieties. What inspired you to do so? How do those varieties differ in terroir in Oregon compared to northern Italy?
"I was inspired when doing a research trip in 1988, where I visited five different viticulture research stations in Northern Italy. I became very familiar with most of the varieties grown there and always had it in the back of my mind to match some new world terroir with one or more the these uniquely Italian varieties. For our site at Montinore, I ultimately chose Teroldego and Lagrein, because I think they will do well on our warmer sites, but benefit from our very cool nighttime temperatures. Our soils are very different than those of Alto Adige, so I think we will have our own unique expression of these two varieties."
Tell us more about the Borealis, your blend of Muller-Thurgau, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer.
"Borealis was born out of my enjoyment of aromatic, dry white wine. With the proprietary blends of Alsace being somewhat of an inspiration. I knew that as single varietal bottlings the whites we grow on our farm tended to be very aromatic and lively. I speculated that a blend of them all could create something very aromatic, crisp and refreshing, something unique to our northern terroir. We did a lot of experimentation and came up with the basic formula for Borealis; it has been hugely popular. The blend changes slightly from vintage to vintage, with the goal being that no one variety dominates the aroma and flavor profile and that the 'whole is greater than the sum of the parts.' "
Why did you decide to go biodynamic?
"We decided to go biodynamic, because we felt this was the best way to grow grapes for quality wine. From my perspective there is no disputing that the efforts of some of the French producers like [Domaine de la Romanee-Conti], Domaine Leflaive and Chapoutier reflect a higher level of quality then most quality producers; I believe that this directly related to their biodynamic practices in the vineyard. Although the philosophy and logic behind biodynamic farming is complicated and somewhat hard to grasp, it resonates with me personally, and I feel I wouldn’t want to farm any other way."
"The certification came after the fact and was done at the request of our customers who wanted to be able to distinguish between those who use sustainable/organic/biodynamic labels solely for marketing purposes and those who actually did the work. I am not a fan of the additional paperwork and fees, but I respect the need to protect the integrity of biodynamic farming and not let it be diluted by those taking advantage of its popularity solely for marketing purposes."
We know you like experimentation. What are some of the projects you’re working on?
"In the last two vintages we have created a verjus from our green harvest and it has been a lot of fun and well received by chefs, home cooks and mixologists in our region. I am experimenting with new training systems in the vineyard to try to maximize quality and reduce labor costs. And we are also experimenting with incorporating animals in the vineyards to increase the productivity in the farm as well as the health of the vineyards. In more subtle ways we experiment every year with nuances such a temperature during maturation, time on the lees, cooperage options and variables during fermentation. Experimentation is one of the things that makes our craft so enjoyable."
What is your favorite dish to pair with one of your wines.
"It’s difficult to answer that question with just one dish because Pinot Noir by nature is so versatile. For example, I recently had a fluke ceviche at ABC Kitchen with our Red Cap Pinot Noir, and it was one of the most interesting and pleasurable pairings I have had in awhile. Likewise, the Red Cap was spectacular with a pork roast I recently had. But I think one of my favorite pairings, as the weather gets warmer, is our Almost Dry Riesling with any kind of grilled seafood."
What is the most memorable bottle you have had?
"It was a 1978 Beaune Premier Cru. It was the first time I experienced Pinot Noir at that level of quality. And it completely changed my perspective on wine."
What do you drink at home?
"Pinot Gris, estate Reserve Pinot Noir, Northern Italian reds and occasional Burgundy."
And if you’re not drinking wine, you’re drinking what?
"Water, yerba mate and espresso."