Pinot Noir Momtazi Vineyard 2019, St. Innocent

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This wine is a spectacular example of single vineyard Pinot Noir from Oregon. The high elevation of the site allows for a long growing season, and the complexity in the wine is reflective of that. There is a beautiful, earthy note of mushroom and fresh potting soil, combined with very black cherries and just a touch of spice. The palate is on the full side of medium, with beautiful depth and a very long finish. If you love Pinot Noir, this wine is for you!

About the Vineyard

Moe Momtazi got his engineering degree in the US, returned to Iran, and then fled after the revolution. With his pregnant wife, he made his way back in the US via Mexico, and applied for political asylum. They ended up in Oregon, where Moe started a construction firm, and then in 1997 bought an abandoned wheat farm that had sat idle for seven years. His father and grandfather had made wine in Iran, and this was a way to return to his roots. From the beginning, he put in his vineyard parcels without conventional chemicals, and by 2004 all of the vines (now 260 acres) were certified biodynamic by Demeter.

Mark first made Pinot Noir from the Momtazi Vineyard in 2006. He works with five blocks, a total of 8.1 acres, mostly clone 777 with 115, 667, and Pommard. These vines are the highest on Momtazi’s steep hillside at 680-760 feet above sea level. As with Freedom Hill, the soils are uplifted marine sedimentary loams and silts, mixed with volcanic soils (admittedly, this is odd; back when this land was ocean floor, a volcanic eruption cracked the seabed, and lava poured out, mixing with the sedimentary soil). But at Momtazi the topsoil is much more shallow than at Freedom Hill, especially higher up the hillside. Plus, the afternoon wind is a force to reckon with. The site is seven miles west of McMinnville, on the north side of the Van Duzer Corridor that cuts through the coastal range and funnels cold air into the Willamette Valley. With the first scent of this wine, the extremes of exposure, temperature shifts, and shallow soils make themselves felt—the aromatics grab you and demand attention. Production ranges from 900 to 1,100 cases.

About the Winery

Mark Vlossak grew up tasting wine at the side of his father, who imported fine wine on the side for a group of buddies in a wine club (the container truck would pull up to the house in Wisconsin once a year and all these guys would unload the wine, distribute it among themselves, and throw a party). After a postgraduate degree in medicine, he moved to Oregon to practice pediatrics. In 1983, he re-discovered his passion for wine, which led to school at UC Davis as well as a two-year apprenticeship at Oregon’s Arterberry Winery. In 1988, he founded St. Innocent Winery, named for his father, who was born on All Innocent’s Day and christened with the middle name of Innocent.

He’s long been guided by a European sensibility. Ten years after starting his winery, he went to Burgundy on the first of many such trips, where he came to understand that the innate qualities of great Pinot Noir don’t come from the more-is-better philosophy that guided so many of his new world peers back in those days. Intensity of extraction, for example, didn’t result in a more powerful wine (just a bigger, clunkier one). By the turn of the century, he was known for wines of nuance and layered richness, many from what are now among Oregon’s most respected sites.

Mark (pictured above with Mélanie Pfister having lunch in Alsace, 2019) was the winemaker at Panther Creek from 1994 until 1999, when he was able to go full time with St. Innocent. In 2007 he moved out of the tiny winery he had built in an industrial park in Salem (a practical place without a shred of romance) to a state-of-the-art facility deep in the Eola-Amity Hills. It was called Zenith Vineyards, and St. Innocent bought an interest in this LLC during its conceptual phase, allowing Mark to design the cellar from start to finish. In 2017, wishing to be unencumbered by partners, he sold his share in Zenith and bought a small property in the south Salem hills.

There, with the help of a friend, the viticulturist Mimi Casteel, he planted a vineyard, plus an apple orchard, and built a new winery. He’s come full circle back to owning his own place, with the enormous plus of having a vineyard. He planted it one vine at a time via a drilled hole, all 15.5 acres—without earth-moving equipment, bulldozing, or grading, meaning that virtually none of the soil and its microbial life was exposed to light or oxygen—and made the parcels organic from the start (now he’s talking with Moe Momtazi to determine biodynamic preparations).

In the process, he’s downsized his production by nearly 40%. His focus remains on Pinot Noir—it comprises some 70% of what he makes—from the Freedom Hill, Momtazi, Shea (pictured above), and Temperance vineyards. In addition, there’s a bit of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc.