In Oregon, the Willamette Valley plays host to two-thirds of the state’s wineries and vineyards. Known for its verdant landscape, the region is reputable for its pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot grigio. One winemaker located in the Eola-Amity Hills, however, has garnered critical acclaim, and is known to rival some of the best winemakers in the world—Antica Terra.
In 1989, the vineyard’s 11-acre plot was planted in Dundee atop an unusual pre-historic seabed. Brushing the surface are exposed boulders, pitched grades, and an overall rocky terrain—a scene that sets the stage for cool-climate wines to thrive. Those that have visited the site and tasted its wine can attest to the uniqueness of both.
Today, under the helm of winemaker Maggie Harrison, Antica Terra produces each bottle with immense care and consideration. Grapes are sorted by color before pressing, berries are removed by scissors, and barrels are even topped with stones from a nearby river.
Recently, the vineyard has taken this type of care for its community to a philanthropic level. Each season, half of Antica Terra’s harvest is for sale to its mailing list members, and the other half is divided between restaurants across the globe. But due to the abrupt closure of these establishments, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the winemaker decided to sell those online instead—with 25 percent of all online sales being donated.
First, Antica Terra raised $30,000 for the James Beard Foundation’s Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund—an initiative that helps relive, restore, and support Unites States-based restaurants and the people they employ. And this month, the winemaker is directing its fundraising efforts to First Responders First—an organization that supports frontline healthcare workers and their families.
Whitewall spoke with Harrison to hear more about the intentional nature of Antica Terra, and how she feels the recent change in business may have been needed all along.
WHITEWALL: Tell us a bit about your background leading up to Antica Terra.
MAGGIE HARRISON: I set out to be a conflict resolution specialist, but somewhere between the deferral of a post-college job with the Carter Institute and travels funded by stints serving in Chicago restaurants, I fell hard for wine. With an embarrassing show of tenacity and an absurd stroke of luck, I talked myself into the cellars of Manfred and Elaine Krankl, as the first assistant winemaker at Sine Qua Non. I apprenticed for eight wonderful and life-changing harvests, and in 2004, struck out on my own, starting a small syrah project called Lillian.
WW: What was so special about the space, the people, the overall big picture that made you want to move to OR?
MH: I didn’t want to move to Oregon. I said no…a lot of times. Santa Barbara was my sunshine-soaked home. When asked, I had just started Lillian and married my husband. It wasn’t until I got out to the vineyard for a “consultation” that I realized what was possible. Our site is distinctive, which is not qualitative, but it is hard to make profound wine from the mundane. Steep, south-facing slopes and shallow soil on top of oceanic rock, decades-old vines the size of new plantings…I couldn’t resist the challenge, and the competitor in me wanted to be the one who showed the world what that site was capable of.
WW: How are you doing today amid COVID-19?
MH: Our customers are the best human beings. We have felt an incredible outpour of support. We get uplifting emails and texts daily from people who are finding solace in sharing our wines with their loved ones in this untethered time. We were so worried we would lose our connection with the people that make us excited to come to work each day, and instead, they have proven that they are still here for us: online, on the phone, and over a glass of our wine.
We see our business not only adjusting, but expanding to a broader understanding of how we engage and deepen our relationships with our audience. If we are to be honest, we should have been operating this way already. Our whole business depends on intimacy. It’s how we make our wine, it is how we work with our team, it is how we treat and talk to our guests…it’s everything. Taking the conversation online represents a much more direct, immediate way to build that intimacy. Not only with the people who have taken the time to come and see us in the tasting room, but people who might never have made it to Dundee at all.
We are deeply grateful, and very proud, that we have not laid off or furloughed a single employee during this difficult time. We have all rallied and pivoted roles, so that we can stay together and emerge intact on the other side of this. Our team has never had the luxury of time as we do now, and we are taking the opportunity to invest in our land and in our big ideas. We are planting gardens and building chicken coops. We are articulating our future and making plans to bring it to life.
WW: Tell us a bit about the brand’s response to the pandemic, donating funds to the James Beard Foundation.
MH: Very simply, the goal was to support the restaurants that have supported us. We are quite small, and usually have only enough wine for our mailing list, the people who visit us at the winery, and a small selection of the best restaurants. Previously, we never had the inventory to sell online. When restaurants shut down, those quantities of wine allocated to top tier restaurants across the country and around the world were suddenly unspoken for. We decided to make those bottles available directly to consumers, and give 25 percent of the entire sale back to the independent restaurants that have done such a beautiful job supporting our wine in the past.
WW: What sets Antica Terra wine apart?
MH: In a word: Intentionality.
Philosophically, we make the most beautiful choice in every moment. Practically, we never force the wines to fit our idea of what they should be; we allow the beauty in the work to lead us to the most beautiful expression from those fields, in our hands, in that year.
Information is sticky, but if there is anything you should remember about how we make wine, it is that nothing is ever called out in advance. If the scarcest resource is human attention, we can think of no better place to lavish ours than on our fruit, and in our cellar. We sort grapes with gloves off, to feel the character of the berries; we smell each cluster for freshness. We never use a press program. We often press for eight, 12, 20 hours—tasting the juice as it expresses itself as we manually increase pressure, moving the wine, warm, directly into barrel, bucket by bucket—never settling, never consolidating.
We use all our senses to gain intimacy with what we grew, because any minute away from the fruit, the juice or the wine represents a loss in intimacy, a loss of knowledge. We use our brains, hearts, and bodies to make decisions. These decisions often take us to the more labor-intensive, the more expensive, the harder solutions but one at a time, strung together like pearls, we trust that doing the best thing for the fruit, moment to moment, over and over again, will result in the most beautiful wines we are capable of making.
WW: Tell us a bit about the cultural aspects at the vineyard, in addition to tastings—like lunches and dinners with food by Chef Wastell, Hoshigaki classes.
MH: Making wine is a completely aesthetic endeavor. Making something beautiful for the sake of beauty alone. The intentionality that forms our wines, and the wines I collect, can be found across various disciplines: cooking and poetry, art, craft, music, and wine. Bringing other artistic fields into our universe gives dimension to our own work.
For the first ten years of this business, we had a team of one, two, and then three, so the focus was on the very wonderful daily tasks of winemaking and business building. In this moment, happily, we have a whole office of humans, including our incredibly talented chef. This bandwidth has allowed us to do the other projects and events I have been dreaming of all along, and those humans have brought skills and passions to this business. I want is to shine a light on their talents and give them room to run. I feel so fortunate to have created a place where that room exists.
WW: The act of enjoying wine is a bonding moment. What is your most special memory shared over wine?
MH: At the end of long events, team-wide cleanup days, or a challenging week, I turn towards someone on the team and ask, “What are we drinking?” We pull out our cellar inventory and see what makes us thirsty. With glasses all around and family meal on the table, we pull the corks and feel the energy shift from focus and work to inspiration and appreciation.
WW: Can you paint us a picture of where Antica Terra is in Dundee, and what that ambiance is like on a perfect night?
MH: We affectionately refer to the warehouse that houses our winery as a garbage can. The “approach” is a short turn into a dumpster-lined, gravel lot, followed by a few steps to an unmarked door for an entrance. This is neither the Promontory walkways, nor the Abreu caves. But what we lack in curb appeal, we make up for in magic…tucked away in the corner of that building is a space we have carved out, a jewelbox of a room with a canopy of lights, a harvest table at the center, and a wall of inspirational wine. When the table is set with handmade ceramics, the beeswax tapers are lit, and the records are spinning, and we hand you a zalto of Aurata, the rest of the building falls away.
Then, our Chef fills the table with the best things grown and raised in Oregon that season. The wine shifts from white to red as the food demands. The conversation is sparkly, and the night gets late. Bottles are pulled from the wall; friends trade places to talk to new friends; the messiness of the ruined table has the sexiness of rumpled bedsheets. When that happens, appointments and sometimes flights are missed, and there isn’t anywhere else in the world to be.
WW: What’s next?
MH: In the winemaking, the answer is “nothing”—with an asterisk and a wink. The time horizon for winemaking is so long, generations. There is the temptation to be eclectic, to make chenin blanc, a timorasso, everything else, but I have just this one life, to write a chapter of true narrative and importance in this story we’ve only just begun to tell. I will keep my head down, gratefully and forever, perfecting and refining on repeat, ad infinitum, for as long as I can hold the pruning shears or the bucket of wine in my hand, as long as these legs will hold me at the sorting table, as long as I can smell the ferment rising from the vats.
In this moment, the time we have been allowed to spend in our vineyard is the most exciting and rejuvenating gift. I am usually on so many planes this time of year. The projects we have now set in motion—the fruit trees planted, the species introduced, the animals, the compost building – will impact the quality of this company forever.
Second, because of COVID-19, we sadly had to cancel our private concert and tasting with yMusic, but this, along with our designer-in-residence program, and a dinner we co-hosted in Adrien Rosenfeld’s gallery are the first examples of the way we are expanding our programming and our own conceptualization of the business. I have been deeply honored by the artists and institutions who have found resonance in what we are doing. We have been approached for collaboration on projects both intimate and grand in scale, which has been a natural and exciting progression of the work we do in the cellar.