Story and Photos by Kelsey Thalhofer
Capital Press | September 13, 2012
Rudy Marchesi leans back on a tasting room couch at Montinore Estate Vineyards. His 3-month-old grandson, Anders, cradled in his left arm, Marchesi recounts the story of how his passion for viticulture possessed him to quit graduate school and leap into a 35-year career in the winemaking industry, eventually leading him to his 235-acre Forest Grove, Ore., estate.
His face lights up as he describes the wines he produces alongside his daughter, Kristin Marchesi-Garbey, and 15 full-time employees — 35,000 cases of lively, aromatic, spicy and savory varieties of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muller Thurgau, Lagrein and Teroldego each year.
But as much as Marchesi likes to talk about his wine, he really wants his wine to do the talking for him.
“The focus of our winemaking is to express the nature of our farm,” Marchesi, 62, said of the winery he has owned and operated for the past seven years. “American consumers are becoming more sophisticated, and they want wines that tell a story.”
He wants his wine to tell the story of Missoula flood soils and old-fashioned viticulturists who don’t add yeast or bacteria to their organic, biodynamic grapes. He wants consumers to taste the care he puts into his vines — the hour he spends each morning tracking grape progress and cupping leaves in his hand to check for water stress.
“The quality of the wine is determined initially in the vineyard,” Marchesi said. The land’s fertile soil and the natural fermentation process his winemakers use produce elegant and complex European-style wines that complement a variety of foods, he said.
Drawn west by his daughters — who attended Reed College and Portland State University — Marchesi sold his New Jersey farm and winery in 2005 to purchase Montinore Vineyards from Leo and Bobsy Graham, who had founded the winery in 1982. He had worked as a consultant and president at Montinore prior to purchasing the company, and now enjoys involvement in all aspects of the business, “from the ground to the consumer,” Marchesi said.
Marchesi-Garbey joined her father’s business as general manager in 2006, and said she balances her city lifestyle in nearby Portland with time at the winery. She now brings her 3-month-old son to work, which is reminiscent of her own upbringing.
“I grew up on a winery,” Marchesi-Garbey said of her New Jersey roots. “I knew what the industry was, but I didn’t see myself working for my dad or in the industry … it was a really nice surprise.”
Marchesi-Garbey, who focuses on sales and marketing, said the 2008 recession triggered a “big pinch” in revenue. However, the company’s highest production wine is a Pinot Noir that retails for about $20, which helped them remain competitive with consumers who were spending less on luxuries, she said.
“We want people buying a high-quality wine on a Wednesday,” Marchesi-Garbey said of the low-priced variety. The company has also partnered with other wineries in the Willamette Valley Winery Association, which puts on events to raise interest in the region’s wines.
Sales are now back in full swing — Montinore’s Pinot has been sold out for more than three months — and the company distributes across the U.S. and to Canada, Japan, South Korea, Norway and the Dominican Republic. They’re leasing 32 acres nearby because they can’t seem to plant enough grapes.
Marchesi still enjoys experimenting with wine production. In the last two years he created a popular line of Verjus — French for “green juice” — a pasteurized unripe grape juice that gourmet chefs and bartenders around Portland use as an alternative to vinegar or citrus, to brighten dishes and drinks.
He plans to run the winery for at least 10 more years before retiring to his personal vineyard, a nearby 5-acre property where he lives with his wife.
“I find the whole business pretty compelling,” he said. “I can see myself being an old man and making a couple of cases of wine a year.”
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