Oregon's Willamette Valley has been luring California winemakers for the better part of two decades -- Andrew Rich, Tony Soter, Robert Brittan, and Cheryl Francis all come to mind as not so recent transplants -- but Maggie Harrison, of Antica Terra, represents a kind of special case. In 2005 Harrison was working a dream job alongside Manfred Krankl in Ventura -- he of the cult winery Sine Qua Non, and an expat of Los Angeles and Campanile Restaurant, an artist non-pareil whom Harrison admits she could have studied with, and learned from, for another decade -- when she was offered a stake in a new Oregon venture.
Harrison didn't really want to uproot -- she had begun to make syrah like her boss and while she had an interest in pinot noir, the Central Coast was what she knew best. But Krankl was insistent: "'You don't have a choice,' he told me," says Harrison, "'You're not in a position to say no to an opportunity like this one.'"
Just miles from the vineyard she drove through Amity, a minute rural town in a landscape of rural towns, and thought to herself 'Thank God I'm not moving here.' But when she got to the vineyard site, she took a look around: 30 seconds later she was on the phone to her husband, telling him to start packing.
Antica Terra sits on one of the rockiest outcroppings in the Eola Amity Hills of Oregon, a place so rocky, so bereft of soil, that when she was told the vineyard was planted in 1989, she thought she was being lied to - the vines looked too runty, too spindly, to be that old. But a stressed environment can often lead to wines of tremendous intensity and character, and that is what Harrison is eking out of her boulderstrewn vineyard: wines which lead with a heady fruit-blossom perfume, spice notes that range cinnamon-stick to oolong tea, and an elegant dark cherry beam of fruit, linear, mineral-driven, pristine.
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It is, in the end, a strange place for a Sine Qua Non alumna to find herself. Krankl's wines, after all, are known for their depth and their power, two attributes which would seem out of place in just about any Oregon pinot noir. But Harrison feels that she's transposed her old boss's maniacal attention to sorting, to selection, to using only the most pristine fruit. "He doesn't really have a philosophy," she says of Krankl, "there's no overarching dogma. It's just a question of knuckling down, and never compromising."
Antica Terra wines can be found at John & Pete's, West Hollywood; The Wine House, West Los Angeles, and Rosso Wine Shop, Glendale.
Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.