Antica Terra's Maggie Harrison
From Legendary Sine Qua Non to Antica Terra Pinot noir
Author: Jean Yates
Copyright 2013 Jean L Yates
Maggie Harrison's path to winemaking began in the midwestern United States, passed through an extended tour of Equador, Egypt and South Africa, and concluded in California at Sine Qua Non Winery with a life changing ten year apprenticeship. Under the tutelage of Manfred and Elaine Krankl, Maggie assisted in making legendary, 100 point wines at the tiny winery that is considered one of the best - if not THE best - producers of Syrah in the US.
After a decade at Sine Qua Non, Maggie began making her own wines. She makes a highly regarded Syrah, called "Lillian", from California fruit, and moved to Oregon in 2005 to make Pinot noir as co-owner and winemaker at Antica Terra.
At right above, Maggie Harrison in the Antica Terra Vineyard, February 2009
Antica Terra- "The Most Delicious Wine I Could Possibly Make"
Maggie Harrison is clear about her goal. "For me each year, it's most important that I make the most delicious wine I could possibly make."
And the most delicious wine will, more than likely, be made from several different sources. "While there are wines that I drink that I'm crazy about, made from one special place, it's not my goal here. I don't have an interest in Antica Terra as its own expression if it's not the best thing I could possibly do."
She purchases fruit from Shea, Cherry Grove, and Croft Vineyards to expand her palette of components. "When I go to make our Pinot noir, I want to have really good ingredients and tools to work with so I can make a wine that's greater than the sum of its parts."
"Historically, since I've been here (3 vintages), our wine has been about 50% estate. I think it would be foolish for me to let that percentage get so low that you didn't get that Antica Terra signature in the wine, no matter how delicious the wine was. But it is really important to push it up a little bit -- to make it even more elegant, beautiful and intriguing than it could be on its own."
For Maggie, the most challenging and exciting part of winemaking is the blending process. "To put it simply, if you add really dark and really light parts, it doesn't end up medium. A blend is a different result than the sum of its parts."
"As Elio Atare told me, 'it takes a bit of this, a bit of that, to make a good minestrone'. It takes weeks to get to the place where I can say that I can do no better, that there's nothing I could add or take away to make a more delicious wine."
"I'm not interested in preserving, for example, Cherry Grove flavors for the sake of Cherry Grove. I'm interested in taking what's greatest about it, and whatever else I have, to make something that transcends the sources."
Antica Terra's Recent Vintages
Every year, the Antica Terra Pinot noir is different. Antica Terra wines are blends of estate and purchased fruit, and the mixes change each year. The palette of purchased fruit changes - Maggie buys fruit from a handful of sources. And the quality of the estate fruit varies with each vintage.
Antica Terra did not make wine in 2005. Maggie declassified the entire estate vineyard and sold the wine as bulk. In general, Maggie plans to make one or two wines from each vintage. The Antica Terra Pinot noir Willamette Valley is made in most years, while the "Botanica" is made only when the fruit meets Maggie's demanding standards.
In 2006, 1100 cases of the Antica Terra Willamette Valley and less than 100 cases of Botanica were made. In the 2007 vintage, 20 cases of Botanica were made as well as 1280 cases of the Antica Terra Willamette Valley.
While the 2006 vintage at Antica Terra was ideal, 2007 gave Maggie a big dose of the difficulties created by Oregon's truncated growing season.
She says: "The 2007 vintage in Oregon was a challenge. It was the coldest growing season at Antica Terra in fifteen years. It took a lot of extra work in the vineyard, but we brought in fruit that I was impressed with, both before and after the rains began. The fruit we harvested after the rains started was completely different than what we harvested before. That's Oregon. Every fall, you have to decide whether to wait for that final bit of ripening and risk it raining, or to harvest a bit early and get 90% of what might be possible."
Antica Terra's 2007 Willamette Valley Pinot noir is a blend of 53% Antica Terra Estate fruit, 28% Shea Vineyard (Wadenswil and Dijon 828 clones), 9% Croft Vineyard, and 9% Cherry Grove Vineyard.
The unique Antica Terra terroir speaks as the main note in a chord of flavors that Maggie blended to create the wine. The Antica Terra Vineyard's terroir, according to Maggie is just like the winery's name -- "old earth". "To my palate, the Antica Terra vineyard signature has this stony, earthy, soily, mushroom quality - whether you call it peat, soil, humus, or whatever. And it's unique." Other qualities mentioned in reference to the Antica Terra terroir include umami, slate, and mineral.
The Shea Vineyard Wadenswil component of the 2007 Willamette Valley Pinot noir adds black fruit (blueberry, blackberry) to the wine, and the Shea Dijon 828 provides red fruit components.
Cherry Grove Vineyard fruit adds its character to the wine. Cherry Grove adds "pure cherry", says Maggie. And whole cluster fermented Pommard fruit from Cherry Grove adds "spice cupboard, asian spice, star anise, and clove" to the blend.
Maggie's Worldwide Journey to Winemaking at Sine Qua Non
Maggie Harrison grew up in the midwest, moving east to go to college. A high profile career in International Relations (her major at Syracuse University) was not quite right for Maggie, and after graduating, she traveled the world, spending about a year each in South America, South Africa, and Egypt, hitchhiking across whole continents with a tent and an adventurous spirit.
Between trips, Maggie worked as a server at restaurants in the midwest, caught the wine bug, and took classes at the Chicago Wine School. In a moment of revelation, sitting on a beach on an island off the coast of Kenya, she discovered her path - she wanted to learn to make wine.
True to her adventurous spirit, she persuaded her boyfriend (now husband) to move to California. Maggie was looking for work in Napa when her sister told her of a job possibility in Ventura County. Maggie wrote a "dumb resume" and sent it off, never dreaming that it would end up in the hands of Manfred and Elaine Krankl.
Once she found out Sine Qua Non had her resume, Maggie began her campaign to get the job. "I called every day for a month - politely - to the house, then the winery, back and forth about 70 times." Eventually, Manfred said they should have a conversation. Maggie flew down to Ventura the next day. Tasting through barrels of Sine Qua Non wine with Manfred, Maggie said only one word - over and over - "wow". Emphasizing her will to work hard, and to do any work, however basic, "cleaning drains, anything," Maggie landed the job.
It was 1995, and Sine Qua Non had generated a fair amount of buzz. Manfred was still working at La Brea Bakery (he co-founded the highly successful bakery in 1989). Maggie describes the job when she started: "Manfred and Elaine had two little kids, three businesses, and the first harvest in their own winery. Anything I could do to make their lives easier, that was my priority."
Maggie's first jobs at the winery were basic tasks the Krankls could leave her to do alone - cleaning equipment and laboriously attaching the hand crafted labels that are still used by Sine Qua Non today. Gradually, Manfred trained her to perform all of the many jobs that a winery generates.
"He made every decision, but I did the work myself," says Maggie. "Elaine and Manfred were wildly generous, training me in every skill. Everything I know about winemaking I learned from Manfred and Elaine."
Antica Terra Vineyard
Making her Own Wine, Moving On
While Maggie says she "wanted to be the assistant there (Sine Qua Non) for the rest of my life," Manfred encouraged her to make her own wine. Maggie describes the conversation: "He asked if it wasn't time for me to make my own wine. My response was that I liked being on Manfred's team. He told me that I could do that, but if I did, I'd look back and wonder if I could have done it myself." Manfred was in the process of transitioning to making wine exclusively from his own vineyard, and offered Maggie the opportunity to take some of the contracted grapes he controlled.
When she first decided to make her own wine, she opened a bottle of Sine Qua Non's legendary "Incognito" 2001 and told her husband "this is what I want to make." With the encouragement of the Krankls, Maggie chose the grapes of the White Hawk Vineyard for her own wine and released her first Syrah, the 2004 vintage "Lillian", in 2007.
A sandy site at the top of the White Hawk Vineyard in the Los Alamos Hills of Santa Barbara County is the block Maggie chose (Manfred gets grapes form the same block). Maggie describes the site as sandy - "if you look down, it's a beach - the soil is sandy and thin and it's at the top of the vineyard." The grapes attracted Maggie - they suit her style.
Maggie not only assisted in making world class Syrah at Sine Qua Non, she also made acclaimed Pinot noirs with fruit from Oregon's Shea Vineyard. She is fascinated by the variabillity of Oregon Pinot noir. "There are many incredibly different Pinot noirs in Oregon - all delicious. It is so exciting to make wine from different clones, different soils, and different vintages."
While Maggie might have continued to make Syrah and Pinot noir in Ventura County, she received an offer too good to refuse in 2005. A group of friends showed paperwork on a small vineyard in Oregon to Manfred and Maggie for advice. With Manfred's "ok", they purchased the Antica Terra Vineyard outside of the tiny town of Amity in the North Willamette Valley of Oregon. Shortly after, Maggie moved to Oregon as co-owner, winemaker, vineyard manager, and visionary of a reborn Antica Terra Winery.
A few of the incredible number of rocks of Antica Terra
Antica Terra's One of a Kind Vineyard
Maggie's first act at Antica Terra, shortly after arriving in 2005, was to declassify the fruit from the vineyard and sell it in the bulk market. Antica Terra did not make a Pinot noir in 2005. It was clear to Maggie that the site had problems with vine health that needed time to fix. Parts of the vineyard were in decline.
Maggie describes the site: "Antica Terra vineyard is unique in Oregon. Five different soil types, poor, very thin soil, a one of a kind terroir. Very different growing conditions in different sections of the vineyard. The original owners who planted the vineyard did not think of the vineyard in blocks and did not keep records on individual sections."
The vineyard is unbelievably rocky. When the Maggie expanded the vineyard, an estimated 500 tons of rock was to be moved. Before the project was complete, the volume of rock grew to over 3600 tons. Maggie brought in a rock crusher and crushed rock onsite for the roads in the vineyard but there is still a mini "Matterhorn" of stone visible from the road.
The bedrock is only a few inches below the surface in much of the vineyard. Vines that were planted ten years ago look like they are young vines, they struggle so hard to find the miniscule cracks in impenetrable rock just below the surface. The diameter of the vines is tiny and the leaves turn yellow weeks before vines planted elsehwere in the area.
Fossils are everywhere in the rock at Antica Terra. Maggie holds and describes a fossil filled rock: "This rock is 40 million years old. Can you imagine, this was all underwater." The fossils in the rocks are of clams and other sea based animals. Pick up a rock from one of the restraining walls around the vineyard and you're almost sure to see an ancient clam shell.