“Pinot Noir is like a woman in a tight t-shirt. If she’s had work done, it’s gonna show,” Mike Willison’s wry, mocking, and unpredictably hilarious sense of humor combined with his contagious vitality and passion was making this a tour like no other- and I’ve been on plenty, mostly in Napa. Before we parted company, I dubbed him the “Anthony Bourdain” of Rex Hill Winery. You don’t enter into this wine tour casually—you’re in for a totally engaging experience on many levels!
|Mike Willison of Rex Hill Winery in the Willmette Valley, Oregon|
We met on a cold, wet day in Newberg, Oregon amidst thirty year old vines harvested three days prior to learn predominately about the thin-skinned, hard to grow Pinot Noir. Since we have a small Pacific Northwest vineyard of 120 Pinot Noir vines which we raise biodynamicly and organically we drove the two hours from Adytum Sanctuary to sit at the feet of the Master, Rex Hill Winery, who uses these methods, unlike the majority of wineries stuck in the toxic Round Up, herbicide, and pesticide game.
We knew we’d enhance our practical knowledge, but little did we know it would be so fun! My husband Donn’s upbringing wasn’t conducive to his development of a wine palate but he enjoyed an intellectual and palate-initiating tour tasting fresh grape juice up to the point just past a fermented fizz when he condemned it as ‘medicinal’ and passed it to me. This ‘non-drinker’s wine tour’ oxymoron was actually a complete success from Donn’s standpoint: a profitable, fun day for a teetotaler who plants vineyards in every home he owns—go figure…
|Lovely, Vital Wines|
Mike explains, “Round Up is heavily used in most vineyards. Here at Rex Hill we plant cover crops of vetch, red clover, mustard, and buckwheat. The wasps will be attracted by the buckwheat and eat the spotted wing drosphila( http://cisr.ucr.edu/spotted_wing_drosophila_cherry_vinegar_fly.html) that use their tail hook to slit the grape, lay larvae, and seal it back up. Fruit is harvested unknowingly full of these larvae. It effectively destroys the crop and is a problem not only in California but now in the Pacific Northwest. We use biodynamic methods for prevention.”
|Spotted Wing Drosophila|
My parents pioneered crop-dusting in Cuba by selling interest in it with airshows, wing-walking, and parachuting. They owned two airports in the South and saved entire crops from devastation many times over with sulphur and other pesticides and herbicides.
|Cold day…wonderful wine & education…Rex Hill Vineyard|
There’s no doubt it works, but Rudolph Steiner countered the Industrial Revolution with a return to natural farming and methods your great grandparents used that flowed with the rhythms of the Earth. We’ve taken the biodynamic, organic path at Adytum Sanctuary, and we will plant buckwheat and pray for wasps to protect our young vines. We mow and welcome the honeybees attracted to the abundance of dandelions that others poison. We eat our weeds here- nettle, dandelion, burdock, and yellow root… Our land has a rugged, unbridled beauty and all the untidiness of an English Garden but soils are rich with earthworms and leaf mold from 100 year old maple. Order and productivity shouldn’t be bought at the price of sterilizing or harming the Earth that sustains us. Grasp the Nettle by Peter Proctor is THE book on Mike’s desk at Rex Hill. It’s on its way to Adytum, thanks to a good used book seller- it’s an expensive book so shop around.
I asked Mike what they do for moles, voles, and rodents that can destroy a vineyard. He pointed to tall, metal hawk perches. Do you see now? Just bring in the natural predator and forgo the poisoned worms, pesticides, and herbicides. Other problems are approached preventively and usually by spraying foliage with a preparation much like a homeopathic tincture that raise immunity and nourish naturally to create a strong plant ‘child’. I sense that’s how the vines are seen here- as children in need of loving care – and I respect it. Because of these methods of nurturing the soil, Rex Hill’s vines are too vigorous, producing too much vegetation.
|Scott Henry Trellis System for Vineyards|
They employ a Scott Henry (http://www.avalonwine.com/trellising-the-grape.php) trellising system for several years to minimize luxuriant growth produced from the vitalized soil and encourage more fruiting. This method works well to minimize fungus and mold, and to allow as much sunshine and air circulation to the fruit. Wine has been called liquid sunshine, and while Pinot Noir loves the cool, cloudy Pacific Northwest climate with a variable diurnal temperature range, the grapes need as much sunlight and air circulation as possible so the Scott Henry system works here.
|Beautiful Healthy Vines|
Of course, when transitioning vines from the ravages of chemicals (Mike likened it to drug use) it takes years to encourage them to find their true place, to reach deep into the Earth for nourishment. Rex Hill has several rehab projects in the works including removing heavily chemicalized hazelnuts from production from just-purchased land, and turning the ravaged plots into a healthy, biodynamic, organic vineyards- a three year process to achieve this designation.
Rudolph Steiner (http://www.rsarchive.org/Biodynamics/) taught that the farm is an entire system where everything thrives; everything is done with intention. Cosmic forces are utilized- planting, harvesting, and applying tinctures by the moon. This land definitely feels alive under our feet and there is evidence of recent mowing and a few mole hills.
|Erica and Rachel, Rex Hill Interns|
Vineyard staff has their own raised bed garden plots to play with. A few dogs accompanied their owners to work creating a happy, complete ambiance. Everyone seems deeply engaged here and invested in the outcome. Erica was only employed 3 days and is a complete natural, “We don’t cover up the beauty of the grape- we just enhance it.” She encouraged me to try some wines I normally wouldn’t have…
|Mike’s little dog- Sumo|
Remains from the wine vats are composted and spread to enrich the top soil. Grapes aren’t watered on a regular basis unless they’re young. By allowing dehydration, roots are encouraged to delve deep into the heart of the Earth and a smaller, more flavorful berry is produced- and those minerals are drawn up into the concentrated fruit of the vine, and ultimately into your glass. No wonder wine is such a healthy habit enjoyed by centenarians, particularly the reds in moderation. Rex Hill had so many smooth yet complex drinkable wines, moderation becomes a bit of a challenge!
|Mike Teaches and My Teetotaler Husband, Donn, Tries a Few Wines|
Referencing again the tight t-shirt comment, Mike goes on, “Make good fruit and you won’t have to work hard to correct the balance once it’s harvested.” Oregon Pinot Noirs must use 90% Pinot Noir grapes to be classified as such; other states are at 75% which explains the edge Oregon wines have. Rex Hill’s commitment to the philosophy of Rudolph Steiner pays off in the glass. In short, the vineyard is full of children each with their own personality and unique needs- none of which include drugs and medication. Raise them love, respect, and integrity and you will be blessed with great wine that doesn’t require manipulative, remedial “work” that will show up in the finished product.
|Gewurtztrminer ‘Spicy’ Grapes Smoky Tasting From Recent Fires|
They have some white wines as well here. Strangely, the Gewürztraminer grapes absorbed the smoke from the summer’s wildfires and we detected a ‘campfire’ essence in the developing young wine. Terroire reigns supreme, from the Cosmic atmosphere down to the soil. The East Indians have a saying, “…the scent of the hands” which alludes to food prepared with loving care. You can taste the integrity, the love, and the caring in these wines.
|Avoiding Hot Spots by Churning and Mixing the Fruit|
Surrounded by tall, metal vats full of young wine, we did have a rather interesting, impromptu conversation centered on structured water and frequencies influencing it. The structured water of the developing wine is surely absorbing the music which was played quite loudly. It seemed incongruently disconnected to the philosophy of Rex Hill, “like Bach should be playing,” I suggested citing a study on Kirlian photography in which plants were shown to recoil at raucous music and literally lean toward lovely music. In my feeling, beautiful, classical music might be playing softly in the vineyard as well.
Later, I found this link: http://m-edition.com/archives/19. “Three hours per day with psychedelic rock (acid rock) played through a loudspeaker on the side of the chassis, preventing the growth and destroyed the squash plants, green plants and corn in less than four weeks. Retallack played the music from two different radio stations in Denver for two groups of petunia. The two radio stations playing rock music and classical music. The newspaper “The Denver Post” reported: Petuniaene who listen to rock music refused to flourish. Those who listened to classic music developed six beautiful flowers. Towards the end of the second week, leaned Petuniaene who were subjected to rock music away from the radio and showed uneven growth. Petuniaene who listened to classic music leaned all toward sound. Within a month, all the plants that had been exposed to rock music died.”
|Emoto’s Amazing Work|
Since yeast ensures the wine remains a living entity, and further recalling the work of Dr. Matsaru Emoto (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_dmYT83ZKY&feature=related) who exposed water to words, music, and images producing changes in the crystalized water tells me Rex Hill might consider the impact of music, words, and intentions in their vineyard and in the developing wine in vats and barrels. Wine is structured water. We are over 90% water. If thoughts can change water, the power of words in music and the violence or intensity of some music (yes even some classical music) needs consideration. What a fun experiment to label some of the barrels with ‘love, peace, and the ‘I hate you’ that was shown in the video. Do a blind taste test of wines from the same vintage and see what happens. Play Mozart to the vines in the rehab plot. It may very well take Steinhart’s work to another plane.
This spectacular video series takes it a step further: Structured Water: the Future of Medicine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taQUrkB0nPQ The 6th video relates to this discussion here. This may be the missing link that takes Rex Hill wines, which are already fantastic and clearly made with the ‘scent of the hands’ to a whole new level. We play beautiful music through outdoor speakers to our vines at Adytum. Working inside of their intense aura of love and community is magical…a happy vine family. What’s good for us is good for them.
|Anthony, You’ve Met Your Match…|
Apart from the expected education on a wine tour, we got off on other interesting tangents. But first, let me introduce you more fully to Mike Willison, Tour Guide and the “Anthony Bourdain” of Rex Hill Winery. Mike is so entertaining, he needs his own TV show but at the same time, he’s so passionate and brilliant, he needs to write and keep teaching on the biodynamic, organic method Rex Hill is committed to. Mike’s tour is punctuated with so much sardonic, often unceremonious humor, he could easily have been a stand-up comedian but combined with the raw edge and sheer knowledge of Anthony Bourdain, he brings a potentially high-brow subject down to earth and often with a variety of accompanying accents and funny gestures from Australia, France, and Germany, and Italy. He’s well-traveled, well-read, and generally has a great gift for teaching.
|Mike and Kat at Rex Hill Winery|
Mike, “I’m not sure if you’re aware—and this is important—if you want to speak perfect German, stand on your tiptoes and arch your eyebrows.” The constant injections of fun made this a memorable tour. He graduated UC Davis’ Viticulture and Enology program in California and went to work as an intern at Rex Hill in 2007. He never looked back. He gave us hope that we too might become great wine makers one day. “School doesn’t make you a good vintner. It takes creativity, understanding the process, and how you fit into the company’s culture. Here we take the raw materials and handle the process from beginning to end.” This isn’t common as grapes are often sourced elsewhere, and many farmers aren’t vintners. He cited www.winebusiness.comas a publication Rex Hill subscribes to.
|Great Education, Stimulating and Thought Provoking|
Later, seated at the long table to taste the culmination of their hard work, I asked if cork was sustainable. Growing alder and fir at the plantation at Adytum, I see how long it takes a tree to reach maturity…Mike said cork bark renews itself every 7 years but shortages occurred during the rise of the Australian wine boom in the 80’s. France and Spain have first dibs on corks; so many wineries went to the screw-off cap which seems a better choice until Mike explained screw-off caps are hard to recycle so corks remain… His inevitable humor creeps in once again, “The minute I have a girl out for a nice dinner and order a wine with a screw-off cap, I’m sleeping alone! There’s a sexy allure to the pop of a cork (he says this complete with sound effects: middle finger in cheek) and it’s unlikely to transition anytime soon unfortunately.” He tells us that a few restaurants in Portland, Oregon have begun using wines on tap bypassing the cork and screw-off cap altogether. (http://www.irvingstreetkitchen.com/) Evidently the problem comes in with the distribution of the 6-gallon kegs. No one wants to clean them, store them, etc. There is a new service industry waiting to be born that will reduce the impact on the Earth.
|Rich Antiques, Fine Wines…|
We enjoyed the sensual aspects of our tour and having our palate and mind enlivened with a variety of tastes and descriptions- and the persistent contemptuous humor this time of British tasters, “This smells like Starfruit… they wax poetically,” you’d swear Prince Charles entered the room- the voices that come out of this man! Mike rails against ‘talking poetry’ when you’re tasting, “Starfruit doesn’t have a smell! If you want to talk poetry when you’re drinking wine, talk from things in your own life!” ‘Fruitloops’ was Mike’s ‘poetically descriptive’ assessment of one of the amazing selections in the tasting room and I’ll be darned if it wasn’t spot on! He is bent upon taking the snobbery out of wine and bringing it into everyday life ‘drinking in the middle of the afternoon out of a paper bag on the front porch- your neighbors will never know’. We are smiling yet again…
He knows his stuff and translated it well, but we came for the vineyard, the soil, the lessons to be learned from Rudolph Steiner’s holistic approach and we left inspired and more committed than ever. The great wine and entertaining lecture were a satisfying, pleasant finish. Mike told me Rex Hill was ‘in it to win it’ and I’d say they’ve scored! They have a winning, sustainable, respectful model others would be wise to emulate.
Hand-picked Hand-sorted Family owned 800.REXHILL
30835 N Hwy 99W, Newberg, Oregon 97132 REXHILL.COM https://www.facebook.com/REXHILLWinery?fref=ts