Moe Momtazi’s Maysara Winery
and his Momtazi Vineyard now sprawl
across 532 acres of rolling Oregon hills.
His pinot noirs get great reviews, and
his grapes are coveted by the region’s
top winemakers. It all started with
some inspiration from his ancestors—
and fleeing Islamist Iran.
—AS TOLD TO JANE PORTER ;
From when I was very young, I
remember watching my father make
wine in our basement. He used earthen
vessels to store the wine. There was a
clay paste that he would cover the top
with and leave it to sit. Then he would
get all the stems and berries out and
press everything. What intrigues me
is the care that went into it. In Persian
and Zoroastrian culture, wine is
considered a very sacred thing.
I was born and raised in Tehran. My
parents would send me up north to the
Caspian Sea to spend the summer with
my grandparents. My grandfather
taught me about holistic farming—he
had a tea plantation and a rice plantation and grew mulberry trees for
silkworms—and that our life really
depends on what we consume.
I was fascinated with farming. But if
you start with farming, you’ll never
make it. I wanted to get an education
so I could buy land. In 1971, I came to
the U.S. to study engineering at the
University of Texas. After I graduated,
I went back home. I worked as a
project engineer, and then opened
my own engineering company.
Then the revolution happened.
Whenever Flora—my wife—would
refuse to cover her face or to follow
the Islamic dress code, we would get
stopped and harassed by government
thugs. When she was 24 and I was 30,
she became pregnant. And we didn’t
want to raise our family there.
We escaped Iran in 1982, when my
wife was eight months pregnant.
We left through the mountains on
motorcycles. It was really scary—and
extremely di;cult, because Flora was
so pregnant. People were chasing
us. The sun was very strong in the
mountains, and she got big, painful
blisters under her eyes. We got caught
on the border by Pakistani o;cers,
who threatened to turn us in. Those
things never really disappear from
We went from Pakistan to Spain to
Italy, back to Spain, to Mexico, and
finally to Texas, in 1983, where we
asked for political asylum. I found an
engineering job. Then I started my
own firm and sold it and we moved to
Oregon in 1990, where I started a new
company. Seven years later, we bought
almost 500 acres.
In our philosophy of farming—
biodynamic—you have to have a
complete ecosystem. On our farm, we
have plenty of forests, pastures, and
reservoirs so that it doesn’t have to rely
on anything coming from outside. We
have animals whose manure we collect.
We make our own compost. We grow
lots of medicinal herbs and plants. We
had our three daughters work in the
vineyard pruning, mowing—doing a lot
of manual labor to teach them a work
ethic. My oldest daughter went to
Oregon State and studied food science
and fermentation. After she graduated
in 2006, she became our winemaker.
My other daughters work for the
winery in sales and marketing.
Early on, we decided selling grapes
to the competition would help us
cover expenses. Wine takes time: Our
first planting was in ’98 and our first
wine was made in 2001. The first few
years, we sold a lot of fruit to other
wineries. Now, vineyards that use our
grapes have a Momtazi Vineyard–
designated stamp on their wine. Last
year, we produced 500 tons of fruit.
We used half for our own wine and
sold half. In the beginning, I put up a
small winery. Now it’s more than
42,000 square feet. We make 12,000
to 18,000 cases of wine a year.
After the Islamists came to power,
a lot of things were taken away from
Persians. When the Islamists came,
they said you can drink wine only in
paradise. But wine stayed in our blood.
In the old country, we don’t have a
word for winemaker. We believe the
wine makes itself.
Moe Momtazi in the cellar at Maysara Winery, with (from left) his daughters, Naseem,
Hanna, and Tahmiene (the winemaker), a bottle of his Asha pinot noir, and his wife, Flora.
IN THE FIELD
Moe Momtazi didn’t dream of ordinary farming. He dreamed of farming biodynamically,
a laborious, chemical-free process that calls for the use of preparations made from herbs
and manure. “I started by looking into the herbs and flowers our grandparents used to
make tea,” he says. “Our ancestors knew a lot more about agriculture. Big chemical
companies have put it into peoples’ minds that you can’t do holistic farming. I decided to
prove there are alternatives.” Momtazi’s winery grossed more than $2 million last year.