Jim Maresh is busy with his grapes, pressing down massive container after massive container when I arrive to speak with him one early November morning. We talked as he worked - calling over the roar of a power washer spraying off the patio where pressed grapes were moving on through the process of being put into their barrels.
Jim is the wine maker and driving force behind Arterberry Maresh, a relatively recent and remarkably successful label.
His Arterberry Maresh label produces only two kinds of wine: a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay. The vast majority of the label is the strong and well -received Pinot Noir.
We shook up the usual interview
a bit, starting with two questions:
What sort of a film will view well with the 2011 Arterberry Maresh Pinot noir?
"The Unforgiven" he says, starring the great Burt Lancaster and the glamorous Audrey Hepburn. When asked why he responds with confidence. "This wine will be the best, so it should be paired with the best."
I particularly appreciate the classy reference to Audrey Hepburn, hinting at the subtle delicacies of the 2011 Maresh Pinot. Overall, Western films are the maverick base of American cinema, and as a pairing choice they are appropriately independent with just a hint of the ornery - hardy enough to ride along with this strong wine.
Selecting such a film pairing is a forceful advertisement for a wine, but it is not undeserved! Jim's wines have reaped great reviews and awards across Oregon and beyond, so why expect anything different for the 2011 vintage? He intends keep up with this trend by continuing to make what he proudly calls "the best wines in Oregon."
What is your favorite of your wines and what sport would you watch it with?
Jim takes a moment before deciding which wine was his very favorite he ever made. He settles on his 2008 Maresh Chardonnay. He says that this wine was different. The wine is made from a single row of vines, planted by his mother Martha when she was pregnant with him.
"The 2008 Chard was an unpredictable barrel, and it did some really special things," explains Jim. "I like how out-there it was." When pressed on a pairing, he finally decides that it would be best with an Oregon Ducks football game. Like the team, it's local, homegrown, exciting, and well ranked.
at right above, Jim with mom Martha, stepfather Steven
Jim is Grounded in the Land
Jim has no "official" training in wine making; like his grandfather before him he learned by doing. He grew up in the business; his grandfather Jim Maresh Senior is one of the farmers who first planted grapes in Oregon.
Living in the heart of a vineyard since birth has kept Jim grounded in the earth and deeply connected to his Dundee hills. "I'm right where I want to be" he says.
He has a deep knowledge of the vineyard and a collection of fascinating stories about the property.
He tells me about a favorite memory: one day he saw a bobcat in the filbert orchard that would not back down from him. He says though he approached to within 50 yards of it the bobcat just didn't budge - didn't even bat a whisker. So he decided to move respectfully away and let it do its thing. This bobcat symbolizes the Arterberry Maresh vineyard - small, feisty and so confident it'll make you pause and rethink your day. Grounded in Oregon land, Jim's wines won't back down.
Jim comes by his love of pinot noir naturally. His late father, Fred Arterberry Jr., was a Pinot pioneer in the 1980's. Fred was the first winemaker in Oregon to produce sparkling wine (Mark Vlosak apprenticed with Fred in 1987 and 1988 before going on to produce his own acclaimed sparkling and Pinot production at St. Innocent). Fred's 1985 Arterberry Pinot noir garnered a 95 point rating from Wine Spectator. As a tribute, Jim has kept his father's historic label, modified only slightly to incorporate the Maresh name.
Jim went straight from school to winemaking. He worked for a handful of wineries up and down Worden Hill Road, the gold coast of Oregon vineyards and the location of his family's farm and vineyard. Neighbor John Paul, owner and winemaker at Cameron was a big influence, says Jim, as well as top winemakers such as John Thomas.
Below, Maresh Vineyard, misty morning, November 2012
Arterberry Maresh puts out two to three thousand cases a year, and Jim says that is plenty. He makes the wine, sells it, and delivers it himself. He does the accounting, and balances the books. Arterberry Maresh is his, and he likes it that way. He just wants to keep on doing what he does well. In ten years Jim says he will still be right here, making wine.
Jim's favorite part of the whole process is getting to deliver the wine. He says it's always sad to see the end of a run, especially the ones you know are great, but that he appreciates when people want his wine so much that it sells out.
When asked about his 2011 Pinot Noir Jim says it is amazing. It's the first vintage he made on his new facilities, and he feels the wines will be all the better for it. The grapes hung on the vine until November before they were harvested resulting in "just really great wine."
When asked which award makes him the proudest Jim hesitates before shooting me a little smile. "I'm most proud of every time I sell out of a wine, that's the greatest accolade I could get."
Below, Maresh Vineyards's "Block 4" and the Willamette Valley beyond
Three Generations of Oregon Wine
At just 24 years old, Jim Maresh (third generation of the Maresh vineyard and winery family) looked more like a college student on spring break than a winemaker. Now 29, he still does.
His cell phone still beeps intermittently while he makes plans to meet up with friends at the beach and he is constantly making references to up -coming basketball games.
Jim's winery was first housed in the basement of the Maresh retreat house, high in the Dundee Hills with sweeping views of Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood. He has since moved twice - first to the Tori Mor Winery and now on to a space of his own (January 2012.)
In 2008, his first, unfinished workspace was cramped and a bit dingy, surprising given the beauty and grandeur of the retreat housethat was just above it.The walls still tell the real story. They are tacked with faded family photos of vintages past, photos of Jim at age 2 or 3 standing over a crush barrel with his dad, photos with Governor Neal Goldschmidt (their former neighbor and former owner of Goldschmidt - now Winderlea - vineyard) and other photos of relatives and winemaker friends during the chaos of crush taken over the course of forty years. If a museum for Oregon pinot history was ever to open, this would be a good place to start. The 1991 Maresh "red barn" label above is from that wall.
The Maresh Vineyard
Maresh Vineyard produces some of the most sought after and acclaimed fruit in Oregon sourced by the likes of Et Fille, Daedalus, and was initially made famous by Lynn Penner Ash during her tenure at Rex Hill. Planted predominately to Pommard clones, the vineyard contains some of the oldest vine Pinot in the state.
Jim's grandfather (also named Jim) bought the land that is now the Maresh Vineyard in 1959 and began converting the orchards to vineyard land shortly thereafter (at that time there were only 5 wineries in Oregon and less than 35 vineyard acres planted in the entire state). The acreage is a rolling vineyard planted predominately in Pinot noir but interspersed with Chardonnay, Pinot gris, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc. A few filbert and apple trees remain, but the focus is clearly on grape production.
Maresh Vineyard in distance (red barn at top of the hill)
taken from Winderlea Vineyard
Jim's wine operation is currently a one man band with an army of supporters. His grandfather Jim helps him farm the land, his mom helps him run the books, and his legions of winemaking friends help him with production. He has apprenticed with several heavy hitters including Lynn Penner Ash at Penner Ash in 2003, Mark Vlosak at St. Innocent in 2004, and John Paul at Cameron in 2005.
Jim on Dundee Hills
For Jim Arterberry Maresh, it's all about when you pick. He rolled the dice in 2008 and let some of the old vine fruit hang until Halloween - remarkably late for Oregon. With the warmer 2009 vintage, Jim picked early for balance and restraint. "I pick at the right time - its my most important decision," say Jim. "In 2009, there was no rain and no curve balls. The choice was yours, it was simple, really."
You won't see an Arterberry Maresh wine from outside the Dundee Hills - it's just not what Jim's about. Even though it will slow his winery growth, he knows what he wants.
"I can't just boom my production up overnight. I'm picky and want 30 year -old Dundee Hills vines. There's just not a lot out there." But why does it matter?
Jim is a raw -materials advocate. He's about fruit pedigree. He thinks he has access to the best Pinot vines outside of Burgundy. Considering the 40 year -old vines from his family's Maresh Vineyard, it's a tough point to argue. "You can't make a great Pinot without the best raw materials."
Jim doesn't tweak his wines in the winery - what he picks is what you drink. With both Pinot noir and Chardonnay, Jim leaves the wines alone, letting the raw materials shine.
I want to put the wine in the people's hand, give them an amazing drinking experience. My wines need to deliver an experience. There needs to be a backstory to the complexity of the wines and vines."
"I don't think anyone wants this more than me. This is damn near the only thing I do. I just want to make a wine off the best vines around."
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