is an 11 acre vineyard located on a rocky hillside in the Eola-Amity Hills of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The first vines were planted here in 1989 in a clearing within the oak savannah. The geology of the site is extremely unusual. In most of the region, vineyards are planted in the relatively deep, geologically young soils left behind by either the Missoula floods or the volcanic events that formed the Cascade Range. In this place, the remains of a far older pre-historic seabed rise to the surface, leaving the vines to struggle, without topsoil, amongst a fractured mixture of sandstone sown with fossilized oyster shells.
Above ground, the place is just as intense. Its exposed boulders, steeply pitched grades and panoramic views of the surrounding land convey a feeling of dramatic scale. The west wind moves constantly through the vines. Clouds fissure over the vineyard and allow the sun to ray through, at an angle and with a clarity that makes the site feel bright, even on the bleakest day. But it’s what we can’t see and feel, those aspects of the site that the vines allude to as they strive to find balance, that make it a remarkable place. Our oldest vines look like infants. Instead of the gnarled trunks and robust canes one expects from vines planted over two decades ago, ours are spindly and frail. The fruit is diminutive as well. The tiny clusters of thick-skinned berries are less than half the usual size and fit easily in the palm of the hand. The canopy, which struggles to reach the top catch-wire, is incredibly sensitive. The smallest changes in the environment can cause the leaves to turn yellow and fall.
These qualities cause us to worry. They demand that we offer our vines the most exacting attention and care. In return, they offer us a glimpse into what we can’t see: a wine that is unique and instantly identifiable.
The inspired moment, the one that changed everything, occurred in the midst of a nervous breakdown, after a bout with malaria, on an island off the coast of Kenya. In this moment, facing her traveling companion's request to “put down her beer and get serious,” doubting her ability to return to Chicago and begin her career in conflict resolution, Maggie Harrison decided to become a winemaker. This simple decision, incredible luck, and her own tenacity sent her to Ventura County where she landed, without any experience, the holy grail of winemaking apprenticeships. Maggie worked for nine wonderful and life changing vintages under the tutelage of Elaine and Manfred Krankl at the iconic winery Sine Qua Non. In 2004, at Manfred’s urging, she started her own Syrah project called Lillian. At this point she could see the rest of her life unfolding clearly before her. She and her husband Michael would settle down in Santa Barbara and raise a family. She would tend to the barrels at Sine Qua Non and make tiny amounts of her own exquisite Syrah on the side. But her well-laid plans were not to be. This all changed in 2005, when Scott Adelson, John Mavredakis and Michael Kramer, three friends on a search for land, visited Antica Terra. Over the years, they had collaborated on countless projects but had always dreamed of starting a vineyard together. This was not the first time they had visited a piece of land with this dream in mind, but something was different this time. It’s hard to say if it was the subtle breeze from the ocean, the majestic stands of oak, or the fossilized oysters hiding among the boulders, but they knew immediately that this was the property they had been looking for. When Scott, John and Michael asked her to become the winemaker at Antica Terra, she emphatically refused. But the three friends were clever. They asked Maggie if she would simply take a look at the vineyard and offer her opinion about the qualities of the site. She reluctantly agreed. Twenty-six seconds after arriving among the oaks, fossils, and stunted vines, she found herself hunched beneath one of the trees, phone in hand, explaining to her husband that they would be moving to Oregon.