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All photos courtesy of Maysara

I Escaped An Alcohol-Free Iran to Make Wine In Oregon

Moe Momtazi

In Persian literature, there is no subject covered as much as wine. Not just the taste and flavor of wine, but the spirit of wine. My winery in Oregon celebrates this.

All photos courtesy of Maysara

Maysara is the ancient Persian name for a winery.

In Persian literature, there is no subject covered as much as wine. Not just the taste and flavor of wine, but the spirit of wine. Maysara was also a spiritual place where people would gather to not just drink wine and get drunk, but to celebrate it with other people, since wine is considered sacred.

After Islam, more and more wineries, liquor stores, and wine shops in Iran were being destroyed, since their culture forbade getting drunk. When my wife was eight months pregnant, we escaped Iran during the revolution and went to a few different countries before landing in the US in 1983.

I started a civil engineering company to pay the bills but ultimately, wine had always been my passion. My father used to make wine back in Tehran. He made excellent wine, but like many other families in Iran that make wine in their basement, it was mostly only for themselves.

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Maysara winery

My grandfather was a purist and would grow his own grapes in what he called a "holistic" manner. I would follow him around as a kid and I was raised on this philosophy. For him, food and wine was considered much more than fuel for the body. It was something very, very spiritual and food for thought as well. Thus, when growing his grapes, he took elements like the stars, the surrounding plants and animals, and human beings into consideration.

In other words, his winemaking techniques worked with nature rather than negate it. He taught me that whatever you take from nature, you add it back in one way or another. We don't import any kind of fertilizer and we also grow medicinal plants around our grapes. We don't use any commercial yeasts and push and press the wine as little as we can, too. This philosophy is even applied to our estate's building. All of the wood and rocks used to build it were all sourced from this region. I just want to prove to other people that there are alternatives to farming and the wines that you drink.

Aerial view over Maysara Winery and Momtazi biodynamic Vineyard, McMinnville AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon

I've always been taught to never brag about our wines but our riesling with a plate of fesenjoon goes really well together. Lamb shanks and kebobs go really good with a red wine, like our flagship pinot noir that has notes of white pepper.

I am carrying the tradition of my fathers before me and my family is choosing to continue this legacy. I always told them that it was my own passion and that they didn't have to follow it, but all three of them decided to help. My wife is the co-owner of my property. My eldest daughter is the winemaker, and my other two daughters help me with sales and events. (They now also have their own wine label.)

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When we escaped Iran, my wife and I literally only had one bag to our name. We had to start from zero and we are fortunate enough to have become very successful. This did not happen overnight, nor over five years. I just had a goal and I stuck with it. I have been in Oregon for 25 years and as a first-generation immigrant in this country, I have worked really hard for my wine passion and I have taught my daughters this same work ethic. I quickly learned that if you fall down, you must get back up, dust off, and get back to work.

As told to Javier Cabral

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Moe Mamtazi is the owner of Maysara, a biodynamic, natural, holistic winery in McMinnville, Oregon. For more information, visit the winery's website.