May 2024 - Landmass Wines

May 2024


Winery Spotlight


 Landmass Wines


There are few wineries that we revere as much as Landmass. Unlike generational estates with decades of history, or wine businesses dreamt up in board-rooms by marketing executives, Melaney Schmidt and Malia Myers are the entirety of Landmass Wines. These two women, partners in life and business, execute everything from cleaning tanks and driving forklifts to making deliveries and balancing books. This level of connection and dedication to their product is apparent once you understand the following Landmass has deservedly captured. In Portland (and especially NE where they live), Landmass is a household name. Of course, their wines can be found in bottle shops across town; but also in wine bars, dozens of restaurants and, as some may have noticed, on display at PDX Airport.

Landmass started as a small dream that grew organically and authentically to the scale they are now. It’s important to acknowledge that Malia & Melaney have done it all without investors or outside money which is practically unheard of in the wine industry. They continue to build and invest in their project each year in order to produce unique, singular, and delicious wines that can’t go unnoticed. Let’s rewind and look at their history to understand what makes Landmass so special.


In the early 2010’s, Melaney and Malia were both living and working in Los Angeles in restaurants and the film industry, respectively. Malia had been working on set design for films (and the Oscars), then worked for LA's Stumptown Coffee production, and ultimately worked a stint in restaurants. Melaney had long worked in restaurants, largely fine dining and craft cocktails. At her final restaurant job, she earned the position to run the wine program for a popular LA restaurant. Being a visual learner, she figured she could read a book on winemaking and retain some information, but visiting a winery would be the way to really make things stick. The restaurant has been purchasing some Oregon wine, so she asked one of the producers, Illahe Vineyards, if they could come up and visit the property. They stayed on the property and toured the vineyards, falling in love with the idea of winemaking - and doing so in the Willamette Valley - in the process. 

They quickly decided that this was the life for them, so the pair left their jobs, sold their belongings, and headed North to both work harvest with that same winery. If you've ever had Landmass' flagship rosé, Jolene, it is named as such because they had already purchased tickets to see Dolly Parton in LA that same year. They figured, like most jobs, a few days off to fly down, see the concert and fly back wouldn't be a big deal. But harvest is not like most jobs, so they had to miss the concert. (And, to my knowledge, have not managed to see Dolly Parton live yet.) After harvest, the owner of Illahe, Lowell Ford, offered to sponsor Melaney’s continuing education at Chemeketa Community College in Salem. She spent two years in the program, learning about the science of winemaking while Malia spent two more harvests at Illahe, gaining additional practical skills and knowledge in the winery.

After that third harvest, the two of them moved to Portland, where they eventually linked up with Corey Schuster of Jackalope Wine Cellars. Corey and Melaney worked together for three vintages. While working there, the two essentially laid the foundation for Landmass. The first year, Mel made some wine alongside Corey in the Jackalope Cellar. In the second year, they made more wine but this time had the intention to brand it and sell it. The third year, they started to actually say, ‘Ok this could be a real thing that we live off of.’ By that fourth year, Melaney and Malia were ready to venture off onto their own and make Landmass their whole world. That vintage, 2021, they moved Landmass into their own facility in Cascade Locks, OR.




Today, Landmass makes just over 5000 cases of wine. While they have some help (including our very own Liz), when it comes to things like bottling or extra busy winery days, every single bottle of the wine has the loving imprint of both Melaney and Malia’s hands in every part of the process.

One of the great things about the Landmass model is that they are solely focused on being a winery at this point. With the cost of vineyard land being prohibitively high and farming being a multi-year investment before one even sees viable grapes, it is a common approach for smaller wine businesses these days to purchase fruit from a variety of different vineyards. This also allows them to experiment with different grapes and regions without taking on huge investment timelines or unnecessary risk. Today, Landmass sources about 50% of their grapes from the Willamette Valley (primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, for both still and sparkling wines). Their second biggest source, at 42%, is the Columbia Gorge (for their Pinot Gris & Grüner Veltliner). Lastly, they source about 8% from southern Oregon’s Rogue and Applegate Valleys (Grenache for their flagship rosé, Jolene, and Chenin Blanc). 

The duo’s winemaking is centered around a few core principles - freshness, cleanliness, and approachability. In the cellar they press off all of their whites and sparkling base wines quickly, eschewing skin contact or stylistically ‘round’ wines. The fermentation and aging vessels are primarily stainless steel, with a small amount of neutral oak employed for their higher end wines. I wouldn’t be quick to classify them as ‘natural’ winemakers, however outside of the judicious use of sulfur and cultured yeast, their winery is free of extra additives and unnecessary additions to the wines.

In the past I have said that Landmass makes ‘fun’ wines. Sure, it’s true that their wines largely conjure enjoyment and pleasure rather than deep contemplation, or becoming fodder for collectors. However, that’s selling them, and their range of wines, quite short. Their crisp mono-varietal whites, chillable red, sparkling rose and pet nats are indeed playful, lively, and crushable. (Their Chilled Red says ‘drink chilled, drink now’ on the label). At the same time, the two brains behind the operation have both the technical expertise and vineyard contracts to make exceptional, deeply complex wines. This know-how is apparent in their classic method sparkling wines (some of which have spent the better part of a decade on the lees), as well as their single-vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs hailing from the Gorge or Willamette Valley. It’s rare that a winery can make wines stylistically across the spectrum, and that’s just one part of why we love them so much.

As two people in a business and life partnership ourselves, Gabby and I have long understood the tenacity and patience that it takes to work so closely day-in and day-out with your partner. The divide between family and business is so easily crossed. Date nights often become business meetings, morning coffee sometimes feels like a team huddle, and the lines never seem to become unblurred. Yet at the same time, long arduous days (or nights) at work can be broken up with a sweet romantic moment, your most challenging times will be helped along by the one who knows you best, and ultimately, you can look back together and take pride in that which you’ve crafted together. Beyond the wines, we are just so honored to have had the pleasure to work with Mel and Malia since Dogwood’s inception, and are doubly excited to be able to tell their story and feature them in the club this month.

Landmass, Pinot Gris, Columbia Gorge 2022

Underwood Mountain is a bit of an outlier in the Columbia Gorge. It sits at 1400 feet on the North side of the River, just west of White Salmon and Hood River. While not an AVA itself, it is largely considered the ‘Grand Cru’ of the Gorge and grapes from there tend to be more sought after than other vineyards. Here the vineyards see a lot more wind (due to the elevation and exposure), more rain (~20 in/yr more than nearby areas, on par with the Willamette Valley), and more sunlight than many other sites (due to the direct southern orientation of many of the vineyards). All this together makes for intense, yet focused wines with a distinctly ‘alpine’ feel that is hard to achieve anywhere else in North America.

This Pinot Gris is no exception; hailing from two vineyards on Underwood - Dampier and Crooked Acres. 100% Pinot Gris is direct pressed and fermented/aged in it a mix of stainless steel (80%) and neutral oak (20%). The end result is a wine with bright, clear notes of classic Pinot Gris fruit, like poached pears and honeycrisp apples. However, the windiness and intensity of Underwood gives the wine a lovely mineral presence alongside a touch of floral note. More pronounced is the texture of the wine, with bright lip-smacking acidity and a fleshy, medium-body. This wine can be enjoyed fully all on its own, or drunk alongside typical white-wine food: chicken, fish, or roasted vegetables.

Landmass, Chillable Red, Willamette Valley 2023

For the first few years of Landmass’ existence, they had never made a red wine under their own label. This, of course, cemented their reputation as fantastic white and sparkling winemakers. Yet, the demand for the color red runs deep in the world of wine. So what do they do? They make a red wine that drinks (and acts) like a white wine!

One of the few reds that actually tells you to chill it in the label, this ‘Chillable Red’ is 55% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, and 10% Tempranillo. The entirety of the fruit comes from the Willamette Valley; Pinot and Tempranillo from Aeolus Vineyards (Eola-Amity) and Chardonnay from Jesse Estate (Tualatin Hills). The wine is aged in neutral French oak, before being transferred back to stainless steel to rest and tighten back up. The end result is something that very much looks and smells like a red, with notes of cranberry, tart cherry, orange peel, pomegranate, and herbs, yet drinks like a white, with bright driving acidity, a clean finish, and minimal tannins. This is a white-wine drinker’s red, or a red-wine drinker’s white. You could pair this with food, but I’d rather chill it down, sit in the sun, put on some music or strike up a good conversation, and drink the whole bottle.

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