Illahe Vineyards – Into the Winery

Illahe Vineyard, Vista View

Last July we made the drive out to Illahe Vineyards in the southern part of the Willamette Valley.  The vineyard is south west of Salem, Oregon, in the proposed Mt. Pisgah/Polk County AVA.  Kathy Greysmith, the tasting room manager, took us through a tasting of the white wines and then Lowell the owner and grape grower walked us out front to look at the view of the vineyard. We then made our way back into the winery space.

Wines for the people

Illahe Vineyard Tasting room
Illahe Vineyard Tasting room

Here at Illahe they have a wide range of wines and one of the things they find important is keeping their wines at a price point that makes them accessible.  They want people to be able to buy 2 bottles rather than just one and they wanted the wines to be at a price point that their neighbors could afford.

When they released their 2004 vintage in 2006 they priced their Estate Pinot Noir at $19 and the price has only increased to a still very affordable $25 for their Estate Pinot Noir.  The white wines across the board are $19.  Do they have more expensive wines?  Well yeah!  These are the specialty reds and the block designates.  But even so, these wines are affordable.

2016 Bon Savage

Illahe Vineyard 2016 Bon Sauvage Pinot Noir
Illahe Vineyard 2016 Bon Sauvage Pinot Noir

At this point we were tasting the 2016 Bon Savage, https://www.illahevineyards.com/our-wine/illahe-bon-sauvage-estate-pinot-noir-2015 which spends 16 months in barrel.  It was bottled in the spring so it was still quite new as we tasted it.  This is a barrel select wine from the lower vineyard sections.  This lower section is less influenced by the summer sun and is lighter.  They age in 25% new oak and get a more Burgundian style from this wine.  There is oak influence but you get a lovely cedar on the nose.  This does have some tannins that will make this wine age worthy.

Simple Gravity Flow

Illahe Vineyard Tasting room
Illahe Vineyard Tasting room

Kathy gave us the tour of the winery, with the Barrel room to the side, the tasting room is on the winery floor.  During harvest the tasting bar is rolled away, the barrel room emptied and the winery floor is busy.  The winery is a very simple gravity flow design with the grapes coming in at the higher back level and sorting tables there, they come down into the winery floor through a garage door high on the back wall and drop into bins for fermentation.  Gravity flow is just smart design.  It allows for less energy use (use gravity to move things), it’s easier on people, (again gravity is your friend, moving things down is less work) and it tends to be easier on the grapes.  For more on Gravity Flow Wineries, check out the article below.

The Percheron and the 1899 Pinot Noirs are foot stomped in the wooden fermentation tanks. Everyone takes a turn.  Well almost everyone, there is a height requirement for safety sake and Kathy sadly is not tall enough to see over the top of the tank when she is stomping…so she is out when it comes to stomping.

Games you don’t really want to win at harvest

stings and beer fine
stings and beer fine

We mentioned that this is a family affair, with the extended team included as family.  During harvest they have a team board and have a bee sting contest, which Assistant Winemaker Nathan won easily.  They also have the beer board.  If you do something stupid, you are required to bring a 6 pack.  Sadly, Nathan won this also this year. (Rough year Nathan).

We headed up the steps to the upper level and Kathy pointed out the wooden basket press they use for the 1899.

Feel like you are standing in a barrel!

As we got to the top the open-air crush pad was stacked with bins and equipment as well as a tank that was doing cold stabilization on the 2017 Estate Pinot Noir.

The shape of the roof is curved and immediately you feel as if you in a giant wine barrel.

Illahe Vineyards Tasting/Harvest room
Illahe Vineyards Tasting/Harvest room

I asked about bottling, did they bring in a bottling truck?  Up to this year they had hand bottled.  This year with the growth they have seen they updated to a bottling system.  A bottling truck is limiting.  You have to schedule in advance and who knows if that is really when the wine is just right for bottling?  So they had a local company design a bottling rig on a trailer.  They keep it in a storage building below the vineyard and bring it up when they are ready to bottle.  It can be easily moved and allows them control on their bottling.

Next we will head over to the cave!

Where and how to find them!

Illahe Vineyards is located at 3275 Ballard Rd, Dallas, OR 97338.

Give Kathy a call for an appointment at 503-831-1248 or drop her an email at [email protected].

Tastings are $25 per person and are waived with a $100 purchase.

While they don’t serve food, they have a lovely patio with tables overlooking the vineyard, where you can bring your own lunch and enjoy the view.

We did a quick primer on the winery ” Illahe Vineyards – stepping back to a simpler time” as well as a tasting and pairing with their Gruner Veltliner.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Presqu’ile Winery, Key to Wine Country Weekend – Pinot Noir

Presqu'ile WInery Hilltop, Santa Maria Valley

We continue with the third segment of the Key to Wine Country event held at Presqu’ile Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County. Held on the crush pad high atop the Presqu’ile gravity flow winery, we had the opportunity to taste wines made by 4 different winemakers, all from grapes grown on the Presqu’ile Vineyard. After side by sides of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, we moved onto Pinot Noir of which there were 5 to taste.

In this section we taste through the Presqu’ile 2012 Pinot Noir made by Presqu’ile Winemaker Dieter Cronje as well at 2 Pinots from Luceant Luminesce a 2011 and a 2012.

The Presqu’ile 2012 Pinot Noir was done with whole clusters and spent 18 months in neutral oak. It was fascinating to do a side by side with Kevin Law’s 2011 and 2012 Luceant Luminesce Pinot Noirs. Again all the grapes are from Presqu’ile Vineyard. 2011 was a cooler year and Kevin used 1/3 whole cluster and 25% new oak for this vintage, as opposed to the 2012 which was bigger. The 2012 vintage he went 75% whole cluster and 50% new oak. It’s amazing to see the difference a vintage can make as well as the differences created by the amount of whole cluster press and oak which can impart tannins and other flavors.

Kevin was the lone American on the panel.  He jokes when the get to him “I don’t have an accent”.  His wines have previously been produced under the Luminesce label but they have had to relinquish that name. In the interim you will see them often listed as Luceant Luminesce as they segue into their new name Luceant. Before opening his label, he spent 7 years as the assistant winemaker at Tantara. He is soft spoken and you won’t find him out on social media. This humble winemaker spends all his time pushing to make greater wines. The differences in his two Pinots were many, but they were both beautiful expressions of their vintage and style.

for More Conversations check out our Dirt to Glass Page

Presqu’ile Winery – Taste through the vineyard

Presqu'ile WInery Hilltop, Santa Maria Valley


Starting the day driving north on the 101 to the Santa Maria Valley is never a bad thing. This section of roadway is lined with vineyards. Before you get to Santa Maria you take a right and drive out to the gates of Presqu’ile. Through the gate you see the expanse of rolling vineyards, you pass the Italian Villa of the vineyard next door and come up to the top of the hill where you find the elegant and modern Presqu’ile Winery and tasting room. Chances are you will be greeted by the winery dog as you walk in through the parking lot. Outside there are terraces overlooking a small amphitheatre, all set with comfortable seating perfect to curl up in with a glass of wine. The tasting room has a glass wall that slides open to make it open air during the day and as you look out when it’s clear you can see the ocean in the distance. The Tasting bar is spacious and dotted with bowls of seasoned pecans that came, like the owners the Murphy Family, from Mississippi.

“Presqu’ile” is the Creole word for “almost an island”. The Murphy family retreat on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi held the same name. Yes “held”, Hurricane Katrina laid waste to this place where the family had gathered for generations. So the family headed west to find a 200 acres of property in the Santa Maria Valley. Two generations of Murphy’s are now here and this new Presqu’ile has become the new gathering place for the family.

Tasting Room at Presqu'ile

Tasting Room at Presqu’ile

After we gathered in the tasting room, our group was escorted to the Key to Wine country weekend event, “Taste Through the Vineyard:  Explore Wines Sourced from Presqu’ile Vineyards Produced by Different Winemakers”. We were led back through the barrel tunnel. Cut into the side of the mountain this barrel lined tunnel is climate controlled (mostly naturally) and makes for a memorable entrance to the winery. We got into a shiny stainless steel elevator. I felt a little like I was going to a secret base in a James Bond film, but rather than heading to an underground laboratory, we headed up. The doors opened and we entered the sunlit crush pad. Glasses twinkled in the sunlight on sleek modern metal tables, set at the center with a thick wooden block abundantly piled with delicious charcuterie. At the front, just before the railing down to the tanks in this gravity flow winery, there were four smaller tables, each again bedecked with glasses and wines and behind them sat our four winemakers.

Key Weekend Glass Setting

Our host Matt Murphy stepped up to welcome us. He is genuine, warm, well spoken and his inherent sense of southern hospitality melded with the relaxed nature of the California that he and his family now call home. He set the stage for a wonderful conversation with these winemakers.
So we are in California in a winery owned by a Mississippi family…are you ready for it to get a little more exotic?
Our winemakers hailed from South Africa, New Zealand and the US. Presqu’ile winemaker Dieter Cronje and Storm winemaker Ernst Storm are both from South Africa, Ariki Hill of Labyrinth is from New Zealand and Kevin Law of Luceant Luminesce was exotic in that he was the only one without an accent.

Presqu'ile Wine Event

Presqu’ile Wine Event

We settled in, Matt handed things over to the winemakers and we did side by side tastings of wines from the Presqu’ile vineyards made by these different winemakers with different styles. I’ve spent some time as of late reading and listening to winemakers speak about growing grapes and making wine, but even the conversation here had an accent. There were terms that I knew well, but the direction that they brought to winemaking was fresh to me.
We spent the next couple of hours listening with rapt attention as these winemakers discussed their wines, their winemaking styles and the soils here at Presqu’ile Vineyards. Ernst Storm discussed his use of Acacia barrels, Dieter spoke to how he incorporates the concrete egg, we tasted with Kevin through his 2011 Pinot Noir to his 2012, two very different vintages and Ariki spoke about spoke of his love for one specific Cooper…I was so engrossed in the conversation that I almost completely missed the incredible charcuterie platter.
We drove back out through the rolling vineyards, feeling like we had not had enough time. I could have stayed all day talking with the winemakers, enjoying the wine and relaxing on this beautiful property. It’s okay…we’ll be back.

You can get an idea of what our day was like from the video here.  But…if you want to hear the full discussion, we will have it broken into 3 or 4 episodes and available in our “Dirt to Glass” series.

We also have  a great recipe for a Strawberry, citrus and avocado salad inspired by Ryan in the Presqu’ile Tasting room.  It is a great summertime pairing to go with their Rose of Pinot Noir .

Presqu’ile’s Winery, Vineyards and tasting room are located in the Santa Maria Valley at 5391 Presqu’ile Drive, 93455. You can reach them at 805-937-8110.

For more information on the entire Santa Barbara Wine Region visit the Santa Barbara Vintners.

A weekend in West Side Paso.

Paso-Robles-Feature

Our trip to Paso this time is a little more focused as we hit the North end of Vineyard Drive and the West end of Adelaida Road.  The big events we are attending are a Tasting through the Vineyard with Neil Collins (winemaker) and Levi Glenn (viticulturist) at Tablas Creek and a Vineyard View Sunset BBQ at Halter Ranch.  So our other tastings we chose to keep in the neighborhood.

Tablas Creek and Neil Collins you will find plenty of blog posts on.  They are perhaps my favorite winery on the planet.  This event will give us the history of the vineyard and winery as well and learning about the farming techniques and tasting grapes on some of the blocks and then the wines that have been made from them.  There will also be small bites to pair.  Really, this sounds like heaven to me and I can’t wait to tell you all about it when we get back!

Halter Ranch Spring Vines

Halter Ranch Spring Vines

At Halter Ranch we will enjoy a Vineyard View Sunset BBQ on the deck of the new winery.  The dinner line-up sounds amazing, and the views are sure to be spectacular.

At some point there will be lunch at Kukkula.  The name means hill or high place in Finnish. The vineyard is on 80 acres overlooking the Adelaida schoolhouse.  The tasting room is beautiful and modern and built into the hillside.  It was designed to be energy efficient.  They serve lunch on the weekends so this looks like a perfect spot.

We also plan to get out to DAOU which we missed doing on our last trip.  They will have music Friday afternoon, so the goal is to make it for that. This winery is perched at 2,200 feet on the hills on the south side of Adelaida Road.  The views from their Spanish Colonial style winery are spectacular.  An anomaly in this area of the valley, they grow and focus on Cabernet!  The property, the Hoffman Mountain Ranch was originally found by non other than Andre Tchelistecheff.  Dr. Hoffman purchased it in 1964 and this was the first commercial winery in Paso and…they grew Cab.  We will enjoy some music, taste some Cab and learn more about this amazing property!

Lone Madrone is Neil Collins personal label and he has a new tasting room across from Adelaida.  This is perfect to keep his tasting room and Tablas Creek close.  He sources grapes from small, locally owned and sustainable vineyards on west side Paso, working closely with the vineyards.  The new tasting room is in a converted barn and has two patios where you can enjoy the wine and the view.  I am hoping that we can also taste some of the Bristols Cider that Neil makes.

Jada, which is on Vineyard Drive, offers cheese pairings from Vivant, and how can you pass that up!  They have an open air tasting room and you can reserve tables on the patio.  They focus on Rhone and Bordeaux style wines here.

After reading Alice Feiring’s book “Naked Wine”, I felt I had to plan a visit to Carmody McKnight!  Gary and Marion Conway purchased this land near Justin more than 40 years ago and have been making “Natural Wines” here ever since.  Soil studies on the property show that there were once three volcanoes here and the soils here have been dubbed super soils and wonder soils that are seen nowhere else on the planet. So…we will taste their natural wines and learn about the super soils and get some of their opinions on “Natural Wines” which is a pretty hot topic these days!  Oh and on the celebrity side, Gary Conway began as an actor and artist and Marian McKnight Conway is a well-known former Miss America.   Their daughter Kathleen is the winemaker.

In all the times that we have been to this area of Paso Robles, we have never managed to stop at Pasolivo the olive oil company.  The trees here are over 15 years old and they are an award winning olive oil company.  With a variety of flavored oils I may just stock up!

Winemaker Kevin Riley is the consulting winemaker at Shale Oak and several other wineries locally.  Proulx (Pru) is his own winery with his wife Genoa.  The vineyard here is 55 years old.  In addition to their own fruit, they source from the best Paso vineyards.  This tiny winery produces just 1500 cases yearly.  Maybe, we will get lucky and Kevin will be around and we can talk winemaking with him!

And it’s close to harvest so we hope to get lost of great shots of grapes ready to pick, maybe some harvest action and get to speak with fabulous wine makers!

Yes, it’s an ambitious trip and while we want to fit lots in, we will stop along the way to smell the wine.  We will sadly have to edit stops on the way so that we can spend time and fully appreciate the places we do stop.  You can look forward to great blog posts on our return!

Halter Ranch – Tradition and Innovation

Halter Ranch Winery

In 1874 when Edwin Smith moved to Paso Robes the area of Halter Ranch was still known as Las Tablas.  This is the name of the creek that runs through the property and gives it’s name to the Haas/Perrin winery just over the hill. It wasn’t until the MacGillivray family purchased part of the property in 1943 that the first vines were planted.

Halter Ranch Spring Vines

Halter Ranch Spring Vines

Halter Ranch, as we know it today came about in 2000 when Hansjorg Wyss purchased 900 acres.  Halter is his mother’s maiden name. In 2008 he was ranked number 164 of the Forbes list of billionaires and he is the 2nd richest person in Switzerland.  Here we see his money being put to good use for wine lovers.  He is known for his philanthropy.  His Wyss Foundation places large parcels of land under government protection.  He is a by nature conservationist.

The vineyards here have been growing grapes and selling them to the best of the area’s wineries. They now have to wean wineries of their grapes as they establish their own label.  The ranch itself is over 1000 acres with less than ¼ of it devoted to vines.  They focus on Rhone and Bordeaux varieties.  Mr. Wyss conservationist attitude can be seen here.  The property has wildlife corridors for local mountain lions, badgers, bobcats and coyotes.  These corridors allow the animals to roam over large portions of land as they are meant to, rather than simply running into fences.  On the ranch you will also find the Ancestor Oak.  This Coastal oak is the world’s oldest.  It is 324 inches around, 55 feet tall and has a 104-foot crown.  On the property you will find insectaries, owl boxes and raptor perches.  They have a mobile chicken coup that was used to keep pests down, until they realized that the raptors loved chicken for lunch!

Halter Ranch Gravity Flow

Halter Ranch Gravity Flow

They began their own label in 2002 and the new winery is stunning.  They wooed Kevin Sass from Justin Winery here.  How could he resist!  The winery is gravity flow, which is great for the wines and lower in energy use.  Gravity flow is noted for producing smoother wines free of astringent tannins.  The winery has 4 self contained temperature controlled rooms and naturally cooled caves in the side of the mountain for barrel storage.

With 57 separate vineyard blocks and soil types from calcareous clay to clay loam with shale and sandstone deposits and a computerized tank monitoring system with enables Kevin to monitor and regulate the fermentation tanks temps from his desktop or phone, this is a winemakers dream.

The winery is also SIP certified which means they are sustainable not only in vineyard and winery practices toward the grapes, but also toward the staff also.  The winery has concrete catwalks so that the staff can easily get to the top of the tanks.  They also have the tanks on concrete pads to raise them making it much easier to clear out the must.

Halter Ranch Covered Bridge

Halter Ranch Covered Bridge

In addition to the stunning winery the property also houses a gorgeous covered bridge that connects the older buildings of the property with the new.  Across the bridge you will find the Historic Victorian Farmhouse that was built in the 1880s and was completely restored in 2001-2003 and the Silo Barn that was restored in 2012.  This property is a photographers dream!

Halter Ranch buildings

Halter Ranch buildings

And yes, the wines are lovely.

Halter Ranch Wine Glass

Halter Ranch Wine Glass

Santa Barbara…yes Again!

Life is better with WIne

I know…we were just there in April, but ya know, the wines in this area are really amazing!  We are headed back first to the Funk Zone to visit some more tasting rooms. We have waxed poetic on ABC (Au Bon Climat) and Municipal Winemakers, now it’s time to explore some of the other Funky Wine Tasting rooms.

Au Bon Climate & Municipal

Au Bon Climate & Municipal

The plan is lunch at Pierre Lafond’s Wine Bistro on State Street for lunch and a flight.  In 1962 Pierre Lafond opened the first winery in Santa Barbara County since prohibition.  Mr. Lafond originally had a wine and cheese shop that became the place to be for Santa Barbara wine lovers.

Pierre LaFond's Wine-Bistro

Pierre LaFond’s Wine-Bistro

He started Santa Barbara Winery and later Lafond Winery.  So…we will taste some wine, have some lunch and maybe try a little of the new Kambucha made locally that is now on the menu.  And hopefully we will find a seat out on the patio where we can absorb some of the State Street atmosphere.

After lunch we will head to Grassini Family Vineyards to do a chocolate pairing. They have a tasting room near ABC and Margerum.  Their vineyards are located on the east edge of the Santa Ynez Valley in Happy Canyon.  Oddly enough for this primarily Burgundian style region, they are growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot, all Bordeaux varieties.  I look forward to finding out why they decided to grow Cab and what makes their vineyard Cab friendly.  They also have solar panels and are a gravity flow winery so I look forward to finding out more about that!

AVA Santa Barbara

AVA Santa Barbara

Then we head to the funkier part of Santa Barbara and stop by AVA Santa Barbara where I need to check out the amazing Elkpen murals of the region.

This winery is a wine geeks dream, the murals are all educational with details on the climate in each of the regions AVA’s.  They have wines from each of the 5 AVA’s in the regions.  They are owned by Seth Kunin of Kunin wines.  This should be a great opportunity to get a little more of the details of the area under my belt, with a big map to guide me.

Conway's Deep Sea Winery

Conway’s Deep Sea Winery

After that we will hit as many other tasting rooms as is feasible and plan to get a nice sunset time-lapse out at the Deep Sea Tasting room on Stearns Wharf that night.  Kalyra, Santa Barbara Winery, Carr, Oreana, Kunin, Riverbench, and Pali…you could all see us knocking at your door!  We will try!

Next stop Los Olivos!

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Gravity flow wineries. Isn’t this just common sense?

Halter Ranch Gravity Flow

Gravity flow wineries.  Lately it’s a high tech term, but really it seems like common sense doesn’t it?  In Bordeaux Chateau Lynch-Bages built a tank house that employed a railed gravity flow system in 1850. The lower level held the vats and the upper level was for de-stemming and crushing so that the juice would flow (via gravity) into the vats below.

Gravity flow these days is seemingly expensive with huge complexes built to support this method.  The Palmaz Winery in Napa is the ultimate example of this. This is  the ultimate in gravity flow winery design.  This winery is built in Mount George in Napa.  The wine cave is 18 stories tall with fermentation tanks that rotate on a carousel under the crush pad.

 

Halter Ranch Wine Making Facility

Halter Ranch Wine Making Facility

Halter Ranch in Paso Robles just finished a beautiful new facility that is designed for gravity flow and ease of work flow for winery workers.   On top of that the place is stunning. ( more on Halter Ranch Soon)

Of course there are simpler methods.  Take Willakenzie Winery in Yamhill Oregon.  This winery is simply built to be 3 stories down the side of a hill.  The top floor is for sorting and de-stemming, the middle floor for fermentation and tank storage and the bottom floor for barrel storage.  The juice/wine flows from one floor down to the next via gravity.

But even small wineries can make this system work.  You just have to have your tanks higher than your barrels!  A simple hose from the tank to the barrel will work!  You save the expense of the pumping equipment as well as the maintenance and energy costs.  This method is a bit more time consuming though.  You can fill a barrel in 4 to 5 hours, but…if you don’t wish the gravity to push too hard on your wine, you might adjust your hose to allow the juice to flow more slowly taking 7 to 8 hours to fill a barrel.  So if you are a big mass producing winery you probably don’t want to take the time to do this.  But…if you are in the business of making good wine…

So what kind of damage can pumping do to wine?  From the top you want to gently press the grapes and have them release their juice.  Crushing is actually a pretty harsh word.  In crushing the concern is breaking the seeds and imparting the astringent tannins into your wine. (of course there are winemakers who utilize the tannins in both seeds and stems to great result! ie Brewer/Clifton)  Pumping can force through solids and then requiring additional filtration for your wine.  Pumping also imparts oxygen into the wine and this can affect the aging of the wine.  Pumping can be especially unwanted with the more nuanced varieties of wine like pinot noir as it can disturb the subtleties in the wine.

From an environmental standpoint it is reducing the energy use.  You don’t have to pay for gravity on the electric bill!  Building a gravity flow winery in the beginning will save you energy and equipment cost in the end.

So does it make the wine better?  Well, it treats it more gently and after we torture the grapes on the vine, that seems to be the preferred method of treating them post harvest.  It is energy efficient and seems to be kinda common sense (work smarter not harder!).  In the end there are so many variables.  When you use gravity flow you are again trying to have as little outside influence on the grape as possible.   After that it is in the winemaker’s hands.  And…well before that it is in the vineyard managers hands, as well as the weather.  So many variables.  All in all, a gravity flow system is an ideal, that can be put into practice with a little forethought in building.  It is environmentally better and should in the long run be cheaper.  As to it making the wine taste better?  Maybe it’s time for a comparison test!?  (Any excuse to taste more wine!)