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
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
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
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
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.
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.