Illahe into the Cellar, out to the vineyard and back in time

Illahe Vineyard-Cellar

We continue our visit with Lowell Ford of Illahe Vineyard in the proposed Mt. Pisgah/Polk County AVA in the Willamette Valley, by leaving the upper level of their gravity flow winery and heading into their new wine cave completed in 2015. Both the winery with it’s barrel shaped ceiling and the wine cave, set into the hill behind the winery, were designed by Laurence Ferar and Associates from Portland.

  • Illahe Vineyard-Cellar
  • Illahe Vineyards Cellar
  • Illahe Vineyards Cellar Skylight

The Cave is cool and the walls are lined with barrels and our voices echo as we enter it’s dark interior. Once inside the cave, even before Kathy turns on the lights, you find there is still light, due to an skylight at the end of the cave inset into the ceiling. There is a sense of reverence in here. While the cave can hold around 200 barrels, at this time of year there are fewer, so we have ample room to quietly walk in and take in the space.

Lowell tells us how the cave was installed in three sections that were precast, with rebar sliding into place to fit the puzzle pieces together. There are wall sconces to light the space, although those get turned off when they are working on the 1899. The Bon Sauvage, Percheron and 1899, all barrel age here before release.

Vineyard Practices

We leave the cool confines of the cave to walk out to the Vineyard, where Lowell shows us some bunches that are still full of bright green hard berries (it was early July when we visited). These bunches are filled with evenly sized berries, something he’s pretty happy about. “I don’t see any hens and chicks!” “That’s good news!”

Illahe Vineyard grapes
Illahe Vineyard grapes

We proceed to talk about vineyard maintenance, the use of sulfur to prevent downy mildew and other practices.  They are LIVE Certified, and they have 6.5 acres that are farmed organically. The difficulty with that, it that to keep away the downy mildew, and other issues, they must spray every 7 days, which means they have to run a tractor through. These are the difficult choices in agriculture do you use the organic sprays which must be used more often to be effective, but then cause you to get out the tractor twice a week and burn fossil fuels?

They also use no coppers here. They are Salmon Safe and were named the Hero of Salmon in 2018.

We take in the view again as we move to the beautiful front patio, where we sit down and talk about the 1899. (I promised to give you some insights on this wine right?)

Illahe 1899 Pinot Noir

Lowell Ford, Illahe Vineyards
Lowell Ford on the patio at Illahe Vineyard

What he came up with was the process in which we take the winemaking activity and break it down very distinctly into it’s individual components. And there’s the genius of it.

Lowell Ford, speaking of his son and winemaker Brad Ford and his idea to create the 1899 Pinot Noir
Illahe Vineyard 2015 "1899" Pinot Noir
Illahe Vineyard 2015 “1899” Pinot Noir

The 1899 is made with the resources that would have been available in 1899. That means, without modern equipment and without electricity. Bea and Doc, the Percheron Draft Horses do a bit of work helping to get the grapes to the winery. In 2017 Bea had a lame leg on the day they were harvesting, and couldn’t pull the wagon. So while the harvest crew kept harvesting, the winemaking team got busy hauling the small buckets of ripe berries up the hill from the vineyard into the winery.

Doc & Bea, Illahe Vineyard Horses
Doc & Bea, Illahe Vineyard Horses

Once in the winery, everything gets de-stemmed by hand and goes into their wooden fermenting tanks. Here they are foot stomped.

Illahe wooden fermentation tanks

After a 10 day soak they have a wooden basket press and then it is pumped into barrel. They have a bicycle that provides the power for the pumping and there are races to see who can fill a barrel fastest.

Illahe Vineyard Tasting room, 1899 Bike Pump
Illahe Vineyard Tasting room, 1899 Bike Pump

Bottling, corking and labeling are done by hand. The label is printed by a letterpress.

Then how to get it to market? They don’t skimp on this process either. It travels by Stagecoach to the river, by canoe 96 miles on the river and then by cargo bike into Portland.

We got the story from Lowell, but if you want to check out Brad (Lowell’s son and the winemaker at Illahe) you can watch this great video that they produced. Illahe 1899 Pinot Noir

For more details on Illahe you can check out these additional pieces we have done on this remarkable vineyard and winery.

More from Crushed Grape Chronicles on Illahe Vineyards

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.

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

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.