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.

Illahe – flowers, deep roots, happy cows and birds…oh and wine grapes.

Illahe Vineyards Patio Panorama

We made the drive toward the southern part of the Willamette Valley to visit Illahe.  (ILL-a-he)  We were staying in Newburg and took the opportunity to get up early and drive south through the Eola-Amity Hills and then down to Salem.  In Salem we made a stop along the Willamette River at Minto-Brown Island Park for a little morning hiking and to see the river.  We headed back across the river and along Rt. 22 to Rickreall and then south and west to Illahe Vineyards.  This area is Southwest of the Eola-Amity Hills AVA.  The area has a proposal in to become a new AVA which would be the Mt. Pisgah/Polk County AVA.  Illahe is one of nine vineyards that would be located in this new AVA.

This is part 2 in our series (the folks at Illahe were kind enough to spend the whole morning with us!). Check out part one with an audio recording here.

Illahe Vineyard Tasting room
Illahe Vineyard Tasting room

After a bit of tasting with Vineyard Owner Lowell Ford and tasting room manager Kathy, Lowell took us out front to the patio that overlooks the vineyard.

The view is wide and bucolic.  Lowell first planted back in 2001 with 22 acres of Pinot Noir.  The vineyard is now 60 acres of the 80-acre slope and includes 7 varieties.  They also grow estate fruit on the 120-acre family vineyard at Glenn Creek which is back near Salem.

This vineyard is planted south facing for heat with rows planted north to south.  There is one small exception where the vineyard was very steep, and the rows could not run north south for safety reasons.

Native flowers

Illahe Vineyard-Flora
Illahe Vineyard-Flora

One thing we noticed on our drive in and from our vantage point looking down on the vineyard was the bright pops of color from flowers in the vineyard.  They have planted baby blue eyes, which by the time we visited were a bright pink/purple color.  They worked with the soil and conservation district and have planted every other row to a different cover crop of flowers.  The idea is to return the area to the native savannah that it was before the European settlers arrived with native species. There are poppies, which sadly only a few were in still in bloom when we visited and 5 or 6 other varieties of flowers in a 2.5-acre spot in the vineyard.  As you look out, you see some areas with more color where they planted these cover crop flowers more densely to help combat erosion.  Eventually they would like to use this practice throughout the entire vineyard.

The Pros and cons

The bad news first…many of these flowers grow very tall which creates issues for the vineyard workers and trouble with mowing.

On the plus side, these plants de-vigor the vines, causing them to pull back on their green growth.

Water in the Vineyard and the Deep Roots Coalition

They, like most vineyards began with irrigation, as young vines, especially in the first three years need a little extra help as they establish their root system.  They have since joined the Deep Roots Coalition.   The organization believes that when you don’t irrigate, the roots dig deeper, giving you a truer expression of the terroir. 

Deep Roots Coalition is based out of nearby Salem and includes 26 vineyards in the Willamette Valley.  Their group looks to make terroir driven wines from sustainable agriculture.  Dry farming accomplishes both of these things.

We promote sustainable and terroir-driven viticulture without irrigation.

Wine should reflect the place from which it emanates: its terroir. Irrigation prevents the true expression of terroir. In most cases, irrigation is not a sustainable method of farming. The members of drc, winemakers and vineyard growers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, are committed to producing world-class wines solely from dry-farmed vines.

From the http://www.deeprootscoalition.org/

I asked Lowell if there was a water table that the roots could be heading toward.  There is he told me “about 12-15 feet down”.  With the Willakenzie soil they have a dense black clay from the Missoula floods that is very hard.  As they were putting in the vineyard, they had to tile a section as there was water coming out from a hole in the side of the hill creating a mud hole.

Mostly Pinot Noir

Most of the grapes planted here are Pinot Noir, with the Lion’s share going to the very popular Estate Pinot Noir. They also have 3 other Pinots their Bon Savage from the lower blocks, the Percheron and the 1899.

Illahe Vineyard Tasting room, Bottle Shots
Illahe Vineyard Tasting room, Bottle Shots

Other varieties

As we looked over the vineyard, Lowell pointed out a section of two rows that was shorter and lighter in color than the rest. This is the Schioppettino that was planted down in what he calls “Little Italy”, where they also grow Lagrein, and Teraldego. 

Side note: Schioppettino is the word for “gunshot” in Italian.  This wine is often dry with black cherry and spicy, sharp black pepper.

In addition, they have 15 rows of Grüner Veltliner, plus some Pinot Gris, Viognier and some Tempranillo that they make into a rosé.

Happy Cows

We looked out and could see a tractor moving.  David, their neighbor was out feeding his cattle and while he was over a quarter mile away, you could clearly hear the tractor.  This prompted Lowell to share with us a story about the cattle.  Early on as they started making wine, they were looking for a way to use the pomace (the grape skins and seeds that are left after the wine has been pressed).  As a natural product he and David thought they could feed it to the cows!  Lowell took a truck load over to dump near the shed and noticed the cows got aggressive, jumping up and shoving each other out of the way.

David called later to say the cows were drunk and they were not good drunks.  They now blend the pomace with hay, which keeps the cows happy with less of a buzz, since they obviously can’t hold their liquor!

The Bird issue

We saw raptors, northern harriers and white-tailed kites. Oregon is home to many raptors. Lowell enjoys seeing these birds who often cause starlings to disappear in a big puff.  I might sound cruel, but starlings can wreak havoc on a vineyard. There have been years when starlings appeared as a huge cloud migrating from Alaska.  During harvest propane cannons which cause periodic explosive bursts that will scare the piss out of you and squawkers, which are recordings of birds in distress are used to keep the birds away, so they don’t eat all the fruit.  Lowell says each of these techniques works for about 2 weeks until the birds catch on.  Robins (not me!) can be an issue also. Luckily for him, the last four years the birds have been less of a problem.

From here we headed back into the winery, to fill our glasses again and talk about the wine making techniques.

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.

Want to know more?

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.

We will also be back with a tour through the winery, the vineyard and cave as well as a discussion with Lowell on their 1899 Pinot Noir project.

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

Illahe Vineyards – Stepping back to a simpler time

Illahe Vineyards, Tasting Room

Well, I suppose “simpler” is all about perspective.  They have a wine here called 1899 that they do with all the conveniences that could be had at that time.  That means no tractors, no electricity, no motorized vehicles. 

Illahe means “earth” or “place” or “soil” in the Chinook local dialect.

Illahe Vineyard
Illahe Vineyard

We visited Illahe this past July and spent the morning with Lowell Ford, the owner and grower.  He and their Hospitality Manager Kathy took us through a tasting and a tour of the Winery and Vineyard. 

The proposed Mount Pisgah, Polk County AVA

The winery and vineyard are located in the middle part of the Willamette Valley, West of Salem near Dallas Oregon.  This area is part of the overarching Willamette Valley AVA and Illahe winemaker Brad Ford (Lowell’s son) has started the process of creating a Mount Pisgah, Polk County AVA. 

The AVA covers 5,850 acres, 15 miles west of Salem and home to 10 commercial vineyards, including Freedom Hill, and two bonded wineries: Amalie Roberts Estate and Illahe Vineyards. Mount Pisgah, named by settlers in the 1800s in honor of a hill back home in Missouri, has 531 acres of vines — mostly Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay — planted from 260 to 835 feet in elevation.

https://www.oregonwinepress.com/gaining-ground

The Vineyards at Illahe

Grape Varieties

Illahe Vineyard
Illahe Vineyard

While the Primary focus here is Pinot Noir, they have planted Pinot Gris, Grüner Veltliner, Tempranillo, Viognier and then small bits of Lagrein, Schioppettino and Teroldego.

Sustainability

The vineyard is LIVE-certified and they take pride in working by hand.  They are using native flowers as cover crops, which is good for the soil and makes for stunning vineyard shots.

The winery is built on the hill and is set up to be gravity flow. They also use solar power.

The site and soils

The site is south-facing with spectacular views from their patio in front of the winery.  Their elevation here ranges from 250-440 feet.  They get earlier budbreak and a bit of the Van Duzer Winds. On Mount Pisgah they get a little less of the extreme temps and winds than those vineyards in the proposed Van Duzer Corridor.

Illahe Vineyard
Illahe Vineyard

Soils here are Willakenzie sedimentary clay (Bellpine, Dupee, Wellsdale) with sections of volcanic Jory soil.

They use some Acacia barrels here, and the winery was designed for it’s roof to make you feel as if you are inside a barrel.

The 1899 Pinot Noir

Without electricity for their 1899, they revert to bicycle power to do pump overs.  Everything here is done by hand.  The Percheron’s plow the fields, the harvest is by hand, the bottling, labeling etc.  Then they have a carriage take the wine to the river and there is a two day canoe trip north and then they bicycle the wine to market.  Yep… maybe not “simpler” right.  But worth the effort.

Illahe Vineyard
Illahe Vineyard

To visit Illahe

You can look forward to a journey through the winery and into the cellar with Lowell coming up.  In the meantime if you want to visit them To schedule an appointment email Kathy: [email protected] or call 503-831-1248.

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

Soupe aux choux and a Grüner Veltliner from Illahe

Illahe2017 Estate Gruner Velthiner with Cabbage Soup

“On the fourth day of wine my true love pulled out of the cellar for me, a Grüner Veltliner from Illahe.”

Illahe Vineyards

ILLAHE, pronounced Ill-Uh-Hee, is a local Chinook word meaning “earth” or “place” or “soil”

From the Illahe Vineyards site

This summer we visited Illahe Vineyards in the Willamette Valley.  Illahe is located in the southern part of the Willamette Valley west of Salem.  They are within the proposed Mt. Pisgah/Polk County AVA. 

If you want more details on the AVAs and proposed AVAs in the Willamette Valley, you can check out our post https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/oregons-willamette-valley-avas-a-primer/

We spent a morning at the vineyard with Lowell Ford who owns runs the vineyard with his wife Pauline.  Their son Brad Ford is the winemaker and the force behind the proposed Mt. Pisgah/Polk County AVA.

Illahe Vineyard in the proposed Mount Pisgah/Polk County AVA
Illahe Vineyard in the proposed Mount Pisgah/Polk County AVA

Sitting on the patio in front of the winery you look south down the slope and  across the vineyard.  They sit between 225 and 440 feet here.  They get earlier budbreak, as they are a warmer site than most in the Willamette Valley, but they also get the Van Duzer winds which cool the vineyard in the evening and give them a long growing season.

Illahe 2017 Estate Grüner Veltliner

While they primarily focus on Pinot Noir (and we look forward to a future post telling you all about those, including teaser their 1899 which is made) , they also grow Pinot Gris, Grüner Veltliner, Tempranillo, Viognier, Langrein, Schioppettino and Teroldego.  Today we will focus on the Grüner that we picked up when we visited.

Illahe 2017 Grüner Veltliner
Illahe 2017 Grüner Veltliner

I reached out to Kathy, who runs their tasting room and had set us up for our visit and interview and she kindly put us in touch with Brad the winemaker.   Brad responded with this great description of the wine, followed by a simple seasonal pairing:

The 2017 Illahe grüner veltliner introduces itself with light but dense aromas of dried peach, honey crisp apple, and fresh cedar board. This wine is fermented partially in acacia barrels which offer herbal flavors and a complex texture. The palate also contains flavors of red grapefruit, graham cracker, and white nectarine. The balanced acid and strong mouthfeel create a beautiful wine ready for drinking or aging.
A nice, simple pairing for the gruner in the wintertime is a soupe aux choux, or cabbage soup. The lightness and fattiness of the soup pair well with a white wine like gruner. I like a homemade chicken broth and homemade sourdough wheat bread for the croute. Of course, a little pinch of classic gruner white pepper on top of the soup is the kicker.


Brad Ford, Winemaker Illahe Vineyards
Illahe 2017 Estate Gruner Velthiner with Cabbage Soup
Illahe 2017 Estate Gruner Velthiner with Cabbage Soup

Soupe aux Choux

Some refer to this as “Old Shoe Soup” (that would be Brits who were poking fun at the French words).  This is a simple Cabbage soup.  I searched through a few recipes and then adapted one to fit. 

Here is the link to the recipe I based my soupe aux choux on https://www.thefrenchcookingacademy.com/cabbage-soup/

For my Soupe aux Choux I deviated a little from the recipe, with turkey stock from Thanksgiving, using bacon I had on hand and adding some par boiled potatoes left from the tartiflette I made earlier this week.

Tastings and Pairings

Michael was a bit skeptical of “cabbage soup”  I reassured him, letting him know there was bacon in it.  Regardless he requested a back up of fish and chips for lunch.  So we paired both.

He was pleasantly surprised at the soupe aux choux and finished off most of his bowl.  The fish and chips we found only paired with the addition of tartar sauce.

Illahe2017 Estate Gruner Velthiner with Fish and Chips
Illahe2017 Estate Gruner Velthiner with Fish and Chips

We found the wine needed to open a bit and warm to let out the nose.  I did get honey crisp apples, a hazy bit of white pepper and wet stones on the nose.  Later I noted something woodsy which…hmmm okay we can call it cedar board.  On the palate I got a tartness which yes, reminded me with the bitter notes in the background of pink or red grapefruit and then under ripe apricots.

The soup was light, but warm and lovely and was perfect for the pairing on this cloudy day, to enjoy as the early afternoon sun peaked through the clouds and my windows.  The croute which was sour dough baguette was topped with gouda which for me kicked the flavor up a notch and gave the Grüner even more to play with.

To visit Illahe:

To schedule an appointment email Kathy: [email protected] or call 503-831-1248.

We will have more on our visit with Illahe in the future, including our visit to their beautiful cellar and discussions on their 1899 Pinot Noir.

Want more?  Click through to all of our 12 Days of Wine posts!

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