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 – 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.

Crushed Grape Chronicles & a visit to Illahe Vineyards

Illahe Vineyard

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. We talked with Kathy Greysmith, until Lowell Ford the owner and grape grower arrived and then we had a conversation about how things got started and some of the reasons for their philosophy and direction they chose with their Winery. This is the primer for the next 4 Video’s. Geek out with us.

Take a listen as we talk with Kathy Greysmith and Lowell Ford, discussing Illahe Wines.

A Family Affair – a few people and alot of hats

Illahe is a small family based winery.  Lowell Ford is the owner and grape grower along with his wife Pauline, his son Brad is the winemaker and Brad’s wife, Bethany, deals with the marketing and National Sales, so it really is a family affair.  They have an Associate Winemaker, Nathan and Cellar Master Howard and then Kathy. Kathy Greysmith, who was our contact, is their tasting room manager and deals with sales, membership and whatever other office work comes up.  They all wear many hats.  There It’s a labor of love that makes for some great wine.

Soil types here are different from Dundee, side by side tastings will tell you that.  The climate is a little different also as they are further south. The terroir expresses itself in those differences.  When they initially planted, they took the time to experiment in the vineyard, to see what would do best. 

Illahe Grüner Veltliner

One of their early experimentation was with Grüner Veltliner and many of the different whites from Germany to see how they did. The Grüner was the star of the bunch.

Grüner Veltliner is mostly grown in Austria, they think of it as an “autochthonous” grape in the region. (that’s a big old technical term for grapes that are almost exclusively the result of a mutation or cross breeding in a specific area, that also have a long history in that area).  It is thought to be a crossing between Traminer and possibly St. Georgen, both grapes that are indigenous to Austria. While most believe it expresses itself best in Austria, I can tell you that it is creating beautiful wine here at Illahe in Oregon. 

Illahe Vineyard Tasting room, Acacia Barrels
Illahe Vineyard Tasting room, Acacia Barrel

The wine gives you crisp apple, stone fruit and then some herbal qualities from being partially fermented in acacia barrels. It, like all their white wines is a very reasonable $19 per bottle and you can find it here.

Back in the fall we asked Brad for a winter pairing with this wine and he suggested a Soupe aux choux (cabbage soup) You can read about that pairing with the link below.

Hedging bets on Climate Change with other varieties

They also planted Lagrein, Teraldego and Schioppettino wines from the base of the alps in Italy.  All three are growing well in their “little Italy” block.  They felt it important to experiment and will likely continue.  With Climate change you can’t move the vineyard, so you have to hedge your bets and look to varietals that may do better as the conditions in the vineyard change.

We have heard this before.  If you read our piece on Montinore, you will know that they are also growing Lagrein and Teraldego.  Experimenting with these Italian varieties for much the same reason.  We spoke with Rudy Marchesi about this at the end of our Barrel Tasting with him at Montinore.

Pushing the envelope – trying new things

Brad is creative.  He wants to try new things.  This is how the 1899 came about, their wine made using the technology that would have been available in 1899.  (More on that later).  They have 6 different clones of Pinot Noir as well as Pinot Grigio (clone VCR5) sourced from the base of the Alps.  (As we talked, we tasted the 2017 Pinot Gris).  50% of the Pinot Gris was made it what Kathy calls the Hobbit Barrel (Lowell tells the story at around 4:30 in about how they came to have this barrel.)

Barrel Illahe for Pinot Gris with Kathy and Lowell
The Hobbit Barrel as Kathy calls it at Illahe.

We talk about their Tempranillo Rose which sells out annually.  We only get to talk about it, we don’t get to taste it. Released on Valentines Day, it sells out by Memorial Day.  Every year they increase their production, and every year they still sell out by Memorial Day.

On to the Pinot Noirs

Lowell had planned to be a grower. He thought he would have a vineyard not a winery.  He would grow the grapes and in the off season he and his wife would travel.  Brad changed all that.  But…at least he did it wisely.

As they planted the vineyard, every tenth row, every 20th plant, Brad kept detailed records on for 3 years. This included pruning, weights, brix, blossom time…very detailed.  They found the sweet spots in the vineyard.  The Percheron block…that was the sweet spot. This block also happened to be next to where originally Lowell had planted his riesling.   So, sadly the Riesling made way for the Pinot Noir. This block is typically their earliest ripening.  You will find clones 777, Wadenswil 2 and Swan.

Illahe Vineyard Tasting room, Bottle Shots
Illahe Vineyard Tasting room, the Pinot Noirs

Continue with us as we head out front to view the vineyard and talk about some of the growing practices.

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.