It’s Oregon Wine Month

Vista Hills Vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA

It’s no secret that I’m kinda infatuated with Oregon wines. More than just the wines…it’s the people behind them. That whole “Keep Portland Weird” thing, kinda speaks for much of Oregon. But then again, with all the delicious weirdness, there is a simple, elegant classy side also. I love it so much, let’s delve in a little.

Willamette Valley Wine Country panorama
Willamette Valley Wine Country panorama

The Oregon Wine Trailblazers

This is a relatively new region for wine. The first winery, post prohibition, appeared in southern Oregon’s Umpqua Valley back in 1961, thanks to Richard Sommer who refused to listen to the UC Davis folks who told him it wouldn’t work. There were a couple of other UC Davis grads who bucked the trends in the mid to late 60’s and headed North including David Lett (Eyrie Vineyards), Dick Erath (yep, you guessed it, Erath) and Charles Coury (which is now David Hill Winery). If you have been into a wine store (or a grocery store) you will recognize Erath. Obviously growing grapes here worked.

My Introduction to Oregon Wine – At Home in the Vineyard

I’ll admit that my knowledge of early Oregon wine history came from reading Susan Sokol Blosser’s book “At Home in the Vineyard”. this memoir is her personal story of the struggle to build the Sokol Blosser Winery in the Dundee Hills. These were not people with money looking to invest and have a retreat in a vineyard. They were idealists and they struggled with the weather and the soils as they figured our this new area for wine. This was the way for many of the early vineyard owners and winemakers and it’s still that way for many today. (I had a wonderful conversation with Annedria Beckham of Beckham vineyards in the Chehalem Mountains that I will share with you soon, about the continuing struggles of planting and growing their vineyard and winery).

I encourage you to visit the fantastic site of the Oregon Wine Board and read all about the history of this great region.

Early visit circa 2011

My introduction to Oregon wine came with a visit back in 2011. We came to spend 3 or 4 days, visit wine country and catch up with an old friend of mine. We stayed at the cottage at Winter Hill. Winter Hill Winery is in the Dundee Hills, the cottage was over the hill with a separate entrance. There were chickens running about and an amazing view of the area and the stars from the porch.

On this visit we took in, Winter Hill Winery, Erath, Youngberg Hill, Stoller Family Estate, Lange Estate, Argyle, Cana’s Feast, Willakenzie, Rex Hill, Trisaetum, Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Sokol Blosser, Torii Mor, Vidon & Vista Hills. It’s a list, I know!

I remember them all. Here are a few of the stories…

Winter Hill

Winter Hill at the time was tasting in the middle of the working winery on a folding table. It was a humble for a tasting room, but warm and friendly, and we got a first hand look at the wines with the people who were putting their heart and soul into the endeavor.

Youngberg Hill

Michael was driving to get to us Youngberg Hill and Adam (my friend who had been married there just a year before) was giving directions. Adam and I got busy talking and we missed a turn, and then another. We arrived to views and VIP treatment thanks to Adam. The views here are wedding worthy that’s for sure!

Stoller

The view from Stoller Winery Dundee HIlls Oregon 2011
The view from Stoller 2011

At Stoller, Adam was also a member, and he was doing a pick up, so we got a little extra special treatment. I remember a Tempranillo they had that I wish we would have taken home with us. And I remember a story about the honey that they were hoping to get from hives in a black berry patch part way up the hill.

Lange

Up on the hill at Lange, we were greeted by Jack, the vineyard cat and stepped into the tiny tasting room where they were boxing up their wine club shipment. I remember a moving experience tasting their Pinot Noir (if I close my eyes, I can still taste it).

Argyle

Argyle tasting room Dundee Oregon circa 2011
Argyle tasting room Dundee Oregon circa 2011

At Argyle we enjoyed some bubbles and I got hooked on their Black Brut. This was back when Rollin Soles the pioneering vintner was still the winemaker. I remember thinking how cool it was that Lyle Lovett was his friend from college. They are two unique and iconic individuals in their own right.

Vidon

When we visited Vidon, we met Don the owner, when he came in off the tractor. Don was still busy in the vineyard back then. He was a particle physicist by training and worked with NASA before he purchased the property in the Chehalem Mountains in 1999. We also visited Vista Hills. It was late in the day, and close to the cottage and they snuck us in as their last tasting. The views are stunning and the wines delicious. We returned to them on our last trip again, just before the announcement that they had been purchased by Coppola.

We’ve waxed poetic on some of this before…

You can read a little about the Stoller Tempranillo, the Lange Pinot Noir and the Argyle Black Brut in our piece Wines I can’t forget Part 1

Or about that Trisaetum Coastal Riesling in Wines I Can’t forget Part 3.

And in our piece on Gravity flow wineries, we talk a bit about Willakenzie.

Returning to Oregon in 2018

Last year we returned to this region that had so enchanted us. We spent 5 days exploring AVA’s within the Willamette Valley. Actually trying to visit each of the AVA’s and the proposed AVA’s. We gathered so much content, that we are still putting out pieces! We also were able to enjoy the last “Uncommon Wine Festival” at Vista Hills, where we spent a day tasting and talking with up and coming wine makers.

  • Winemakers setting up for the Uncommon wine Festival at Vista Hills
  • Deven & Calli with Joyful Noise
  • Vista Hills Uncommon Wine Festival Ryan Pickens
  • Libertine Wines, Alex Neely
  • Libertine Bottle Shots
  • Libertine Pouring Botrytis Reisling
  • a Cheerful Note, Ariel Eberle
  • A Cheerful Note with Ariel Eberle, the story behind the label
  • Ross & Bee Maloof
  • Maloof 2017 Where ya Pjs at?
  • Leah Jørgensen Wine - inspired by the Loire Valley
  • 2016 Oregon "Tour Rain" Vin Rouge
  • Fossil & Farm Jim & Jenny

You can see Mega Mix Video and read about the day at Vista Hills Vineyard and the Uncommom Wine Festival.

Willamette Valley AVAs

Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association
Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association Map data by everyvine.com, design by John Fisher, geologic cross section by Timothy A. Cross, special thanks to Patrick Reuter.”

We did a Primer on this that you can read here. We managed to visit most of the AVAs.

Current Willamette Valley AVAs

We managed to visit a winery or tasting room representing each of the current AVAs

  • Chehalem Mountains AVA from Beckham Vineyards
  • Trisaetum Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA
  • Vista Hills Sunset Dundee Hills-
  • View of Yamhill-Carlton from Fairsing vineyard
  • Johan Vineyards in the proposed Van Duzer Corridor AVA
  • McMinnville AVA
  • Brittan Vineyards in the McMinnville AVA
  • The Eola Amity Hills
  • Chehalem Mountains AVA – est 2006 where we visited Beckham Vineyards and met both Annedria and Andrew.
  • Dundee Hills AVA – est 2005 where we visited Vista Hills to taste their wine as well as enjoy the hospitality of the Uncommon Wine Festival
  • Eola-Amity Hills AVA – est 2006. We visited the Evening Land tasting room in Dundee and then drove to see the vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills.
  • McMinnville AVA – est 2005. We visited Brittan Vineyards tasting room and then did a drive by of the McMinnville vineyard on the way to the coast.
  • Ribbon Ridge AVA – est 2005, where we revisited Trisaetum.
  • Van Duzer Corridor AVA – est 2019, actually established after we visited! We visited Johan here and fell in love.
  • Yamhill-Carlton AVA – est 2005. We spent a wonderful evening enjoy the sunset view at Fairsing Vineyard (along with smores!)

Proposed Willamette Valley AVAs

In addition there are 4 more proposed AVAs, which include:

  • Illahe Panorama
  • Lowell Ford, Illahe Vineyards
  • Montinore Vineyards sign
  • Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estate
  • Panorama from Ponzi
  • Mt Pisgah/Polk County AVA. Located near Salem, we spent 1/2 a day with Lowell Ford owner of Illahe Vineyard.
  • Laurelwood AVA. We visited Ponzi Vineyards in this proposed AVA which is the Northern facing slopes of the Chehalem Mountains.
  • Tualatin Hills AVA. Located North of Yamhill-Carlton and West of Chehalem Mountians, we visited with Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estate.
  • Lower Long Tom AVA. Okay…we didn’t make it here. It is far south between Corvalis and Eugene and there was just not enough time.

Do it!

Our trailer on Willamette Valley AVAs and proposed AVAs

Get yourself to Oregon. You won’t regret it. Be it the Willamette Valley or further south in the Umpqua, Applegate or Rogue Valleys. Or maybe you head to some of those border areas that share AVAs with Washington. (they are good about sharing in Oregon)

You can find great information on Oregon from the Oregon Wine Board, Willamette Valley Wineries and the Southern Oregon Winery Association to get you started!

And don’t forget to check back here! We have loads of posts on our last trip and there will be more as we head back again this July!

More on Oregon wine Country

Here are a few you might want to check out:

And there are more, check the bottom of each page for other related pieces.

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

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.

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.

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!

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