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.

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.


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.

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Chef’s Tasting Menu at Masso Osteria

squid ink rigatoni served with spicy king crab and a calamari ragu with tomatoes at Masso Osteria

Masso Osteria is Chef Scott Conant’s new restaurant at the Red Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.  The property is off strip, near Red Rock National Park and is a stunning facility.  Masso Osteria just opened in February.  Their website describes their goal as “to create unforgettable dining experiences rooted in soulful cooking and generous hospitality.”  I cannot describe it more perfectly.  The service was impeccable.  Our waiter Nick took great care with us, explaining courses and making sure we had an amazing experience.

Six course Chef’s Tasting Menu at Masso Osteria

We chose the Chef’s Tasting Menu, which is a 6 course menu served family style.  The portions are generous and most of the courses include 2 dishes, so come hungry.  When we asked about wine pairings they offered to put together pairings for each course for us.  This is not yet on the menu, but may be added in the future.

First course – Recco Style Garlic Bread with Gambino Prosecco

Recco Style Garlic Bread Masso Osteria

Recco Style Garlic Bread

They started us off with a glass of Gambino Prosecco, Extra Dry from Veneto, to accompany the Recco Style Garlic Bread (think of an Italian quesadilla).  It is wood fired and filled with stracchino cheese.  Don’t try to eat it all, there is so much more food coming. The Prosecco, while made in the Charmant method, has fine and persistent bubbles and was a great palate cleanser with the cheese.

Second Course Kale Salad & Tuno Crudo with 2015 Pio Cesare Cortese de Gavi


Kale salad Masso Osteria

Kale salad with almonds and an avocado vinaigrette

Tuna Crudo at Masso Osteria

Tuna Crudo with red leaf greens, lemon and pickled fresno chilies

The second course of Kale salad (baby kale) with parmesan, almonds and green onions in an avocado vinaigrette and the Tuna Crudo with red leaf greens, lemon and pickled fresno chilies (those are a little warm, so beware) was paired with a 2015 Pio Cesare Cortese di Gavi. This is 100% Cortese (the grape variety) from hillside vineyards in the Gavi DOCG in the Piedmont region of Italy.  The wine was bright and clean, with a great depth of flavor and notes that reminded me of a Sauvignon Blanc, it paired beautifully with both dishes.

We return to “service here”  it wasn’t until researching later that I realized that the gentleman who came by to pour this wine for us and patiently spell the name so that I could note it, was indeed the restaurant GM Rudy Aguas.

Third Course – Creamy Polenta & Wood Roasted Octopus with 2016 Tormaresca Chardonnay di Puglia

Creamy Polenta with bacon truffles and mushrooms at Masso Osteria

Creamy Polenta with bacon, truffles and mushrooms at Masso Osteria

Wood roasted octopus at Masso Osteria

Wood roasted octopus

The third course was their signature Creamy Polenta with bacon, truffles and mushrooms.  It is rich, I mean RICH, and decadent.  The other dish in this course was the Wood roasted octopus.  I typically don’t eat octopus, (they are just too smart, and they like to decorate, how can you eat someone who likes to decorate), but since he had already given his life and was sitting before me on the table…it was delicious, perfectly cooked with grape tomatoes, greens, onions and a potato aioli.  This paired with the 2016 Tormaresca Chardonnay di Puglia.  This Chardonnay from Puglia in the “boot” of Italy, is a little heavier in body than the Cortese allowing it to stand up to the polenta.  This is a stainless steel Chard with grapes pulled from two Tormaresca estates in San Pietro Vernotico and Minervino Murge. The nose is rounded citrus and flowers.


Fourth Course Pasta al Pomodoro and Squid Ink Rigatoni with 2015 Chianti Castiglioni

Pasta al Pomodoro at Masso Osteria

Pasta al Pomodoro at Masso Osteria

squid ink rigatoni served with spicy king crab and a calamari ragu with tomatoes at Masso Osteria

Squid ink rigatoni served with spicy king crab and a calamari ragu with tomatoes at Masso Osteria

The fourth course was our Pasta Course.  It included the house specialty Pasta al Pomodoro.  It is a simple dish, but this is so deftly crafted, with butter enriching the sauce, it is no wonder that it is a signature dish.  The other pasta was a beautiful squid ink rigatoni.  These gorgeous black rigatoni are served with spicy king crab and a calamari ragu with tomatoes.  Both pasta’s of course are made fresh in-house and were perfectly cooked al dente.  These are pasta’s that cause you to be quiet while you eat, savoring each bite, typically with your eyes closed.  They paired this with a 2015 Chianti Castiglioni from Marchese de Frescobaldi in Tuscany.  (Here’s the geeky tech sheet details:  This is a sangiovese, merlot blend that sits at 13% alcohol. It spent 11 days with skin contact and did malolactic fermentation immediately following the alcoholic fermentation.  It aged in Stainless steel for 6 months with microxygenation.).  I especially liked this with the squid ink pasta.

Fifth Course – Wood Roasted Chicken & Cedar Roasted Sea Bass with a Ronchi di Pietro Schioppettino

Wood Roasted Chicken with lemon and vegetables at Masso Osteria

Wood Roasted Chicken with lemon and vegetables at Masso Osteria

Cedar Roasted Sea Bass with a medley of roasted vegetables at Masso Osteria

Cedar Roasted Sea Bass with a medley of roasted vegetables at Masso Osteria

Onto the fifth course.  Our waiter had earlier told us that two of his favorite dishes on the menu were the Pasta al Pomodor and the Wood Roasted Chicken.  He said he always felt funny saying that, because he didn’t want people to think he had a pedestrian palate, but that these simple dishes were so extraordinarily well done that they really were exceptional.  The Wood Roasted Chicken with lemon and vegetables really was perfection, this dish had roasted carrots that were tender, sweet and infused with wood smoke from the grill.  We also had the Cedar Roasted Sea Bass which came with a medley of roasted vegetables, that included whole baby onions, radishes, baby zucchini and multicolored cauliflower.  These dishes were paired with a Ronchi di Pietro Schioppettino.  “Schioppettino?  I asked?”  They sent a wine specialist to explain. It is a clone of Ribolla Nera and is best compared to Carménère.  2nd thought was…Red wine with chicken and fish?  Yes…the spices in the Sea Bass and the Wood smoke in the wood roasted chicken made this pairing work.  This wine, by the way, is not listed on their wine list currently.  Perhaps it is an addition they are entertaining.

Ronchi di Pietro Schioppettino at Masso Osteria

Ronchi di Pietro Schioppettino at Masso Osteria

We can’t just let “Schippettino go by without a little background on this variety that was new to me.  So this grape comes from Friuli and was almost completely wiped out by the phylloxera in the early 1900’s.  It evidently was found on the Slovenian border where it was recorded being used for wedding ceremonies as early as 1282, so it had been around a while before almost disappearing.  Paulo Rapuzzi, the founder of Ronchi di Cialla has been credited with searching out old Schioppettino vines that he read about in books.  You can read a great piece on this wine on Vinepair by Courtney Schiessl “This Italian Grape is Back from near-Extinction, Thanks to one Winemaker” 

Sixth Course – Dessert!  Mascarpone Cheese cake & Sticky Toffee Banana Pudding..oh and a Cleto Chiarli Ambile Lambrusco on the side

Mascarpone Cheesecake with huckleberries & spiced streusel at Masso Osteria

Mascarpone Cheesecake with huckleberries & spiced streusel at Masso Osteria

Sticky Toffee Banana Pudding with a cookie crunch and coffee cardamon gelato at Masso Osteria

Sticky Toffee Banana Pudding with a cookie crunch and coffee cardamom gelato at Masso Osteria

Stuffed as we were (with a bag of leftovers growing for a fabulous lunch to follow) we pressed on to dessert.  Our waiter Nick, said they didn’t have a dessert pairing prepared, so he poured us 2 coupes of Lambrusco.  (if you read the blog, you remember I had recently tried to find a Lambrusco to pair with some Chinese food and sadly failed in my search).  I had been eyeing the Lambrusco on the menu at the top of the night and felt like we had come full circle with having it with dessert.  The Lambrusco was from Cleto Chiarli Ambile in Emiglia-Romagna. Dessert, was yet again 2 plates, we did not have the Salted Caramel Budino for which Chef Conant received multiple awards.  No worries, we will be back for that.  Instead we enjoyed the Mascarpone Cheesecake with huckleberries & spiced streusel. This dessert was perfection after our filling meal.  It was light and creamy and each bite left me feeling lighter and less heavy from my meal.  It was another eyes closed moment.  The other dish was the Sticky Toffee Banana Pudding with a cookie crunch and coffee cardamom gelato.  This dish was delicious but a bit heavy after all the food we had eaten.  None-the-less, I took one for the team and cleaned the plate.  How was the Lambrusco with dessert you ask?  Meh.  But I didn’t mind, this didn’t feel like a pairing, but rather an additional celebratory glass to end this spectacular meal.

I must mention the fantastic price on this dinner.  The Chef’s Tasting menu is $65 per person.  We tasted 11 dishes, with most plates big enough that after sharing, we had them pack the rest of the plate to take home.  As I mentioned the wine pairings were kind of, off the cuff that night.  They put together the pairings for us for $35 per person and the pours were generous, not full glasses of course, but more than small sips, and plenty to accompany the course.  They are still developing the wine pairing menu, so it is likely to change and develop.

A couple of great stories of a young foodie…

Our waiter Nick, regaled us with a couple of stories that I will remember forever and have to share with you.  His young son is a big fan of “Chopped” and he told us he walked in on his son at his toy kitchen and his son being a little frenetic.  “What’s up?” he asked, his son replied “I need help plating!  I only have 30 seconds left!”  I could see a new Chopped Pre-school segment coming here! 

His son is growing up tasting all sorts of food and has an unusual palate for a child so small.  They (like us) often shop at Trader Joe’s.  I had no idea that Trader Joe’s has a hidden stuffed animal at every store.  It gives the kids something to search for while their parents shop, they get a lollipop if they can find it.  On one trip, Sally Seashell (the stuffed animal) was evidently right in sight lines of front door when you walk in.  His son went to get his lollipop and let them know that Sally Seashell was not very well hidden.  The guy at the service counter agreed then told him “I’m all out of lollipops, all I have are frozen peas or brussel sprouts”.  Without missing a beat his son said “Brussel sprouts please.”  which surprised the TJ’s staff, who had been kidding with him.  When offered the lollipop, that they did have in stock, he still preferred the brussel sprouts. 

I suggest going early in the evening (we had a 5:15 reservation).  The restaurant filled quickly and it was nice to get in and started on our meal before the crowd descended and the wait staff got busier.  Hospitality was at the forefront here.  Our waiter Nicholas was training someone through out the evening, which you might think would impede your experience.  It did not, and she was getting exceptional training watching and learning from his interaction with the patrons. Each course brought new plates and carefully laid out silverware.  The precision and elegance of this, with the arrival of the new silver at the table in a wooden box, then carefully laid out piece by piece, elevated the experience, adding a sense of dining ritual, a quiet solemnity to preparing for the next course.  I can recommend dinner here any time, but when you are able, treat yourself to the full experience and get the Chef’s Tasting Menu.

Masso Osteria (inside Red Rock Hotel & Casino)

11011 W Charleston Blvd

Las Vegas, NV 89135


Sunday – Thursday | 5pm – 10pm

Friday & Saturday | 5pm – 11pm

Social Hour | Sun – Fri |  4pm – 6pm at the bar

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