Illahe is a small family based winery. Lowell Ford is the Owner and grape grower, his son Brad is the winemaker and Brad’s wife deals with the marketing. Kathy is their tasting room manager and deals with sales, member ship and whatever other officework comes up. They all wear many hats. It’s a labor of love that makes for some great wine.
Mt. Pisgah/Polk County AVA (Proposed)
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. They took the time to experiment in the vineyard. They planted 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 it is thought to express itself best in Austria, I can tell you that it is creating beautiful wine here at Illahe in Oregon.
The wine gives you crisp apple, stone fruit and then some herbal qualities from being partially fermented in acacia barrels.
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.
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 Episode 2, about how they came to have this barrel.)
We then talk through their Pinots.
Lowell had planned to be 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, including pruning, weights, brix, blossom time…very detailed. They found the sweet spots. The Percheron block…that was the sweet spot 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.
Continue with us as we head out front to view the vineyard and talk about some of the growing practices.
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.