Illahe, it sounds like it could be the name of some exotic island I wouldn’t mind being shipwrecked on, but it’s actually a Chinook jargon word meaning soil, earth or land. Illahe Vineyards and Winery, located in Dallas, Oregon, aims to produce wines reflecting the variety of soil, earth and land on their 50-acre estate.
Founder, Lowell Ford has always been a visionary, growing wine grapes in Oregon since 1983 and then helping to create the Northwest Viticulture Center at Chemeketa Community College.
One of the things that drew me to Illahe Vineyards initially was how creatively they go about being environmentally conscious; for instance, they use horse-drawn trailers to harvest their grapes (see my previous post 10 Oregon Wineries Making One Small Change). Their marketing brochure advertises how they crush their fruit using the traditional French method of pigeage. My understanding of traditional pigeage means that naked men press the ripe fruit and skins down with their feet. I didn’t ask how traditional their pigeage was, but I sure am wondering!
Bethany Williams started my tasting off with their 2009 Viognier aged entirely in stainless steel yet thick with tropical aromas of mango, pineapple, peach and banana and beautifully bright acidity. Illahe started producing this wine on a fluke, when they got some of the fruit from Albany for free (score of the century), and it’s turned out to be a real keeper. The 2007 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley was deliciously mouthwatering and showed succulent raspberries, tart red cherries with a long, spicy cinnamon finish.
In honor of Earth Day, on the day I visited Illahe, there were several wineries showing their goods as well:
WildAire Cellars was founded in 2005 as the shared dream of Matt and Jean Driscoll of McMinnville, Oregon. The Driscolls produce their wines at Illahe’s winery and actually use some of Illahe’s fruit as well. The WildAire 2008 Timothy Pinot Noir, named in honor of Matt’s father who passed away two years ago, was clearly a fine tribute with lush flavors of wild raspberries, rainier cherries, vanilla and lovely yet lingering cinnamon spice. The 2008 Pinot Noir Reserve had considerably more new oak and showed a less fruit-forward and more complex nose of cherry, rhubarb, tobacco and rose.
Michael Lundeen is the owner, winemaker and viticulturalist for his tiny backyard vineyard, producing his Genius Loci wines at Illahe’s production facility (and is also Illahe’s winemaker). He grows the Pinot Gris for his 2008 Cuvee Desiree, which was aged in neutral oak and showed incredible depth with flavors of pear, almond, apple and ginger. When he told me he blends it with 5% Gewürztraminer, I better understood the spicy and savory notes underneath the fruit. The Genius Loci 2008 Pinot Noir was quite remarkable with a nose of blackberry bramble, cherries, tobacco, black tea and a floral delicacy that played against the kicky white pepper finish. The real star was his 2007 Syrah from Folin Vineyard; there was so much going on, I’m not sure where to start. First, I picked up two aromas, then four… next thing the wine’s exploding in my glass with plums, currants, licorice, chocolate and eucalyptus. The wine had a broad mouth, with medium-to-firm tannins and generous acidity that balanced out the fruit and spice flavors—gorgeous and memorable.
On my way out, I stopped and visited Illahe’s worker horses.They came up to say hi to me until they realized my carrot wasn’t a carrot after all, but a camera instead and tried to get away—say cheese! What I really wanted to do was climb up on one of their big, warm, bare backs and gallop down a remote, sandy beach somewhere. I mentioned my desire to escape to an exotic, tropical island, right? Perhaps if I said “Illahe, Illahe, Illahe” and clicked my heels together I’d get there. Until we sip again…