Thursday, June 13, 2013

Illahe Blanc de Noir

One of my favorite things about working at Illahe is that we always have a fun new project to work on.  Whether it’s the horses, the kiln, or the 1899, Brad is constantly coming up with one crazy idea after another.  Most recently, we decided that we wanted to make a sparkling wine, which was not that crazy of an idea, until we realized that we didn’t actually know how to make sparkling wine. Of course, that didn’t stop us.

                       To make it happen, Brad joined with some of his winemaking friends, Kate Payne Brown, the assistant winemaker at Archery Summit, and her husband Griffin Brown, the cellar master at Joe Dobbes. They came by a few times during harvest to aid in the process, and spent the past week teaching us how to tirage.  Tirage is the process of adding sugar and yeast to the wine, then bottling it with a bottle cap while it ferments in the bottle (élevage).

                       It was during the tirage that things started getting interesting. Our first step was to set up the bottling line, so we could bottle immediately after adding the yeast and sugar. It was a good thing we did that first, because our bottle filler was too wide for our bottles. So we enlisted another winemaking friend, Erin Nuccio of Evesham Wood, to loan us his bottling machine. Tirage was delayed for a day, and on Friday morning we started over, determined to get our wine in bottle.

                       Now, a little bit about the Evesham Wood bottling machine.  The winery was started in the mid-80’s by Russ Raney, who was committed to eschewing modern winemaking technologies, and making wine in a more traditional fashion. While this philosophy is evident in the dimly lit barrel cave, it also extends to every aspect of Evesham Wood winery, including the bottling machine. This bottling machine is quite literally a piece of Willamette Valley winemaking history, and looks like it came from a museum. Each step of the bottling process was a mystery to be solved.  Brad had to do some creative plumbing to hook it up to a modern wine pump, cleaning it was a far cry from shining-up stainless steel, and we had to try various unspeakable acts to finally get juice into the bottle. The only thing that prevented us from shouting in frustration was the fact that we were having so much fun.

                       Somehow, everything worked out.  Kate & Griffin, along with their 2-month old son Thomas, joined Bethany and me as we spent a full 12-hour day bottling 56 cases of Blanc de Noir, a sparkling wine made from pinot noir rosé.  But don’t get too excited; this wine will spend the next 3-5 years going through élevage, riddling, disgorgement, and dosage before it is ready to drink.  What do all of those words mean?  Tune into our future blog posts to find out!


Monday, April 9, 2012


-by Gabriel

Here at Illahe, we are always interested in trying new winemaking ideas. While a lot of our winemaking practices are rooted in science, it is really the art of winemaking that motivates us. We have been experimenting with native fermentation since our very inception, and this month we will be releasing our first wine made with 100% native yeast, "Bon Sauvage".

Most wineries start fermentation by adding commercial yeasts to their wines. While we do use some commercial yeasts, we also like to use the native yeasts that can be found on the grape skins or in the grape juice. Usually, a commercial yeast will overwhelm these native yeasts. If no commercial yeast is added, then the native yeasts will ferment the wine to its completion.

The pros and cons of each type of fermentation are complex. The advantage of using commercial yeast is that it allows a winemaker more control over which flavors are extracted from the grapes, as well as more control over the rate of fermentation. During a native ferment, the winemaker is at the mercy of nature. Fermentation will start whenever the native yeasts are ready, and the winemaker cannot control which flavors the yeast will extract. While the flavors extracted from native fermentation are often less fruity, they also offer more depth and complexity.

As you can see, it is not an obvious choice to say one form of fermentation is better than the other. They both have their advantages, which is why we use both methods here at Illahe. The 2010 vintage provided the perfect combination of moderate brix levels and low pH levels for native fermentation, so we used native yeast to ferment about a quarter of our wines.

With such a large percentage of our wine being made with native yeast, we decided to blend four barrels into a unique wine, made with 100% natural yeast. While this bottling may not be as fruity as our regular pinot noir, it offers layers of complexity beyond anything I've ever tasted from Illahe, with hints of baking spice, cedar, and maple syrup to complement the subtle blackberry and raspberry flavors.

This might be my favorite Illahe wine I've ever tasted. But don't take my word for it, come and taste it yourself! We will be releasing "Bon Sauvage" at our annual Earth Day Event on Saturday, April 21st. We will be pouring it side-by-side with our regular pinot noir, so you can taste the difference. We only produced 80 cases of this wine, so be sure to come and taste it soon!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Two Trucks, One Tractor, and 475 Cases of Viognier

-by Gabriel

Last week, we bottled our first wine from the 2011 vintage. After two months of fermentation and a month of filtration, our 2011 Willamette Valley Viognier was bottled March 8th and 9th, 2012. The cooler vintage brings bright flavors of meyer lemon and pineapple that are rounded out by fleshy flavors of peach and nectarine. But let’s forget about the wine for a second, and talk about the bottles.

Our bottles were scheduled to arrive the day of bottling. We spent the past two weeks filtering and testing the wine, prepping it to be bottled March 8th. The most amazing thing was that the bottles showed up on time. The second most amazing thing is when Brad told me that our truck driver had re-defined the term “jackknifed”. I stepped outside to see a truck with its cab pointing uphill and north, but his trailer pointing downhill and east.

We called across the street to Dave McKibben, the cattle farmer at McK Ranch, because he owns a giant tractor. The vineyard crew rounded up some thick chains, and Mr. McKibben set to towing a stuck 50-foot truck with his tractor. He spun his wheels for a good twenty seconds before he got that thing moving, but in less than a minute he had towed rig right up a hill. Check out the video:

I bet you think I’m gonna start talking about the Viognier now, don’t you. Nope! Because when we stepped outside later in the day, to enjoy a rare sunny Oregon afternoon, guess what we saw? A second truck, bringing more botttles, stuck in a ditch on the side of the road.

While we were watching from the patio, Brad turned to Lowell and said, “Your turn to call Dave. I called him last time”.

Needless to say, Dave McKibben was the first person to receive a bottle of our 2011 Viognier. We will officially release it at our Annual Earth Day Event on April 21st. Last year’s vintage sold-out unfortunately fast; this year we had more mature plants, which allowed us to increased our production to 475 cases. The grapes come from Goschie Farms in Silverton, OR. It is the only fruit that we don’t grow ourselves, and Gail Goschie does an amazing job of sending us delicious grapes every year. The fleshy fruit flavors make it a great wine to drink on your porch in the late afternoon. While it’s not a traditional food pairing, I suggest you drink it while grilling McK Ranch beef.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Smell the Rainbow

This isn't a blog entry about synaesthesia, although that might be something we talk about in a different post. This is an entry about the rainbow mug collection.

The saying is that it takes a lot of beer to make wine. It also takes a lot of coffee. I find that lab work and the morning go together well. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a magical happy scene surrounding the morning caffeine.

This mug is the mug that started it all--unicorn, rainbow, cloud stage left, squirrel, rabbit, turtle, frog, butterflies, bird, and even a little snail. Violets, too! The grass is even pointing toward the unicorn if you didn't notice.

A stunning example of the genre, here. I think if I were doing a rainbow mug I would make sure that there was some optical flaw just so no one would take it seriously. I mean, it's about fun! The rainbow is making two separate arcs and there are clouds in front and behind it--can that happen? Whatever. Balloons aren't usually surrounded with gold borders!

This mug heralded the coming of the 1980s with cursive and rainbows. The order of colors is right, at least, unlike this next mug.

Graphically spectacular, and it's inside out. Any rainbow with the red line on the inside is pretty good.

And here are a bunch of others in the collection:

Help us make great wine by bringing us great rainbow mugs! We'll give you $2 off your next purchase for any rainbow mug you bring.