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!