Going a little off the reservation with the Illahe Vineyards Viognier. This is the one grape the Ford family actually sources from an external vineyard. If you’ve been following my Oregon Wine series these past two weeks, then you know that the Illahe Vineyards has its own unique micro-climate and terroir situation in the middle of the Willamette Valley. Viognier is a funny grape in that it can technically grow “well” in both warmer and cooler climates. But, because of its tendency toward mildew, and the extremes in acid-sugar balance between picking “too early” and “too late,” the white grape benefits from areas that can support longer growing seasons.
Goschie Farms is just such an area. The east Willamette farm, known primarily for their hop farming, is situated along the valley floor, where day time heat and evening coastal cooling are at two polar opposite extremes. This means that those fussy Viognier have access to an overall well-rounded temperature and — you guessed it — long growing season. The Fords first purchased these Viognier grapes when Goschie Farms had an extremely successful harvest and excess fruit they couldn’t sell. Illahe bought an experimental bunch and found the white wine sold quite well. Now, it’s a regular part of their collection.
I’m not going to lie, besides the chance to taste my first single varietal Tannat, one of the things that drew me to Troon Vineyard was the opportunity to taste my first “orange wine.” This, of course, refers to the wine’s color, achieved by keeping the grape-skins on during fermentation — much like the process used for making red wine. This can be done with any white grape, most commonly Pinot Gris, but Troon Vineyard takes an interesting approach with their whole grape fermented Riesling.
Rosé of Tempranillo isn’t something I see a lot. And it’s nothing that Illahe Vineyards’s Ford family ever originally planned on making. The initial one-acre planting was a bit of an experiment. “Let’s see what else we can grow,” seems to be one of Lawrence Ford’s pioneering attributes. But as Bethany pointed out during our conversation, Tempranillo can be a hard grape to grow and maybe the unique Illahe location isn’t the most suitable for the funky fruit. Brad’s remedy? Pick the fruit early and make a rosé. Sounds like a plan…
Brad Ford, winemaker at Illahe Vineyards, is the fourth generation to live on the Dallas, Oregon property. His family settled here in the 1880s, around the same time grape farming and winemaking was first established in the Northwest. But the Ford’s main business was dairy farming and cherry orchards — that is until Brad’s father, Lowell, planted an experimental acre of müller-thurgau (a sort-of Riesling hybrid) in 1983. From that time on, the Fords became a successful grape growing and selling family business, pioneering modern Northwestern wine education.
It wasn’t until Brad decided to completely change careers that Illahe turned to winemaking. The former carpenter turned grant writer turned English instructor ultimately transformed into a winemaker — a career he finds satisfies him mentally, physically, and creatively. In 2004 he worked his first harvest alongside his father and in 2006 Illahe Vineyards bottled their first vintage.
Applegate Valley is a sub-region AVA located in Oregon’s Southern Oregon AVA. The others include Red Hill Douglas County, Oregon AVA, Rogue Valley AVA, and Umpqua Valley AVA. As a whole, the Southern Oregon AVA stretches 125 miles north to south (from the southern tip of Eugene to the California border) and 60 mies east to west (from the Cascade Mountains to the Coast Range) and is planted to 6,000 acres of vines.
The Applegate Valley AVA is entirely inside the Rogue Valley AVA, and is named for Applegate River, which runs right through the area. It stretches 50 miles from California’s northern border to the Rogue River. This is actually where Oregon grape growing began back in 1852, with a settler named Peter Britt. In 1873 he opened Oregon’s first official winery in Jacksonville, called Valley View Winery. The winery closed in 1907 upon Britt’s death. (It has since been revived by the Wisnovsky family who planted their vineyards and established their winery in the same area.)
Today, Applegate Valley is home to just shy of 20 wineries. You could easily follow the Applegate Valley Wine Trail and taste them all in a day. For this introduction to Oregon wines and Southern Oregon, I’ll be focusing on Troon Vineyards, located just east of the Applegate River.
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