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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The Willamette Valley AVA sits inside the Willamette Valley in Oregon. It spans from the Columbia River in the north to the southern tip of Eugene and from the Oregon coast on the west to the Cascade Mountains in the east. It is the largest, and most popular, of Oregon’s AVAs: it’s 5,200 square miles (150 miles long and about 60 miles wide) and contains over 200 of Oregon’s 700+ wineries. Willamette contains six sub-AVAs: Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill-Carlton.
I’m traveling north with my wine reviews this week, leaving my home state of California to explore the terrain of Oregon. The history of Oregon wine isn’t unlike our own. The first plantings can be traced back to the pioneer days of the 1840s during the settlement of the “Oregon Territory.” The first official Oregon winery was Valley View, built and run by by Peter Britt in the late 1850s in Jacksonville — a Gold Rush town highly populated with settlers from both American and abroad.
I bought this on a whim. Maybe it’s because I’m reading Passion and Pinot and the main characters are on their way to Oregon. Maybe it’s because the first wine that truly touched my heart was from Willamette. Or Maybe it’s because I spend a lot of time studying the wines closest to home (Napa and Sonoma) that I felt like venturing across state borders. So it is with that notion that I present my first step onto the Oregon Trail of Wine.