Pinot Noir Blanc kind of sounds like an oxymoron, right? How can a red wine be white? And, if it is, how much will it still taste like the well-known (and for me beloved) varietal? I had so many questions when I saw folks posting pics of this unique Pinot Noir winemaking method a few weeks ago — from various different producers, mind you. Well, it was John and Irene Ingersoll of topochines.comto the rescue once again to help satiate my curiosity…
There’s something special about Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I can never put my finger on exactly what it is, though. The region spans from coastal-setting to mountain-scape, and you wouldn’t think it would be that different from our Northern Californian Wine Country. But perhaps it’s because most wineries are small, often family-run boutiques; maybe it’s because Oregon, on the whole, is quite a young wine-producing region, unblemished by age, wear, and tear; or it could be because the Willamette, like Burgundy is located at 45 degrees latitude and that’s just the Pinot Noir sweet spot.
Whatever it is, I find that some of the most refined (most Burgundian, if you will) American Pinot Noirs come from this little pocket of the New World.
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.
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.