Connect the Wine

By John Oberst-Cairns and Gail Oberst

Brad Ford, Matt Driscoll and Michael Lundeen know how to play nice. The three winemakers share their toys, they don’t hit or cry, and they help each other. As a result, three wineries that might never have been, are thriving.

Ford’s Illahe, Driscoll’s WildAire and Lundeen’s Genius Loci founded their wineries in friendships that began about five years ago amid shared classes at Chemeketa Community College’s Viticulture program, and shared work at Domaine Serene, and other Oregon wineries. Occasionally, their common passion for wine brings them together under one roof. Although each maintain separate wineries, all three have shared buildings, equipment, staff and some fruit at Ford’s Illahe Vineyards in the Polk County Hills between Dallas and Monmouth.

“We were all embarking on a new adventure at the same time,” said Driscoll, who with his wife, Jean, opened WildAire Winery’s first tasting room March 20 in Carlton. The 1,000-case-per-year winery has already won kudos for its screw-capped Timothy Pinot Noir and other releases. The Driscolls purchase grapes from the Chehalem Mountains, McMinnville, Rogue Valley and other AVAs for their wines.

This success story has three chapters, each intertwined with individual style. Illahe, the largest winery of the three with 4,000 cases, is production central to the smaller wineries. Some grapes for all the labels come from Illahe. However, Lundeens – a Chemeketa  Community College Viticulture Program family like Ford’s – also own a few acres on Poverty Bend Road, McMinnville. Genius Loci makes about 400 cases total of Pinot Noir, Syrah and Pinot Gris.

Ford’s 50 acres, planted in 2001 with seven varieties by Brad’s parents, Lowell Ford and Pauline Ford, is the standard for smart and sane farming in Polk County. The family’s 8,000 square foot multi-level facility and some of its out-buildings are partly powered with solar panels. The vineyard is LIVE certified and Salmon Safe. Cover crops, rain-water retrieval from its building, petroleum reduction and horse farming speak to the light touch on the land. The family also owns The Glenn Creek vineyard in West Salem, but future plans include building an energy-saving cave-storage area at the Illahe property. For all this and good wine, Illahe was chosen as a featured wine at the International Pinot Noir Celebration in July.

Because of their friendship and shared resources, all three winemakers come together for cooperative events at the Illahe facility, including the April 24 Earth Day celebration with food, displays and tastings. The two smaller wineries store their barrels and maintain bases in Yamhill County. But sharing goes beyond facilities. They share ideas, too, said Jean.

 And at harvest time, when things get tense, the friends coordinate and cooperate in shared space, lending a hand with the other if it is needed, saving money and headaches.

“They sit over a glass of wine and bounce ideas off each other,” she said.

All three wineries will exhibit their dedication to the home planet on April 24 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. as they celebrate their second-annual Earth Day gathering with displays, food and tastings under the Illahe roof. The public is welcome. 

Illahe Vineyards
3275 Ballard Road
, Dallas 
(503) 831-1248


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