“Merry Christmas 2017.” Review: Illahe Project 1899 Pinot Noir 2014 (and others)

In my profession, though short, this month drags on as teenage behaviors grow more and more erratic the closer we get to winter break. My classic 1991 Jeep Wrangler was stolen from in front of my house this month, an indulgence I cannot afford to replace, and a handyman tried to charge my wife twice the agreed upon price for yard work, leading to a rather ugly confrontation and leaving my loving wife feeling somewhat suspicious of others. Most significantly, the unexpected passing of two coworkers, one to whom I felt close, and my cousin, with whom I was quite close, darkened the entire month and dimmed even the lights on our otherwise glorious tree.

As Adam Duritz would put it, it’s been a long December.

And yet. And yet. Someone I cared deeply for when they were still alive once said that his favorite woods were “and yet.” And yet despite the universe taking a grinch-like turn this year, Christmas still came — it came just the same. Last night my mother-in-law and her husband joined Sonja, Titus, Zooey and I for Christmas Eve services at what is fast becoming our new church. After an enjoyable children’s pageant and a candlelit chorus of “Silent Night,” we were greeted by our Tri-Faith friends in the lobby, where Jews and Muslims handed out candy canes and wished us Merry Christmas. It was perhaps the simplest yet single most beautiful thing I have ever experienced in a church this time of year, and I was grateful to share it with my family.

Back at home, three generations shared a dinner of raclette, conversation, and gratitude. Optimistically hoping that the rough part of this month may now be behind us, I broke out some wines I was excited about and eagerly shared them with my family on Christmas Eve.


Illahe is a small producer in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and I recently became a big fan. Of all the original things they do, the “Project 1899” is to me the most fascinating and, for want of a better word, cool. The back of the bottle reads “Horse Drawn, Hand De-stemmed, Hand Pressed, Bicycle Pumped, 100% Native Fermentation.” The gist of it is, there’s nothing used to produce this wine that wasn’t available to a winemaker in the year 1899, hence the name. They don’t even use electricity. And if that’s not enough, winemaker Brad Ford then hooks up a team of mules, transports the wine to a river where he canoes it 96 miles to Portland and then loads it onto some form of rickshaw and pedals the stuff to their distributor. This is the sort of eccentric, passion-project wine story that I love, and that inspires me always to try to support small, family operations.

Last night we shared the 2014 vintage, the current vintage, of 1899. Everyone was extremely pleased with it. Clear with medium plus to deep intensity in a ruby hue, the nose was light at first but developed over time into a more expressive and intense experience. As you would expect, this wine is full of character. On the palate, a balance of mouth-watering acidity, coarse tannins rare to the varietal, and dark cherries ultimately expand into notes of rye and subtle dill, oak-imparted hints of vanilla, and that classic Pinot funk. A rich, easy-drinker, this is totally its own wine, and an experience unto itself. I highly recommend it.

In addition last night, we shared to 2016 vintages of two other Illahe wines. The white we poured was their Viognier, with a beautiful floral nose and the palest of coloration. Crisp and acidic on the assault with hints of stone fruits, pear, subtle citrus and delicate saline, it’s both refreshing and expressive. And when the 1899 was gone, for the red drinkers, I opened the Estate Pinot Noir, which is simply gorgeous. Black cherry, blackberry, and hints of vanilla, it is velvety-smooth and easy drinking. Less complex than the 1899 and balanced in favor of acid, its got a classic Pinot Noir profile and drinks well above its modest price point. All of these wines are extremely well made and worthy of our attention. I’m looking forward to doing a full-length piece on their entire portfolio in the next edition of Food & Spirits magazine.

It’s been a long December, a very long December, and yet life remains delightful. This morning, Sonja, Zooey, Titus and I exchanged gifts. I gave Sonja a locket with pictures of our family in it, Titus got his Cookie Monster, and Zooey received countless things with interesting and tasty packaging to put in her mouth. I received, amongst other things, a working model of The Hogwarts Express, and suddenly I was nine years old again, wrapping paper flying. I’m unsure what 2018 holds, and yet I’m excited to find out. With my beautiful family by my side the entire time, I strongly suspect that it will be a joyful, laughter-filled year.  As ever, thank you for reading, and may all your Christmases be merry and bright.

Merry Christmas 2017,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s