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January 12, 2017 | 3:00 PM

Every year, when Wine Business Monthly creates our annual list of Top 10 Hot Brands, we look for vintners, growers, wineries and wines that are making a statement in our industry. Quality is always an important consideration, but Hot Brands is more than a list of the “best” or most interesting wines we’ve tasted during the year.

Through the years, the definition of “hot” has changed for us. When the list was first created, an oversupply of wine created a market full of “critter labels” and high-production, low-priced brands that would sell like “hot”-cakes. Eventually oversupply part of the wine cycle ended and so did that particular meaning of this list. Now, the Top 10 Hot Brands list delves into what it means to be a part of the American wine industry, part of the American wine culture. And that culture is increasingly more diverse.

This year, we’ve selected wines from pioneers, newcomers, long-standing winemakers and more. While each may grow a different grape or go about making wine in unorthodox ways, all the winemakers selected reflect the diversity that is the wine culture in the United States and all have an innate desire to produce something they, and the consumer, will love.

In the end, this list is comprised of wines that we here at Wine Business Monthly would serve to winemakers. We are releasing the Top 10 Hot Brands, one per day, in no particular order, leading up to the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium. Wine Business Monthly will be serving these wines to winemakers, grape growers and industry members at our annual gathering Bottle Bash during Unified on Tuesday, Jan. 24 at cafeteria 15L.


Illahe Vineyards

2014 Estate Pinot Noir
Remaining True to the Farm

Nestled amongst the hills of the Willamette Valley, on a south-facing slope with stunning views of the region, lies Illahe Vineyards and Winery. A warm spot, this vineyard seems in every way the typical, picturesque site you would imagine for northwestern Oregon: rolling hills, vines and farms for miles, and a multi-level wine production facility in the background. At first glance, Illahe Vineyards could be just any Oregon winery, until you notice a horse pulling a ton of grapes up the slope to the winery.

When Brad Ford and his (now) wife Bethany Ford first purchased the vineyard site in conjunction with Lowell and Pauline Ford in 2000, they planted Pinot Noir and sold the grapes to more established Willamette Valley wineries, like Bethel Heights, Cristom Vineyards and others. As the vineyard matured and gained recognition for its Pinot Noir, Brad decided that the time was right for him to start making his own wine. In 2006, just after he finished up the viticulture and enology program at the local community college, he made his first vintage.

It was around that time that a local reporter out of The Dalles, Oregon, stumbled on the winery and interviewed Brad. The reporter asked, “What does this vineyard do that other vineyards in the area don’t?” and Brad was dumbfounded. He said he didn’t have an answer. “He gave a strange face at that answer. I thought, ‘This is not good.’ People are curious to see something different,” he said.

The full story on Illahe Vineyards ~ and all our Hot Brands ~ will be available in our February 2017 issue of Wine Business Monthly. You can come by our booth (#1620) at Unified and pick up a copy or click here to subscribe to WBM.

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