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Ilsley Vineyards

ilsley beginnings
By Ernie Ilsley, Operations Manager

The idea of producing an Estate wine from the Ilsley vineyards started to formulate during the mid-1990s. Our family was selling most of our fruit to the Robert Mondavi Winery at that time. They had always been extremely progressive and they understood that involving growers in the winemaking process would help them advance to a higher level. Before that time, it was very unusual to see winemakers spending large amounts of time in growers' vineyards. In 1989, my father started working very closely with both the Mondavi viticulture and winemaking team. First he worked closely with Karen Culler and then later with Heather Pyle. The Mondavi Team was experimenting with new strategies such as aggressive leaf removal, canopy shading, fruit thinning, and shoot positioning. The joint work with the winery representatives in the vineyard coupled with regular tastings of the wines showed my father what was possible.

As my father started involving David and me into the process, we embraced his goal of farming grapes at the highest possible level. We also knew that the only way our family's vineyard could reach its greatest potential was if we controlled it from vineyard to bottle. We felt that we could put extreme care into small lots of fruit having a family member involved in every step of the process. With our long history of farming, one of the best vineyards in the valley and a great winemaker, we were confident we could make a very special wine.

In 1999, we hired Craig MacLean to be the first Ilsley Vineyards winemaker and set out to make the best wine possible. In the first few vintages we brought in many small lots of cabernet fruit from different sites to isolate the best clones and hillside areas in our vineyard. Later, we started harvesting other Bordeaux varietals to see if that would further improve the wines. Over the past two years, with the help of our new winemaker, Heather Pyle, we have put a great deal of focus on barrel selection and overall hillside vineyard canopy management. The past 12 years have given us a great education on crafting high level small production wines. We are happy with the evolution of our wines- each vintage building on the one before.

As we look forward we have a clear vision for our family winery. We will continue to make small lots from our estate vineyard. We will look for ways to improve the quality both in the vineyard and in the cellar and we will do our best to have a personal relationship with the customers who enjoy our wine.

The wines we make today represent the best we can do. We have and will continue to passionately strive to make the finest wine our property will allow us to make.

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