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Francis Tannahill Wine Company


“Two Oregon Winemakers
Share Name, Philosophies
and New Offerings”
“Sam Tannahill and Cheryl Francis Unite for Francis Tannahill Winery”

By Christina Kelly
Avalon Editor/Writer

Two of Oregon’s best up-and-coming winemakers have joined forces to create a new winery offering more than just premium Oregon Pinot Noir.

The fact that Sam Tannahill and Cheryl Francis are married helps with the new merger, simply called Francis Tannahill Wine Company.

Sam Tannahill is the former winemaker for Archery Summit. He spent seven years at Archery before producing the wines of Dick Shea, owner of Shea Vineyards. Although starting his own winery, Tannahill is a consulting winemaker to Shea.

Cheryl Francis is the winemaker at Chehalem. Her most recent production focuses on the couple’s two sons. Francis left before the 2003 harvest to concentrate her efforts on the new winery.

“It is bittersweet, because everyone has been so supportive at Chehalem,” said Francis. “But I’ve always been passionate about having my own label and making my own wine. Sam and I want to play around with different varietals and come up with something that is completely ours.”


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The couple already helps to produce the label, A to Z, selling affordable Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris under $20.

“A to Z surprised us—it morphed into a business we want to continue,” said Tannahill, who makes the wine with Bill Hatcher. “It’s a good, entry level Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris that is very affordable for the quality of wine.”

The New Wines

Tannahill and Francis knew they would eventually make their own wines, and for the past two years, searched for a winery to call their own. At one point, Tannahill planned to make wine in a proposed new winery to be built by Dick Shea. However, the winery plans were put on hold and Tannahill began a new search.

The couple negotiated with Gino Cuneo for his old winery, located on five acres on the east side of Amity in the Eola Hills. Cuneo built a new winery in Carlton. They successfully purchased the winery in August, 2004.

Francis Tannahill has four wines to offer this year and plenty of varietals still in barrel. The Syra was produced entirely out of Oregon grapes. The wine, called Mason-Dixon (for its blend of southern and northern Oregon grapes) is very French-like, said Tannahill. He said it reminds him of a Hermitage or a Cotes-Rotie.

Two white wines are memorable for their quality. The first is "Passito", a sweet Gewürztraminer, made with grapes from the Dragonfly Vineyard in White Salmon, WA, and the site of some of the oldest Gewürztraminer vines in the Northwest.

Francis and Tannahill took the grapes to a prune drier and dried the grapes, then macerated them with non-dried Gewürztraminer grapes for 18 hours. The wine was pressed over a 24-hour period. About 160 half-bottle cases were produced.

A dry "Dragonfly" Gewürztraminer is also available.

Their annual Pinot noir offering, "The Hermit", is now in its second release. The wine has gamey, forest notes and a rich, layered palate of flavors.

Best of all, Tannahill and Francis say they will keep the prices affordable.

“We feel strongly that if we can make a living on our wine and still keep the prices down, we will be offering consumers a good value,” Tannahill said. “We are light on our feet and as long as we can provide an adequate standard of living for ourselves and our grape growers, we will pass that on to consumers.

“Given the quality of the wines, we could have charged a lot more, but that’s not our goal.”

Other Tannahill Projects

If starting a new winery isn’t enough, Sam Tannahill has his hands in a half-dozen other projects, something he hopes eventually to reduce once his winery is in full swing.

He is working for:

• Battlecreek Cellars and Vineyards: This winery, sitting on 95 acres is located in Salem and is owned by Corus Brands. The first crop was last year, producing about 350 to 450 cases of Pinot Noir, which is still in barrels. Tannahill is the consultant.

• A yet-to-be-named project producing ultra-premium wine at Sawtooth Winery, located in Idaho. Tannahill is the consultant.

• Zelko Winery, Willamette Valley. Physician John Zelko hired Tannahill to consult on his wines and spot-check his vineyards in the Eola Hills.

• EdenVale in Southern Oregon: Tannahill takes over the advising spot from winemaker Joe Dobbes to help this new winery get off the ground.

“This takes a tremendous amount of organization,” Tannahill said. “I am not interested in working with anyone who doesn’t want the highest quality from their wine.”

Ultimately, Tannahill and Francis want to work with their winery and A to Z. For now, the other consultant work helps to keep them fresh and updated in the industry and provides a great challenge for Tannahill.

The Merger of Two Palates

Cheryl Francis and Sam Tannahill began their Willamette Valley wine jobs about the same time, in 1996. Although both studied and worked in France, they never met. But friends of both continued to ask if they knew each other.

“Everybody kept asking me, hey do you know Sam Tannahill—you ought to,” Francis recalled. “I eventually met him at Tina’s Restaurant in Dundee, along with the entire Archery Summit crew.

“Ironically, when we started dating, one of the first things we talked about was the desire to make our own wines. Once I met Sam, it was all over.”

Although both concede to the fate of their meeting, the couple is still working out their winemaking differences, albeit small. Both say they have similar palates and vision of their wines. Both share the similar philosophies about staying true to the fruit and allowing the land to express the wines. Both strongly prefer little intervention with the fruit.

“We’re still working some things out,” Francis said. “We both have a few sensitivities that bother us, but nothing affecting our collaborative efforts.”

The future goal is to increase production to 3,000 to 4,000 cases per year. The 2003 wines run about 2,300 cases of red and white wines combined.

With their own business, Sam and Cheryl can take turns taking care of their two boys and living a simple life on their ten acres, which they farm organically.

“We have chickens, cows and fruit trees. We share the land and practice biodynamic farming,” Tannahill said. “It’s a good life. Our goal is to be self sustainable as possible and provide a great place for Theo to grow up.”


Author Christina Kelly worked as a newspaper reporter on the West Coast for more than 20 years covering education, public safety, government, business, environmental issues, entertainment and minority affairs. During the same time, the Washington native began her lifelong interest in wine. After two decades in the news reporting business, Christina decided it was time to concentrate on her passion – the wine industry. She is our indispensable staff writer and columnist.