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