chemeketa students

Former Chemeketa administrator’s wine featured at Obama fundraiser

By Chemeketa Public Affairs

Lowell Ford

Lowell Ford (photo courtesy Illahe Vineyards)

Lowell Ford thought his biggest excitement of a late March day was going to be working on buying a new tractor.

Then the former Chemeketa Community College dean of students got a phone call from his daughter-in-law, Bethany, who is national sales manager for the Ford family’s winery, Illahe Vineyards, south of Dallas.

“She said, ‘I know you’re excited about getting a new tractor, but I can top it,” Ford recalled.

And she was right: Illahe’s 2010 Grüner Veltliner had been chosen to be part of a March 30 fundraising dinner held for President Barack Obama in Portland, Maine.

“My goodness,” Ford said. “We’re just thrilled that someone had made this selection.”

The wine, available for $15 a bottle, was served with the first course of the dinner, which cost between $7,500 and $30,800 to attend, according to an article in the Portland Press Herald. The dinner was held at the Portland Museum of Art and followed a speaking event earlier in the day at Southern Maine Community College.

The person who made the wine selection is Ned Swain of Devenish Wines, a Maine-based wine distributor. And he had a number of reasons for choosing Ford’s wine.

“It went really well with the dish,” Swain said. “The fact that the farming is all sustainable, the Ford family’s commitment to sustainable farming and responsible agriculture. And it’s a smaller-scale production wine.

“And I really like the wine a lot,” he added.

Grüner Veltliner, a white wine grape native to Austria, has become a “hot grape variety” in Maine, Swain said.

“I think it’s a very well-made Grüner Veltliner, but it’s true to it coming from Oregon,” Swain said. “It doesn’t taste like it’s trying to be an Austrian Grüner Veltliner. It still has grüner varietal character, but you can tell that it doesn’t really come from Austria.”

In fact, Swain said, Ford’s version actually pairs better with food than the Austrian varieties.

Ford’s connections with Chemeketa and wine are substantial. Along with being dean of students, he was Chemeketa’s first winemaking instructor. After the course proved popular, he was part of creating the Chemeketa Northwest Viticulture Center at Eola. He remains on the center’s advisory board and is a lifetime donor.

Ford purchased the 80 acres that makes up Illahe Vineyards in 1999 with his wife, Pauline. The first planting was in 2001 and bottling started in 2006.

The winery is a family business: Lowell Ford heads the growing. His son, Brad, himself a former Chemeketa employee and instructor who went through the Northwest Viticulture Center courses, is the winemaker while daughter-in-law Bethany coordinates national sales.

“He really is the creator behind the very good wine,” Ford said of his son.

With all those past and continuing Chemeketa connections, it should be no surprise that there was one aspect of the president’s swing through the Pine Tree State Ford liked beyond having his wine poured.

“A thrill to me, really, having spent 30 years working in a community college, is that President Obama was going to (an event at) a community college,” Ford said.

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