Wine Women Wednesday: Kathy Greysmith from Illahe Vineyards

New goals and dreams often come to me in strange places. Lately, I’ve found that when I’m on a visit to a new place, I cherish my time in between stops. While we were in Willamette Valley, Oregon and visiting dozens of wineries, it struck me that I’d met so many inspiring women from the wine industry. I got to thinking about their background, dreams growing up and the important stuff like favorite wines and music. Since I’m already a fan of Wine Wednesday, I decided to create the ultimate Wine Wednesday blog series.

Welcome, to the inaugural Wine Women Wednesday on Along Comes Mary!

My initial goal is to have Wine Women Wednesday be a bi-monthly series, and eventually grow into weekly. I’ll be chatting with wine makers, winery and tasting room managers, buyers, sommeliers.

For my first interview, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Kathy Greysmith from Illahe Vineyards in Dallas, Oregon. Some people just have a ‘spark’ to them, and Kathy is certainly one of these individuals. We felt like we’d known her for years, and could have sipped wine and talked with her all day. From growing up as a tomboy in Minnesota to raising top dairy goats and deciding one day to open a coffee house, I cannot think of a better first Wine Woman to interview than Kathy.

Kathy and Mary at Illahe Vineyards. Photo: Lorena Lopez
Wine Women Wednesday with Kathy Greysmith from Illahe Vineyards

Mary: Can you tell me a bit about you and your background-I heard you flipped a coin back home in Minnesota in the 1970’s and ended up in Oregon?!

Kathy: I grew up in a small rural town in Minnesota. I was a skinny, freckled, tomboyish redhead. Most often one could find me in a tree drawing or wandering in the woods. Behind my shyness there was an inherent sense of adventure, not fully realized. My love of animals began here with my first two dogs, Rusty and Sparky, and a pet chicken named Henna.

As a child, I also lived in Iowa and St. Louis, Missouri, returning to Iowa to further my art education at the University of Iowa. After working at the University of Iowa Medical Arts Department, I began my own graphic and medical illustration business which served the University Medical Complex. After ten years or so, a new direction in my life was needed. So the day arrived when, on Market Street in Iowa City, the flip of a coin determined the direction my life would take; east or west. Having lived on Cape Cod and camped in the Northeast on many occasions, I had decided I would live in Maine. However, the coin decided otherwise, and I headed west. I landed on a beautiful piece of paradise outside of Salem, Oregon, where I still reside.

Kathy and the alpacas! Photo: Courtesy of Kathy Greysmith.
Nubian Goats and Business Ventures

Mary: Tell me about running a coffee house and managing dairy goats?

Kathy: I never really settled on any profession; I was interested in too many things. But one dream I had was to have a farm and raise Nubian dairy goats. This vision came to me while traveling through Vermont and there, on a hillside, I saw a beautiful herd of spotted, Nubian goats. That dream came true. I entered the world of kidding, milking, making cheese and showing goats. My herd was nationally recognized having the nation’s top ten milk goats and a huge buck named Sidney Chinsucker who became a grand champion. For over twenty years, the goats were the center of my life.

Then along came a coffee house while I was building my own house. I was buying all sorts of building materials. I was planning, hammering and roofing, sheet-rocking, mudding and painting and building construction skills along with my house. After hearing of a coffee house for sale, one morning I woke up and decided to go into the coffee business… of which I knew nothing about. I enjoyed this new phase of my life. I created extraordinary lunches, decorated the place with local artwork, hosted music events, met interesting people and learned it took more than seven days a week of work to run the place.

There’s no Business Like the Wine Business

Mary: How did you arrive in the wine industry and to Illahe? What’s your role with Illahe?

Kathy: The Oregon wine industry appealed to me. First of all, I like wine, and secondly, I am passionate about the influence it is having on Oregon. I watched the vineyards sprout up and wineries emerge from just a few, to many. My first tasting-room experience began in 2006 and has sporadically continued at different wineries over the past twelve years. This is where I belong.

Illahe attracted me because it is owned and managed by a small family, the tasting room is inside the winery itself (and smells great!), the wines are delicious, there is a magnificent view, and horses are used to make a wine without using modern methods.

Mary: What’s a typical day like working at Illahe?

Kathy: Like everyone employed at Illahe, I have many tasks. I manage direct sales and hospitality, but also manage the membership club, produce invoices, pay bills and pack and ship wine. There is no typical day at Illahe. No tasting I do is ever typical. The experience I have with every visitor to Illahe is unique. That is what makes it such a pleasure.

Kathy and her beloved Ernie. Photo: Courtesy of Kathy Greysmith.
Good Times, Good Food and Good Friends

Mary:When you’re not at the vineyard, what do you enjoy doing?

Kathy: When I am not working at the winery, I am usually home doing farm chores and enjoying the company of my dog and the alpacas. I love doing anything outdoors; gardening, mowing, fixing fences and, yes, even cleaning the barn. Music, movies and books are high on the enjoyment list and sharing good times, good food and good wine with friends.

Mary: There’s nothing like a perfect day at your happy place, kicking back listening to your favorite music and drinking your favorite wine. What does that look like for you?

Kathy: On a perfect day, if you follow the long lane to my house in the woods, you will see me sitting outside with my dog, Ernie, at my side, a glass of wine in hand, gazing at the alpacas in the pasture just as the light of the day begins to fade. My thoughts flutter through memories of things I have done and how very grateful I am for all my adventures and for all the wonderful people I have met and have in my life. This is tranquility. And to think, I lost that flip of the coin.

Illahe Vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley

Not only do you have the treat of hanging with Kathy when you book a tasting at Illahe, but you’re also in for some fantastic wines. Their 2015 1899 Pinot Noir ranked among my favorites during the tasting; extremely unique, their 1899 Pinot was made without the use of modern wine making equipment or electricity. Illahe thrives on being “old school” when it comes to their wine making. So much, that a horse-drawn wagon was on hand during our tour and sure enough-this is how the wine grapes are brought up to the winery. Don’t miss the opportunity to check out their wine cave, too. Tastings and tours are available by appointment only.

Learn more about Illahe Vineyards HERE and make sure to tell Kathy hi from me when you visit! xo

(*Disclosure: I was a guest of the media at Illahe Vineyards. Special thanks to Kathy for being our first “Wine Woman” on this Wednesday and please e-mail me at alongcomesmary26@gmail.com if you or someone you know would like to be a candidate for this blog series.)

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