Illanta Wines: Bringing the vineyard to the mountains
September 27, 2017
When Tahoe City local, Allison Yonto, drafted a business plan for a college assignment during her time at Sonoma State University, she didn't anticipate it reaching beyond the classroom.
Her plan proposed an urban winery located in Tahoe and utilized her background in accounting to outline some of the logistics.
"An urban winery is any winery that doesn't have vineyards around it," Yonto said.
She recalls sipping wine with her friend, Jessica Stanley, who is also passionate about the industry, and was able to draw upon her engineering background to add to the business plan.
"We were just talking about it as friends over a glass of wine. Allison had started getting into the wine business world at Sonoma State and I had been working on the facility side with wineries as an engineer, and it just seemed like a viable business plan. I encouraged Allison to make the plan a reality and in doing so we ended up being partners," Stanley said.
Now the pair own and operate Illanta Wines, offering small batch, high quality wines for any occasion.
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"It's really important to us to create a really high quality wine using high quality grapes for a nice overall experience," Stanley said.
"We don't have a 'Tuesday night' wine, it's more of a weekend or special dinner wine, we want people to get that high quality experience," she added.
They source grapes from appellations in Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Barbara's Santa Rita Hills.
"Sourcing grapes from higher-end more well known areas with high quality fruit yields high quality wine. We rent a facility in Napa where they crush and ferment the grapes in tanks and bottle the wine down there," Yonto said.
For now, they work closely with winemaker Eric Hansen to ensure high quality, finished products, while they master the tricks of the trade firsthand.
"We do get very hands on in the whole winemaking process. Eric is the guiding hand for us while I'm in school, so we don't make any big mistakes," Yonto said.
Yonto is currently enrolled in the UC Davis winemaking program and will be the sole winemaker for Illanta Wines upon completing the program.
"Since doing the business plan Allison has fallen in love with the winemaking process and she was able to get into one of the best programs in the country," Stanley said.
"As she's in school doing that program, we are working with Eric to guide us in the process. Allison has been almost like an intern on our wines, while we do make most of the decisions on flavor profiles Eric will help us on specific yeast decisions, for example, just making sure we don't make any critical flaws," she added.
The duo has even more excitement on the horizon. Originally shooting to open a tasting room this summer, the pair has given themselves an extra year to prepare, as Yonto has recently welcomed twins into the world.
"There's a component of education that we hope to bring to this area when we have our tasting room," Stanley said.
The two plan on opening a tasting room to dedicate to locals and visitors in order to learn more about grape varietals.
"For us, since we do such small production, only 300 bottles of each of our wines, we are trying to highlight the grape and the area it comes from. That's an advantage of being urban, we can source [grapes] from all over and emphasize the uniqueness of the area and the grapes. I think that's something that gets lost in bigger productions with hundreds of thousands of cases of wine," Yonto said.
Illanta Wines was born out of passion for good wine and the Lake Tahoe area.
"Curl up with our wine and enjoy it along with all of the wonderful things about Tahoe – we're bringing the vineyard to the mountains. Our wine is relaxed, we came here for the lifestyle and want our wine to reflect on the happier more relaxing things in life like family and being outside," Yonto said.
The brand currently works with as many nonprofit organizations as they can, in order to give back to the community.
"Our family, whether they're blood-related or friends we've made here, is really important to us and our brand; and we incorporate that into the name itself. 'Illanta' stems from the original spelling of Allison's last name, her grandparents were 'Illantas' and came from Italy, they changed it at Ellis Island," she said.
Until their tasting room launches, the owners currently run their office from the base of Alpine Meadows.
Illanta Wines are available at all three Uncorked locations in Squaw, Truckee and Tahoe City as well as Restaurant Trokay in Truckee, and at River Grill in Tahoe City.
Cassandra Walker is a features and entertainment reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at email@example.com, 530-550-2654 or @snow1cass.