Illanta Wines co-owners Jessica Stanley and Allison Yonto introduced their two varietals at Uncorked Tahoe City recently. Stanley and Yonto excitedly greeted people and shared information about the chardonnay and zinfandel being passed around the bar and tables. Tahoe local Rob Westin remarked on the 2013 Zinfandel Howell Mountain, “Absolutely delicious. Only a few wineries use grapes from Howell Mountain, so these guys are lucky to be able to buy grapes from there.”
Jessica Stanley and Allison Yonto.
Here’s a snapshot of how Illanta Wines started. The design of the wine labels is mountains and water imposed on a topographical map of Lake Tahoe — depicting Stanley’s and Yonto’s adoration of Lake Tahoe.
Six-year Tahoe City resident Jessica Stanley is a civil engineer in sustainable infrastructure whose company is based in the Bay Area; luckily, she is able to work remotely. She was looking to do something closer to home where she could use her expertise and contribute to the community, when she was introduced to Allison Yonto, a West Shore resident for 15 years. Partnering to produce and promote sustainable wines seemed like the perfect opportunity and they began attending winemaking events together and learning about the industry.
“Tahoe is where we want to be. We wanted to do something fun,
different and sustainable in a supportive community.” -Allison Yonto
Yonto had just earned her wine business-management certification from California State University, Sonoma when she realized it was possible to bring her final project to life — create a wine business plan in Lake Tahoe.
Working with a third-party facility in Napa Valley and various California vineyards, newly formed Illanta Wines began making small-batch, limited-production wines. Yonto is currently enrolled in the University of California, Davis winemaking program to learn more about the process. Stanley says that Yonto is the brainchild of Illanta.
Illanta Wines plans to work with Sierra Watershed Education Partnerships when it gets its own winemaking facilities. Illanta is developing a relationship with the nonprofit that monitors water quality, waste reduction and restoration projects. Illanta is still in the early stages of inception. It just released two varietals and is testing the market before expanding.
Illanta Wines only uses grape growers that contribute to the ecosystem of the overall environment, the pair says.
“We only pick growers that are using the best practices,” Stanley says.
Illanta Wines will be showcasing a 2014 certified organic wine to be out soon, but here is what is available now. The 2014 Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills is a bright chardonnay that comes from grapes grown in the higher elevation hills of Santa Barbara. Its yellow apple, mango, toffee and vanilla flavors are steeped in oak barrels to preserve its notes. The 2013 Zinfandel Howell Mountain that originates from the Beatty Ranch Vineyard in Napa County is sourced from biodynamic, dry-farmed vines, according to Stanley. The perfumed, structured Zin offers aromas of red berries and violets. This juicy and full-bodied wine with silky tannins can be best enjoyed now or cellared for up to five years.
“Wine has always been a part of the family,” Yonto says. The word Illanta, pronounced yhan-ta, is the original spelling of her last name. When her great-grandfather migrated to the U.S. and people had trouble pronouncing it, the family changed it to Yonto.
She comes from a big family: seven aunts and uncles and 26 to 32 cousins (that she’s aware of). At her large family gatherings there is lots of food, talking, hugging and wine.
She was from Pennsylvania and had been living there when she visited a friend in Tahoe for a week and ended up staying 15 years. Yonto’s favorite wine is Sangiovese, which compliments her Italian heritage.
“I like the super Tuscan tannin flavors and how they change over time,” she says.
Stanley was based out of San Francisco, but says that she couldn’t stay away from Lake Tahoe. She worked with other wineries to figure out how to use less water and create a model that emulates a positive environmental footprint.
“Tahoe is where we want to be. We wanted to do something fun, different and sustainable in a supportive community,” Yonto says.
Story & photos by Kayla Anderson
For more information, visit illantawines.com. Illanta Wines are available at Uncorked in Tahoe City and Truckee.