How to Drink Better Coffee? Treat it like Wine

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A few months ago, I had a conversation with a respected wine journalist and Master of Wine that left me incredulous for this person’s surprising attitude towards coffee. Asked to expound upon the significant parallels between both drinks, a nascent but certainly timely topic, this industry luminary quipped, “The only thing I care about in my coffee is that it is scalding hot.” It wasn’t a joke; it was declared almost indignantly. This writer might as well have told me their favorite beer in the world was Bud Light. Maybe this Mad Men-era opinion was earned after multiple decades in the wine industry, but I like to think not; and if you think this way, you are woefully out of date as well.

How could a wine lover and educator, a connoisseur of flavor and devotee to complexity and origin, nonchalantly dismiss another comparably complex, fragile, and nuanced liquid gift from the earth?

I write Unscrewed, a Village Voice column dedicated to wine, and Filtered, also for the Village Voice, dedicated to New York’s ever-evolving coffee (and tea) world. These two realms share many parallels that wine lovers should appreciate. If you start to look at coffee like wine, you’ll drink better brew.

A Comparison of Coffee and Wine

Species and varietal classifications are key to understanding taste profiles
In the vinous world, grapevines Vitis vinifera (what we mostly drink) and Vitis labrusca (includes the Concord grape, and has earned a reputation for less desirable foxy aromas) are examples of high-quality v. working quality species. For coffee, that parallel is drawn between Arabica and Robusta.

Your local barista sells Arabica beans. She makes espresso with Arabica, pours your V-60 or Chemex with Arabica, serves drip from the Fetco with Arabica.

Robusta is considered a lower quality source. It’s mostly grown in Vietnam (when’s the last time you were offered a pour over originating in Vietnam?) and is used in many commercial blends such as Maxwell House, Yuban, and Folgers, whose cans of ground coffee still sell in supermarkets.

Within the Vitis vinifera subset of wine grapes, there are hundreds of varieties commercially cultivated for winemaking — Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay are a few obvious ones.

Coffee’s equivalent of a “variety” is a cultivar. There are thousands of coffee cultivars within the Arabica species, important ones including Bourbon, Caturra, Typica, and the highly-prized, and priced, Geisha.

Each coffee cultivar exhibits certain, consistent flavor profiles but can still transmit the taste of a place, or terroir, when grown in different regions. Imagine the red berry flavors in a robust California Pinot Noir versus similar red fruits coupled with earthy notes in a lighter German version.

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Terroir matters
I recall a great quote by writer Gabriel Chase. When attributing terroir to the differences between cognac and armagnac outside of distillation, he likened the notion of doing so to inventing a God to explain the unknown.

Terroir (literally French for soil) attempts to reference the precise growing environment (geography, soil, general climate, plus specific weather patterns that vary to year) of a specific area that renders its wine inimitable.

How tightly that is defined depends on the region and grower. Terroir isn’t given much (try zero) consideration in the large, hot swaths of heavily cropped and irrigated industrial vineyards of Colombard and Ruby Cabernet in Central California. In Burgundy, however, very small plots of land have demonstrated very different terroir. One hectare (about 2.5 acres) of Pinot Noir on a high, sunny slope of Morey-St-Denis compared to a neighbor’s bordering land with forest shade and slightly different soil and mineral patterns, can produce dramatically different wines (the hand of the vigneron notwithstanding).

The concept of terroir is new to coffee and just being explored, but there are some commonalities with wine, especially as far as recognition of origin and the flavor expectations that come with it. For example, several Ethiopian regions are now famous enough that many enthusiasts intrinsically understand that Yirgacheffe, Sidamo, or Harar indicate quality when scrawled on a blackboard in their neighborhood coffee shops.

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Sensory Experience: Flavor, body, and acid
Around 200 flavor compounds have been discovered in wine. If you’ve ever been around a professional wine taster assessing a flight of Bordeaux, you may hear terms like cassis, cedar, and graphite bandied about. They’ll also comment on the body: light, medium, or full, and note the acid levels ranging from low to high.

Well, sidle up to a professional coffee cupper or Q grader and listen to the tasting notes they magically pull from a list of almost 500 flavor compounds found in coffee. More than double known to wine!

Just as red Bordeaux wines exhibit certain, consistent characteristics, so to do coffees. For example, recurrent elements found in Ethiopia’s Yirgacheffe (mentioned above) are vibrant acidity, and citrus and floral notes, whereas coffees from Harar often have exuberant fruit aromatics, especially blueberry, apricot, plus spice notes. I can practically taste blueberry pancakes in some of the finest coffees of Ethiopia.

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Wine and coffee quality both begin in the farm
Vintners confess that wine is made in the vineyard, and the same holds true for coffee. Just like seasonal harvesters of grapes, coffee farm workers have to learn how to properly pick ripe fruit, sort the good from the bad, and care for the beans to prevent mold or desiccation. Pruning, spacing, pest management, and watering are among the many considerations for coffee farmers, just like grape growers, to control and optimize, and both are susceptible to flavor variability due to seasonality, as well as devastating weather that can wipe out their crops and livelihoods for the year.

Geography
Wine grapes grow within a certain band of latitudes, the 30th to 50th parallels. Excessive heat shuts down grape development. High humidity promotes disease in the vineyard. Frigid weather kills vines during winter. Grapes need defined growing seasons with moderate winters for dormancy. (Although this notion is being challenged with so-calledNew Latitude wines.)

Coffee, also, has geographically productive limitations. The plant prospers in tropical regions, at altitudes generally above 3,000 feet which provides consistency in temperature, sunshine, rainfall, and also better drainage.

Seasonality
Grapes harvest occurs once a year. The concept of seasons applies to coffee harvesting, too. We all likely expect to drink a cup or two of coffee every morning, but we must forgo the notion that it will be the same coffee every day, unless we drink coffee with a heavy roast or from those aforementioned supermarket containers. Kenya’s crop arrives around late winter through spring whereas beans from Central America should arrive from spring through mid-summer.

Other flavor influencers
Compare the result of stainless steel storage versus new French barrique for wine, to the length of time and degree of heat used when roasting coffee. If a winemaker puts a subtle Pinot Noir for two years in new French oak, that Pinot won’t emerge tasting like fruit alone. If a roasters chars a delicate coffee (one could argue most coffees are delicate when green), until it looks like oily, black stones, you also won’t taste the primary fruit character of the coffee. That beautiful blueberry note found in your Harar? Transformed into toast.

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I could carry on comparing grape mutations, hybrids, and crossings to coffee cultivars; the effect of hand-harvesting versus machines on grapes and coffee cherries; large, commercial farms versus small, estate grown fruit; and add that home brewers should remember beans are perishable and need to be stored properly, like your wine, but you’ve probably got enough to consider. Just remember, that coffee is a delicate product, as Nobletree’s John Moore said, it’s a “miracle it actually makes it to your cup.”

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Alquimie: The Most Ravishing Drinks Magazine in the World?

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It looks like my days of hoarding handsome magazines have returned.

Wrapped in plain brown paper, my first copy of Alquimie arrived from an unfamiliar overseas address. Pulling it from the packaging with the excitement of an unexpected gift, I thumbed through the weighty edition’s pages, and instantly felt a potent nostalgia for the days of print. Is Alquimie the most ravishing drinks magazine to publish in the last decade?

While adopting a model of print media and shipping the cumbersome result around the world from its founders’ base in Australia sounds like a great way to turn any size pile of money into a smaller one (like owning a vineyard!), the team behind it hopes a readership yearning for beautifully written content and presentation, will support the effort.

Alquimie’s motto “breathing new life into drinks” certainly pertains to the physical attributes of the magazine, although it’s more reminiscent of a journal with its quarterly publishing schedule, matte cover, and heavy paper stock.  Each page shows careful, artistic intention both in layout and gorgeous photography. This tactile approach, meant to lure a base of practical romantics who long to hand write notes with the smooth comfort of a Mont Blanc fountain pen between the fingers, but succumb to email for the majority of their correspondence, will charm them (me) as intended. To address that important practical side, however, they’ve developed a sleek website.

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Fortunately, the authors, sourced from the founding team and journalists around the world, write articles as compelling to read as they look on paper.

The current edition (its third) tackles a diverse landscape of topics ranging from coffee, Armagnac, whisky, and little-known Swiss grape varieties. Food, integral to the experience of drink, also receives treatment: this quarter, author Tony Tan explores the sub-regional cuisines of China. In a section devoted to tasting and reporting on spirits and wine called The Palate, they review boutique Champagne, consider the nuances of vodka (nuance being the operative word), and compare notes on several value wine recommendations through the lens of professionals v. the lay taster.

Supplementing their subscription fees, Alquimie offers an interesting addition to the traditional media model: they sell wine. Josh Elias, the Editor in Chief, handles the selections, and although he says there isn’t a strict criterion on how he chooses the bottles, the people behind the projects share a similar narrative in that they are “small producers doing things a little bit differently.”  The wine subscription offer applies primarily to Australian residents unless foreigners have the wallet for astronomical, overseas freight charges.

So who is behind Alquimie? Four colleagues who consider themselves friends first, business partners second, according to Josh. The other three publishers and founders are James Morgan, Photographic Director; Nicholas Cary, Creative Director; and Raul Moreno Yague, Chief of Contributors.

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I emailed Josh a few questions to learn the impetus behind Alquimie’s creation, and to ask what they believe they add to the global beverage conversation. We also addressed favorite cocktails, up-and-coming producers in Victoria, Australia, and how Josh would like to be traveling in two places at once (Sicily and Piedmont).

What inspired the creation of Alquimie?

We wanted to produce a print publication that we could read ourselves. We couldn’t relate to the existing offerings. We wanted to produce something a little more democratic, less authoritarian with more of a focus on the narrative (the narrative of the story & the document). Drinks require context. Be it a dining table, or a time in history. The concept of ‘drinks in a vacuum’ never made sense to me.

What was your previous (or concurrent) profession?

I am a law graduate, who worked in a family business in the fabric industry and then spent nights working as a sommelier in fine dining. My grandfather quite rightly calls me a jack of all trades, master of none. Though, I’m studying the Master of Wine qualification at the moment, which hopefully means that one day I’ll prove him wrong. Alquimie occupies most of our time at present. Even when we are doing other tasks, working other jobs, it is on our minds.

How did you decide on the name?

It was about creation and narrative. We wanted something that hinted at a story and a science combined. We felt Alquimie – the original french derivation of Alchemy — ticked those boxes.

Did friends or family have doubts about taking the print channel, including global shipping?

For sure they were skeptical but I guess part of that comes from being protective. In terms of the evolution of print and the changing of that industry, we believe that the timelessness of our publication, our careful selection of tried and tested subject matter differentiates us from other, timelier magazines. We aim to be a reference piece. Our publication doesn’t mention current events or index the ‘hottest new releases’. Alquimie is not a guide or an index for instant answers, it is an opportunity to sit down and let your mind wander. I think our family and friends relaxed once they saw and felt the magazine. The quality of the finishes helps to create a universal acceptance of quality. Much of that is due to James’s photography and Nic’s design. They make my job, as a drinks writer, very easy.

What are you attempting to add to the world of drinks publishing? What did you think was missing?

I think it was missing accessibility and a sense of context. As an industry, drinks publishing is fairly good at communicating about the product, in isolation. However, wine media, as an example, are very much focused on the projection of their ‘objective truths’. To this end, the writing can be somewhat authoritarian and dictatorial. We wanted to step away from that style. It doesn’t benefit the consumer who may be trying to develop their own palate or embrace the beautiful variables to be found in drinks, of which there are many. Such is the problem with that phenomenal addiction known as ‘wine-scoring’. It doesn’t answer any of the ‘why’ questions. Rather, it encourages blind following. It also has the consequence of shortening the conversation with the consumer. It unduly simplifies the product to the point which, I believe, is somewhat disrespectful to the people who put all the effort into the growing, making and marketing of their product.

We prefer to talk about fewer products, giving each of them the respect that they deserve. These points are true for writing about coffee, water, spirits, etc. However, wine is a good example because I believe it to be the most experienced drink, in terms of communication. Our decision to write about all drinks, also helps to break down a few of the expected ‘norms’ associated with wine writing.

What’s your favorite type of wine? Cocktail? Nightcap?

In terms of wine, I’d say that I drink either of pinot noir or nebbiolo most often. However, I try to taste widely in order to keep my palate sharp. As for spirits, I’m a sucker for Armagnac; the heat, the warmth and the sweet, spicy flavors. An old bottle of Darroze doesn’t go astray. As for cocktails, an old fashioned or a negroni are the two that you’d most likely catch me drinking.

What’s new or unique to the drink world in Victoria, Australia that people should know about?

Patrick Sullivan, BobarLinnaea winesMelbourne Gin Company, Four Pillars Gin, and Madenii Vermouth. First and foremost, these are great people. Secondly, they create products with unique personality. They have curly edges and stark flavours. Most of all, they are delicious.

If you could be traveling anywhere right now, where would you be?

That’s hard. I’d say Sicily. Usually I’d say Piedmont because Barolo is my favourite wine region. However, there is such an amazing array of viticultural styles across the island. From the zesty whites and structured reds of Etna, through to the floral reds of Vittoria or the rich fortifieds of Marsala. The seafood and the pasta dishes are sensational and a welcome accompaniment to the wines. Not to mention the beach, the sun, and the architecture. Rock formations poking out from the sky blue water…. Getting carried away here….

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Postcards: First Look at Union Station and the Crawford Hotel in Denver, CO


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Union Station and the Crawford Hotel in Denver, Colorado

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Wine in Idaho? Coiled Wines Excels at Riesling, Syrah

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COILED WINES

Leslie Preston was living in Napa when she first started an Idaho wine label. “Oh, the spud wine is here” her friends would joke when her truck of Idaho grapes would cross the California border (similarly confusing Ag border guards who’d ask why Idaho grapes were coming in and rather than California grapes going out).

Prior to getting involved with spud wine, however, Leslie had a 20 year career in California that serendipitously started with landing a teaching job at U.C. Davis – for French literature.  Surrounded by winemaking students, her interest in wine grew to the point of completing an MS in Enology at Davis. After graduating, she worked in Carneros before landing a dream job at Stags’ Leap Winery.

However, a baby conceived with her husband while in New Zealand, nine months later born a boy, led Preston to prioritize that she wanted to be a mom and a winemaker and she needed a simpler way to do both. She stayed home with her son for six months contemplating how to produce juice on a small yet meaningful scale. She had grown up in Idaho, and felt the grapes had potential. In 2006, she came to “play with grapes” and made an Idaho Syrah which led to four years of trucking grapes across the border to Napa to make the wine before finally relocating to Boise permanently.

The name “Coiled” refers to the shape of a wound-up snake, and is an homage to the animal and river referenced in the state’s first AVA, Snake River.

Her work was rewarded in 2014 with the announcement she’d won Idaho Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest; Preston’s Dry Riesling landed in The Seattle Times’ top 50 wines of the Pacific Northwest last year.

Signature Wines and Prices:

  • Sidewinder (Sryah): $15
  • Dry Riesling $17
  • Sparkling Riesling (coming soon)
  • Black Mamba (Red Blend) for $35

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To what other region in the world, if applicable, would you compare the Snake RiverAVA? There are definitely parallels to Eastern Washington. I’ve also heard people compare the Snake River to Amador County in California.

What grapes do you think have the greatest potential in the region? Given our ability to tweak the water, the growth, and sun exposure, I think Riesling and Syrah would do well here. Rhone varietals should thrive.

What are the pros and cons of working in Idaho? I wouldn’t choose to make wine anywhere else. It’s a small industry, and I love surprising people with my wine. I think what’s great here is the bulk of my wine is drunk within the local community and its thrilling the product is local.

A definite negative is the lack of fruit and lack of infrastructure. I came from Napa and had access to everything I needed there, while making wine here requires more planning and logistics. For example, last spring, I was bottling in this facility and I bottle under screwcap. I had used a truck from Precept, but when suddenly it wasn’t available, I had to go to California, rent one, and drive it back myself (I didn’t have to drive it, but I am a bit cheap; justifiably so, I think.)

What are your primary markets? Outside of Idaho, I have a small-scale distributor in Oregon. For your readers in New York, they can order wines online!

Any other thoughts? We had a happy life and I would’ve had a happy career in Napa, but I found the fruit here so compelling, so it was simply a not-to-be-missed opportunity.

My Tasting Notes: I highly recommend visiting Preston at East 44th or finding her wines in a Boise restaurant, if in the area. She’s got training and talent and is an Idaho winemaker to watch. She makes the best Riesling I tasted in Idaho and her prices, like most in Idaho, and very reasonable.

Dry Riesling 2013 $17: Fruit comes from Block 17 at Skyline vineyards. Although called “dry” the wine has 3.5 g/l RS (to balance the exuberant nose says Preston). I’d prefer a hint lower RS, but like the lime-citrus, apricot, tropical fruit, and honeysuckle notes aromatics and flavors. A vibrant, medium-bodied wine with a crisp finish.

Sidewinder 2012 $25: Plump and approachable with black pepper spice, meat and earth on nose and palate. Black fruit core, soft tannins, broad mouthfeel, and a  pleasing bitter edge to the finish. Fruit comes from Sawtooth and Skyline Vineyards.

EAST 44th STREET TASTING ROOM HOURS

Cinder: 7 Days a week, 11-5 p.m.

Telaya: Fri. – Sat., 12-6 p.m.

Coiled: Fri. – Sat., 12-5 p.m.

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Wine in Idaho: Telaya Wines Adds Idaho Fruit to Washington Heavy Line-up

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Telaya Wines

After chatting with Melanie Krause of Cinder, I conveniently walked three feet left to Telaya’s tasting bar to meet with Owner Earl Sullivan. His wife Carrie was not available to meet.

Telaya founders Carrie and Earl both originated from the Midwest: Carrie from the suburbs of Indiana, and Earl from a tobacco and cattle farm in central Kentucky. They met as college juniors studying tropical ecology in the Galapagos Islands. Advanced studies and work took them around the world before landing in Boise for Earl’s work in generic pharmaceuticals in 2002.

As the pair approached 40 while visiting the beaches in Cabo, Mexico, they looked inward at their lives and asked how they envisioned their future. After much consideration and having agreed on their mutual love of wine, Earl came up with the name Telaya (combining “Teton” with “playa”), and their next adventure was borne.

The pair came to know a group of winemakers in Washington State who helped them strike partnerships to make wine using Columbia Valley fruit. In the fall of 2011, Telaya moved into the winery facility on 44th Street with Cinder. The facility has provided an urban environment for them to offer tastings and host wine events, while learning from others working in the space. Although their wines were originally sourced completely from Washington, the couple has committed to making more wines from Idaho, starting with their 2012 vintage which saw several 100 percent Idaho fruit bottlings.

Signature Wine:

  • Turas (Irish for the word journey) A Syrah-based blend which includes Cabernet, Merlot, and a little Petit Verdot.

Both you and Carrie had former professions before deciding on a second career in wine. Are you making the wine or do you have help? We make the wine, now. We initially hired a consultant to help us select fruit, make the wine, and troubleshoot problems in the winemaking process. Although we now have an assistant winemaker, 2014 will see our first year working pretty much independently. I [Earl] have found that the Cinder space is a collaborative community, and because each winery has three distinct brands, styles, and goals, we aren’t hugely competitive. I’ve learned a lot from my peers here.

How did you decide on the grapes and styles to make? First and most importantly, we wanted to make wines that we like to drink. I find there are less herbal flavors in the Cabernet from Washington than Idaho, which I prefer, and Carrie’s taste for Chardonnay leans towards heavily oaked, buttery styles like Rombauer. Carrie and I believe Viognier makes a good bridge wine for red wine drinkers into white territory, so we make one as well.

Why did you decide to switch to Idaho fruit after getting started with Washington grapes? We are making approximately 2000 cases, half of which is Idaho, half from Washington. We decided to switch to Idaho fruit in part because it is easier to work locally rather than traveling to Washington to oversee the vineyards and harvest and then bring it back to our facility for crush. The back and forth was starting to feel like the aspect of our previous careers we had wanted to escape: non-stop traveling. Also, we started out with great contracts in Washington and I wasn’t initially impressed with some of the Idaho fruit I’d seen, so it took us a few years to convert, but we are excited about it now.

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Look for Telaya wines from the Snake River AVA

Do you have any ambitions to own or plant vineyards in Idaho? We’ve just planted fruit for the first time in the Sunny Slope area of the Snake River AVA. We’ve helped plant six acres for a grower, two of which will be ours. It’s taken a lot of work. We will have Petit Verdot and Malbec in a few years though!

What are the pros and cons of working in Idaho?

On the positive side, there’s a huge “support local” movement going on and the growing awareness of Idaho wines is in turn improving the industry. Also, I consider myself an entrepreneur and a business guy, so I appreciate that I am on the front-end of an industry that might explode. We could be Walla Walla twenty years ago; just look at the growth in that region now.

Also, there’s a lot of great opportunity out here for accessory businesses, e.g., mobile bottling units. People are desperate for them, so any enterprising folks out there with a half a million to invest in one, might find it a profitable opportunity.

The negative side would be our lack of resources. Unlike Washington and California winemakers who’ve got everything at their fingertips, when we want simple supplies like yeast and chemicals, we have to get them from our colleagues over the border.

Another downside is that viticultural practices are lagging here as compared to neighboring regions. The state hasn’t been as proactive in funding and encouraging viticulture and enology education, but hopefully it will soon. Idaho has great farmers, but what we need are wine growers. When you are used to farming in a desert and extracting a lot of fruit from your fields, suggesting to your grower they drop fruit is like heresy. The industry thus needs to be appropriately tuned in to paying the prices for that kind of work, too.

What are your primary markets? Right now: Boise, McCall, and a little of Eastern Idaho near Twin Falls. We’ve got a wine club and I can ship to New York!

My Tasting Notes: Unfortunately, the wines I tasted during my visit were all made from Washington State fruit, so I’ll leave out tasting notes since Idaho is my focus on this trip and tasting report. However, the wines I sampled were bold with personality and showed craftmanship given the couple’s relatively novice experience. I recommend seeking out Telaya to taste their upcoming Idaho releases.

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Wine in Idaho: Cinder Wines Spearheads Urban Wine Expansion

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Continued from People Make Wine in Idaho. I’ve Got Proof!

Garden City, a former Chinese community that once served as Boise’s Chinatown, was so named because they grew vegetables for the pioneers.  The main drag is still called “Chinden Boulevard”.  Now, artists, breweries, and wineries have been finding refuge in the cheap cost of warehouse space and the East 44th Street building leased by Cinder Winery is no different.

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Winemaker Melanie Krause, a former assistant winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle, returned to Boise in 2006 with her husband Joe Schnerr, a chemist at the time (although Joe admitted to being involved in wine from a very young age as an altar boy). She started a winery consulting business which gave her inside access to “visit the vineyards and taste through the cellars of most of the producers in Idaho.”

Krause’s first attempt making Idaho wine was a small amount of co-fermented Syrah and Viognier. Encouraged by the results and her observations of the region’s potential, Krause decided to start the label Cinder with her husband, a reference to the layers of volcanic soil found in Idaho’s vineyards. By 2007, she and Joe had added white wines to their red-strong line-up. They now produce nearly 5000 cases spread over 9 different wines. All of Krause’s growers are within an hour from her winery; she purchases fruit from six different vineyards.

This year, Krause was acknowledged for her contributions to the Idaho wine industry and achievements in general with a 40 Under 40 Tastemaker award from Wine Enthusiast.

Signature Wines and Prices

  • Viognier $18
  • Syrah $28
  • Tempranillo $28

Which grapes do you think grow especially well here? Viognier attracted me most of all the whites due to its amazing aromas. I find that many regions have difficulty preserving its delicacy, but here in the Snake River AVA, I am able to get precision and fruit expression with grace and high acid.  Syrah does really well in this type of region too, as does Tempranillo. I think we should see more Spanish varieties planted here.

To what other region in the world would you compare the Snake River AVA? I’d say Ribera del Duero and Washington State. Ribera is a better match in that it’s at a higher elevation; both have a continental climate: hot, dry summers and cold winters.

What are the pros and cons of making wine in Idaho? The cost of land here is significantly less than other wine regions, and pest management is a bit easier given our dry climate. We are the next great American wine growing region, and thus on the cutting edge. We’ve got the excitement and freedom to explore and be pioneers. Of course being a new region is a double edged sword, and we don’t have as many vineyards planted as we need.

Are there any water issues out here?  Of the western states, Idaho has one of the best water management programs. As of now, they don’t have the pressures of, say California, although having water rights is key for growers.

What are your primary markets? We are distributed throughout the state; we also have a wine club with members from 20 different states plus a small market in Jackson Hole, WY and Montana.  As for the East Coast, we need a distributor if you know of one! For now, we can ship directly to customers in New York. Go online to CinderWines.com to order.

Any other thoughts? It’s fun if people can get to Boise, to have them come out and visit us. In addition to the other wineries, we have an art gallery upstairs. The artist movement in the region has been going on for about 15 years, but the beverage industry has really picked up with wineries and breweries moving in, plus two new musical performance venues.

My tasting notes I found Cinder’s wines well-made, showing the exciting potential of Idaho. The wines had fruit depth tempered by a savory edge; no jam bombs in the mix. I particularly liked:

Dry Viognier 2013 Peach and citrus notes on a vibrant palate. Some floral character and almond on the bright finish. The majority of the fruit comes from the Williamson Vineyard and was picked a little earlier to retain freshness.

Tempranillo 2012 Dark and spicy, with a deep red and black fruit core, a frame of  dusty tannins, and a hint of earth and bitterness on the finish.  Not common yet, Melanie thinks Tempranillo and other Spanish grapes will do well in Idaho.

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People Make Wine in Idaho. I’ve Got Proof.

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I write this post sitting in a log cabin in the middle of the Sawtooth Mountains near Stanley, Idaho. I’ll be lighting a fire and, dreadfully, donning my winter jacket for the first time this season; tonight’s expected low: 23 degrees Fahrenheit. Summer concludes precisely — cruelly — on Labor Day out here.

Not anticipating functioning wifi, I flipped open my laptop and the connection light blinked on.  Is there no place left in the world detached from the grid aside from the far western Sonoma coast? Regardless, here I type, at the base of stony, jagged peaks in a state to which cartographers had oddly apportioned a wide bottom with a long, slender finger that stretched north to Canada. I’d stare at maps as a child (and still do now), imagining life in the American West of this exotic state, so it feels odd to finally be here  – with my dad — because the fascination I held for Idaho (and surrounding states) was partly an extension of my father’s.

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My dad grew up a little bit country in Circleville, Ohio, where my great-uncle bred horses for harness racing. Likely a product of the era of his youth, one in which country western films featuring icon John Wayne pervaded the imaginations of growing boys, my dad took a curious shine to all things cowboy and Indian Native American. The toys of his youth reflected this interest which never abated with adulthood.

He’s the only lawyer in Columbus who wears cowboy boots to work and before judges in court, often dressed in a suit. He admits to not owning a single pair of dress shoes but several pairs of Tony Lama and Ariat boots. I believe he once subscribed to Cowboys & Indians magazine, and I know he acquired two reproduction Remingtons to conciliate his dream for an authentic one. (Remington was the equine sculptor who worked bronze into taut, sinewy horses and cattle ropers frozen mid-action.)

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Although unable to afford him the gift of a collector’s piece, I offered my dad passage to visit Idaho as a co-captain of my rental car to explore this curiously unadvertised and sparsely populated slice of the West. In addition to traversing the Sawtooth Mountains to ride horses and fish at the Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch, we’d visit nearly a dozen wineries in Boise and its surrounds. Characteristically, his first question was not “wine? In Idaho?” but rather “can I bring my cowboy boots?” Yes dad, bring your Tony Lamas. And your Stetson.

They Make Wine in Idaho

My thin knowledge of the Snake River AVA, approved in April 2007, stemmed from my WSET Diploma exam studies. I’d never actually drank an Idaho wine, let alone seen or heard of one in NYC. The Idaho Wine Commission was prescient in selecting me to visit; I immediately said yes. Intrigued by the chance to visit this state still unknown to me, especially one about which so little was written, I crossed my fingers I’d discover a pioneering wine scene to accompany the state’s unspoiled rivers and mountains.

FirstGlimpseofSawtooth

Quick Idaho Wine Stats (provided by the Idaho Wine Commission)

Idaho had one winery in 1976 and 51 by 2014. The Snake River AVA encompasses 8000 square miles with a little less than 1300 acres planted. Most vineyards are in the Snake River area which lies 30 minutes east of Boise, the best found around Sunny Slope.The leading varieties are, for whites: Chardonnay, Riesling, and Viognier; and reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, and Tempranillo. Elevations range from 600-3000 feet.  The climate is desert-warm with cold nights, and well-draining soils with access to irrigation from the river and reservoirs.

Day One:  Wineries of East 44th Street, Garden City

This industrial strip by the river, ten minutes from downtown Boise, functions like many wine ghettos that have sprung up around the country (Lompoc near Santa Barbara, California and Woodinville near Seattle, Washington), in that it provides young, enterprising winemakers affordable space to pursue their craft when owning vineyard land for a winery is not yet feasible. A particular strip of East 44th street has attracted several small optimists: Cinder, Telaya, Coiled, and Split Rail. The first three are located in a renovated warehouse, the latter in a former auto body garage.

EAST 44th STREET TASTING ROOM HOURS

Cinder: 7 Days a week, 11-5 p.m.

Telaya: Fri. – Sat., 12-6 p.m.

Coiled: Fri. – Sat., 12-5 p.m.

My review of the wineries…


East44Wineries

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