The Idaho wine industry makes headlines with #Riesling in a can.
Category Archives: Idaho
If you missed my Fodor’s piece on visiting Idaho, here’s another chance to read it…
Potatoes and skiing summarize the majority of America’s perception of Idaho’s attributes. Although frequently confused with residents of pancake-flat Iowa, located two doors down in the Midwest, Idahoans take no offense to the error—they actually prefer the anonymity, as it keeps the population and prices down and enables a manageable flow of tourism through their unspoiled state. These same reasons, however, make Idaho a vacationer’s paradise: light crowds, fair prices, easy access to the state’s best sites, and a burgeoning wine scene all add to the state’s allure.
BOISE WINERIES AND THE SNAKE RIVER VALLEY
Boise mirrors the state’s national identity as an overlooked destination, but for wine lovers searching for America’s next grape frontier, one only has to drive a mere ten minutes from downtown to Garden City to find it.
This one-time Chinatown was so named because its residents grew vegetables for pioneers.Now, the industrial zone serves artists, breweries, and wineries seeking refuge in the cheap cost of warehouse space, and the East 44th Street building leased by Cinder Winery is no different. Making a name for Idaho Tempranillo, Cinder shares the tasting room with two others boutique producers: Telaya and Coiled, the latter known for its vibrant Riesling. Split Rail focuses on reds nearby in a former auto body garage.
Prefer to taste wine amidst the vines? Head west to Nampa in the Snake River Valley, the state’s first American Viticultural Area (AVA) just 30 minutes outside of Boise. Most of Idaho’s grapes grow here. Lodging and restaurants haven’t caught up with the nascent wine trail, but most producers have tasting rooms. The region shares similarities with Washington State, so you’ll sample Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Viognier, and Tempranillo. Visit Huston Vineyards, Hat Ranch,Fujishin, Bitner Vineyards (they have two rooms to rent to overnighters), and Sawtooth Winery—plus Koenig Distillery & Wineryfor potato vodka and fruit brandy, in addition to wine.
KETCHUM AND SUN VALLEY
Ketchum displays just enough polished veneer to suit swanky skiers and snowboarders without compromising its authentic country western roots. Winter sports draw the most attention (no lift lines!), but the area offers year-round pleasures (hiking, biking, fishing, rafting), which means hotels, restaurants, and bars stay open.
While Sun Valley Resort has the greatest guest capacity and proximity to the mountain, an ambitious spa and room renovation takes most of the historic lodge offline this winter. An alternate option: the recently refreshed, Alpine-inspired Knob Hill Inn.
Big country breakfasts of fruit pancakes and crispy hash browns fly from the kitchen at the Kneadery, a festive joint festooned in western décor of animal heads replete with suspended canoe. Locals lunch at casual Perry’s for reasonably priced sandwiches stacked high on freshly baked bread; at night, the entire town stalks the hostess atPioneer Saloon in hopes of satisfying cravings for hunks of flame-licked meat and football-sized baked potatoes. Italian Enoteca serves small plates matched with a good wine list inside an urban interior. Swing byCornerstone for upmarket, creative cocktails. Sunny Valley mornings draw coffee seekers to sleek and roomy Velocio for Intelligentsia espressos and pour-overs.
Before leaving town, pay respect to Hemingway’s gravestone in the cemetery behind Knob Hill Inn; he commit suicide in Ketchum.
When’s the last time you gazed up at the sky without tweeting about the rainbow arching across it? Unplug from your overconnected life and head three hours east of Boise into the empty Sawtooth Mountains. Locals claim it has the freshest air in the continental U.S., a compelling argument supported by its blue skies, gin-clear lakes, healthy rivers, and pristine wilderness.
There’s so much to do, you might just leave your iPhone behind. Fly fish the Salmon River with Mary Anne Dozer of Silver Creek Outfitters. She’s a popular hire, so inquire early, but any of their guides will get a trout on your line, whether you’re a newbie or adroit angler. Looking for a new rod? Dozer’s husband painstakingly crafts them from bamboo.
Hikers can access a plethora of trails ranging from easy three-mile meadow circuits to strenuous, alpine lake quad busters. The regional trail map outlines the fitness requirements of popular routes.
Soak sore muscles post-hike in one of several natural hot springs. If you spot steam rising along State 75 just north of Stanley, you’ve found Sunbeam Hot Springs.
Trekking to Stanley without floating on the river is sacrilege to those who’ve experienced it, as this two street town serves as the nerve center for river adventures. Embark on a half- or full-day of rapids withWhite Otter, or succumb to the wilderness on a five-day Middle Fork float with Idaho River Journeys or Solitude River Trips.
IDAHO ROCKY MOUNTAIN RANCH
You might actually weep for not discovering Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch earlier when you sip wine in a rocking chair on the porch for the first time. Nestled into the Sawtooths, 9 miles south of Stanley, this meticulously renovated ranch and collection of guest cabins is worth the trip to Idaho alone. Many loyal guests return faithfully each season to partake in the region’s activities while indulging in rustic-luxe accommodations at day’s end.
Hiking, horseback riding, and fly fishing the trout-stocked ponds and rivers keeps Ranch guests busy from sunrise to cocktail hour. Learn to mountain bike or tie a fishing knot in one of the daily complimentary clinics. Late afternoons are for soaking in the guests-only hot springs.
The meal plan includes hearty breakfasts, packed lunches, and dinners that rotate between themed outdoor BBQs and fine dining nights. Log cabins and lodge rooms provide a taste of western rusticity with the amenities of modern life: stone-tiled showers, heated floorboards, hand stitched quilts, and large stone fireplaces stocked with firewood for guests to light each night as temperatures plummet.
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
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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…