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.