Idaho has received increasing recognition nationwide as it becomes a destination for wine enthusiasts like myself. The Idaho Wine Commission’s 2022 Wine Boot Camp was an exclusive, backstage pass to the concert of wine making. Getting behind the scenes, we stepped into the shoes of the local grape growers and winemakers over a fun-filled two-days of unique compositions from a variety of wine artists. We experienced the incredible orchestration required to transform an unassuming fruit to a fascinatingly complex beverage. We indulged not only in delicious wine, but in the information that poured from knowledgeable, passionate winery owners.
Day 1: Sunnyslope Wine Tour
Our adventure began at the root of it all, in the volcanic-soil vineyards of the Snake River Valley AVA. Under the bright morning sun, our group gathered around 4th generation farmers and owners of Williamson Orchards and Vineyards. As we stood among green vines bursting with grape clusters, Beverly, Patrick, and Mike Williamson shared their immense knowledge of the origin and care of these precious gems. I was impressed to learn that grapes are fickle but also surprisingly sturdy, surviving temps as low as -20 degrees! So much patience, work and a little luck goes into their growth to ensure the best tasting wine possible. “The most important decision is when you pick the grapes,” shared Patrick Williamson. I was thrilled when we were split into groups and tasked with picking the ripest fruit. Sweetness from the clear juice delighted my taste buds from our selection. The anticipation of watching them measure the juice from each groups’ collection was palpable. Our group called out a victory cheer when Patrick’s measurements revealed that we had the highest Brix according to the handy refractometer tool used to estimate the sugar content.
After enjoying wine from the first Sangiovese grapes in Idaho with scents of current, red berry and spice, we strolled across the dusty fields to neighboring Koenig Vineyards to meet our next wine celebrities. Young and friendly owners, James and Sydney Nederend, introduced us to the journey of the grapes after being plucked from the vine into the massive steel machinery that surrounded us outside. We continued to immerse ourselves into the wine-making process with sips of cloudy sweet liquid that has not yet completed fermentation and a young red wine that was still in the aging process and filled with the bitter tannins which subside during aging. And much like the beauty of a caterpillar evolving to a butterfly, we finally tasted beautifully aged wine that had developed a fruity, oaky bouquet.
Time slowed down as we transported to Italy on Koenig’s sprawling patio complete with a fountain surrounded by stone pillars and wooden lattice. Views of the Owyhee Mountains beyond the vines were a perfect backdrop to fully ease me into complete relaxation while sipping more wine samples from Bitner Vineyards, Vizcaya Winery, and refreshing sweet ciders from Peaceful Belly Farm’s Stack Rock Cider accompanied by an deliciously indulgent lunch sponsored by Idaho Preferred and catered by Weiser Classic Candy.
Energized by the excitement of the morning, we gabbed away with fellow wine enthusiasts on the short trek to our final stop. Just from the name itself, I imagined a cowboy tipping his hat in a friendly nodding gesture as we walked in the door of the quaint, uniquely designed tasting room of Hat Ranch Winery. Owner Tim Harless, brought a calm and casual presence, sporting a baseball cap and relaxed stance as he shared his thoughts and encouraged our questions as we sipped on his crisp white wines and complex red varietals on the patio nestled against their vineyard complete with hat-adorned fence posts.
Assistant winemaker at Hat Ranch Winery, Will Wetmore, concluded the afternoon by introducing his own project of affordable and adventurous wines through the Veer Wine Project. Throughout the day, I was struck with all the complexities of creating these amazing wines! Whether it was the methods that grape growers use to battle the natural elements, such as frost fans to combat freezing temperatures to shiny foil bird tape , nets, and simulated noises of birds of prey used to keep the hungry birds away across all vineyards in the Sunnyslope Wine Region.
Day 2: Urban Wine Tour
After a gorgeous day in the country along the Snake River, the urban wine scene in Boise was eagerly awaiting us on the second day of our Wine Tour. Walking into Split Rail Winery, I met up with my newfound friends in a hip, trendy winery with an eclectic flair, including neon lights and a concrete bar. The first wine in this modern space was bubbly and light, tickling my nose and awakening my taste buds with a light, crisp flavor. The industrial atmosphere was fun and eclectic like the wines that were fermented in the bottle or offered in six-packs. We also tasted flavorful jalapeno wine from Potter Wines and fruity ciders from Meriwether Cider in the large warehouse room where bottles, barrels and cans stacked high into the sky. Topping off the morning was a catered sandwich lunch provided by Porterhouse Market.
Feeling right at home in my urban habitat, we trekked along the scenic Boise River greenbelt to reach another warehouse with a more traditional feel at Cinder Winery. Having already become a fan of their diverse and delicious wines, I felt like I was being welcomed back home by the sweet, friendly owner Melanie Krause. Wines that they named after their family drew us in with their alluring aromas and full-bodied palate. Feeling the warmth from Cinder’s approachable wines, we ventured to the back of their operations, marveling at the show of wine barrels being steam cleaned and on our way to the steel silos tucked together behind the warehouse.
As we munched on the remaining cheese snacks from Dairy West, we headed to our backstage pass finale at Telaya Winery. Nestled right along the Boise River and on the greenbelt, we listened intently to Earl Sullivan’s commitment to providing high quality wines. Light citrus notes of their white viognier wine were followed by a deep robust taste of their full-bodied red wine that we sipped while surrounded by the lingering pleasant scent of wine fermenting in French oak barrels. Looking around, it was clear I was not the only one enthralled by Earl’s words and the quality of the wine that lingered on our tongues.
After such an incredible wine experience with our gracious hosts, it’s impossible not to fall even more in love with Idaho wine. One of the more memorable aspects of this two-day experience was the connection made with so many amazing and interesting people in our community, from the owners of The Chocolat Bar who provided us with tasty samples to pair with our wines to the winery owners themselves. And of course, there’s something magical about seeing and hearing how grapes transform from vine to wine that makes me appreciate it even more!
there’s something magical about seeing and hearing how grapes transform from vine to wine that makes me appreciate it even more!
I was impressed to learn that grapes are fickle but also surprisingly sturdy, surviving temps as low as -20 degrees! So much patience, work and a little luck goes into their growth.