You might be scratching your head at this point, confused by the title – wines? In Idaho? Why YES!
Did you know that Idaho’s wine industry pre-Prohibition was actually growing equal amounts of grapes as our neighbors to the West? The first grape-bearing vines in Idaho were planted in the 1860s. By two Frenchmen named Louis Desol, Robert Schleicher and one German, Jacob Schaefer growing awards nationally before Prohibition killed the Idaho wine industry and brought production to a total halt.
Then in the 1970s, 40 plus years after prohibition, the rebirth of the American wine industry was kicked into high gear, including Idaho. Ste. Chapelle Winery opened in 1976, which was the first Idaho winery after prohibition.
Believe it or not Idaho is now home to more than 50 wineries and is producing wines that are competing with the best of the best!
Being that I have been working in the wine industry in Idaho since moving here a few years ago I have been able to see some of the ins and outs of the wine industry. So, when my parents and sister came to visit this spring I wanted to show them how widely diverse the wines in Idaho are – especially since they are expanding their wine knowledge!
We started our tasting experience at Ste. Chapelle Winery. Being that it is the oldest winery in the state I wanted them to be able to experience the “big guys” of Idaho. This winery, however, is no longer owned by Idaho. Precept Wine, which is a Washington Winery group, bought it in 2012. I thought that this was the perfect way to start an “Idaho Wine Education Weekend”.
As we sniffed, swirled and sipped our way through the tasting flight – I loved being able to discuss the wines with my family, teach them little tricks to help them enjoy tasting wine in a new way.
Koenig Winery and Distillery was next on the list. These guys I consider a “big dog” amoung Idaho owned wineries. Not only do they make quite a bit of wine but the owner, Greg Koenig, is also VERY involoved with every aspect of the wine industry in Idaho.
Tasting through their line up you could see on the notes how many of the grapes were sourced from surrounding vineyards. I love seeing this for a number of resons, most of all you can see the sense of community within the industry. Yes, I know that buying and selling of grapes is a great way to make revenue for your business but I believe, especailly here, it is more than that. I also love Koenig because of their widely diverse range of wines to be drank, which is perfect for my family members, two die-hard red lovers and one white drinker.
Halfway through our tasting day we stopped at Hat Ranch Winery, which was just named the 2019 Idaho Winery of the Year! I know that I say I love all these wineries but this one is truly a favorite of mine. The people here are FANTASTIC! One of my favorites here is their Hat Trick White, a delightful white that took me by surprise, a blend of Muscat, Chardonnay and a splash of Viognier. Totally fantastic – and I have just started to buy white wines in the last year or so.
Next, we moved our tasting to Williamson Winery and Vineyard. This winery is a family owned and operated, for 110 years! 4 generations of the Williamson family has been tilling and farming the land of Idaho, they were also the first winery in the state to plant the wine varietal of Sangiovese. Costly move, but has certainly paid off for them!
Here, Teresa was able to give a better history of the family than I was on the drive over, as she poured liquid delight into our glasses. After my parents bought a case of wine and we left, I had the pleasure sharing the knowledge with my family that the wonderful Sangiovese wines that they loved at both Koenig and at Williamson are both sourced from the same vineyard and Greg Koenig is the executive winemaker at both wineries and yet the wines all taste totally differnet from one another.
Last on the list for the evening was Split Rail Winery, I knew this one would be a slam dunk to end our wine tasting day. I love visiting Split Rail Winery because of how unique they and their wines are! They are one of the only wineries in the state that ages their wines not only in oak barrels but also in concrete! The first one they brought in was a concrete egg, kind of a phenomenon, but these guys are always working on aging wine in interesting methods to see how the wines react and age.
Serving their flights in test tubes, everything about Split Rail can be seen as off the rails just a little which is part of their appeal. Their Rhone Styled GMS, which is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, is out of this world! If you are in the Garden City around Boise then this is one of many of the Urban wineries you should hit!
Of these five wineries I wanted to give a wide spectrume of the wines Idaho has to offer – and now I wanted to share these with you!
Many pours to come from the Alaskan Wino!